Tuesday, December 2, 2008
WASHINGTON: The chances of a terror attack on a major city somewhere in the world using weapons of mass destruction are better than even, according to a task force mandated by the U.S. Congress, The Washington Post reported in its Tuesday edition.
A draft study by the panel warns of growing threats from rogue states, nuclear smuggling rings and the spread of atomic information in the developing world, the newspaper reported.
The panel, the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, singled out Pakistan as a grave concern because of its network of terror groups, history of instability and nuclear capabilities, according to the report.
"In our judgement, America's margin of safety is shrinking, not growing," the newspaper quoted from the draft report.
The panel said it is more likely that a terror attack, which could also include biological weapons, will take place by the end of 2013, according to the report.
Former Sen. Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat, chaired the commission with former Rep. James Talent, a Missouri Republican, as the vice chairman.
The commission recommended the overhaul of international non-proliferation treaties, including more robust inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the report said.
The panel also urged President-elect Barack Obama to take a tough line with Iran and North Korea.
(Reporting by John Poirier)
Palm oil plantations available as prices drop
By Niluksi Koswanage and Soo Ai PengReuters
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
KUALA LUMPUR: A slump in palm oil prices is giving Asia's cash-rich planters a chance to take over smaller companies that mushroomed in recent years as commodities boomed but are now struggling to survive.
Sime Darby of Malaysia, the world's biggest palm oil company in planted area, posted a 44 percent rise in quarterly earnings last week.
With a recovery in prices nowhere in sight, now may be the time to look for bargains, analysts said.
Well-established companies like Wilmar International in Singapore and Astra-Agro Lestari, which is listed on the Jakarta exchange, are in a strong position to buy land from what could be forced sales by newer plantations.
The newer estates are takeover targets "because when you first start out in this business, money only goes in one way and that is out," said Martin Bek-Nielson, executive director of the mid-sized United Plantations. "Takeover possibilities could appear if palm oil prices continue to stay at 1,400 to 1,500 ringgit for the next half year."
Palm oil prices have fallen by two-thirds after hitting a peak of 4,486 ringgit, or $1,239, in March, as commodities tumbled and demand waned. Prices are now near break-even for less efficient plantations.
Sime Darby's chief executive has said the global market turmoil provided a "once in a lifetime" opportunity to acquire undervalued assets. The company has a cash pile of about $1.5 billion.
Previous palm oil price slumps saw little industry consolidation, as there were fewer new estates and many more plantations were better established with mature oil palms.
Demand for palm oil had been bolstered by China's surging economy and record high crude oil prices, which lifted biofuels. Palm oil is used in a variety of products, from chocolate to makeup.
Sime Darby wants nearly to double its land bank to 1 million hectares, or almost 2.5 million acres, by 2011 from its current 522,363 hectares. It will probably do that by buying already planted land.
The two-year boom in prices saw new plantings in Indonesia and Malaysia rise by 1.1 million hectares to 11.4 million hectares, according to analysts and Reuters calculations.
Sime Darby has forecast palm oil prices to tick higher to 1,800 ringgit a ton in 2009. The break-even point for smaller planters is about 1,500 ringgit a ton, according to industry estimates.
"If the current downtrend protracts for a longer period, companies with high production costs will be the first to become distressed," said James Ratnam, plantation analyst at TA Securities in Kuala Lumpur.
The commodity is nine months into its latest downturn. Past troughs in the cycle have averaged 17 months, so some light at the end of the tunnel may enable companies to hold on, analysts said. Goldman Sachs said that, based on the past two cycles, when stock levels start falling, prices could soon bottom out.
Palm oil reserves stood at a record 2.09 million tons in October, according to data from the Malaysian Palm Oil Board.
Although palm prices are low, the cost of planted assets is still 50 percent higher than at the start of the boom. It costs 40,000 ringgit per hectare to buy land in Malaysia's Sabah and Sarawak States on Borneo island, the last frontier for the country's palm oil push, plantation officials said.
Kalimantan, the Indonesian side of Borneo, could be much cheaper, and more acquisitions are likely to happen there.
It is apparent that cash-strapped companies will not participate, "but the big boys that are cash-rich will have a lot to say and do," said Velayuthan Tan, chief executive of IJM Plantations, which bought 32,000 hectares of undeveloped land in Kalimantan.
While Wilmar and IOI, a Malaysian plantation operator, have indicated they will be cautious buyers, they also have large exposures to the downstream refining sector and have relatively high debt-to-equity ratios.
IOI shares have fallen 56 percent this year, while Sime Darby is down 45 percent compared with a 33 percent drop on the broader Malaysian stock index.
One man's 3-year experiment in eating organic food - all the time
By Tara Parker-Pope
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Fruits, vegetables and animals can be 100 percent organic. What about people? In a fascinating experiment - on himself - Dr. Alan Greene, a pediatrician and author in Danville, California, decided to find out. For the last three years, Greene has eaten nothing but organic foods, whether he's cooking at home, dining out or snacking on the road.
He chose three years as a goal because that was the amount of time it took to have a breeding animal certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While food growers comply with organic regulations every day, Greene wondered whether a person could meet the same standards.
It hasn't been easy.
"This isn't a way of eating I could recommend to anybody else because it's so far off the beaten food grid," said Greene, 49, the founder of a popular Web site about children's health, drgreene.com. "It was much more challenging than I thought it would be, and I thought it would be tough. There were definitely days where there was nothing I could find that was organic."
Other writers have ventured off the traditional food grid, notably Barbara Kingsolver in "Animal, Vegetable, Mineral" and Michael Pollan in "The Omnivore's Dilemma." But what makes Greene's experiment remarkable is the length of time he devoted to it, and his effort to incorporate organic eating into the routines of everyday living. His findings offer new insight into the challenges facing the organic food industry and those who want to patronize it.
Organic farmers don't use conventional methods to fertilize the soil, control weeds and pests, or prevent disease in livestock.
Organic methods often lead to higher costs, and consumers can pay twice as much for organic foods as for conventional products.
To cut back on the cost of an organic diet, Greene said he had to cut back on meat. "Whenever you go up the food chain, the costs pile up," he said. "If you don't eat meat at every meal, if meat becomes more of a side dish than a centerpiece, you can fill the plate with healthy organic food for about the same price."
Questions remain about whether organic foods are really better for you. The data are mixed. In autumn, researchers from the University of Copenhagen reported on a two-year experiment in which they grew carrots, kale, peas, potatoes and apples using both organic and conventional growing methods. The researchers found that the growing methods made no difference in the nutrients in the crops or the levels of nutrients retained by rats that ate them, according to the study, published in The Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.
But other research suggests that organic foods do contain more of certain nutrients - almost twice as many, in the case of organic tomatoes studied for a 2007 report in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Greene said he was inspired to go all-organic after talking to a dairy farmer who noted that livestock got sick less after a switch to organic practices. He wondered if becoming 100 percent organic might improve his own health.
Three years later, he says he has more energy and wakes up earlier.
As a pediatrician regularly exposed to sick children, he was accustomed to several illnesses a year. Now, he says, he is rarely ill. His urine is a brighter yellow, a sign that he is ingesting more vitamins and nutrients.
At home, he said, the organic routine was relatively easy. Organic food is widely available, not just at natural and organic food stores but at traditional supermarkets. He also shopped at farmer's markets and joined a local community-supported agriculture group. Because he bought less meat, the costs tended to balance out. And his family (two of his four children still live at home) largely went along with the experiment.
On the road, though, life was more challenging. In corporate cafeterias and convenience stores, he looked for stickers that began with the number 9 to signify organic. When dining out, he called ahead; high-end restaurants were willing to accommodate his all-organic request.
Greene reached the three-year milestone in October, but his diet is still organic. He hasn't decided whether to keep going full tilt or to ease up in the interest of cost and convenience. In his latest book, "Raising Baby Green: The Earth-Friendly Guide to Pregnancy, Childbirth and Baby Care" (Jossey-Bass), he advocates a "strategic" approach, urging parents to insist on organic versions of a few main foods, like milk, potatoes, apples and baby food.
The biggest surprise of the whole experience, he says, was that many people still don't know what "organic" means.
"It's surprising to me how few people know that organic means without pesticides, antibiotics or hormones," he said. "In stores or restaurants around the country, I would ask, 'Do you have anything organic?' Half the time they would say, 'Do you mean vegetarian?"'
Infant death toll from Chinese tainted milk scandal raised to 6
By Andrew Jacobs
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
BEIJING: Chinese officials issued new figures Monday for the number of children affected by tainted dairy products, saying that as many as six babies might have been killed and nearly 300,000 sickened after consuming contaminated milk powder.
In its last update, in mid-September, the government set the death toll at three infants, with 50,000 others fallen ill after consuming milk laced with melamine, an industrial chemical used in plastics and fertilizers. The substance, which has also been found in eggs and animal feed, was added to thicken watered-down milk to fool tests that measure protein content.
The melamine scandal has devastated the Chinese dairy industry, leading scores of companies to order recalls and raising yet another round of questions about the safety of Chinese products. On Monday, the newspaper China Daily said milk exports had dropped by 92 percent since September, when news of the adulterated milk emerged.
The Ministry of Health issued a statement saying that 860 babies who drank tainted milk were still hospitalized with kidney or urinary tract problems; 154 of those were described as being in serious condition.
"Most of the sickened children received outpatient treatment only for small amounts of sandlike kidney stones found in their urinary systems, while a part of the patients had to be hospitalized for the illness," the ministry said.
In recent weeks, the government has announced a series of new measures intended to clean up the country's dairy industry, one of the largest in the world. In response to the surge of contaminated Chinese products, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last month opened its first overseas inspection offices, with bureaus in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou.
The Chinese dairy industry may still be reeling from the scandal, but the landscape is not entirely bleak. On Tuesday, Bloomberg News said that the private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts Company would invest $100 million in a Chinese dairy-farm business. One of its partners would be China Mengniu Dairy, the largest liquid-milk producer in the country. Last year, the Chinese dairy industry was worth $18 billion.
Suspicious coffee shines light on spending in Brussels
By James Kanter
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
BRUSSELS: Alexander Just, a European Union archivist, may not be a coffee connoisseur. But the espresso from a new, state-of-the-art Italian machine at his office tasted strange enough that he was willing to shell out 70 from his own pocket to have it tested.
The findings? Astronomically high levels of nickel and elevated amounts of lead. Enough for the European Commission to pull the plug on all 20 of the machines - installed in January at a cost of about 5,000, or $6,350, each.
Soon the machines may be removed from the upper floors of the iconic Berlaymont, the building in Brussels where top European Commission officials have their offices.
There has been no evidence of anyone getting sick, but the problem is likely to give ammunition to EU critics who complain about excessive spending in Brussels - and trouble the commissioners themselves, who now may have to line up in the cafeterias with thousands of less lofty bureaucrats to get a cup of coffee.
A commission spokesman said it was "premature" to comment on whether the EU would need to ask for its money back - a sum amounting to about 100,000. The brouhaha has already degenerated into a court battle involving the Belgian authorities, who issued a Europe-wide health alert in November, and the manufacturer, Cimbali, which said its machines were not to blame.
It was not clear whether the Belgian alert was prompted by problems at the European Commission, or by separate complaints. But a Belgian court lifted the order Friday, according to the company.
"We confirm that our products are in compliance with all the international required standards," said Luca Dussi, the operational marketing and communications director for Gruppo Cimbali. He declined to comment on whether machines made by Cimbali contained nickel or lead in their manufacture.
Still, since the problem came to light, everyone with access to the machines at the Berlaymont, including cabinet members in the office of José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, has been told in a flurry of internal e-mail messages that they will have to lay off the coffee.
The Cimbali coffee machines are so-called "superautomatics" that grind the beans, select the quantity of milk and discard the spent coffee grounds, all at the touch of a button.
Cimbali, based near Milan, has been producing espresso and cappuccino machines since 1912. Cimbali operates subsidiaries in France, Spain, Britain and the United States but operates through a network of direct distributors elsewhere.
The machines were meant to be a perk for the most senior European Union officials - saving them and their members of cabinet from having to line up in cafés on other floors.
Some officials grumble that the Cimbali models replaced perfectly good coffee makers, and there was no need to spend European taxpayers' money on such lavish devices.
The indulgence turned into a health scare when Just, who works for Danuta Hübner, the commissioner for regional policy, notified the building services department of his findings. Just, who has a background in biology, had sent water samples from the machine to his native Austria for tests that had revealed vastly elevated levels of nickel and high amounts of lead.
"The result was shocking," Just wrote in a letter on Nov. 13 to the Office of Infrastructure and Logistics at the European Commission.
"Two parameters of heavy metals are above the legally allowed limit for drinking water and therefore should not be used for drinking anymore."
Just said his tests turned up levels of nickel more than 17,000 percent above the legal threshold, and levels of lead that were 16 percent above the threshold.
A note circulated to staff members Thursday warned that over-exposure to nickel could affect people with allergic tendencies by prompting skin problems or gastrointestinal disorders. Nickel would be "eliminated from 7 to 40 days after absorption depending on the quantity absorbed and length of exposure to the metal," the note said.
A "relatively low amount of lead" was detected and it was "unlikely that effects on the human organism would be detected by specific analyses," the note said, giving the name and number of a doctor for any employees concerned about their health.
Dennis Abbott, a spokesman for the commission, said that SGS, a company hired by the commission, the EU's executive arm, to carry out a second series of tests, had confirmed some of Just's findings.
Since then, the building services department has disconnected about 20 Cimbali machines - some of them M1 tabletop models.
"SGS found levels of nickel and lead that are of concern in 17 of the machines," Abbott said. "We can't switch these machines on if we have these concerns."
Abbott said the lead and nickel had been found in the water in the reservoir of the machines that is used to make the coffee. He said the test by SGS ruled out problems with the water supply to the building and the pipes connecting to the machines.
All the machines had been shut down and they eventually could be removed but he said the commission still was in talks with the supplier, Cimbali France, about whether the problem could be resolved.
Abbott said that the likelihood of health problems was very low because the machines only had been in service since January.
On Friday, the Belgian Council of State, a court, issued an order to suspend Belgium's health alert, according to the company.
"All Cimbali machines, including the model which was covered by the alert, can be marketed and will not be withdrawn from the European market," said Christian Montana, a lawyer representing Cimbali.
A spokesman for the Belgian Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain, reached late Tuesday, said he did not have enough details about the case to comment.
Downturn hits Massachusetts biotechnology companies
By Todd Wallack
The Boston Globe
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
BOSTON: The pain on Wall Street has spread to the biotechnology companies in the Boston region, one of the industry's U.S. hubs. Small and midsize firms are cutting jobs, reducing salaries and shrinking their offices as it becomes increasingly difficult to raise capital.
On a nationwide basis in the United States, biotechnology companies raised $8.2 billion through the first nine months of the year, down 54 percent from a year earlier, according to Burrill, a life sciences investment firm based in San Francisco.
Though venture capital funding has slipped only slightly, companies have been able to raise far less through stock offerings, partnerships and loans because of the turmoil roiling the financial markets.
"It's a horrific time," said Michael Greeley, a general partner with Flybridge Capital Partners, which is based in Boston and invests in early-stage companies. "It's pain unlike any other period" for biotech companies, he said.
To survive, Massachusetts biotechnology companies have taken dramatic steps. CombinatoRx, a biotechnology company in Cambridge that is years away from marketing its first drug, said recently that it would cut 80 jobs, or two-thirds of its work force, to enable it to operate for at least four more years without raising additional cash.
"Access to capital has completely dried up, and none of us are sure when it will be available again at a price that is acceptable," said the chief financial officer, Robert Forrester.
"If you are going to cut, you might as well cut to a level that makes a fundamental difference in the business strategy," he said.
In the Boston suburb of Woburn, Cambria Pharmaceuticals recently eliminated some development programs to focus on its most promising potential drugs. The company, which is looking to develop therapies for neurological ailments like Lou Gehrig's disease, cut 6 of its 14 jobs, sublet half of its office space to a clean-energy company and began working on raising additional cash from its existing investors.
"You can probably throw a stone in any direction and find a CEO who is doing the same thing." the chief executive, Leo Liu, said.
Biopure, also based in Cambridge, cut most of its staff last month and reduced salaries to keep the company alive while it tried to raise money. Pro-Pharmaceuticals, in Newton, has cut managers' salaries 75 percent. And in July, Acusphere cut a fourth of its staff, or 24 people, and asked managers to take a 10 percent pay cut. The company, based in Watertown, has since raised $20 million in a deal with another company, Cephalon.
Some may not survive. More than a third of the 370 publicly traded U.S. biotechnology companies worth less than $1 billion have less than one year's cash available, and 22 have less than six months' cash remaining, according to the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the main industry trade group.
Investors have pummeled some small biotechnology stocks, "turning micro-caps into nanocaps," as one observer put it. Of the more than 80 life sciences companies in Massachusetts, at least two dozen have stocks trading at or below $1, suggesting doubts about their ability to survive.
But biotechnology companies with drugs on the market, like Biogen Idec and Genzyme, both based in Cambridge, already have substantial revenue and do not need to raise outside cash.
In fact, Genzyme said third-quarter sales rose 21 percent, to $1.2 billion.
The company is moving ahead with plans to expand its drug manufacturing plant in Allston and is building a new one in Framingham. Genzyme has 4,400 employees in Massachusetts, including 225 it has added this year.
Even so, a Genzyme spokesman, Bo Piela, said the company had been more cautious in its hiring "because of the economic uncertainty."
Still, the region's biotechnology firms are often said to have nine lives. Advanced Cell Technology, an embryonic stem cell company based in Worcester, west of Boston, for instance, warned in mid-July that it would run out of money by the end of that month unless it curtailed its operations or raised additional funding. But it has been able to prolong its life by closing some offices, reducing its payroll and raising $1 million from an Irish investor, Transition Holdings. And NitroMed, a company in Lexington that struggled to turn a profit with a heart drug aimed at blacks, signed a deal a month ago to sell its old business and engineered a merger with Archemix, a Cambridge company. The deal also enabled Archemix to become a public company, after it was forced to scrap its initial public offering because of the stock market turmoil. "The folks in this industry are really smart," said Robert Coughlin, president of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council. "They always figure out a way to survive."
Carbon detectives are tracking gases in Colorado
By Susan Moran
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
BOULDER, Colorado: As she squeezed herself into a telephone-booth-size elevator to ascend a 984-foot tower in Colorado's eastern plains, Dr. Arlyn Andrews said with a grin, "This makes me want to go rock climbing."
It's a good thing she loves climbing tall structures. Andrews, an atmospheric scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, climbs the tower periodically to make sure the narrow tubes running from the tower to analyzers nearby are properly taking continuous samples of carbon dioxide, methane and a cocktail of other greenhouse gases.
The elevator grumbled to a halt about five minutes later at an 820-foot perch, where the tower's slender shadow stretched into a neighboring sunflower field in the early morning sunlight. "We're able to detect the whole mix of emissions here what comes from automobile traffic, from industry, from residential development and from agriculture," Andrews said.
She is one of many carbon sleuths, scientists who track and analyze where greenhouse gases come from and where they go over time. Think of it like personal finances. To plan for a sound financial future, it helps to create a budget and keep track of how one is spending money. Similarly, atmospheric scientists need to develop a "budget" for greenhouse gases.
But the atmosphere delivers no monthly statement on greenhouse gas dynamics, so scientists have to tease out the information from disparate and often contradictory sources. The key task is measuring the sources, or emissions, of these planet-warming gases, and the "sinks" forests, cropland and oceans that absorb carbon. This budget can then inform intelligent climate-control policy, whether it be managing one forest or shaping national emissions regulations.
The quest to track carbon began 50 years ago when an atmospheric scientist, David Keeling, cranked up an analyzer and started running the world's first carbon dioxide-measuring observatory, at Mauna Loa, Hawaii. Now, thanks to an expanding combination of atmospheric and land-based measuring techniques, scientists can quantify more precisely the sources and sinks of CO2. They also better understand how heat-trapping gases vary over time and space, not just globally but on continental and even regional scales.
By applying the various methods and checking them against each other and against computer models, scientists are also more accurately distinguishing certain human-caused greenhouse gases from those that stem from natural fluctuations in terrestrial and ocean ecosystems.
The stakes are much higher now than they were 50 years ago. Globally, carbon sinks are being outpaced by rising emissions. Atmospheric instruments like the NOAA-financed network of eight tall towers offer climate scientists a window into processes that control greenhouse gas emissions and sinks.
But uncertainty remains high often as high as estimates themselves. For instance, researchers think about half of the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere gets absorbed by oceans and land, but they do not know precisely where the gases come from and where they end up. This knowledge gap has serious policy implications; until it becomes clear where emissions are going, it will remain difficult to have verifiable credits for sequestering carbon.
"We need to make sure that carbon markets are affecting climate change, not just putting money in the hands of some companies and people," said Lisa Dilling, an assistant professor of environmental science at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
A vexing challenge is that surface inventory assessments based on measuring forests, agricultural fields and smokestack emissions, for instance generally do not agree with atmospheric measurements.
"We've got to close the carbon budget to know precisely what's going where," said Dr. Kevin Gurney, an assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Purdue University in Indiana.
Toward that goal, last April, Gurney started the Vulcan Project. Named after the Roman god of fire, Vulcan is a massive database and a graphic map that shows hourly changes of CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels in every locale by every source, including vehicles, power plants and factories.
Another carbon budget-mapping tool for atmospheric scientists is called CarbonTracker, a data analysis system begun last year by Dr. Pieter Tans, a senior scientist at NOAA's Earth Systems Research Laboratory and his colleagues at NOAA. The online system shows how CO2 ebbs and flows across continents and how that varies year to year.
Tans started the tall tower network in 1992. He hopes to expand it to 30 structures from the current eight. The most advanced instruments were introduced last year in California one in San Francisco and the other in the San Joaquin Valley, near Sacramento.
This summer, a continuing study at a tall tower located on corn and soybean fields in West Branch, Iowa, revealed that the crops sucked a surprisingly large amount of CO2 out of the atmosphere during the summer growing season as much as 55 parts per million out of a background CO2-equivalent level of 380 parts per million.
Any farmer knows that corn grows fast and soaks up lots of carbon in the process, and later respires CO2 when it is harvested or left to decay. But this was the first time that scientists detected such a large reduction of CO2 inventory over a specific region during growing season. The study also showed a large drop in CO2 concentration from the previous summer, probably because floods delayed the growing season this year, Andrews said.
The network of tall towers has drastically improved on air samples taken from small airplanes. And the towers cover a broader area than shorter, land-based instruments like so-called flux towers that measure how many tons of CO2 flow in and out of a specific plot of land, roughly within a square kilometer.
In January, the next frontier of atmospheric CO2 measuring instruments will begin when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration launches the first carbon-scanning satellite, called the Orbiting Carbon Observatory.
Each day, the satellite will orbit Earth 15 times, taking nearly 500,000 measurements of the "fingerprint" that CO2 leaves in the air between the satellite and Earth's surface. The data will be used to create a map of CO2 concentrations that will help scientists determine precisely where the sources and sinks are showing differences in trace gases down to a 1 part per million precision against a background of 380 parts per million CO2 equivalent.
Ultimately, many scientists hope their discoveries will inform climate policies, like mandatory limits on emissions that many expect Congress will eventually impose.
"It's a national priority to understand the carbon budget so people can make smart, good policy," said Gurney of Purdue, adding that many scientists feel pressured to push the boundaries of knowledge in this field in their effort to slow global warming. "It's what motivates us to wake up in the morning."
Earthquake rattles Taiwan but no reports of damage
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
TAIPEI: An earthquake measuring 6.0 on the Richter scale shook southern Taiwan on Tuesday, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage, officials said.
The epicentre of the quake, which struck at 3:16 a.m. British time, was 31 km (19.2 miles) northeast of Chenggong on the east coast, at a depth of 30 km, the Central Weather Bureau said in a statement.
Earthquakes occur frequently in Taiwan, which lies on a seismically active stretch of the Pacific basin.
One of Taiwan's worst-recorded quakes occurred in September 1999. Measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale, it killed more than 2,400 people and destroyed or damaged 50,000 buildings.
(Reporting by Ralph Jennings; Editing by Nick Macfie)
Brazil leader offers plans for recovery from rains
The Associated Press
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
SÃO PAULO, Brazil: Brazil's president asked God to halt the devastating rains that have killed at least 116 people in a southern state and offered new plans on Monday to help tens of thousands of people rebuild ruined homes and businesses.
Continuing rains have hindered rescuers' attempts to find bodies of more victims claimed by the mudslides and floods in Santa Catarina State while making it tough for survivors to return home, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said on his weekly radio show.
"We're only asking God to stop the rains soon so that we can start to rebuild the state of Santa Catarina," he said.
Thirty-one people are still missing, and some officials have estimated that the death count could rise to as many as 150.
About 80,000 people were forced from their homes by storms that dumped more water on the region during the weekend of Nov. 22-23 than it normally gets in months. An additional 8,000 people were displaced in neighboring Rio de Janeiro State.
Da Silva said that the government might let people take money from their mandatory unemployment accounts to rebuild homes and businesses destroyed by mudslides, and that the state-owned Banco do Brasil S.A. might offer special loans for farmers hit hard by the floods.
He also called for a study on the causes of the devastation, saying that heavy rains alone should not have been able to cause such damage.
The aid would come on top of programs announced last week for $830 million in government emergency aid and $650 million in loans from the government-owned bank Caixa Economica Federal for people and businesses in the disaster zone.
Da Silva did not specify how much Brazilians would be able to withdraw from their unemployment accounts, which receive contributions from workers and employers.
BA in merger talks with Qantas
GM asks for $18 billion as it tries to avoid collapse
Stuffing brand sponsors hot air in bus shelters
By Stuart Elliott
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
NEW YORK: Critics claim that advertising is just a lot of hot air. For the next month, at certain bus stops, they will have a point.
In the latest example of a trend that is becoming increasingly popular among advertisers, heated air will descend from the roofs of 10 bus shelters in Chicago, courtesy of the Stove Top brand of roast meat stuffing sold by Kraft Foods. From Tuesday through the end of this month, Kraft is arranging for the company that builds and maintains the bus shelters, JCDecaux North America, to heat them, trying to bring to life the warm feeling that consumers get when they eat stuffing, according to Kraft.
Such "experiential marketing" is intended to entice consumers to experience products or brands tangibly, rather than bombarding them with pitches.
It is a response to the growing ability of consumers to ignore or avoid traditional advertising, thanks to technology like digital video recorders. Experiential marketing is also an acknowledgment that products and brands must offer alternatives to the interruptive model of peddling, which disrupts what consumers want to watch, read or hear. That model has been the mainstay of advertising for more than a half-century.
"Stove Top as a brand has a great equity in the area of warmth," said Ellen Thompson, brand manager for the stuffing at Kraft Foods in Glenview, Illinois. "This is an opportunity to expand into a multisensory experience."
The 10 heated shelters, primarily in central Chicago locations, will feature special posters that read: "Cold, provided by winter. Warmth, provided by Stove Top." The posters will also appear on 40 other bus shelters that will not have heated roofs.
JCDecaux North America, a unit of the global outdoor-advertising specialist JCDecaux, says this will be the first time it is heating bus shelters in the United States. The company has installed such heaters in other countries for other advertisers' campaigns. Those sponsored by British Gas included simulated fireplaces.
"Advertisers are looking for new and unique ways of reaching, and reaching out to, consumers," said Jean-Luc Decaux, co-chief executive at JCDecaux North America in New York, adding that it costs "a few thousand dollars" to equip each shelter with heat.
The fourth quarter, when marketers are striving mightily to stimulate sales as the year ends, typically brings a wide variety of experiential marketing tactics.
For example, Procter & Gamble, the world's largest advertiser, is sponsoring a couple of projects this month in New York. One has become an annual sponsorship of restrooms in Times Square, on behalf of brands like Charmin toilet paper.
Other brands wooing consumers with experiential efforts during the holidays in major markets include the ABC Family cable channel, Burger King, Jameson Irish whiskey, Memorex audio products, Remy Martin Cognac and TD Bank.
Tough economy converts Egyptian drivers to gas
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
By Cynthia Johnston
With black smoke belching from battered vehicles on the congested streets of Cairo and the sickly smell of exhaust hanging in the air, Mohamed Daoud's taxi glides quietly along on cheap, clean fuel.
His black and white cab is part of a growing fleet of roughly 100,000 vehicles that have been converted to run on cheap natural gas after the Egyptian government pushed for more reliance on greener energy.
Compressed natural gas (CNG), which produces fewer harmful emissions than gasoline or diesel, is catching on in the smog-shrouded northern cities and demand may grow further as the fuel becomes more widely available across the country.
But it is the tough economy, not the environment, that is leading a growing number of drivers to make the switch as the cost of even heavily subsidised petrol rises beyond what many Egyptians can afford.
The most populous Arab country is one of the Middle East's least well-endowed in energy reserves. Egypt has 1.2 percent of the world's gas and 0.3 percent of its oil.
"I am interested in the environment. But it (CNG) is also cheaper," said Daoud, who switched his taxi to run on natural gas five years ago. "I can bring in more profit."
"In this atmosphere, we can't use petrol," he added as he waited for his taxi to be worked on at a bustling CNG service station, the first in Africa and the Arab world.
The Egyptian government, hit this year by inflation and a larger-than-ever bill for bread subsidies for the poor, slashed petrol subsidies in a lightning move in May to cover the cost of pay rises for civil servants.
Long accustomed to cheap petrol, Egyptian consumers woke to prices that had risen by up to 57 percent overnight for the highest grade of petrol. Popular 90-octane fuel surged 35 percent to 1.75 Egyptian pounds (0.21 pounds) per litre, expensive by local standards but still well below free-market prices.
An equivalent amount of compressed natural gas sells for a quarter of the price.
Worried about an energy crunch in coming decades, Egypt wants to diversify its resources. That includes developing renewable energy like wind and nuclear power.
Lending urgency to the drive for alternative energy is Egypt's limited supply of fossil fuels, especially crude oil. Experts say Egypt's proven oil and gas reserves will last for roughly three more decades.
Egypt wants to generate 20 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020, according to the country's New and Renewable Energy Authority. It already gets significant hydroelectric power from the Aswan High Dam.
Cairo also wants to build several nuclear power stations and has secured U.S. backing for the project, for which it is seeking Russian expertise. But it is also encouraging other forms of greener energy.
Wind farms dot the country's Red Sea coast, and one of Egypt's largest industrial firms, El Sewedy Cables, launched a wind energy subsidiary in October to build turbines. It expects sales of 435 million euros by 2011.
Egypt has more gas than crude, with reserves of around 76 trillion cubic feet, making natural gas an attractive and somewhat greener alternative to petrol.
With the cost of energy subsidies eating up nearly a fifth of the budget, the government is expected to keep raising fuel prices on a regular basis, possibly annually, although recent falls in global oil have eased some pressure.
"I think they are logically going to wait until next year when inflation is down to single digits again ... possibly in the second half of 2009," said Reham el-Desoki, senior economist at investment bank Beltone Financial.
Cutting energy subsidies would free up government funds for public services or infrastructure and may also spur more vehicle conversions to natural gas.
State-owned natural gas holding company Egas expects the number of natural gas vehicles in Egypt to rise sharply to 300,000 by mid-2012 as investors enter the market, although it calls that goal "ambitious."
The number of fuelling stations will more than treble in the same period to 390, and natural gas will be available up and down the populous Nile Valley and in the Sinai peninsula, Egas said in a written statement to Reuters.
Drivers rushed to natural gas after the cut in petrol subsidies, with the number of conversions per month surging to several thousand, according to Egypt's leading conversion and refuelling firm, Cargas.
Around 70 percent of Egyptians who have converted their vehicles are taxi drivers, many of whom ply the streets in battered fuel-guzzling vehicles for cross-town fares ranging from 5 to 10 pounds. They operate on razor-thin margins.
Conversion costs around $1,000 and takes less than half a day, and drivers can pay in instalments.
Private consumers are also making the switch, converting fuel-hungry sport utility vehicles and luxury sedans as well as older, less fuel-efficient vehicles. Private cars now account for more than 17 percent of CNG vehicles.
Cargas Managing Director Mahmoud Aly El Newehy said his firm was also planning to expand conversion of diesel vehicles, including minibuses, after a successful pilot program. Cargas would also offer know-how to other countries in the region seeking to follow Egypt's example.
"There is no country in the Middle East like Egypt. We are the pioneer," Newehy said. "We are not only ready to give the know-how ... We are ready to construct and build stations to operate in other countries."
($1 = 5.53 Egyptian pounds)
(Additional reporting by Simon Webb in Dubai; Editing by Peter Millership and Sara Ledwith)
Sarkozy warned of fallout from Dalai Lama meeting
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
BEIJING: China warned French President Nicolas Sarkozy to call off a planned meeting with the Dalai Lama, saying on Tuesday that it was up to Sarkozy to create the right conditions for putting China-EU relations back on track.
The French leader, who holds the rotating presidency of the European Union until the end of the year, has said he will meet the Dalai Lama in Poland on December 6.
China pulled out of a long-planned Monday summit with the EU over Sarkozy's scheduled meeting with the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, whom Beijing reviles for demanding self-determination for his mountain homeland.
There now seems little chance that Sarkozy will abandon the meeting. But a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman nonetheless pressed that demand, warning that the dispute was clouding broader ties with the EU, China's biggest trade partner.
"France is clear about China's principled stance and major concerns," the spokesman, Liu Jianchao, told a news conference in Beijing.
"Now is the time for the French side to make an important decision on this issue, and we hope it will make the important choice to create a healthy atmosphere and conditions for advancing Chinese relations with Europe and France."
The 73-year-old Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in the region, occupied by People's Liberation Army troops from 1950. Beijing appears to be stepping up pressure to discourage Western leaders from meeting him.
Sarkozy was the focus of Chinese public anger earlier in the year after he suggested that he may not attend the Beijing Olympic Games in August over concern about policy in Tibet, where China cracked down after riots and protests against its rule.
Chinese citizens called for boycotts of French companies and goods after disruption to the Olympic torch relay in Paris. And now Chinese officials appear to be seeking to calibrate their words to brandish their anger but avoid fanning renewed boycotts and protests.
Asked about renewed boycott calls that have spread on the Chinese internet, Liu said: "China places much importance in relations with Europe and France...We also hope the public at home will view calmly China's ties with Europe and France."
But Liu also obliquely warned that Sino-French relations could suffer damaging reverberations if Sarkozy goes ahead with the meeting.
"The facts show that when both sides' major concerns are respected, Sino-French relations can develop in a rapid, healthy and stable way," Liu said. "Otherwise, major problems can arise."
(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Nick Macfie)
By Robert F. Worth
India insists Pakistan hand over 'fugitives'
By Robert F. Worth
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
MUMBAI: With tensions high between Islamabad and New Delhi after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the Indian foreign minister said Tuesday that his country had demanded that Pakistan arrest and hand over about 20 people wanted under Indian law as fugitives.
The demand was made when India summoned Pakistan's ambassador on Monday evening and told him that Pakistanis were responsible for the terrorist attacks here last week and that they must be punished.
"We have in our démarche asked for the arrest and handover of those persons who are settled in Pakistan and who are fugitive of Indian law," Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in New Delhi on Tuesday. About 20 names were presented to the Pakistani envoy, he said.
The request was the first known concrete demand India has made to Pakistan since the bloody rampage last week that killed at least 173 people, not including the gunmen. The authorities revised the number downward Monday, saying that some names had been counted twice.
The fugitives are not believed to be linked directly to the latest attacks in Mumbai, and the request for their extradition - made by India before - may be a sign that it is trying to take advantage of the atmosphere since the attacks to gain concessions.
Facing anger directed against the Indian government and Pakistan, officials of the Indian Foreign Ministry suggested that those who planned the attacks were still roaming free in Pakistan and that they expected "strong action would be taken" by Pakistan, according to a statement released by the ministry.
In an initial response, Pakistan seemed eager to lower the levels of easily ignited passion that, in the past, have engulfed the two nuclear-armed neighbors to three wars. The Pakistani foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, offered in a televised address to conduct a joint investigation with India into the Mumbai killings, Reuters reported, and said that now was not the time for a "blame game."
"Pakistan wants good relations with India," he said.
According to news reports Tuesday, many of the fugitives sought by India were people it has been trying to arrest for years. They include Dawood Ibrahim, described in news reports as a powerful gangster and India's most-wanted fugitive, who was accused of organizing bombings in Mumbai in 1993.
The list also includes Masood Azhar, a suspected terrorist freed from prison in India in exchange for the release of hostages aboard a hijacked Indian Airlines aircraft in December 1999, news reports said.
President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan said in a television interview Monday night that if India shared the results of its investigation, Pakistan would "do everything in our power to go after these militants."
U.S. and Indian intelligence officials said there was strong evidence tying the attacks to militants inside Pakistan. Senior U.S. officials said satellite intercepts of telephone calls made during the siege directly linked the attackers to operatives in Pakistan working for Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant Islamist group accused of carrying out terrorist attacks in Indian-administered Kashmir and elsewhere.
The same group has been mentioned by European security officials as being linked to the attacks. The American officials said there was still no evidence that the Pakistani government had a hand in the operation.
Meanwhile, The Associated Press reported that an official in Washington said that the United States had warned India before the attacks that terrorists were plotting a mostly waterborne assault on Mumbai. The AP quoted a senior U.S. administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information.
More details emerged about the identity of the attackers and the nature of their attacks. The chief of the Mumbai police, Hassan Gafoor, said he had evidence that the gunmen came from Karachi and had been on a "suicide mission," with no intention of returning, Bloomberg reported.
He added that the 10 attackers divided into five groups of two each, hailed five taxicabs and blew up two of the vehicles, the news agency quoted him as saying.
With elections just months away, the Indian government wants to be seen as acting decisively in the face of the atrocities. But it could be accused of raising a red herring if it does not furnish convincing evidence for its claims of Pakistani involvement.
There is also a groundswell of anger toward Pakistan here, and the attacks have raised tensions between the countries to a level not seen since 2001, when a suicide attack on the Indian Parliament pushed them to the brink of war.
The ominous atmosphere poses a particular challenge for the United States, a strong ally of India that also depends on Pakistan for cooperation in fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Renewed tensions could distract Pakistan from that project.
Bush has dispatched Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to India, where she is expected to arrive Wednesday.
Nine of the 10 men who India says carried out the attacks are now dead; the last is in custody.
India's assertion that the attackers were all Pakistanis echoes a claim by the one attacker who was captured, identified as Ajmal Amir Qasab, the joint commissioner of the Mumbai police, Rakesh Maria, said at a news conference. Qasab also said he was a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, Maria said.
But no identification documents were found and some of the attackers had fake Indian papers, he added.
Maria also said there had been only 10 attackers total, denying earlier suggestions by public officials that there had been more. But it remains unclear whether the attackers had stationed some accomplices on the ground before the violence began Wednesday night.
Some new details have emerged about the difficulties faced by the Indian police commandos who responded to the killings. The attackers used grenades to booby-trap some of the bodies in the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower and the Oberoi hotel so that they would explode when they were moved, Maria said.
That tactic made fighting the attackers more difficult, and significantly delayed the cleanup after the violence ended, the inspector said.
The last militants were routed Saturday morning, but the Taj hotel was not returned to the control of its owners until Monday morning.
Those details seemed unlikely to blunt the rising public anger at the government's handling of the attacks, which have been widely described here as India's Sept. 11. The ease with which the small band of attackers mowed down civilians in downtown Mumbai, and then repelled police commandos for days in several different buildings, has exposed glaring weaknesses in India's intelligence and enforcement abilities.
Indian intelligence officials issued at least one warning about a possible attack on the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, but that was in September. Security was increased for a while and then relaxed, intelligence officials said.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
GARKOT, Kashmir: When India blamed "elements" in Pakistan for the attacks in Mumbai last week, fear gripped Kashmir, the region that has been the front line of the two countries's rivalry and strife for over 60 years.
There has been no unusual activity or heightened troop movement in recent days along the Line of Control that divides the disputed region between the nuclear-armed rivals.
But Pakistan has said it may move forces from operations on the Afghan border, where it is fighting Al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents, to the Indian border if relations worsen.
"They spit anger on Kashmir when something wrong goes between them," said Jabbar Khan, 80, in the village of Garkot, on the heavily militarized frontier.
"There's a sense of foreboding, as if war might at any minute break out," he said. "We thought the days of terror were over, but these two countries are hopeless."
Kashmir has a Muslim majority, but it is claimed by both Hindu-dominated India and Islamic Pakistan. The dispute has led to two of the three wars between the neighbors since they were born out of British India in 1947.
The two nations, both by then with nuclear weapons capabilities, were on the brink of a fourth war in 2002 after an attack on India's Parliament was blamed on Islamist militants based in Pakistan.
Approximately 47,000 people have died in two decades of insurgency in Indian-ruled Kashmir - an insurgency that New Delhi says is supported by Pakistan, a charge Islamabad denies.
Although a high turnout in state elections currently being held in Kashmir, including one phase last Sunday, would appear to indicate a sense of normalcy, the attacks in Mumbai have cast a long shadow.
India has said the attacks, in which 173 people were killed, were carried out by militants from Lashkar-e-Taiba, one of the groups that has been fighting Indian rule in Kashmir.
At the height of the attacks, a militant holed up in a Jewish center in Mumbai called a television channel and said: "Are you aware how many people have been killed in Kashmir? Are you aware how your army has killed Muslims? Are you aware how many of them have been killed in Kashmir this week?"
At the Line of Control, the two armies regularly exchange fire, although that has dropped considerably since a peace process began in 2004. When tensions rise in the two capitals, the clashes become more frequent.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed in the clashes, and with the Line of Control just about 100 meters, or 325 feet, from Garkot, the village has borne a share of the casualties.
"Fear has returned, I am scared, like any villager would be here," said one 45-year-old, housewife, Taja Jan. "I have asked my children to pay attention and be vigilant if shelling starts."
Around Garkot, located on the slopes of a pine tree-covered mountain, artillery guns are draped with wire netting. Both sides have scores of military posts in the area.
As the fear rises in Kashmir, some villagers are also getting angry.
"For the past 60 years we have been living in constant trouble and fear," said Basharat Qadri, a government employee. "Let there be a war, a decisive one, so that future generations live in peace."
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
GUWAHATI, India: At least 10 people were wounded after a bomb ripped through a passenger coach of a train in India's troubled state of Assam, officials said on Tuesday.
"So far we have information of ten people wounded, two of them are in serious condition," Jayanta Sarma, spokesman for the railways in Assam, told Reuters.
No one has claimed responsibility yet.
Separatist rebels are often blamed for attacks in India's Assam state, a remote region riddled by insurgencies over the last few decades.
But coordinated bomb blasts in Assam in October, which killed at least 77 people, were blamed on Islamist militants from neighbouring Bangladesh in league with separatists.
(Reporting by Biswajyoti Das; Writing by Alistair Scrutton; Editing by)
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
By C. Bryson Hull
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was flying to New Delhi on Tuesday to try to ease tension between India and Pakistan that has surged over the Mumbai attacks and put at risk U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the region.
The three-day rampage by 10 Islamist gunmen that turned India's financial capital into a televised war zone last week stoked longstanding Indian anger that Pakistan is unwilling or unable to stop militants on its soil from attacking India.
Rice cut short a European tour to go to New Delhi to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh whom is under election-year pressure to craft a muscular response to opposition criticism that his ruling Congress party is weak on security.
Rice played down reports that India had been warned by the United States: "The problem with terrorism is that information is useful but it is not always something that you can prevent," she told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday.
On Monday, India renewed a longstanding demand for about 20 fugitives it believes are hiding in Pakistan.
Officials said the list includes Dawood Ibrahim, a Mumbai underworld boss blamed for 1993 bombings in Mumbai that killed 250, and Maulana Masood Azhar, a Pakistani Muslim cleric freed from jail in India in exchange for passengers on a hijacked jet.
Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said military action was not being considered but later warned a peace process begun in 2004 was at risk if Pakistan did not act decisively.
His Pakistani counterpart offered a joint probe to find the militants responsible for the killing spree in Mumbai in which 183 people were killed.
"We don't want to do anything in haste. We don't want to do anything that fuels confrontation," Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told reporters after an all-party meeting on relations with India. "We want to defuse the situation."
Islamabad has yet to answer the demand for the fugitives.
Pakistan has warned that any military escalation by India would prompt it to shift troops to the Indian border, and away from its western frontier with Afghanistan where U.S. forces are carrying out an anti-militant campaign.
The United States, Britain and the European Union this week urged Pakistan's civilian government to cooperate with the probe. Islamabad denied involvement and condemned the attacks, and has said it is battling the same kind of enemy at home.
Mumbai's police chief Hasan Gafoor said the attackers had trained for a year or more in commando tactics.
Azam Amir Kasav, the only gunmen of the 10 not killed by commandos, told investigators he is a Pakistani citizen from Punjab, Gafoor said.
Investigators have said a former Pakistani army officer led the training, organised by the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba group blamed for a 2001 attack on India's parliament. Ibrahim is said to be one of its financial backers.
The 2001 attack nearly set off the fourth war between the two countries since Muslim Pakistan was carved from Hindu-majority India in 1947 after independence from Britain.
U.S. officials say the attacks bear the hallmarks of operations by groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, both of which have fought Indian rule in Kashmir.
"I don't think we can rule out al Qaeda, I just don't think we know at this point," a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.
Many Indians have expressed anger at apparent intelligence lapses and a slow security reaction to the attacks against Mumbai's two best-known luxury hotels and other landmarks in the city of 18 million.
(Reporting by New Delhi, Mumbai, Islamabad and Washington bureaux, Sue Pleming in Brussels and Adrian Croft in London; Writing by Bryson Hull; Editing by Richard Balmforth)
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
If the twin towers of the World Trade Center seemed to symbolize New York, how much more does the storied Taj Mahal hotel, with its overwrought architecture and mock Mughal flourishes, symbolize the great, rambling city of Bombay, which the Indians now call Mumbai.
When it was built in 1903 - the dream of Jamsetji Tata, who named it after India's most enduring monument - it was the first building in Bombay to be lit by electric lights. Today the Tata Group is among India's greatest industrial conglomerates with a worldwide reach.
The triumphal arch between the hotel and the bay, The Gateway to India, was built to commemorate the 1911 landing of the king - Emperor George V - at the height of the British Empire, and through it marched the last British soldiers to leave India, the Somerset Light Infantry, in 1948, when the imperial sun was setting and India was newly free.
The maharajas in the Taj lobby were replaced by industrial moguls and high-end foreigners, and the hotel became the place where well-off Indians had their weddings and their grand occasions, just as much a symbol of the new India shouldering its way onto the world stage as of the colonial past.
The terrorists knew that, of course, as they slipped by the Gateway to attack the Taj. Terrorists are great ones for symbolism, and to strike Mumbai was the equivalent of striking New York with Hollywood thrown in.
India points the finger toward Pakistan, and it's becoming clear that the unhealed wound of Kashmir is spreading its gangrenous grievance yet again. The mostly Muslim region was assigned to India when the subcontinent was being partitioned, and the Muslim population remains unreconciled to Indian rule.
The terrorists seemed so familiar with their targets, including a hard-to-find Jewish center. One wonders if they had local help. How sad for India if local Muslims were involved. Although a minority, Muslims in India represent one of the world's biggest Muslim populations, after Indonesia and Pakistan, which was created as a Muslim homeland. Communal violence has always been the lethal gene in the Indian body politic, and Mumbai's Muslims were hunted down and massacred by angry Hindus as recently as 1993.
One terrorist screamed "Remember Babri Masjid!" - a mosque destroyed by Hindu nationalists in 1992. Another cried "Remember Godhra!" the scene of anti-Muslim riots in Gugarat six years ago.
Local elections have begun in India, leading up to a general election next year, and the Hindu nationalist opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party, longs to paint the ruling Congress Party as soft on terrorism and national security.
The big question is to what degree will Pakistan be blamed? A similar attack on the Indian Parliament seven years ago brought the two countries to the brink of war. Pakistan wants no trouble with India while a consuming fire of Islamic militancy blazes in its own country. But elements of Pakistan's military and security forces have been known to give succor and support to militants just in order to bedevil India over Kashmir. The terrorists clearly hoped to worsen Indo-Pakistan relations.
India and Pakistan have fought several wars, most of them over Kashmir, and Pakistan feels threatened by India's growing influence in Afghanistan. India, in turn, fears becoming a war zone itself, with constant bombings and terrorist outrages, some of them traceable to Pakistan.
The British partition of India 60 years ago, which cost so many lives and so much anguish, was designed to resolve the problems between Hindus and Muslims. It did not. The grievances growing out of that partition live on to poison both successor states to the British Raj.
This is a nightmare for the incoming Obama administration, which, like its predecessor, wants peace between the two nuclear neighbors and Pakistan's attention focused on its own growing Islamic insurgency.
The danger is that an attack this spectacular can trigger an overreaction that will create more terrorists, to which the actions of the Bush administration after 9/11 so sadly attest. Hopefully, India will prove the wiser.
But most certainly, the Taj will rise again.
By Pankaj Mishra
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Midway through the murderous rampage in Mumbai, one of the suspected gunmen at the besieged Jewish center called a popular Indian TV channel. Speaking in Urdu (the primary language of Pakistan and many Indian Muslims), he ranted against the recent visit of an Israeli general to the Indian-ruled section of the Kashmir Valley. Referring to the Pakistan-backed insurgency in the valley, and the Indian military response to it, he asked, "Are you aware how many people have been killed in Kashmir?"
In a separate phone call, another gunman invoked the oppression of Muslims by Hindu nationalists and the destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in 1992. Such calls were the only occasions on which the militants, whom initial reports have tied to the Pakistani jihadist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, offered a likely motive for their indiscriminate slaughter. Their rhetoric seems all too familiar. Nevertheless, it shows how older political conflicts in South Asia have been rendered more noxious by the fallout from the "war on terror" and the rise of international jihadism.
Pakistan, a nation-state founded on Islam, has long claimed Muslim-majority Kashmir, and has fought three wars with India over it since 1947. In the early 1990s, as an anti-India insurgency in Kashmir intensified, groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba became the Pakistani government's proxies in its war of attrition with India.
American pressure after 9/11 forced Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, to ban Lashkar-e-Taiba, which had developed links with the Taliban and Al Qaeda. With Musharraf's departure from office in September, it would be no surprise if this turned out to be the Muslim group's first major atrocity since 2001.
Pakistan's new civilian government is too weak to control either the extremist groups within the country or the various rogue elements within its military and intelligence. The American military was reported to have started bombing supposed terrorist hideouts inside Pakistan's borders even as Musharraf stumbled to the exit. As its increasingly desperate pleas to the Bush administration to stop the attacks go unheeded, Pakistan's government appears pathetically helpless to its own citizens.
The sense of humiliation and impotence that this loss of sovereignty creates in Pakistan, a country with a strong tradition of populist nationalism, cannot be underestimated.
Meanwhile, India's influence in Afghanistan has grown as it pours reconstruction money into the country, as have its military ties with Israel. Add to this the Bush administration's decision to reward India with a generous nuclear deal and to more or less ignore Kashmir, where in August Indian security forces brutally suppressed the biggest nonviolent demonstrations in the valley's history, and recent attacks against the Indian Embassy in Kabul, the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, and now in Mumbai begin to appear to be connected by more than chronology.
Meanwhile, Indian intelligence experts suspect that jihadists and disaffected members of Pakistan's armed forces and intelligence agencies have forged closer links and, as the string of recent bomb attacks on Indian cities reveals, are rapidly making new allies among the 13 percent of Indians who are Muslim.
It is very likely that Barack Obama will take a different tack from the Bush administration in antiterrorism efforts in South Asia. In an interview with MSNBC last month, he said that his administration would encourage India to solve the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan, so that Islamabad can cooperate with the United States in Afghanistan.
The idea that the road to stability in South Asia goes through Kashmir is as persuasive as the notion that the path to peace in the Middle East goes through Jerusalem. It is also equally hard to realize. Obama could act quickly to stem growing extremism in Pakistan and strengthen civilian authority by ending American missile attacks within its borders and shifting the allied strategy in Afghanistan away from military force and toward political nation-building and economic reconstruction.
At the same time, he will have to find a solution in Kashmir that endows its Muslims with a measure of autonomy while pacifying extremists in both India and Pakistan.
The new president's moral and intellectual authority will be vital in negotiations with India, which, like China regarding Tibet, adamantly rejects third-party mediation in Kashmir. Obama could point out the obvious to Indian leaders: They have paid a huge price for their intransigence over Kashmir, with an estimated 80,000 dead in the valley in the last two decades and a resultant rise in terrorist attacks across India.
Indeed, the outrage in Mumbai is the latest and clearest sign that the price of India's uncompromising stance on Kashmir has become too high, imperiling its economy as well as its security. Indian anger over the fumbling response to the brazen attacks disguises the panicky realization that there can be no effective defense against terrorists in a country with a long coastline and densely populated cities. The best India can hope for is to improve what Ratan Tata - the country's leading industrialist and the owner of last week's main terrorist target, Mumbai's Taj hotel - calls "crisis management."
As the economy falters (Mumbai's stock market has lost nearly 60 percent of its value this year), India can barely cope with homegrown violent movements like the Maoist insurgency in its central states, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described as the biggest internal security threat to India since independence.
Pointing to the Bush administration's vigorous response to 9/11, Indian commentators lament that India is a "soft state," unable to defend itself from internal and external enemies. But India cannot turn into a "hard" state without swiftly undermining its secular, multicultural democracy.
The government has already experimented with draconian laws like the Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act of 2002, which among other measures allowed the police to hold suspects without charge for six months. It was repealed in 2004 after many abuses against Muslims were revealed. While these attacks may lead to calls for more tough measures, Indians cannot lose sight of the peril that 150 million Muslims would lose their faith in India's political and legal system. And it is obviously dangerous to threaten Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state, with war.
As president, Obama could conceivably persuade India and Pakistan to see the virtue of a political solution to Kashmir. But he would first have to set an example by rejecting the false assumptions of a global war on terrorism based primarily on military force - assumptions that the elites of powerful countries with restive minorities like India, China and Russia have eagerly embraced since 9/11.
"The people of India deeply love you," Prime Minister Singh said to President Bush in September while thanking him for the nuclear deal.
Yet it is Obama who has the opportunity to create deeper and more enduring alliances for the United States in South Asia - and he should start with Kashmir.
Pankaj Mishra is the author of "Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet and Beyond."
By Anosh Irani
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
MUMBAI: As I watched the Taj Mahal hotel breathe fire, I remembered my grandfather, Burjor. For more than 30 years, he was the florist at the hotel, ordering roses flown in daily from New Delhi.
Like the Taj, his black Fiat, a broken dinosaur of a car, was a landmark in itself. Filled with cane baskets for his flower shop, and home to several cockroaches, he parked it in the same spot every day - right in front of the hotel's main entrance.
I essentially grew up in the hotel. And I would have been there on Wednesday night, browsing in its bookshop, and at the Leopold Cafe nearby, if it were not for the last-minute distraction of a soccer match in my neighborhood.
My family lives about four miles from the Taj, in a Parsi colony called Rustom Baug. The colony was developed exclusively for members of the Zoroastrian religion - the same religion that J.N. Tata, the man who built the Taj, belonged to. It is one of the quietest and most picturesque locations in Mumbai. It can feel like it's a world away from the city. Except when it's not, like when the attacks started.
The morning after the siege began, I read the following story in one of the papers: Moments before the terrorists opened fire in the main lobby of the Taj, a 10-year-old boy had entered the hotel to use the washroom. When he heard the shooting, he stood paralyzed in the center of the lobby until a man whisked him away and they hid in Nalanda, the bookshop in the Taj. They switched off the lights and sat in the darkness for nearly three hours.
There was a time, not so very long ago, when I could have been that boy. Nalanda is my favorite bookshop in Mumbai. My grandfather took me there every Sunday when I was a boy. While he cajoled me into buying books on science - though he was a florist, nuclear physics was his passion, and he was also fluent in Japanese - I sheepishly picked up copies of the Tintin and Asterix series as well as Amar Chitra Katha comics, full of fables and magnificent illustrations of demons and celestial beings from Indian mythology. Thankfully, the boy's story, like the Amar Chitra Katha comics, had a fairy-tale ending. He was eventually reunited with his parents.
On Saturday, when the siege ended, I stepped outside our gates and took a taxi to the Taj. The driver let me off nearby at the Regal Cinema and I walked toward the Leopold Café. The smell of disinfectant was overpowering. The café was closed, but through the shutters I noticed that two ceiling fans were on. There was a flier on the outside wall with "Good News" written on it, an advertisement for plumbing and carpentry.
The makeshift stores selling old gramophones were empty. A store called R. Dadavji's Ladies and Gents Under Garments was open. Florists also were open because a tragedy like this always means business. But everything else was closed.
I came in view of the entrance to the Taj, and the spot where my grandfather's black Fiat was always parked. There was a police barricade flanked by fire engines. The hotel's windows had been smashed. Above, crows circled.
I thought of all the weekends when I would come to the Taj bookstore with my grandfather. I thought of how for so many years he bejeweled the hotel's rooms with flowers. Today, I thought, his store would be closed. The last thing he would have wanted would be to use his flowers to decorate the dead.
Anosh Irani is the author, most recently, of "The Song of Kahunsha."
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
By Imtiaz Shah
Four people were killed in clashes between rival factions in Pakistan's Karachi city on Tuesday but police said they were hopeful violence was easing off after days of bloodshed in which dozens of people have been killed.
Karachi is Pakistan's biggest city and commercial hub and has a long history of political, ethnic and religious violence.
The latest clashes between ethnic-based factions have raised fears of a return to the chronic bloodshed that plagued the city in the 1990s.
The clashes broke out on Saturday between members of the city's majority community of Urdu-speakers, most of them descendents of migrants from India at the time of the partition of the India in 1947, and ethnic Pashtuns from northwest Pakistan.
City police chief Waseem Ahmed said four people were killed in different incidents in the early hours of Tuesday but the city had been mostly calm since then.
"There has been no major incident since the morning," Ahmed told Reuters.
At least 40 people have been killed since Saturday, according to a tally of reports from police and hospitals.
Rivals fought gun battles and burnt shops and cars in several parts of the city of 15 million people over the weekend and more disturbances erupted on Monday.
Police have been told to shoot trouble-makers on sight and have banned pillion riding on motor bikes.
SCHOOLS SHUT, PORT OPEN
Some commentators in Pakistan have raised the possibility of Indian instigation of the violence in Karachi as a response to last week's militant assault in Mumbai, which India has linked to Pakistan, although the government has not suggested any link.
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif said he was surprised by the timing of the Karachi violence.
"The killings in Karachi erupted suddenly after the Mumbai incident," Sharif told reporters. "I'm surprised how it erupted all of a sudden ... I think this needs to be looked in to thoroughly, which forces are involved in it."
All schools and colleges in Karachi were shut for a second day on Tuesday and public transport was thin. But operations at the country's main port were normal, while financial markets and banks were open.
Ahmed said the violence had been confined to certain neighbourhoods where members of the rival factions lived in close proximity and police convoys were patrolling those hotspots.
Tension has been rising since leaders of the Urdu-speaking community began complaining that Taliban militants, most of whom are ethnic Pashtun, were gaining strength in the city.
A political party representing Urdu-speakers, who are known as mohajirs, or refugees, has been the dominant political force in the city since the 1980s.
A large number of Pashtuns and members of other Pakistani ethnic groups have flocked to Karachi over the years in search of work.
(Writing by Aftab Borka; Editing by Robert Birsel and Sanjeev Miglani)
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
BAGHDAD: Bombs killed 14 people across Iraq on Tuesday, police said, including a child hit by a blast outside his primary school in the north of the country.
Pupils were leaving the school when the bomb placed in a cart in the northern city of Mosul was detonated, killing four people and wounding 12.
Some pupils were among the wounded. The blast also killed a two-year-old girl and two adults in an adjacent market.
The level of violence in Iraq has fallen, but militants frequently demonstrate their ability to carry out lethal attacks.
A spate of bombings in the past few days has come as Iraq prepares its security forces to take responsibility from U.S. troops, set to withdraw from towns by mid-2009 and from Iraq completely by the end of 2011, under a security pact approved by parliament last Thursday.
Many attacks are aimed at reigniting violence between minority Sunni Arabs and majority Shi'ites, disrupting preparations for provincial elections in January, or intended to signal rejection of the security pact, officials say.
"We read these bombings as messages," Interior Ministry Media Director Brigadier-General Alaa al-Taie said.
"The first message is: 'We are still here'. The second is: they reject the accord. They want to create an atmosphere of fear."
In a second attack, a roadside bomb targeting an army patrol killed five soldiers in Hilla, south of Baghdad, police and a witness said.
"It hit the first vehicle. The whole thing exploded and burnt to the ground," witness Ali al-Jubouri told Reuters.
In the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar, a car bomb killed five men and wounded 30, including five children, Sabih Hussein, a senior doctor in the city's main hospital, told Reuters.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed and Wisam Mohammed; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Michael Christie and Michael Roddy)
By Riyadh Mohammed and Alissa J. Rubin
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
BAGHDAD: The Kurdish regional government has released a pointed rebuttal to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's recent criticism of its policies, a sign of growing fault lines between the Kurds and Iraq's central government.
Maliki gave a speech on Nov. 20 in which he said Kurds in Iraq were pursuing several unconstitutional policies, including the development of an oil business independent of Baghdad and the opening of representative offices in foreign countries. His government has also criticized the activities of Kurdish defense forces, known as pesh merga, outside the region.
Over the past year, relations between Kurds and the government in Baghdad have worsened, with officials clashing on issues that reflect the region's growing power and autonomy.
Tensions between Kurds and Arabs are threatening again to become a serious political divide in the country. The Kurds, who predominate in Iraq's three northernmost provinces and speak Kurdish rather than Arabic, fought a long and bitter battle against Saddam Hussein, whose policy of ethnic cleansing is believed to have killed 50,000 to 100,000 Kurds.
Although the Kurds are part of Iraq's governing coalition, their increasingly public and acrimonious fight with the central government raises questions about whether the alliance will last much longer.
In addition to defending the Kurdish positions on oil contracts and relations with other countries, the document, made public Monday criticizes Maliki's formation across the country of groups known as support councils, or political organizations made up of local tribal leaders who back the prime minister. Maliki and others have said the groups help strengthen the central government.
The Kurds say that many of those whom Maliki, an Arab, has recruited in the Kurdish region had worked with Saddam. "Enlisting such pro-regime collaborators" in the Kurdistan region could lead to the creation of armed groups that could cause destabilization, the document says.
Strong condemnation of the councils has also come from a leading Shiite party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.
On Tuesday, an official statement quoted President Jalal Talabani as saying the federal court would be asked to rule on their legality, The Associated Press reported.
The backdrop to the concerns is that Maliki, who has become a stronger leader over the past eight months, has started using his position to cement his power and increase the influence of his Dawa Party. His most recent victory was the passage last week by Parliament of an Iraqi-U.S. security agreement.
Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurd in Parliament, said the Kurds, acting in the national interest, had waited until after the security agreement had been approved to reply to the prime minister's speech.
"Maliki has accused them, so they have to reply," he said. "Hopefully it's not the beginning of a political war."
Yassin Majid, a spokesman for Maliki, said the prime minister would reply to the document.'Chemical Ali' sentenced
Ali Hassan al-Majid, a cousin of Saddam's who is known as Chemical Ali, was sentenced to death for a second time Tuesday for his part in crushing a Shiite uprising in 1991.
Mohammed Oraibi al-Khalifa, a judge for the Iraqi High Tribunal, sentenced Majid and other senior figures from Saddam's government.
Among them were Abdelghani Abdul Ghafor al-Ani, who headed Saddam's Baath Party in southern Iraq at the time of the uprising and who also received a death sentence Tuesday. The former defense minister, Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai, received a 15-year prison sentence.
Majid already faces a death sentence for his role in a 1981 crackdown on Kurds in northern Iraq.
Judge Khalifa said Tuesday that Majid was guilty of crimes against humanity.
A lawyer for Majid's defense team said that they would not be able to comment until after an appeal is filed.
Majid remained calm, but his co-defendant Ani shouted: "I welcome death if it is for Iraq, for pan-Arabism and for the Baath. Down with the American and Persian occupation."
The judge told Ani to "shut up." In later remarks to his fellow judges, he was overheard saying: "All the Baathists are this way. Baathists live as Baathists and die as Baathists."
The judge appeared unaware that the microphone near him was still on.
In Basra, Shiite relatives of Majid's victims welcomed the verdict. A woman who gave her name as Umm Salah and who claimed to have lost three male relatives in the crackdown, said: "When I saw the trial, it took me back 20 years, but I feel there's a difference."
"The criminals get the fair trial that our sons didn't have. Now I feel that the previous regime is something from the past and in spite of the fair trial and sentence today I still feel pain inside."
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
The 2008 election results did not fundamentally change American foreign policy. The real change began a few years ago in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It began with colonels and captains fighting terror on the ground. They found that they could clear a town of the bad guys, but they had little capacity to establish rule of law or quality of life for the people they were trying to help. They quickly realized that the big challenge in this new era is not killing the enemy, it's repairing the zones of chaos where enemies grow and breed. They realized, too, that Washington wasn't providing them with the tools they needed to accomplish their missions.
Their observations and arguments filtered through military channels and back home, producing serious rethinking at the highest levels. On Jan. 18, 2006, Condoleezza Rice delivered a policy address at Georgetown University in which she argued that the fundamental threats now come from weak and failed states, not enemy powers.
In this new world, she continued, it is impossible to draw neat lines between security, democratization and development efforts. She called for a transformational diplomacy, in which State Department employees would do less negotiating and communiqué-writing. Instead, they'd be out in towns and villages doing broad campaign planning with military colleagues, strengthening local governments and implementing development projects.
Over the past year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has delivered a series of remarkable speeches echoing and advancing Rice's themes. "In recent years, the lines separating war, peace, diplomacy and development have become more blurred and no longer fit the neat organizational charts of the 20th century," he said in July.
Gates does not talk about spreading democracy, at least in the short run. He talks about using integrated U.S. agencies to help locals improve the quality and responsiveness of governments in trouble spots around the world. He has developed a way of talking about security and foreign policy that is now the lingua franca in government and think-tank circles. It owes a lot to the lessons of counterinsurgency and uses phrases like "full spectrum operations" to describe multidisciplinary security and development campaigns.
Gates has told West Point cadets that more regime change is unlikely but that they may spend parts of their careers training solders in allied nations. He has called for more spending on the State Department, foreign aid and a revitalized U.S. Information Agency. He's spawned a flow of think-tank reports on how to marry hard and soft pre-emption.
The Bush administration began to implement these ideas, but in small ways. President Bush called for a civilian corps to do nation building. National Security Presidential Directive 44 laid out a framework so different agencies could coordinate foreign reconstruction and stabilization. The Millennium Challenge Account program created a method for measuring effective governance.
Actual progress was slow, but the ideas developed during the second Bush term have taken hold.
Some theoreticians may still talk about Platonic concepts like realism and neoconservatism, but the actual foreign policy doctrine of the future will be hammered out in a bottom-up process as the U.S. and its allies use their varied tools to build government capacity in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, the Philippines and beyond. Grand strategists may imagine a new global architecture built at high-level summit meetings, but the real global architecture of the future will emerge organically from these day-to-day nation-building operations.
During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama embraced Gates' language. During his news conference on Monday, he used all the right code words, speaking of integrating and rebalancing the nation's foreign policy capacities. He recruited Hillary Clinton and James Jones, who have been champions of this approach, and retained Gates. Their cooperation on an integrated strategy might prevent some of the perennial feuding between the Pentagon, Foggy Bottom and the National Security Council.
As Stephen Flanagan of the Center for Strategic and International Studies notes, Obama's challenge will be to actually implement the change. That would include increasing the size of the State Department, building a civilian corps that can do development in dangerous parts of the world, creating interagency nation-building institutions, helping local reformers build governing capacity in fragile places like Pakistan and the Palestinian territories and exporting American universities while importing more foreign students.
Given the events of the past years, the U.S. is not about to begin another explicit crusade to spread democracy. But decent, effective and responsive government would be a start.
Obama and his team didn't invent this approach. But if they can put it into action, that would be continuity we can believe in.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
By Aseel Kami
Human rights abuses in Iraq remain widespread despite a significant drop in overall violence, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
The situation in Iraqi prisons was particularly acute, the U.N. Assistance Mission to Iraq said in a report, released ahead of the transfer next year of possibly thousands of detainees from U.S. military control to Iraqi authorities.
Many detainees in Iraqi jails had been held for months or years without being charged, granted access to lawyers or even to a judge, the report said. Allegations of widespread torture and ill-treatment were of particular concern.
"They need to be charged, they need to have access to legal counsel and the cases need to be investigated," the head of the U.N. mission, Staffan de Mistura, said in a news conference.
Under a U.S.-Iraqi security pact that comes into force next year, the U.S. forces who invaded Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein will have to hand over to Iraqi control more than 16,000 detainees currently held in U.S. camps.
Those facing Iraqi arrest warrants will likely end up in Iraqi prisons while the rest will have to be freed. Many were detained at the height of the mainly Sunni Arab insurgency and the sectarian violence between minority Sunni Arabs and now dominant Shi'ites.
Iraqi prisons are already crowded and in a precarious condition, the U.N. said.
"The release (of those detainees) will obviously be a major challenge for the Iraqi authorities, but the Iraqi authorities have the intention and the duty to (give) those detainees the best possible conditions," de Mistura said.
The U.N. report referred only to the first six months of 2008 because its author had to break off halfway through the year for personal reasons.
The U.N. said conditions in the justice system in the semi autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq were not much better.
There were cases of prolonged detention on vague accusations and long delays of up to four years in bringing people to trial.
In total, there were 50,595 detainees held in Iraqi prisons at the of June, the U.N. said.
"In one prison, 123 prisoners were found in a 50 sq metre cell," de Mistura said.
The U.N. report also highlighted the targeted killings of journalists, teachers, doctors, judges, government officials and minorities, such as Christians or Turkmen, as causes for concern.
In addition, it said women faced difficulties across Iraq as conservative groups tried to restrict their freedoms. Women's rights were also threatened in Kurdistan, where 50 women were murdered and 150 burnt in the first six months of this year as a result of so called "honour crimes."
(Editing by Michael Christie and Dominic Evans)
By Robert Hormats and David M. Kennedy
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Among the parallels between the present financial turmoil and the Great Depression of the 1930s, few are more important to understand than the implications of economic upheaval for America's national security. One lesson from the Depression bears repeating loudly: Economic policy and foreign policy are not two distinct domains. They constitute a strategic nexus whose interconnections we ignore at our peril.
The perception that the United States was too enfeebled by its domestic travails to defend its interests emboldened Japan to invade Manchuria in 1931. The spectacle of Depression-era America continued to feed Japanese aggression, leading eventually to the brazen gamble that a single blow at Pearl Harbor might so demoralize the economically enervated Americans that they would throw in the towel and leave Asia to Japan.
In the 1930s, as now, in the face of severe economic affliction the temptation was strong to turn inward, to "put our own house in order" and tend to the international neighborhood later. That was Franklin Roosevelt's policy in 1933. "Our international trade relations, though vastly important, are in point of time and necessity secondary to the establishment of a sound national economy," he said in his first inaugural address.
Accordingly, Roosevelt left unchallenged the Smoot-Hawley Tariff passed during the Hoover administration, and he added some nationalist measures of his own. Perhaps his worst decision was to scuttle London's World Economic Conference in 1933, convened to discuss international debt rescheduling, exchange-rate stabilization and the restoration of the gold standard. The conference afforded the last, desperate chance to deliver a concerted international counterpunch to the worldwide depression. Yet Roosevelt effectively withdrew the American delegation in July by declaring that the United States would have no further truck with the "old fetishes of so-called international bankers."
Among those who drew malign conclusions was Hitler. Watching events from his Berlin chancellery, he calculated that the economic weakness of his adversaries opened vistas of opportunity for conquest. The inability of the democracies to cooperate economically portended their inability to cooperate militarily or diplomatically. And the ailing economy that was driving the United States inward removed America from Hitler's geopolitical calculus altogether.
On Nov. 5, 1937, having re-armed Germany in violation of its Versailles Treaty obligations, Hitler presented his senior political and military officials with an exhaustive blueprint for aggression. Over four hours, he analyzed in detail the probable reactions of other powers, including Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Japan, Belgium and Czechoslovakia. He did not even mention the United States, which he deemed incapable of offering serious resistance. By going AWOL in London in 1933, Roosevelt emboldened the man whose armed forces he would have to confront on the beaches of Normandy a decade later.
Depression and war were harsh teachers, but the lesson was learned. Surveying the economic chaos that had helped precipitate the war, Harry Dexter White, a Treasury Department official who was the principal architect of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, warned in 1942 that "the absence of a high degree of economic collaboration among the leading nations will, during the coming decade, inevitably result in economic warfare that will be but the prelude and instigator of military warfare on an even vaster scale."
At war's end, American leaders started initiatives that replaced the discredited policies of economic nationalism with new rules and institutions to avert protectionism and exchange-rate turmoil, and to foster expanded international trade and investment. For more than two generations, the IMF, the World Bank and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (later the World Trade Organization) did much to underwrite global political stability as well as America's and the world's prosperity.
To govern is to choose, but economic versus foreign policy is a false choice. The national security stakes are too high to allow aggressors or terrorists to conclude that America is too economically distracted to defend its interests. And global peace and prosperity, including economic growth in foreign markets and the flow of capital on which the United States is dependent, remain highly improbable without continued - indeed, renewed - American leadership, political as well as economic.
A crucial test of governing awaits the Obama administration. It must pursue economic recovery at home and around the globe and the reinvigoration of multilateral coordination abroad. Failure to revive the sagging domestic economy will make broader security and foreign policy goals more difficult to accomplish, as Americans seek refuge in economic nationalism and foreigners lose confidence in Washington's leadership. The political and economic cooperation needed to resolve the current crisis is as essential to America's domestic well-being as it is to the successful pursuit of America's worldwide strategic interests.
The Depression and World War II were not two distinct events. Depression incubated war. The war, in turn, gave birth to the array of multilateral institutions that long served to avert another global economic crisis. Keeping that relationship in mind now can help the U.S. to resist, and encourage others to resist, pressures for inward-looking trade and investment policies and withdrawal from international engagement.
It took a depression and a war to transform an older order. If we Americans act swiftly and smartly, ours may be a happier fate. We have what may well be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build an international economic architecture for a new century and in the process bolster U.S. security. If we don't seize it, we may be doomed to repeat some pretty nasty history.
Robert Hormats, a managing director of Goldman Sachs, is the author of "The Price of Liberty: Paying for America's Wars From the Revolution to the War on Terror." David M. Kennedy is a professor of history at Stanford and the author of "Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945."
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
LANDI KOTAL, Pakistan: Militants set off a roadside bomb in northwest Pakistan on Tuesday as trucks supplying Western forces in Afghanistan were passing by, wounding three people, a government official and witnesses said.
It was the second attack in two days on supplies for Western forces heading through Pakistan's Khyber Pass, a vital supply route into landlocked Afghanistan.
The convoy was bombed in the Landi Kotal area, 30 km (18 miles) west of the main northwest Pakistani city of Peshawar.
"The bomb was placed under a bridge and went off when the first vehicle of the convoy was crossing, wounding three people," said a district government official.
A taxi driver in the area said two truck drivers and a driver's assistant had been wounded and the convoy was stuck because the bridge had been damaged.
Al Qaeda and Taliban militants have stepped up attacks in Pakistan, especially in the northwest where security forces are trying to eliminate militant strongholds from where they orchestrate violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
On Monday, two truck drivers taking supplies to Afghanistan were killed in a grenade and gun attack near Peshawar.
The trucks were parked at a terminal on the outskirts of Peshawar when militants fired rocket-propelled grenades at them, setting several of them on fire.
The U.S. military sends 75 percent of supplies for the Afghan war through or over Pakistan, including 40 percent of the fuel for its troops, the U.S. Defence Department says.
There are only two major routes into Afghanistan from the Pakistani port of Karachi, one through the Khyber Pass and the other through the town of Chaman to the southwest, the gateway to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.
Pakistani authorities halted movement of supplies through the Khyber Pass for a week in November after militants hijacked 13 trucks carrying Western force supplies.
(Reporting by Ibrahim Shinwari; Writing by Augustine Anthony; Editing by Robert Birsel and Sanjeev Miglani)
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
By Golnar Motevalli
Building bridges in Afghanistan requires more than bricks-and-mortar.
It requires deft diplomacy and an appreciation of tribal politics, especially if the bridge in question is to survive sabotage attempts by the Taliban.
That is why the commander of NATO-led forces, Afghan military leaders and government officials traipsed up to this isolated town in northern Afghanistan at the weekend to meet men whose cooperation they sought; eleven bearded elders from Bala Morghab.
"That bridge is just one small bridge but it's a symbol to the people who live here that if security improves we can bring improvements to the people here," General David McKiernan, commander of 50,000 NATO-led troops in Afghanistan, told Reuters.
"You sit around and speak to scholars, village elders and leaders and that's the way business is done," he said. "We're going to sit down at a shura. It's certainly more effective than trying to impose a foreign way."
Afghanistan's tribal heartlands are administered by a traditional system where elders, respected senior male figures within communities, resolve disputes and make decisions by forming a "shura" -- a consultation.
It is a system which the coalition wants to work with to gain the trust of influential decision makers in remote areas where insurgents can find a foothold.
While pleasantries were exchanged between the turban-clad, elders and the Kabul-based officials dressed in military fatigues, the fate of 17 Afghan soldiers captured by Taliban militants nearby on Thursday, hung in the balance.
Thirteen more soldiers and police were killed in the ambush.
"The village leaders, they know what's happening in their communities, so hopefully they'll have a voice to those Taliban that have these soldiers and hopefully secure their release," McKiernan said.
A BRIDGE TOO FAR?
While most of northern Afghanistan is relatively peaceful compared to the volatile south and east, Bala Morghab and the neighbouring district of Ghormach have seen a rise in violence this year with Taliban militants finding fertile ground for their insurgency among minority Pashtuns, excluded from power locally.
Fighting in the area has held up completion of the northern section of a ring road that would provide an alternative route for goods coming from Iran to the capital, Kabul, without passing through the areas with the most fighting on the southern loop.
"Three times we have asked construction companies to help build the road here, but no companies want to come here for the lack of security. If you want to you can do it, you can stop the enemy," Afghanistan's Minister of Public Works, Sourab Ali Safari, told the elders at the shura.
Better roads are essential not only for the economy -- so that farmers and merchants can get produce to markets more easily and importers can bring vital foodstuffs into the landlocked country -- but also for security, since police and the army can get more quickly to remote unstable areas.
Paved roads also make it much harder for the Taliban to plant improvised explosive devices (IEDs) -- nearly 750 of which detonated across Afghanista in 2007, causing hundreds of deaths.
Of the 42,000 km (26,000 miles) of roads in Afghanistan, only 12,000 km of roads are paved, according to the CIA World Factbook.
"It (the bridge) will help with medical care, export and import of goods if the bridge was not there people's lives would be a lot more difficult especially in the Winter months," Safari said.
The 45-metre bridge was built by Afghan companies with support from NATO's Italian and Spanish contingent. On the surface at least, the elders of Badghis welcomed the help.
Sabri Abdul Khani, the deputy governor of the province, Badghis, and spokesman for the elders assured the government officials and military top brass "the people of Badghis are always ready to cooperate in the name of peace and prosperity for this province. Our people know we need the help of the international community."
With insecurity on the rise and forces thinly stretched over the large and mountainous country, NATO commanders know they need local communities to buy into such projects if they are to last bombing campaigns by the Taliban.
"That bridge today, which we will open, I will leave it here for as long as you need it, as long as you help protect it," General McKiernan told the elders.
(Editing by Megan Goldin)
By Dan Bilefsky
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
SARAJEVO: Several thousand demonstrators took to the streets of Pristina, Kosovo's capital, on Tuesday to protest the planned deployment of a European Union judicial mission that many ethnic Albanians fear will partition the new country.
The protesters marched through the city center holding banners saying "No Partition" and "Kosovo Is Ours," witnesses said. Some chanted "Thaci is a traitor," referring to Kosovo's prime minister, Hashim Thaci.
Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership declared independence from Serbia in February after nine years of being administered by the United Nations.
At issue now is who will control the country. Under a six-point plan agreed to last week by the United Nations Security Council - and backed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Belgrade and the European Union - the 2,000-strong EU mission would be deployed under a UN mandate and would take a neutral position regarding Kosovo's independence.
Pristina has rejected that element of the plan, arguing that it is an infringement on its sovereignty and insisting that the independence of Kosovo be respected. But Thaci has nevertheless agreed to cooperate fully with the mission, on the grounds that it will help preserve peace and stability across the territory.
Albin Kurti, one of the organizers of the protest Tuesday, said that accepting the deployment of the EU mission was unacceptable because it would undermine Kosovo's hard-earned sovereignty. Opponents of the six-point plan say they are concerned that it calls for the creation of separate chains of command for Serbian and Albanian police forces operating in Kosovo; the police in the ethnic Albanian areas would report to the EU while Serb police officers in the Serb-dominated northern part of the country would report to the United Nations.
Critics say that such an arrangement would entrench a de facto partition of the country by splitting it along ethnic lines. Pristina also worries that Belgrade would use the plan as a pretext to expand its authority over Kosovo.
Since Kosovo declared independence, Belgrade has sought to broaden its influence in northern Kosovo by holding elections and by entrenching its sway over policies like education and health care.
A small explosive device was thrown last month at the International Civilian Office that housed the EU's special representative. The police initially believed the attack could have been motivated by discontent with the deployment of the new EU mission. But they then arrested three Germans, thought to be intelligence operatives, in connection with the explosion.
The three men - who media outlets in Germany describe as members of the German foreign intelligence agency, the BND - were later released by a UN panel of judges for lack of evidence.
Germany was one of the first countries to recognize the independence of Kosovo. Berlin has said that suggestions that it was involved in attacks in Kosovo were absurd.
Separately, Serbia indicated Tuesday that it was seeking changes to an agreement with NATO - signed on June 9, 1999 - that ended the Kosovo war. It called for the abolition of a no-flight buffer zone between Serbia and Kosovo created by NATO after Serbia's armed forces agreed to withdraw from the region.
The Serbian general Zdravko Ponos said the accord, which prevents Serbian military flights over the zone and requires Serbian troops to get special approval from NATO to enter the territory, was outdated because NATO and Serbia were now military partners. NATO said that it was aware of the proposal but that no decision had been made. Pristina rejected it.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
By David Brunnstrom
Belgium said on Tuesday it saw no prospect for now of a European peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, despite efforts by the former colonial power to rally backing for such a force.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has led calls for Europe to provide a rapid reaction force to help overstretched U.N. peacekeepers halt violence in the North Kivu province where rebel attacks have displaced a quarter of a million people.
But Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, whose country has pledged to contribute troops within any European force, acknowledged after talks with European counterparts in Brussels that there was little appetite for such a mission.
"My feeling at this time is that it is not possible to mount a European mission at the moment," De Gucht told a news briefing after consultations.
"No country is willing to take a lead. Secondly, most of the countries say they are overstretched, firstly in Afghanistan but also in Iraq, so they have no troops ... available," he added.
De Gucht noted that current EU President France -- whose foreign minister Bernard Kouchner initially appeared keen on a European intervention -- had indicated it would not be lead-nation for a deployment.
Belgian officials have said the country's colonial past in Congo ruled out it taking any lead role. Britain has also been reluctant to back any such operation, aimed to take the strain while the 17,000-strong U.N. force awaits reinforcements.
EU soldiers intervened in Congo in 2003 to halt militia violence in northeast Ituri district that grew out of a broader 1998-2003 war, and to protect successful 2006 elections that returned President Joseph Kabila to office.
But this time the EU has said its help for now extends to humanitarian aid, diplomatic backing for peace efforts and backing for MONUC via offers of equipment, intelligence and logistics.
(Writing by Mark John; Editing by Richard Balmforth)
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
MILAN: Italian police arrested on Tuesday two Moroccans suspected of plotting attacks against civilian and military targets on the outskirts of Milan, police and judicial sources said.
The sources, who declined to be named ahead of an official announcement, said possible targets ranged from immigration offices and police barracks to a supermarket parking lot and a cafe.
The men, who were monitored through eavesdropping devices during the police investigation, had downloaded bomb-making information from the Internet. The sources did not say how close the men may have been to carrying out an actual attack.
Judge Silvana Petromer issued arrest warrants after prosecutors said the men were "suspected of belonging to a terrorist cell" operating in Milan province, the sources said.
Police were due to give a news conference at 4 p.m. (3:00 p.m. British time).
Investigators were also carrying out checks into contacts of the Moroccans, who attended an Islamic cultural centre in the town of Macherio.
Italy has not suffered the kind of violence by Islamic militants seen in Spain and Britain, but Italian officials say the country remains on high alert and police have regularly apprehended suspects.
(Reporting by Sara Rossi; Writing by Phil Stewart; Editing by Charles Dick)
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
The following is the transcript of President-Elect Barack Obama's National Security Team announcement as provided by CQ Transcriptions.
OBAMA: Good morning, everybody. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Last week, we announced our economic team which is working as we speak to craft an economic recovery program to create jobs and grow our struggling economy.
Today, Vice President-elect Biden and I are pleased to announce our national security team. The national security challenges we face are just as great and just as urgent as our economic crisis. We are fighting two wars. Our old conflicts remain unresolved. And newly- asserted powers have put strains on the international system.
The spread of nuclear weapons raises the peril that the world's deadliest technologies could fall into dangerous hands. Our dependence on foreign oil empowers authoritarian governments and endangers our planet.
America must also be strong at home to be strong abroad. We need to provide education and opportunity to all our citizens so every American can compete with anyone anywhere. And our economic power must sustain our military strength, our diplomatic leverage, and our global leadership.
The common thread linking these challenges is the fundamental reality that in the 21st century, our destiny is shared with the world's from our markets to our security. From our public health to our climate, we must act with that understanding that now more than ever, we have a stake in what happens across the globe. And as we learn so painfully on 9-11, terror cannot be contained by borders nor safely provided by oceans alone.
Last week, we were reminded of this threat once again when terrorists took the lives of six Americans among nearly 200 victims in Mumbai.
In the world we seek, there is no place for those who kill innocent civilians to advance hateful extremism. This weekend, I told Prime Minister Singh of India that Americans stand with the people of India in this dark time. And I am confident that India's great democracy is more resilient than killers who would tear it down.
OBAMA: And so in this uncertain world, the time has come for a new beginning, a new dawn of American leadership to overcome the challenges of the 21st century and to seize the opportunities embedded in these challenges.
We will strengthen our capacity to defeat our enemies and support our friends. We will renew old alliances and forge new and enduring partnerships. We will show the world once more that America is relentless in the defense of our people, steady in advancing our interests, and committed to the ideals that shine as a beacon to the world. Democracy and justice, opportunity and unyielding hope because American values are America's greatest export to the world.
To succeed, we must pursue a new strategy that skillfully using, balances, and integrates all elements of American power, our military, and diplomacy, our intelligence and law enforcement, our economy and the power of our moral example. The team that we've assembled here today is uniquely suited to do just that.
In their past service and plans for the future, these men and women represent all of the those elements of American power and the very best of the American example. They've served in you uniform and as diplomats. They have worked as legislators, law enforcement officials, and executives. They share my pragmatism about the use of power and my sense of purpose about America's role as a leader in the world.
I have known Hillary Clinton as a friend, a colleague, a source of counsel, and a tough campaign opponent. She possesses an extraordinary intelligence and a remarkable work ethic. I am proud that she will be our next secretary of state. She's an American of tremendous stature who will have my complete confidence, who know many of the world's leaders, who will command respect in every capital, and who will clearly have the ability to advance our interests around the world.
Hillary's appointment is a sign to friend and foe of the seriousness of my commitment to renew American diplomacy and restore our alliances. There's much to do from preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to Iran and North Korea, to seeking a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, to strengthening international institutions.
I think no doubt that Hillary Clinton is the right person to lead our State Department and to work with me in tackling this ambitious foreign policy agenda. At a time when we face unprecedented transition amidst two wars, I've asked Secretary Robert Gates to continue as secretary of defense. And I'm pleased that he's accepted. Two years ago, he took over the Pentagon at a difficult time. He restored accountability. He won the confidence of military commanders and the trust of our brave men and women in uniform as well as their families.
He earned the respect of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle for his pragmatism and competence. He knows that we need a sustainable national security strategy. And that includes a bipartisan consensus at home.
As I said throughout the campaign, I will be giving Secretary Gates and our military a new mission as soon as I take office -- responsibly ending the war in Iraq through a successful transition to Iraqi control.
We will ensure that we have the strategy and resources to succeed against Al Qaida and the Taliban. As Bob said not too long ago, Afghanistan is where the War on Terror began, and it is where it must end. Going forward, we will continue to make the investments necessary to strengthen our military and increase our ground forces to defeat the threats of the 21st century.
Eric Holder has the talent and commitment to succeed as attorney everyone from his first day on the job, which is even more important in a transition that demands vigilance. He has distinguished himself as a prosecutor, a judge, and a senior official. And he is deeply familiar with the law enforcement challenges we face from terrorism to counterintelligence, from white-collar crime to public corruption.
Eric also has the combination of toughness and independence that we need at the Justice Department. Let me be clear. The attorney general serves the American people. And I have every expectation that Eric will protect our people, uphold the public trust, and adhere to our Constitution.
Janet Napolitano offers of the experience and executive skills we need in the next secretary of homeland security. She has spent her career protecting people as a U.S. attorney, an attorney general, and as the governor of Arizona. She understands the need for a Department of Homeland Security that has the capacity to help prevent terrorist attacks and respond to catastrophe be it manmade or natural.
OBAMA: Janet assumes this critical role having learned the lessons, some of them painful, of the last several years from 9-11 to Katrina. She insists on competence and accountability. She knows firsthand the need to have a partner in Washington that works well with state and local governments.
She understands as well as anyone the danger of an unsecure border. And she will be a leader who can reform a sprawling department while safeguarding our homeland.
Susan Rice will take on the crucial task of serving as permanent representative of the United States to the United Nations. Susan has been a close and trusted adviser. As in previous administrations, the UN ambassador will serve as a member of my Cabinet and in integral member of my team.
Her background as a scholar on the National Security Council and assistant secretary of state will serve our nation well at the United Nations. Susan knows the global challenges we face demand global institutions that work.
She shares my belief that the UN is an indispensable and imperfect forum. She will carry the message that our commitment to multi-lateral action must be coupled with a commitment to reform.
We need the United Nations to be more effective as a venue for collective action against terror and proliferation, climate change and genocide, poverty and disease.
Finally, I am convinced that General James Jones is uniquely suited to be a strong and skilled national security adviser. Generations of Joneses have served heroically on the battlefield from the breech beaches of Tarawa in World War II to Fox Trot Ridge in Vietnam.
Jim's Silver Star is a proud part of that legacy. He will bring to the job the duel experience of serving in uniform and as a diplomat. He has commanded a platoon in battle, served as supreme allied commander in a time of war, and worked on behalf of peace in the Middle East.
Jim is focused on the threats of today and the future. He understands the connection between energy and natural security and has worked on the front lines of global instability from Kosovo to Northern Iraq to Afghanistan. He will advise me and work effectively to integrate our efforts across the government so that we are effectively using all elements of American power to defeat unconventional threats and promote our values.
I am confident that this team is what we need to make a new beginning for American national security. This morning, we met to discuss the situation in Mumbai and some of the challenges that we face in the months and years ahead.
In the coming weeks, I will be in close contact with these advisers who will be working with their counterparts in the Bush administration to make sure that we are ready to hit the ground running on January 20th. Given the range of threats that we face and the vulnerability that can be a part of every presidential transition, I hope that we can proceed swiftly for those natural security officials who demand confirmation.
We move forward with the humility that comes with knowing that there are brave men and women protecting us on our frontlines, diplomats and intelligence officers in dangerous corners of the world, troops serving their second, third, or fourth tours, FBI agents in the field, cops on the beat, prosecutors in our courts, and cargo inspectors at our ports.
These selfless Americans whose name are unknown to most of us, will form the backbone of our effort. If we serve as well as they are serving, we will protect our country and promote our values.
And as we move forward with respect for American's tradition of a bipartisan national security policy and a commitment to national unity, we have to recall that when it comes to keeping our nation and our people safe, we are not Republicans or Democrats. We are Americans. There's no monopoly of power of wisdom in either party.
Together, as one nation, as one people, we can shape our times instead of being shaped by them. Together, we will meet the challenges of the 21st century not with fear but with hope.
Now, before I take questions, I'd like to invite my team to say a few words. And I'm going to start with my dear friend, Hillary Clinton.
CLINTON: Mr. President-elect, thank you for this honor. If confirmed, I will give this assignment, your administration, and our country my all. I also want to thank my fellow New Yorkers who have, for eight years, given me the joy of a job I love with the opportunity to work on issues I care about deeply in a state that I cherish.
And you've also helped prepare me well for this new role. After all, New Yorkers aren't afraid to speak their minds and do so in every language. Leaving the Senate is very difficult for me. But during the last few weeks, I thought often of our troops serving bravely under difficult circumstances in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
I thought of those other Americans in our foreign and civil services working hard to promote and protect our interests around the world. And I thought of the daunting tasks ahead for our country. An economy that is reeling, a climate that is warming. And as we saw with the horrible events in Mumbai, threats that are relentless.
The fate of our nation and the future of our children will be forged in the crucible of these global challenges. America cannot solve these crises without the world, and the world cannot solve them without America.
By electing Barack Obama our next president, the American people have demanded not just a new direction at home but a new effort to renew America's standing in the world as a force for positive change. We know our security, our values, and our interests cannot be protected and advanced by force alone nor, indeed, by Americans.
We must pursue vigorous diplomacy using all the tools we can muster to build a future with more partners and fewer adversaries, more opportunities and fewer dangers for all who seek freedom, peace, and prosperity.
America is a place founded on the idea that everyone should have the right to live up to his or her God-given potential. And it is that same ideal that must guide America's purpose in the world today. And while we are determined to defend our freedoms and liberties at all costs, we also reach out to the world again seeking common cause and higher ground.
And so I believe the best way to continue serving my country is to join President-elect Obama, Vice President-elect Biden, the leaders here, and the dedicated public servants of the State Department on behalf of our nation at this defining moment. President Kennedy one said that engaging the world to meet the threats we face was the greatest adventure of our century.
Well, Mr. President-elect, I am proud to join you on what will be a difficult and exciting adventure in this new century. And may God bless you and all who serve with you and our great country.
GATES: I am deeply honored that the president-elect has asked me to continue as secretary of defense. Mindful that we are engaged in two wars and face other serious challenges at home and around the world, and with a profound sense of personal responsibility to and for our men and women in uniform and their families, I must do my duty as they do theirs. How could I do otherwise?
Serving in this position for nearly two years, and especially the opportunity to lead our brave and dedicated soldiers, sailor, airmen, Marines, and defense civilians has been the most gratifying experience of my life. I am honored to continue to serve them and our country. And I will be honored to serve President-elect Obama.
HOLDER: Thank you, President-elect Obama, for the honor that you have bestowed upon me. I look forward to working with you and the members of this national security team assembled here.
The Department of Justice plays a unique role on this team. It is incumbent those of us who lead the department to ensure not only that the nation is safe but also that our laws and traditions are respected. There is not a tangent (ph) between those two. We can and we must ensure that the American people remain secure and that the great constitutional guarantees that define us as a nation are truly valued.
For example, working with Republicans and Democrats in Congress, should I be confirmed, we look forward to actually structuring policies that are both protective and consistent with who we are as a nation.
HOLDER: I also look forward to working with the men and women of the Department of Justice to revitalize the department's efforts in those areas where the department that's unique capabilities and responsibilities in keeping our people safe and ensuring fairness and in protecting our environment.
This president-elect and the team you see before you are prepared to meet the challenges that we will confront. From my experience at the Department of Justice, I know that we cannot be successful if we act alone. We must never forget that in many ways those in state and local law enforcement are our first line of detection and protection against those from foreign shores who would do us harm.
We will need to interact with our state and local partners in new innovative ways to help them solve the other issues that they confront on a daily basis. National security concerns are not defined only by the challenges created by terrorists abroad but also by criminals in our midst, whether they be criminals located on the street or in a board room.
We must forge new ties and reestablish old bonds with our state and local partners. There is much that needs to be done in this new century. I am confident that working with our president-elect, the people on this stage and the departments that they represent, those of both parties who I know and respect on Capitol Hill, we can keep our nation safe, strong, and respected.
It is now my pleasure to introduce Janet Napolitano, a great governor and an old friend.
NAPOLITANO: Thank you, Eric.
President-elect Obama, I am honored by your confidence in me and your support. Your message of change has resonated with the American people as has the clarity and the confidence of our vision of a United States that is safe, secure, and effective in the world and at home.
The team you have assembled faces the challenge of protecting our homeland with constant vigilance and relentless work to prevent terrorist attacks. It also will plan carefully and thorough so that our domestic response to all hazards is fast, sound, levelheaded, and effective. Americans deserve no less.
To achieve this high level of performance, it will be my job and the job of this team to hold ourselves and our agencies accountable, to coordinate fully across the spectrum of government agencies and to ensure that we work hand in hand with state and local governments to share information, secure our borders, and keep our country safe.
We are a nation that will be proud, prepared, and resilient. Thank you for the opportunity to serve. And I would be remiss if I did not also thank the wonderful people of Arizona. Like Hillary, it is difficult to leave one job for another, but one must go where one can best serve.
It's now my privilege to introduce to you the nominee to be it the ambassador of the United Nations, Susan Rice.
RICE: Mr. President-elect, Mr. Vice President-elect, I am deeply honored and grateful for the opportunity to serve you and our great country as the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations. I look forward to working with this outstanding bipartisan national security team to implement your visionary agenda, to strengthen our security, and renew American's leadership in the world.
I want to take this opportunity to thank my parents who taught me that no dream is too bold to embrace. My husband and our children, Jake and Maris (ph), for their patience, love, and sacrifice.
With your election, Mr. President-elect, the American people have signaled to the world that our nation is on the path to change. Now, we must fulfill that promise by joining with others to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of the 21st century to prevent conflict, to promote peace, combat terrorism, present the spread and use of nuclear weapons, tackle climate change, end genocide, fight poverty and disease.
All of these goals are vital to America's security but none can be accomplished by America alone. To enhance our common security, we must invest in our common humanity. And to do so, we need capable partners and far more effective international institutions.
The United Nations was, in major part, America's creation.
RICE: Mr. President-elect, I share your commitment to rededicate ourselves to the organization and its mission. If confirmed, as U.N. ambassador, I will work constructively within the organization to help strengthen its capacities and achieve needed reforms.
I can think of no more important time to represent the United States at the United Nations. Mr. President-elect, thank you for the confidence you've placed in me and for the opportunity to serve in this vital mission.
It's now my pleasure to introduce General James Jones.
JONES: Mr. President-elect, Mr. Vice President-elect, members of this tremendous team assembled this morning, I'm deeply humbled to have been asked by the president-elect to serve as national security adviser especially during the challenging times we currently face.
And Mr. President-elect, I deeply appreciate your mentions my family's contribution to our national security since 1939.
As has been previously mentioned, national security in the 21st century comprising a portfolio which includes all elements of our national power and influence working in coordination and harmony towards the desired goal of keeping our nation safe, helping to make our world a better place, and providing opportunity to live in peace and security for the generations to follow.
I am deeply humbled and deeply appreciative of this great opportunity, and I am very proud now to introduce a man who will play a key role in making this come to pass, the vice president-elect, Joe Biden.
BIDEN: Well, Mr. President, you've assembled quite a team. And I hope and believe that the American people will come to feel as I do that we brought together one of the most talented national security teams ever assembled. A team prepared to meet the serious challenges we face today and the emerging threats that will confront us tomorrow.
I have worked with and admired each of the members of the team some as far as back in days, Jim, when you were a Marine liaison to the United States Senate. And so we have a -- I have a long relationship, as the president does, and I do with each of these folks.
And each has a clear understanding of the forces that are shaping this new century and the lives of our fellow Americans. As was mentioned earlier, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the emergence of China, India, Russia, Brazil, and the unifying Europe as major powers, the spread of lethal weapons to dangerous countries as well as dangerous groups, the shortage of -- and scarcity of energy, water, and food, the impact of climate change, economic dislocations, persistent poverty. The technological revolution that sends people, ideas, and money around the planet as ever faster speeds. And, as was already mentioned, as we witnessed again last week with the terrible events in the India, the challenge to democratic nation states from radical ideologies.
That's just a short list of the forces that are shaping the 21st century. And it's been implied by all the comments thus far, no one country can control these forces. But more than any other country in the world, we have the ability to affect them if we use the totality of our strength.
And bringing together Senator Clinton, Secretary Gates, Eric Holder, Governor Napolitano, Susan Rice, and General Jones, the president-elect has assembled a national security team that is poised, in my view, to recapture the totality of America's strength. Each member of this team shares the goals and the principles that the president-elect and I have attempted to advance.
Each member shares our conviction that strength and wisdom must go hand in hand. Each member believes, as we do, that America's security is not a partisan issue. Witness the team. Each member understands that America's military might and economic strength must married to the power of our ideas and our ideals if we are to deal effectively with dealing with the forces of change, some of which I've mentioned, and if we're going keep this country we love so dearly prosperous and free.
These are extraordinary times. That's not in a flight of fancy or exaggeration. These are extraordinary times. We face extraordinary challenges.
BIDEN: But I am, as the president-elect is, optimistic, absolutely optimistic that this team, with the president-elect at our helm, will see to it that America leads not only by the example of our power but by the power of our example.
And now, President-elect Obama is prepared to take your questions. And, again, Mr. President-elect, congratulations on assembling what I believe will be a first-class team to lead us into this century.
OBAMA: OK. Let's start with Liz.
OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think it's important to reiterate that our condolences, our thoughts, and our prayers go out to the people of India, the families that have been affected, and, obviously, we're heartbroken by the deaths of the six Americans that were caught up in this tragedy.
I've spoken to Prime Minister Singh and expressed these concerns to him. An investigation is taking place. I was briefed by Secretary Rice throughout the weekend. She's on her way to the region. We've sent FBI to help on the investigation.
And this is one of those time where I have to reiterate there's one president at a time. We're going to be engaged in some very delicate diplomacy in the next several days and weeks. So I think it would be inappropriate for me to comment.
But what I can say unequivocally is that both myself and the team that stands beside me are absolutely committed to eliminating the threat of terrorism. And that is true wherever it is found. We cannot have -- we cannot tolerate a world in which innocents are being killed by extremists based on twisted ideologies.
And we're going to have to bring the full force of our power, not only military but also diplomatic, economic, and political, to deal with those threats not only to keep America safe but also to ensure that peace and prosperity with exist around the world.
So I will be monitoring the situation closely. Thus far, I think the administration has done what's needed in trying to get the details of the situation. And my expectation is that President Zardari of Pakistan, who has already said that he will fully cooperate with the investigation, will follow through with that commitment.
All right. Karen?
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. You've selected a number of high profile people for your national secure team. How can you ensure that the staff that you are assembling is going to be a smoothly- functioning team of rivals and not a clash of rivals?
OBAMA: Well, I think you heard Joe mention the fact that many of the people who are standing beside me are people who have worked together before, who have the utmost respect for each other. These are outstanding public servants and outstanding in their various fields of endeavor.
They would not have agreed to join my administration, and I would not have asked them to be part of this administration unless we shared a core vision of what's needed to keep the American people safe and to assure prosperity here at home and peace abroad.
I think all of us here share the belief that we have to maintain the strongest military on the planet, that we have to support our troops and make sure that they are properly trained, properly equipped, that they are provided with a mission that allows them to succeed. All of us here also agree that the strength of our military has to be combined with the wisdom and force of our diplomacy and that we are going to be committed to rebuilding and strengthening alliances around the world to advance American interests and American security.
And so in discussions with this entire team, what I am excited about is a consensus not only among those of us standing here today, but I think cross a broad section of the American people, that now is the time for us to regain American leadership in all its dimensions. And I am very confident that each of these individuals are not going to be leaving the outstanding work that they are currently doing if they weren't convinced that they could work as an effective team.
One last point I will make. I assembled this team because I'm a strong believer in strong personalities and strong opinions. I think that's how the best decisions are made. One of the dangers in the White House, based on my reading of history, is that you get wrapped up in group think and everybody agrees with everything and there's no discussion and there are no dissenting views. So I'm going to be welcoming a vigorous debate inside the White House.
But understand I will be setting policy as president. I will be responsible for the vision that this team carries out, and I expect them to implement that vision once decisions are made. So as Harry Truman said, the buck will stop with me. And nobody who's standing here, I think, would have agreed to join this administration unless they had confidence that, in fact, that vision was one that would help secure the American people and our interests.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President-elect. During the campaign, you said that you thought the U.S. had a right to attack high-value terrorist targets in Pakistan if given actionable intelligence with or without the Pakistani government's permission. Two questions on that.
One, do you think India has that same right?
And, two, regarding what Karen just said, some people up there on the stage took issue with your saying that. They have strong opinions about issues ranging from Pakistan to the surge. And while they're all committed to have a successful United States, what private assurances have they given you that they will be able to carry out your vision even when they strongly disagree with that vision as some of them have been able to do in the past?
Thank you, sir.
OBAMA: I think that sovereign nations, obviously, have a right to protect themselves. Beyond that, I don't want to comment on the specific situation that's taking place in South Asia right now. I think it is important for us to let the investigators do their jobs and make a determination in terms of who was responsible for carrying out these heinous acts.
I can tell you that my administration will remain steadfast in support of India's efforts to catch the perpetrators of this terrible act and bring them to justice. And I expect that the world community will feel the same way.
Now, in terms of my team and carrying out my vision and my policies, as I've said, during campaigns or during the course of election season, differences get magnified. I did not ask for assurances from these individuals that they would agree with me at all times. I think they understand and would not be joining this team unless they understood and were prepared to carry out the decisions that have been made by me after full discussion.
And, you know, most of the people who are standing here are people who I've worked with, and on the broad core vision of where America needs to go, we are in almost complete agreement. There are going to be differences in tactics and different assessments and judgments made. That's what I expect. That's what I welcome. That's why I asked them to join the team.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President-elect.
You've talked about the importance just now of having different voices and robust debate within your administration. But, again, going back to the campaign, you were asked and talked about the qualifications of the -- your now, your nominee for secretary of state. And you belittled her travels around the word, equating it to having teas with foreign leaders. And your new White House council said that her resume was grossly exaggerated when it came to foreign policy. I'm wondering whether you can talk about the evolution of your views of her credentials since the spring.
OBAMA: Well, I mean, I think -- this is fun for the press to try to stir up whatever quotes were generated during the course of the campaign. No, I understand. And you're having fun.
But the -- and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm not -- I'm not faulting it. But, look, I think if you look at the statements that Hillary Clinton and I have made outside of the heat of a campaign, we share a view that America has to be safe and secure. And in order to do that...
OBAMA: ... the statements that Hillary Clinton and I have made outside of the heat of a campaign, we share a view that America has to be safe and secure. And in order to do that we have to combine military power with strength and diplomacy. And we have to build and forge stronger alliances around the world so that we're not carrying the burdens and these challenges by ourselves.
I believe that there is no more effective advocate than Hillary Clinton for that well-rounded view of how we advance American interests. She has served on the Armed Services Committee in the Senate. She's knows world leaders around the world. I have it extensive discussions with her both pre-election and post-election about the strategic opportunities that exist out there to strengthen American's posture in the world.
And I think she is going to be an outstanding secretary of state. And if I didn't believe that, I wouldn't have offered her the job. And if she didn't believe that I was equipped to lead this nation in such a difficult time, she would not have accepted.
John McCormack. Where's John?
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President-elect.
You're known as a pretty good storyteller. Can you tell us a little bit of a story about how Senator Clinton was selected for this job? Was there a seminal moment? How was the offered extended? Can you give us some detail on how it was accepted and kind of the negotiation process that was involved here?
And, also, does Secretary Gates meet the requirement for a Republican on the Cabinet, or should we be looking for others as well?
OBAMA: Well, I mean, I didn't -- I didn't -- I didn't check his voter registration. Secretary Gates, meets the qualification of being an outstanding current secretary of defense and somebody who is doing everything he can every single day to make sure that our troops are properly equipped and trained and organized in order to succeed at their missions and that their families are cared for.
So I have complete confidence in Secretary Gates being able to carry out his tasks. And I think the point here is that I didn't going around checking people's political registration. What I was most concerned with was whether or not they can serve the interests of the American people.
With respect to Senator and soon-to-be, Secretary of State Clinton, it was not a light bulb moment. I have always admired Senator Clinton. We have worked together extensively in the Senate. I have always believed that she is tough and smart and disciplined and that she shares my core values and the core values of the American people.
And so I was always interested after the primary was over in finding ways in which we could collaborate. After the election was over and I began to think about my team, it occurred to me that she could potentially be an outstanding secretary of state. I extended her the offer and she accepted.
I know that's not as juicy a story as you were hoping for, but that's all you're going to get, John. Thanks.
Where's Dean? There you are. Hey, Dean.
QUESTION: Sir, do you still intend to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq in 16 months after inauguration? And did you discuss that -- the possibility of that -- with Secretary Gates, before selecting him?
OBAMA: Well, keep in mind what I said during the campaign. And you were there most of the time.
I said that I would remove our combat troops from Iraq in 16 months with the understanding that it might be necessary, likely to be necessary, to maintain a residual force to provide potential training, logistical support to protect our civilians in Iraq.
The SOFA that has been now passed by the Iraqi legislature points us in the right direction. It indicates we are now on a glide path to reduce our forces in Iraq. I will be meeting be not only Secretary Gates but the joint chiefs of staff and commanders on the ground to make a determination as to how we move that pace -- how we proceed in that withdrawal process.
I believe that 16 months is the right timeframe. But as I have said consistently, I will listen to the recommendations of my commanders. And my number one priority is making sure that our troops remain safe in this transition phase and that the Iraqi people are well served by a government that is taking on increased responsibility for its own security.
It is a sovereign nation. What this signals is a transition period in which our mission will be changing. We will have to remain vigilant in making sure that any terrorist elements that remain in Iraq do not become strengthened as a consequence of our drawdown. But it's also critical that we recognize that the situation in Afghanistan has been worsening. The situation in South Asia, as a whole, and the safe havens for terrorist that have been established there represent the single most important threat against the American people.
And we're going to have to mobilize our resources and focus on attention on defeating Al Qaeda, bin Laden, and any other extremist groups that intend to target American citizens.
Thank you very much, everybody.
The Associated Press
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
BRUSSELS, Belgium: EU lawmakers told Israel's foreign minister on Tuesday that her country has to do more to stop the expansion of West Bank settlements.
Lawmakers at the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee said settlers' moves to defend their homes there were threatening Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in Brussels to seek closer EU ties, said it was no longer official Israeli policy to expand settlements in the West Bank and the government has been trying to reduce them since peace talks restarted last year.
"We are not trying to use or abuse the period of time in which we negotiate in order to have more land, or to get more land from the Palestinians," Livni told members of the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee.
Livni said "minor" efforts by some settler groups around the West Bank town of Hebron to expand their settlements would not derail peace talks or efforts to set up a Palestinian state.
Dozens of Jewish settlers rioted Tuesday in Hebron, clashing with the Israeli troops who guard them but who may also evict them from a disputed building they have occupied.
In two other West Bank villages, Palestinians said settlers burned animal feed and slashed tires to deter Israeli authorities from dismantling unauthorized settlements.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has urged the 27-nation EU not to upgrade ties with Israel as long as it expands West Bank settlements.
Livni sat through a barrage of criticism levied by several EU lawmakers.
"For us, the extension of settlers and colonists in the West Bank is not acceptable and does not allow negotiations to take place," said Belgian socialist Veronique De Keyser.
She also faced questions about what Israel was doing to alleviate the situation in Gaza, which is suffering from a shortage of fuel and basic items due to an Israeli security blockade imposed last year after Hamas, an Islamic group hostile to Israel, violently seized power in Gaza.
Livni said Israel was allowing in humanitarian aid to ease the crisis there.
Livni also met with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on including Israel in key EU projects. Israel is already involved in the EU's high-tech research programs but also wants a role in customs, environmental, health and other areas.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
GAZA: An Israeli air strike killed two Palestinian youths Tuesday in the southern Gaza Strip, where mortar bombs were earlier launched at Israel, local residents and hospital officials said.
The Israeli military confirmed an air strike had taken place on the town of Rafah, in which two other people were wounded. It said militants had fired six mortar bombs across the border.
Rafah residents and hospital officials said the two Palestinians killed were civilians who were related. One was aged 15 and the second was 17.
The Hamas Islamist faction that controls the Gaza Strip said one of its members was wounded in the strike.
Militants have fired dozens of rockets and mortar bombs at Israel in the past three weeks after Israeli raids that killed about a dozen gunmen. The violence has strained a cease-fire which was agreed last June.
Saying it was responding to rocket attacks, Israel has tightened its closure of Gaza's border crossings, stopping supplies into the territory and raising international concern.
Later Tuesday, leaders of Hamas and the less influential Islamic Jihad militant group met to discuss the fate of the six-month-old cease-fire and blamed Israel for weakening the chances it could be renewed.
The six-month cease-fire was set on June 19 and is due to expire later this month.
"If we ask our Palestinian people today we would not find many in favour of continuing the calm agreement the way it is now," senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya said before entering the meeting.
Hayya said Israel had also not abided by the agreement when it did not fully open the crossings it controls with Gaza to allow the transfer of goods and it had not stopped military strikes in the occupied West Bank and in the coastal territory.
Senior Islamic Jihad official Nafez Azzam said Tuesday's killing of the two teenagers in Rafah was a "proof the aggression was continuing."
The officials said their decision on the future of the truce would be relayed to Egyptian mediators.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Writing by Dan Williams; editing by Ori Lewis)
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
TEHRAN: Iran said it began six days of naval war games on Tuesday in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic transport route for global oil supplies which the Islamic Republic has threatened to close if it is attacked.
Iran often stages exercises or tests weapons to show its determination to counter any attack by the United States or Israel against sites they believe are to make nuclear arms.
"The aim of this manoeuvre is to increase the level of readiness of Iran's naval forces and also to test and to use domestically-made naval weaponry," Admiral Qasem Rostamabadi told state radio.
The radio said the naval manoeuvres would cover an area of 50,000 square miles, including the Sea of Oman off Iran's southern coast.
"In this six-day long manoeuvre there will be more than 60 combat vessel units," Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, commander of the navy, was quoted as saying by the Kayhan daily.
They would include destroyers, missile-equipped battleships, submarines, special-operations teams, helicopters, and fighter planes, he said.
Iran, the world's fourth-largest crude oil producer, says its uranium enrichment activities are aimed at making fuel for electricity-generating nuclear power plants, not bombs.
The United States says it wants diplomacy to end the nuclear row, but neither Washington nor Israel have ruled out military action if that fails. Iran has vowed to retaliate if pushed.
Military analysts say Iran's real ability to respond could be with more unconventional tactics, such as deploying small hit-and-run craft to attack oil tankers, or using allies in the Middle East to strike at U.S. or Israeli interests.
Iran has previously said it could close the Strait of Hormuz to shipping, through which about 40 percent of the world's globally traded oil passes. The United States has pledged to protect shipping routes.
An Iranian naval commander was last week quoted as saying the country's navy could strike an enemy well beyond its shores and as far away as Bab al-Mandab, the southern entrance to the Red Sea that leads to the Suez Canal.
Iran's 1980s war with Iraq included a period that became known as the tanker war when oil carriers and other energy installations became targets by both sides. This led to the United States stepping in to protect oil shipping.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Hashem Kalantari; Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Katie Nguyen)
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
By Louis Charbonneau
The Sudanese government's continued attacks on civilians in Darfur show how empty Khartoum's promises of peace for the ravaged region are, 15 human rights organizations said in a report issued on Tuesday.
"Far from trying to improve the situation as it claims, the government of Sudan continues to conduct large-scale military attacks against populated areas, to harass aid workers and to allow impunity for the worst crimes committed in Darfur," Human Rights Watch, the Save Darfur Coalition, and 13 other rights organizations said in a highly unusual joint report.
In July, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague asked the court's judges to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on suspicion of masterminding a campaign of genocide in Darfur, an accusation Khartoum rejects.
Since then, the groups say, Sudanese officials have been lobbying the 15 members of the U.N. Security Council to use their power to suspend the ICC investigation of Bashir, arguing that an indictment would destroy the fragile peace process in Darfur.
According to the rights groups' 22-page report, Khartoum has been working hard to convince the international community that it wants peace in Darfur in an attempt to pressure the Security Council into suspending the case against Bashir.
Bashir has announced a new peace initiative in western Sudan's Darfur, agreed to peace talks currently being mediated by Qatar and pledged to punish anyone guilty of crimes in Darfur.
But there are few signs of peace in Darfur and the policy of impunity for more than five years of mass murder in the region continue, making clear that the government's pledges are empty rhetoric, the report says.
The groups say that the only area of improvement has been in the deployment of the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force for Darfur, known as UNAMID.
The humanitarian situation and security in Darfur have deteriorated significantly in recent months, the groups say.
Sudanese U.N. Ambassador Abdalmahmoud Abdalhaleem told Reuters that the activist groups were "warmongers" whose main objective was "to undermine peace in Sudan because they are beneficiaries of the war." He dismissed their accusations.
"The enemies of Sudan, including those organizations, will never be lacking in their negative campaign against chances and hopes for peace in Sudan," he said.
The United Nations estimates that as many as 300,000 people have died and some 2.7 million left homeless in the five years of fighting between rebels and the army and government-backed militia.
(Editing by Eric Beech)
The Associated Press
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
HARARE, Zimbabwe: As children play near cesspools, their parents shake their heads at a public service announcement that drifts over the radio urging people to boil water before drinking it. It sounds like a taunt in a country where water and electricity supplies are off more often than on.
This week, the authorities turned off the taps in the capital of Zimbabwe after the National Water Authority said it ran out of purifying chemicals and feared that contaminated water would spread a cholera epidemic that has claimed hundreds of lives since August.
The crisis is the latest chapter in the collapse of this once-vibrant nation under President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled for 28 years and refuses to leave office even though he and his party lost elections in March.
An agreement to form a unity government with the opposition has been deadlocked for weeks over how to share cabinet posts.
Harare is the center of the cholera epidemic, which has spread across the country and over its borders.
The government has reported 473 deaths since August and a total of 11,700 people infected by Monday, said Paul Garwood, spokesman for Health Action and Crises, the humanitarian arm of the UN World Health Organization.
Garwood said that according to the official toll, 4 percent of those infected were dying of a disease that usually claims fewer than one percent and is easily treated with rehydration salts or an intravenous drip.
Doctors said the toll was nearer 1,000 dead, or 10 percent of the victims, but there was no count of those dying at home and in the countryside without medical care. All the main hospitals of Zimbabwe have closed.
The smaller ones that are still operating can offer little care. They have no medicine and few staff, since monthly salaries no longer cover one day's bus fare to get to work.
The City Council, controlled by the opposition, is burying cholera victims for free because people cannot afford to buy graves.
The government, normally hostile to international aid agencies, is welcoming an initiative by several - including the UN Children's Fund, WHO and Médecins Sans Frontières - to provide emergency care and to try to assure safe water supplies.
Health officials, following the line of a government that is refusing to declare a national emergency, insisted that the cholera outbreak was under control until five days ago.
At the time, the best advice that Health Minister David Parirenyatwa could offer was to urge people to stop shaking hands. "I want to stress the issue of shaking hands," he told The Herald, a state newspaper. "Although it's part of our tradition to shake hands, it's high time people stopped shaking hands."
The collapse of all services, including garbage collection, has increased the number of rats that threaten to spread other, more deadly, diseases.
In Mabvuku, a suburb where residents have dug shallow wells in open ground, people say that they know unboiled water can make them ill, but that they have no choice.
"We are afraid, but there is no solution. Most of the time the electricity is not available so we just use the water," said Naison Chakwicha, a resident.
In another suburb, Mbare, Anna Marimbe traced the deaths of two children last week to stinking, open drains where she said the children played.
Residents of the densely populated town of Chitungwiza sued the National Water Authority in the High Court on Friday, saying they had been without running water for 13 months, causing cholera and leading to deaths.
By Jennifer Steinhauer
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
LOS ANGELES: There are many ways to measure California's tanking economy: an 8.2 percent unemployment rate; a multibillion-dollar state budget gap; threatened endowments of the city's museums, causing some cultural institutions to nearly default on mortgages; and the continued weakening of the Hollywood studio system. But the meltdown of the marionettes may say it all.
Near a freeway overpass on a decidedly scrappy edge of downtown Los Angeles is a marionette puppet theater that has enchanted children over nearly five decades, several recessions, two riots, at least four failed urban renewal plans and an earthquake or two.
The Bob Baker Marionette Theater's shows, employing an eclectic selection of Baker's 3,000 handmade puppets prancing about a shoebox-size theater perpetually decked out in gold garlands, are a staple of a Los Angeleno childhood. It is the cultural equivalent of the annual march by the nation's third graders to the neighborhood firehouse.
But the struggling California economy and some bad business decisions by Baker have left the Bob Baker marionettes in a deep financial ditch, and Baker, a rather unheralded Hollywood legend, with an uncertain future. "We have all kinds of problems that have come up recently," Baker said. "But we're not going to close. We're going to fight this out to the very bitter end."
Over the last few months Baker, 84, has fallen $30,000 behind on his mortgage and lost a rent-paying tenant, while his two major sources of revenue have dried up. First, the public schools have reduced financing for field trips. And second, some of his lower-income parents, he said, unemployed and swimming in debt, are unable to come up with the $15-per-ticket admission.
"We've had quite a few people call who are losing their houses and have to cancel birthday parties," he said.
In addition, Baker said, a few years ago he refinanced the theater's mortgage to help pay for rising operating costs, and the mortgage payments have shot up. A business deal he made to improve his space went bad. He said he was negotiating with his lenders, and added ruefully, "I am more of an artist than a businessman."
In a city where children's movies are often screened in a Hollywood theater with white-glove popcorn service and the organic certifications of birthday cakes are debated at length on Web sites aimed at parents, Baker's theater is a charming throwback.
As they have for generations, children gather in a circle on the floor of the 200-person capacity auditorium as Baker's elaborately appointed marionettes scamper about to the sounds of old phonograph records, scratches and all. The theater is one of the few places in Los Angeles that routinely attracts racially and economically diverse groups of children.
A typical show requires about 15 workers, including 8 puppeteers, a lighting designer, a costume maker and ticket takers. There are usually two productions a year, one with a Christmas theme. The second show might be "Something to Crow About," a barnyard spectacular; the Latin-flavored "Fiesta"; or a revue like "Bob Baker's Musical World," which might evolve over the season and employ a rotation of 100 or more puppets. Baker also performs puppet shows around Southern California for birthday parties and other events. The annual budget, Baker said, is about $360,000.
Victoria Hurley, 42, grew up in Los Angeles going to the shows, and now takes her children, who are 5 and 3. "They still serve the exact kind of ice cream with the exact same wooden spoon I got 30 years ago," Hurley said. "The quality of the entertainment has certainly held up fantastically, but I think the building could use some sprucing. It is almost like they haven't even repainted. I personally think it is charming, but if I came from New York and brought my children I might feel otherwise."
At a recent performance of "The Nutcracker," an eclectic mix of Baker's handmade puppets appeared, ranging from a Mouse King, resplendent in velvet, to what is perhaps best described as selections from the "Soul Train" collection, white leisure suits and gold trim included.
The marionettes are handled by Baker's students, who spend a good year under his tutelage before they are allowed to don black clothing and work before an audience. As they moved through the room they occasionally dropped a puppet into the lap of a delighted toddler. As usual, the whole affair ended with a cup of vanilla ice cream handed to each child.
The shows are not exactly linear. The "Soul Train" marionettes, for example, are wedged into "The Nutcracker," and the story seems oddly lacking in the middle section. But the focus is really on the puppets, in their glorious velvet and gossamer.
"There is a magic thing about a live puppet show," Baker said recently. "I was watching the children just today and they were hugging the puppets, and then they always come up after me and ask me how they work. A lot of children who come here have never been to a live show and may never go to a live show again."
The number of people whose careers as puppeteers Baker started is "amazing, at least a dozen professionally," said Greg Williams, 51, a professional puppeteer who helps Baker with his road shows. "I started with him when I was 15, and was cleaning the party room. I went from there to doing the sets to the lights. One day a puppeteer wasn't available, and I got shoved on the floor," Williams said.
Baker "gets a lot of the neighborhood kids, and some of these kids who look like they would have no future are here entertaining and enjoying it," Williams said. Baker still does many private birthday parties personally. "You get those Beverly Hills parents and you need to keep those people happy," he added.
Baker, whose puppet passion began at an early age, has had an authentic Hollywood career something not immediately evident given his modest site downtown.
He grew up in what is now Koreatown, in a house often full of actors and others from the "theatrical world," Baker said, and graduated from Hollywood High School. When he was a little boy, his father took him to a holiday show at an area department store, which featured, as many store entertainments did in the early 20th century, puppets.
When he turned 7 he bought two puppets and soon started working the birthday party circuit. He said his first party was for Mervyn LeRoy, a producer and director for both Warner Brothers and MGM, which set off a word-of-mouth campaign. Years later he would perform at Liza Minnelli's fourth birthday party. (And, keeping it in the family, a few years after that, he appeared in the 1954 Judy Garland film, "A Star Is Born," conducting a marionette show.)
In the 1940s Baker worked as a puppet maker for George Pal, creator of the Puppetoons, whose movies and television credits include cult films like Edgar Ulmer's "Bluebeard" (1944), the original "Star Trek" series and "Bewitched."
Baker started his production company in 1949 with his business partner, Alton Wood (who died in 2001). It has remained one of the more well-known training grounds for puppet makers who have gone on to work in fantasy films.
But it is the theater, opened in 1960 in a warehouselike building, for which Baker is best known around town. The elaborate facade meant to suggest "Alice in Wonderland" is long gone, as are the evening performances, which Baker said faded after the 1965 Watts riots made people afraid to venture at night. Weekends and shows for school groups along with sales of puppets and movie work have sustained him, and he hopes the doors of his theater will stay open.
"My mother used to say, 'We can fall into a mud puddle and come up smelling like roses,' " Baker said. "We have gone through some pretty hard times, and I just have to see the light of day. We're just going to make it."
By Michael M. Grynbaum
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Wall Street mounted a modest recovery on Tuesday, gaining back nearly half of the enormous collapse that had seemed to bode badly for this week.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose nearly 300 points after bouncing up and down the chart, even dipping into negative territory for a brief moment in the early afternoon. By the end of the session, the index was up 280 points.
The broader Standard & Poor's 500-stock index gained 4.1 percent, an encouraging performance after the benchmark index dropped nearly 9 percent on Monday. The Nasdaq jumped 3.7 percent.
The rally was led by some of the year's biggest market losers, with General Electric up more than 10 percent. Shares of Ford Motors and General Motors were higher in the morning but fell back after automakers released November sales. GM reported that sales fell more than 41 percent; Ford's sales were down 30.6 percent. Even foreign carmakers felt sharp declines in November Toyota's sales were off 33.9 percent.
Investors were also watching a new spate of earnings reports that have started to trickle in for the third quarter. Banking shares were higher on Tuesday, with Citigroup up 16 percent, a day after the financial sector suffered its worst daily decline in at least two decades.
Oil prices continued to fall, slipping $2.21 to settle at $47.07 a barrel.
While the modest market gains provide some sense of comfort after Monday's hair-raising decline, the size of the swings underscored the immense volatility and uncertainty that remain ingrained in the market. Investors are still not certain of anything, whether it's how long the recession will last or which company could be the next to teeter on collapse. Double-digit percentage point gains have become the norm for shares of some high-profile businesses, shifts that once took weeks to occur.
Investors are also looking ahead to Friday's unemployment report from the Labor Department, arguably the most important update on the health of the economy. Economists expect that businesses shed another 300,000 jobs last month, adding to the layoffs that have hit every month this year.
In Europe, shares moved higher in afternoon trading after a sharp decline in the morning session. Shares in Asia fell amid deeply bearish sentiment stoked by expectations of a protracted global recession, as Japan and Australia sought to ease credit market strains with monetary policy measures.
To nearly no one's surprise, investors were told this week that the United States economy is officially in a recession, according to the nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research, which is charged with dating business cycles.
The research organization dated the recession back to last December, meaning the economy is already in one of the worst downturns since the early 1980s.
"We've had a lot of very bad news," Francisco Salvador, director at Venture Finanzas in Madrid, said. He cited worldwide declines in the manufacturing industry and a worrisome rise in the cost of insuring corporate debt against default.
Salvador also cited concern that some investors were having trouble staying afloat after reports that several big funds were either reorganizing or halting redemptions. "There is panic among the hedge funds," he added.
In Spain, he noted, the government said on Tuesday that the number of jobless rose by more than 170,000 in November, the eighth consecutive monthly increase. The country's unemployment rate, at 12.8 percent in October, is the highest in the European Union. "The only good news," he said, "is that sentiment is so overwhelmingly negative that a contrarian reaction is possible."
The FTSE 100 index in London gained 1.4 percent; the CAC 40 in Paris was up 2.4 percent; and the DAX in Frankfurt gained 3.1 percent.
Japan led Asian markets lower. The benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average fell 6.4 percent after the Bank of Japan, which last month lowered its already low interest rates still further, said it would accept a wider range of corporate debt as collateral for lending, a move aimed at helping companies obtain cash from banks.
In Sydney, the S&P/ASX 200 index fell 4.2 percent, despite another sharp interest rate cut by the Reserve Bank of Australia. The central bank cut its benchmark rate target by a full percentage point to 4.25 percent. The bank has now cut the target rate by 3 percentage points since September.
The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong fell 5.0 percent, and the Shanghai Stock Exchange composite index was off 0.3 percent.
United States government bonds were little changed near record low yields as many investors fled to safety.
The chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben S. Bernanke, said Monday that the central bank might begin buying government bonds to cut long-term borrowing costs.
That sent prices on government securities soaring, with the yield on the 30-year Treasury note, which moves in the opposite direction of the price, at 3.239 percent. The yield on the two-year note was at 0.893 percent.
Credit markets have been extremely tight since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in mid-September, making banks less willing to lend to one another and leaving companies hard-pressed to fund their businesses. Although Japan's banks have generally been less exposed than their European and United States counterparts to the credit woes emanating from America since last year, the credit crunch and falling stock markets have now taken their toll.
The dollar was mixed against other major currencies. The euro rose to $1.2655 from $1.2609 late Monday in New York, while the British pound fell to $1.4910 from $1.4885. The dollar rose to 1.2073 Swiss francs from 1.2060 francs and rose to 93.27 yen from 93.19.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
ZURICH: Credit Suisse, HSBC Holdings and Standard Chartered on Tuesday announced hundreds of job cuts, a day after JPMorgan Chase said it would eliminate 9,200 jobs at Washington Mutual, which it acquired Sept. 25.
The reductions are the latest in a wave of job losses. About 90,000 jobs have been cut at major global banks since September. Of these, more than 50,000 have been at Citigroup.
Credit Suisse said it was cutting 650 jobs, equivalent to about 3 percent of its investment banking work force, which comprises about 21,300.
"The cuts will be made mainly in investment banking," said Marc Dosc, a spokesman for Credit Suisse.
Credit Suisse, which employed about 50,000 people worldwide at the end of September, has already cut 1,800 jobs this year.
HSBC, the biggest bank in Europe, said it was cutting 500 jobs at its British banking business. HSBC employs 58,000 people in Britain.
Standard Chartered, a British bank that makes more than three-quarters of its profit in Asia, said it would trim 200 jobs in Hong Kong as it adapted to "difficult" market conditions.
"We hope that this is a one-off cut," said Gabriel Kwan, a Standard Chartered spokeswoman in Hong Kong.
The job losses will be across different departments and levels of seniority and take effect in a month, she added.
Standard Chartered, which made a quarter of its pretax income in Hong Kong in the first half of the year, said last month that it was eliminating 572 jobs at its main office in South Korea.
Royal Bank of Scotland Group, Macquarie Group and other international banks are eliminating a combined 260 jobs in Hong Kong, The South China Morning Post reported Tuesday, citing unidentified people.
At the former Washington Mutual, the 9,200 job cuts, announced Monday, amount to more than 21 percent of the work force, which comprised 43,198 employees at the end of June.
Washington Mutual's banking assets were bought by JPMorgan in September for $1.9 billion in a transaction arranged by U.S. regulators. The holding company for Washington Mutual, based in Seattle, later filed for bankruptcy protection.
About 4,000 of the jobs will be cut by the end of January, and 5,200 will be cut later, said Christine Holevas, a JPMorgan spokeswoman. The 5,200 employees will receive double their annual salaries retroactive to Oct. 1, payable in a lump sum when their employment ends, Holevas said.
Seattle will bear the brunt of the cuts, with 3,400 layoffs out of a total of 4,300 Washington Mutual employees in the city, JPMorgan said.
An additional 1,600 layoffs will be in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the remaining 4,200 will be elsewhere. Most branch workers will keep their jobs.
The combined company has about 5,400 branches, and JPMorgan has said that it plans to close no more than 10 percent of them.
Holevas said JPMorgan had not decided the fate of Washington Mutual's headquarters building in Seattle.
Washington Mutual collapsed under the weight of about $176 billion of home equity, adjustable-rate and subprime home loans on its books. It is one of 22 U.S. lenders to fail this year.
Bank of America, which is set to acquire Merrill Lynch before the end of the year, is also expected to cut about 10,000 investment banking jobs at the combined banks, CNBC, a business news channel in the United States, reported on Monday.
Scott Silvestri, a Bank of America spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement, "We are following the same review process to evaluate staffing levels used in every merger transition and we have nothing to announce."
Bank of America and Merrill shareholders are scheduled to vote on the merger on Friday.
Losses at Credit Suisse's investment banking division dragged it into a loss in the third quarter and analysts expect the fourth quarter to be another difficult one.
Credit Suisse had already cut 500 jobs in investment banking in October. A competitor, UBS, whose entry into risky U.S. assets has cost it $49 billion in write-downs, announced in October that it would cut nearly 2,000 jobs.
Dosc, the spokesman for Credit Suisse, did not comment on which jobs would be shed nor the time frame for the measures.
"However, usually these cuts are made very fast," he said.
Other leading banks have had to reduce staff in the last quarter as the global financial crisis deepened and major economies were expected to fall into recession.
In Germany, Commerzbank announced in September that it would cut 9,000 jobs.
By Lynnley Browning
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
The U.S. Justice Department has expanded its criminal investigation into foreign banks that sell offshore private banking services to include Credit Suisse and HSBC, according to people briefed on the matter.
The widening of the investigation is an outgrowth of an inquiry by U.S. prosecutors and regulators of UBS, the Swiss banking giant, and its sales of offshore banking services to wealthy Americans. The prosecutors, who are focusing on senior and midlevel executives and bankers at UBS, contend that UBS illegally helped U.S. clients hide as much as $20 billion in secret offshore accounts, thereby evading $300 million a year in U.S. taxes from 2000 to 2007.
HSBC, which is based in London, is one of the largest European banks. It has large consumer, private, asset management and investment banking operations that extend across the United States and Asia.
Credit Suisse, which is based in Zurich, is also one of the world's largest banks, with significant operations globally.
The investigation into HSBC and Credit Suisse, which began about September, is focusing on whether the two banks helped wealthy Americans hide as much as $30 billion in offshore accounts that went undeclared to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, the people briefed on the matter said in recent days. Prosecutors are examining whether the two banks illegally helped those clients use accounts to evade U.S. taxes and whether the clients violated U.S. laws.
The investigations are at an early stage and have not focused on any executives, these people said, though they added that could change as the investigations unfolded. Last month, U.S. prosecutors indicted Raoul Weil, a senior UBS executive who is one of the world's top private bankers, on charges of conspiring to help wealthy Americans evade taxes through UBS. Weil denies the charge.
The indictment of Weil, who oversaw the lucrative cross-border private banking operations of UBS from 2002 to 2007, also referred to unindicted co-conspirators in "the highest level of management" within the bank.
The investigations into HSBC and Credit Suisse have emerged from information provided to prosecutors and are focused on the same kind of cross-border banking activities now under scrutiny at UBS, according to these people. The information has emerged, in part, from talks between senior executives at HSBC and Credit Suisse after the UBS inquiry. "UBS was not alone in this," said one of the people.
HSBC "has not received any contact from the U.S. authorities with regard to any such investigation," the bank said Tuesday. "HSBC complies with the letter and spirit of the laws and regulations in all the countries and territories it does business in around the world."
Jan Vonder Mühll, a spokesman in Zurich for Credit Suisse, said: "We are not aware of any investigation in that context. Credit Suisse adheres to the highest compliance standards, regulations and policies."
The investigation into UBS, the world's largest private bank, has peeled back layers of Swiss banking secrecy, whose tradition dates to the Middle Ages. The custom, the backbone of a multibillion-dollar industry, is coming under increased scrutiny from U.S. and European regulators, prosecutors and the private-sector tax authorities over whether it facilitates tax evasion. The scrutiny is also focusing attention on the question of whether Switzerland is effectively an offshore tax haven.
The investigation of European-based banks signals a shift by the Justice Department, which in recent years has focused on offshore banks operating in Bermuda, the Caribbean and Bahamas, all offshore tax havens.
The investigation of UBS began around 2007 and gained force last June, when a former senior private banker and U.S. citizen, Bradley Birkenfeld, pleaded guilty to conspiring to help a U.S. property developer, Igor Olenicoff, conceal $200 million through secret accounts set up by UBS and other entities in Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
Like the investigation into UBS, the scrutiny of HSBC and Credit Suisse is focused on potential crimes committed in the United States with U.S. clients.
Like UBS, Credit Suisse and HSBC are registered broker-dealers in the United States, but those licenses, which are overseen by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, do not apply to banking or investment services provided by their overseas affiliates or overseas subsidiaries.
By James SaftReuters
LONDON: Government intervention or not, banks will be cutting up America's credit cards at an unprecedented rate, with grave implications for the economy and company profits.
The U.S. Federal Reserve added more nutrition to its alphabet soup of rescue programs last week when it announced the Term Asset-backed Securities Loan Facility, or TALF, under which, among other things, it will lend as much as $200 billion to investors in securities backed by credit-card, auto and student loans.
It did so for a very good reason: The securitization market's freeze now extends beyond mortgages, imperiling run-of-the-mill consumer financing and making it a certainty that many people who use credit to get past "cash flow" situations will be denied.
And even though the U.S. car industry may implode if starved of finance and many students will have to defer education, the real potential disaster is in credit-card funding, which could push lots of households over the brink and with them consumption and every business that depends on it.
Put simply, even with an apparent will to try anything to bring the wheels of finance back into motion, it will be very difficult for government to fill the hole quickly that private finance will leave.
Details of the plan are still sketchy, but let's assume that it works, even if the plan will give the Fed huge fears about how to get out of its positions after the end of 2009.
All other things being equal, the amount the Fed is putting into the TALF should take the asset-backed securities market back to about where it was in the first half of 2008, which itself was only a third of the volume we saw in 2007.
But all other things are not equal.
The banks that provide the bulk of credit-card funding generally want to cut back, pushed by their own troubles, a conservative reading of the economic situation and, potentially, regulatory changes that while intended to ward off the excesses of the last bubble, will magnify the impact of its bursting.
Meredith Whitney, the Oppenheimer analyst who has so far been ahead in identifying and explaining the weaknesses in the banking system, thinks that more than $2 trillion in credit lines, or 45 percent of all the lines available, will be pulled out from under American consumers in the next 18 months, a figure that puts the Fed's $200 billion for asset-backed finance in its proper perspective.
"We are now entering a new era within the financial landscape that will be characterized by expanded forced consumer deleveraging with a pronounced downshift in consumer spending," she wrote in a research note.
"We view the credit card as the second key source of consumer liquidity, the first being their jobs," the note said. "Pulling credit at a time when job losses are increasing by over 50 percent year-on-year in most key states is a dangerous and unprecedented combination, in our view."
Whitney notes that the three largest credit card lenders, Bank of America , Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, which together account for more than half of the amount outstanding on U.S. credit cards, have each discussed reducing card exposure or slowing growth. Capital One and American Express, with another 14.5 percent, have also talked about limiting lending.
That will set the tone for the rest of the financial industry, which will be grappling with new regulation that would impair the profitability of credit-card lending and push more off-balance-sheet securitizations back onto the banks' already strained books.
Cutting back on abusive lending and forcing banks to recognize and account for the risks they take are surely good things, but they will have the perverse effect of making the credit crunch worse, at least temporarily.
And looking at the balance sheets of individual Americans, there is good reason to think that the credit crunch should get worse: that they should consume and borrow less and save more.
I would argue that far from being nonfunctioning, financial markets are closer to pricing in the true risk of lending to consumers now - with credit cards charging about 10 percentage points more than five-year Treasury notes - than they were six months ago, when the gap was only about 7.65 percent.
But the mother of all unintended side effects is that the faster consumers cut back, the worse it will be. The kind of consumer cutback implied by the consumer credit crunch that now looks likely would blow a hole below the waterline in the U.S. economy.
The use of unconventional measures by the Federal Reserve and the U.S. government is only beginning.
Lawyers say new regulation could leave banks with fewer opportunities for growth
Asia-Pacific policy makers move to bolster economies as markets fall in the region
By Natalie Harrison
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
LONDON: European companies with debt maturing soon should refinance now despite punitive rates because there is worse on the way, according to analysts.
Issuers could be squeezed out in the years ahead as a result of competition from hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of government-backed bonds and from corporations with $1 trillion a year of loans that might be partly refinanced in the bond market. This situation would raise the specter of default for otherwise sound businesses.
Issuance has already soared in the past few weeks ahead of an expected crunch next year.
About 23 billion, or some $30 billion, was raised in the euro-denominated corporate bond market in November, making it the best month for supply since June 2003, according to data from credit strategists at the French bank Société Générale.
Of that amount, 9.6 billion came in the last week alone from about 25 companies, setting a fresh weekly record for this year, the bank said.
"Issue or be damned," said Suki Mann, an analyst with Société Générale. " Looks like no one wants to be damned."
The backlog of debt refinancing has expanded sharply after the bankruptcy of the investment bank Lehman Brothers in September slowed issuance.
Next year, about $801 billion of debt matures. Nearly three-quarters of that will be at financial companies and the rest at nonfinancial ones, according to Standard & Poor's, the rating company. S&P forecasts that $2.1 trillion of European company and bank debt will be maturing in the next three years.
The squeeze could raise the pressure on otherwise solid companies, not because their business has deteriorated, or because they have too much debt, but simply because of the maturity structure of their financing.
"Clearly it's a prudent thing for any corporate right now to extend their debt maturity profile if they can," said Karl Bergqwist, senior investment manager with Gartmore Investment Management.
Loan markets will also add huge pressure next year. More than $4 trillion out of a total $10.7 trillion in outstanding syndicated loans need to be refinanced in the next three years, and companies will be relying on the bond market to finance a large part of that.
There are $1.09 trillion global maturing loan volumes in 2009, $1.34 trillion in 2010 and $1.61 trillion in 2011, according to Reuters Loan Pricing.
In addition, credit strategists with the Dutch bank ING have forecast that the government-guaranteed debt market for banks could swell to 820 billion in 2009 after the bailouts of this year. But those companies that did manage to refinance their debt have done so at a high cost.
Metro, the German retailer, recently paid more than 9.5 percent interest costs on its 500 million, five-year bond. In May 2007, such costs were less than 5 percent for a bond issue of the same maturity and size.
"Investors are clearly being rewarded much more to take risks," said Eirik Winter, head of debt capital markets for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Citigroup.
Winter warned that companies should avoid too much negotiation over the price because they might risk missing out on the financing.
He said bond markets would be bombarded early next year by triple-A-rated agency and multinational borrowers like the European Investment Bank.
"Companies need to give investors the impression that they will pay what it takes in order to generate momentum," Winter said. "At this point, it's not about basis points, it's about access."
Using General Electric as an example, Bergqwist, the Gartmore investment manager, said no company was immune from liquidity fears. GE has a triple-A rating, meaning that rating agencies believe there is no chance that it will go bankrupt.
Yet concerns about rising delinquencies and financing costs at General Electric's financing arm, GE Capital, have sent the value of its shares down by half this year and GE Capital credit default swaps into below investment grade, or junk, status.
"When anyone mentions a credit," Bergqwist said, "the first question you get asked is when and by how much do they need to refinance and in what market."
By Caroline HydeBloomberg News
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
LONDON: Reluctant to take more write-downs on debt, European lenders including Royal Bank of Scotland Group and Barclays Capital are instead easing the conditions of loans made to companies.
Banks including Barclays are negotiating a waiver of conditions for Ineos Group Holdings, the largest chemicals company in Britain, on 5.8 billion, or $7.3 billion, in debt. In July, Royal Bank of Scotland reached a similar deal on loans made to Cableuropa, which is based in Madrid.
Covenant waivers allow companies to breach the terms and conditions on their loan agreements with banks without going into default. Covenants set limits on a company's activities over the life of a loan, and may include the amount of debt it can borrow as a proportion of earnings, or the money it can spend.
Lenders typically charge a fee for covenant waivers. European lenders are permitting the waivers at a fraction of the price charged by banks in the United States, which hold less of the debt on their books.
European banks hold about 70 percent of such loans, with the rest sold to investors like hedge funds and pension managers, according to data compiled by Standard & Poor's LCD. In the United States, 20 percent of loans are distributed to banks.
"It's bank self-preservation," said Alex Moss, who oversees about $1.6 billion as head of high-yield bonds and leveraged loans at Insight Investment Management in London. "Banks are accepting waivers with as little fuss as possible to justify the high price they have their loans marked at."
Creditors write down loans according to their recovery rate, which could be as little as 30 percent, according to Bloomberg calculations based on secondary-market leveraged loan prices
U.S. companies paid an average 240 basis points on their loans' face value to waive conditions this year, Standard & Poor's LCD data show.
Sealy, which is the world's largest bedding manufacturer and is based in Trinity, North Carolina, paid a fee of 75 basis points plus a 300-basis-point increase to the interest margin in November for such waivers on $517 million of debt. European companies paid 30 basis points, according to Bloomberg calculations based on data compiled by Deutsche Bank. A basis point is 0.01 percentage point.
"In Europe, where banks drive more relationship-based lending, fees for waivers are still way off" compared with the risk lenders take, said Chris Taggert, a senior loan strategist in New York at CreditSights, a debt research firm.
Ineos, which had net debt of 7.29 billion as of Sept. 30, offered to pay its 233 senior lenders 50 basis points upfront, plus a fee of as much as 125 basis points a year, according to the company's chief financial officer, John Reece.
The chemical maker, which is based in Lyndhurst, England, asked banks to waive loan conditions as sales slumped. Moody's cut the company's credit rating to eight levels below investment grade two weeks ago.
Barclays Capital and Merrill Lynch, which arranged 5.8 billion of outstanding loans for the 2005 purchase of BP's Innovene unit in November, agreed to the waiver request. Spokesmen for Barclays Capital and Merrill Lynch declined to comment.
Twenty-two covenant waivers were granted in Europe this year and only one was declined, according to Bloomberg data.
"Lending banks inherently want to remain just that, lenders, and will only very reluctantly become owners of stressed businesses," said Paul McKenna, head of leveraged syndicated finance in London at ING.
The European leveraged loan market is "more relationship driven" as "banks hold more of the paper" than in the United States, said Siobhan Pettit, head of structured credit strategy at Royal Bank of Scotland.
Cableuropa, the biggest cable TV operator in Spain, paid as much as 1 percentage point for a covenant waiver on 3.6 billion of loans from banks including Royal Bank of Scotland and Calyon in July, Standard & Poor's LCD data show. Moody's said in October it may downgrade the company.
Grupo Corporativo Ono, Cableuropa's parent, sought to "modify covenants for 2009 and 2010, while the company complies with covenants for this year, which is not the profile of a company in real trouble," said a spokesman for the company in Madrid, who declined to be named because the negotiations were private.
Lenders to the French auto-parts distributor Autodistribution changed conditions on 535 million of outstanding debt in August, while Virgin Media, the second biggest pay-TV company in Britain, said last month it was paying lenders to defer payments.
Virgin Media "proactively sought to address its amortization payments," and the waiver will give the company "significantly more time to seek a complete refinancing of the principal amounts," the company said in a statement.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
A Financial History of the World
Niall Ferguson's "The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World," went to press in May, but it shrewdly anticipates many aspects of the current financial crisis, which has toppled banks, precipitated gigantic government bailouts and upended global markets.
"Are we on the brink of a 'great dying' in the financial world," Ferguson asks, "one of those mass extinctions of species that have occurred periodically, like the end-Cambrian extinction that killed off 90 percent of Earth's species, or the Cretaceous-Tertiary catastrophe that wiped out the dinosaurs? It is a scenario that many biologists have reason to fear, as man-made climate change wreaks havoc with natural habitats around the globe. But a great dying of financial institutions is also a scenario that we should worry about, as another man-made disaster works its way slowly and painfully through the global financial system."
In the course of this useful if somewhat lumpy volume, Ferguson looks at the roots of the current economic meltdown, examining how, in a globalized world that uses increasingly complex financial instruments, defaults on subprime mortgages in U.S. cities could unleash a fiscal tsunami that spans the planet.
But the book does not focus primarily on speculative manias and financial crises. Instead Ferguson discusses such cycles of euphoria and panic within a larger historical context: he traces the evolution of credit, debt and the idea of risk management over several centuries, and as he did in an earlier book, "The Cash Nexus," he examines the potent links between politics and economics.
Ferguson explains why money went from coinage to paper and the advantages and disadvantages of the gold standard. He argues that aging societies have "a huge and growing need for fixed income securities, and for low inflation to ensure that the interest they pay retains its purchasing power."
And he looks at how exotic financial innovations (like collateralized debt obligations) and wide support for adjustable rate and subprime mortgages (endorsed, he says, by proponents of wider home ownership as disparate as Alan Greenspan and President George W. Bush) pushed the snowball of the current financial crisis.
Noting the high savings rate of Chinese households and Chinese corporations (in sharp contrast to Americans' penchant for living on credit), he observes that the direction of capital flow is now from East to West.
"In 2007 the United States needed to borrow around $800 billion from the rest of the world; more than $4 billion every working day," he writes. "China, by contrast, ran a current account surplus of $262 billion, equivalent to more than a quarter of the U.S. deficit. And a remarkably large proportion of that surplus has ended up being lent to the United States. In effect, the People's Republic China has become banker to the United States of America."
Although "The Ascent of Money" is pockmarked by digressions that many lay readers will find arcane and difficult to understand, the book as a whole is animated by Ferguson's narrative gifts, among them his ability to discuss complex ideas in simpler terms.
He also has a knack for illustrating his larger hypotheses with colorful stories about people like Nathan Rothschild (the subject of one of his earlier books); the Scottish economist and gambler John Law (described as "the man who invented the stock market bubble"); and the Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman and his so-called Chicago Boys.
It is Ferguson's belief that "behind each great historical phenomenon there lies a financial secret," and much of this volume aims to explicate that argument. He suggests that the Renaissance boom in art and architecture can be traced to Italian bankers' application of Eastern and Arabic mathematics to finance.
"The Dutch Republic prevailed over the Habsburg Empire," he argues, "because having the world's first modern stock market was financially preferable to having the world's biggest silver mine. The problems of the French monarchy could not be resolved without a revolution because a convicted Scots murderer had wrecked the French financial system by unleashing the first stock market bubble and bust.
Ferguson is fond of making Darwinian comparisons in the book, writing that "financial history is essentially the result of institutional mutation and natural selection."
Also contributing to "the inherent instability of the financial system," he says, are the vagaries of human behavior: "our innate inclination to veer from euphoria to despondency" and "our perennial failure to learn from history."
"Those who put their faith in the 'wisdom of crowds' mean no more than that a large group of people is more likely to make a correct assessment than a small group of supposed experts," he writes.
"But that is not saying much. The old joke that 'Macroeconomists have successfully predicted nine of the last five recessions' is not so much a joke as a dispiriting truth about the difficulty of economic forecasting. Meanwhile, serious students of human psychology will expect as much madness as wisdom from large groups of people. A case in point must be the near-universal delusion among investors in the first half of 2007 that a major liquidity crisis could not occur."
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
(Reuters) - Goldman Sachs Group is likely to report a net loss of as much as $2 billion (1.35 billion pounds) for the fourth quarter, the Wall Street Journal said, citing industry insiders.
The quarterly loss, equivalent to about $5 a share, will be Goldman's first ever as a public company, as it faces writedowns on everything from private equity to commercial real estate, the paper said.
Analysts on average are expecting a loss of $1.27 a share, excluding items, for the quarter ended November 28, according to Reuters Estimates.
(Reporting by Sakthi Prasad in Bangalore ; Editing by Greg Mahlich)
By Will Connors
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
JOS, Nigeria: Neighborhood residents did not know on Monday whose charred body still lay in the living room of the burned-down house underneath rocks and piles of corrugated tin.
"They had just arrived," said Femi Olayinka, 32, whose small hotel next door had also been burned to the ground. "We didn't know them yet. We think they just got trapped in the house and then burned to death."
No one seemed to notice a dead pig festering beside the house either, hacked to death three days earlier with machetes.
At least 400 people were killed on Friday, and more than 7,000 were forced to flee their homes in this central Nigerian city after angry Christian and Muslim mobs protested what they said were rigged local election results. In what turned out to be a short-lived but brutal rampage, groups of young men killed residents and burned down homes churches, mosques and schools.
As an uneasy calm returned on Monday, the exact number of dead and injured was still unclear and residents continued to debate what set off the violence.
Heavily armed soldiers and police officers were operating dozens of checkpoints. Men and boys walked past them with arms raised to show they carried no weapons. One man who did not do so quickly enough was forced by soldiers to walk on his hands across jagged gravel, then dunked in a barrel of oil before being released.
Bodies were still being discovered, piled into military trucks and delivered to hospitals or picked up by relatives and taken to churches or mosques. Late in the afternoon, 10 bodies arrived at the central mosque. Medical attendants lifted blankets wrapped around two of them to reveal the body of a young woman, stabbed to death, and the body of a small child, burned beyond recognition.
Most businesses remained shuttered but by the afternoon residents slowly started to emerge from their homes or places of refuge to take stock of what they had lost and buy what necessities they could. Fuel remained scarce and was being sold for nearly four times its price just four days earlier.
Nigeria's population of 140 million people comprises roughly equal numbers of Muslims and Christians, and Jos is in the heart of what is known as the "middle belt," where people of both religions often live and worship side by side, usually in peace. But Jos has been the site of clashes before. In 2001, nearly 1,000 people were killed in religious violence, and in 2004 hundreds died in fighting in the nearby city of Yelwa.
Friday's explosion of violence affected Christians and Muslims, often on the same block. "They burned my house, all my property," said Ladi Musa, 50, a Muslim homemaker and mother of nine. "All I have left are the clothes I'm wearing."
Directly across the street stood the burned remains of a church and Christian clinic.
Joseph Atsen, 35, a civil servant and a Christian, was at home "trying to go to work when a group of boys came," he said from his bed at Jos University Teaching Hospital. "Some had sticks, some knives, some had guns. I heard a gunshot, then I was down. The next thing I knew, I was in the hospital."
X-rays showed that three bullets remained in his head, shoulder and leg. Still, he does not harbor ill will toward his neighbors. "I have Muslim friends," he said. "I saw some of them there. They saw me. When I see them next, I will greet them."
Christian and Muslim leaders in Jos, despite emotionally charged verbal sparring about who was more responsible for the violence, seemed to agree that the state government had done little to ease tensions between the groups.
"Our people are deeply, deeply religious," said Ignatius Kaigama, the archbishop of Jos, referring to all Nigerians. "They follow their religious leaders blindly, and politicians know this. These young men were used."
Sheik Khalid Adem, the imam of Jos, said: "There's too much lip service and not enough action from the government. The government should be seen as a parent, looking after and caring for its children, not raising one as a legitimate son and one as a bastard."
Both sides also said soldiers and police officers, sent in to quell the violence on Friday, fired at civilians.
Kabir Musa Sati, 56, a retired civil servant and adviser to the imam, said he saw one such shooting by the police. "My neighbor's boy and I were sitting next to each other outside our homes when police came, so I told him to run inside," he said. "I got in first but he got his shirt caught on something and was hit by a bullet. No one helped him. No cars came. We had to wheel him in a cart to the hospital."
Archbishop Kaigama said the soldiers might have overreacted. "Soldiers were given shoot on sight orders," he said, "so many of those killed certainly could have been shot by soldiers."
By Daniel Altman
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
For almost three years, this column has devoted itself to exploring the challenges of globalization: how governments, businesses and individuals strive to reduce their risks and take advantage of new opportunities. One crucial question still remains: How should societies as a whole manage the transition to a more globalized world?
In essence, globalization is a process of integration. Markets for commodities, manufactured goods, services, labor, investment funds and even ideas are becoming more and more connected. Over the past couple of decades, these connections have formed at an unprecedented rate.
The process of connection and integration depends fundamentally on trade. Certain things can be stolen or obtained without a direct cost, but most things must be bought. Most transactions have a buyer and a seller who trade voluntarily, even though they may not be able to control the price.
According to economic theory, every voluntary transaction leaves both parties at least as well off as before. If it didn't, they wouldn't trade. But the benefits of the transaction aren't always equally distributed. And there are losses, too; by entering into one transaction, the buyer and seller may bypass other transactions, and that can hurt the people who are left out.
Yet the most basic economic models suggest that globalization should benefit the world as a whole, and even that everyone on the planet could be made better off, if only the gains of globalization were properly distributed.
Right now, the world does very little to distribute those gains. Consumers in rich countries who benefit from access to a wide variety of low-cost imports don't band together to aid local producers that go out of business. Exporters who open new markets in emerging economies often exploit lax regulation and weak competition rather than trying to ensure a brighter future for the citizenry.
There are some initiatives, like the Trade Adjustment Assistance program in the United States, that attempt to retool struggling businesses and retrain unneeded workers. They are few and not especially successful. Yet tinkering with them until they are successful could be very worthwhile, more so than the basic economic models might suggest.
The reason has to do with the concentration of the gains from globalization. In general, globalization has been a force for less inequality between countries and more inequality within countries. On the one hand, the opening of markets allows less-developed economies with reduce productions costs to catch up with more-developed ones with higher production costs. On the other hand, the gains from that catch-up process often accrue to the people with the most education and wealth in the less-developed economies, while the losses often fall upon the least educated, poorest people in the more-developed ones.
There are important exceptions, of course. Hundreds of millions of Chinese have been lifted out of poverty in the past two decades, a substantial number of them because of surging Chinese exports. Likewise, hundreds of millions of working-class people around the world have benefited from the inexpensiveness of those very same exports.
Still, in many countries the gains from globalization have been concentrated among the wealthy, while losses from globalization have been concentrated, if not among the poor, then at least among the relatively disadvantaged. And there is the magic of the thing: Each dollar of gain to a person of privilege might mean much more in the pocket of a less well-off person.
Distributing the gains from globalization could therefore be a more socially productive process than those basic models, which assume that a dollar is worth the same to everyone, might suggest. That doesn't mean it's easy, though.
Indeed, there is a dearth of holistic approaches to this problem. Should the United States enact a new GI Bill - which offered higher education to returning World War II veterans - to reincorporate the legions of workers displaced by globalization into the labor force? Should there be an international code of conduct, and an enforcement body, for businesses doing business outside their home countries? Should all countries contribute to a fund to identify and clean up the side effects of globalization?
These kinds of ideas could help the world to realize its full economic potential. I am putting down my pen for now, but I hope others will continue to discuss and pursue them.
By Joe Sharkey
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Having planned poorly, I recently sat for more than four hours at the airport in San Diego. Christmas carols played over and over, punctuated by admonishments from that woman with the grating voice not to accept packages from strangers. I bought a soggy sub sandwich with a warm Coke for an outrageous $12.
It was, in other words, just another miserable airport experience. It never occurred to me, until I spoke with Jason Barger a week later, that it could have been something completely different: a learning experience on traveling with a degree of serenity and grace.
Earlier this year, Barger, a consultant who frequently traveled overseas as a poverty worker for a church in Columbus, Ohio, decided to try an experiment. He would spend seven straight days and nights in the air travel system. The idea was to observe how people, himself included, responded to the stress and angst of air travel, and to write a book drawing some lessons from it.
"There is such a heightened sense of frustration at airports," he said. "I started thinking, maybe the airport - with so many people going in literally different directions and so many different agendas - is where we could start to think about beginning a more civil and graceful society. We could start with evaluating those small moments of frustration in air travel."
With his wife's encouragement, Barger, 33, published the book himself. Its title is "Step Back From the Baggage Claim: Change the World, Start at the Airport."
His week of intense research took him from Columbus to Boston to Miami to Chicago to Minneapolis to Seattle to San Diego and back to Columbus. He kept a detailed diary, and slept only 26 hours and 45 minutes in the week.
The baggage claim was a major point of observation. "That annoying buzzer goes off and everybody runs up to put their shins against that metal carousel rim and forms that human wall of entitlement, with people who were not so fast trying to peek through the wall and jockey for position," he said. "All of that angst, and for what?"
Same thing with that bell that dings when the plane comes to the gate, and everybody jumps up as if there is nothing more important in the world than grabbing a bag from an overhead bin and crouching in a jammed aisle until the door opens.
Barger maintains that these odd moments can lead to reflection on "stepping back from the metaphorical baggage claim in life."
"I'm going to embrace the quiet moments an airplane seat offers us," he vows in his book. "When the ding sends most into a frenzy, I am going to sit still."
O.K., but please let me through. I am still going to hop up and grab my bag from the bin, because chances are that I have to hotfoot it across an airport the size of Cleveland to make a connection. But I concede his point.
Air travel occurs in a weird, stressful cocoon, and we respond differently in airports and airplanes than we would at home or at work. A survey by TripAdvisor.com said 83 percent of more than 1,100 respondents believed that air travelers had become ruder in the past 10 years. Among their top complaints were parents who failed to mind unruly children and travelers who smelled bad. One respondent cited a man picking scabs off his bald head. Another told of a guy clipping his toenails.
On the other hand, Barger says he believes that "graceful" travel can be contagious.
On his trip, he watched a woman burdened with a bag and a laptop, and obviously late for a flight, negotiate snarled security lines and dash for her plane in high heels, radiating savoir-faire. "No matter what was thrown in her path, she was traveling gracefully," he said. "Among people around her, the entire mood was changed."
His book argues that air travel offers a potential for greater self-awareness. "We just have to start small and start where we are. Why not start to change the world by the way we live at the airport?" he asks.
Serenity now! It's evidently contagious.
By Alessandra Stanley
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Presentations of presidential appointees can be important, but they are rarely interesting. Usually, the men and women chosen for top cabinet roles are not well known to the public; if there is drama behind the scenes, most in the audience are blind to it.
That was hardly the case on Monday when President-elect Barack Obama introduced his national security team. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's speech was no ordinary public-service pledge; for plenty of viewers, it was the moment when Clinton finally conceded the election for real.
The occasion was solemn, but like a wedding where the parents are divorced, the ceremony was carefully choreographed to avert awkward moments and camouflage past unpleasantness.
When Obama unveiled his economic team last week, he alone made a speech. In this more delicate selection, it was decided that Clinton, his pick for secretary of state, should also speak. But that might look suspect or too political unless the five other appointees also said a word, and that, in turn, required a few words from Vice President-elect Joseph Biden Jr., who had yet to make public statements of any consequence since the election. (He spoke last, spiritedly, and at some length.)
Not all the staging was designed to address Clinton's sensibilities. She and the five other appointees walked out on stage and stood in line, almost as if at attention, waiting for the president-elect to walk in. He did so briskly, with Biden at his heels.
Obama introduced his former rival as "my dear friend," and promised that his new team would forge "a new dawn of American leadership."
Clinton, who has mostly stayed out of public view since the election, opened on a valedictory note, telling the audience that leaving the Senate would be "very difficult for me." She attributed her sense of loss, or surrender, to ending her service to her New York constituents, but those who watched her struggle for the Democratic nomination with such ferocity for the past two years were reminded that she was also forswearing her independent campaign identity.
And there was a fleeting flashback to her primary season gamesmanship when she listed representing New York as a foreign policy credential. "You've also helped prepare me well for this new role," she told her Senate constituents. "After all, New Yorkers aren't afraid to speak their minds and do so in every language."
Her husband certainly was not letting anyone forget the campaign: as the ceremony was taking place, former President Bill Clinton issued a long statement extolling his wife's qualifications ("as her husband, I am deeply proud") and briefly praised Obama, not for his vision, but for his good sense in choosing Hillary Clinton.
The topic at hand was national security, and five other appointments were announced, but reporters were mostly interested in exploring how secure Obama felt about his new secretary of state's loyalty. A reporter asked Obama whether there was any lingering internal disagreement given that "some people up there on the stage" had previously attacked his argument that the United States has a right to attack terrorist targets in Pakistan without Pakistani government permission.
"I did not ask for assurances from these individuals that they would agree with me at all times," Obama said calmly. "I think they understand and would not be joining this team unless they understood and were prepared to carry out the decisions that have been made by me after full discussion."
When another reporter asked Obama about the "evolution" of his views since those times in the campaign when he dismissed Hillary Clinton's foreign policy experience as a series of "teas" with foreign leaders, Obama took it lightly. "Well, I mean, I think this is fun for the press to try to stir up whatever quotes were generated during the course of the campaign." he said with a grin. "No, I understand. And you're having fun, and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm not I'm not faulting it."
Clinton had greeted the question somewhat grimly, but as Obama answered, she slowly unfurled a smile. By the end, she managed to look almost as amused by the question as her new boss was.
By Kathryn Harrison
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
The Man Who Invented Christmas
Creamed turkey. Curried turkey. Turkey à la king. Turkey potpies. Turkey macaroni casserole. ... If only Ebenezer Scrooge had not, in the excitement of his transformation from miser to humanitarian, diverged from the traditional Christmas goose to surprise Bob Cratchit with a turkey "twice the size of Tiny Tim." But - alas - he did, and as "A Christmas Carol" approaches its 165th birthday, a Google search answers the plaint "leftover turkey" with more than 300,000 promises of recipes to dispatch it. As for England's goose-raising industry, it tanked.
Scrooge. Tiny Tim. Bah, Humbug! "A Christmas Carol" may no longer effect the "sledgehammer blow" its author intended to bring down "on behalf of the poor and unfortunate," but more than a century and a half after its publication in 1843, it remains one of the rare novels to have infiltrated popular culture, leaving the impress of its characters and language and choice of appropriately celebratory fowl even on those who have never read it or seen one of its countless stage and film adaptations. Scrooge and his edifying ghosts are so much a part of Christmas that the idea their creator might actually have "invented" the holiday as we know it is neither new nor original to Les Standiford.
"The Man Who Invented Christmas" is a good title, too catchy to resist, perhaps, as Standiford admits that the public's embrace of Dickens's short novel is but one evidence of the 19th century's changing attitude toward Christmas. In 1819, Washington Irving's popular "Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent" had "glorified" the "social rites" of the season. Clement Moore's 1823 poem "The Night Before Christmas" introduced a fat and jolly St. Nick whose obvious attractions eclipsed what had been a "foreboding figure of judgment" as likely to distribute canings as gifts.
Queen Victoria and her Bavarian husband, Albert, "great boosters of the season," had installed a Christmas tree in Windsor Castle each year since 1840, encouraging a fad that spread overseas to America by 1848. In "The Descent of Man" (1871), Charles Darwin announced that celebrants of the season had a more tangible relationship to apes than to annunciations, further secularizing what the Christian church hadn't conceived but poached (along with Yule logs and stockings to stuff) from German pagan practices.
A writer and his era's zeitgeist may be "animated by the same energy and faith," as Peter Ackroyd observes in his 1990 biography of Scrooge's creator, but the idea of Dickens's responsibility for what has become an orgy of spending is one he dismisses as humbuggery.
What is true is that Christmas, more than any other holiday, offered a means for the adult Dickens to redeem the despair and terrors of his childhood. In 1824, after a series of financial embarrassments drove his family to exchange what he remembered as a pleasant country existence for a "mean, small tenement" in London, the 12-year-old Dickens, his schooling interrupted, was sent to work 10-hour days at a shoe blacking factory in a quixotic attempt to remedy his family's insolvency. Not even a week later, his father was incarcerated in the infamous Marshalsea prison for a failure to pay a debt of £40 to a baker. At this, Dickens's "grief and humiliation" overwhelmed him so thoroughly that it retained the power to overshadow his adult accomplishments. And because Dickens's tribulations were not particular to him but emblematic of the Industrial Revolution the concerns that inform his fiction were shared by millions of potential readers.
A Dickens novel ("Oliver Twist," "Little Dorrit," "Bleak House") announces more than cloaks its agenda to reveal social injustice, especially the plight of those two "abject, frightful, hideous, miserable" children peering out from under the robe worn by the Ghost of Christmas Present.
"This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want," the Ghost tells the quaking Scrooge. "No perversion of humanity ... has monsters half so horrible and dread." Dickens intended to make the sufferings of the most vulnerable of the underclass so pungently real to his readers that they could not continue to ignore their need, not so much for charity as for the means to save themselves: education. At least this was his conscious purpose. The deeper truth is that even genius of the magnitude of Dickens's can't free an artist from his demons; it can only offer him an arena for engaging them.
The months leading up to the publication of "A Christmas Carol" in December 1843 were not happy ones for Dickens. The most popular writer in England was falling further into debt as he struggled to support a large family.
Having accepted an invitation to speak, on Oct. 5, at a fund-raiser for the Manchester Athenaeum, Dickens was obliged to return to the city that had, in 1838, "disgusted and astonished" him. Considered "the world's first modern industrial city," Manchester presented the kind of success that pricked even the most phlegmatic social consciousness, a portrait of such squalor among factory workers that the two years Friedrich Engels spent observing its citizens may well have altered history.
Dickens, galvanized by the response of his Athenaeum audience - "rapt" - and by a renewed vision of the cost of disdaining the plight of children, returned to London having conceived what would be the first project he completed as a whole rather than in serial parts. For six weeks he worked feverishly, delivering a manuscript to the printer in late November, for publication a few days before Christmas.
Standiford tidily explains the appeal of "A Christmas Carol," its readership "said at the turn of the 20th century to be second only to the Bible's." Replacing the slippery Holy Ghost with anthropomorphized spirits, the infant Christ with a crippled child whose salvation waits on man's - not God's - generosity, Dickens laid claim to a religious festival, handing it over to the gathering forces of secular humanism. If a single night's crash course in man's power to redress his mistakes and redeem his future without appealing to an invisible and silent deity could rehabilitate even so apparently lost a cause as Ebenezer Scrooge, imagine what it might do for the rest of us!
The popularity of "A Christmas Carol" inspired Dickens to commit himself to writing other holiday books, but "The Chimes," "The Cricket on the Hearth" and "The Battle of Life" couldn't reproduce the alchemy of their prototype. Too grim, too redux, too calculated.
It was tempting to recreate the success of their predecessor, but hardly necessary. "The Man Who Invented Christmas" may not be necessary, either, not with regard to the juggernaut of Dickens scholarship, but it's a sweet and sincere addition. A stocking stuffer for the bookish on your holiday list.
Kathryn Harrison's most recent book is "While They Slept: An Inquiry Into the Murder of a Family."
By Laurie Tarkan
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
It was the middle of the night, and Laura Silverthorn, a nurse at a hospital in Washington, knew her patient was in danger.
The boy had a shunt in his brain to drain fluid, but he was vomiting and had an extreme headache, two signs that the shunt was blocked and fluid was building up. When she paged the on-call resident, who was asleep in the hospital, he told her not to worry.
After a second page, Silverthorn said, "he became arrogant and said, 'You don't know what to look for you're not a doctor.' "
He ignored her third page, and after another harrowing hour she called the attending physician at home. The child was rushed into surgery.
"He could have died or had serious brain injury," Silverthorn said, "but I was treated like a pest for calling in the middle of the night."
Her experience is borne out by surveys of hospital staff members, who blame badly behaved doctors for low morale, stress and high turnover. ( Silverthorn said she had been brought to tears so many times that she was trying to start her own business and leave nursing.)
Recent studies suggest that such behavior contributes to medical mistakes, preventable complications and even death.
"It is the health care equivalent of road rage," said Dr. Peter Angood, chief patient safety officer at the Joint Commission, the nation's leading independent hospital accreditation agency.
A survey of health care workers at 102 nonprofit hospitals from 2004 to 2007 found that 67 percent of respondents said they thought there was a link between disruptive behavior and medical mistakes, and 18 percent said they knew of a mistake that occurred because of an obnoxious doctor. (The author was Dr. Alan Rosenstein, medical director for the West Coast region of VHA Inc., an alliance of nonprofit hospitals.)
Another survey by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, a nonprofit organization, found that 40 percent of hospital staff members reported having been so intimidated by a doctor that they did not share their concerns about orders for medication that appeared to be incorrect. As a result, 7 percent said they contributed to a medication error.
There are signs, however, that such abusive behavior is less likely to be tolerated. Physicians and nurses say they have seen less of it in the past 5 or 10 years, though it is still a major problem, and the Joint Commission is requiring hospitals to have a written code of conduct and a process for enforcing it.
Still, every nurse has a story about obnoxious doctors. A few say they have ducked scalpels thrown across the operating room by angry surgeons. More frequently, though, they are belittled, insulted or yelled at often in front of patients and other staff members and made to feel like the bottom of the food chain. A third of the nurses in Rosenstein's study were aware of a nurse who had left a hospital because of a disruptive physician.
"The job is tough enough without having to prepare yourself psychologically for a call that you know could very well become abusive," said Diana Mason, editor in chief of The American Journal of Nursing.
Laura Sweet, deputy chief of enforcement at the Medical Board of California, described the case of a resident at a University of California hospital who noticed a problem with a fetal monitoring strip on a woman in labor, but didn't call anyone.
"He was afraid to contact the attending physician, who was notorious for yelling and ridiculing the residents," Sweet said. The baby died.
Of course, most doctors do not spew insults or intimidate nurses. "Most people are trying to do the best job they can under a high-pressure situation," said Dr. Joseph Heyman, chairman of the trustees of the American Medical Association.
Dr. William Norcross, director of a program at the University of California, San Diego, that offers anger management for physicians, agreed. But he added, "About 3 to 4 percent of doctors are disruptive, but that's a big number, and they really gum up the works." Experts say the leading offenders are specialists in high-pressure fields like neurosurgery, orthopedics and cardiology.
In one instance witnessed by Angood of the Joint Commission, a nurse called a surgeon to come and verify his next surgical patient and to mark the spot where the operation would be done. The harried surgeon yelled at the nurse to get the patient ready herself. When he showed up late to the operating room, he did not realize the surgery site was mismarked and operated on the wrong part.
"The surgeon then berated the entire team for their error and continued to denigrate them to others, when the error was the surgeon's because he failed to cooperate in the process," Angood said.
A hostile environment erodes cooperation and a sense of commitment to high-quality care, Angood said, and that increases the risk of medical errors.
"When the wrong surgery is done on patients," he said, "often there is somebody in that operating room who knew the event was going to occur who did not feel empowered enough to speak up about it."
Norcross blamed "the brutal training surgeons get, the long hours, being belittled and 'pimped' " a term for being bombarded with questions to the point of looking stupid. "That whole structure teaches a disruptive behavior," he said.
Norcross and other experts said staff members' understandable reluctance to challenge a physician, especially a popular surgeon who attracts patients to the hospital, created an atmosphere of tolerance and indifference. So did a tendency among doctors to form "old boy" networks and protect one another from criticism.
But things have begun to change. Today, good communication and leadership are two of the six core skills taught in medical schools and residency programs. More nurses are challenging doctors on their inappropriate behavior, and fewer hospitals are tolerating disruptive doctors. "Today they're getting rid of that doctor or sending them to anger management," said Dr. Thomas Russell, executive director of the American College of Surgeons.
Hospitals have also developed more formal and consistent ways of addressing disruptive behavior, Rosenstein said. They are also trying to improve relations and mutual respect between doctors and nurses.
At John Muir Health, a nonprofit group of two hospitals in Walnut Creek and Concord, California, a committee of physicians, nurses and other staff members was formed to focus on collaboration and communication between disciplines.
"When complaints are submitted, we try to be proactive early to let them know there is not going to be any tolerance for that," said Dr. Roy Kaplan, John Muir's medical director for quality.
Some physicians worry that hospital administrators will abuse the stricter codes of conduct by using them to get rid of doctors who speak out against hospital policies. And the Joint Commission rulings have spawned a cottage industry of anger management centers and law firms defending hospitals or physicians.
Professionals like Silverthorn, the nurse in Washington, said the change was overdue.
"We go to school, we have a very important job, but there's no respect," she said.
She recalled a particularly humiliating moment on Dec. 25, 2006. Working in the pediatric emergency room, she called a drug by its generic name rather than its brand name.
"I was quickly shouted out of the trauma room and humiliated in front of everyone," she said. But while "everyone knew the doctor was actually the one who didn't know what he was doing," she continued, no one said a word.
By Michael W. Kahn, M.d
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Recently, I asked a colleague about the quality of care her hospitalized mother was getting. "Well, you can at least have a conversation with her doctor," she replied. Clearly this was a big relief.
High-level skills like reflectiveness and empathy are an important part of medical education these days. That is all to the good, of course. But as I noted last May in an article in The New England Journal of Medicine, medical schools may be underemphasizing a much simpler virtue: good manners.
In the article, I described a common-sense method for spreading clinical courtesy that I call "etiquette-based medicine," and I proposed a simple six-step checklist for doctors to follow when meeting a hospitalized patient for the first time:
Ask permission to enter the room; wait for an answer.
Introduce yourself; show your ID badge.
Sit down. Smile if appropriate.
Explain your role on the health care team.
Ask how the patient feels about being in the hospital.
Do doctors really need to be told to do such obvious things? Unfortunately, anyone who has spent time in the hospital as a patient or a physician knows how haphazardly such actions are performed, and as Samuel Johnson wrote, "Man needs more to be reminded than instructed."
There is a useful analogy here to raising children. The British physician D. W. Winnicott coined the term "good enough mother" in part to help mothers who were overly anxious about their parenting skills. Rather than worry about trying to be perfect (whatever that meant), he urged them to relax, trust their intuition and realize that their children needed a mother who was caring, alert and reliable in other words, good enough.
Similarly, when medical schools try to turn out ideal doctors, they can miss the opportunity to help them be good enough: perhaps not perfectly attuned to the patient, but at least respectful and professional. An etiquette-based approach can promote such behavior.
Etiquette-based medicine rests on the fact that patients derive comfort from specific actions as opposed to attitudes or feelings that are independent of the doctor's emotional investment in the patient. My doctor may be tired, preoccupied or not that interested in me as a person; but I should still expect him or her to treat me with the kind of attentiveness and respect I recently received from a "genius" at the local Apple store.
The "genius" was skillful, efficient and professional, and solved my problem quickly without feeling my pain (which had been considerable). I don't necessarily want or need to have an exceptional healer, but I would like to have good service. Patients should command at least the same regard from their doctors.
Does this mean surrendering medicine's nobler values in the service of mere client satisfaction? Not at all. Consider one more analogy: A developing country may make a major investment in M.R.I. machines, an essential element of up-to-date medicine. But that money will be misspent if the country lacks enough antibiotics and doctors to prescribe them.
By the same token, trying to cultivate deeper human sensibility in doctors will be an inefficient use of scarce educational resources if those doctors cannot make the time to sit down, introduce themselves and make eye contact with their patients. Training good enough doctors should be like fluoridating the water supply or vaccinating children: uncomplicated, routine, relatively inexpensive but with widespread and long-lasting benefits.
Standing in someone else's shoes, almost for real
By Benedict Carey
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
From the outside, psychotherapy can look like an exercise in self-absorption. In fact, though, therapists often work to pull people out of themselves: to see their behavior from the perspective of a loved one, for example, or to observe their own thinking habits from a neutral distance.
Marriage counselors have couples role-play, each one taking the other spouse's part. Psychologists have rapists and other criminals describe their crime from the point of view of the victim. Like novelists or moviemakers, their purpose is to transport people, mentally, into the mind of another.
Now, neuroscientists have shown that they can make this experience physical, creating a "body swapping" illusion that could have a profound effect on a range of therapeutic techniques. At the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience last month, Swedish researchers presented evidence that the brain, when tricked by optical and sensory illusions, can quickly adopt any other human form, no matter how different, as its own.
"You can see the possibilities, putting a male in a female body, young in old, white in black and vice versa," said Dr. Henrik Ehrsson of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, who with his colleague Valeria Petkova described the work to other scientists at the meeting. Their full study is to appear online this week in the journal PLoS One. .
The technique is simple. A subject stands or sits opposite the scientist, as if engaged in an interview.. Both are wearing headsets, with special goggles, the scientist's containing small film cameras. The goggles are rigged so the subject sees what the scientist sees: to the right and left are the scientist's arms, and below is the scientist's body.
To add a physical element, the researchers have each person squeeze the other's hand, as if in a handshake. Now the subject can see and "feel" the new body. In a matter of seconds, the illusion is complete. In a series of studies, using mannequins and stroking both bodies' bellies simultaneously, the Karolinska researchers have found that men and women say they not only feel they have taken on the new body, but also unconsciously cringe when it is poked or threatened.
In previous work, neuroscientists have induced various kinds of out-of-body experiences using similar techniques. The brain is so easily tricked, they say, precisely because it has spent a lifetime in its own body. It builds models of the world instantaneously, based on lived experience and using split-second assumptions namely, that the eyes are attached to the skull.
Therapists say the body-swapping effect is so odd that it could be risky for anyone in real mental distress. People suffering from the delusions of schizophrenia or the grandiose mania of bipolar disorder are not likely to benefit from more disorientation, no matter the intent.
But those who seek help for relationship problems, in particular, often begin to moderate their behavior only after they have worked to see the encounters in their daily life from others' point of view.
"This is especially true for adolescents, who are so self-involved, and also for people who come in with anger problems and are more interested in changing everyone else in their life than themselves," said Kristene Doyle, director of clinical services at the Albert Ellis Institute in New York.
One important goal of therapy in such cases, Doyle said, is to get people to generate alternative explanations for others' behavior before they themselves react.
The evidence that inhabiting another's perspective can change behavior comes in part from virtual-reality experiments. In these studies, researchers create avatars that mimic a person's every movement. After watching their "reflection" in a virtual mirror, people mentally inhabit this avatar at some level, regardless of its sex, race or appearance. In several studies, for instance, researchers have shown that white people who spend time interacting virtually as black avatars become less anxious about racial differences.
Jeremy Bailenson, director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University, and his colleague Nick Yee call this the Proteus effect, after the Greek god who can embody many different self-representations.
In one experiment, the Stanford team found that people inhabiting physically attractive avatars were far more socially intimate in virtual interactions than those who had less appealing ones. The effect was subconscious: the study participants were not aware that they were especially good-looking, or that in virtual conversations they moved three feet closer to virtual conversation partners and revealed more about themselves than others did. This confidence lingered even after the experiment was over, when the virtual lookers picked more attractive partners as matches for a date.
Similar studies have found that people agree to contribute more to retirement accounts when they are virtually "age-morphed" to look older; and that they will exercise more after inhabiting an avatar that works out and loses weight.
Adding a physical body-swapping element, as the Swedish team did, is likely to amplify such changes. "It has video quality, it looks and feels more realistic than what we can do in virtual environments, so is likely to be much more persuasive," Bailenson said in a telephone interview.
Perhaps too persuasive for some purposes. "It may be like the difference between a good book, where you can project yourself into a character by filling in with your imagination, and a movie, where the specific actor gets in the way of identifying strongly," he went on.
And above and beyond any therapeutic purposes, the sensation is downright strange. In the experiments, said Ehrsson, the Swedish researcher, "even the feeling from the squeezing hand is felt in the scientist's hand and not in your own; this is perhaps the strangest aspect of the experience."
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
OSLO: A Bosnian muslim was jailed for five years on Tuesday for crimes against Serb civilians during the war in Bosnia in 1992 in the first war crimes case in Norway since the trials of Norwegians who collaborated with the Nazis.
The case was the first test of new Norwegian legislation on crimes against humanity and war crimes adopted in March.
Mirsad Repak, 42, who came to Norway in 1993 as an asylum-seeker and obtained Norwegian citizenship in 2001, has pleaded not guilty since the start of the trial on August 27.
The prosecutor had demanded 10 years in prison for the crimes that were said to have taken place in connection with the internment of civilians in Stolac and at the Dretelj prison camp in southern Bosnia-Herzegovina.
"The accused is found guilty of 11 cases of war crimes and deprivation of freedom of civilian, non-combatant Serbs followed by an internment in Dretelj," judge Finn Haugen told the court.
"The internment lasted for all 11 prisoners significantly longer than one month and/or the prisoners were exposed to unusual suffering," the judge said, adding that Repak was linked particularly to one incident of violence when he tortured a woman during questioning.
He was acquitted of the more wideranging charge of crimes against humanity, since that element of the law could not be applied to the alleged offence at that time.
The defence had argued that the state's entire case, including war crimes, should be thrown out as unconstitutional. But the court ruled the law encompassed the acts on which he was convicted.
Repak was also ordered to pay a total of 400,000 Norwegian crowns (37,503 pounds) to eight victims, but was acquitted on one rape charge. The defence has argued that he was a common soldier, but the court ruled that he had played a leadership role.
The prosecutor had argued that Repak played an important role in rape, torture, cruel treatment and violations of the laws or customs of war towards 18 Serbian non-combatants in the former Yugoslavia.
Norway's ambassador in Bosnia, Jan Braathu, told Norwegian TV channel TV2: "The immediate reaction is that the verdict is considered very mild."
(Reporting by Aasa Christine Stoltz; editing by Ralph Boulton)
By Damien Cave
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
JAYUYA, Puerto Rico: The seven girls posed, preened and smiled with all the energy of Miss Universe contestants, but this was no ordinary pageant.
The competitors, from about 6 years old to 16, had just paraded through a downpour to a small stage surrounded by mountains, where they displayed elaborate outfits handmade from wood, plants or, in one case, jingling shells. And the judges also sought a special kind of beauty: those who most resembled Puerto Rico's native Indian tribe, the Taino, received higher marks.
"It's different," said Felix González, president of the National Indigenous Festival of Jayuya, of which the pageant is a part. "It's not white culture and blue eyes; it says that the part of our blood that comes from indigenous culture is just as important."
Puerto Ricans have long considered themselves a mix of African, European and Native American influences. But since the 1960s, the Taino - a tribe wiped from the Antilles by European conquest, disease and assimilation - has come to occupy a special place in the island's cultural hierarchy.
The streets of Old San Juan are lined with museums and research centers dedicated to unearthing Taino artifacts and rituals. Children are taught from a young age that "hurricane" is Taino in origin, from the word "huracan," while no Latin pop music concert is complete without a shout out to Boricuas - those from Borinquen, the Taino name for Puerto Rico, which means "land of the brave noble lord."
The ties may be more than cultural. In 2003, Juan Martínez Cruzado, a geneticist at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, found that at least 61 percent of Puerto Ricans possess remnants of Taino DNA - and nearly all seem to believe they belong in that group.
"The Indian heritage is very important because it unites the Puerto Rican community," said Miguel Rodríguez López, an archaeologist with the Center for Advanced Studies of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, an independent graduate school in San Juan. "There is a feeling that it represents our primary roots." He added, "It is our symbolic identity."
In Jayuya, a town of a few thousand people in the mountains north of Ponce, Taino celebrations began decades ago. When local leaders discovered in the mid-1960s that the town was named for a Taino chief, they commissioned a sculpture to honor him. It was dedicated in November 1969 at the first indigenous festival, and every year since, the chief's stern eyes have looked out over the event from a perch above the central plaza.
At times, he has been forced to share space with the more modern forces that decimated his people. One of the city's major archaeological sites, discovered here two years ago, sits across from a Burger King. And before the pageant began Saturday night, a performance of traditional Taino dance competed with a pop song from Mana, Latin America's biggest rock band.
Mostly, though, the Taino influence in Jayuya seems to have merged with its surroundings. The standard Taino sun symbol, called a guanín, is now carved into the Spanish-style plaza. Many of the crafts being sold at the festival, like jewelry, purses and soap, also included Taino symbols.
And even the pageant is a hybrid. Actual Taino women wore only loincloths. But with the influence of local teenagers, the costumes have become exponentially more extravagant. A few years ago, organizers had to limit their size.
Even with those boundaries, which, of course, the teenagers tried to push, the costumes amounted to a mix of homecoming queen, Halloween, "Last of the Mohicans" and Las Vegas showgirl.
Rodríguez, the archaeologist and a former judge of the pageant, compared it to Brazil's carnival. "It's a sincretismo," he said. "They mix different cultures, different beliefs."
Some scholars have scoffed at the concept, saying it is more a reflection of the joke that Puerto Ricans love festivals enough to have one for every cause or crustacean. But Rodríguez defended the idea. "You have to enjoy it because it's for the people," he said.
The contestants clearly love it. Natalia Fernández, 16, said she had spent a month and half building her outfit, which required her to carry on her back a wooden Taino dancer weighing at least 25 pounds, or 11 kilograms, with a sprout above his head the size of a small coffee table.
Her bangs had been cut, her dark hair was straight (in a nod to what is considered Taino style) and her naturally copper-colored skin made her appear as Native American as Chief Jayuya. But she was also 100 percent teenager. Asked before the contest how she thought she would do, she fiddled with her cellphone and said, "I'm going to win."
The event started an hour late, and the rain and competition seemed to surprise Natalia. She frowned under the downpour, looking chilled with a bare midriff and no shoes, as she glanced nervously at the girl with shells and starfish netted in a high headdress.
But her fears were unfounded. After all the girls introduced themselves and explained their outfits, the judges called Natalia's name last, like all great pageant winners. Her friends and family cheered loudly from beneath umbrellas as she smiled and twirled for the digital cameras.
"It's about a beautiful culture," she said before taking the stage. "It's not about just beauty."
By David E. Sanger
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
WASHINGTON: For the first time since they threw their old, boxy pagers over the White House fence on Jan. 20, 2001 the BlackBerry as we know it wasn't on the market yet the alumni of the Clinton Administration have returned to their old haunts.
This time, they are members of "transition teams," but several say they feel like more like political archaeologists. "The buildings look the same," one said over coffee, "but everything inside is unrecognizable." And as they dig, they have tripped across a few surprises.
None of these newly arrived archaeologists would allow their names to be used when discussing their findings; to preserve cooperation with the Bush White House in a handover-of-power that still has 49 days to go, President-elect Barack Obama's top aides have imposed a gag rule. But few can contain their amazement, chiefly at the sheer increase in the size of the defense and national-security apparatus.
"For a bunch of small-government Republicans," one former denizen of the White House who has now stepped back inside for the first time in eight years, "these guys built a hell of an empire."
Eight years ago, there were two deputy national security advisers; today there are a half-dozen, each with staff. In the downstairs suites of the West Wing and across the street in the Old Executive Office Building, the returnees tripped into the Homeland Security Council, created to keep order in the new, vast, often dysfunctional Homeland Security Department. In the Pentagon's deepest crevices, the Joint Special Operations Command has mushroomed in size and influence because of the demands of operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The list goes on.
But several say that their biggest surprise came when they learned more about how Bush spends his day, and how he gets his information.
It's not clear what they expected; perhaps after all those jokes on Letterman and Leno, they thought Bush spent the heart of his day on the stationary bicycle. Instead, they have been surprised to see the degree of tactical detail about two wars and a handful of insurgencies from the tribal areas of Pakistan to Sudan and the Congo that surrounds him. Partly this is because the high-tech makeover of the Situation Room, completed about two years ago, makes instantaneous conversation with field commanders easier than ever.
Both the transition officials and some White House insiders say it may make this communication too easy, sucking the commander-in-chief into a situation in which real-time, straight-from-the-battlefield discussions of tactics masquerade as a conversation about strategy.
Bush himself has talked about how the installation of secure video links has changed his presidency. In addition to the screens in the "Sit Room," he has links on Air Force One, at Camp David, and in a trailer across the dirt road from his ranch in Crawford, Texas At a barbecue for the press in Crawford a few years back, he waxed on about how the technology has created a window for sealed-off presidents, and urged reporters to get their own for when they are on the road. (No one had the heart to tell him that connectivity with editors is not always a reporter's greatest wish.)
But several veterans of the White House have noted in conversations over the past two years that the secure video does not lend itself to open, vigorous debate. Instead, it can squelch it. The picture is being piped into too many places; field commanders don't want to speak their mind to the president if their immediate superiors at the Pentagon or Central Command are tuned in, too. There may be recordings for posterity, or presidential libraries.
One recently departed National Security Council official noted earlier this year that in his view, the problem is that the system is largely in the hands of war-fighters; only on a rare day, and only toward the end of his presidency, did members of Provincial Reconstruction Teams and other aid workers involved in nation-building pop up on Bush's screen.
"The technology tends to skew the nature of the advice you hear," this former N.S.C. member said, declining to speak on the record because the sessions he witnessed were classified. "You spend a lot more time talking about hitting a house of full of bad guys in Waziristan than you do talking about why our effort to build schools and roads is moving so slowly."
It is not yet clear what Obama thinks of the high-tech toys he will soon have at his disposal, but at the announcement of his new national security team on Monday in Chicago, he was clearly aware of the problem they can accentuate. "One of the dangers in a White House, based on my reading of history, is that you get wrapped up in groupthink and everybody agrees with everything and there's no discussion and there are no dissenting views." He insisted he would be "welcoming a vigorous debate inside the White House."
A few hours later, ABC News broadcast an interview in which Bush told Charles Gibson that "the biggest regret" of his presidency arose from his administration's best-known group-think debacle. "A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein," Bush said, according to the White House transcript. "And you know, that's not a do-over, but I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess."
Bush, once again, declined to be drawn into the great what-if of his presidency: Would history had been different if the Iraq intelligence had been accurate, or if someone on one of those screens had debated the implications if it turned out to be wrong?
He had designed the 2002 "Bush doctrine" the declaration that after 9/11, the United States could no longer take the risk of allowing imminent threats to the country gather for a world in which technology allowed near-perfect information flow, enabling the president to make accurate, black-and-white calls about whether that threat exists. Instead, in its first application to a real-life conflict, the debate turned into an endless feedback loop, reinforcing faulty assumptions. People talked about how many days would be required to get to Baghdad, not whether the evidence for invasion was good enough, or the possibility that the occupation would go awry.
Even the face-to-face discussions took on an element of virtual reality. More Articles in US »
The Associated Press
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
ARUSHA, Tanzania: A U.N. court sentenced a former pop star to 15 years in prison on Tuesday for his part in inciting Rwanda's 1994 genocide.
Presiding Judge Monica Weinberg de Roca said Tuesday that Simon Bikindi used a public address system to tell Hutus to exterminate Tutsi "snakes" and wrote hate-filled propaganda in his lyrics.
"You have abused your stature as a well-known and popular artist ... and an important figure in the Interahamwe movement by using your influence to incite genocide," she said. The Interahamwe were militants from the Hutu ethnic majority.
The singer will get credit for seven years already served in prison.
In 1994, more than 500,000 people were killed in 100 days after Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana's plane was mysteriously shot down over Kigali as he returned home from peace talks with Tutsi-led rebels.
Hours after the crash, the Interahamwe set up roadblocks across Kigali and the next day began killing Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
They often used radio as a means of urging Hutu civilians to kill their Tutsi neighbors and direct the slaughter. Bikindi's songs called on Hutus to remember the suffering under the Tutsi monarchy and urged Hutus to remain united against the "Tutsi enemy."
The Tanzania-based war crimes tribunal has convicted 32 people and acquitted five since it was set up in 1994. Two more judgments are expected by the end of the year.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
By Waleed Ibrahim
An Iraqi court sentenced Saddam Hussein's cousin "Chemical Ali" to death on Tuesday for the killing of thousands of Shi'ites in a ruthless crackdown on their uprising after the 1991 Gulf War.
It was the second death sentence to be handed down against Ali Hassan al-Majeed, who earned his nickname for his role in using poison gas against Kurdish villages.
Dressed in a traditional Arab chequered headdress and robe, Majeed stood quietly as the verdict was read, showing no emotion.
He was first condemned to be hanged last year for the killing of tens of thousands of Kurds in the 1980s, but that sentence was held up by political wrangling.
The judge did not say when this execution would be carried out, but Majeed can appeal the decision. It was unclear whether this sentence would also be delayed by the political dispute.
Judge Mohammad al-Uraibi also sentenced a former top Baath party official, Abdul Ghani Abdul Ghafour, to hang for his involvement in the crackdown on Shi'ites in the south, and 10 others to sentences ranging from 15 years to life in prison.
"The court has decided to execute by hanging the convicted Ali Hassan Majeed for committing ... wilful killings and crimes against humanity," the judge said.
Saddam's Sunni Arab-led government quelled a Shi'ite uprising in 1991. Investigators discovered dozens of mass graves containing thousands of decayed bodies after U.S. forces ousted his government in 2003.
As the verdict was read out, Ghafour became agitated and started shouting:
"I am a martyr for Iraq and the Arab nation. Down with the U.S. occupation! Down with the collaborators! Victory for jihad!"
Uraibi told journalists afterward that the sentences were agreed by four out of five judges deciding the cases.
Majeed's reputation for ruthless use of force to crush opponents won him widespread notoriety during Saddam's rule and led many Iraqis to fear him even more than the leader himself.
The judge said Majeed had showed no remorse.
"Most of them apologised and felt regret during the trial except Ali Hassan al-Majeed," he said, explaining why other Baath officials had softer sentences than Majeed.
The Iraqi High Tribunal was set up in 2003 to try former members of Saddam's government and was the same one that sentenced the former dictator to death.
New York-based Human Rights Watch estimates 290,000 people disappeared under Saddam, many killed then heaped in ditches.
Saddam was executed in December 2006 after being convicted of crimes against humanity for the killing of 148 Shi'ite men and boys after a 1982 assassination attempt.
His execution sparked anger among minority Sunni Arabs, who were outraged by a video showing the ousted leader being taunted by official observers of the Shi'ite-led governing coalition in the moments before he was hanged.
His half-brother Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti was executed two weeks later in a botched hanging that ripped off his head. Two other members of the former government have also been executed.
Also now on trial is former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz, the public face of Saddam Hussein's regime, who is facing charges over the execution of dozens of merchants accused of breaking state price controls in 1992.
(Writing by Tim Cocks, editing by Myra MacDonald)
By Mark Medish
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
You are millions. We are hordes And hordes and hordes. Try and take us on! Yes, we are Scythians!
Aleksandr Blok wrote these lines in January 1918, a few weeks after the Bolsheviks disbanded Russia's first freely elected Parliament, plunging the country into a bloody civil war. Of course Russia has changed significantly since then. And yet the famous poem seems uncannily relevant 90 years later.
Blok had a prophetic sense of Russia's national resurgence and an impending clash of civilizations. His reference to Scythians anchored Russia's proud roots in the myth of a lost Eurasian tribe fated to act as a "shield" between East and West.
Russia unleashed its ancient wrath when it struck back at Georgia militarily last August. As a veteran U.S. diplomat aptly observed, Moscow was exhibiting "road rage." The Kremlin felt it had been cut off one too many times and was lashing out. "Try and take us on!"
Russia's ensuing diplomatic script could be summarized by Blok's poem. Put in simpler terms, Moscow's new message was that the shoe is on the other foot. Tired of Western double-standards and riding high on oil wealth, Moscow wanted to show the world that anything the West could do, Russia could do too.
And, jeering, you merely counted the days Until your cannon could point at us! The time is come. Trouble beats its wing - and every day our grudges grow
NATO enlargement up to Russia's borders in Ukraine and Georgia? How about a small war in the Caucasus? Unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo? How about the same for Abkhazia and South Ossetia? A U.S. missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic? How about Iskander missile batteries on the Baltic coast and a military partnership with Venezuela?
Mission accomplished. Russia has gotten our attention. Russia is not a eunuch among nation states; it has legitimate interests too. It must be heeded, within reason, on issues affecting those interests.
But, tragically, Russia seems to have had little sense of purpose beyond venting. Instead it has indulged in a series of visceral responses to perceived slights, revealing atavism, not strength. Rage is not a strategy.
Most countries have had identity crises of one kind or another. This is particularly true of former empires, historically united by force rather than consent. Russia's case is especially acute due to the deformities of Communism. Russia still behaves like a deeply conflicted demiurge between East and West.
Russia is a Sphinx. Rejoicing, grieving, And drenched in black blood, It gazes, gazes, gazes at you, With hatred and with love!
The path back from the brink of conflict will be a difficult one for Russia and the West. It takes two to tango. It will require an ambivalent Russia to choose love over hatred, to purge its old demons and to rethink its global role. It will also require the self-absorbed West to adopt a long-term strategy for promoting peace and prosperity in Eurasia.
There is little doubt that the maximalist schemes of the Anglo-American neoconservatives aimed for too much too soon, with dangerous consequences for Europe. It is important to understand that when it comes to foreign policy the West has produced its own brand of Bolsheviks and its own arrogant pathologies.
Before it's too late - sheathe your old sword, Comrades! We shall be brothers!
Perhaps not brotherhood, but we can already see the rough outlines of a new approach in Moscow and Western capitals, most of which have toned down the truculent rhetoric. Missile defense, which is not an urgent issue, is an obvious area for compromise.
Ukraine and Georgia can be firmly embraced by trans-Atlantic structures, foremost the EU, in tandem with NATO partnership. For genuine Eurasian stability, Russia will ultimately need to join NATO, but this may be a discussion for another decade.
Longstanding territorial disputes should be returned to the negotiating table, recognizing that frozen conflicts are usually better than hot ones.
President-elect Barack Obama will have an important opportunity to change things and rebuild a foreign policy based on principled pragmatism. The majority of American voters expect him both to uphold U.S. values and avoid unnecessary confrontations.
In Russia's case, the key insight will have to come not from the electorate but from the entrenched leadership of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his protégé, President Dmitry Medvedev. If inspiration fails them, the decline of oil revenues might help bring them to their senses - and to move beyond road rage.
Mark Medish is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington and the Weidenfeld Institute for Strategic Dialogue in London.
By Nicholas Kulish
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
MOSCOW: In the heat of the Georgia crisis in August, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany flew to Russia to warn about the consequences of renewed militarism. Two days later she was in Georgia, voicing support for the country's eventual entry into NATO.
Autumn crept in and passions cooled. The beginning of October found Merkel back in Russia, looking on as the German utility E.ON and the Russian state energy giant Gazprom signed a significant deal in St. Petersburg, giving the German firm a stake in the enormous Yuzhno-Russkoye natural gas field in Siberia.
Merkel's shifting focus served as a reminder of the pivotal role played by Germany in shaping the West's relationship with Russia. It is Russia's largest trading partner, Europe's single biggest economy and one of America's closest allies. Moscow's aggressive posture has not only thrust Russia, a nuclear-armed energy power, back to the geopolitical spotlight. It has also dragged Germany there with it.
Just as the United States is struggling to redefine its relationship with a resurgent and at times antagonistic government in Moscow, Germany is scrambling to protect the close commercial, cultural and diplomatic ties with Russia it has forged since the end of the cold war and, in some areas, long before.
How broad that divide has grown will become clearer this week, when NATO foreign ministers gather in Brussels. Berlin and Washington are at odds over how to deal with NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine a tussle that at its heart is about how to deal with Russia.
As the United States aims mainly to counter Russia's newfound military assertiveness, Germany favors steps to develop Russia economically and ensure its political stability. Germany sees its responsibility to guide Russia, not contain it.
The incoming Obama administration, which has vowed to pursue a new path to curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions as well as achieving other foreign policy goals that involve Russia, may find that one road to Moscow runs through Berlin. At a minimum, it seems likely to have to address Germany's deeper interests in Russia.
"There are serious disagreements between Washington and Berlin from which Moscow can only benefit if there is not better coordination," said Angela Stent, who served as the top Russia officer at the United States government's National Intelligence Council from 2004 to 2006 and now directs Russian studies at Georgetown University. "The Obama administration should work with the Germans as it reassesses U.S. policy toward Russia."
Weary of American lectures about the fact that 36 percent of the natural gas that heats German homes comes from Russia, some German politicians wonder how Americans can worry more about this energy dependence than they themselves do.
"Many Germans believe Bush only invaded Iraq for oil, and many Americans believe Germany's Russia policy is determined by gas," said Karsten D. Voigt, who coordinates German-American relations in the German Foreign Ministry and who for years ran the German-Russian parliamentary group in the German Parliament. "Every German government since at least the 1970s has tried to bind Russia, and before that the Soviet Union, more closely with Europe."
Sergei Kupriyanov, a representative of Gazprom, said, "Our cooperation began during the cold war," referring to deals opposed by the United States that laid gas pipelines between Russia and Germany in the 1970s. "The Berlin Wall still existed," he said. "Compared to what we had then, Georgia is just peanuts."
Germans see not dependence on Russia, but interdependence. The European Union's 27 nations account for 80 percent of the cumulative foreign investment in Russia, a fact starkly exposed if the Kremlin ever forgot by the flight of capital after the Georgia crisis.
The Europeans, after Georgia, angrily froze negotiations with Russia over a new partnership agreement. Barely 10 weeks later, they decided to resume the talks. "We cannot build a European architecture against Russia or without Russia, only with Russia," said Alexander Rahr, director of the Russian/Eurasian program at the German Council on Foreign Relations.
While Germany needs Russia's raw materials and covets the significant market there for its precision machine tools, Russia is equally dependent on European investment to diversify its economy, a fact driven home all too clearly for Russians now that the financial crisis has sent energy prices plunging.
In the city of Yaroslavl, an automotive company, the GAZ Group, still makes diesel truck engines in a factory first built in the waning days of czarist rule in 1916. The production model evokes Soviet times, starting with iron in the foundry on the site, with workers building almost the entire engine from scratch.
A short drive away, past clusters of birch trees, is a field of concrete, metal trusses and corrugated iron roofing. It is the beginning of a state-of-the-art production plant for the company's new engine model, a project valued at $442 million.
The plant sits a few hours north of Moscow by car, but the names of the suppliers sound like a roll call of German industry, with most of the new machinery and production lines supplied by German companies like Grob-Werke and ThyssenKrupp Krause.
"Germany is, in terms of technology, expertise and know how in the automotive industry, I think the best in the world," said Ruslan Grekov, the project director for the new engine in Yaroslavl. "Of course, Germany is different from Russia. The difference is good."
Such sentiments might seem surprising, even jarring, in a country where, in Soviet times, Nazis were vilified in a daily diet of war movies.
But the bonds between Europe's two largest countries were forged over centuries, as German nobles like Catherine the Great became Russian royalty and German generals led the czar's armies. German craftsmen worked in Moscow while German farmers settled near the Volga River.
The relationship has been tempered on the German side with guilt over World War II and gratitude over German reunification.
But always the anchor has been business, with Germany's technical skill complementing Russia's vast resources. The German conglomerate Siemens laid the Russian state telegraph network in the 1850s. Stalin built Soviet industrial might in his first Five-Year Plan in large part with German machines.
The current global slowdown has sent ripples of fear across Russia about a possible repeat of the 1998 collapse of the ruble. The World Bank halved its expectation for Russian growth next year, but it was still 3 percent, whereas the German economy, already in recession, is expected to contract, making Russia all the more important as layoffs in Germany mount.
Trade between Russia and Germany grew 25 percent to $49.3 billion in the first half of the year. Russia is one of Germany's fastest-growing markets. Last year, German exports to Russia totaled $36 billion, more than five times the $6.7 billion exported from the United States to Russia.
German businessmen not only work out of sales offices in Moscow or invest in the country's rich oil and gas fields. They are all over from Siberia to Yekaterinburg to St. Petersburg, with some 4,600 companies in all investing $13.2 billion, building factories and delivering machinery to Russians who aspire to be more than the raw-goods store for European neighbors.
Today, Siemens is supplying Russia with its first high-speed trains, known as the Velaro RUS. The contract is worth $758 million for Siemens, half for the trains and half for servicing.
The oligarch Roman Abramovich's construction firm Infrastruktura announced this year that it had ordered the world's largest drill from the German company Herrenknecht to bore tunnels in Moscow and near Sochi in preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Igor Yurgens, executive board chairman at the Institute of Contemporary Development in Moscow, of which President Dimitri Medvedev is board chairman, said Germany was a strategic partner and the most patient investor in Russia's future.
"We do not have laws in this country, but we have a lot of friendships, and friendship is more important than laws," Yurgens said, in an interview in his Moscow office just off the city's Garden Ring Road, where sputtering old Ladas inch through jams alongside late-model Mercedes sedans. "That's historically so. And with Germans, this is the case."
"On the background of this economic very strong cooperation and involvement, their criticism is taken a bit more lightly than the criticism of some others who do nothing at all, but just keep criticizing," Yurgens added.
When Medvedev threatened after the American election to place new missiles in Kaliningrad, the location was a symbol of the painful, complex relationship between Russia and Germany. That island of Russian territory awkwardly perched between the NATO members Poland and Lithuania was the German city of Königsberg before it fell to the Soviets in the wake of World War II.
Yet in a sign of the opportunities presented by the Russian-German-American triangle, it was Germany's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, from the usually Russia-friendly Social Democrats, who issued perhaps the sternest rebuff to Medvedev. It was "the wrong signal at the wrong time," Steinmeier said the next day.
The incoming Obama administration, German officials say quietly, should take note. As indicated by Medvedev's backpedaling since, the Russians apparently did.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
By David Brunnstrom and Mark John
NATO agreed on Tuesday to gradually resume contacts with Russia suspended after Moscow's intervention in Georgia, and put off a decision on putting Ukraine and Georgia on formal membership tracks.
Meeting in Brussels, the allies reaffirmed a pledge -- which had angered Russia -- that former Soviet states Georgia and Ukraine would one day join the alliance and agreed to step up help to them in that process.
But going into her last NATO meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dodged confrontation with allies by dropping previous U.S. resistance to restarting talks with Russia, and reached a compromise in a squabble with Germany over how to manage the entry ambitions of Ukraine and Georgia.
The outcome leaves any real decisions on closer alliance ties with Russia, Georgia and Ukraine to the incoming President-elect Barack Obama.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the 26 NATO states had asked him to see what political contacts would be possible with Moscow and said the suspended ambassador-level NATO-Russia Council would meet again on an informal basis.
"Allies agreed on what I would qualify as a conditional and graduated reengagement with Russia," he told a news conference.
He stressed though that this did not mean NATO had changed its view that Russia had used "disproportionate" force in invading Georgia in August, or that it was acceptable for Russia to threaten to station missiles near NATO borders.
Rice stressed the decision did not mean a return to "business as usual" with Russia.
EU RESTARTS TALKS
Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said Moscow would wait before reacting to NATO's announcement.
"It is natural that Moscow will analyse the results that we receive today and will receive tomorrow very carefully," he told Interfax news agency. "After that Russia's official reaction will be made public."
Georgian Foreign Minister Ekaterine Tkeshelashvili welcomed the outcome.
"We can very firmly say that from this decision on we are much closer to NATO membership than we have ever been because the main focus of discussions was in which way the alliance can assist Georgia so that we make progress towards membership," she told reporters.
The NATO decision came hours after the 27-member European Union resumed talks on a broad-ranging partnership pact with Moscow, reflecting European acceptance that any attempt to isolate a key energy partner could damage European interests.
The EU agreed last month that Russia had complied sufficiently with the terms of a Georgia cease-fire to permit this, while keeping the relationship under review.
European capitals had urged NATO to study resuming full contacts with Russia, but Washington had been reluctant to make any early move.
Rice said before the meeting she did not oppose "in principle" reviving contacts with Russia via the NATO-Russia Council. But referring to Russian troops still in Georgian breakaway regions, she said NATO should be very cautious about any move on military-to-military cooperation.
"I think the idea of working through an informal contact with the NATO-Russia Council is not a problem for us," she told a news conference on Tuesday.
Concern about Russia's reaction prompted Germany and France to block a U.S. push at an April NATO summit in Bucharest to give Ukraine and Georgia formal routes to join the alliance known as Membership Action Plans (MAPs).
That summit gave Georgia and Ukraine vague promises of eventual NATO entry and agreed to review their MAP requests by the year-end. But Georgia's August clash with Russia and Ukraine's political chaos fuelled European doubts.
Rice backed a compromise formula of seeking to further Ukrainian and Georgian entry ambitions through bilateral forums NATO has established with each country, which could render formal entry plans unnecessary.
This was resisted by Germany and its Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said MAPs would remain a requirement for NATO enlargement. "We have decided today that there will be no shortcut," he said.
De Hoop Scheffer said yearly programmes would be drawn up for Ukraine and Georgia to advance their reforms which would be reviewed annually by the allies.
(Additional reporting by Sue Pleming and Sabine Siebold; editing by Michael Roddy)
By Bernd DebusmannReuters
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
WASHINGTON: As far as illicit businesses with low risk and high rewards go, it doesn't get much better than piracy on the high seas. The profit margins can easily surpass those of the cocaine trade. The risks?
"There is no reason not to be a pirate," according to Vice Admiral William Gortney, who commands the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet. "The vessel I'm trying to pirate, they won't shoot at me. I'm going to get my money." Even pirates who are intercepted have little to fear. "They won't arrest me because there's no place to try me."
Gortney's assessment of piracy's low risk came in a radio interview that focused on the Gulf of Aden, where Somali pirates have carried out a string of increasingly brazen hijackings. Last month they ventured as far as the high seas southeast of Kenya to seize a Saudi supertanker carrying $100 million worth of U.S.-bound crude.
But although attention is focused on the Horn of Africa, piracy is a global phenomenon, relative impunity applies in many places, and a thick legal fog hangs over effective action.
Among questions to keep lawyers busy: Can a naval vessel fire on a ship believed to be carrying pirates? It depends. Who would be held accountable for someone killed in an exchange of fire between pirates and private security personnel traveling aboard a merchant ship? Which country's jurisdiction applies, for example, to a Somali arrested on the high seas and taken aboard a Danish vessel?
One of the challenges in combating piracy "clearly is if you are intervening and you capture pirates, is there a path to prosecute them?" Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained at a recent Pentagon briefing.
A rough back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that the operation to hijack the Saudi tanker, the Sirius Star, cost no more than $25,000, assuming that the pirates bought new equipment and weapons ($450 apiece for an AK-47 Kalashnikov, $5,000 for an RPG-7 grenade launcher, $15,000 for a speedboat). That contrasts with an initial ransom demand to the tanker's owner, Saudi Aramco, of $25 million.
"Piracy is an excellent business model if you operate from an impoverished, lawless place like Somalia," said Patrick Cullen, a security expert at the London School of Economics who has been researching piracy. "The risk-reward ratio is just huge."
One way to shrink that ratio would be to place private security guards on vessels that ply shipping routes prone to pirate attack, from the waters off Nigeria to the Strait of Malacca and the Horn of Africa. That's the solution recommended by the commander of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, whose area of responsibility covers 7.5 million square miles, or 25.7 million square kilometers, including the waters off Somalia. Its warships can't be everywhere.
Even with the additional deployment of warships from France, Britain, Denmark, Russia, India, Japan, Korea and Malaysia, the navies are looking for needles in a haystack. The pirates launch speedboats from mother ships hundreds of miles off the coast.
Carrying armed guards aboard ships sounds like a simple, straightforward solution. They stand watch; they fire warning flares at an approaching speedboat manned by what looks like pirates. If the vessel doesn't turn away, they blow it out of the water. End of story.
Except if the incident somehow turned into a court case and the ship's crew and guards had to prove that the men in the approaching speedboat were driven by criminal intent. By some definitions, an act of piracy doesn't begin until the grappling hooks are thrown over the side and the pirates start clambering up.
In the past, shipping companies, by and large, have been reluctant to add armed personnel to their crews, partly for reasons of cost - a security team can add $30,000 to $60,000 and more to a voyage - and partly because the statistical chance of having their ships attacked or hijacked is relatively small.
The International Maritime Organization puts the world trading fleet at 50,525 ships. In the first nine months of this year, the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur recorded 199 attacks on ships, including 36 hijackings. In percentage terms, this is not much.
But the targets, and the ransom demands, have been getting bigger. The Sirius Star was taken less than two months after the hijacking of a Ukrainian freighter, the Fainu, which carried about 30 T-72 tanks, crates of rocket-propelled grenades, anti-aircraft guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition. That capture made world headlines and raised fresh questions over existing anti-piracy tactics.
Private security firms see new markets and new opportunities. Several British firms have begun teaming up with insurance companies that offer lower rates for ships carrying security teams. Anti-pirate devices now coming into use range from razor wire strung along the side of ships to sound cannons: weapons that beam ear-splitting noise at would-be attackers.
One U.S. company, Blackwater Worldwide, is offering maritime escort services with a 183-foot, or 56-meter, vessel that carries two helicopters, a crew of 15 and 35 guards. Blackwater says 13 shipping companies have expressed interest.
To make pirates think twice about the risk-reward ratio, nothing is likely to be as effective as brute force. But those who warn that 18th-century methods can be problematic in the 21st can now point to the example set by the Indian frigate Tabar on Nov. 18.
According to the Indian Navy, the Tabar had come under fire from what appeared to be a pirate mother ship that had failed to obey a command to stop.
The Indian frigate returned fire, "in self-defense." The ship blew up in a ball of fire and sank.
A week later, it turned out that the supposed mother ship was a Thai freighter that had just been taken over by pirates when the frigate approached.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
NAIROBI: Pirates chased and shot at a U.S. cruise ship with more than 1,000 people on board but failed to hijack the vessel as it sailed along a corridor patrolled by international warships, officials said Tuesday.
Jurica Brajcic, the captain of the ship, the M/S Nautica, ordered passengers inside and accelerated the engine, allowing the ship to outrun the pirates' speedboats in the Gulf of Aden on Sunday, a company spokesman said.
Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Malaysia, said, "It is very fortunate that the liner managed to escape," and he urged ships to remain vigilant in the area.
In a statement on its Web site, Oceania Cruises, the owner of the ship, said that pirates fired eight rifle shots at the liner but that the ship's captain increased speed and managed to outrun the skiffs.
"When the pirates were sighted, the captain went on the public address system and asked passengers to remain in the interior spaces of the ship and wait until he gave further instructions," said Tim Rubacky, a spokesman for Oceania. "Within five minutes, it was over."
All passengers and crew members were safe and there was no damage to the vessel, the company statement said. Rubacky said the ship planned to return through the Gulf of Aden.
Brajcic has declined to speak to journalists about overseeing the Nautica's escape from two pirate boats, according to Oceania Cruises.
"He told me: 'I'm not a hero. Me and the crew, we just did what we were supposed to do,"' Rubacky said, adding that Brajcic, a Croatian in his 50s from a seafaring family, had declined interviews even with his local newspaper in Dubrovnik. "He is a modest guy and kind of shy," Rubacky added. "He is the epitome of the strong silent type."
Choong said the ship was carrying 656 international passengers and 399 crew members.
The International Maritime Bureau, which fights maritime crime, did not know how many cruise liners use the waters, where hijacking of freighters and tankers has become a constant threat in spite of patrols by an international flotilla.
In New York on Tuesday, the United Nations Security Council extended for another year its authorization for countries to enter Somalia's territorial waters with advance notice and to use "all necessary means" to stop piracy and armed robbery at sea. Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, called the pirates' goals "ever-expanding."
The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, said it was aware of the failed hijacking of the cruise ship - a sign of the pirates' growing ambition - but had no further details.
The Nautica was on a 32-day cruise from Rome to Singapore, with stops at ports in Italy, Egypt, Oman, Dubai, India, Malaysia and Thailand, the Oceania Cruises Web site said. Based on that schedule, the liner was headed from Egypt to Oman when it was attacked.
The liner arrived in the southern Oman port city of Salalah on Monday morning, and the passengers toured the city before leaving for the capital, Muscat, on Monday evening, an official of the Oman Tourism Ministry said. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity Tuesday because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
It was not the first time a cruise liner had been attacked. In 2005, pirates opened fire on the Seabourn Spirit about 160 kilometers, or 100 miles, off the Somali coast. The faster cruise ship managed to escape and used a long-range acoustic device - which blasts a painful wave of sound - to distract the pirates.
The International Maritime Bureau, in London, cited only the 2005 liner attack and a raid on the luxury yacht Le Ponant earlier this year as attacks on passenger vessels off Somalia.
International warships patrol the area and have created a security corridor in the region under a U.S.-led initiative, but attacks on shipping have not abated.
In about 100 attacks on ships off the Somali coast this year, 40 vessels have been hijacked, Choong said. Fourteen remain in the hands of pirates along with more than 250 crew members.
In two of the most daring attacks, pirates seized a Ukrainian freighter loaded with 33 battle tanks in September, and on Nov. 15 captured a Saudi oil tanker carrying $100 million worth of crude oil.
On Tuesday, a Somali pirate spokesman said his group would release the Ukrainian ship within two days.
The spokesman, Sugule Ali, told The Associated Press by satellite phone on Tuesday that a ransom agreement had been reached, but would not say how large it was. The pirates had originally asked for $20 million when they hijacked the ship, the MV Faina.
"Once we receive this payment, we will also make sure that all our colleagues on ship reach land safely," Ali said, "then the release will take place." He was not afraid of warships intervening, he said. "We know that the quantity of the equipment on the ship and the valuable lives we held hostage will help us remain onboard and get ransom."
NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Tuesday focused almost immediately on demands for the military alliance to act amid growing alarm over the attacks on shipping.
By John F. Burns
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
LONDON: A panel of immigration judges ordered the immediate return to prison on Tuesday of a radical Islamic preacher known as Abu Qatada, dubbed by Britain's tabloid newspapers as "Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe."
The judges accepted warnings from the Home Office, Britain's interior ministry, that the cleric, a 47-year-old Jordanian of Palestinian origin, might attempt to flee if he were allowed to remain on the bail granted to him five months ago.
The ruling by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission was the latest development in a legal battle that goes back to 1993, when the preacher, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, arrived in Britain on a forged United Arab Emirates passport. He won asylum for himself and his family nine months later, but attracted the attention of the counterterrorism police about seven months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by Al Qaeda in New York and Washington.
Courts have been told that tapes of his sermons in British mosques were found in a Hamburg flat used by some of the Sept. 11 hijackers. In February 2001, Othman was questioned by police on suspicion of links to radical Islamist cells in Germany. The courts have been told that officers found 170,000 pounds in cash, the equivalent then of about $300,000, with about $1,500 of it in an envelope labeled "for the mujahideen in Chechnya." He was not arrested, but became on Britain's most-wanted men when he went on the run after Sept. 11, seeking to evade arrest under new antiterror laws.
In October 2002, he was tracked down to a house in south London, setting off his battle to avoid deportation. With British courts reluctant to order deportations to countries that practice torture, the government reached an agreement with Jordan that included a commitment not to mistreat Othman. But the courts ruled that the commitment was not a sufficient guarantee of Othman's rights, and ordered him freed on bail pending further court hearings in June.
The home secretary, Jacqui Smith, issued a statement after Tuesday's court ruling welcoming his return to jail. "I'm pleased the court has agreed that Qatada should have his bail revoked," she said. "He poses a significant threat to our national security and I am pleased that he will be detained pending his deportation, which I'm working hard to secure."
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
SYDNEY: Uncapped lock Peter Kimlin and teenage fullback James O'Connor have been named in a reshuffled Australia team for their final European tour match against the Barbarians in London.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans entered into the best traditions of Barbarian rugby by picking a largely experimental side, selecting fringe players who had been given little game time in the test matches.
Kimlin, who was only called into the touring squad as a late replacement for the injured James Horwill, was named on the bench while scrumhalf Brett Sheehan was also chosen to make his first appearance of the tour in the run-on side.
The 18-year-old O'Connor made his test debut as a replacement against Italy last month and will earn his first run-on jersey against the Barbarians.
Wednesday's match at Wembley Stadium does not carry test status but was organised to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Australia's gold medal in rugby at the 1908 London Olympics.
George Smith takes over the captaincy from Stirling Mortlock, who joined a heavy casualty list that includes Matt Giteau and Nathan Sharpe after Australia's 21-18 loss to Wales last weekend.
Australia: 15-James O'Connor, 14-Lote Tuqiri, 13-Ryan Cross, 12-Adam Ashley-Cooper, 11-Digby Ioane, 10-Quade Cooper, 9-Brett Sheehan, 8-Richard Brown, 7-George Smith (captain), 6-Dean Mumm, 5-Hugh McMeniman, 4-Mark Chisholm, 3-Matt Dunning, 2-Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1-Sekope Kepu.
Replacements: 16-Adam Freier, 17-Ben Alexander, 18-Peter Kimlin, 19-David Pocock, 20-Luke Burgess, 21-Lachie Turner, 22-Drew Mitchell.
(Reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)
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