Wednesday, 30 January 2008

A Place in the Auvergne, Wednesday, 30th January, 2008


The economy may be slowing down, but Washington's ideas industry is booming.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research institution that was effectively broke seven years ago, just bought a $33 million vacant lot as the site for a new home. The Council on Foreign Relations is expanding its Washington office to a $60 million building. The United States Institute of Peace is erecting a $180 million headquarters of steel and white translucent glass.
Not least, the rapidly growing Brookings Institution - its operating budget is up nearly 50 percent in the past two years alone - just paid $18.5 million for a satellite building across the street from its headquarters...

"To a Wall Streeter, intellectuals are pretty cheap," said Walter Russell Mead, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of "God and Gold: Britain, America and the Making of the Modern World." "There are wedding rings that cost more than I do."
A $20 million increase in the Brookings operating budget in the past two years, bringing it to $60.7 million in 2007, came largely from donations from a few individuals.

For years this segregation was promoted as the best formula for social harmony in a country that advertises itself as "Truly Asia," a place where the palette of skin colors is as diverse as the mosques, churches and Hindu and Buddhist temples that dot the landscape.
But in recent months ethnic relations here have deteriorated to a level that many find alarming. After years of muffled tensions over religious conversions, government funding for minority schools and a longstanding system of special privileges for Malays, the dominant group, ethnic anger has burst to the forefront of Malaysian politics.

In a speech Wednesday to officials of the FSB, the successor agency to the KGB, Putin declared that agents had to be on guard for foreign interference in Russia's affairs, especially during the presidential campaign.

Food industry groups, which won their battle against imposition of a mandatory traffic light system, still criticized the proposals as unworkable.
EuroCommerce, which represents the retail, wholesale and international trade sectors in Europe, attacked the requirement for a minimum type size of 3 millimeters for labels.
"Three millimeters is by far larger than the size used by newspapers. Are they not readable?" Xavier Durieu, secretary general of EuroCommerce, said in a statement. "This new requirement will also lead to an increase of the size of the packages, which goes against all the efforts made by the various actors and contradicts the commission initiatives to reduce packaging waste."

As unusually heavy snowfall and cold weather continued over much of the country Wednesday, the government stepped up emergency efforts to handle a crisis that threatened to become as much a public relations disaster as a logistical one.
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao flew to the southern city of Guangzhou, where more than 600,000 travelers had been stranded by the suspension of normal train services.

So far more than 800 people have been killed and at least 300,000 displaced , with Kenya seeming to tear itself apart along ethnic lines.

An Air-Canada flight from Toronto to London make an emergency landing in Ireland after co-pilot became ill in the cockpit, an airline spokesman said.
"The aircraft landed without incident," a spokesman said. He could not confirm a report that the co-pilot had suffered a nervous breakdown.

Pearson, the publishing company based in London, on Wednesday, ended an eight-year effort to establish itself as a force in German-language business journalism, agreeing to sell its 5o percent stake in The Financial Times Deutschland newspaper to its partner in the venture, Gruner+Jahr.

One of the Big Media's most controversial executives is back after a period of quasi-forced retirement.
Stephen Chao was fired from a top position at News Corp, after, in seperate incidents, he hired a male stripper to disrobe at a company meeting and nearly drowned Rupert Murdoch's dog at a party.
Now he is forming a Web video coompany that he hopes to build into an educational alternative to YouTube.
The site,, aggregates how-to videos from the mundane, (like "how to tie a tie" and "how to market your lawn-care business") to the strange ("how to do Criss Angel's vanishing toothpick trick") and the off-colour ("how to train our cat to use the toilet") and beyond.

Shine [the managing director of Diamond Trading, de Beers' marketing division] said global supplies of diamonds would remain stable becauase of a lack of major new discoveries.
She said big polished diamonds, valued for their rarity by growing numbers of the exceptionally wealthy, would continue to be bid up to higher prices.
"Thee very rare diamonds, whether they are blues or pinks or big white stones, are going to continue to appreciate," Shine said. "Those that are very rare are like pieces of art. The number of billionaires is growing."
Shine said the very wealthy, whether American, Chinese or Russian, wanted exceptional stones.
"Better quality, bigger sizes, all colors - either whites or yellows or blues."
Diamond trading...sold $16.15 billion worth of rough diamonds in 2006...

"We all remember our intial encouters with Starbucks: the exoticism of new language, space, sounds, and smells, Vuelata [chief executive of Fahrenheit 212, an innovation consultancy in New York] said.
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A Place in the Auvergne, Tuesday, 29th January, 2008


Melitus Mugabe Were, a freshman lawmaker, could have been one of the keys to unlocking the crisis in Kenya, but he never got the chance.
On Tuesday morning, as he pulled up to the gate of his home, Were was dragged out of his car and shot and killed. "Whoever did this has killed the dreams of many," said Elizabeth Mwangi, a friend.

Mohammed, 25, said in an interview Monday that he had no idea that it was possible to sell kidneys. He had been picking up odd jobs in Delhi for the past two years and sending money to his family in Gujarat. Two weeks ago, he said, he was approached by a bearded man as he waited at the early-morning labor market by the Old Delhi train station. The man offered him an unusually generous deal: one and a half months' work painting, for 150 rupees a day, with free food and lodging.
He was driven four or five hours away, to a secluded bungalow, surrounded by trees, where he was placed in a room with four other young men, under the watch of two armed guards.

"When I asked why I had been locked inside, the guards slapped me and said they would shoot me if I asked any more questions," Mohammed said, lying in his hospital bed, wrapped in an orange blanket, clenching his teeth and shutting his eyes in pain. He said the men were given food to cook for themselves and periodically nurses would come to take blood samples from them.
One by one they were taken away for surgery.
"They told us not to speak to each other or we would pay with our lives," he said. "I was the last one to be taken."
Two beds away in the drafty isolation ward at the Gurgaon Civic hospital, Shakeel Ahmed, 28, a laborer from Uttar Pradesh, said he, too, had been promised well-paid white-washing work. After several days locked up with Mohammed, he said, a blood sample was taken and a few hours later, against his will, he received an injection that caused him to lose consciousness.
"I had no idea about kidney transplants, but when they made me lie down on the stretcher, I was terrified," he said. "I knew that these people meant to do evil to me. When I woke up a doctor said my kidney had been removed. He said I would be shot if I ever told anyone what happened."
The men said there were no post-operative medical checks and no discussion of money or other compensation.

"It's a very American invention," John Goldkamp, a professor of criminal justice at Temple University, said of the commercial bail bond system. "It's really the only place in the criminal justice system where a liberty decision is governed by a profit-making businessman who will or will not take your business."...
In England, Canada and other countries, agreeing to pay a defendant's bond in exchange for money is a crime akin to witness tampering or bribing a juror - a form of obstruction of justice.

"We are seeing more and more victims turn into perpetrators," said Evangelia Vamvakaki, head of the Greek police's sex-trafficking unit. "It's a recent, and escalating, phenomenon."...
"The traffickers say, 'O.K., go home but come back with a new girl,' " said Vera Gracheva, an expert on former Soviet states at the countertrafficking office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, based in Vienna. "They do it - they are scared of what will happen if they don't."
Well-dressed and with full wallets, they return to their hometowns to lure girls - usually poor and desperate - with promises of easy cash.
"There are many cases they even approach relatives," said Mariana Yevsyukova of La Strada, a support group for trafficking victims in Ukraine.

But the new report, released Monday by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, an independent federal agency, examined nearly 200 Parsons construction projects contained in 11 major "job orders" paid for in a huge rebuilding contract. There were also three other nonconstruction orders. The total cost of the work to the United States was $365 million.
The new report finds that 8 of the 11 rebuilding orders were terminated by the United States before they were completed, for reasons including weak contract oversight, unrealistic schedules, a failure to report problems in a timely fashion and poor supervision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which managed the contracts.
"There was a confluence of shortfalls here," said Stuart Bowen Jr., who leads the inspector general's office. "It was obviously an unworkable plan."

The leader of the Conservatives, David Cameron, has expelled from the party a member of Parliament who gave his son almost £50,000 in public money.
The lawmaker, Derek Conway, had said his son had been acting as a researcher while at college and that the money had been paid in salary to him.
But the House of Commons standards committe found the son had done little or no work for him, and Conway now faces a possible police investigation.

Chinese bloggers also have taken up Hu's cause. One blogger, Guo Weidong, wrote a poem that began:
Call on the Beijing government!
Immediately release Hu Jia!
The Chines people, shackled in chains, welcome the Olympics!

In a blow to universal health care coverage in California and possibly its prospects nationwide, a state Senate committee has rejected a sweeping plan by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that would have offered insurance to millions of uninsured residents.
The Senate Health Committee defeated the plan Monday as Democrats and Republicans alikes said they found it too nebulous and potentially too costly for a state facing a $14.5 million defecit.
The loss in California, the nation's most populous state and often its most influential, bodes poorly for universal health coverage, an issue that just a year ago appeared to have found its moment.

Culture is a fabric composed of gifts from every corner of the world. One way of discovering the world is by digging deeply into its traditions. In music, for instance, at the core of any cellist's repertoire are the Cello Suites by Bach. At the heart of each suite is a dance movement called the sarabande. The dance originated with music of the North African Berbers, where it was a slow, sensual dance. It next appeared in Spain, where it was banned because it was considered lewd and lascivious. Spaniards brought it to the Americas, but it also traveled on to France, where it became a courtly dance. In the 1720s, Bach incorporated the sarabande as a movement in his Cello Suites.
Today, I play Bach, a Paris-born American musician of Chinese parentage. So who really owns the sarabande? Each culture has adopted the music, investing it with specific meaning, but it belongs to us all.


DAVOS, Switzerland

Although the erosion of U.S. power, both hard and soft, under the administration of George W. Bush has been common currency in recent years, it was still a shock to me to hear it said, and generally accepted, that America was no longer known for putting a man on the moon, but for Iraq and Hurricane Katrina, the "twin pillars of incompetence" - a country over-stretched militarily that had squandered its legitimacy to lead. The role of America "as the sun around which other planets rotated" was changing. It was not a multipolar world either, but a nonpolar world.

Yo Majesty broke up for a few years, during which Baynham renounced her homosexuality, found God, married a male Christian missionary, got divorced then reclaimed her lesbian identity. Upon reuniting, the rappers began building a following through MySpace. That led to a recording contract with Domino Records, which will release their debut album this year.

Jérôme Kerviel's unauthorized trades cost Société Générale €4.9 billion, but they also helped to turn the French bank's $3 billion of subprime losses into something of a sideshow.
At a time when investors in European banks are focusing on little other than the lenders' exposure to collateralized debt obligations and other securities linked to the struggling U.S. subprime market, a rogue trader can come as a welcome relief...
Société Générale last week revealed the second-largest write-down as a percentage of total subprime exposure at a European bank, after UBS, according to Lehman Brothers research. The lender said it would write off €1.1 billion, or $1.6 billion, related to the housing market and €550 million related to U.S. bond-insurance companies.
Elisabeth Meyer and Christian Charrière-Bournazel, Kerviel's lawyers, have accused Société Générale of seeking to "raise a smokescreen that would distract the public's attention from far more substantial losses that it had made in recent months, notably in the unbelievable subprime affair."

"The foreign tourists don't go to the theater as much," she [Faith Hope Consolo, a chairwoman of the retail leasing and sles division of the reasl estate company Prudential Douglas Elliman] said. "Their No. 1 pastime is shopping."

Swiss watch exports increased 16 percent last year, the fastest pace in 18 years, as a surging Chinese stock market fueled consumption in Hong Kong.
Exports rose to a record $14,6 billion.


Marchet, the union representative, described the most recent suicide, which occurred last June, as having involved a trader in his thirties who worked in the equities and derivatives department.
"This trader was interrogated by two of his supervisors about some unauthorized trades that he made, involving around €9 million," Marchet said. "Nobody told him that he was fired, but after the meeting he went straight to his desk and emptied out his affairs and walked out of the towers," he said, referring to the two, 100-meter, or 330- foot, buildings that comprise the bank's offices in La Défense.
The trader, a father of two young children, then jumped from a nearby footbridge to his death.
The suicide was still being investigated internally by the bank's workplace safety committee, Marchet said. While a full explanation for the man's actions was not known, he said it seemed clear that workplace stress had played a role.
The other two suicides took place in 2005 and 2006, according to two other union officials.
In 2006, a man working in back office operations killed himself on the suburban train connecting La Défense with the city center.
A year earlier, an older man employed in risk control had committed suicide inside the bank, the officials said.

The Louis Vuitton ad, meanwhile, aims to promote the brand itself, rather than a specific product. A Vuitton bag makes only a fleeting appearance in the ad, which asks, "Where will life take you?"
"It is supposed to touch our clientele and viewers in ways that perhaps other media will not touch," said Pietro Beccari, Vuitton's head of marketing. "This is a way to say Louis Vuitton is different. It is something éphémère, but also something that stays."

A housing market bubble of historic proportions is unwinding in the United States, raising the risk that the current period of poor economic growth there could be measured in years not quarters.
While the first problems emerged in subprime lending, it has become clear that housing is falling across geographies, price categories and borrower types.
And with momentum now behind a fall, the implication is that the process will take a long time and destroy trillions of dollars of capital.
"It is such a big crisis that it is of historic importance," the Yale University economist Robert Shiller said last week in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "It may represent a major turning point and we will see years of falling home prices and associated economic weakness."

U.S. investigators are seeking information from the Wall Street investment banks Goldman Sachs Group and Morgan Stanley regarding their activities related to subprime mortgages...
Goldman and Morgan Stanley are among 21 banks sued on Jan. 10 by the City of Cleveland. The city alleges that fee-hungry banks created a forclosure crisis by offering mortgages that borrowers could not afford but which could be packaged into securities that investors could buy.

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Monday, 28 January 2008

A Place in the Auvergne, Monday, 28th January, 2008


A specialist in Czech smallness and a historian of culture, he summed up Ztohoven's larger meaning in a neigbhorhood bar. "When people are making fun of something, they are making themselves free of it," he said. "That's the condition of the small nation. It's a defense for everyone in the globalized world."
"I think the goal of Czech mystification is to show us that we live in a world continually mystifying to us - the politicians, the advertisers."

"This can function a little bit like a drug," said Jean-Claude Marin, the Paris prosecutorm at a news conference in central Paris on Monday. "There is a dependency on this complicated game of betting on the markets, and there is a sort of spiral in to which it's difficult to exit."

In a detailed, hour-long briefing Marin portrayed Kerviel as an earnest, if somewhat naive "boy" who had told the police that he concealed his trades because he wanted to enhance his reputation as a trader and to earn a bonuses...

"We will not sign an agreement until there is full cooperation" from Belgrade with the UN war crimes tribunal, said the Deputy Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans of the Netherlands. The Netherlands resisted appeals from virtually every other EU government to sign the accord, known as the Stabilization and Association Agreement.


A Turkish court on Monday sentenced a college professor to 15 months in prison for insulting the memory of Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, but immediately suspended the sentence, saying it would be applied only if he committed another offence...

"I understand the position of the judge: He wanted to save himself," Yayla said. "He didn't have the courage to free me."

A court sentenced six French charity workers to eight years in prison in France on Monday after they were convicted in Chad of trying to kidnap 103 orphans from Dafur.


Canada will extend it's military mission in Afghanistan only if another NATO country puts more soldiers in the dangerous south, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Monday, echoing the recommendation of an independent panel to withdraw without additional forces.


The trouble in Kismu began at 8.00 a.m. Monday when young men from the Luo ethnic group set fire to a bus believed to be owned by the Kikuyus, a rival ethnic group. Witnesses said the passengers had escaped and the Luos had been exacting revenge for what happened the day before when a mob of Kikuyus trapped 19 Luo people inside a house and burned them to death.

"I had a certain fear of exposing myself too much in my work for a long time," he [Patrick Stewart] said. "A lot of what performing to me had been was elaborate, and at times quite clever, concealment. Someone once said of acting that it is 'telling beautiful lies,' and well, it became just no longer satisfactory to work that way."


A Place in My Country

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A Place in the Auvergne, Sunday, 27th January, 2008


Suharto, Indonesia's ruler for 32 years, dies at 86
His rule had not been without accomplishment; he led Indonesia to stability and nutured economic growth. But these successes were ultimately overshadowed by pervasive and large-scale corruption, repressive militarized rule and convulsion of mass bloodletting that took at least 500,000 lives when Suharto took power in the late 1960s...
In his last days, a parade of the country's power elite visited the hospital to pay their respects.

"I miss Yugoslavia," said Toha, a 33-year old Slovene entrepeneur..
"We didn't have anything," he said. "Neighbours baked each other cakes; we had a leader we trusted. I remember my mother crying when Tito died. I was only 5, but I knew the world was about to change."


In one incident, witnesses said at least 7 people and possibly as many as 14 had been burned to death after they were trapped inside their house.

"The situation is very bad," said Grace Kakai, a police commander. "People are fighting each other and trying to drive them out of the area. We have to evacuate people."

As an indication of the altered Israeli attitude, the state told the Supreme Court, which was meeting to hear a petition against Israeli efforts to cut electricity and fuel to Gaza, that industrial diesel fuel needed to run Gaza's main power station would now be supplied regularly, although in amounts that do not meet Gaza's needs for uninterrupted electricity...
Sari Bashi, Director of of an Israeli advocacy group, Gisha, part of the cour case, said that "this is part of a stop-start game that continually pushes Gazan residents to the brink, pushing them over, then pulling them back temporarily." She said that "for the last several months, Israel has been slowly reducing Gaza residents to desperation."

MOVIES: Britain, Jan 18-20
1. Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (20th Century Fox)

During the daylong hearing, Drain [a federal bankruptcy judge] who spent roughly an hour on the terms of the payouts and the compensation consultant who devised them, said he would approve Delphi's bankcruptcy exit plan only if the $87 million in incentive pay scheduled for management was reduced, to $16.5 million. Delphi agreed to the cuts...
Bubnovich said the $87 million reward was justified if managers were able to bring Delphi out of bankcruptcy. But in court Drain undressed Bubnovich and his work. He noted the consultant could provide no explanation for why he tied $87 million to the sole criterion of Delphi's emergence from bankcruptcy protection.
"The question raised by the unions, and frankly by me, is whether that analytical process bears any relation to reality," he said in the hearing, according to the transcript.

Global demand for meat has multiplied in recent years, encouraged by growing affluence and nourished by the proliferation of huge, confined animal feeding operations. These assembly-line meat factories consume enormous amounts of energy, pollute water supplies, generate significant greenhouse gases and require ever-increasing amounts of corn, soy and other grains, a dependency that has led to the destruction of vast swaths of the world's tropical rain forests.Last week, the president of Brazil announced emergency measures to halt the burning and cutting of the rain forests for crop and grazing land. In the last five months alone, the government says, 1,250 square miles, or 320,000 hectares, were lost.
The world's total meat supply was 71 million tons in 1961. In 2007, it was estimated to be 284 million tons. Per capita consumption has more than doubled over that period. (In the developing world, it rose twice as fast, doubling in the past 20 years.) World meat consumption is expected to double again by 2050, a projection that one expert, Henning Steinfeld of the United Nations, said was resulting in a "relentless growth in livestock production."...
Grain, meat and even energy are roped together in a way that could have dire results. More meat means an increase in demand for feed, especially corn and soy, an increase some experts say will contribute to higher prices.This will be inconvenient for residents of wealthier nations, but it could have tragic consequences for those of poorer ones, especially if higher prices for feed divert production away from food crops. The demand for ethanol is already pushing up prices and explains, in part, the 40 percent rise last year in the food price index calculated by the Food and Agricultural Organization.Though some 800 million people now suffer from hunger or malnutrition, the majority of corn and soy grown in the world feeds cattle, pigs and chickens. This is the case in spite of the inherent inefficiencies: About two to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption, according to Rosamond Naylor, an associate professor of economics at Stanford University. It is as much as 10 times more in the case of grain-fed beef in the United States.The environmental impact of growing so much grain for animal feed is profound. Agriculture in the United States - much of which now serves the demand for meat - contributes to nearly three-quarters of all water-quality problems in U.S. rivers and streams, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

VANTAGE POINT (George Vescey): NFL gets a free pass on doping
While baseball fans fret over the continuing drug investigations, football lumbers toward the Super Bowl without incurring much angst over its assorted scandals.
Why is that?...
I don't suppose there is one football coach in America - from junior high school up - who can really afford to ask how his players grew so big so young. Don't ask, don't tell.

"France is back, yes, France is back," said Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in an interview. "We are pursuing a policy that represents something new - activisim, realism, involvement, even confidence."

Michel Hirstel, 62, a retiree who lives nearby and who, like many French people, has been avidly following the story, described the scene as "very exceptional.""What's so surprising about this to me is that they brought this young man so quickly to the financial police headquarters," Hirstel said."What is a little bit revolting to me is that people are attacking this young man. But this bank has been playing with fire for a long time," Hirstel said, referring to Societe Generale's leadership in financial derivatives products.

SAN JOSE, California
Sony uses E Ink in its e-book Reader, which it introduced in 2006, but the Kindle has a feature that neither Sony nor many e-reader predecessors ever possessed: Books and other content can be loaded wirelessly. from just about anywhere in the United States, using the high-speed EVDO network from Sprint.
This may turn out to be a memorable day in the history of convenience - our age's equivalent of that magical moment that FedEx introduced next day delivery and people asked, "How was life possible before this?"

Under the stewardship of Dow Kim and Thomas Maheras, Merrill Lynch and Citigroup built positions in subprime-related securities that led to $34 billion in write-downs last year. The debacle cost chief executives their jobs and brought two of the world's premier financial institutions to their knees.In any other industry, Kim and Maheras would be pariahs. But in the looking-glass world of Wall Street, they — and others like them — are hot properties. The two executives are well on their way to reviving their careers, even as global markets shudder at the prospect that Merrill and Citigroup may report further subprime losses in the coming months.Maheras, who left his job as co-president of Citigroup's investment bank this fall after being demoted, has had serious discussions with several investment banks, including Bear Stearns, about taking on a top management position, people who have been briefed on the situation said. And he has also been approached by investment firms willing to back him to the tune of $1 billion or more if he decides to start his own hedge fund, these people said.Kim, who until last spring was a co-president at Merrill Lynch with oversight of the firm's trading and market operations, has been crisscrossing the globe in recent months raising money for his new hedge fund, Diamond Lake Capital.The ease with which Maheras and Kim have put themselves back in play is a reminder that for many top Wall Street executives, humiliation and defeat need not result in a professional exile.
And they aren't the only ones. Zoe Cruz, the Morgan Stanley co-president who was forced to leave her job after $10.8 billion in subprime losses, has been approached by investment banks, hedge funds and private equity funds about a senior management role, people briefed on those discussions say....
Rightly or wrongly, there is not likely to be such a generosity of spirit for Jean Larkin, who until recently was a sales executive in Citi's prime brokerage division. Larkin was a 17-year veteran of the firm and was coming off a profitable year for the unit, during which it increased its market share. Last week, just days before getting news of his bonus, he was laid off. Larkin, who is 43 and lives in New York, would not comment on his departure, but people who have spoken to him say he had no idea that his job was at risk. People who know him say he does not hold out high hopes of finding another job anytime soon.

It is hard to know much about the piece of sushi on your palate or the tuna steak in the market. The level of mercury "depends on the species, the size, the age, and perhaps the fishery," said John Kameko at the University of Hawaii. "Tuna supply is global in nature."

A group of Islamic extremists in Frankfurt were planning an attack in Germany, according to a would-be suicide bomber captured by police in Spain, the Spanish newspaper El Pais reported Sunday.

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