ISSUE 43
September 2002
 
 
   
    Namibian White Farmers Optimistic on Land Reforms
S.Africa's Mbeki Wwants to Ddiscuss Zimbabwe at U.N.
African Union
   
    China Ratifies Global Warming Treaty
Japan Urges China Transparency on Military Spending
China's Jiang Targets Jobless Ahead of Congress
Hong Kong Justice Chief: Time Has Come for Subversion Law
World Bank Says Vietnam's Environment is Rapidly Deteriorating
Hong Kong Government Releases Proposal on Anti-Subversion Law
   
    France Sees Slower Economic Growth
Sluggish World Economy Expected to Dominate EU Talks
Russia Takes Center Stage at Earth Summit
Switzerland To Join United Nations
EU's Monti Sees Up to Six Further Cartel Rulings by End of 2002
U.K. Will 'Redistribute' More Wealth, Blair Says
Germany's Next Leaders Should Ease Labor Rules, Investors Say
Economy and Jobs Top Schroeder's Agenda
Smugglers' Prey: Poor Women of E. Europe
   
    Iran Presidential Powers Bill Presented to Parliament
   
   

Mexico's Court Limits University Independence
House Poised to Extend Bush's Education Tax Cuts Beyond 2010
Fed Says Economy Slowed in Recent Weeks
Attacks Alter Government's Mission, Makeup - Homeland Security Tops Agenda; Civil Liberties a Concern
Bush Meets 10 Leaders of Africa
Lawmaker Wants to Ban Child Modeling Web Sites
White House Preps Cybersecurity Plan
PM Wants Kyoto Plan by Oct. 8: CBC TV
Senate Debate Stuck on Workers' Rights
White House Defends Cybersecurity Plan
Leading Indicators Show Weak Economy
Feds Give States Smallpox Plan
Lawmakers Urge SEC to Defend Insider-Loan Law
Poverty Up, But Not Across The Board
Internet Anti-piracy Bill Causes a Stir in Congress

   
    IMF's Koehler Says Japan, Germany Must Help U.S. Boost Growth
Earth Summit Ends in Discord
 
   
    Crime Capital of the World Tries to Clean Up Its Image
Zimbabwe Violence Leads 600 Opposition Candidates to Withdraw
   
    S Korea's Soccer Chief to Run for President
Beijing on Terror Alert
Nepal's Embattled PM Forms New Political Party
   
    Turk Government Rocked by Row, Polls in Shadows
Austrian Government Collapses
Schroeder's Social Democrats Win Second Term, but Face Tough Tasks with Slender Majority
Iraq Kurds Agree on Draft Constitution
   
    Arafat Tells Lawmakers He's Ready to Give Up Executive Power
Arafat's Cabinet Forced To Resign
   
    Latin American Bishops Say Governments Being Pressured to Legislate Against Catholic Values
Mexican Leader Urges Nigeria to Spare Woman Condemned to Stoning
Brazilians Fear Power Struggle in Organized Crime
In Paraguay, Corruption Still King - Paraguay is Ranked the Most Corrupt in Latin America by a Recent Survey
Peru's Never-Ending Quest for the Perfect Constitution
 
   
    Sacked China Official Gets 13 yrs' Jail for Bribes
Retired Professor is New Bangladesh President
Kashmir Violence Leaves Minister, 12 Others Dead
Japan PM to Reshuffle Cabinet
   
    Skilled Roman Workers Lived Well
   
    Former Nicaraguan President's Relatives, Associates Ordered Arrested in Corruption Case
Colombia's State Workers Hold One-day Strike
Colmbian Paramilitary Leader Indicted
 
   
    Nigerian Voter Registration Bungled, Opposition Says
Nearly Third of Nigerian Voters Unlisted -Monitors
   
    China Ends Blocking of Internet Search Engine Google
   
    U.K. Unions to Attack Government Services Policy, Contractors
Moscow Steps Up Fight Against Smog
Major Heads Calls for Effective EU
Electricians Aim to Light Up World
   
    Most Support Government Web Action
E-learning, e-business Integration Yields Returns
U.S. Violent Crime Lowest Since '73
Linking to Other Web Sites Has Become a Touchy Issue
Mexico to Iintroduce Pplastic Ppeso Bbills
Guatemalan Trial Heralds New Accountability for Military
The Web Does Its Part for Sept. 11 - The Web Mutes Its Colors, Tones Down Commerce on First Anniversary of Terror Attacks
Web-based Disaster Plans Sought
Election Judges to Be Retrained
Key Technologies Survive Test of Time - and the Net Bubble
Another Florida Election Quagmire
Homeland Defense Focus Shifts to Tech
Mexico City Declares Air Pollution Emergency, Orders 350,000 Cars Off The Streets
E-business Rollouts Continue Despite Tough Economy
Postal Service Reduces Loss
MIT at Work on Resilient Internet
 
   
    Japan's Central Bank Mulls Buying Plan
Hayami's Stock-Buying Plan May Prompt Bad Loan Action
   
    Hungary to End Foreign Investors' Tax Breaks to Smooth EU Entry
Austria Tax Crisis Over: Haider
Czech Government May Splinter After Losing Tax Vote
EU Criticized for Postponing Balanced-Budget Deadline
Spanish Lawmakers Debate 16 Percent Tax on Diapers
   
    Senate Panel Approves Tax on Wealthy Who Renounce Citizenship
Feds Indict Adelphia Founder, 4 Others
Finance leaders upbeat on economy
 
   
    India's Privatization Drive Stalls
   
    Britain Backs New Mobile Phone Recycling Program
   
    In Foundering Argentina, Entrepreneurs Shift Gears
 

Namibian White Farmers Optimistic on Land Reforms

Windhoek - Namibia's white farmers said on Wednesday they were optimistic that Zimbabwe-style land grabs could be avoided despite threats by their government to expropriate scores of farms from absentee landlords. The Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU), which represents about 4,000 white commercial farmers, said it had received assurances from Lands, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Minister Hifikepunye Pohamba that the government would stick to its willing-buyer, willing-seller policy. ''We had discussions with the minister and the minister assured us that the government would stick to the willing-buyer, willing-seller policy,'' NAU secretary-general Gert Grobler told Reuters. This followed recent statements by President Sam Nujoma supporting Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's controversial seizures of white-owned farms for the resettlement of landless blacks. Nujoma's ruling South West African People's Organisation (SWAPO), at a recent congress, accused farmers of inflating land prices and endorsed the expropriation of 192 farms from absentee landlords, who are mostly South African and German. On Monday, Prime Minister Theo-Ben Gurirab told visiting Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon that Namibia would ''pursue a route that will not destabilise the country when redistributing land.'' Grobler said the planned expropriation of the 192 farms, while legal, would scare off investors. He said farmers were offering land to the government at market rates, despite official complaints that the prices were inflated. Last year they offered the government 171 farms but only 20 farms were bought, he said. The government sets aside 20 million Namibian dollars ($1.88 million) annually for land acquisition, which Grobler said was insufficient. ''The problem is the government has no money for land acquisition, there are enough farms for sale,'' he said. According to government statistics, white commercial farmers own 30.4 million hectares (75 million acres) of the land in Namibia, while blacks own 2.2 million hectares (5.4 million acres). Absentee landlords own 2.9 million hectares (7 million acres), while the government owns 2.3 million hectares (5.7 million acres). Indigenous Namibian tribal groups lost almost all their arable land during the 1904-07 colonial war with Germany. Namibia, formerly South West Africa, became a South African protectorate when Germany lost World War One.

From MSNBC-Africa, 11 September 2002

S.Africa's Mbeki Wwants to Ddiscuss Zimbabwe at U.N.

Cape Town - South African President Thabo Mbeki will try to discuss the Zimbabwe crisis with Commonwealth colleagues at the United Nations General Assembly in coming days, a government minister said on Wednesday. Despite Western pressure and limited sanctions against President Robert Mugabe, the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe has dominated southern African politics for more than two years, denting investor confidence in the region and undermining the value of South Africa's rand currency. Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said Mbeki, due in New York on Wednesday for the annual General Assembly, would try to meet Commonwealth colleagues Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Australian Prime Minister John Howard on the sidelines of the assembly. ''If they are all there at the same time, it is expected that they will try to meet to tackle the Commonwealth mandate...to find in some way a solution to the situation in Zimbabwe. ''There is an economic crisis in Zimbabwe, the food situation is quite dramatic, tensions are still very high,'' Pahad said. Zimbabwe has been in crisis since militant supporters of Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF began to seize white-owned farms for landless blacks in 2000. Mbeki has refused to take unilateral steps against Mugabe, but agreed with Obasanjo and Howard in March to suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth in protest against an election Mugabe was alleged to have stolen through intimidation and fraud. Mugabe has ordered 2,900 of the country's 4,500 white farmers to surrender their land without compensation. More than 300 farmers have been charged for defying the order. Mugabe says he is taking the land to redress a colonial legacy that left 72 percent of the best land in the hands of a tiny white minority after independence in 1980. S.AFRICA SEEKS INVESTOR PROTECTION - Pahad said there was broad international agreement that the skewed post-colonial distribution of land in Africa was a problem in many countries, including Zimbabwe. But he added: ''We do believe land reform must be done in an orderly way, within the rule of law, within the constitution of the country. (We must)...ensure that the principle of willing buyer, willing seller becomes a reality,'' he added. In parliament, Deputy President Jacob Zuma dismissed opposition charges that the government had failed to protect the investments of some 75 South Africans farming in Zimbabwe. Democratic Alliance legislator Andries Botha said he had visited Zimbabwe in the past week and had seen that the French, German and Dutch governments had intervened to protect the investments of their nationals. Zuma responded: ''You want us to emulate France, Germany. We can't, we cannot. We are South Africa and we remain South Africa with our clear policies how to relate to other countries. ''It's very clear, we cannot help you. We cannot go to Zimbabwe and tell the Zimbabweans: Do this and do not do that. It's not our duty,'' Zuma said. Pahad said South Africa was pressing for the conclusion of a protection of investment treaty with Zimbabwe, which has been under negotiation for many months. ''We are very keen that this agreement gets signed very quickly because it does give South African investors some form of legal protection. But in the end, it depends when you have signed this agreement whether they really implement it.''

From MSNBC-Africa, 11 September 2002

African Union

Addis Ababa - Ministers at a meeting of the African Union (AU) approved on Thursday a continentwide policy on corruption, aimed at tackling the graft that costs Africa an estimated $148 billion a year. Following a two-day meeting here, the AU ministers passed a resolution the pan-African body said would foster transparency and accountability in Africa. The convention will now be presented to the next AU summit for adoption.

From MSNBC, 19 September 2002

 

China Ratifies Global Warming Treaty

Johannesburg, South Africa - China, the world's second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, has announced it has ratified the Kyoto Protocol, bringing the environmental treaty one step closer to implementation. However, because China is regarded as a developing nation, it is not required to curb emissions. Instead, it would be eligible to earn credits by setting up emission-reducing projects and other so called clean development mechanisms. "China has ... completed the domestic procedure for the approval of the Kyoto Protocol with a view to taking an active part in multilateral environmental co-operation," Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji told the U.N. World Summit on Sustainable Development in the South African capital Johannesburg on Tuesday. China, which spews an estimated 11 percent of global carbon emissions into the atmosphere, was widely expected to ratify the agreement, which requires industrialized nations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2012. Yet Kyoto may be extended to China in the future and force the communist nation to meet emission targets. Meanwhile, Australia appears to be softening its opposition to ratifying the Kyoto Protocol in the face of its increasing isolation on the issue. Russia is also expected to ratify the agreement soon - a move that would virtually ensure the 1997 treaty is introduced, despite its rejection by the biggest air polluter, the United States. (Russia close to Kyoto signing) Beijing slammed the Bush administration for pulling out of Kyoto in March last year, with Washington saying that the treaty would harm the U.S. economy. Development-hungry nation - China, Asia's fastest growing economy, has promulgated many environmental protection measures and laws despite skepticism the development-hungry nation is not ready to embrace such moves. Sustainable development was moved to the top of Beijing's agenda after it announced its first five-year "green" plan in March, 2001. Zhu has stressed the need to clean the air, polluted rivers, lakes and water catchments as well as combat a worsening desertification problem. Almost $8 billion has been earmarked for projects including reforestation, pollution control and water conservation for the five years up to 2005. Analysts say that China faces an uphill battle against greenhouse gas emissions, with private transport viewed as its major environmental obstacle. Already, with the economy soaring, cars clog up roads in many cities. What is needed urgently, analysts say, is for the government to promote sustainable transportation and public transport instead of private car development. Unless that happens, they say China will become the world's number one air polluter within a few years. Reuters contributed to this report.

From CNN, 4 September 2002

Japan Urges China Transparency on Military Spending

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi urged China on Monday to be more transparent over its military spending and aid to other countries to offset mounting public criticism over development aid to Beijing. n a trip to mark the 30th anniversary of normalised Sino-Japanese ties, Kawaguchi told Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen a lack of public Japanese support was making it difficult to provide aid, a Japanese foreign ministry spokesman said. There was strong criticism in Japan over its overseas development aid to China, he quoted Kawaguchi as saying, adding that his country was facing severe economic problems. ''She would rather like to see the Chinese government give more explanation on military spending and China's economic assistance to third countries,'' he said. ''She said since Japan is a democracy, the Japanese government needs to show to the Japanese public that overseas development aid to China is money well spent,'' he said. Qian said he understood the economic considerations behind a 25 percent reduction in Japanese aid to 175.5 billion yen ($1.48 billion) to China for the fiscal year 2001 compared to the previous year, but that transparency on military spending and Chinese aid were unrelated, the spokesman said. ''This kind of discussion would be unproductive,'' the spokesman cited Qian as saying. The two Asian neighbours, whose relations are haunted by their World War Two past, also aired differences over imports of Chinese frozen spinach to Japan after Tokyo stepped up inspections because it found high amounts of pesticides. EAST ASIA SECURITY - Qian also urged Japan and the United States to normalise relations with North Korea to foster peace and security in the East Asian region, the spokesman said. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is due to visit North Korea on September 17 to explore the possibility of establishing diplomatic ties, a move that has been welcomed by Beijing. Ties between Japan and North Korea have been dogged by bitter historical memories and talks on establishing formal relations have been stalled for two years over a host of contentious issues. In an earlier meeting with Kawaguchi, a Chinese cabinet official said only three percent of around 2,000 delegates elected to take part in China's 16th National Congress in November were born before 1949, testament to the generational change in the party's composition, the spokesman said. But no indication was made that leadership changes were pending he said. Analysts expect this year's five-yearly congress to usher in a generation of younger leaders as older cadres, led by President and Party chief Jiang Zemin, step down. Despite the younger delegates, there would be no change to Chinese policy towards Japan and the United States following the congress, the spokesman cited the cabinet official as saying. Kawaguchi is due to return to Japan on Tuesday. ($1-118.52 OYen).

From MSNBC, 9 September 2002

China's Jiang Targets Jobless Ahead of Congress

Chinese President Jiang Zemin said on Thursday finding jobs for millions of laid-off workers was key to maintaining stability ahead of a crucial Communist Party Congress due to usher in a new generation of leaders. With less than two months until the five-yearly congress starts on November 8, Jiang said finding jobs should be the top priority for local officials. ''Officials at all levels should realise the political significance of the issue of re-employment of laid-off workers,'' Jiang said in a speech that took up more than half of the 30-minute evening news on state television. ''The issue is extremely important and crucial to the stability of reform and development and should be the top priority for local officials,'' he said at a meeting attended by most of the politburo standing committee - the party's top decision-making body. Analysts said the speech highlighted concerns about growing unrest among millions of workers laid off under state sector reforms. Millions more could lose job as China's entry to the World Trade Organisation brings a flood of foreign competition. The speech also countered critics of Jiang's proposal to allow private entrepreneurs to join the party, they said. Old Communist believers accuse Jiang of betraying the workers and farmers the party traditionally represents. Images of government initiatives to help find employment for laid-off workers flashed across television screens. ''They're trying to reassure everyone about unemployment before the party congress,'' said one Western diplomat. In late April, China's State Council, or cabinet, issued a ''White Paper'' policy document detailing the country's strategy for coping with millions of unemployed, an issue highlighted by a series of large labour protests in northeast China in March. The official China Daily newspaper has quoted Vice Minister of Labour and Social Security Wang Dongjin as saying the nation's official tally of urban unemployed was expected to top 20 million in four years' time, compared to 6.81 million in 2001. Analysts say the official statistics greatly underestimate unemployment as they do not include ''xiagang'' workers kept on payrolls at state firms but sent home on token welfare support.

From MSNBC, 12 September 2002

Hong Kong Justice Chief: Time Has Come for Subversion Law

After five years as part of China, Hong Kong must soon enact an anti-subversion law, the justice secretary said Friday in an announcement that critics have been dreading ever since the handover from Britain. Rights activists immediately warned that the territory could lose the civil liberties left in place under its ''one country, two systems'' arrangement. Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung told reporters Friday that the Hong Kong government never insisted on acting quickly to pass a sedition law, but ''it is time we must do it.'' She set no timetable and gave no details of any proposed law. The government pledged a full public debate over the law, which is also expected to bar foreign groups from staging political activities in Hong Kong and prevent local political groups from linking up with foreign organizations. Leung, however, urged people to avoid overreacting. ''Don't speculate or guess beforehand, until the information is ready, then everybody can criticize and give suggestions,'' she said. Still, activist groups were outraged. ''Hong Kong will be no different from any other mainland Chinese city,'' said Law Yuk-kai, director of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor. Several newspapers reported Friday that proposed rules would allow news media to be charged with sedition for repeatedly publishing articles attacking the central government or promoting succession from China. The reports said media would be allowed to cover things that might infuriate Beijing, such as remarks from Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian on independence, but continuous voicing of such comments could be an offense. Independent lawmaker Margaret Ng said it ''sounds demented.'' ''What is something that is not a crime when you do it once, but it is a crime when you do it often enough?'' Ng said by telephone. ''It could create forbidden topics, the independence movement in Taiwan, the Tibetans and so forth, certain things you cannot talk about and other areas where you have to watch the fine line.'' Beijing views as political heresy any move toward independence for Tibet or Taiwan, although the latter has been governed separately from China since 1949. When Hong Kong rejoined China on July 1, 1997, it began operating under a mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, which guarantees Western-style civil liberties such as freedoms of speech, press and assembly that would be unheard of in mainland China. But pro-democracy figures have long feared the Basic Law's Article 23, saying Hong Kong must ''enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the central people's government or theft of state secrets.''

From MSNBC, 13 September 2002

World Bank Says Vietnam's Environment is Rapidly Deteriorating

Hanoi, Vietnam - The Vietnamese natural environment, which supports one of the world's most biologically diverse ecosystems, has deteriorated rapidly over the past 10 years, the World Bank said in a report released Wednesday. Vietnam is home to about 10 percent of the world's species, said the report, titled Vietnam Environment Monitor 2002. Yet, of Vietnam's endemic species, 28 percent of mammals, 10 percent of birds and 21 percent of reptile and amphibian species are now endangered, mainly because of habitat loss and hunting, the report said. ''There has been a drastic decline in environmental quality, but the government is beginning to take steps to counter the decline,'' World Bank environmental specialist Patchamuthu Illangovan said. ''This is a huge challenge.'' The report was funded by the Danish International Development Agency and designed to raise awareness of policy makers as well as donor countries and ordinary Vietnamese citizens, Illangovan said. The report said communist Vietnam's cultivated land area has increased 38 percent over the past decade, with 50 percent of the country's land now classified as having poor soils because of human activity. Forested land area has increased, but the quality of forests has declined, it said. About 96 percent of Vietnam's coral reefs are now severely threatened, while more than 80 percent of its mangrove forests - a spawning ground for marine life - have been lost, the report said. Over the past decade, Vietnam's economy has doubled in size and poverty has been reduced from 70 percent of the population to about 35 percent - one of the fastest declines in the world, according to the World Bank. But over the past five years, only 0.85 percent of the national budget has gone to environmental protection, ''so it gets very low priority,'' Illangovan said.

From MSNBC, 18 September 2002

Hong Kong Government Releases Proposal on Anti-Subversion Law

The government proposed enacting broader police powers and life sentences for serious crimes against the state Tuesday in an anti-subversion law critics say could erode Hong Kong's freedoms. Officials insisted the law would be used only in rare cases and would not violate international human rights treaties or civil liberties promised to residents when this former British colony was handed back to China five years ago. I wish to emphasize that our proposals would not undermine in any way the existing human rights and civil liberties enjoyed by the people of Hong Kong," said Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa. The proposal released Tuesday for three months of public consultation calls for granting police emergency "entry and search powers" for investigating suspected treason, secession, sedition and subversion. Existing law limits authorities to entering a premises without a warrant only to stop a crime, it said. It proposed a sentence of life imprisonment for those convicted of such crimes against the state. The new law also would tighten rules on state secrets, although disclosures of such information would have to be proved to have caused damage - not just embarrassment to the government - if people are to be convicted of such a crime, Security Secretary Regina Ip told reporters. The Executive Council, a top advisory body, met Tuesday to endorse the proposal, which is due to be presented to the local legislature for a final decision, Ip said. Officials recently decreed that after five years as part of China, the territory needed to push ahead with the widely unpopular legislation. That raised an outcry from opposition lawmakers and human rights groups who believe it could further compromise the "one country, two systems" autonomy arrangement that recognizes China's sovereignty while preserving Hong Kong's freewheeling, capitalistic ways. "The government's intention to introduce new criminal codes with very severe penalties and to empower itself with more investigative power is very clear," said lawyer Albert Ho, a member of the opposition Democratic Party. "Why is it necessary at all when Hong Kong is doing so well without it?" asked Democratic Party head Martin Lee. "They must demonstrate there is a necessity to enact any law that would limit further the right and freedoms of the people here." Chinese leaders occasionally let slip their wish to see the law enacted sooner rather than later. "It is necessary for the Hong Kong SAR (special administrative region) to make such legislation. It is in accordance with the overall interest of Hong Kong and the country - and with general international practice," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said during a news briefing Tuesday in Beijing. Ip, the security secretary, said the law would not be used to stifle political commentary or other freedom of expression unless those involved sought to violently threaten China's "sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity or national security." Mainland authorities ban all public dissent. In many cases, laws concerning national security and state secrets, broadly interpreted, have been used to prosecute pro-democracy activists and other critics of government policy.

From MSNBC, 24 September 2002

 

France Sees Slower Economic Growthtem

Strasbourg - Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said Friday that economic growth next year won't reach 3 percent, which officials had set as a target needed to satisfy a European Union pact. "There is a return to growth in our country," Raffarin said on a visit to the eastern city of Strasbourg. But in 2003, "it's true that we're going to have less than 3 percent," he said. The comment raised new concerns about France's pledge under the European Union Stability and Growth Pact to have a balanced budget by 2004. The government has said a 3 percent growth rate was necessary to achieve a balanced budget by then. Urging people to be optimistic, Raffarin said the government will do everything it can to spur economic growth in 2003. Economic uncertainty is making it difficult for the center-right government elected this spring to balance promises to cut taxes with commitments to keep public spending within European Union limits. However, Raffarin promised that officials would not back down on a promise to cut income taxes by 30 percent over five years. The French government is currently working on its 2003 budget, which will be unveiled on Sept. 25.

From ABC News-Business-Wire, 6 September 2002

Sluggish World Economy Expected to Dominate EU Talks

Copenhagen, Denmark - Lethargic global growth and rising budget deficits in the euro-zone's biggest economies are expected to dominate a meeting of European Union finance ministers opening Friday. European officials are increasingly pessimistic about hopes of an early economic recovery, fearing growing tensions over Iraq could push up oil prices and further dampen prospects for growth. Data released by the EU's head office ahead of the meeting showed the pace of EU growth is even slower than the modest 1.4 percent yearly forecast by the European Commission in April. The new figures put second-quarter growth at 0.3 percent, at the bottom end of the previously forecast range, and the Commission cut its prediction for the third quarter to 0.3 percent to 0.6 percent, down from 0.6 percent to 0.9 percent. Weak consumer spending and sluggish growth in the United States and Japan also were blamed for cooling European recovery hopes. The summer's floods in Germany and Austria may also hit growth in the second half of the year, although economists remain hopeful the EU will avoid slipping into recession. Ministers and central bankers will discuss Europe's response to the slowdown, but their room for maneuvering is limited. Lingering concerns about inflation have prevented the European Central Bank from cutting interest rates. Widening budget deficits in the euro-zone's three biggest nations give their government's little leeway to cut taxes or boost public spending. Germany, France and Italy - which together account for about three-quarters of the euro-zone's economic weight - are all struggling to stay within the boundaries of the "stability pact" that binds the 12 members of the currency bloc to keep their deficits below 3 percent of gross domestic product and to strive for balanced budgets by 2004. Although the Italian government would like to see the pact relaxed, other nations are expected to stress their support for the targets despite trouble sticking to them. "Germany stands firmly by the stability pact," Finance Ministry spokesman Thomas Gerhardt said Thursday. "There's no reason to change it." Two weeks away from a general election, the government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder does not want to appear to be undermining the strict budget discipline rules adopted in the late 1990s. The rules were adopted on Germany's insistence to ensure the new common currency would not be weakened by sloppy government finances. Diplomats from Denmark - which holds the EU's rotating presidency - said they don't expect any serious discussion about changing the stability pact until after the Sept. 22 vote in Germany. Also on the agenda at the Copenhagen meeting were discussions on how to pay for the planned entry into the EU of 10 new members in 2004; efforts to agree on minimum levels of taxation on the use of coal, gas and other energy sources across the EU; and a review of negotiations with Switzerland, the United States and other nations aimed at stopping citizens from dodging taxes by moving their savings around the world.

From Nando Times-Business, by Paul Ames, 6 September 2002

Russia Takes Center Stage at Earth Summit

Moscow says it will ratify climate treaty soon - As Earth Summit II neared a close, delegates overcame a last major obstacle Tuesday by compromising on renewable energy, and Russia pledged its support for a global warming treaty rejected by the Bush administration. ALTHOUGH TALKS continued on the wording of a health section, renewable energy was seen as the last major obstacle to a 70-page final declaration. The European Union had wanted all countries to agree to raise global use of renewables like wind and solar energy to 15 percent by 2010. But the agreed text only states a commitment to "substantially" increase the use of renewable energy sources. It also endorses the expanded use of dams and fossil fuels that are modified to pollute less. As for nuclear power, touted by its advocates as a green energy source because it emits no pollutants, the document neither endorses nor rejects the energy source. Many developing countries had sided with the United States, oil countries and Japan against including the renewable energy targets, arguing they were a rich country's luxury.

From MSNBC, 3 September 2002

Switzerland To Join United Nations

Handing out chocolate and special-issue Swatches, the Swiss kicked off ceremonies Monday to end decades of splendid isolation and follow the rest of the world into the United Nations. But in a final gesture of independence, they made it clear they would not change their flag. The U.N. General Assembly is expected to formally admit Switzerland as its 190th member during a ceremony in New York Tuesday. To the accompaniment of the Swiss Army Band, the country's flag - a white cross on red background - will then be hoisted to flutter as a lone square among the sea of rectangles. "Finally Switzerland will be at home as a member of the U.N. family," declared Bertrand Louis, ambassador to U.N. offices in Geneva. "When the Swiss delegation steps down from his observer seat to join the main U.N. body, it will be a big step. It will be a step out of the shadows." After more than 50 years on the sidelines, Switzerland joined the United Nations after voters approved the move in March by a 55 percent majority. In the last vote 16 years earlier, 75 percent opposed U.N. membership on the grounds it would endanger the Alpine nation's revered neutrality in an era of acute East-West tensions. This time around, the electorate heeded a government campaign that a rejection would be disastrous for the country's international standing and that traditional neutrality was irrelevant given the end of the Cold War. Switzerland will be sandwiched between Sweden and Syria on the U.N.'s alphabetical list. Switzerland's membership leaves the Vatican as the only state with U.N. observer status. Falling on the eve of the anniversary of Sept. 11, Switzerland's membership ceremony will be low-key. Undeterred, the Swiss have made elaborate preparations to broadcast the proceedings live on a big screen in downtown Geneva. Media reports say gifts of Swiss chocolate and Swatch watches emblazoned with the national flag will be given to guests at a diplomatic reception in New York. To the relief of the Swiss, there will be no flag flap. U.N. rules stipulate that all flags must be rectangular, but the Swiss flag is unashamedly square. Legal experts studied U.N. protocol and found a clause stating that national laws prevail over the international norm in case of disagreement - a similar loophole used for Nepal's flag, which consists of two stacked triangles. However, Switzerland agreed to reduce the size of its flag so it will not be larger than emblems like the Stars and Stripes. "Our flag is square," Foreign Ministry spokesman Daniel Haener said. "We are sticking to our law. But it's not a big problem and it doesn't change the world." Swiss President Kasper Villiger - who voted against membership in 1986 - will head the Swiss delegation to New York, bringing along Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss. Last year, Deiss watched gloomily from the observer seats, sandwiched between the Vatican and the Palestinian delegation, as other ministers took to the stage to condemn terrorism. Switzerland's membership actually will not change much. The country already is an active member of specialized agencies like the World Health Organization, International Labor Organization and U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The government says membership should cost an extra $42 million a year - on top of the $330 million it already pays to international organizations - compared with the $1.8 billion a year generated annually by the presence of the U.N.'s European headquarters in Geneva. Just as Switzerland enters the fold, Geneva's host city role is being marginalized. Instead of hosting important peace talks and summits, the tranquil Swiss city instead has become a hub for technical meetings with little public interest. Monday's calendar included a meeting of the Working Group on Global Mercury Assessment, the Business and Technical Standards Forum and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Still, for U.N. enthusiasts, it was a momentous day. Hans Erni, Switzerland's best-known artist, said he devoted most of his career to works upholding the ideals of the United Nations. His 1985 painting "Step Toward the United Nations," which featured a girl emerging from a shell, spearheaded the failed campaign to join the world body. "I've always had the impression we were ready to leave our shell and our provinciality," the 93-year-old Erni said at an exhibition of his works at the U.N. compound in Geneva. "This is a moment I awaited for years and years."

From UK-Guardian Unlimited-Wire, 9 September 2002

EU's Monti Sees Up to Six Further Cartel Rulings by End of 2002

Brussels - The European Commission's crackdown on market-rigging cartels will lead to rulings on five or six additional cases by the end of the year, Competition Commissioner Mario Monti said. The commission imposed a record 2 billion euros ($1.95 billion) in fines in 2001. The largest, 462 million euros, went to Roche Holding AG, the world's No. 1 vitamin maker, for working with seven rivals to inflate vitamin prices. "Our objective is to consolidate the good results of 2001," Monti told the European Parliament's economic and monetary affairs committee. "We expect five or six more decisions by the end of the year. We see a similar number of decisions in 2003." Monti's antitrust enforcers are probing companies such as Vodafone Group Plc and Deutsche Telekom AG on suspicions they colluded on cell-phone charges, and Heineken NV and Carlsberg A/S for allegedly restricting beer sales in the Netherlands and Denmark. The companies have denied any wrongdoing. Under European Union law, the commission can fine companies it finds guilty of operating a cartel as much as 10 percent of annual sales, yet it typically opts for less. A second team of cartel investigators was set up on Sept. 1, Monti said. He called new clemency rules for whistleblowers a "formidable success," leading to 10 requests in five months for immunity by companies suspected of cartel involvement.

From Bloomberg-Politics, By Robert McLeod and James G. Neuger, 11 September 2002

U.K. Will 'Redistribute' More Wealth, Blair Says

The U.K. will redistribute more money from companies and workers to boost public services and cut poverty, Prime Minister Tony Blair said, signaling he may raise taxes in future. Blair said that his government will maintain its policy of boosting services like health care and education, in order to narrow divisions in wealth and opportunity, in a speech at a social security office in north London. The government will "continue to redistribute power, wealth and opportunity to the many not the few, to combat poverty and social exclusion and to deliver public services people can trust," Blair said. Blair is already raising taxes. In April, the government announced 22 billion pounds ($34 billion) of extra taxes over three years starting next April to fund the state-run National Health Service, part of an increase in public spending to 511 billion pounds from 418 billion pounds this year. The government hasn't ruled out more tax increases, Blair indicated, saying that ``our aim is and remains to abolish child poverty in a generation.'' Blair and his Labour Party were first elected in 1997, and re-elected last year. He told voters he'd ditched the party's traditional Socialist policies of taxing companies and wealthy workers to give more money to poor people. Even before April's tax increase, Blair had boosted the share of the economy the government takes in tax to 40 percent from 37.4 percent. Britons paid 18 billion pounds a year in extra taxes on items such as pensions, insurance, property and mortgages in the five fiscal years to April. Election Pledge - "It's a bit rich for Tony Blair to be confessing about redistribution, when he should be apologizing for not being honest about taxation at the election," said Edward Davey, economics spokesman for the opposition Liberal Democrats. Following the announcement of higher taxes in April. Chancellor Gordon Brown described the increase as "a gamble politically" that may cost the party support at the next election, due by 2006 at the latest. "We have a strong economic base and record levels of employment," Blair said. "Ensuring that everyone shares in this rising prosperity is a realistic goal and we should be judged on it."

From Bloomberg-Politics, by James Kirkup, 18 September 2002

Germany's Next Leaders Should Ease Labor Rules, Investors Say

Germany's next government should ease labor market regulations, encouraging companies to hire more workers and reducing unemployment in Europe's largest economy, investors said. Nine of 15 fund managers at some of the country's biggest asset management companies surveyed by Bloomberg News said they see tackling the labor market as the biggest priority for the next government after Sunday's election. The jobless total rose to a three-year high of 4.1 million in August. "Unemployment is at the core of the problems facing the German economy," said Martin Hochstein, who helps oversee $3.7 billion at SEB Investment Funds in Frankfurt. "The next government should make it easier for companies to hire and fire." Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who polls predict may win a second term, has proposed speeding job placements and increasing the efficiency of job centers to lower unemployment. His rival, Edmund Stoiber, wants to cut pay-roll taxes, curb workers' rights and reduce some restrictions on self-employment. The election winner faces union resistance to labor market changes, an economy that is barely recovering from last year's recession and unemployment that has risen for every month but one since the beginning of last year. Germany's benchmark DAX index is the worst performing in the world so far this quarter. It has fallen 29 percent since July 1. Germany's largest manufacturer, Siemens AG, has shed more than 42,000 workers in the past two years. Drugmaker Bayer AG said last week it plans to cut 4,700 more jobs worldwide by 2005, after already announcing more than 10,000 job losses. Poll Lead - "Neither of the two large parties is really capable of kick- starting reforms," said Horst Hoffmann, who helps manage 10 billion euros ($9.7 billion) for SuedKA in Frankfurt. "Both are too worried about their majorities." Of the 15 investors, who together manage more than 860 billion euros, one said overhauling the education system should be the next government's biggest priority.

Another respondent called for debt reduction and the remaining four for a bundle of economic reforms including tax cuts, a reduction in red tape and changes to the labor market. Schroeder has pulled ahead of Stoiber in four out of the five main opinion polls in the past two weeks after ruling out German participation in any attack on Iraq. Approval for the Social Democrats and its coalition partner, the Green Party, is one point ahead of the opposition, the most recent survey showed. Unemployment is voters' biggest concern in the election, analysts said. Schroeder last year took back a pledge to bring the jobless total below 3.5 million by the end of 2002, part of the reason why his party trailed the opposition alliance by as many as 10 percentage points in the first half of this year. Stoiber Preferred - Almost half, or seven of the investors surveyed said a CDU and CSU-led government would be best equipped to push through changes that promote hiring. Only one of the 15 said the SPD would do a better job if it joined forces with the Free Democratic Party, a junior opposition group that has said it would govern with either of the two main parties. "A coalition of the CDU, CSU and FDP is probably more capable of pushing though reforms that will help the labor market," said Achim Zuleeg, who helps oversee 2 billion euros at Merck, Finck Invest Kapitalanlagegesellschaft GmbH in Munich. Schroeder's proposals for the labor market, initiated by a panel led by Volkswagen AG personnel director Peter Hartz, don't address the roots of high unemployment, investors said. Hartz's plans included extending tax breaks for companies that offer low- paid, part-time work and low-interest loans if they employ people who were previously unemployed. Jobless Cost - "What we really need is less protection from dismissal so that companies will be more inclined to hire workers when times are good, knowing they could also reduce their workforce when times get difficult," said Ulrich Katz, who oversees 3 billion euros at Deutscher Investment Trust. Unemployment benefit, together with social welfare payments for people that have been unemployed for more than a year, cost German tax payers 61 billion euros last year, or 3 percent of gross domestic product. The Labor Ministry's budget is the biggest single item in the government's spending plans. In its election program, Stoiber's CDU and CSU alliance propose reducing older workers' and jobseekers' protection against dismissal, by giving companies the right to issue employment contracts offering them compensation in the case of dismissal if they forfeit the right to sue. Union Opposition - Labor unions see that plan as a first step towards erosion of workers' rights. A third of the investors surveyed said neither of the two main parties will be able to force through the necessary reforms - in part because of opposition from the unions. The FDP "is the only party that shows it's willing to push through real reforms," said Joerg Kraemer, head of economics and strategy at Invesco Asset Management that oversees 400 billion euros. "As a small party it's not as dependent on pleasing anyone and everyone as the big parties are."

From Bloomberg-Politics, by Friederike Truemper, 19 September 2002

Economy and Jobs Top Schroeder's Agenda

The SPD-Green coalition must return to the old problem of employment reform and repair strained relations with Washington - The German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, hailed the re-election of his "red-green" coalition yesterday as a vindication of his social and foreign policy priorities and said he had no intention of dropping his opposition to a US war with Iraq. Looking desperately tired, but beaming, Mr. Schroeder was speaking at his Social Democrat Party's (SPD) headquarters in Berlin, the day after a surge in voter-support for the Greens had helped him to the slimmest of victories in Germany's election. Mr. Schroeder, who had told his supporters after the polls closed to "cross their fingers and hope", admitted that he had sat up most of Sunday night, watching the constituency results come in before he was certain that he had won. The final result came through just before 4am, making the SPD the largest party in the Bundestag with 251 seats, three more than the 248 seats won by Edmund Stoiber's conservative opposition. The Greens confounded the polls by winning 8.6 per cent (55 seats), pushing the free market FDP, with 7.4 per cent (47 seats) into fourth place. Mr. Schroeder's coalition will have a majority of 11 over the conservative CSU/CDU alliance and the FDP. The turn-out, at 79 per cent, was slightly down on 1998 but still exceptionally high for a Western democracy where voting is not compulsory. The FDP had suffered a split in the party leadership in the days before the election, after its deputy head, Juergen Moellemann, repeated what were seen as veiled anti-Semitic remarks. Mr. Moellemann resigned yesterday, under intense pressure from other party leaders, accepting what he called "his part of the responsibility" for the FDP's unexpectedly poor showing. He remains party leader in North Rhine-Westphalia and noted in his resignation statement that he had been re-elected to the Bundestag with an increased majority.

In Munich, Mr. Stoiber took his defeat with good grace. He expressed pride in the revived fortunes of the CSU/CDU alliance and claimed the first increase in the alliance's popular vote for almost 20 years. But he declined to re-state his election night forecast that he would be Chancellor "within the year" because the "red-green" coalition would be too fragile to govern. He said he made the remark in the heat of election night, when early returns showed the main parties tied. Now, he promised a "constructive, but tough" opposition. The leader of the CDU half of the alliance, Angela Merkel, reaped the reward for her loyalty when she was nominated unopposed to head the CSU/CDU in the Bundestag. Ms Merkel had sacrificed her own ambition to lead the alliance after accepting that Mr. Stoiber would be the stronger candidate against Mr. Schroeder. Already Germany's most popular female politician, she is expected to be confirmed as Bundestag party leader today. Joschka Fischer, who will remain as Foreign Minister, exulted in his Green Party's strong showing, noting the many young people involved in the campaign. "We have broken out of the generation trap," he said, "and this is an important sign for the future." The Greens were seen as an ageing party, locked into the Sixties alternative culture before they joined the SPD in a coalition four years ago. Mr. Fischer and other Greens were discreet about hopes for moreportfolios - perhaps a fourth ministry. As well as the Foreign Ministry, Greens hold the environment, consumer and agriculture portfolios. Mr. Schroeder stressed that the Greens backed most of the controversial recommendations of the Hartz commission on labour reform, which reported in August. The proposals, which include stricter unemployment benefit terms, more job training and more flexible labour conditions, aim to push the number of jobless below 4 million. Jobs and the weak German economy was the top domestic issue in the election, and the one on which Mr. Stoiber had hoped to prevail. Mr. Schroeder set up the commission in an effort to remove the sensitive issue of labour reform from party politics but also to have an agenda to present to voters. In the event, the proposals were eclipsed by the flood disaster. Mr. Schroeder is now committed to rushing them through parliament early in the new term. Mending fences with the United States is the other urgent issue on the Schroeder- Fischer agenda. But the victorious Chancellor gave no sign yesterday that he was ready to give ground - either rhetorical or real - in his stand-off with the Bush administration. On Iraq, he said: "I think this difference of opinion will remain. We will have it out in a fair and open way without in anyway endangering the basis of German American relations." Implicitly blaming the Americans for escalating the dispute, he said: "I have always said that we can have differences of opinion about individual issues - we disagree on Kyoto, agricultural policy, steel tariffs, for instance - but they are always handled without generating such overheated debate." In what might be seen as a small olive branch, he said he had accepted his former justice minister's decision not to return to government. Herta Daubler-Gmelin embarrassed the SPD and infuriated Washington with alleged remarks comparing Mr. Bush with Hitler. Mr. Schroeder's re-election also appeared to have wrong-footed the French President, Jacques Chirac, who had hoped to revive the old French- German axis in Europe if Mr. Stoiber was elected. German relations with Britain, though, emerged strengthened.

From UK-The Independent-Europe, by Mary Dejevsky, 24 September 2002

Smugglers' Prey: Poor Women of E. Europe

Skopje, Macedonia - International peace and aid workers are customers of a thriving sex trade, UNICEF reported this summer. Lyudmila, a divorced mother of three, had few prospects at home in Moldova. So when she saw a newspaper ad promising work in Italy, she did not hesitate. Leaving her children with her parents, Lyudmila joined seven other women seeking a way out of the poverty of postcommunist Eastern Europe. The women were taken by car south, across the Balkans. Only at the border between Serbia and Macedonia did Lyudmila (who did not want her last name printed) realize where they were really headed. "There was a guy who told us to take off our clothes to see how we looked," she recalls. "Then everything became clear to me. They were staring at us as if we were cows, to see how good we looked." One of the few businesses that has flourished in the former Yugoslavia is human trafficking. Women from Eastern Europe's poorest countries, especially Moldova, Ukraine, Romania, and Bulgaria, are lured into the sex trade with the promise of jobs as waitresses or hotel maids in Western Europe. They are smuggled across borders, bought and sold like cattle, and forced to work as prostitutes. Lyudmila was sold for $400 and sent to work as a prostitute in a largely ethnic Albanian area in the western part of the country. Over the next two years, she says she was sold a dozen more times, sometimes netting traffickers as much as $750. Estimates of the number of women and girls trafficked each year from Eastern Europe are as high as 120,000.

Most end up in Western Europe, but many, like Lyudmila, remain in the former Yugoslavia, where corruption and weak law enforcement have made trafficking and prostitution a source of easy profits for organized crime. Foreigners who poured into the Balkans to help it recover from its wars also helped feed the market. A report released in July by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) says that peacekeeping troops and civilian workers for international organizations make up a substantial number of the customers - and even more of the profits - in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Macedonia. "It's a free-market thing," says Madeleine Rees, who works in Sarajevo for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees. "The traffickers brought women to Bosnia because there were peacekeepers here - 50,000 men." Although today the majority of the customers are locals, Ms. Rees says that initially, "the majority of men using these women were internationals. They were really the only ones with money." In some cases, UN police officers sent to Bosnia and Kosovo to improve policing have been caught buying sex from trafficked women. In Bosnia, where international personnel monitor the local police, 18 officers have been sent home for sexual misconduct, according to the UN. In Kosovo, where internationals do actual police work, 10 have been sent home, including an American who reportedly fell in love with a prostitute. Policing efforts increase - Critics have accused the UN and other international organizations of not taking the problem seriously and, in a few cases, of covering up for their employees. Kathryn Bolkovac, a UN investigator from Lincoln, Neb., won a lawsuit in August after being fired in 2001 while looking into reports of international involvement in trafficking in Bosnia. In one case, she investigated an American police officer accused of buying a prostitute for $1,000. Another case involved a NATO soldier suspected of smuggling four Moldovans into Bosnia. In the past two years, however, efforts have increased to stop the trafficking. In Bosnia, the UN set up an antitrafficking police unit in July 2001; in its first year it conducted more than 600 raids, closing down 124 nightclubs and rescuing 182 women. In Kosovo, a similar police unit closed 54 suspected brothels last year and rescued 131 women. In addition, a small but growing number of traffickers are now being prosecuted. In May, the Macedonian government won convictions against two men from Kumanovo, a town near the Serbian border, who ran a trafficking ring. In Kosovo this spring, a brothel owner from Urosevac went to prison for 4 -1/2 years. Whether these efforts have slowed trafficking is not clear.

UN police in Kosovo say they encounter fewer women who say they have been brought to the province by force. "Nearly all of them come here willing to work as prostitutes," said Barry Fletcher, a police spokesman. But Yulia Krieger, an expert on trafficking for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, says women who are trafficked often deny it. "A lot of these women are so scared, they won't tell the truth for days and days and weeks and weeks," she said. "They are quite traumatized." Traffickers also have proved adept at outwitting efforts to stop them. Often brothel owners are tipped off before raids. Closed bars are quickly revived under a new name and ownership. In Bosnia and Macedonia, officials say, women are sent increasingly to motels and private residences, which are harder to raid than bars. In Kosovo, traffickers intimidate local judges, says Ariana Mustafa, a legal adviser for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Experts say what's needed is increased responsibility and training among local governments to fight the problem on their own. Borders need to be tightened, judges and witnesses protected, and local people encouraged to see trafficked women as victims. Ultimately, they say, women need better economic opportunities so they won't feel compelled to leave home. Returning home - Lyudmila says she "did everything" during her painful odyssey. Like many women, she worked as a waitress and as a prostitute. Macedonia is an ethnically mixed country, and so were the men: ethnic Albanians, ethnic Turks, Slavic Macedonians - and foreigners, especially Germans. She says some treated her kindly; a few, including her bosses, would beat her. In late July, Lyudmila escaped from her "owners." Pretending to be on an errand to a pharmacy, she instead went to the police, who brought her to a shelter on the outskirts of Skopje, the Macedonian capital. There, on a recent morning, she was one of 17 women, all from Eastern Europe, waiting to be sent home. Venecija, who sat watching cartoons, said she had been kidnapped in Bulgaria and kept in a Macedonian village for two years. "We had a woman for a boss. We were so tired we couldn't get out of bed. But she forced us to get out of bed and to put on makeup and to meet customers." The women expressed particular bitterness that their owners had profited at their expense. "The money they earn from one woman is enough for the rest of my life in Russia," said Irina, a 23-year-old Muscovite. According to the UNICEF report, many women who return home end up being trafficked again. All of them face shame and uncertainty. Lyudmila yearned to go back to Moldova, but she was hard pressed to say what she would do when she got there. "I don't know," she said, close to tears. Earlier, during a session with a psychologist, the women had covered a large flip pad with drawings. Among the pictures of handcuffs, flowers, and a broken heart, they had written a poem to give themselves courage. "Put your hands on your throat to stop yourself from crying," it read."Sit at the table and start from the beginning."

From Christian Science Monitor-Europe, by Richard Mertens, 25 September 2002

 

Iran Presidential Powers Bill Presented to Parliament

The Iranian president's bid to grab enough power to push through reforms was submitted to the reformist-dominated parliament Tuesday. President Mohammad Khatami's bill, presented by Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi, is expected to be easily endorsed by the 290-seat Majlis. But the bill has to pass the powerful, anti-reformist Guardian Council, which reviews all parliamentary acts, before becoming law. "The government hopes the country won't suffer more. The president will react within the constitution if the bill is rejected," Abtahi said, without elaborating. The bill stipulates that if the president deems a decision from an institution such as the judiciary to be a violation of the constitution, he can issue a warning to the head of the institution. If the official ignores the warning, he or she could be suspended from the civil service for up to three years. If the president deems a court verdict to be unconstitutional, under the bill the case would go to the Supreme Court, where a committee made up of experts appointed by the judiciary, parliament and Cabinet would make a final decision. Khatami has in the past seen his objections ignored when he has raised concerns about what he sees as unconstitutional limits on freedom of the press and illegal imprisonment of reform-minded journalists and lawmakers. Khatami also has repeatedly accused the courts of violating the constitution, but his objections have had no effect on their rulings. Individuals who have taken cases to court on grounds that their constitutional rights have been violated have seen their complaints ignored, and parliamentary efforts to follow up also have been largely ignored. Beyond the procedural changes, the proposed bill is seen as an attempt by Khatami to establish himself in the minds of restive Iranians as a champion of their rights stifled by stubborn hard-liners. Khatami faces increasing public disappointment at his government's failure to make Iran more democratic and reduce restrictions inspired by a strict interpretation of Islam. "The spirit of the bill allows the president to effectively stop violation of the constitution. Khatami has come to the conclusion that he cannot fulfill his responsibilities without this bill," Abtahi, the vice president, told reporters outside the parliament building. Khatami said last Wednesday that he doesn't want powers outside the constitution, but recognition and implementation of powers that have been clearly stipulated in the constitution. Article 113 of Iran's constitution makes the president responsible for implementing the constitution. Since being elected in 1997 and re-elected in 2001, Khatami has seen his power eroded with the detention of dozens of pro-reform activists without trial or after closed trials without jury and closure of over 80 liberal newspapers by the hard-line judiciary. Khatami's promises to bring civil freedoms to Iran have been sabotaged by hard-liners, who control unelected institutions like the judiciary and are supported by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the appointed religious figure who outranks the elected president. Hard-liners went on the offensive after losing control of the Majlis in February 2000 elections. Since then, the unelected judiciary has become the most effective weapon in the hands of hard-liners working to stall reforms. The president's younger brother, Mohammad Reza Khatami, said he did not expect the hard-liners who review all bills before they become law to reject the presidential powers proposal. "The reformist camp is not prepared for more tension. If opponents insist on taking the country toward greater tension, then reformists may leave the establishment," said the younger Khatami, who is a vice speaker of the parliament and head of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, Iran's biggest reformist party. The younger Khatami appeared to be referring to a possible reformist walkout from parliament, which would strip the government of a legitimacy even hard-liners need.

From CNN-Middle East, 25 September 2002

 

Mexico's Court Limits University Independence

Mexico City - Mexico's Supreme Court placed some of the first limits on one of the odder corners of Mexico's public affairs - the autonomy that public universities here enjoy by law - ruling that they must submit to audits of how they use government funds. The Wednesday ruling involved a state university's claim that its autonomy - the legal status by which police, government officials, politicians and army troops need special permission to enter campuses - also exempted it from Congress' attempts to investigate accusations of misuse of government funds. Under their independent status, Mexico's dozens of government-funded universities have sometimes become near-lawless reserves of student gangs who kidnap buses, practice extortion or political violence, and then retreat to campuses where police can't easily pursue them. Until this week, their administrators could not be called to account for the government subsidies they received. A five-member court panel ruled unanimously that the autonomy provision, originally aimed at preventing political interference in academic decisions, was justified "to guarantee academic freedom in curriculum, study and administration." "But autonomy can never be interrupted as the creation of fiefdoms, or the recognition of a territorial domain above and beyond the fundamental rules of the state," the judges wrote. In one of the few instances in which police have entered state universities, police stormed the nation's largest public university in February 2000 to evict a band of radical students who had taken over the campus, based on a request by the university's rector. Long of little influence in Mexican politics, in recent years the Supreme Court has led Mexico's judiciary in taking on a more activist role in resolving political and constitutional conflicts.

From CNN, 6 September 2002

House Poised to Extend Bush's Education Tax Cuts Beyond 2010

The U.S. House of Representatives is poised to approve a measure today to extend beyond 2010 the education tax breaks that were included in last year's $1.35 trillion tax cut law. Analysts said the measure is unlikely to win approval in the Senate. Today's vote is one in a series brought by House Republican leaders to extend pieces of Bush's tax cut bill beyond the expiration date, and which are providing both political parties a chance to showcase their fiscal priorities ahead of November's elections. On party-line votes, the House earlier approved extensions of income tax and estate tax provisions. The Democrat-led Senate has shown little appetite to take up such measures. "The prospects are bleak in the sense that the Senate does not seem terribly interested in doing tax bills right now," said Clint Stretch, a partner with Deloitte & Touche LLP. The only tax changes the Senate may approve this fall would impact retirement plans in the wake of accounting scandals at companies such as Enron Corp. and WorldCom Inc., he said. President George W. Bush and congressional Republicans want to make permanent the tax cuts that are now set to expire in 2010. They say letting the law lapse would trigger the largest tax increase in U.S. history. Democrats say extending the cuts will make it tougher to stem budget deficits the U.S. Congressional Budget Office says won't end under current tax policy until 2006. When the law was enacted the cuts were scheduled to expire at the end of 2010 to make them fit within congressional budget rules. Tax Provisions - The education tax incentives covered by the House bill would: - keep the annual contribution limit to "education savings accounts" at $2,000 rather than falling back to the previous $500 level. These tax-preferred savings accounts can be used to cover education expenses. - allow those accounts to cover primary and secondary education costs at either public or private schools. Before last year's tax bill passed, those accounts could only be used to cover college expenses. - allow pre-paid tuition programs at private colleges and universities. - eliminate a 60-month limit on the deductibility of student loan interest payments and increase income limits for that deduction.

From Bloomberg-Politics, by Laura Litvan, 4 September 2002

Fed Says Economy Slowed in Recent Weeks

Washington - The U.S. economy slowed in recent weeks, although activity was mixed by sector, the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday in a report showing a patchy economic recovery. "Most districts indicated slow and uneven economic growth, with mixed or scattered experiences across sectors of the economy," the Fed said in its so-called Beige Book, an anecdotal snapshot of economic conditions across the nation. The report, compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis with information collected before Sept. 3, found an uneven performance among retailers in late July and August and said manufacturing activity was "sluggish." In addition, most of the 12 regional Fed bank districts reported little or no gain in employment, although three noted increased demand for temporary workers. The report, a compilation of material from each Fed district, will be used by officials when they gather on Sept. 24 to discuss interest rates.

From ABC News-National-Wire, 11 September 2002

Attacks Alter Government's Mission, Makeup - Homeland Security Tops Agenda; Civil Liberties a Concern

Washington - Take a walk around the nation's capital, and you will see one way government has changed since September 11: concrete barriers. Hefty slabs of concrete cordon off streets that one year ago had been accessible to cars and trucks. Several blocks around the Capitol and its office buildings are now closed to vehicular traffic, tours of government sites have been severely restricted, and more security guards are visible throughout the city, including the White House. Washington, a city that once prided itself for allowing U.S. citizens and visitors to see government up close, has battened down the hatches since September 11. While perhaps the most visible change in government since the terrorist attacks, increased security is by no means the only change, nor perhaps the most significant. The 19 hijackers who last year seized four commercial U.S. jets and crashed them into American symbols of military might and capitalism shook the federal government to its core, prompting wholesale changes in how this country protects itself, altering the legislative agenda for years to come and challenging long-standing notions of civil liberties. Biggest reorganization since 1947 - Perhaps the most profound change is in the mission of government itself. "The single biggest change at all levels is how decision makers prioritize their resources and their policies," said Michael Scardaville, policy analyst for homeland security at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington. Homeland security and the fight against terrorism are now the concern of virtually every government agency. Consider just a few: The Securities and Exchange Commission tracks down terrorist funds; the Federal Aviation Administration labors over how to make flying safer and less vulnerable to attack; the Federal Emergency Management Agency, once concerned primarily with helping residents recover from such natural disasters as hurricanes and floods, had to draft plans in the event of another terrorist attack. "Most agencies never viewed their job as homeland security," Scardaville said. "Now we're trying to turn agencies and entities with a service orientation into security agencies." The FBI has increased its focus to the prevention of terrorism, shifting resources away from more traditional crime-fighting endeavors. Then, of course, there is the proposed Department of Homeland Security. If approved, it will amount to the most significant reorganization of the government since the Department of Defense was created and put under the control of a single secretary of defense in 1949 during the Truman administration. The proposal calls for all or parts of 22 government agencies to be pulled together under a single department committed to protecting the nation from terrorist attacks.

As outlined by President Bush, the department would have 170,000 employees and a budget of $37.4 billion. There is some debate over how the new department is to be organized, with disagreement over how much latitude the president ought to have in hiring, firing and transferring employees. Bush wants broad discretion in how to run the department. "I need the flexibility to put the right people at the right place at the right time to protect the American people - and the Senate better get it right," Bush told union workers on Labor Day in Pennsylvania. But critics like Sen. Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, say the White House's proposal would undercut protections for federal employees and weaken the civil service system. "President Bush's proposed Department of Homeland Security is an enormous grant of power to the executive branch," Byrd said as the Senate began debate over the legislation, adding: "We must not cede this power - power the administration wants but not necessarily needs." Alarm over secrecy cited - But that debate pales in comparison to the criticism from some lawmakers and libertarians who say the federal government is trampling on individual rights in the name of anti-terrorism. They point to the wide-scale detainment of hundreds of foreign nationals after September 11, many of whom have never been criminally charged, and they're following the cases of so-called "enemy combatants" - which includes two Americans. That designation restricts detainees' access to open courts and attorneys for such individuals. "Since September 11, we've been in this struggle over the Constitution at several levels," said U.S. Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. The Michigan lawmaker has been a vocal critic of the Bush administration for what he calls its tendency to "run roughshod over fairness and constitutional protections." Conyers predicts that many of the Justice Department practices put into place after September 11 will be challenged in court. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has said the government has to take a much more aggressive posture in its anti-terrorism efforts, but he has maintained that civil rights are being protected and that all of the department's practices will stand up in court. For some observers, little has changed about the government since September 11. Thomas Mann, a congressional scholar at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, a liberal-oriented public policy think tank, said there has been a quick "return to normalcy" since last year's attacks, and he faulted lawmakers and the administration for a "lost opportunity." Mann said neither political party has made a serious effort to craft a new majority in the wake of the attacks nor alter how Americans relate to their government. "We're back to fighting old battles," he said. But others said they see fundamental changes, and some said they don't like what they see. Conyers, for example, said much of the secrecy that surrounds the war on terrorism alarms him. "The whole idea of a secret democracy is a contradiction in terms," he said. That debate - secrecy vs. openness - could rage for years as the federal government adjusts to life after September 11.

From CNN-Politics, by Sean Loughlin, 10 September 2002

Bush Meets 10 Leaders of Africa

New York - President Bush met the leaders of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo on Friday in what amounted to the latest push to shore up their wavering peace deal. It was one of two meetings Bush held devoted to Africa as he ended his visit to New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly. Bush first met the leaders of Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Burundi, Congo, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sao Tome and Principe. Sean McCormack, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said the meeting focused on trade and development, fighting AIDS and his Millennium Challenge Account, which ties some U.S. aid to democratic and economic reforms. "The president stressed the importance of transparency and anti-corruption that would lead to the flow of capital to African countries. The African leaders thanked the president for his interest in the continent," McCormack said. He said Bush told them he looked forward to his trip to Africa early next year. The White House has not said which countries Bush will visit. Then Bush met separately with the three leaders involved in the Rwandan-Congolese conflict: Rwanda President Paul Kagame, Joseph Kabila, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South African President Thabo Mbeki, chief mediator in the peace bid. Officials said Bush discussed the situation with them but had no further details. Kagame and Kabila signed a peace agreement on July 30 aimed at ending a four-year war that has sown instability in the heart of Africa. The two countries lately have accused each other of undermining the agreement. Under the accord, Rwanda promised to withdraw its forces from the Democratic Republic of Congo within 90 days. The Congolese government pledged to disarm and repatriate militias blamed for Rwanda's 1994 genocide. Rwanda says the militias operating in eastern Congo are a security threat. But Congo has accused Rwanda of launching attacks in eastern Congo since the deal was signed. Rwanda says Congo still supports the militiamen and refuses to withdraw its troops until the fighters have been arrested. Congo's war involves numerous belligerents, many of whom are accused of pillaging the vast country's natural resources. Rwanda and Uganda invaded Congo to back rebels fighting the government while Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola sent troops to support Kinshasa. Congo has signed a peace deal with Uganda as part of efforts to end the war, which has left around 2 million people dead. Kabila said a new round of peace talks between his government and rebel factions would begin later this month.

From ABC News-Politics, by Steve Holland, 13 September 2002

Lawmaker Wants to Ban Child Modeling Web Sites

New York - The photos on the Web sites portray no nudity and no sex, yet men by the thousands pay to ogle them - shots of preteen girls posing in bikinis and halter tops. Defended as free speech by some, such pictures are being blasted as a "fix for pedophiles" by a congressman who is waging an uphill campaign to banish them from the Internet. The pool of photos is growing "at an unabated pace," said U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, R-Florida. Foley has authored a bill, now before the House Judiciary Committee, intended to shut down the Web sites by outlawing "exploitive child modeling." Even he concedes, however, that the measure has potential loopholes, and anti-censorship groups say it would likely be struck down as an unconstitutional infringement of free expression. "It's doomed from the start," said Garry Daniels of the National Coalition Against Censorship. At Florida-based Webe Web Corp., which runs one of the largest networks of child-modeling sites, co-founder Marc Greenberg says he can't vouch for the motives of his customers. But he insists that no child featured on his sites has suffered any physical harm. "If I said pedophiles are definitely not looking at these sites, that would be a crock," Greenberg said by phone from his Fort Lauderdale office. "But the majority of people looking at them are not bad people. ... If it's within the law and people want to do it, more power to them." Greenberg said the girls featured on Webe Web sites wear outfits that could be bought at a typical mall and seen at a public beach or backyard picnic. Critics counter the pictures and videos of girls in swimsuits, leotards and sleepwear are intended to be erotic even while complying with anti-pornography laws. Webe Web subscribers, who pay about $20 monthly, are not able to chat online with the models or e-mail them directly, Greenberg said.

Foley contends some sites do provide direct contacts between customers and children, and worries that models are at risk of abduction, abuse, or even murder. Any such crimes are covered by existing laws, said Kim Hart of the National Child Abuse Defense and Resource Center in Holland, Ohio. "This is something best handled case-by-case by child protection services," Hart said. "If there's something of concern, let professionals talk to the girl, look at the background." Personally, she said, "as a mother, I may not like it. But the question is whether it's illegal, whether it's harmful." Foley isn't swayed by arguments that any abuse of child models could be prosecuted under current laws. "Taking care of the problem after it occurs -- that's when the child is found dead or raped," he said. "My bill is an attempt to ward off problems before they occur." Several modeling sites assert that the parents' share of profits will go toward their daughters' college tuition. But critics say the parents deserve as much blame as the entrepreneurs. "Anyone from pedophiles to rapists can pay the monthly subscription fee and lust after the little ones," said Jan LaRue, chief counsel of Concerned Women For America. "Why would parents permit such a thing?" Foley also believes some parents are blameworthy, and suggests others mistakenly think the modeling sites represent a legitimate chance to build a career for their daughters. Daniels, of the Coalition Against Censorship, agrees that parental ambition is at play. "The parents think, 'Maybe my child is the next Britney Spears,"' he said. "If it takes putting her on the Internet in a bikini, so be it." Greenberg guesses that 99 percent of parents wouldn't want their children posing on Webe Web sites. However, he says the parents he deals with are comfortable with the arrangements - "They don't have hang-ups" - and are little different than parents who push children into acting or traditional fashion modeling. "The people we work with don't see anything wrong with this - they think it's fun, and the kids like it," Greenberg said. "They understand everything that goes with it ... they know there are people out there looking at the pictures. It doesn't take a genius to figure it out." There are scores of child-modeling Web sites, though Foley's staff has been unable to pin down the number or calculate how much money they make. Foley's bill would impose prison terms of up to 10 years for exploitive child modeling, defined as "marketing the child himself or herself in lascivious positions and acts, rather than actually marketing products." The bill has possible loopholes, Foley admits. If Webe Web offered T-shirts online with the name of one of its sites, the company could claim the site was marketing a product. Foley is seeking legal advice to address such problems, but he believes his efforts are worthwhile no matter what happens in Congress or the courts. "Maybe my bill will never pass," he said. "Half the battle sometimes is to alert the public."

From CNN-Politics, 17 September 2002

White House Preps Cybersecurity Plan

The White House's cyberspace security plan, scheduled to be released Wednesday, envisions a broad new role for the federal government in maintaining Internet security. While couching many concepts as mere suggestions, a draft of the plan seen by CNET News.com says the government should improve the security of key Internet protocols and spend tens of millions of dollars on centers to recognize and respond to "cyberattacks." The draft report, however, is still in flux. As of late Monday, one controversial section that appears to have been deleted would have required companies to contribute money to a fund to secure computer networks. Richard Clarke, President Bush's special adviser for cyberspace security, has said that his office would actively seek more comment on the plan before submitting it to Bush 60 days after the rollout. The draft, which Clarke prepared, says changes "will be needed" in key Internet protocols and endorses "trustworthy computing" technologies such as Microsoft's proposed system. Also under consideration are a "cyber emergency response plan" that would be activated during Internet crises and a National Cyberspace Academy to "advance research in cybersecurity education." It says the executive branch should consult with privacy groups and attempt to preserve civil liberties, but concludes that in some cases, privacy could be limited. "Allowing completely anonymous communications on a wide-scale basis, with no possibility of determining the source, could shelter criminal, or even terrorist communications," the draft says. Because the report is simply a set of recommendations prepared by the Bush administration, there is no compulsion for private firms to follow its recommendations. But because it is backed by the White House during a time of heightened security consciousness, it likely will be taken seriously by legislators when they consider new laws. In October 2001, in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, President Bush appointed Clarke to coordinate the administration's Internet security efforts. Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, said he believes any remaining disagreements that industry groups have with the White House report will be worked out before Wednesday's scheduled release. "

The issues that we're focusing on are on the margins," Miller said. "There weren't any fundamental concerns...Assuming the final draft is close to the draft we've seen, we generally support it." Government-crafted protocols - One Internet protocol the draft singles out for criticism is the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), which is used to exchange routing information among interconnected networks. The report concludes that "changes in BGP will be needed" because of current security vulnerabilities. Another point of criticism is the Domain Name System (DNS), which translates domain names such as cnet.com into numeric addresses such as 206.16.0.148. "The accuracy of the data in the DNS databases needs to be improved and stronger mechanisms are needed to ensure the authentication of the DNS database along with changes to the database," the report concludes. The draft suggests that it's time for the federal government to become more involved in the development of Internet protocols, security and standards--a role currently assumed by the Internet Engineering Task Force. Government, it says, must "conduct research and development for the collective good. This is a role that the government played during the founding of the Internet...The federal government, without regulating or controlling the Internet, should systematically ensure that necessary research and similar activities are conducted to insure the security and reliability of the Internet." Brad Jansen, an adjunct fellow at the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute who is familiar with the report, said: "I found it encouraging that the report recognized the importance of training and implementation beyond just grand plans. There are systems within the government's sphere that it should not ignore. But there's little recognition of cost-benefit analysis throughout the report, and much emphasis on how we can spend money." Future directions - One section, part of the "National Priorities" chapter, is forward-looking. It says that the government should closely monitor progress in quantum computing, intelligent agents and nanotechnology: "For example, the development of intelligent nanodevices could cause massive growth in the numbers of connected devices on the Internet and the locations and uses in which these devices are deployed." Quantum computing, which could bring systems so powerful that they could render current encryption technologies obsolete, poses a threat as well. "Backup planning for the unexpected--the secret breakthrough by an unfriendly country--should be considered. How would such an advance be used against us? How would we detect if our cryptography is compromised? A watchful eye should also be kept on foreign research." The White House is also worried about attackers employing intelligent agents, smart computer programs that can search for information or carry out tasks on their own. "Adversaries using agents would have the distinct advantage of being able to attempt many variations on many themes either over a very short period of time, since they can operate at digital speeds, or over an extended period of time without losing focus, since they are computer programs."

From News.com, by Declan McCullagh , 18 September 2002

PM Wants Kyoto Plan by Oct. 8: CBC TV

Calgary - The plan will include: new federal spending of more than $5 billion to pay for incentive programs, such as improving mass transit; new or tightened regulations to force industry to become more efficient; tax breaks for consumers who become more energy efficient. But the idea of adopting the Kyoto targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, believed to be the cause of global warming, has enraged Alberta's government. Provincial Premier Ralph Klein launched a campaign against ratifying the accord earlier this week, citing uncertainty about its costs. Those won't be known until the government tables its implementation plan, but with fossil fuels fingered as the big culprit in global warming, Alberta's oil, gas and coal industries stand to suffer. Chrétien tried to address that concern Wednesday, telling a Calgary audience that the burden of reducing emissions will be borne by all regions of the country and all sectors of the economy. Consumers, he said produce 80 per cent of gases, so "the obligation of the oil and gas industry is 20 per cent, not 100 per cent as some people sometimes try to convey." But on Thursday, Klein continued his attack. "It's the goofiest, most devastating thing that was ever conceived and has ever been contemplated by a Canadian government in the history of this country," he said. That drew criticism from Alberta New Democratic Party leader Raj Pannu, who said by taking "such extreme positions not justified by the facts" the province's bargaining position with Ottawa is weakened if Parliament ratifies Kyoto. Pannu said some energy companies have already proven they can cut greenhouse gas emissions economically.
Written by CBC News Online staff

From Canada-CBC Newsworld, 20 September 2002

Senate Debate Stuck on Workers' Rights

Gramm, Miller Offer Compromise Plan to Break Homeland Security Stalemate - The Senate's debate on a homeland security bill remained stuck on the issue of workers' rights yesterday, even as a pair of senators attempted to broker a compromise that would speed the creation of a new department focused on terrorist threats. Sens. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) and Zell Miller (D-Ga.) offered a proposal that would give President Bush much of what he wants in shaping work rules for the 170,000 employees who would be part of the new Department of Homeland Security. Both said they agreed with Bush that the head of the new agency would need greater freedom to hire, fire, reward and reassign employees to deal with the rapidly changing nature of terrorist threats. In a nod to labor unions, Gramm and Miller proposed that Bush be required to notify Congress before he removes employees from collective bargaining units for national security reasons. Their proposal mirrors the homeland security legislation that passed the House in July and has the White House's support. But it remained unclear whether Gramm and Miller will be able to muster enough votes to break a stalemate over the volatile issue. The Senate's Democratic leadership wants to protect civil service rights and to require Bush to seek the approval of the Federal Labor Relations Authority before removing workers from unions. The Democrats tried to call a vote on their homeland security package yesterday but could not muster enough votes to end more than two weeks of debate. With 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and one independent, the Senate is deeply divided on the matter. Both sides have spent the week seeking to win converts. The Republicans enlisted Miller, and the Democrats are targeting a group of moderate Republicans that includes Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee of Rhode Island. Miller, the first Democratic senator to openly side with the White House on the issue, said the federal personnel system is "as outdated as an oxcart on an expressway." He warned his colleagues that they risk "slitting their own throats" by insisting on collective bargaining rights in the bill. Two other Democratic senators, John Breaux (La.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.), are pushing a provision that would give union employees a chance to appeal their removal before the Federal Labor Relations Authority. Their collective bargaining rights would be suspended during this period, which could last no more than 120 days and would not include an option for judicial appeal. Bush, who has threatened to veto any legislation that does not give him the management freedoms, kept up the pressure yesterday in an appearance at the Northwest Washington headquarters of the Office of Homeland Security, saying he needs to be able to "move the right people to the right place, in order to better protect the homeland." Joined by Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, Bush declared: "We're at a time of war, and the Senate shouldn't be making it harder for an administration, whether it be this one, or future administrations, to do their job."

From Washington (DC) Post, by Bill Miller and Juliet Eilperin, 20 September 2002


White House Defends Cybersecurity Plan

Seattle - A White House official is standing behind the administration's draft recommendations on cybersecurity, asserting that they have not been weakened by lobbying from technology companies. "The one (claim) I hear the most often is that it was watered down," Howard Schmidt, vice chairman of the White House's National Critical Infrastructure Protection Board, said here Thursday. "It is not watered down." On Wednesday, the White House formally challenged in federal court in Washington, D.C. Orson Swindle, one of the Federal Trade Commission's five commissioners, warned of attempts to enact a broad privacy law to regulate the data collection practices of Internet companies. He said such a law would stifle innovation. "Had we passed the kind of legislation that had been advocated a few years ago, it would have been a total disaster," Swindle said. In May 2000, when the FTC voted 3-2 to ask for more power from Congress to regulate Web sites, Swindle was one of the two dissenters. He said at the time that "legislation could limit consumer choices and provide a disincentive for the development of further technological solutions. Government regulation may actually give consumers fewer choices, and as technology changes, less privacy."

From Washington (DC) Post, by Declan McCullagh ,20 September 2002

Leading Indicators Show Weak Economy in USA

New York - A key gauge of U.S. economic activity fell for the third straight month in August, declining more than experts had predicted. The New York-based Conference Board on Monday reported its index of leading economic indicators dropped 0.2% to 111.8, after falling a revised 0.1% in July. Analysts had expected an August decline of 0.1%. The index measures where the overall U.S. economy is headed in the next three to six months. It stood at 100 in 1996, its base year. Seven of the 10 indicators that make up the leading index declined in August, the Conference Board said. Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein said the data showed the nation's "weak recovery could stall, especially if the consumer market starts to slow." "There is now the threat of a slowdown," Goldstein added, "because unlike in June or July, the latest decline was widely diffused - only one of the 10 components had a significant positive contribution." Contributing to the dour mood on Wall Street was the fact that economists do not expect Federal Reserve policymakers to further cut interest rates when they meet Tuesday. The Federal Reserve has left short-term interest rates at 40-year lows this year. The Conference Board's coincident index, which measures current economic activity, rose 0.1% in August to 115.0 The index of lagging indicators, which reflects changes that have already occurred, fell 0.1% last month to 100.7.

From USA Today, 23 September 2002

Feds Give States Smallpox Plan

Federal officials are sending states detailed guidelines Monday for vaccinating their entire populations against smallpox should the deadly disease return in an act of terrorism. The plan offers instructions for how to vaccinate the U.S. population within days should it become necessary. No decisions have been made, though, about the circumstances under which those plans would be activated, officials said. The highly contagious disease has not been seen in this country for decades and routine vaccinations ended in 1971. It was declared eradicated in 1980, and routine smallpox vaccination stopped in the United States in 1972. The United States and Russia keep the only official supplies of the variola virus that causes smallpox, but experts fear other countries or extremist groups may have access to the agent and could unleash it as a biological weapon. The new blueprint does not address a much thornier issue now under intense discussion within the Bush administration: whom to vaccinate before an attack even occurs. A decision on that issue is expected by the end of the month. Rather, the state planning guide addresses mass vaccinations after smallpox is discovered. It goes well beyond earlier planning, which has revolved around "ring vaccination," where authorities deliver shots first to those closest to the contagious patient. Under ring vaccination, health officials work away from the central smallpox patient in concentric circles, delivering shots to people the patient may have exposed and then to others who those people may have exposed. Mass vaccination is a much more aggressive approach and officials believe it could be necessary in order to halt a fast-spreading smallpox virus. The smallpox vaccine offers protection against the disease even if administered after someone is exposed, as long as they get the shot within a few days. The logistics of vaccinating large numbers of people all at once are exceedingly complicated. The plan being sent Monday, nearly 100 pages long, addresses "anything you can think of in running a vaccine clinic," one federal official said Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It literally says, 'here's how you set one up and here's how you run it,'" the official said. "This is a very detailed, thoughtful recipe for response" to a bioterror incident, said Michael Osterholm, a public health expert at the University of Minnesota who is advising the federal government. Specific questions addressed include how many clinics and health care workers would be needed, where the clinics should be stationed and how to deal with the news media. The plan also addresses security issues including how to keep order among an anxious public. Federal health officials are also in the final stages of planning for who to vaccinate in the short term, absent a smallpox case. The vaccine carries significant risks, including death, leaving officials to balance the risk of the side effects against the risk of the disease's return. The highly contagious disease is characterized by blistering of the skin and fever, and kills about 30 percent of its victims. Officials at the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services are nearing a final decision on whom to vaccinate right away. They have settled on a staged approach, beginning with health care workers and emergency responders who face the greatest risk of seeing a contagious smallpox patient. Then, they plan to offer the vaccine to others, such as other health care workers and emergency responders, officials have said. They are considering a final stage where the vaccine would be offered to everyone in the country, though one official said Sunday that no final decision had been made on that issue.

From CBS News-National, 23 September 2002

Lawmakers Urge SEC to Defend Insider-Loan Law

Washington - Two U.S. senators urged the head markets regulator on Wednesday to fight any efforts by business lobbyists to weaken a new law that prohibits insider loans to top corporate executives. Passed amid revelations of multimillion-dollar loans made to officers of Enron Corp., Tyco International Ltd. and other scandal-ridden firms, the law may be under attack by lobbyists, said Sen. Carl Levin and Sen. Susan Collins.In a letter to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt, the two ranking members of a key Senate investigative panel urged the SEC "to resist any efforts to narrow or weaken the insider loan prohibition." "Media reports indicate that some companies may be pressing the SEC to narrow the scope of the prohibition or otherwise weaken it through regulation, guidance, or other means," wrote Levin, a Michigan Democrat, and Collins, a Maine Republican. They cited reports that opponents of the law may want exemptions for company loans used by executives to purchase company stock, exercise stock options, obtain insurance, relocate for work or pay taxes. "The legislative history provides no basis for creating these exemptions or otherwise weakening the provision," they said. "To the contrary, the statutory prohibition makes it clear that publicly traded companies are not supposed to be using company funds to provide personal financing to company directors or officers for any reason." The SEC could not immediately be reached for comment. In reaction to a flood of corporate scandals, Congress this summer passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and President Bush signed it into law, the biggest overhaul of corporate securities and accounting law since the 1930s. It was written by Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Maryland) and Rep. Michael Oxley (R-Ohio). The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, headed by Levin and Collins, has investigated the collapse of former energy trader Enron, including the role of insider loans.

From ABC News-Politics, 25 September 2002

Poverty Up, But Not Across The Board

New York - The economic slowdown of 2001 brought with it a substantial decline in median household income and a rise in the poverty rate to 11.7%, from 11.3%, according to reports released today by the U.S. Commerce Department's Census Bureau. Median household incomes fell by 2.2% in real terms to $42,228 in 2001, from its 2000 level. These overall numbers are cause for concern. But on the positive side, the recent recession has not caused a dramatic effect on income or poverty rates as did the recessions of the early 1980s or early 1990s - both of which saw the number of poor shoot up. The poverty rate was around 15% at the end of the early 1980s recession. The overall rates were lower in the early 1970s, but substantially higher in the early 1960s, when the rates were over 20%, accordng to census data. About 1.3 million more Americans were poor in 2001 than in 2000--32.9 million versus 31.6 million. The number of poor families increased to 6.8 million (or 9.2%) in 2001, from 6.4 million in 2000 (or 8.7% of all families, a record low). As always, the median income level of $42,228 (that is, half the families earned more and the other half earned less) obscures large differences between groups. For non-Hispanic whites, the poverty rate was 7.8% in 2001. This rate was much lower than for African Americans (22.7%--still a historically low level), Hispanics (21.4%) and Asians and Pacific Islanders (10.2%). Aside from Hispanics, other minority groups saw their poverty rates continue to decline. Even more serious disparities were related to family types. For married-couple families, the poverty rate was just 5.7%. For male householder families it was 13.6%. Female householder families, however, suffered a poverty rate of 28.6%. Indeed, the poverty rate for married-couple families with no workers (15.7%) was less than the rate experienced by female householder families with one or more workers (21.3%). This phenomenon coincides with a reduction in male versus female wage rates. "The real median earnings of women age 15 and older who worked full time year-round increased for the fifth consecutive year, rising to $29,215--a 3.5% increase between 2000 and 2001," said Daniel Weinberg, chief of the Census Bureau's Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division. Men with similar work experience did not experience a statistical change in earnings ($38,275). As a result, the female-to-male earnings ratio reached an all-time high of 0.76. The previous high was 0.74, first recorded in 1996. The poverty rate for the population aged 18 to 64 rose to 10.1% in 2001, from 9.6% in 2000. Children under 18 continued to have a higher poverty rate (16.3%) than people 18 to 64 or 65 and over; it was unchanged from 2000. Old people had about the same poverty rate as 18-to-64-year-olds. Until the mid-1970s, the rate for old people had been much higher. The Census Bureau does not adjust poverty levels for cost of living by region. It says increases in poverty were concentrated in metropolitan areas (particularly outside central cities) and in the South. The poverty rate for people living in the suburbs rose to 8.2% in 2001, from 7.8% in 2000, but did not change for those in central cities (16.5%) or in nonmetropolitan areas (14.2%). If the median household income declined, those at the top have been doing better in both relative and absolute terms. In 2000, the top 5% of households earned at least $145,526, according to the Census Bureau. Meanwhile, the bottom fifth percentile earned a maxmiumum of $17,955. Ten years earlier, the top 5% earened just under $95,000 and the bottom fifth eaned $12,500. It's all relative, of course. In 2001, the average chief executive tracked by Forbes earned on average about $9.6 million in 2001. That's over 65 times what the top 5% of U.S. families earned that year.

From Forbes, by Dan Ackman, 25 September 2002

Internet Anti-piracy Bill Causes a Stir in Congress

Washington - A California congressman on Thursday defended his proposal to give the entertainment industry new powers to disrupt downloads of pirated music and movies. But Rep. Howard L. Berman indicated he might rewrite part of the bill to more plainly outlaw hacker-style attacks by the industry on Internet users. Berman's anti-piracy bill has emerged as one of the most controversial policy debates in Washington affecting the Internet and technology industry. Berman, whose district includes Hollywood, introduced the bill in late July. The ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary panel on the Internet and intellectual property, Berman complained at a hearing Thursday of "truly outrageous press attacks" over his proposal. The subcommittee's chairman, Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., who co-sponsored the bill with Berman and two others, added that he "never received so much notoriety for a bill I didn't introduce." Critics have charged that the bill would permit Hollywood to act like hackers. It would lift civil and criminal penalties against entertainment companies for "disabling, interfering with, blocking, diverting or otherwise impairing" the trading of pirated songs and movies on the Internet. Broad attacks affecting Internet users would not be permitted "except as may be reasonably necessary" to prevent copyright violations. Copyright owners would be required to explain in advance to the Justice Department the methods they intend to use against pirates, although the bill doesn't require approval from Justice officials. Berman argued that property owners can trespass to recover stolen items, so entertainment companies shouldn't be prohibited from thwarting Internet piracy. But he said he might have to rewrite a section of the bill to make it clear that a hacker-style attack that deliberately shuts down a person's Internet connection would not be protected under his bill as reasonably necessary. "No judge or disinterested party would read it that way," Berman said. "Some folks have raised concerns about this provision, and we're thinking about alternative language that would resolve their concerns." Randy Saaf of MediaDefender Inc., a secretive Los Angeles company that builds technology to disrupt music downloads, told lawmakers Thursday that some tactics his software can use are legally questionable under U.S. computer crime laws. One such technique, called "interdiction," deliberately downloads pirated material very slowly so that other users can't. "We don't want MediaDefender's self-help technology to be illegal due to hacking laws that were never meant to address (file-sharing) networks," said Saaf, the company's president. Some Democratic lawmakers complained that Berman's bill could make it too easy for the entertainment industry to mistakenly target innocent Internet users. Rep. Rick Boucher of Virginia cited a threatening letter to an Internet provider from Warner Bros., which demanded that a particular subscriber be disconnected for illegally sharing the movie "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." But the computer file identified by Warner Bros. in its letter indicated that it wasn't the "Harry Potter" movie but a child's written book report. Because it was introduced so late in the legislative session, Berman's bill has almost no possibility of passage before Congress adjourns next month. But some lawmakers threatened to reconsider the measure next year unless the entertainment and technology industries can agree on their own anti-piracy solutions.

From Nando Times-Technology, 27 September 2002

 

IMF's Koehler Says Japan, Germany Must Help U.S. Boost Growth

Washington - The U.S. economy, beset with corporate scandals, a rising budget deficit and an overvalued dollar, needs help from Europe and Japan to power a world economic recovery, the International Monetary Fund's top official said. Horst Koehler, the IMF's managing director, said that help won't come unless Japan and Germany tackle their biggest obstacles to growth: Japan's lenders have to shed their bad loans, and Germany's government must make it easier for companies to hire and fire workers, he said. "If the recovery were to stall in the U.S. then we'd have a problem," Koehler said in an interview last night in Washington. "Rich governments must work on confidence building. If this happens, then growth will pick up." Koehler delivered his warning two days before the IMF releases its World Economic Outlook, in which the fund will probably lower its growth forecast for the coming year. His comments underscore the risks facing the economy as the world's finance ministers and central bankers travel to Washington for the IMF's annual meetings this weekend. Economic growth among 30 of the world's most industrialized nations slowed during the second quarter because of the slowdown in the U.S. economy, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said last week. Crippling Effect - The economies of the OECD members grew by 0.5 percent from the first three months of the year. The U.S. economy expanded 0.3 percent in April through June, a quarter of the pace of the previous three months. The slowdown in the industrialized world is having a crippling effect on emerging market nations, whose economies are the main focus of the IMF's annual meetings. Argentina is struggling to emerge from its $95 billion default in December, the largest failure in history.

Brazil's markets have barely responded to the IMF's promise of $30 billion in loans, the biggest aid package the fund has ever pledged. Koehler said the IMF is trying to reach an interim agreement with the administration of Argentine President Eduardo Duhalde to tide the country over until elections in March. Even a stopgap accord won't be easy because of the "disarray" in Argentine political system, he said. "Nearly every day has new surprises or initiatives" by the congress or the courts in Argentina, he said. He said Brazil's failure to inspire confidence among investors wasn't surprising since markets are jittery because of the presidential election next month. South America's largest economy is strong enough to avoid a debt default, he said. U.S. Shocks - Koehler praised the U.S. economy for its flexibility in responding to shocks during the past year. These include the terrorist attacks of a year ago and the accounting scandals of this year. Still, he said the dollar is overvalued and needs to decline. "An orderly depreciation of the dollar is nothing which should concern us," Koehler said. And with the independent U.S. Congressional Budget Office last month predicting a budget deficit of $157 billion in this fiscal year, Koehler called for spending cuts by U.S. policy makers to make sure those deficits don't become chronic. The risks facing the world's largest economy mean that other countries must improve their efforts to drive the world economy. Japan's `Unusual' Decision - In Japan, Koehler, who visited Tokyo earlier this month, labeled "unusual" a central bank last week to buy stocks held by Mizuho Holdings Inc., UFJ Holdings Inc. and other banks after the Nikkei 225 stock average slid to a 19-year low this month. He said the plan would only work if it's part of a comprehensive program to clean up the banks' bad loans. The plan may briefly boost equity markets "but if there is not the perception of fundamental improvement in the financial sector then this decision may be seen as very temporary," Koehler said. "They need to tackle the underlying problems." Even with new measures on the banks, Japan's economy is in no position to take off. "I can't see a strong recovery," Koehler said. "At least for another year or two, (there will be) anemic growth." Europe is also struggling. - "Germany, France and Italy are behind on reforms, and if they are not going to improve then I see more difficulties," said Koehler, a former German finance ministry official. Up to Schroeder German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who won a second term Sunday, now has to tackle the issues that almost lost him the election: rising unemployment and a faltering economy, he said. "The German economy is weak," said Koehler. "I hope the new government as soon as possible takes the appropriate action because that is crucial all over Europe." Koehler, who had pushed the European Central Bank to cut interest rates in early 2001, said it was not time for the central bank to reduce rates again now. "There is still the higher probability the recovery will continue," he said. "The ECB will be mature enough to assess the whole situation, including the prospect for stability to take a decision at the appropriate time."

From Bloomberg-Politics, by Mark Drajem, 24 September 2002

Earth Summit Ends in Discord

A protester is taken from the hall by security Wednesday after heckling U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. The much-heralded Earth Summit II ended in acrimony Wednesday, with environmentalists heckling U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and nations disagreeing on what was accomplished. The extremes ranged from Australia's proclamation of an "absolute success" to the "dialogue of the deaf" label given by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. UNITED NATIONS Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the closing session that expectations had simply been too high. "We have to be careful not to expect conferences like this to produce miracles," he said. "This is just a beginning," he said of a 70-page nonbinding accord, "but it's an important beginning." The European Union said the conference might be the last example of a giant summit that tries to solve global problems. Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said he was "satisfied" overall but added: "We cannot be happy with everything." Among disappointments, he singled out a deal merely urging a "substantial" increase in the use of renewable energies like wind and solar power. Under pressure from Washington and the OPEC oil cartel, Europe withdrew its drive for firm targets. "I don't think that mega-summits are the way to secure effective implementation," Rasmussen said. Chavez, Venezuela's president, was more critical. "We go from summit to summit, but our peoples go from abyss to abyss," he said. "It seems to be a dialogue of the deaf." A political declaration, a symbolic document capping the summit, was finally adopted without a vote after regional blocs haggled over sections. The agreed version included references to two specific obstacles to sustainable development: foreign occupation, a clause requested by Arab states on behalf of Palestinians; and HIV-AIDS, at the urging of countries led by the United States.

From MSNBC, 4 September 2002

 

Zimbabwe Says Black Elite Also Getting White Farms

Zimbabwe's justice minister acknowledged on Tuesday that the country's ruling elite was also benefiting from seizures of land from white farmers intended mainly to help landless black peasants. Patrick Chinamasa said on a South African public radio talkshow that the controversial land reforms benefited everyone, be they senior members of the ruling ZANU-PF party or supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. ''There are pieces of land which are being subdivided and given to people who apply. It does not matter whether these are people in the leadership of the ZANU-PF or not,'' he said. ''We have bankers who have benefited, lecturers from universities have benefited, we've got even opposition members who have benefited from the land programme. As long as they are black they are entitled to benefit,'' he said. President Robert Mugabe says the reforms are designed to reverse a colonial legacy that left 70 percent of the best land in the hands of a tiny white minority at independence in 1980. The Unites States recently cited the distribution of seized commercial farms to Mugabe's friends and allies, including his wife, Grace, as a reason to oppose the programme. The seizures, backed by an order to 2,900 of the 4,500 white farmers to stop farming by August 8, have been cited as a factor in the country's drought-fuelled food crisis, which affects about six million of its 13 million people. Chinamasa contested this, saying those white farmers who grew maize rather than cash crops like tobacco and cotton used it to feed their livestock rather than hungry black Zimbabweans. ''The shortage which the region is experiencing has not been caused by the land programme, but by what we all know, the drought which is afflicting the whole region,'' he said. Chinamasa's comments came a day after Mugabe launched a scathing attack against British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the Johannesburg Earth Summit. ''Blair, keep your England and let me keep my Zimbabwe,'' he said in an address to more than 100 heads of government. ''START NOW'' Chinamasa urged South Africa to follow Zimbabwe's lead. ''My advice to South Africa is start now, don't wait until the pressures are too overwhelming,'' he said. ''If you think that in South Africa you will be freed from what is happening in Zimbabwe and you don't anticipate those changes, I feel sorry for you because as things are South African blacks are in a worse situation than Zimbabweans.'' The land crisis in Zimbabwe, which started in 2000 when black militants invaded white farmland, has fuelled volatility of the South African rand currency. But South African President Thabo Mbeki, though criticised for doing too little to rein Mugabe in, has said repeatedly that his government will never allow land seizures. South Africa is running parallel land reform programmes to return land taken from blacks under apartheid and redistribute some land held by whites at the end of white rule in 1994.

From MSNBC, 3 September 2002

Crime Capital of the World Tries to Clean Up Its Image

Not since the gold rush of the 1870s has the city of Johannesburg seen such a flurry of economic activity. As tens of thousands of government officials, business leaders, NGOs, and green activists descend on the city this weekend for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, its people and its sprawling suburbs are gripped with summit fever. Often referred to as the New York of Africa for its ethnic mix and its hard business heart, "soulless" Johannesburg is usually overlooked as a destination for international gatherings in favour of coastal Durban and Cape Town. It is, after all, the world's murder and car-jackings capital, and South Africa's most polluted city. Delegates offended by extremes of poverty or blatant wealth will find plenty of both. Organisers have spent months helping Jozi, as the local black population call their home town, tidy up its ragged image. Trees have been planted, street hawkers booted out of areas likely to attract the first summiteers, and soldiers sent to patrol the streets. To allay fears of violent crime, the police presence has been heavily reinforced and the city has installed security cameras on street corners. But the planners are taking no chances. Egoli, meaning "City of Gold", the central commercial district of Johannesburg, will hardly feature for the most distinguished visitors. The summit's main sessions will all take place on the sanitised periphery, in plush Sandton, a kind of "new Johannesburg" six miles north of the city. Delegates will also converge on Nasrec, about four miles south of Johannesburg, and Ubuntu Village, three miles to the north. At last count, 106 heads of state and government have confirmed attendance. As the delegates started arriving at Johannesburg International Airport yesterday they were quickly escorted out of the arrivals hall into coaches, to be whisked down the highway towards their accommodation. Many routes have been closed to traffic for the duration of the meeting. A total of 20,000 security guards have been recruited to shield the visitors from the reality of life in downtown Johannesburg. Police, army, air force, intelligence services, private security companies, fire and rescue services, hospitals and even morgues have been roped in. Scores of chaplains, psychologists and social workers will be on hand to counsel the security guards. A special bicycle unit manned by "hand-picked, fit officers" will also be on patrol around the "security island" that the Sandton Convention Centre has become. A three-mile no-fly zone enforced by unmanned spotter aircraft, attack helicopters and fighter planes has been imposed.

The government has made it clear that it will not tolerate disruption from anti-globalisers, land rights activists or other dissident groups. But that might be a faint hope, with 70,000 protesters against world poverty and globalisation expected. Most locals hope the summit talk will translate into tangible benefits for them. "I think everyone is looking forward to the outcome of the summit. We feel that with it changes will come," said Thomas Selala, 30, an unemployed man living in a township near Sandton. "Now we live in shacks, with a high unemployment rate ... they [foreign countries] must invest in our country because the crime comes from poverty and unemployment." Like everyone else in Johannesburg, the city's prostitutes have been quick to spot a business opportunity. Pages of advertisements have been taken out in the local press promising "summit specials". "You'll see that there's a lot more adverts in the papers of late, but throughout the industry people aren't really feeling the cash boom from the summit yet," a spokesman for the Foreign Clients escort company said. He expressed concern that the strict cordon of security surrounding Sandton could harm business. Johannesburg residents are ignoring the appeal by Cheryl Carolus, the country's tourism chief, not to exploit tourists. Some residents are offering their homes for an astronomical R30,000 a day (£1,775), enough rent over three weeks for a deposit on a lavish home in an upmarket suburb of Johannesburg. "While we operate in a free economy, people trying to make a fast buck are not seeing the bigger picture and are, unfortunately, being extremely short-sighted," Ms Carolus told a newspaper this week. One home-owner in Durban, 250 miles away, has advertised his beachfront home for £385 per day, including all transport costs. Even the townships are hoping to cash in with visitors invited to join African families to enjoy ethnic music, culture and cooking. In an attempt to outdo the rest, some landlords are also throwing in extras such as authentic Italian or Indian chefs, sight-seeing tours, a daily chauffeur-driven ride to the summit in a Rolls-Royce and a selection of the finest Cape wines. Property agents have also joined the rush by setting up offices nearby. With foreign buyers accounting for just over 10 per cent of Johannesburg's property market, the country's most upmarket property agent has published a 38-page property supplement to be distributed to delegates.

From UK-The Independent-Africa, by Beauregard Tromp, 24 August 2002

Zimbabwe Violence Leads 600 Opposition Candidates to Withdraw

Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change party said intimidation by ruling party militants had forced half its candidates to withdraw from local elections on Sept. 28 and 29. The MDC will contest less than half of the seats available after at least 600 of its 1,200 candidates dropped out, said Paul Themba Nyathi, the party's elections director. It is the first time the MDC has contested local elections. The elections are a further test of President Robert Mugabe's popularity, as the economy slips into its fourth year of recession and famine threatens more than half the population. The European Union has imposed sanctions on Mugabe and party leaders after accusing him of manipulating presidential elections earlier this year and exacerbating the country's famine. "We are concerned about the violence," said Reginald Matchaba-Hove, Chairman of the Zimbabwe Electoral Supervisory Network, which monitors elections on behalf of 38 non-government organizations. "A chief in Gutu was beaten up simply because he has a relative in the MDC." The government denies there is any repeat of the upsurge in violence that accompanied presidential elections in March and that saw Mugabe elected for the fifth time. "I was surprised by the reports in the press of violence, I've received no complaints at all," said Ignatius Chombo, Zimbabwe's local government minister. "This time around its quiet and peaceful. It's almost as if there is no election at all." Bothwell Mugarire, a spokesman for the Zimbabwean police, declined to comment. Amnesty - Amnesty International has said it is organizing a public petition to South African President Thabo Mbeki, calling on him to help protect human rights in Zimbabwe. South Africa is Zimbabwe's neighbor and its biggest trading partner. "Violence has become a tool of the government of Robert Mugabe to silence its opponents and maintain its grip on power," Amnesty said in a statement on Zimbabwe earlier this month. More than 57 people have died in political violence in Zimbabwe this year while more than 1,000 have been tortured for their political beliefs, the human rights group said. Mugabe has sparked international criticism since ordering more than 2,900 white farmers to leave their land without compensation. He says the land is being distributed to landless blacks who were dispossessed during 90 years of white rule. The land reform has worsened a famine that threatens 6.7 million people in the southern Africa country, according to the United Nations World Food Program.

From Bloomberg-Politics, by Brian Latham, 23 September 2002

 

S Korea's Soccer Chief to Run for President

Riding on the surging popularity of soccer in South Korea following the World Cup, the nation's millionaire soccer chief, Chung Mong-joon, said Thursday he will run for president in December elections. "I'll formally announce my presidential bid on September 17," Chung said in a news release. Chung, 50, an independent legislator with no political affiliation, has long been considered a possible contender. Friday's statement confirmed his candidacy for the first time. Chung's popularity surged following South Korea's successful run in the World Cup, becoming the first Asian nation to reach the semifinals. Recent opinion polls showed Chung trailing slightly behind Lee Hoi-chang, the candidate of the main opposition Grand National Party but ahead of Roh Mu-hyun, the candidate of the pro-government Millennium Democratic Party, which was previously associated with President Kim Dae-jung. President Kim quit the pro-government party early this year because of corruption scandals involving two of his sons and aides, which were eroding support for Roh. Wooing Chung - Chung has not announced details of his presidential bid, including his platform. Aides say it has yet to be decided whether to form a new party ahead of the December 19 elections. Some pro-government politicians, who are pushing to form a new party ahead of the presidential voting, are wooing Chung to become their standard bearer. Chung has not yet responded to the proposal. If Chung becomes the candidate for the envisioned new pro-government party and Roh decides not to run, the soccer chief would win the elections, polls have shown. Chung heads the South Korean Football Association and serves as a vice president of FIFA, soccer's world governing body. He is the controlling shareholder in Hyundai Heavy Industries, the world's largest shipbuilder. Chung's father, Chung Ju-yung, founded the giant Hyundai group that comprised the shipbuilder. It disintegrated into several small groups in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis that hit South Korea in 1997-98. The senior Chung, who died last year at age 86, ran for president in 1992 but ended up a distant third. He was later sentenced to three years in prison for using company funds to bankroll his presidential campaign but the jail term was not enforced because of his advanced age. President Kim's single five-year term ends in February. He is barred by the Constitution from seeking another term. Chung Mong-joon's popularity is partly linked with South Korea's success in the World Cup. After the World Cup, soccer has replaced baseball as the largest spectator sport in South Korea.

From The Associated Press, 5 September 2002

Beijing on Terror Alert

Beijing has underscored China's vulnerability to terrorism in the run-up to the September 11 anniversary. Chinese officials and scholars have also warned against the rise of American "unilateralism" in the wake of Washington's threats to push the anti-terrorist campaign into Iraq. The state media on Monday reported a large-scale anti-terrorist exercise by the fire-fighting department of the Ministry of Public Security. Officers from six provinces and cities took part in rescue operations following a mock attack on a Beijing high-rise building. Official reports said police, firemen and crack anti-terrorist squads within the paramilitary People's Armed Police had boosted training in the past year. Apart from pro-independence Uighur activists in Xinjiang, Beijing is also raising its guard against "underground" groupings that may use terrorist tactics in the course of criminal activities or to vent their grievances against the government. Meanwhile, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has reiterated the country's commitment to "international cooperation in fighting terrorism." However, particularly with reference to Washington's possible war against Iraq, Chinese diplomats have stressed that punitive acts against individual countries must be done through the United Nations and that anti-terrorist efforts must not be targeted at a particular country, race or religion. U.S. 'losing support' - Official academics have also warned against the rise of "unilateralism" and hegemonism in Washington's battle against terrorism. According to international affairs specialist at People's University, Jin Canrong, "unilateralism has reared its head in American diplomacy in the wake of the success of its anti-terrorist campaigns." Professor Jin warned that American hawkishness had resulted in "a decrease in the global community's support for America's fight against terrorism." In a commentary, the Xinhua news agency website also decried Washington's claim that it had a right to take "pre-emptive strikes" against Iraq. It said such "unilateralist" thinking could "pose a serious challenge to the existing international structure and international law."

From CNN, by Willy Wo-Lap Lam, 9 September 2002

Nepal's Embattled PM Forms New Political Party

Nepali Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba formed a new political party on Monday after the kingdom's election commission prevented him from using his old party's name and symbol in elections set for November. "Deuba has formed the Nepali Congress (Democratic) party and applied for recognition for the upcoming elections," said a spokesman for the election commission overseeing the vote. Nepal is due to go to the polls 18 months ahead of schedule on November 13, the fourth election since 1991, shortly after the Himalayan kingdom adopted parliamentary democracy. Last week the election commission recognised Deuba's predecessor and arch rival, Girija Prasad Koirala, as the president of the Nepali Congress party. The election commission's decision was a big setback for Deuba as it means Koirala's party can continue to use the tree as its election symbol. In Nepal, political parties are given symbols that are printed on ballots to help illiterate voters. Nearly 50 percent of the population cannot read or write. The row between Deuba and Koirala erupted over the premier's plan to extend a state of emergency to help security forces tackle an increasingly violent Maoist revolt against the constitutional monarchy that has claimed about 5,000 lives. The centrist Nepali Congress party expelled Deuba in May following his decision to dissolve parliament and call early elections. Deuba's action came after the party rejected his plan to extend the emergency. Deuba then formed a rival faction that was rejected by the commission. A spokesman for Deuba said the election commission was scrutinising papers submitted by the new party before registering it.

From MSNBC, 23 September 2002

 

Turk Government Rocked by Row, Polls in Shadows

Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit struggled on Tuesday to quell an explosive dispute that threatened to demolish his three-party government and stoked market fears of political turmoil scotching November polls. The ''flash row'' between Ecevit's conservative and rightist partners only added to the agony of a country fearful over possible U.S. action in neighbouring Iraq and of deeper economic woes. Markets see polls as essential to establishing a stable government capable of seeing through multibillion-dollar IMF reforms, slashing interest rates and coping with Turkey's huge debt burden. NATO allies see elections in Turkey as a means to end bickering that has hampered government. Motherland Party chief and Deputy Premier Mesut Yilmaz, facing a possible electoral debacle, lashed out at a legal move by nationalist partners to annul human rights legislation approved in pursuit of European Union entry talks. He said it was now hard to stay in government and he would decide on Wednesday whether to withdraw. ''For a market that was already tense enough with Iraq and a lack of clear expectations, that was essentially rubbing salt in the wound,'' said Niyazi Atasoy of Ata Investment in Istanbul. Stocks on the Istanbul exchange slumped four percent and debt and the lira currency fell sharply in the afternoon. Many fear Yilmaz's implicit threat to bring down the government heralded a broader attempt to rally support for postponement of the elections by parliamentary vote. ARMY WANTS ELECTIONS - Surveys show several parties, including Motherland, may fail to clear the 10 percent barrier for entry into the next parliament. Furthermore, a groundswell of support for delay could emerge on Wednesday from those deputies dropped from candidate lists submitted by parties to the electoral board. The Justice and Development Party (AKP), viewed by the army and others with suspicion for its Islamist roots, is well ahead of all rivals in polls and could well form the next government. ''This...is an attempt by Yilmaz to escape from elections, and we think it is ugly,'' AKP deputy chairman Mehmet Ali Sahin told private NTV television.

The influential armed forces have said any postponement of the polls could pitch Turkey, a country set between the Balkans and the turbulent Middle East, into chaos. Asked if efforts could be under way to postpone polls, Motherland deputy Bulent Akarcali replied: ''Sure, sure. Not by his (Yilmaz's) initiative but as a reaction to MHP hypocrisy.'' Ecevit, whose illness earlier this year stirred conflict in the coalition and led to the calling of early elections in November, responded angrily to Yilmaz at a news conference. ''Turkey is going through a very sensitive period,'' he said. ''Early polls will be held in a few months...in such a situation we cannot take responsibility for a change of government.'' He said there was nothing extraordinary about the MHP appealing to the constitutional court to annul the rights amendments, including an easing of language restrictions for Kurds and abolition of the death penalty in peacetime. Mesut Yilmaz made a big issue out of it,'' Ecevit said. GOVERNMENT VULNERABILITY - The government, in any case, emerged from the day looking vulnerable even in its role as caretaker before elections. It was not clear what form of government could emerge to replace it either until polls or on a more long-term basis. The bitterness in the three-year-old coalition runs deep. A top MHP figure said he would file a legal petition against Ecevit, accusing him of allowing Kurdish rebel chief Abdullah Ocalan to run his banned organisation from a prison cell. Ocalan led the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in a bloody campaign for an ethnic homeland, which killed more than 30,000 since it began in 1984. He was captured after an international manhunt in 1999 and sentenced to death, but stands to benefit from a recent law ending capital punishment in peacetime. He has occasionally issued statements through lawyers. ''There is neglect of responsibilities. In fact, they have committed the crime of assisting the guilty,'' MHP deputy chairman Sevket Bulent Yahnici said. Ecevit later brushed off the charges at a news conference. ''Unfortunately even this kind of rubbish is being put forth as a kind of election-time populism,'' he said.

From MSNBC, 10 September 2002

Austrian Government Collapses

Less than three years after taking power, Austria's coalition government has collapsed because of a bitter power struggle in Joerg Haider's far-right Freedom Party. Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel announced that he was pulling his conservative People's Party out of its uneasy alliance with the FP, clearing the way for elections. The Freedom Party has been torn apart by arguments over tax cuts. Mr. Haider favoured them, while the party's senior ministers said they should be delayed because of the recent floods. The row led to three ministers resigning, including Susanne Riess-Passer, the Vice-Chancellor. Mr. Schüssel challenged the FP to make up its mind whether "to be in the government or in the opposition. Both things at the same time do not work." The populist Mr. Haider stepped aside as party leader in March 2000, but stayed on as governor of rural Carinthia. Ms. Riess-Passer, who became leader, was the acceptable public face of the party, although she remained close to Mr. Haider and was known as the "king's cobra". Mr. Schüssel said he would ask the leadership of the People's Party to dissolve on 19 September and hold elections "at the earliest possible date," probably in November or early December.

From UK-The Independent-Europe, by Barbara Miller, 10 September 2002

Schroeder's Social Democrats Win Second Term, but Face Tough Tasks with Slender Majority

Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats held onto power in Germany's closest postwar election, but the chancellor will face a tougher opposition as he tries to reduce unemployment and revive the economy. He will also have to soothe bruised U.S.-Germany ties after a campaign that angered Washington. Schroeder secured a second four-year mandate for his coalition with the small Greens party in Sunday's vote, but his majority in parliament was shaved to only nine seats from a previous 21. His conservative rival, Edmund Stoiber, said that slender majority would not hold long. "I predict that this Schroeder government will rule for only a very short time," Stoiber said. He said Schroeder would face a reinvigorated opposition, at a time when the chancellor will have to tackle problems such as chronic unemployment and slow economic growth. Schroeder was embarrassed by a failed promise to cut the jobless total to 3.5 million by election day. Schroeder's victory handed Europe's dwindling left another boost a week after Social Democrats triumphed in Sweden. A jubilant Schroeder appeared arm-in-arm with Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer of the Greens before cheering supporters in Berlin. "We have hard times in front of us and we're going to make it together," Schroeder shouted. Official results released early Monday showed the Social Democrats and Greens won a combined 47.1 percent of the vote for the lower house, or Bundestag. Opposition parties led by the conservatives totaled 45.9 percent. That gave the Social Democrats and Greens 306 seats in the new 603-seat parliament, compared to 295 for conservatives and the pro-business Free Democrats. Reformed communists won the other two seats. The Greens were exuberant after their best showing in their 22-year history - 8.6 percent. But Fischer declined to say whether the Greens would demand another ministerial position. "One must be modest in victory," he said. The victory was slimmer than Germany's previous closest election - the 1976 vote, when a Social Democrat-led government won a 10-seat majority. Schroeder's outspoken opposition to a military conflict with Iraq was credited with giving him a late push in a tight campaign. But it provoked a rare open spat with the United States and accusations he whipped up emotions against a vital ally for electoral gain. "What I criticize above all is that (Schroeder) opened the floodgates for anti-American tones," Stoiber said on German television, calling the crisis with the United States "the most devastating of the last 50 years."

Analysts expect Schroeder to adopt a softer tone after the election, but he showed no intention Monday of backing down. He has insisted he would not commit troops to a war in Iraq even if the United Nations backs military action. "I have formulated a German position, and I have nothing to retract on that count," Schroeder told German television. The rhetoric reached a damaging peak in the final days of his campaign when Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin was reported to have compared President Bush to Hitler for threatening war to distract from domestic problems. She denied saying it. The Social Democrats said she would not have a post in a new government, although she will be in parliament. The Bush administration has reacted coolly to Schroeder's moves to repair the damage, including a letter to the president, but others in Washington were optimistic the frayed relationship could be mended. Speaking on CNN Sunday, Democratic Sen. Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the "core relationship between the Republic of Germany and the United States is solid. What you had is Schroeder doing what a lot of politicians do, trying to get out his base." Schroeder may have won, but his failure to deliver on a promise to reduce unemployment eroded support for the Social Democrats, which slid 2.4 percentage points from 1998's 40.9 percent result. Stoiber's platform focused on the economy boosted the conservatives to 38.5 percent, up from 35 percent four years ago. The results indicate they have put behind them a campaign financing scandal that had engulfed the Christian Democrats and their former leader, Helmut Kohl. But prospects for a conservative coalition were hurt by a scandal in the Free Democratic Party over deputy leader Juergen Moellemann's renewed attacks on a prominent German Jewish leader. The party's leadership demanded his resignation. The party raised its support to 7.4 percent from 6.2 percent - less than expected. Some 79 percent of Germany's 61 million voters turned out Sunday - casting two votes, one for a local candidate and one for a party. The party vote determined the percentage of seats each party won in the Bundestag, or parliament, chosen from a list of candidates submitted. Beyond his forthright stand on Iraq, Schroeder broad-brushed much of his agenda for a second term except to uphold values like a fair society and the welfare state. Stung by Germany's jobless problem, he has pledged to reform the highly regulated labor market. He has also promised to expand all-day schools and child care to make life easier for working mothers.

From MSNBC, 23 September 2002

Iraq Kurds Agree on Draft Constitution

Ankara, Turkey - Northern Iraq's two main Kurdish factions, who run the enclave beyond Baghdad's control, have agreed on a draft constitution in the event a U.S. attack ousts President Saddam Hussein, a Kurdish official said Wednesday. The prospect of a war in Iraq has propelled the rival Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, potential allies in any U.S. attack, to bury their historic tensions and present a more united front. A joint committee set up after talks between KDP leader Massoud Barzani and PUK chief Jalal Talabani agreed this week on a set of amendments to a constitution drawn up by Barzani earlier this year, KDP Ankara representative Safeen Dizayee said. "The draft constitution outlines the structure of a regional administration in the northern region, including legislative, judiciary and executive responsibilities," he told Reuters. Barzani's charter also envisions the oil-rich city of Kirkuk as regional capital. The document will be debated at a meeting of the joint Kurdish parliament October 4 and will also be presented at a gathering of Iraqi opposition groups to be held in Europe next month, Dizayee said. "What is important is the federal structure of Iraq, since the north has to be in concert with the rest of Iraq," he said. "The overall structure is for the Iraqi people and the Iraqi opposition to decide." Tensions have simmered between NATO member Turkey and Iraqi Kurds over fears they would seize an opportunity created by U.S. action to create an independent state in the mountainous region bordering southeast Turkey. Barzani and Talabani have sought to ease Ankara's fears, insisting they are for Iraq's territorial integrity and would like to see a federal, united state if the United States topples Saddam for his alleged program of weapons of mass destruction. Iraqi Kurds have enjoyed a broad autonomy since 1991 when they rose up against Saddam after the Gulf War. U.S. warplanes based in Turkey have protected their administration from reprisals by patrolling a "no-fly" zone over the region. Turkey has repeatedly said it opposes U.S. military strikes against neighboring Iraq for fear it could stir unrest among its own Kurdish population in the southeast. The PUK and KDP had also voiced fears U.S. military action would create turmoil, but in recent weeks have pushed the idea of a future federal Iraq, seen as a way of solidifying their present autonomy if a new administration takes power in Baghdad. Barzani and Talabani's decision this month to reconvene parliament signaled a major breakthrough in their relations. Despite Washington's diplomatic efforts to bring the two sides together, including brokering a 1998 cease-fire, a bitter dispute over power-sharing and border-trade revenues had blocked the assembly from gathering. Sources in northern Iraq said the assembly next month would debate holding parliamentary elections as well as uniting KDP and PUK militia forces under a single command.

From CMM, 25 September 2002

 

Arafat Tells Lawmakers He's Ready to Give up Executive Power

Ramallah, West Bank - Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat said he was willing to relinquish his executive power if the Palestinian Legislative Council wanted him to step down. Arafat was speaking at his headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah in his first speech to the parliament in two years. The speech was broadcast live by Cable News Network. In his address, he said the Palestinian people "stand firmly against all kinds of terrorism, whether it is by states, groups or individuals." The Palestinian leader also accused the Israeli government of branding the Palestinians' struggle for nationhood as "terrorism" when Palestinians were the "victims of terror." He said Palestinians were willing to join the international fight against terrorism as long as it is conducted under the guidance of the United Nations and according to international law.

From Bloomberg, by Mark Hughes, 9 September 2002

Arafat's Cabinet Forced To Resign

Ramallah, West Bank - The Palestinian Cabinet resigned Wednesday after Yasser Arafat lost a showdown with parliament - the most serious challenge to the Palestinian leader since he returned from exile in 1994. Earlier in the day, Arafat had set Jan. 20 as a date for presidential and parliamentary elections in an attempt to defuse the confrontation with disgruntled legislators who accused him of making only halfhearted efforts to reform his administration. The maneuver failed, and legislators insisted on moving forward with a no-confidence vote on the 21-member Cabinet. "There is a crisis of confidence," said lawmaker Salah Taameri, a veteran member of Arafat's Fatah movement. "Believe us when we say it's serious." Arafat now has two weeks to present parliament with a new Cabinet list. The day began with Arafat summoning Fatah legislators, who dominate the 88-seat parliament, to his office to try to persuade them to back the Cabinet. He reshuffled portfolios in June, dismissing some ministers and naming five new ones as part of what he said would be major internal reforms. However, legislators complained the changes were largely cosmetic, and that many ministers considered incompetent or tainted by suspicion of corruption had been allowed to stay on. In Wednesday's meeting, many of the Fatah legislators told Arafat they would not back the Cabinet. Afterward, hoping to avoid a confidence vote on the whole government, Arafat issued a decree setting Jan. 20 as the date for presidential and parliamentary elections - a move at variance with U.S. wishes for a delay that might help in sidelining the Palestinian leader. Palestinian officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said setting an election date was part of a compromise floated at the Fatah meeting. Under the deal, which failed, Arafat would set a date for elections, rendering the current Cabinet a temporary one. In that case, the Fatah legislators said, they would be willing to hold a vote only on the five new ministers appointed in June, who have reputations as honest and diligent administrators and enjoy wide support. Arafat, apparently fearing defeat, accepted the deal, the officials said. But parliament's legal committee decided later that the entire Cabinet must be presented for approval. Legislators apparently did not believe Arafat was sincere in setting an election date and feared he might revoke the decree later. By mid-afternoon Wednesday, 32 of 35 legislators had addressed parliament, saying they would vote no-confidence in the government. In all, 65 lawmakers attended, either in Ramallah or by video conference from Gaza. Just before the vote was to begin, Cabinet ministers submitted their resignations to Arafat, who accepted them. The setting of an election date came as something of a surprise. The United States had been seeking a delay to gain time to find ways of diminishing Arafat's position.

President Bush has urged the Palestinians to elect a new leadership. One floated proposal calls for appointment of a prime minister who would run day-to-day affairs, while Arafat would be turned into a figurehead. While the Palestinian leader earlier appeared to be considering the idea, in recent days he has blocked all efforts to bring it about. A U.S. official said Wednesday that the United States supported the Palestinians' right to choose their own leader, but suggested the elections were coming too soon. "We think the ground has to be prepared before that (elections)," said Paul Patin, spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. It is widely assumed that the earlier the elections are held, the greater Arafat's chances of winning re-election. While many Palestinians find fault with Arafat, they say they resent U.S. efforts to try to push him aside and will not accept meddling in their affairs. Reuven Rivlin, an Israeli Cabinet minister, said the Palestinians must know that if they re-elect Arafat, "we will continue to treat them as a people led by a terrorist." Rivlin was appointed Tuesday to the Israeli team that has been meeting with Palestinian Cabinet ministers. No serious contender against Arafat has emerged. Arafat has said in the past that the elections would be held in January, but until Wednesday refused to set a specific date. In other developments Wednesday, Israeli troops, backed by about 60 armored vehicles, raided a town in the Gaza Strip, searching mosques and homes for suspected Islamic militants and exchanging fire with Palestinian gunmen. Despite extensive gun battles, there were no reports of injuries, and Israeli forces withdrew from Beit Hanoun, a town of about 30,000 Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip, after six hours. Islamic militants said they detonated explosives near a tank, and reporters saw a deep crater on the outskirts of Beit Hanoun. The army said four Palestinians wanted for questioning were arrested, and that there were no casualties among the soldiers. Also Wednesday, Israel's Security Cabinet decided that Rachel's Tomb - a disputed holy site in the West Bank town of Bethlehem - would remain under its control to ensure access to it from nearby Jerusalem. The move could require the seizure of some Palestinian territory. Raanan Gissin, spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said the tomb - where Jews believe the biblical matriarch Rachel, wife of Jacob and mother of Joseph, is buried - would remain under Israeli control under an emerging plan to ring Jerusalem with walls, fences and roadblocks.

From UK-Guardian Unlimited-Wire, 11 September 2002

 

Latin American Bishops Say Governments Being Pressured to Legislate Against Catholic Values

Latin American bishops at a regional conference said they are concerned that international organizations are pressuring governments to legislate against Roman Catholic values. In closing their three-day conference Wednesday, the Catholic bishops from 25 countries said governments are being lobbied to approve laws in favor of gay rights, divorce and abortion. ''Latin American governments have been pressured to legislate against Christian family unity by strong groups like the United Nations and the European Union who want to impose their experiences here,'' said Monsignor Carlos Aguiar of Mexico, president of the Catholic council for Latin America. He also said a conference declaration warned against the lobbying efforts of nongovernment organizations, but he did not name any group. Though specifics of the declaration weren't disclosed, it was expected to reiterate the Catholic Church's stance against abortion, gay marriages and relations, genetic embryo manipulation, divorce and euthanasia, among other issues. The declaration is to be disclosed by the Vatican at an unspecified future date, and then will be presented to regional governments, parliaments and civil society groups. Abortion is illegal in every Latin American country except Cuba. Divorce is recognized in most countries of the region, while gay marriages are largely outlawed, as well as gays' rights to adopt children.

From MSNBC-Americas, 5 September 2002

Mexican Leader Urges Nigeria to Spare Woman Condemned to Stoning

Abuja, Nigeria Mexican President Vicente Fox appealed to Nigeria's leader to spare the life of a Muslim woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. Fox said Thursday that President Olusegun Obasanjo was confident he could prevent the execution. Obasanjo said he ''is doing absolutely everything that is in his hands to avoid that death'' and ''feels comfortable that he will succeed in doing that,'' Fox told reporters after meeting the Nigerian leader the night before. Fox's visit gave the leaders of two major oil producing nations a chance to discuss trade and economic cooperation. But it also brought an expansion of the Mexican leader's campaign against capital punishment. Last month, Fox canceled a trip to Texas to meet President Bush after Texas executed a man that Mexico claimed as its citizen. In March, an Islamic court in northern Nigeria sentenced 30-year-old Amina Lawal to death by stoning for adultery after she gave birth to a daughter more than nine months after divorcing. The sentence is due to be carried out in 2004 after she finishes weaning her baby. Lawal's lawyers lost an appeal last month, but have since filed another appeal with a higher Islamic court. If that fails, they can appeal yet again to Nigeria's Supreme Court, forcing a showdown between Nigeria's constitutional and religious authorities. The Mexican president said he sent Obasanjo a letter last week stating his government's objection to Lawal's sentence, and he then followed up on the case in the talks Wednesday night. Fox also urged Nigeria to place a moratorium on all executions, but he did not say what Obasanjo's response was, if any. A dozen northern states have begun phasing in elements of Islamic Shariah law, including strict punishments such as stonings, amputations and whippings. A number of stoning convictions are known to have been issued by Islamic courts, but none have been carried out yet. Next week, Rome will bestow ''honorary citizenship'' on another Nigerian woman, whose sentencing to death for adultery sparked an international campaign last year, officials said Thursday. Safiya Hussaini was to receive the symbolic honor from Mayor Walter Veltroni on Monday. Hussaini was convicted of conceiving a child with a married neighbor, but in March the conviction was overturned on appeal.

From MSNBC, 6 September 2002

Brazilians Fear Power Struggle in Organized Crime

When Brazilian authorities locked up Luiz Fernando da Costa in a top-security prison last year, the notorious drug lord seemed to be out of circulation at last. Instead, the confinement barely slowed him down. From his cell in Rio de Janeiro's Bangu I Penitentiary, da Costa has continued to run his drug empire, command gang wars and executions, even negotiate arms deals by mobile phone. ''I'm in jail, not dead,'' he once warned gang members in a taped conversation from a smuggled phone. Just how little his conviction has deterred him became brutally clear on Wednesday, when da Costa and his followers seized control of the prison, taking eight hostages and executing four rivals. His goal, authorities say, was to crush opponents who are fighting for control of Brazil's organized crime, an underworld known to Brazilians as ''the parallel power.'' ''The objective wasn't escape,'' said Roberto Aguiar, Rio de Janeiro state security chief. Aguiar said Da Costa wanted to unite drug traffickers under one leader. ''Anyone who opposed this was eliminated.'' Among them was Ernaldo Pinto de Medeiros, a leader of the Third Command, a drug gang that challenged da Costa's Red Command. Medeiros was tortured and burned alive. Three of his lieutenants were executed, and other supporters swore allegiance to da Costa. After the killings, a red flag was hung from a prison watchtower to signal the new order. Da Costa then released the hostages- four guards and four employees of a construction company working in the prison - and surrendered. Da Costa's interests - and ambitions - go far beyond Rio. Better known as Fernandinho Beira-Mar, Portuguese for ''Seaside Freddy,'' he was captured last year in the jungles of Colombia, where he allegedly supplied Colombian rebels with weapons in return for cocaine that he sold in Brazil. In prison, he was taped negotiating the purchase of a Stinger anti-aircraft missile. Aguiar accused prison officials of helping da Costa, who had two pistols when the rebellion started. State Gov. Benedita da Silva fired the warden, suspended 12 guards and announced that da Costa would be put in solitary confinement. ''We hope this restores the rule of law,'' she said. It may not be so easy. From their strongholds in the city's maze-like shantytowns, Rio's drug lords wield near-absolute power, using favors and terror to command obedience from hundreds of poor communities. Armed with high-powered automatic weapons, they defy police - or buy their protection. In June, traffickers in Rio kidnapped, tortured and executed a prominent TV journalist who done exposes on the drug trade. Despite a huge manhunt, the suspected gang leader is still at large. At Rio's Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, a prestigious scientific research institute, drug traffickers in a neighboring slum demanded that directors to build a wall to keep out police. The wall is nearly finished. On Wednesday, when word leaked out that Medeiros had been killed, gang members ordered stores and schools in nine communities to pay their respects by closing early. They obeyed - even the Federal University shut its doors. ''Does a parallel power exist? Yes. The state can no longer deny it,'' said state District Attorney Jose Muinos Pineiro. ''And it already has expanded across state lines.'' How did crime become so sophisticated in Brazil? Some say it started during 1964-85 military dictatorship, when common criminals were jailed with political prisoners and learned techniques of hierarchy and discipline. The Red Command was born, and rivals soon sprang up. Among the bolder groups is the First Capital Command, which organized simultaneous uprisings at 29 Sao Paulo prisons last year and announced plans to sponsor a candidate for Congress to defend prisoners' rights. Police agree that the bloodshed probably won't end at Bangu. ''There are important bandits still on the street,'' said federal police director Marcelo Itagiba. ''This was just one stage of the process.''

From MSNBC, 13 September 2002

In Paraguay, Corruption Still King - Paraguay is Ranked the Most Corrupt in Latin America by a Recent Survey

Every time he goes to a wedding reception, Enrique Biedermann collects a dollar from each of the others at his table and gives them to the waiter at the beginning of the night. The money doesn't get them more food or drink. It is simply the Paraguayan way of ensuring that service is fast and efficient. In some small way, Mr. Biedermann sheepishly admits, it is encouraging corruption. But he says there is no other way. "The logical thing would be to pay the waiter afterwards, if he serves us well," says the head of Biedermann Publicity, one of Paraguay's big publicity firms. "But it is the only way to get good service. It is our custom. Here in Paraguay we are all corrupt to one degree or another." Biedermann's assessment was confirmed last month with the annual report from Transparency International (www.transparency.org), a Berlin-based watchdog that ranks more than 100 countries "on the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians." Paraguay was named the most corrupt country in Latin America and tied for third most corrupt country in the world. "In Paraguay, corruption remains systematic," the annual report said in giving Paraguay a score of 1.7 out of 10, worse than all but Nigeria and Bangladesh. (Finland received the highest score, with 9.5. The United States was 16th with 7.7.) A nation of 6 million people stuck in the heart of South America, Paraguay established its culture of corruption during the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner, the military strongman who seized power in 1954. Back then, power was consolidated in few hands. To win government contracts, those hands often had to be greased. But even though Mr. Stroessner was toppled by a coup in 1989, "the long tradition of corrupt administration is still alive and well," says Transparency International's Jose Antonio Bergues. Mr. Bergues says that with the spread of democracy in recent years, corruption has become even more widespread as more people have access to power and, therefore, bribes. Democratic stability has been hard coming since the fall of the Stroessner regime. Yesterday, at least 60 people were injured when some 5,000 supporters of exiled former Army chief Lino Oviedo took to the streets, calling for the resignation of President Luis Gonzalez Macchi. Mr. Oviedo, who is in exile for allegedly masterminding several failed coups, blames the president for Paraguay's economic woes. But while Paraguayans will take action over politics, they are not as conscientious about corruption. Half the country's retailers do not pay value added tax on the goods they sell and the government only collects around 35 percent of the taxes it is owed, according to experts. Of those that do file returns, 93 percent cheat in some way, according to one recent study. The government, prompted by local groups and international institutions such as the World Bank, last year charged a joint parliamentary-civilian commission with changing the culture of graft. Focusing on customs, public-works contracts, and the judiciary - the three main areas where corruption is worst - the commission hopes to identify more offenders and more forcefully punish them. "People feel that those involved with corruption are not punished," says Senator Raul Ayala, one of the commission's 16 members. "If the guilty are punished there will be less corruption." Others, however, want more immediate action. Following Transparency's report, a group of civic and business leaders called for a day of protest they dubbed the "national day of shame." Few people took part, however. Some used the Transparency report to show that the champions of graft can still joke about their dubious distinction. "We finished in third [from the] bottom but it had been worse," jokes Manuel Bogado, the director of an Asuncion consulting firm. "The year before we were second bottom. We bribed them to move us up a place."

From Christian Science Monitor-Americas, by Andrew Downie, 18 September 2002

Peru's Never-Ending Quest for the Perfect Constitution

Congress is debating a major constitutional overhaul, its third in 23 years. Facing stubbornly high unemployment, a backlash against free-market reforms, and an embarrassing string of corruption scandals, the Peruvian government is opting for a drastic yet familiar fix: reforming the country's Constitution. Two weeks ago, Congress began formal deliberations on Peru's third major constitutional overhaul since 1979. The result could be the 13th different Constitution in the Andean nation's 181-year history, on average one every 14 years. The head of the constitutional commission, Rep. Henry Pease, said that change is needed "in order to give the country a text that will help us move forward." Finding that perfect text is an ongoing quest in Latin America. While the United States has had virtually the same governing blueprint for over 225 years, its neighbors to the south often throw out the existing document with the departing government. While this practice may strengthen individual political leaders in the short term, observers say, over time it tends to undermine the public's faith in democracy. "Constitutions in Latin America tend to be identified with the government - or the individual - in power at a particular point in time," says Kurt Weyland, associate professor of government at the University of Texas in Austin and an expert in Latin American politics. "As soon as a regime falls, the next government insists on constitutional change. This sends a signal that institutions and rules are subject to political manipulation, and that is bad news for democracy." Peru's recent history of constitutional reform reflects the country's complicated relationship with democracy. In 1979, following 12 years of military rule, a new Constitution was fashioned for Peru's return to democratic governance. It established a "social democratic state" and emphasized a significant role for the government in the economy. That document, however, was replaced in 1993, when President Alberto Fujimori pushed through a more market-oriented Constitution. More significantly, it allowed Mr. Fujimori to run for a second consecutive term, which has traditionally been prohibited. Following revelations of systemic corruption in his government, Fujimori fled Peru in 2000. As a result, the Constitution of 1993 became discredited in the eyes of many Peruvians.

In May 2001, interim President Valentin Paniagua formed a blue-ribbon panel to make recommendations on constitutional change. Now, says Jose Luis Sardon, law professor at the Peruvian University of Applied Sciences in Lima and author of a constitutional history of Peru, the reformers in Congress are focused on "annihilating all vestiges of the Fujimori regime, including the Constitution." Some of the issues in the current debate include expanding labor rights, strengthening public education, introducing midterm congressional elections, and prohibiting consecutive presidential terms. To most people involved with the reform, however, the specific changes being considered are less important than breaking with the past. "A democratic country," says Luis Guerrero, a member of the constitutional commission, "cannot be guided by a Constitution that has as its father a dictatorial and corrupt government." Peru is not the only country in the region contemplating constitutional changes. Bolivia is debating reforms that would grant indigenous groups and civil society fuller political participation. Last month, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela broached the possibility of yet another constitutional makeover, less than four years after major legal reforms that he himself initiated. And in Chile, 4 of 5 citizens favor a plebiscite aimed at changing the 1980 Constitution, adopted during the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Critics charge that such changes are often more style than substance. "It is much easier to give grand speeches about constitutional reform," says Mr. Weyland, "than it is to address the real social and economic challenges the region faces." Coming to consensus on the language for Peru's new Constitution may not be easy. The 120-member Congress includes representatives from 11 different political groups. Congress needs a two-thirds majority to approve constitutional reform on its own or else the initiative would face a national referendum. Mr. Sardon worries that another round of constitutional reengineering in Peru will produce "terrible erosion" in the very concept of a Constitution, but he agrees that some sort of large-scale reforms may be necessary. "In Peru and in all of Latin America," he says, "we are discovering that economic crises are not just about economic policies, but also about our laws and the way we organize the state."

From Christian Science Monitor-Americas, by Carlos Lozada, 24 September 2002

 
 

Sacked China Official Gets 13 yrs' Jail for Bribes

China has sentenced a former deputy customs chief to 13 years in prison for pocketing more than 560,000 yuan, or $67,650, in bribes from smugglers, the official Xinhua news agency said on Friday. Wang Leyi was found guilty of taking bribes from several companies smuggling items including cars, soybean oil and elevators while customs chief in the northeastern port of Dalian from 1993-1998, Xinhua said. The sentence was lightened because Wang repented and provided details on other crimes, Xinhua said, adding that the money he received in bribes had been confiscated. Wang was sacked, kicked out of the Communist Party and charged with taking bribes in April last year, state media said. They said customs chief Qian Guanlin also stepped down that month, but gave no reason or further details on that case. However, the departure of the two top customs officials followed the exposure of a multi-billion dollar smuggling scandal centred on the southern port of Xiamen which became one of Communist China's biggest corruption cases. China has put more than 300 suspects on trial and sentenced 14 to death, including provincial officials and a former vice minister of public security, for their roles in the Xiamen smuggling ring. ($1-8.277 Yuan).

From MSNBC, 6 September 2002

Retired Professor is New Bangladesh President

Retired professor Iajuddin Ahmed was named the new president of Bangladesh on Thursday. The ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) on Wednesday named Ahmed as its candidate for the largely ceremonial post. The main opposition Awami League party with only 58 members in the 300-member parliament did not name any candidate. ''Professor Iajuddin Ahmed, the lone presidential candidate, has been declared elected unopposed,'' the Election Commission said in a statement. Bangladesh's parliament will formally endorse the election of Ahmed, former head of the University Grants Commission, in its next session due to begin on September 12. Ahmed replaces A.Q.M. Badruddoza Chowdhury, who resigned in June over an unexplained dispute with Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia.

From MSNBC-South & Central Asia, 5 September 2002

Kashmir Violence Leaves Minister, 12 Others Dead

New Delhi - Suspected Islamic militants killed a government minister and 12 others, including eight security officers, in two attacks in the northern Indian province of Jammu and Kashmir, Agence France-Presse reported, citing the police. Minister Mushtaq Ahmad Lone's car drove over a landmine while he was traveling through the village of Rathnag, in Kupwara district, to address a campaign rally before next week's first phase of provincial elections, AFP said. Gunmen then opened fire on the motorcade of Lone, the state's minister for law, it said. Lone, his driver and a bodyguard were killed in the attack along with one other person, who wasn't immediately identified, AFP said. Four other people were injured. In a separate attack, militants gunned down eight security officers and a 12-year-old at a bus stop today, AFP said. The officers included five men from the Border Security Force and three from the local police, it said. Five districts of Jammu and Kashmir, including Kupwara, which is north of the province's summer capital Srinagar, will vote on Sept. 16 to choose representatives in the state assembly. The village of Rathnag is in Lone's home constituency of Lolab, where he had been running for reelection. The provincial elections are part of the government's efforts to end more than a decade of secessionist violence in India's only Muslim-majority province by widening democratic representation. To this end, India is seeking the participation of opposition groups in the elections. Voting in the state will take place on Sept. 16, Sept. 24, Oct. 1 and Oct. 8, the Election Commission said on Aug. 2. In other attacks, suspected militants killed a district president of Kashmir's ruling National Conference party in the northern district of Baramulla and fired a grenade at the home of Sakina Itoo, the state's tourism minister, in the central district of Anantnag, AFP said. The minister was not home at the time of the grenade attack, which left four people injured.

From Bloomberg-Politics, by Anand Krishnamoorthy, 11 September 2002

Japan PM to Reshuffle Cabinet

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi says he will reshuffle his cabinet on Monday in a bid to shore up support for much-needed reforms. While it is unclear just how many cabinet posts he plans to change, Koizumi told reporters Friday he would pick people intent on conducting reforms, as the world's second-largest economy struggles with high joblessness and deepening deflation. The announcement on Friday came as Japan's media began backpedaling on earlier predictions that Koizumi's top financial regulator, Financial Services Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa, would leave. Yanagisawa is under the spotlight as he is seen by many as hampering to efforts to clean up the country's bad-loan mess. All eyes - On Friday, Yanagisawa stood by his opposition to injecting taxpayer funds into Japan's banks, which are riddled with bad loans. His stance has attracted criticism from politicians and analysts alike. ING's head of economic research in Tokyo, Richard Jerram, for one, said in a note Friday that by continuing to argue that public fund injections are not needed, Yanagisawa is making himself a key barrier to a fundamentally different approach. The billions of dollars in bad loans were amassed after Japan's asset bubble burst in the early 1990s. Jiji news agency and the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper's Internet edition reported that Koizumi intends to retain Yanagisawa. Yanagisawa denied on Wednesday a newspaper report that he had expressed a desire to resign over policy differences with Koizumi. His departure would be seen as positive by many in the financial markets due to hopes it could lead to quicker disposal of bad loans, inflated by years of economic stagnation and deflation. Kyodo news agency, quoting political sources, said Koizumi and senior officials of the LDP had agreed to retain Finance Minister Masajuro Shiokawa and Economics Minister Heizo Takenaka. Breaking with tradition - Even as all eyes are on who Koizumi decides to oust, his first reshuffle since taking office in April 2001 is expected to be minor. Japan's largest daily, the Yomiuri Shimbun, said Koizumi would seek pro-reform candidates for the posts rather than simply accepting party recommendations, breaking with tradition. Two ministers reportedly being considered for replacement were Transport Minister Chikage Ogi and Home Affairs Minister Toranosuke Katayama. Meanwhile the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) said on Friday that Koizumi had decided to retain the party's three top leaders - Taku Yamasaki, Taro Aso and Mitsuo Horiuchi. Yamasaki is the party's secretary-general while Aso is the Policy Research Council head and Horiuchi, head of the party's general council. Their one-year terms expire Monday. The officials reaffirmed their commitment to Koizumi's reform initiatives, with Yamasaki and Aso both saying they would "push for structural reform."

From CNN-Asia Pacific, 27 September 2002

 

Skilled Roman Workers Lived Well

Leicester, England - Roman emperors knew how to treat their skilled workers, paying them high wages and providing them with a diet that would not go amiss in a modern top class restaurant, a scientist said on Monday. "Increasingly we are realizing that Romans did not solely use slaves and prisoners for their heavy labor. They relied heavily on skilled labor, paying them and feeding them well," University of Leicester archaeologist Marijke van der Veen said. Her revelations to the British Association for the Advancement of Science's annual festival follow the first ever excavations at two of ancient Rome's key quarries deep in the desert south of Cairo. The quarry complex at Mons Claudianus, 500 km (300 miles) south of Cairo and 120 km (75 miles) east of the Nile, supplied the stone for the portico of the Pantheon, among other buildings, while purple stone from the adjacent Mons Porphyrites was used for statues. Purple was the imperial color kept exclusively for the use of nobility, making the Porphyrite stone highly prized. Van der Veen estimated it would have taken between five and eight days traveling on camels and donkeys to get from the Nile to the quarries. "Because they are so remote, we assumed we would find the workers, stone masons and soldiery in the garrison lived on a diet of just a few staples," she told reporters. But examination of the refuse tips near the quarries where rubbish has been preserved almost as it was the day it was discarded because of the arid conditions proved quite the contrary. Sifting through the piles of refuse, van der Veen and her fellow archaeologists found the remains of more than 50 types of food plants and the bones of 20 species of animals. The team found evidence of olives, grapes, artichokes, bread, olive oil, onions, garlic, snails, oysters, piglets, chickens, eggs, large quantities of fish, green vegetables such as cabbages, water melons, peaches and many types of nuts. "They would have grown some vegetables in little plots, using their washing water to feed them," van der Veen said, noting that the fish and oysters would have been carried overland from the Red Sea which was two days away. She said there was documentary evidence that the skilled workers were paid double the monthly salary of their more menial counterparts and, in the case of the quarrymen, an allowance in food and wine as well. At peak times, the quarries may have had up to 1,000 people living and working in and around them, extracting and working the stone ready for transportation to the Nile for shipment to Rome and beyond. Just one day's journey away from the quarry on the journey back to the Nile with their loads of shaped stone was a camp she described as like a modern roadside diner. Here the tired drivers and exhausted draught animals would pause to refresh themselves at the end of a tiring day. Such roadside refreshment centers were repeated at one-day travel intervals back to the river, van der Veen said.

From ABC News-National-Wire, by Jeremy Lovell, 9 September 2002

 

Former Nicaraguan President's Relatives, Associates Ordered Arrested in Corruption Case

A judge has issued arrest warrants for four relatives of former Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Aleman and six others connected to him on charges of corruption, fraud and money laundering. The group ordered arrested Tuesday is suspected of transferring state funds totaling nearly $100 million to banks in Panama, then later passing the money to a foundation controlled by the former president. Aleman, who left office in January, now has immunity from criminal prosecution as head of Nicaragua's legislature. His daughter, Maria Dolores Aleman, has been implicated in the case but also has immunity as a sitting lawmaker. Among those ordered arrested Tuesday were Aleman's wife and son, and the former interior minister. President Enrique Bolanos has asked lawmakers to strip Aleman and his daughter of their immunity, but Aleman has used his supporters in the legislature to successfully block those attempts. Bolanos repeated that demand Tuesday, urging legislators to ''become heroes and do what the country wants.'' As part of the ruling, Mendez also opened up a separate criminal investigation against Constitutionalist Liberal lawmaker Jose David Castillo Sanchez and eight current and former party election officials. They allegedly used public election funds to finance the campaigns of party candidates, including Bolanos' successful run for the presidency. Bolanos served as Aleman's vice president and was his hand-picked candidate for the presidency. But shortly after the election, Bolanos began demanding a cleanup of Nicaragua's notoriously corrupt political system, an initiative that put him at odds with Aleman and split the ruling party. Despite the fact that his campaign will now be investigated, Bolanos called Mendez's ruling ''a public triumph against corruption.''

From MSNBC, 11 September 2002

Colombia's State Workers Hold One-day Strike

State workers opposed to President Alvaro Uribe's austerity program to free more funds to fight guerrillas held a one-day strike, but caused few disruptions. "The fundamental objective is to call the government's attention to the inconveniences the new laws are creating," Julio Roberto Gomez, president of the General Confederation of Democratic Workers, told The Associated Press on Monday. Uribe, who assumed office last month pledging to do all he could to snuff out a 38-year-old insurgency, has asked parliament to raise monthly pension contributions and increase workers' retirement age, and submitted a bill that would make it easier for employers to hire and fire. A government decree last week also reduces bonus pay for municipal and provincial employees. The opposition Liberal Party said it supported the strike because of "the great social tragedy the country is enduring." Urban unemployment is at 18 percent, and millions of Colombians have been uprooted amid attacks by leftist rebels and an outlawed right-wing paramilitary group. About 3,000 people joined a march to downtown Bogota to protest the austerity measures as riot police looked on. "We are protesting against the untamed, unacceptable capitalism of President Uribe," said Pedro Salavador, a 65-year-old retiree. There were scattered minor disturbances, including when demonstrators let off smoke bombs in downtown Bogota and police moved in. Police made 150 arrests across the country linked to demonstrations, the Central Union of Workers labor federation reported. About half of the 7,000 workers from Colombia's state oil firm Ecopetrol were taking part in the strike, but the company said production would continue normally. Firefighters at Bogota's airport walked off the job, causing some flight delays, said Juan Carlos Velez, director of Civil Aviation. But transport workers stayed on the job, as did many teachers and other state employees. The election that swept Uribe into office showed that many Colombians are willing to make sacrifices in order to finally see peace and stability in this South American country. Interior Minister Fernando Londono Hoyos warned that rebels might use the strike to incite attacks or sabotage. "We are doing whatever is needed to defend the peasant farmers and prevent armed groups from improperly using this legitimate protest to become an opportunity for them to carry our their barbarous acts," Londono said.

From CNN, 18 September 2002

Colombian Paramilitary Leader Indicted

Washington - The leader of a Colombian right-wing paramilitary group and two associates have been indicted in the United States on drug trafficking charges, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced Tuesday. Ashcroft said the Justice Department would file a formal extradition request for Carlos Castano, leader of the outlawed United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), along with two other men. AUC has been waging war against a powerful leftist rebel group known as FARC since the 1980s. Both Castano's group and FARC have been accused of controlling parts of Colombia's drug trade. The United States has labeled the AUC and FARC as terrorist groups. Castano sent a letter to the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, saying he would surrender to face the charges. He denied that he was involved in drug trafficking. Joe Kilmer, a spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Miami, said, "The DEA eagerly awaits any contact from, and/or the arrival of, Mr. Castano. We're more than ready to provide him with a ride." The two other men charged were Salvatore Mancuso, described in the indictment as AUC's military commander, and Juan Carlos Sierra-Ramirez, an AUC member. The indictment alleges leaders of AUC were responsible for bringing more than 17 tons of cocaine into the United States and Europe in the past five years. AUC leaders are also accused of directly controlling the production, protection and distribution elements of the lucrative and often violent cocaine drug trade. "The men named in the indictment are accused of selling one of the most dangerous and addictive drugs: cocaine," Ashcroft said. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is visiting Washington this week, and the ongoing drug trade is expected to be a major topic of discussion. He will meet with President Bush Wednesday. "We support President Uribe's commitment to take aggressive action against all three of Colombia's major illegal armed groups," said the State Department in a statement. "We will continue to work closely with the Uribe administration to defend Colombia's democracy and human rights by bringing peace, security and prosperity to the Colombian people." (CNN National Correspondent Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.).

From CNN-Americas, by Bill Mears, 25 September 2002

 

Nigerian Voter Registration Bungled, Opposition Says

Abeokuta, Nigeria - Allegations of widespread electoral bungling and fraud - including possible signing up of ghost voters - grew Monday during a a 10-day voter registration campaign for Nigeria's first civilian-run elections since military rule ended. Opposition parties charged the sign-up problems meant Africa's most populous nation risked failing a major test of its young democracy. During the registration campaign, which ends this weekend, election overseers aim to register half of Nigeria's 120 million people for 2003 elections. Next year's vote will see the first democratically elected leader in nearly two decades - President Olusegun Obasanjo - contending for a second term. The Alliance for Democracy, one of Nigeria's two largest opposition parties, complained Monday of numerous "irregularities, which can mar the entire exercise and defeat its very purpose." Problems noted by its workers included registration stations that moved without notice, closed early or lacked forms - thwarting would-be voters, the opposition party said. Other problems reported by international election observers and others included stations that claimed to be signing up voters more quickly than appeared humanly possible - while, in contrast, no registration at all was under way in some of the nation's hot spots. Journalists reported possible fraud - and The Associated Press watched a young male who appeared to be about 10 sign up and walk away with a card proclaiming him a registered voter. Observers expressed particular concern about reports that registration has not even begun in some parts of central and southern Nigeria where ethnic and religious tensions are highest. "Corruption is fast creeping into the whole exercise - particularly in the southwest. Nobody is really sure that registration is taking place in some places," said Gani Fawehinmi, a human rights lawyer and leader of the fledgling National Conscience Party. The election commissioner in southwest Oyo state, Ekpenyong Nsa, played down the "few lapses" brought to his attention, saying they would not affect registration overall. He claimed Nigeria's history made problems unavoidable. "Don't forget we have been under military rule for many years and that has negatively affected our citizens," he said, adding Nigeria's widespread poverty tempts people to cheat the system. "Poverty is corrosive on democracy," he said. The Independent National Electoral Commission had initially planned to have completed voter registration early this year, but complained it could not do so because it lacked funding. The absence of a national voters' list has forced the government to postpone municipal elections three times since April. Last month, the local ballot was put off indefinitely, raising questions over whether civilian authorities were capable of running the election. Since Nigeria gained independence from Britain in 1960, all previous attempts by civilian governments to conduct elections have been aborted by military coups. The outgoing military oversaw the 1999 vote in which Obasanjo was elected. When the current registration period ends, would-be voters will no longer be allowed to register. Fawehinmi, the human rights lawyer, said he was unable to sign up Monday because officials had no forms. "We are collecting reports all over. Multiple registration is not being properly prevented. They don't ask for identification. Anybody can say they are anyone," Fawehinmi said. An international observer, speaking on condition of anonymity, reported "worrying" patterns, with some stations reporting twice as many voters as seemed possible. Fingerprinting and filling out computerized forms takes at least five minutes, the observer said, although some turnout figures indicated officials were processing voters in less than half the time. On Saturday, AP journalists watched officials in the southwest city of Abeokuta register a male named Dele Ogulowo, who appeared to be about 10 years old. He insisted he was 22. Election workers signed him up less than an hour after Nigeria's president surveyed the same election site. Amadi Chike, a businessman in the northern city of Kano, said he saw men buying registration cards from newly listed voters outside one registration station. In view of electoral workers, meanwhile, some newly registered voters were seen wiping off ink dabbed on their thumbs to prevent them from registering twice.

From MSNBC, 17 September 2002

Nearly Third of Nigerian Voters Unlisted -Monitors

Nigeria's Catholic Secretariat said on Wednesday nearly a third of the country's estimated 60 million eligible voters were not listed during the recent registration process which it said was marred by fraud. Presidential and general elections are due early next year, the first to be supervised by civilian authorities in over 20 years. The Episcopal Commission for Justice, Development and Peace, one of four groups accredited to monitor the registration process, said although turn-out of prospective voters was large, materials were in short supply and officials poorly trained. Politicians connived with Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials to perpetrate ''fraud, intimidation, hoarding of materials and multiple registration,'' during the 11-day exercise, the group said in an interim report. ''The problems enumerated above led to the non-registration of about 30 percent of the eligible voters who came out to register,'' said the group, which was set up by the Catholic Secretariat. It urged INEC to set aside more days to register those left off the list and to expunge multiple registrations. Voter registration, like the national census, is a politically sensitive issue in Africa's most populous country whose 120 million people are locked in ethnic and regional rivalries. INEC said on Saturday it issued 72 million forms and acknowledged its officials and other people were involved in hoarding registration materials. Many Nigerians say this is in order to rig elections. The commission hopes the registration process will result in Nigeria's first computerised voters' roll. Registration ended on Sunday after a day's extension, as widespread protests over its chaotic handling reinforced doubts about Nigeria's first elections since 15 years of army rule ended in 1999. Tension is already near boiling point in the west African country, over an ongoing bid by parliament to impeach President Olusegun Obasanjo for alleged misrule and violation of the constitution. Nigeria, which has mostly been ruled by soldiers since independence from Britain in 1960, has not managed a successful transition from one civilian government to another. Such elections ended in violence and army coups in the mid-1960s and in 1983.

From MSNBC, 25 September 2002

 

China Ends Blocking of Internet Search Engine Google

As mysteriously as it began, blocking by Chinese authorities of the Internet search engine Google was suddenly lifted Thursday. Users in Shanghai and Beijing reported that they could once again view Google, widely used by China's 30 million-plus Net users because it has a powerful feature for finding Chinese-language material online. Starting about Sept. 1, those trying to reach the site began finding themselves rerouted to heavily censored, less effective search engines run by private Chinese Internet companies. ''I'm thrilled that Google is back,'' said one user in a chat-room on the Web site of the People's Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper. ''Google, I love you!'' said another posting. Chat-room users had bitterly criticized the ban. Analysts said popular outcry and pressure from businesses that rely on Web tools like Google for research may have persuaded Beijing to reverse the restrictions quickly. ''The Internet has seemed to prevail,'' said Duncan Clark, managing director of BDA China Ltd., a Beijing-based Internet consulting firm. AltaVista, another U.S. search engine that had been similarly rerouted, remained blocked on Thursday, though rerouting had ended. In its usual secretive way, Beijing made no announcement of the new measures and refused to confirm their existence, or their lifting. But analysts and users linked the interference to a Communist Party congress in November. Dissent is usually more tightly muzzled before political events of this size. This congress is particularly sensitive because a new generation of leaders is expected to begin taking over. Authorities apparently targeted Google and AltaVista because they don't filter material deemed subversive from their search results, as the Chinese sites must. Still, analysts said the brief period of rerouting had demonstrated authorities' growing technological capabilities. Another new censorship technology remained in place. Users this week have begun complaining of an increase in selective blocking - being able to visit Web sites but not being able to see specific articles or other content of a politically sensitive nature. Both new technologies appear an effort by authorities to strengthen Internet barriers to subversive and pornographic material - China's so-called Great Fire Wall.

From MSNBC, 12 September 2002

 

U.K. Unions to Attack Government Services Policy, Contractors

London - Britain's labor unions are set to attack the government's use of companies to improve public services, saying a policy that's helped Tony Blair win two elections hurts workers' pay and pensions. Under the so-called Private Finance Initiative, companies including Amec Plc, Amey Plc, WS Atkins Plc and Balfour Beatty Plc hold contracts with the government to build and maintain schools, hospitals and roads. Since 1997, these contracts have totaled 18 billion pounds ($28 billion). Deals worth 25 billion pounds are due by 2005, government figures show. Unions oppose using companies to deliver public services and may threaten strikes if private employers offer lower pensions than the government did - giving executives a reason to avoid public sector contracts. Already, some companies say they may scale back work for the government because the bidding process is complex and erodes profit. "There is a sense that it's somehow ethically not quite right," because workers' can suffer benefit cuts, said John Monks, head of the Trades Union Congress, in an interview. "If people are messing around with pension rights, I consider that a strong case for strike action." The unions, which finance about 30 percent of the ruling Labour Party's budget, say that PFI projects mean their members' rights are eroded when their employment contracts pass from government agencies to private companies, which seek to increase profit by making their labor force cheaper and more flexible, and offering lower pensions. Pension Rights - "Pension rights are generally lowered" when public workers transfer to companies, said Michael Parkinson, an analyst with Brewin Dolphin Securities Ltd who covers PFI companies. "With all the talk about bidding costs being too high, the possibility of strikes is another problem." Blair has staked his government's future on using programs like PFI to improve public services such as health care and education. The prime minister pledged earlier this year to increase government spending over the next three years to 511 billion pounds from 418 billion. The leaders of the TUC's 70 member-unions, accounting for about seven million members, will gather next week in Blackpool, northern England, to debate a call to oppose the PFI for the first time. The move is backed by Unison and the TGWU, two of the country's biggest unions. Disputes - Disputes between unions and companies can prove fatal to PFI projects, according to the Audit Commission, an independent watchdog overseeing public spending. While the government is planning to spend more money through PFI contracts, companies that specialize in such work say there's no guarantee they'll stay involved. "If there's a new campaign of hostility from the unions, that would be unwelcome," said Nigel Jones, head of PFI projects at Carillon Plc, a construction company. Amey said earlier this year it will bid for fewer public contracts than before to stem an outflow of cash and ease concern that costs will starve the company of funds needed for labor and equipment expenses. If the government doesn't make bidding for public work easier Amec, a construction company, won't bid for more work, the company's finance director, Stuart Siddall, said last month. While companies bidding for PFI contracts originally estimated a return on investment of about 30 percent, analysts say that has now shrunk to less than 20 percent.

From Bloomberg-Politics, by James Kirkup, 6 September 2002

Moscow Steps Up Fight Against Smog

The Russian Emergency Situations ministry is to step up the battle against the fires causing Moscow's worst smog for a century on Friday with a force of some 4,000 people and six aircraft. More than 200 local fires in forests and peat bogs were put out on Thursday but another 150 emerged, said ORT television. Millions of Muscovites were advised to stay indoors as thick smoke from forest fires shrouded the city. Choking fumes trapped by late summer air shrouded buildings, brought traffic to a virtual standstill and smothered pedestrians, many pressing wet handkerchiefs to their mouths. Three Moscow airports, Domodyedovo, Sheremetyevo and Vnukovo, diverted arriving planes, TVS television reported, while takeoffs and landings at other area airports were running behind schedule. Three more days without rain are forecast in the area, which is enduring its driest spell for 30 years, and the public have been warned to be careful with fires and cigarettes. The Emergency Situations (EM) minister, Sergi Shoigu, is touring the worst affected areas and has been briefing President Vladimir Putin, ORT said. The EM called in three Il-76 aircraft and three helicopters but said their fire-fighting capabilities were being hampered by the poor visibility. The General Prosecutor of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Ustinov, announced an inquiry into why the smoke blanket gripped the city of Moscow and the surrounding region and why the authorities were apparently unable to cope. He said he did not rule out legal proceedings against those found to be responsible. Opposition Communist party leader in the State Duma, Gennady Zyuganov, attacked the government for lack of action. "Moscow and Russia are in mist for thousands of kilometres because of the authorities," RIA news quoted him as saying. "Therefore everybody chokes with smoke and keeps looking at the Kremlin in haze." CNN Weather anchor Guillermo Arduino described the smog as "unbearable" for Muscovites in one of the hottest summers on record. He said the smoke from the forest fires had been trapped by a heavy retaining layer of air which had settled over the city. The carbon monoxide level is more than twice the maximum admissible concentration, EM said. EM said the fires had doubled in size over the last 24 hours to 550 hectares (1,360 acres), Interfax reported. There are five large blazes and 188 smaller fires in the region surrounding Moscow - many of them below ground in smoldering peat bogs - and almost 900 fires, including 200 large ones burning across western Russia. Yevgenia Syemutnikova, of the state ecological monitoring body, told Reuters the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air was two to three times the norm, but said for normal, healthy people"there would be no lasting effect." In St Petersburg a similar haze hung over the city as 40 new fires burned in peat bogs around Russia's second city.

From MSNBC, 6 September 2002

Major Heads Calls for Effective EU

Pro-European Tories, led by John Major, challenged the Eurosceptic approach of Iain Duncan Smith yesterday by saying that the EU might need to be given more powers during a review of its governing treaties. A group of 20 senior Conservatives set out what they called a positive European strategy for the Tories in a submission to the convention on the EU's future chaired by Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the former French President. While calling for decisions to be devolved from Brussels to national governments, it did not back Mr Duncan Smith's call for powers to be "repatriated" to member states. Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, the group's chairman and a former European Commissioner, said the report showed that Tory Europhiles were "alive and well." He said: "The purpose is to show that there are a large number of people within the Conservative Party who think seriously about this issue." Lord Brittan added that Mr Duncan Smith would not agree with the report but would not "rubbish it" either. Other signatories include Lord Heseltine and Lord Howe of Aberavon, both former deputy prime ministers; Lord Hurd of Westwell, the former Foreign Secretary; Kenneth Clarke, the ex-Chancellor; John Gummer, the former Cabinet minister and Lord Garel-Jones, a former Minister for Europe. They said: "An effective EU can be even more crucial for Britain's welfare in the future than it has been in the past. "It is urgently necessary for British Conservatives to provide a constructive input, if we are to influence the character and structure of the Union. Our approach has the support of vast numbers of Conservatives, even though their voice may not have been heard." The group said it would be a mistake for the EU to become a "fully federal state" and planned measures to halt the "ratchet effect" under which more powers are grabbed by Brussels.


From UK-The Independent-Europe, by Andrew Grice, 10 September 2002

Electricians Aim to Light Up World

Paris, France - First came the doctors, then journalists. Now electricians have joined the borderless or "sans frontieres" community by setting up an international movement aimed at bringing power to the poor. Just like the world's largest private humanitarian relief organisation Medecins San Frontieres and media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres, the non-governmental organisation of electricians kicked off in France, but has just reinvented itself as Electriciens Sans Frontieres (ESF). Formerly made up of small groups called Co-operation and Development (CODEV) associations for the past 16 years, ESF adopted its new name in July to highlight its cause. "When we were CODEV, it was not very clear what we were, so we decided to adopt the new name, Electriciens Sans Frontieres, which is more understandable," Daniel Brizemeure, ESF secretary-general told Reuters in an interview. The change was too late to make any impact on the recent Earth Summit in Johannesburg. "But we hope in the future we will be able to contribute with our experiences in many countries," said Brizemeure. Committed to "raising awareness that more than a third of humanity does not have access to electricity, and contributing to the development of the most disadvantaged populations," the nongovernmental organization has its work cut out. The International Energy Agency (IEA), the West's energy watchdog, warned at the Earth Summit that without vigorous new policies, 1.4 billion people will still lack electricity in 30 years' time compared with 1.6 billion today. "The new name will make us more effective in fighting against poverty. Electrification lays the foundations for economic and social development in disadvantaged regions," Brizemeure said. The developing world needs to spend $2.6 trillion on electricity generation over the next 30 years to meet growing demand, double the investment in the last two decades, the International Energy Agency estimates. ESF's roots go back to 1985 when about a dozen workers from state utility Electricite de France (EdF) decided to pool their professional skills for the benefit of low income populations around the world. Today, more than 600 volunteers, about 75 percent from EdF, are leading more than 50 development projects in 25 countries in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. Besides providing manpower, the French energy giant is a partner with ESF and provides about 900,000 euros ($888,400) a year, of which 70 to 80 percent goes toward the funding of projects. "In France, we think we are the only association linked to a company, but there is no link between EdF and our choice of projects," said Brizemeure. But ESF is not ruling out taking advantage of EdF's presence in 22 countries worldwide, to expand its own network. "EdF is an international group, so it's not impossible that tomorrow we may form affiliations, for example, in England or Germany." Over the past 16 years, 900,000 people have benefited either directly or indirectly from ESF's work, including projects in former French colonies. Over the last few years, ESF has organized a 900,000-euro project to bring power to 3,000 people of the village of Yaka, in Togo, a former French colony in West Africa. It has also set up a 625,000 euro water pump project in the northwest of Benin in West Africa, as well as a smaller project to bring power to 2,000 people in the Vietnamese village of Hoa Trung, northeast of Ho Chi Minh City. "A lot of these organizations start off in France because France has a lot of ex-colonies that are still developing," said a consultant to West African governments. Four out of five people without electricity live in rural areas of the developing world, mainly in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, the IEA says. "In the beginning, it was natural that former colonies asked France for help, but the choice was not ours. We go where there is demand from the population," said Brizemeure. "We have many other projects in non-former colonies, in South Africa, Cuba, Paraguay, and in a Palestinian refugee camp in Gaza ... it's more to do with casualty than choice." "We have no discrimination."

From CNN-Africa, 25 September 2002

 

Most Support Government Web Action

New York - More than two-thirds of Americans say it's OK for government agencies to remove public information from the Internet, even though many didn't believe it would make a difference in fighting terrorism, a new study finds. But Americans were evenly divided on whether governments should be able to monitor e-mail and Web activities, with 47 percent opposed and 45 percent in support. "When it gets close to common, everyday things they do, their guard gets a little higher," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which conducted the telephone-based survey released Thursday. Since Sept. 11, several federal and state government agencies have removed documents, maps and other resources from the Internet out of concern the materials could aid terrorists. The stricken items include federal environmental reports on chemical plants and their emergency response plans; mapping software showing communications infrastructure in Pennsylvania; and data on drinking water and natural gas pipelines in the United States. Many of the removed documents remained available offline in government reading rooms or even online, housed at other, nongovernment sites. Some items have since been restored by the government. According to the Pew survey, 67 percent of Americans believe the U.S. government should remove information that might potentially aid terrorists, even if the public has a right to know. Twenty-three percent believe the government should leave the information up, with the remainder not knowing or not answering. Of those favoring removal, 36 percent said doing so would have no effect on terrorism. Overall, 47 percent of Americans felt that way, compared with 41 percent who thought it would help hinder terrorism. Internet users were more likely to oppose monitoring and believe that information removal would not make a difference. "It certainly is significant that our society which has always prided itself on open access of information is now so scared of what open access to information means," said David Greene, executive director of the nonprofit First Amendment Project in Oakland, Calif. Greene said Americans may not believe the information is personally useful. "People think, `I'm not going to poison the water supply system, so what do I need to know about the water supply system?'" Greene said. "But if all of a sudden they are part of an effort to restrict development of a watershed and need that data ... all of a sudden they realize it's important." Meanwhile, the Pew study found that the attacks continued to affect Internet behavior a year later. Eighty-three percent of Americans who used e-mail to renew contact with family and friends soon after Sept. 11 maintained those relationships throughout the year. Internet users have also obtained news, visited government sites and made donations online more frequently, with a large number citing the attacks as the major reason for change. The telephone survey of 2,501 adults, including 1,527 Internet users, was conducted June 26 to July 26. The margin of sampling error was 2 percentage points for the full sample, 3 percentage points for questions asked of Internet users only.On the Net: http://www.pewinternet.org

From SiliconValley.com, by Anick Jesdanun, 6 September 2002

E-learning, e-business Integration Yields Returns

E-learning and e-business integration projects have generally delivered the best return on investment for companies this year, while customer relationship management (CRM), content management and e-marketplace efforts have fallen short. That's the assessment of "thousands" of ROI studies conducted by Wellesley, Mass.-based Nucleus Research Inc. on behalf of clients such as Aetna Inc., Pfizer Inc., British Telecom and Lockheed Martin Corp. For instance, companies that implement e-learning systems for a "modest" five- or six-figure investment typically save money in reduced travel costs, human resources overhead, regulatory compliance and customer support costs, according to Nucleus. Those kinds of paybacks recently helped two Nucleus customers generate 2,000% returns on their investments, said Ian Campbell, co-founder of and principal analyst at the research firm. E-business integration platforms such as Microsoft BizTalk Server and BEA WebLogic Integration have helped companies leverage existing investments in their IT infrastructures both through internal and business-to-business integration, said Campbell. Many of the returns result from streamlining the flow of data between applications and accessing a broader set of data. That has helped improve corporate performance and generate new revenue streams, according to the Nucleus assessment. On the other end of the scale, CRM projects typically fall short of ROI projections since companies typically "overbuy" the amount of applications they need, said Campbell. And because CRM engagements are usually multiyear projects, the business requirements at the beginning of the cycle often change by the time the software is implemented, Campbell added. The CRM findings track with lessons learned by at least one CIO - but for different reasons. Rick Peltz, CIO at Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Brokerage Co. in Encino, Calif., has witnessed the shortcomings of CRM systems at two different companies. Six years ago, when he was working in IT at Bank of America Corp., the bank tried to deploy a CRM system that could share client information throughout its North American wholesale banking division. The system "went belly up" eight months after it was deployed because "no one used it," said Peltz. "When you're dealing with salespeople and agents, their client list is their lifeline," he said. That same sentiment helps explain why Marcus & Millichap's 650 agents have so far resisted overtures from Peltz and his team to install a nationwide CRM system to share client information. "When we try to show [agents] easier ways to communicate with their clients, or show them other tools they can use on a national platform, that's where it's a bust," said Peltz. "They don't want to share client information with each other. That's their leg-up in the marketplace."

From ComputerWorld, by THOMAS HOFFMAN, 4 September 2002

U.S. Violent Crime Lowest Since '73

The nation saw violent crimes except murder fall by 9 percent last year, marking the lowest level since the government began surveying victims in 1973. A record low number of reported assaults, the most common form of violent crime, was reported. The drop is detailed in the 2001 National Crime Victimization Survey, which is based on interviews with victims and thus does not include murder. The Bureau of Justice Statistics report was obtained Sunday by The Associated Press in advance of its release this week. Preliminary figures from an FBI report - gleaned from more than 17,000 city, county and state law enforcement agencies and released in June - reflected an increase in murders of 3.1 percent in 2001. Specialists said the decade-long decrease in violent results mainly from the strong economy in the 1990s and tougher sentencing laws. "When people have jobs and poor neighborhoods improve, crime goes down," said Ralph Myers, a criminologist at Stanford University. "Crime also has been impacted by the implementation of tough sentencing laws at the end of the 1980s." Since 1993, the violent crime rate has decreased by nearly 50 percent. The report said that between 2000 and 2001, the number of people who reported they were victims of violent crime fell from about 28 per 1,000 to about 25 per 1,000. The number of people reporting violent crimes fell from 6,323,000 in 2000 to 5,744,000 in 2001. Only about half of the violent crimes counted in the survey were reported to police. The report showed a 10 percent decrease in the violent crime rate for whites. It also included an 11.6 percent decline for blacks and a 3.9 percent increase for Hispanics. However, those figures were not given the highest grade of confidence because of analytical formulas that suggest they could be flawed. Assault was down 10 percent, but victim reports reflected a 13 percent increase in injuries. The effect of tougher sentencing laws can best be seen in the drop in the rate at which people in the United States are assaulted, said Bruce Fenmore, a criminal statistician at the Institute for Crime and Punishment, a Chicago-based think tank. "There is overwhelming evidence that people who commit assaults do it as a general course of their affairs," Fenmore said. "Putting those people behind bars drops the rate." The rate at which criminals used guns to accomplish their crimes held steady at about 26 percent. Victims of rape and assault were the least likely (7 percent) to face an armed offender, while robbery victims were the most likely (55 percent). Rape fell 8 percent, and sexual assaults - which include verbal threats and fondling - fell 20 percent. About half the women who reported rapes said the perpetrator was a friend or acquaintance. The rate at which women reported rape to the police fell 19 percent in 2001. The overall property crime rate fell 6 percent between 2000 and 2001 because of a 6.3 percent decrease in theft and a 9.7 percent drop in household burglaries. The car theft rate rose 7 percent, reflecting a jump from 937,000 car thefts in 2000 to 1,009,000 in 2001. Teenagers seemed less likely to be victims of violent crime. The crime rate against those between ages 16 and 19 fell 13.2 percent. Crime also fell in each of the regions of the United States but showed the most dramatic decline, 19.7 percent, in the Midwest. The decline was felt in urban, suburban and rural areas alike. The rate of violence experienced by suburbanites fell 14 percent. In urban and rural areas, the rate fell 5.4 percent and 10.6 percent, respectively. The preliminary summary of the report did not include a state-by-state breakdown.

From Washington (DC) Post, 9 September 2002

Linking to Other Web Sites Has Become a Touchy Issue

As the owner of a phone number, do you have the right to say who can and cannot call you? Now let's take the same question and apply it to the Internet. As the owner of a Web site, do you have the right to say who can and cannot link to your site? Many companies and organizations actually have a linking-ban policy in place that basically says you cannot have a link on your Web site that links to their Web site. But does someone have the right to dictate what you can and cannot do on your very own Web site that you pay for and control? Obviously, you can't have anything that's against the law on your Web site such as pedophilia or selling illegal drugs. But can someone tell you as a Web-site owner where you can and cannot link? Before you answer, consider the flip side. As a Web-site owner, do you want to be able to control who can and cannot link to you? How would you feel about some undesirable Web site having a link to yours? Imagine your horror discovering that some X-rated or hate-group Web site had a prominent link to your site. In life, your image can be greatly affected by the places in which you are seen and the kinds of people with whom you associate. Your Web site is subject to those same conditions. When it comes to your phone number, you can have it unlisted, and only the people to whom you give it will be able to reach you. Or you can choose to be completely accessible with a listed number and try to screen your calls with things like Caller ID, call blocking and other methods that attempt to filter out telemarketers and undesirable calls. Similarly, with your Web site, you can have an unlisted address, and then only those who know it can link to you. Or you can choose to be completely accessible but control access by requiring a password or using some other mechanism. But these technology solutions are only a Band-Aid and don't really go to the heart of the matter, which is determining who has what control rights. One of the proposed solutions is to ban something called "deep linking." The idea is that you can't ban a link to your Web site's home page but you can ban links to pages within your Web site. That way your "front door" remains accessible to everyone on the Internet while preserving some control over what can and cannot be seen within your site. And although I think it's a step in the right direction, it still doesn't completely alleviate the guilt-by-association problem when your home page is listed on some kind of perverse Web site. I'm not sure if there is an answer that will satisfy every linking policy condition, and I tend not to favor anything that attempts to legislate the Internet. So while this column doesn't offer an answer, it is my hope that it will get you thinking about the problem. In fact this linking issue has been embroiled in controversy almost as long as the commercial Web has been around. In the meantime, don't have links on your Web site that point to the American Cancer Society, The Washington Post, the city of Colorado Springs, Shell Oil, Disney or a plethora of other institutions that have publicly posted linking bans in place on their Web sites. If you'd like to know who else has linking bans, you can find a list of them at Dontlink.com, a Web site that's dedicated to posting institutions with Web-site linking bans. Dontlink.com's stance is quite clear on linking bans, referring to them as "stupid." In fact, you can be assured your Web site will be named and linked to on Dontlink.com by sending them a request not to link to your Web site.

From Seattle (WA) Times-Business, by Craig Crossman, 9 September 2002

Mexico to Iintroduce Plastic Peso Bills

When Mexicans have to pay a taxi driver or buy some tacos, they will likely start pulling out the plastic. The country isn't going credit-card crazy. It's just changing its 20 peso bill, worth about $2, from paper to a form of plastic. uring a news conference Monday, holding up a sample of the shiny blue bill that looks similar to the paper version but comes with a clear window that makes it difficult to counterfeit. There are 130 million 20 peso bills in circulation, and they will slowly be replaced starting Sept. 30. Officials estimate it will take a year before the majority of paper bills are removed from Mexico's streets. Besides being difficult to counterfeit, the plastic bills last up to four times longer than those of paper - although they cost 50 percent more to produce. Mexico decided to start with the 20 peso note - its smallest denominated bill - because it gets the most use in Mexico. Ortiz said that if the plastic bill is successful, officials may convert the 50, 100, 200 and 500 peso bills, all of which are more likely to be counterfeited. Australia began using plastic money in 1988. Some 20 countries - including New Zealand, Brazil, Thailand and Northern Ireland - have followed its lead. Officials said the new plastic bills - which are paper-thin and the same size as their paper counterparts - have been tested successfully in automatic teller machines. Also Monday, Ortiz said that Mexico's annualized inflation fell to around 5.3 percent in August from 5.5 percent in July. He added that inflation is expected to continue declining for the rest of the year, and that the central bank hopes to close December at its target of 4.5 percent.

From MSNBC, 10 September 2002

Guatemalan Trial Heralds New Accountability for Military

Guatemala City - When Helen Mack arrived at the scene of the crime, she found her older sister, Myrna, lying dead, just a few blocks from where she worked here. She had been stabbed 27 times. Helen knelt down, placed her forehead on her sister's, and vowed to bring to justice whoever had done this. Twelve years later, Ms. Mack says she is close to completing that goal. Nine years after an Army sergeant was convicted of the crime, three high-ranking military officers are on trial for allegedly ordering him to do it. The case, which opened last Tuesday, is being heralded as pathbreaking for Guatemala's justice system. "This is the first time that someone is being tried in Guatemala for using their authority and position in a state entity to order a murder," says Guatemalan human rights lawyer Fernando Lopez. Guatemala's 36-year civil war between the government and leftist guerillas ended in 1996, but many here say the military still wields considerable power, a power that critics say amounts to impunity. "This case is already a success because military officers have been put on trial," says Mr. Lopez. "This strengthens the justice system because it shows that members of the military can also be held accountable to justice." Myrna Mack was an anthropologist who had been conducting research on groups of indigenous people displaced by the war's violence. The prosecution charges that she was killed because the work she was doing was affecting the miltary's ability to carry out its operations against the rebels. Prosecutors are trying to prove that, because of the military chain of command, retired Gen. Edgar Godoy, and retired Cols. Juan Valencia and Juan Oliva ordered Sgt. Noel de Beteta to kill Ms. Mack in 1990. The accused maintain their innocence and deny knowing Mack or her work. Getting the case to court, Helen Mack says, was a long and painful task that has cost some $3 million.

The defense filed a long series of objections during the pretrial process, postponing the court date for years. Helen Mack left the country for two months before the trial after she says a high-ranking member of government warned her of a plot to kill her. Her lawyer says that unknown assailants shot at his home weeks before the trial began. In the process of pushing her sister's case, Helen Mack has converted herself from a self-described apolitical, conservative business executive into a prominent justice advocate. "The life I led before my sister's assassination didn't allow me to perceive the reality that the majority of Guatemalans face," Mack says, referring to citizens' typical encounters with the justice system. In 1992, Helen Mack's work won her the Right Livelihood Award, often called the alternative Nobel Peace Prize. With the award money she founded the Myrna Mack Foundation, which works towards strengthening the Guatemalan justice system and has helped fund this case. Some here fear that the international attention surrounding the case could impede the defendants chance of getting a fair trial. "I believe in the justice system and think this case will strengthen it, but I am worried that all the international pressure there has been will sway the judges decision," says defendant Juan Oliva. Human rights activists say they hope the trial can serve to make public information about the military's wartime activities, in addition to establishing the guilt or innocence of three of its former officials. The three accused and the man already convicted belonged to the presidential guard, which has been accused of carrying out covert counterinsurgency operations. General Godoy was its director at the time of Mack's death. The accused say that the entity's sole responsibility was handling the president's security. Human rights activist Frank LaRue says establishing the role of the presidential guard in a courtroom is a crucial point. "Public opinion already accepts that this organization carried out clandestine operations and intelligence...," he says. "For a court to accept them will have an enormous impact." Mack says that regardless of the trial's outcome, she is content knowing she has done her best. "Last month I dreamt of my sister," she says. "She was worried about my safety. But then she hugged me and smiled, and I imagined that she was satisfied."

From Christian Science Monitor-Americas, by Catherine Elton, 11 September 2002

The Web Does Its Part for Sept. 11 - The Web Mutes Its Colors, Tones Down Commerce on First Anniversary of Terror Attacks

New York, Sept. 11 - Yahoo.com's home page was devoid of its usually vivid colors Wednesday, its white background replaced with gray. Amazon.com carried drawings, essays and poetry from New York City schoolchildren. "I've learned that you should always leave loved ones with loving words," eighth-grader Stephanie wrote. "It may be the last time you see them." The Internet, already home to some poignant electronic archives, marked the Sept. 11 anniversary in its own way. Some Web gathering spots emphasized the medium's power for instant reaction to galvanizing events. Others stressed not expression, but reflection. Slashdot, a site frequented by techies, reran messages from its stunned readers a year ago. The online auction site eBay draped a flag over its home page and opened a temporary discussion board about the anniversary, while the White House, Lycos and other sites replaced their front pages with tributes. Most sites had their regular materials accessible through a link. But Topica, which sends more than 50 million messages a day to about 4,000 corporate and community discussion lists, took down its site and suspended service for most of the day. Anna Zornosa, the company's president and chief executive, said Topica worried that some messages, particularly commercial advertising, could be seen as inappropriate or insensitive on a day of reflection. "E-mail is just such a powerful medium," Zornosa said. "We really saw that a year ago with how well it was used as a tool to keep people connected. We also saw some vivid reminders of how in-your-face and how powerful it can be." Banner ads at AOL Time Warner sites were replaced with pictures of candles and links to a site where visitors could learn of opportunities to give money, volunteer and remember, as well as obtain information on discussing issues with children. The online greetings site Blue Mountain featured anniversary themed cards in categories such as "Thinking of You" and "Thanks to the Troops." The Web site MemorialsOnline let visitors light a virtual candle and offer a word of patriotism or tribute. At the e-mail and Web community board Craigslist, users shared details about vigils and other events offline. A year ago, while major news Web sites were jammed as people craved details on the attacks, the Net proved its mettle as a communications facilitator. People who found telephone voice circuits clogged were able to send "I'm OK" e-mail messages to their loved ones. Web journals, known as blogs, emerged as forums for trying to make sense of the events. Some sites found the best way to mark the anniversary was to keep doing what they have been doing. Thus, Wednesday was business as usual at the InstaPundit blog, run by University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds. "Fancy memorial pages aren't what I'm good at," Reynolds declared on his journal. "So while I'm going to post a couple of retrospective items, I plan to spend today thinking about today, and tomorrow not last year.

From ABC News-Business-Wire, 11 September 2002

Web-based Disaster Plans Sought

Building Owners and Managers Association International, an advocacy group for the commercial real-estate industry, is exploring the implementation of a Web-based program that provides firefighters, police officers and other rescue personnel with critical information about a building to better prepare them in case disaster strikes. The program, called Rapid Responder and made by Prepared Response Inc., Tacoma, Wash., allows rescuers to access specific building information online by typing in an address. The critical information, including a map and floor plans, then pops up so police and firefighters know how to get to the building in danger and where to go once they are there. The company designed the system in 2000 after the Columbine High School shootings. Prepared Response, which develops and maintains security applications for the public and private sector, would charge owners by the square foot for collecting data. And there would be a monthly fee for storing the data, maintenance and upgrades. BOMA, which has 18,500 members who own or manage more than nine billion square feet of commercial properties and facilities in North America and abroad, and Prepared Response hope that the program's use will save lives by speeding up emergency response. Prepared Response hopes it will save insurance costs as well. Sterling Griffin, chief strategy officer and founder of Prepared Response, says the company is pushing state insurance rating bureaus to grant so-called fire credits - points for safety measures that can reduce rates - to building owners who use the system. We're definitely evaluating their processes and procedures to determine if there is a reason to recognize their service for fire insurance rate credit," says David Bruell, manager of information systems at Washington Surveying and Rating Bureau, a property insurance rating bureau.

From MSNBC-Technology, 11 September 2002

Election Judges to Be Retrained

D.C. Election Judges to Be Retrained on New Computerized Voting After Delayed Primary Results - Rockville, Md. - Election judges in Montgomery County will be retrained on a new computerized touchscreen voting system to avoid problems that significantly delayed results in this week's primary. About 3,200 judges will be trained before the Nov. 5 general elections and the suburban Washington county will update its procedure for using the new computerized machines, County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said Wednesday. Poorly trained election workers dealing with a new computerized voting system were blamed for what Duncan described as "shakedown problems." Workers at each poll site had to tabulate precinct results on a paper printout and drive the printout and memory cards from each unit to the county's election headquarters, officials said. The three other Maryland counties using the new system Tuesday had better results. A new touchscreen system in Florida also caused problems in Tuesday's primary there. Candidates and voters complained about delays stemming from election workers struggling with the touchscreen voting machines. The system was put in place in an attempt to solve the problems that plagued the state in the disputed 2000 presidential election.

From ABC News-Politics, 12 September 2002

Key Technologies Survive Test of Time - and the Net Bubble

Two years after the dot-com bust, some key technologies have proven to be the silver lining that has helped companies survive the unforgiving e-commerce climate. The world of online retailers is littered with technologies that might have been cool but offered relatively little to improve customer service. Online delivery services, interactive TV sales, micropayments - all seemed like great ideas at the time but, for various reasons, failed to catch on in significant numbers. "That's been a problem--companies have launched really creative technology that didn't improve the customer experience. Often it seemed the only reason companies launched it was to get the free press," said Ken Sieff, chief executive of online retailer BlueFly. "And very often those companies would abandon the technology or service within 12 months." Truly useful e-commerce tools address one of three areas: displaying, buying or sending the product. As a result, iPix's 360-degree images, Amazon.com's "one-click" option and Federal Express' online order tracking are examples of popular technologies shoppers use online. "We're into that phase where common sense makes decisions, not just new cool tech and bells and whistles," said Kate Delhagen, analyst at Forrester Research. "People will say: Do customers want to see the item better, or are they halfway through the purchase process and need help, or does it take too long to make a purchase?" Some of the best tools save money for the company, which might then translate to lower prices for customers. Something like order tracking can cut down the number of e-mails or phone calls that customer-service representatives must deal with, and happier patrons are more likely to come back and buy again. Here are some of the most groundbreaking services that have changed the way people shop online. Zerioing In - In the early days of the commercial Web, many people said e-commerce would work well only with certain items, such as computers and books - the kind of purchases that don't demand physical inspection beforehand. But who would buy something like a sweater or a sofa based only on a small or blurry photo? Today, new zoom technologies allow for closer visual inspection than ever before online, enabling consumers to zero in on the smallest detail of an embroidered blouse or take a virtual tour of a house for sale. Industry leader iPix allows photographers to create 360-degree images using just two standard photographs. The product has been particularly popular for displaying online real estate listings. Zoom technology has also been key to e-commerce. RichFX's technology allows companies to create up to four "hot spots" - close-up views of product details - from a single picture. A big change in this category came from the rising popularity of Macromedia's Flash software, which developers use to create animation and display them through relatively small file sizes. "Compression technology is improving dramatically, and on top of that Flash is preloaded in something like 99 percent of browsers, so you don't have to require that consumers download a proprietary plug-in," Jupiter Research analyst Ken Cassar said. "It doesn't necessarily compensate for the fact that images are not the quality you have in catalogs, but it certainly helps." As Easy As One, Two…One - When online shopping first took off, the idea was irresistible: You see something you want, click and it's yours. Unfortunately, the reality was more like this: You see something you want, you click and click and click, you type in a bunch of information, click again, type in some more information, click a few more times. That changed when Amazon introduced its "one-click" option in September 1997. "One-click, that's a double- or triple-star idea," Forrester's Delhagen said. "That has been a huge catalyst for the Web."

The technology behind one-click is surprisingly uncomplicated. Essentially, shoppers are agreeing to skip several of the review and confirmation steps of the buying process. Customers set up a one-click account with the address they want products shipped to and a credit card to pay for it. Newer versions allow consumers to choose from preset multiple addresses and credit cards using dropdown menus on product pages. The concept at first met with resistance. In 1997, consumers were very tentative about online shopping, and the idea of storing information online, and buying something without being given the option to double-check an order, gave many people pause. In early tests, customers incorrectly thought they hadn't actually made a purchase. Since then, however, Amazon has licensed the technology to other companies, and partners such as Target have made the technology available to even more shoppers. Bid Adieu - On the surface, eBay's "Buy it Now" feature doesn't seem like a major revolution in retailing. The basic concept allows buyers to purchase items immediately for a fixed price, rather than endure a days-long bidding process - essentially the same thing that is done at regular stores. But for eBay, the move allowed for faster transactions, higher prices and, eventually, more money for the company. "We're bringing new buyers to the site who weren't there before. And we're getting existing buyers to buy more," said Jeff Jordan, senior vice president for eBay's U.S. business. "Because of this feature, the overall average duration of items on eBay shrank. It makes our sellers more successful." The technology, introduced in the 2000 holiday season, has caught on like wildfire. About 33 percent of listings included the feature in the second quarter, the company said, and about 20 percent of U.S. auctions close through "Buy it Now." Tracking It Down - At first glance, it seems obvious: When people buy something online, they want to know when they will get their package. But for Federal Express, turning a tool designed for internal use into a customer service application was a stroke of genius. Order tracking had been done by FedEx since the 1980s. But in 1994 the company decided to offer the service over the Internet, allowing any customer to find packages on their own through the same system FedEx uses internally to track its business. "When a courier picks up a package, he scans it.

When it's moved from his van to the destination station, we scan it again. When it leaves, we scan it again. When it's put onto a plane, we scan it," said Karen Rogers, vice president of marketing for FedEx.com. In all, the average package is scanned between 15 and 20 times between pickup and delivery. Today, more than 1.6 million packages are tracked daily through FedEx's Web site. Customers can look up data over PDAs or cellular phones, as well as their PCs. The service, also provided by FedEx's competitors, has become a must-have for online shopping, Jupiter's Cassar said. "The site that doesn't have order tracking is a site whose customer service reps will waste a lot of time," he said. Linking Clicks To Bricks - From a consumer's point of view, a store is a store is a store--whether it's a catalog, a Web site or a building on Main Street. But as recently as last year, most companies that operated both online and brick-and-mortar stores wouldn't let their e-commerce customers return goods in person, directing them to the post office instead. The major roadblock to link online and offline stores was not technology, but a legal technicality. Under current law, an out-of-state company does not need to collect local taxes unless it has a physical presence somewhere in the state. The upshot is that many Internet companies and mail-order retailers don't have to charge customers sales tax, giving them a distinct advantage. Many companies straddling the physical and virtual retail world tried to keep the businesses completely separate, which allowed them to offer tax-free merchandise on their Web sites. Allowing customers to return those online goods to a physical store would break down that wall. But customers still wanted to return merchandise at stores, without having to bother with the postal service. So when the deflating dot-com bubble put pressure on companies to try harder to keep customers, many retailers opened their stores to accepting returned merchandise bought online.

The Gap, one of the first to allow in-store returns, even allows customers to return items only available online to their physical stores. Where Are You - Not every e-commerce tool is designed to get buyers online and shopping. Some successful technology is aimed at getting them into stores. Combining geographical data with store location information can do more than provide the nearest addresses. By tapping into more detailed information, a gas station chain, for instance, can tell customers where to find a 24-hour branch with handicap access. The market for spatial information software grew 3.3 percent from 2000 to $1.47 billion in 2001, according to market research firm IDC. That business, which also includes geographic information systems used for facilities management and land information, is expected to grow 10 percent from 2001 to 2006. Anyone who doubts the effectiveness of such software need only ask Chuck Berger, chief executive of Vicinity, which sells location-based software to such large clients as Marriott, Pizza Hut and Shell. One of Vicinity's customers is a car manufacturer that uses the software to help shoppers find local dealers. One weekend, Berger said, the manufacturer, who asked not to be identified, had a technical problem with its Web site and was unable to provide the data. "They believe they lost $200,000 in sales that weekend due to the problem," he said.

From News.com, by Margaret Kane, 12 September 2002

Another Florida Election Quagmire

He gave a victory speech, thanked supporters and even began challenging the Republican opponent to a series of debates. But Bill McBride's bid for the Democratic nomination in the Florida gubernatorial race is far from over. Opponent Janet Reno has refused to concede and isn't ruling out a court challenge after questions arose about balloting in two big counties where she had expected to pick up more votes. McBride, a Tampa lawyer, held an 8,196-vote lead over the former Attorney General after unofficial results were certified Thursday. The certification came two days after a primary in which polling stations opened late and elections workers had a myriad of problems with new touchscreen voting machines that were brought in after the 2000 presidential election. McBride's razor-thin margin of victory exceeded half a percentage point, the trigger for an automatic machine recount. More than 1.3 million votes were cast. But problems have cropped up that could benefit Reno. Miami-Dade officials, for one, reviewed the vote totals from four precincts Thursday and found an additional 1,818 votes that had not been counted. The county did not say how many of those votes were for Reno, who won Miami-Dade by more than a 3-1 margin in Tuesday's primary and fell only 1,445 votes short of triggering the recount. Officials said the four precincts originally showed a total of 96 votes that had not been counted. Miami-Dade officials also were re-examining the count Thursday in 10 precincts that showed turnout was less than 10 percent. "We have experienced many questions about the electoral process. I think those questions must be answered," Reno said. According to the state, McBride had 601,008 votes, or 44.5 percent, to Reno's 592,812 votes, or 43.9 percent. State Sen. Daryl Jones of Miami had 156,358 votes, or 11.6 percent. The deadline for official certifications of the results is next week. McBride called Reno on the phone about an hour and a half before he went in front of television cameras to declare victory, telling her that he wanted to move forward with efforts to run against Republican Gov. Jeb Bush in the Nov. 5 general election.

During the victory speech, McBride urged unity and challenged Bush to a series of debates. "Let's get a flatbed truck, go from city to city," McBride said. "You talk, then I'll talk ... but you can't do it unless you're willing to shoot straight with people." Reno said she would not ask for a new election. But campaign attorney Alan Greer said Reno had not decided whether to seek a recount or go to court to challenge the results. Greer and Reno campaign manager Mo Elleithee specifically questioned Miami-Dade County's ballot count in 81 precincts, saying thousands of votes could have been affected on Reno's home turf. They also said there could be problems in nearby Broward County. Elleithee said the campaign has received hundreds of affidavits from voters alleging problems, and has e-mailed supporters statewide asking for more examples. Reno promised to support McBride if he turns out to be the nominee, and Greer said the campaign is trying to avoid doing anything that would hurt the Democratic effort to oust Bush this fall. But Robin Rorapaugh, McBride's campaign manager, said a court challenge by Reno could cost Democrats and be "horribly divisive" in the campaign against Bush. Florida had enacted new laws and spent $32 million to reform its election system, eliminating paper chads altogether and hoping to avoid other problems that held up the 2000 presidential election for seven weeks. Instead, hundreds of people complained they were turned away from the polls and many problems were reported in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, considered key by Reno's campaign. The election woes reminded many of the presidential contest, when George W. Bush's 537-vote victory was delayed as Al Gore demanded recounts and Democrats complained of uncounted punchcard ballots. Gov. Bush, the president's brother, blamed the latest problems on Democratic election chiefs. "More resources, more training, more equipment, more state dollars, two years to do this, and it appears there were flaws in the implementation. Sixty-five counties got it right," Bush said. But Elleithee pointed at Bush for the voting problems. "We wouldn't be in this mess today if Jeb Bush had learned the lessons from 2000 about how to run an election," he said. "There were problems all over the state." McBride, who once headed Florida's largest law firm, was a political unknown when the campaign began and he trailed Reno by more than 25 points two months ago. But he won endorsements from key Democratic leaders and seemed to benefit from GOP attack ads that helped boost his name recognition.

From CBS News-Politics, 13 September 2002

Homeland Defense Focus Shifts to Tech

Washington - Computer security is becoming an increasingly critical part of President Bush's proposal for a homeland defense department. When Bush formally proposed the department last month, he predicted that the future agency would aid in investigating Al Qaeda and thwarting disasters similar to those of Sept. 11. In the televised address, he never mentioned the Internet or so-called cybersecurity. But as Capitol Hill scrutinizes the proposal, politicians are fretting about tech-savvy terrorists--and insisting any new agency must shield the United States from electronic attacks as well. "If we don't make sure the Homeland Security Department is prepared in this area of cybersecurity, we have failed in our duty," House Energy and Commerce Chairman Billy Tauzin, R-La., said Tuesday. At Bush's urging, House Republicans have asked committees for any suggested changes to the White House-backed bill by the end of the week, and at least four committee votes are scheduled for Wednesday. On Thursday, a special panel chaired by House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, will hold its first meeting to work out a final version of the plan. Until this week, Congress has focused on how the proposal would combine 22 agencies, including the Secret Service, the Coast Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, into a massive Department of Homeland Security. Also included in the bill, and discussed at length in a pair of hearings Tuesday, are equally radical changes for the U.S. government's Internet defenses. The plan would glue together nearly all computer protection functions, from the Commerce Department's Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office to the Computer Security Division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology to the Federal Computer Incident Response Center. The complex reshuffling of bureaucracies, including twists such as the proposed department's half-acquisition of the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center, has prompted some politicians to ask for more time to examine the plan. Privacy groups also have raised concerns about database sharing and have suggested that the department be subject to traditional open-records laws. The House Science committee, for instance, plans to propose an amendment that would add an "Undersecretary for Science and Technology" to the department.

Currently there are five proposed undersecretaries, a deputy secretary and allowance for "not more than six assistant secretaries." From Washington's perspective, the concept of cybersecurity remains somewhat murky and marked by exaggeration. Last year, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency told Congress that Fidel Castro could be planning a "cyberattack" on the United States, and White House cybersecurity czar Richard Clarke has spent years predicting an "electronic Pearl Harbor." Tech's double-edged sword - Nearly everyone agrees that any electronic-defense plan should anticipate attacks against both government agencies and important systems owned by private companies. "In the information age, the same technological capabilities that have enabled us to succeed can now also be turned against us," John Tritak, the head of the Critical Infrastructure office, said Tuesday. "Powerful computing systems can be hijacked and used to launch attacks that can disrupt operations of critical services that support public safety and daily economic processes." President Clinton created Tritak's group by executive order in 1998. Since then, it's spent much of the time working with American businesses to beef up security. But Tuesday, some politicians questioned whether that approach is working - and whether new laws and regulations are needed to bring executives to heel. Such requirements could include everything from design standards for backup power supplies to security rules for Web servers. "Do you believe that efforts to regulate security across the private sector are warranted and are even likely to be effective?" asked Rep. James Greenwood, R-Pa., who chairs the Judiciary subcommittee. "I'd like to think we made some headway in reaching out to industry," Tritak replied. James McDonnell, the director of the Energy Department's security program, answered by saying he did not think new security laws were necessary, at least not yet. "If we go forward with our vulnerability assessments and find that industry (is) not using these or (is) not taking care of their assets, then maybe we need to revisit what regulations are required," McDonnell said.

Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., said he was tired of hearing excuses for poor performance by federal IT officials and wondered whether the massive proposed reorganization could exacerbate the situation. "None of the computers seem to be compatible in the federal government," Stupak said. "Every time we spend billions of dollars to upgrade a computer, it doesn't seem to work and we have to start all over again...Are we going to have another layer of computers that don't talk to each other while cybersecurity is endangered? "It seems like there's more of a turf war; we won't trust this person with this information, or it's our information and won't go further. I don't think it's all just computer-related problems or security-related problems but leadership problems." A report that congressional auditors published last year said that instead of becoming a highly sensitive nerve center that responds to computer intrusions, the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) had turned into a federal backwater that was surprisingly ineffective in pursing malicious hackers or devising a plan to protect electronic infrastructure. It highlighted the NIPC's turf wars and concluded: "This situation may be impeding the NIPC's ability to carry out its mission." David Sobel, general counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said Tuesday that the proposed department should not be completely immune to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act. Private companies have said they need such an exemption to be sure that sensitive information they provide not be disclosed. "Any claimed private sector reluctance to share important data with the government grows out of, at best, a misperception of current law," Sobel said. "Exemption proponents have not cited a single instance in which a federal agency has disclosed voluntarily submitted data against the express wishes of an industry submitter."

From News. Com, by Declan McCullagh , 18 September 2002

Mexico City Declares Air Pollution Emergency, Orders 350,000 Cars Off The Streets

Hundreds of thousands of cars were ordered off Mexico City streets Thursday as the city declared its first pollution alert in almost three years after ozone levels reached about 2½ times acceptable limits. The one-day driving ban may be extended if the smog does not dissipate. In the past, almost half of the city's estimated 3 million vehicles were ordered off the streets during such alerts. But many residents have bought newer, cleaner models that are allowed even during emergencies. Thursday's ban affected about 350,000 of the city's older-model vehicles. The last such emergency was declared in October 1999. Despite the urging of environmentalists, the city has not changed the level at which smog alerts are declared: 240 points on a scale in which 100 is considered acceptable. Environmentalists say the threshold should be lowered. While Mexico City has a reputation for smog problems, scientists now believe that several cities, mainly in Asia, have worse air quality on average.

From MSNBC, 19 September 2002

E-business Rollouts Continue Despite Tough Economy

Boston - Despite a general pall over the IT industry, some manufacturers are still rolling out enterprise resource planning (ERP), supply chain and other applications to create business efficiencies and cut costs. For some companies, the faith in e-business remains strong. "The bloom is off the rose of business-to-consumer [projects], but for business-to-business, it's as strong as ever," said Simon Ellis, supply chain futurist at Trumbull, Conn.-based Unilever Home and Personal Care, a division of London-based consumer product maker Unilever. Ellis was one of the speakers at the Collaborative Manufacturing and Supply Chain Strategies conference here yesterday. The event was sponsored by the Arc Advisory Group Inc., a consultancy based in Dedham, Mass. Ellis' division is currently adding SAP AG's order-to-cash application to its R/3 ERP system. The SAP software, which will replace an existing homegrown system that's becoming increasingly difficult to maintain, is expected to yield an increase in speed of order cycle times, he said. Other companies are also launching projects. The Boeing Co., for instance, is now at work on a proof-of-concept for a Web portal that will be able to connect suppliers directly to the company's manufacturing systems, speed up production cycle times and improve product quality. That's according to Gary Giles, manager of manufacturing systems and measurement technology for the Chicago-based airplane maker's manufacturing and research and development division. Boeing has been working on the project for the past two years, he said, and the portal -- most likely based on software from San Francisco-based Plumtree Software Inc. -- could become a companywide initiative. There's nothing now in place that would allow that kind of data sharing, he said. While manufacturers continue to ins - Frtall business-to-business software, they're more cautious than they once were. And the days of big bang rollouts are over, said John Moore, an analyst at Arc. "The vendors can't get away with selling vision anymore," Moore said. "They have to do a much better job testing products, partnering with users and making sure these things work. In the past, there was such demand the suppliers were pushing faulty products into the market." The downturn in IT spending is actually a change that customers can use to hold "vendors' feet to the fire" and make them accountable, said Moore. Looking to automate its retail operations, San Francisco-based ChevronTexaco Corp. is adding SAP's order-to-cash, business warehouse and MySAP portal applications to its existing North American R/3 financials backbone, according Sam Parino, CIO for the company's refining division. Currently, ChevronTexaco uses its own in-house order-to-cash systems. Simultaneously, it's in the middle of rolling out a global network, to be completed by the end of 2003, to enable partners to connect directly to these applications over the Web instead of using various legacy systems and interfaces. The company plans to go live with the order-to-cash system Jan. 1. ChevronTexaco also plans eventually to roll out other systems, including those for customer relationship management and supply chain management, Parino said.

From ComputerWorld, by MARC L. SONGINI, 20 September 2002

Postal Service Reduces Loss

Finances Improve for Postal Service, Which Is Likely to End Fiscal Year With Loss Less Than $1B - Finances are continuing to improve for the post office, which now appears likely to finish the fiscal year with a loss of less than $1 billion. That's down from a loss estimate of $1.2 billion just three weeks ago. Postmaster General John Potter told a meeting of major mailers in Boston on Monday that the agency continued to cut costs sharply in recent weeks while mail volume has risen. Besides a lower deficit this year the agency continues to expect to make a profit next year, he said. Postage rates went up in June and Potter has promised that there won't be another increase until at least 2004. He extended that Monday, promising no general rate increase until "well into 2004." "My expectations are high for us, for the nation's economy and for the entire mailing industry over the next couple of years," Potter said. The post office's fiscal year ended Sept. 6 but final accounting is continuing to compile exact figures for the massive operations. Earlier in the year the post office expected to lose $1.35 billion, and at times after the terrorist attacks and anthrax-by-mail contamination loss estimates threatened to reach several billion dollars. While Congress and President Bush have provided about $750 million to assist the post office in recovering from the anthrax and terrorist attacks, that money has been kept in a separate account for those purposes and is not included in the overall accounting for postal operations. The post office receives a small federal payment for handling mail for the blind and voters overseas but has not gotten a taxpayer subsidy for operations since 1982. On the Net: U.S. Postal Service: htto://www.usps.com

From ABC News-Politics, 23 September 2002

MIT at Work on Resilient Internet

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in collaboration with scientists from several other universities and organizations, are designing a new distributed, self-healing Internet infrastructure that they hope will be resistant to attack and failure. The project, known as IRIS (Infrastructure for Resilient Internet Systems), aims to take some of the properties of current distributed computing systems--such as redundancy and decentralization--and integrate them into a more secure, reliable architecture. The project will announce Wednesday that it has received a $12 million Information Technology Research grant from the National Science Foundation to fund its research. IRIS researchers say their ultimate goal is to implement a large-scale network of self-reliant nodes that needs no administrator and has no centralized controller, and therefore no single point of failure. Users will be able to store data anywhere on the network, and the data will then be replicated dozens, or even hundreds, of times on other nodes. Each copy of a file will be digitally signed to ensure integrity. "The assumption is that we'll make so many copies of it, it will be impossible to take it out," said Frans Kaashoek, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT in Cambridge, Mass., and one of the principal investigators on IRIS. "No one node will be more important than another node. If one fails, another can take over with just a little bit of coordination."

From eWeek, by Dennis Fisher, 25 September 2002

 

Japan's Central Bank Mulls Buying Plan

Japan's central bank said Wednesday that it is considering buying shares from the country's struggling banks as part of a radical plan to stabilize the financial system and help the banks get rid of massive debt from bad loans. The Bank of Japan governor, Masaru Hayami, said lenders would be able to sell their stock holdings directly to the central bank only in an emergency, and not through the market. The bank would buy them at market value, and hold the shares for about 10 years, he said. Hayami, speaking after the central bank's policy board left its monetary policy unchanged, said he would provide specifics soon. He acknowledged that the new steps could damage the central bank's balance sheet, but warned that unless banks reduce their shareholdings to free up cash they were unlikely to deal quickly with their massive loan problems. The government has said bad loans at the nation's banks swelled to 43 trillion yen ($352 billion) in March, from 36 trillion yen ($295 billion) six months earlier. Analysts say the figures are probably much higher. Japanese banks, among the biggest investors in the Tokyo stock market, have been selling stocks in recent years, but their losses have accumulated as the market has fallen. The central bank's resolve to bolster shaky lenders and help banks write off bad loans could quiet calls from lawmakers and Cabinet officials for more aggressive steps to invigorate the economy. "This could be the start of a new policy regime," said Ron Leven, a Lehman Brothers strategist in Tokyo. Critics worry, however, that the central bank may compromise its credibility if it appears to be caving to political pressure or trying to manipulate financial markets. Earlier, the bank's policy board decided to keep short-term interest rates near zero and continue providing funding to banks at virtually no cost. In return, commercial banks would still be required to maintain deposits of between 10 trillion yen ($82 billion) to 15 trillion yen ($123 billion) at the central bank, the board said. The central bank has held rates near zero for the past two years and made it easier for banks to secure funding. That policy, however, has so far failed to spark a sustained economic turnaround. In its monthly assessment for September, the Cabinet said Wednesday that Japan's economy faced increasing risks from declining stock prices and a worrisome U.S. economy, though it is still on a tentative road to recovery. Although Japan's downturn appears to have bottomed out and signs of better times have appeared, stocks are plumbing 19-year lows, unemployment is soaring and deflation continues to plague the economy. Deflation - a trend of continuing price declines - has cut into corporate profits, pushed home values lower and made it harder for banks to get rid of loans gone bad in the wake of the late 1980s bursting of the asset bubble. The Cabinet, however, said brighter spots that held over from last month were rising exports and production, albeit at a slightly slower pace. A contraction in capital spending by businesses also appears to be coming to a halt. Yet sluggish growth of the U.S. economy could quickly reverse the trends, it said.

From Nando Times-Business, by Kenji Hall, 18 September 2002

Hayami's Stock-Buying Plan May Prompt Bad Loan Action

Tokyo - Bank of Japan Governor Masaru Hayami's decision to help buy some of the more than $200 billion of stocks held by Japanese lenders may prompt regulators to act more quickly to clean up bad loans, investors and analysts said. Hayami's decision may signal banks are in worse shape than previously thought. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said disposing of banks' 52.4 trillion yen ($430 billion) of bad loans is the most important element of an economic package being prepared by the government. "The problem isn't that banks have equities on their balance sheets, the problem is that they have huge amount of non- performing loans," said Alexander Muromcew, who helps manage $600 million in global equities for Loomis Sayles & Co. in San Francisco. "Dealing with the equity issue is wonderful for the stock market sentiment, but doesn't solve fundamental problems of the banks." Minister for Financial Services Hakuo Yanagisawa and Financial Services Agency Commissioner Shokichi Takagi met yesterday to devise ways to speed the bad loan clean-up. They are "still considering what can be done," Yanagisawa said. "Many people have said writing off bad loans may exacerbate deflation, but reform of the financial system is the most important reform," Koizumi said today. Hayami's stock-buying plan is an about-face for an official who had said it's not the Bank of Japan's job to support banks. Hayami has said the government may have to directly bail out banks with public funds for the third time since 1998. Crisis Management - "With the decline in stocks, the disposal of bad loans has slowed down," Hayami said Sept. 5. "If banks continue to dispose of bad loans, we may reach a time when they don't have sufficient capital. If there are doubts about the financial system as a whole, Japan must consider measures, including the injection of public funds." The crisis at Japan's banks led the top seven lenders to post 4.07 trillion yen of losses in the year ended March 31. The banks had a similar amount of unrealized losses on the value of their shareholdings as of Sept. 3, when Japanese stocks reached a 19- year low, according to Daiwa Institute of Research. The central bank's stock-buying plan boosted bank shares, with the Topix Banks Index posting its biggest intraday gain since August 1999. Bonds - In addition to owing shares in other companies, banks also hold tens of trillions of yen of Japanese government bonds. Mizuho Holdings Inc., the world's biggest bank by assets, as of March 31 held about 11 trillion yen of bonds, mostly government debt. That's almost twice the 6.34 trillion yen of stocks it owned, according to the bank's earnings report. The BOJ move suggests the government "may inject public funds into the banking system to be paid for by bonds," said Akihiko Yokoyama, a fixed-income strategist at JP Morgan Securities Asia Ltd. Officials at Mizuho Holdings Inc., UFJ Holdings Inc. and Daiwa Bank Holdings Inc. declined to comment, saying the central bank has yet to iron out details of the share purchases. Bankruptcies - Bad loan totals are continuing to rise as an average of 54 Japanese companies a day have failed since January. A total of 25 publicly traded companies have collapsed this year, 11 more than the full-year record set in 2001. The crisis already prompted the government to water down a plan to cap the insurance it offers on bank deposits starting in April next year, on concern customers would flee riskier banks. The government has said some deposits may continue to enjoy unlimited guarantees, while reports have said Koizumi may delay imposing insurance caps on other bank deposits as part of his economic stimulus package. The central bank will probably buy stocks from Japan's largest banks and some regional lenders, and will purchase shares in the next year or two, Hayami said. It's "possible" the central bank will hold the shares for 10 years, he said. "The BOJ's move highlights how banks are in bad shape," said Naoko Nemoto, a director at Standard & Poor's in Tokyo. "It seems likely the BOJ considers the banking industry already in crisis." Shares of Mizuho rose as much as the daily limit of 40,000 yen, or 16 percent, to 290,000 yen in Tokyo. The 84-member Topix Banks Index gained as much as 10 percent, its biggest move since August 1999.

From Bloomberg-Politics, by Taizo Hirose, 19 September 2002

 

Hungary to End Foreign Investors' Tax Breaks to Smooth EU Entry

Budapest - Hungary will stop giving tax breaks to foreign companies that invest in production to resolve one of the last issues in membership talks with the European Union. Hungary's Socialist-led government, in office since May, plans to introduce a new incentive package that will bring the country into compliance with EU rules beginning Jan. 1, ending a stalemate over the bloc's competition rules, Economy Minister Istvan Csillag said in an interview. EU Competition Commissioner Mario Monti has called for Hungary to immediately end the tax breaks. Hungary had insisted on granting new exemptions until joining the 15-nation group, causing delays in membership talks. Ten mostly east European nations are trying to complete negotiations with the EU by December to qualify for membership in 2004. "The previous government's stance to put it off until the last possible date didn't prove successful," Csillag said. "We hope this may be the key to a compromise." Government aid programs such as tax breaks have helped Hungary attract about 24 billion euros ($23.8 billion) of foreign investment since the early 1990s from companies such as General Electric Co., International Business Machines Corp. and Audi AG, the luxury car unit of Volkswagen AG. Csillag said he expects Hungary to attract 3 billion euros of foreign investment annually within three years, double the amount the country has received in recent years. The new incentive package will permit some tax allowances that meet EU guidelines, such as for investment in less-developed regions or those given in exchange for employment commitments. Some Subsidies - It will also allow some direct subsidies, including financing for staff training. In addition, the government plans to buy land and lease it to investors at below market rates, Csillag said. The government will debate the new investment incentives today and expects to complete talks on competition policy this month. Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy is scheduled to meet Monti in Brussels on Sept. 16. Previously granted tax breaks that run until 2011 are still an issue. Hungary wants to preserve those allowances, Csillag said. The EU has said the country should withdraw them. "Hungary becoming a member of the EU is a serious interest, but so is the ability to keep investors and their acquired rights," Csillag said. Other countries aiming to join the EU in 2004 are Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Estonia, Cyprus, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia and Malta.

From Bloomberg-Politics, by Agnes Lovasz, 6 September 2002

Austria Tax Crisis Over: Haider

Far-right politician Joerg Haider says he has reached a deal in a tax dispute that has threatened the stability of Austria's coalition government. The 52-year-old had insisted the government, of which the Freedom Party is a junior coalition member, should hold to its pledge of cutting taxes in 2003. But the government of Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel argues the tax cuts should be delayed, saying the money is needed to help pay for the estimated six billion euros worth of damage caused in last month's floods that swept across the continent. The chancellor was backed by key figures in the Freedom Party, Susanne Riess-Passer and Karl-Heinz Grasser, who are currently serving as ministers in the coalition government. Haider told weekly magazine Format on Thursday an agreement has now been reached with Schuessel, leader of the conservative People's Party, The governor of Carinthia province also said he has withdrawn his support for a party conference on the issue and will be urging his party supporters to cancel the October 13 meeting. "The chancellor and I agreed to a new set of priorities," Haider was quoted by Reuters as saying. But Haider has not reportedly spoken to Riess-Passer. She told the Austrian broadcaster ORF that she knew nothing of Haider's secret agreement with Schuessel. Haider, who withdrew as leader of the Freedom Party in 2000 after 14 years in charge, still holds sway in the party's ranks and the row had threatened to undermine the current leadership. Haider, who in the past has praised the Third Reich's employment policy, had insisted on an extraordinary party conference to force the Freedom Party's ministers to vote in favour of the cuts. Riess-Passer, who is party chief and vice chancellor in the governing coalition, threatened to resign on Wednesday, if the tax reform conference took place. Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser, the party's most popular personality, said he would follow, arguing repeatedly that the tax cuts would not be possible next year.

From CNN-Europe, 5 September 2002

Czech Government May Splinter After Losing Tax Vote

Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla may break up his three-party coalition after an embarrassing defeat on Friday over tax increases to pay for damage caused by August's floods, a top official said. The defeat shows how tenuous Spidla's grip on the lower house is, and raises severe doubts whether his two-month-old coalition can serve out four years, or see out his country's EU application, expected to climax in membership in 2004. Milan Simonovsky, a vice-chairman in Spidla's leftist Social Democratic party, said Spidla had asked the centrist Christian Democrats to consider dropping the rightist Freedom Union, whose three members of parliament give the coalition a one-seat majority. ''I can confirm such an offer has been made,'' he said. The three parties have much common ground. But higher taxes proved anathema to one Freedom Union deputy, Hana Marvanova, who said she had been unable to go against a key election pledge. The package may now be amended to win Marvanova's support, but a dejected Spidla appeared to feel his coalition's integrity had been shattered, and said he was seeking another solution. It was not clear how much support a minority coalition would be able to count on from the Freedom Union's legislators. Leaders of the Social Democrats were scheduled to meet late on Friday. Christian Democrat leader Cyril Svoboda, the foreign minister, would not immediately comment on the idea of a minority government, but told reporters: ''The situation is serious...the cabinet could be reconstructed...It cannot live in uncertainty that its own deputies will not support it.'' The circumstances of the vote were unusual. The proposal was at first approved by 100 votes to 98, but one deputy said his vote had been improperly counted. In a re-run, the votes were 99-99, meaning the bill failed to pass. The tax hikes proposed by the government were expected to raise about 11 billion crowns ($361 million) over two years. August's cataclysmic floods killed at least 17 people in the Czech Republic, inundated large parts of historic Prague and caused an estimated $3 billion in damage. The proposal would have raised the top personal tax bracket to 35 percent from 32 percent as well as increasing value-added taxes (VAT) and taxes on alcohol and cigarettes. Marvanova said her objections were against increases in personal or consumer taxes. ''If there were only (higher) taxes on alcohol and cigarettes in the package I would have thought I could support the plan,'' she said. The government is now expected to propose a new package relying more heavily on alcohol and cigarettes.

From MSNBC, 13 September 2002

EU Criticized for Postponing Balanced-Budget Deadline

European countries that have balanced their budgets protested the European Commission's decision to let Germany, France and Italy run deficits for two more years, saying it may undermine the euro. Finance ministers and central bankers in the Netherlands, Finland and Austria said the delay of Europe's balanced-budget deadline to 2006, announced yesterday, may lead to higher inflation and prevent lower interest rates. "It's important that discipline in state finances doesn't slide," Antti Suvanto, the Finnish central bank's chief economist, said in an interview. At stake, he said, is the "credibility of fiscal policies." The relaxation of the deadline gives Europe's big economies more scope to lower taxes and increase spending to combat the slowdown in European economic growth to below 1 percent in 2002, the weakest pace since the 1993 recession. Business confidence in Germany declined for a fourth month in September as the recovery faltered, a survey of 7,000 executives by the Ifo institute showed today. Italian consumer confidence slumped this month. In France, consumer spending fell in August after unemployment rose to a 22-month high. France took immediate advantage of the leeway, with Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin set today to announce 4.1 billion euros ($4 billion) in tax cuts for 2003 and higher spending on police and defense, his aides said. Inflation Danger - Central bankers oppose the new interpretation of the EU's "stability pact," concerned that wider deficits will give a push to inflation that has been at or above the European Central Bank's 2 percent limit for 25 of the last 27 months. The ECB kept its benchmark rate at 3.25 percent for the 10th month last week. Inflation in the euro countries area rose to 2.1 percent in August. Easing the constraints would be ``damaging for the credibility of the currency union,'' ECB council member Klaus Liebscher of Austria told the Austrian Press Agency last night. European bonds slipped on concern that the loosening of the stability pact may stand in the way of lower interest rates. The yield on the Germany's two-year bond rose 2 basis points to 3.11 percent. The 10-year German yield was unchanged at 4.28 percent. Widening deficits haven't hurt the euro so far. The currency has risen 14 percent against the U.S. dollar since Jan. 30, when the commission first reprimanded Germany and Portugal for failing to plug budget holes. It was trading at 98.22 U.S. cents at 10:41 Brussels time. Risking Fines - Germany and France, which account for half the economy of the 12 euro nations, risk surpassing the limit on deficits of 3 percent of gross domestic product in 2002. Portugal might break the limit for the second year, the commission said. Governments that overstep the limit risk fines of up to 0.5 percent of GDP, though only after a vote of finance ministers. In Portugal's case, the maximum fine would be 675 million euros. Italy, which has the highest debt in the 15-nation European Union, at 108 percent of GDP, also plans tax cuts to spur the economy in 2003. Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti said last night that he "fully agrees" with the looser deadlines. Eight countries - Belgium, Greece, Spain, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria and Finland - will be in surplus or post deficits below 0.2 percent in 2002, the commission forecasts. Together, the eight make up 29 percent of the economy - about the size of Germany alone. "We are very unhappy with it and highly critical of it, because it creates the risk of a moving target," said Dutch Finance Ministry spokesman Stephan Schrover. The Netherlands may attempt to block the decision, he said.

From Bloomberg-Politics, by James G. Neuger, 25 September 2002

Spanish Lawmakers Debate 16 Percent Tax on Diapers

Madrid, Spain - Opposition lawmakers called on Spain's government Wednesday to stop taxing diapers at 16 percent, the same rate as cigarettes and alcohol. Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's conservative government used to tax feminine hygiene products at 16 percent, but recently agreed to lower the rate to 7 percent under pressure from the Socialist Party. Now the Socialists have set their sights on diapers, including those used by adults, proposing they should only be taxed at 4 percent. Socialist lawmaker Carmen Olmedo estimated the government takes in some $125 million a year from taxing diapers - a product she says is a necessity. ''What alternative is there?'' Olmedo said. ''It's ridiculous.'' Also supporting the tax cut is the Spanish Federation for Large Families. Federation President Jose Ramon Losana, who estimates his 12 children have gone through 84,000 diapers, says big families should be rewarded for stimulating the economy. ''When kids use diapers, they are generating gross domestic product,'' he said.

From MSNBC, 25 September 2002

 

Senate Panel Approves Tax on Wealthy Who Renounce Citizenship

Washington - The Senate Finance Committee voted to impose taxes on the assets of wealthy individuals who renounce their U.S. citizenship to avoid taxes. The move is expected to raise $656 million over the next decade. It would help to offset $1 billion in tax breaks for military personnel that the panel also approved. These include making military-related travel expenses tax deductible, exempting $6,000 death benefits and allowing capital gains on most home sales by military personnel to be tax-free. "These are modest, sensible changes," said Montana Democrat Max Baucus, the panel's chairman. "In the case of expatriates, the offset seems especially fitting." Congress is debating whether to restrict U.S. corporations which reincorporate in countries such as Bermuda that don't have a corporate income tax. The committee's move today was the latest in a series of bills stretching back a decade that target individuals who expatriate to duck U.S. taxes. Under current law, people who relinquish their U.S. citizenship for tax reasons must pay income taxes to the U.S. for the next 10 years after the expatriation. They are never permitted to enter the U.S. again. The bill would impose an exit tax on the market value of a wealthy person's assets if they renounce their citizenship. The measure defines "wealthy" as someone who had an annual tax liability of $100,000 for the five years prior to loss of citizenship or a net worth of more than $500,000. Most expatriates who meet these criteria renounce their citizenship to shield their assets from the federal estate tax of rates of up to 50 percent. That tax is being phased out over the next eight years, returning in 2011 unless Congress acts to make the reductions permanent. Democrats' Concern - Democrats are seeking a never-released study by the Joint Committee on Taxation on how effective U.S. tax laws are in preventing the wealthy from moving offshore to evade taxes. The committee says it is revising the study, which originally was requested in 1998 by then-Representative Bill Archer, a Texas Republican and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Representative Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, requested the study in March, saying heirs of individuals such as oil company founder J. Paul Getty, shipping magnate Jacob Stolt- Nielsen and Star-Kist Foods Inc. Chairman Joseph J. Bogdanovich used techniques such as delaying gains, monetizing assets without recognition of gains, and investing indirectly through derivatives to avoid current rules. Democrats recently questioned the return to the U.S. of Fred Alger, founder of Fred Alger Management Inc., which manages $13 billion in mutual funds and separate accounts for institutional investors. Alger gave up his citizenship to avoid paying U.S. taxes. He got a visa to return after more than half his staff, including his brother, died in last year's World Trade Center attack. He has said he'll pay U.S. income taxes. He remains a citizen of St. Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean. The House has approved the military tax breaks. Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Finance Committee, urged the Senate to pass the bill before adjourning in October or November.

From Bloomberg-Politics, by Ryan J. Donmoyer, 12 September 2002

Feds Indict Adelphia Founder, 4 Others

Adelphia Communications Corp. founder John J. Rigas, his sons and two other former executives were indicted Monday on charges that included conspiracy, securities fraud and wire fraud. The indictment, handed up in Manhattan federal court, named Rigas; his sons, Timothy and Michael; James R. Brown, former vice president of finance; and Michael C. Mulcahey, former director of internal reporting. Rigas founded the Pennsylvania-based company that became the nation's sixth biggest cable television company. Rigas and his sons were arrested at their Manhattan apartment on July 24. A criminal complaint charged them with fraud for allegedly hiding $2.3 billion in liabilities from investors. The Rigases, who have denied any wrongdoing, have been free on $10 million bail each, secured by cash, land and other property. Lawyers for the five former executives have denied that their clients have committed any wrongdoing. Adelphia filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection June 25. The Rigases stepped down from board seats and executive posts at the company in May. Rigas and his sons also have been named as defendants in more than 40 civil lawsuits, including one the company filed the day of their arrests. The Rigases resigned their executive positions with the company in May. Later that month, the family agreed to turn over $1 billion in assets to help cover loans, to turn over $567 million in cash flow from other cable companies the family owns, and to pledge all stock held by the family as collateral. Adelphia estimated it was liable for $3.1 billion in family debts.

From Nando Times-Business, by Devlin Barrett, 23 September 2002

Finance leaders upbeat on economy

Washington - Hundreds of protesters arrested as world's top finance ministers begin a weekend of meetings in D.C. - Global finance leaders sought to project an air of confidence Friday that the world economy can continue rebounding from last year's slump, even though stocks are sagging, crises persist in Latin America, and the threat of a U.S. war with Iraq looms. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, opening a meeting of finance ministers from Western Hemisphere nations in Washington, acknowledged that many countries had experienced economic troubles during the past year, but he said he believed the United States had "weathered the storms" by following sound policies to restore growth. "I believe that every country in our hemisphere, by following good policies, can create the conditions to weather the storms, keep productivity strong and raise economic growth to higher, sustainable levels," O'Neill told the group, gathered at the U.S. Treasury. But meanwhile, hundreds of demonstrators chained themselves together, bicycled through downtown streets and rallied at downtown parks, protesting against the Bush administration's environmental policies, the World Bank and "corporate greed." About 500 protesters were arrested and one was slightly injured. Most of those taken into custody were charged with blocking sidewalks or entrances and parading without a permit. In addition to a recession last year in the United States, a number of Latin American countries have been experiencing further economic turmoil this year. Argentina is struggling to escape from the worst recession in its history, while fears are growing that Brazil, South America's largest economy, might be forced to default on its debts. The finance ministers of both Brazil and Argentina attended the early morning session at Treasury, but neither spoke to reporters as the meeting was beginning. Argentine Finance Minister Roberto Lavagna has been particularly critical of the demands that the International Monetary Fund is making as a condition for extending critically needed new loans for his country. Sitting in front of bank of flags from the 34 democratic nations in the hemisphere, all but Cuba, O'Neill told reporters that the group had a "busy agenda" that would include a discussion of boosting productivity growth as a way of raising living standards throughout the hemisphere, the crackdown on terrorist financing, and ways to promote greater financial stability, the last issue a topic of concern given the financial market turmoil that has hit a number of other Latin American countries. Mexican Finance Minister Francisco Gil Diaz said he expected the discussions would produce "solid agreements to fight money laundering and enter in a path of a more effective coordination about our banking system." O'Neill's meeting with finance ministers from the Western Hemisphere was a prelude to discussions later Friday among the world's seven richest industrial countries, as well as the opening Saturday of the annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank. This year's meetings of the 184-nation lending institutions have been scaled back from the normal week of activities and social events to two days - Saturday and Sunday - to hold down security costs. The global economy has been trying to recover from last year's economic problems, including the first recession in the United States in a decade, the repercussions of the Sept. 11 attacks, and sharp stock market declines in a number of countries. IMF Managing Director Horst Koehler said he still believes economic recovery is on track even though his organization has scaled back its forecast for global economic growth. "Since the spring meetings, prospects for the global economy have clearly weakened amid considerable financial market volatility," Koehler said. "But it would not be productive now to dwell on undue pessimism. There are still good reasons to expect the recovery to continue in the period ahead." Asked if a U.S. war with Iraq could further destabilize the world economy, Koehler said, "We don't think this has an immediate impact on the recovery."

From CNNfn, 27 September 2002

 
 

India's Privatization Drive Stalls

India's Drive Toward Privatization Dealt Setback After Government Delays Sales - India's drive toward privatization has been dealt a setback after the government postponed the sale of stakes in two major oil companies, analysts said Monday. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee decided Saturday to delay the sales of the government's stakes in Hindustan Petroleum Corp. Ltd. and Bharat Petroleum Corp. Ltd. after defense minister George Fernandes opposed the sales. The sales were originally slated for this year, but the government has decided to delay them by three months. The government had expected to raise more than $1.2 billion from the sales. Analysts said they viewed the decision as a clear victory for anti-privatization factions in government. "It's certainly a setback (for privatization)," said Renu Kohli, professor at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations. Investors on India's stock markets were also dismayed by the decision, pushing the 30-share Sensex of the Bombay Stock Exchange down 51.64 points, or 1.6 percent, to 3,089.37 Monday. "The heavy selling in oil shares reflected the pessimism in the market over the delay of privatization of state-owned oil companies," said Nitin Jain, a Bombay-based dealer of IDBI Capital Market Services. Fernandes, who was previously a trade union leader, told reporters he opposed the sales because it would create a monopoly. He did not elaborate, but the India's only private oil firm Reliance Industries had shown interest in acquiring stakes in the state-owned oil firms. The government had hoped to raise $2.4 billion from privatization in the fiscal year ending March 2003. But privatization minister Arun Shourie said Saturday the target would not be met.

From ABC News-Business-Wire, 9 September 2002

 

Britain Backs New Mobile Phone Recycling Program

A British company launched a program Tuesday to recycle some of the 15 million mobile phones and phone accessories discarded here every year. The plan is part of an effort to keep phones from clogging landfills when owners upgrade to new models. A European Union directive makes phone producers and distributors responsible for taking back and recycling old handsets and accessories by 2004. "Over 15 million consumers upgrade their phones with accessories such as batteries and chargers each year, which equates to 1,500 tons of potentially hazardous landfill every year," said Gordon Shields, chief executive of Shields Environmental, which is running the program, dubbed Fonebak. Britain's five main mobile phone operators -- O2, Orange, T-Mobile, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone -- pledged to work with Shields, as did the Dixons Group, which includes the electronics chains Dixons, Currys, The Link and PC World. The government also said it would cooperate. "The fact that the mobile phone industry in the U.K. has worked together to develop Fonebak demonstrates a responsible commitment to the environment and sets the standard for the mobile phone industry the world over," said environment minister Michael Meacher. Shields will fund the program itself and expects to cover its costs from selling the used phone parts. It will also return some money to the phone service providers, which could give discounts on new handsets to customers who turn in their old ones. On the Net: http://www.fonebak.com/main.html.

From SiliconValley.com, 24 September 2002

 

In Foundering Argentina, Entrepreneurs Shift Gears

How four small-business owners have stayed afloat in Argentina's economic crisis - Braving icy temperatures on a Saturday morning, Carlos Arevalo strikes out in the predawn darkness across central Argentina's Sierras de Cordoba mountains in hopes of closing a deal. Mr. Arevalo has sold everything from books to cement and even cold cuts, crisscrossing the Argentina's back roads for over 30 years. Now he sells plumbing supplies. He has survived a fair share of recessions, but he hasn't seen anything like the current one. "Seven months ago, when there was money, there wasn't any problem," Arevalo says. "I could phone people and they would just have me put the product on the truck. Now you have to practically pull coins out of the people." Arevalo is one of a breed of small-business survivors. In the midst of the worst economic crisis in a century, Argentine enterpreneurs are finding ways - through sheer grit, ingenuity, and faith - to adapt and even prosper. To be sure, they're fighting a stiff current. Though the economy grew by 0.9 percent last quarter - the first increase in two years - unemployment is at 25 percent, the peso has fallen 70 percent since devaluation at the beginning of the year, and bankruptcies have soared. And on Monday, the government said it may not be able to meet its current obligations to international lenders, which could trigger another default and push the country into even deeper economic woes. But as in any tough period, those who succeed are undaunted by the pessimism around them. These days Arevalo is out on the road more, even on weekends. He logs some 2,000 miles each month, about twice as much as before the crisis. But his returns have shrunk decidedly. On this call to one of his most loyal customers, Alfredo Lopez, who owns a hardware store in Villa Delores, Arevalo's commission for the 12-hour day will be about $40, one-tenth of what it was less than a year ago. "Every night, I ask God for one more day. Anything else would be greedy," he says with a smile. Arevalo isn't the only member of his family trying to stay afloat. His sister, Carmen Nou, and her husband, Pablo, own a plumbing-supplies store in Cordoba, Argentina's second-largest city. They've had to adapt to meet the changing needs of Argentines in today's flagging economy. The biggest difficulty for the Nous is the lack of money in circulation. Since December, the government has limited bank withdrawals. The freeze, or corralito, caps withdrawals at just over $300 a month. With little cash on hand, most people are buying only the necessities. "Nobody is interested in buying a nice matching set to replace their old bidet, toilet, and sink," says Mr. Nou. "Instead they are repairing the problems in their bathrooms and kitchens and spending as little as possible." As a result, the Nous have changed their stock, focusing on spare parts for repairs. The Nous, who typically work six days a week, have been able to keep their doors open as countless other family businesses close. Despite the difficulty, Carmen Nou remains optimistic. She and her husband even hope to open a new store at the end of the year. While the Nous try to get by under the corralito, Belisario Rodriguez prospers from it. Mr. Rodriguez, a Buenos Aires attorney with over 20 years' experience, has found a new specialty: forcing banks to give customers their money back. Although the corralito restricts large withdrawals, the Supreme Court accepts appeals from customers who challenge the law's constitutionality. These appeals, known as amparos, are primarily reserved for the elderly and infirm, who may need more money for special circumstances, such as medical treatment. Since the restrictions began, more than 140,000 amparos have been awarded, ranging from a few thousand dollars to the millions. Rodriguez, who has filed three amparos, relies on his old clients and word of mouth. Having successfully argued each case, he is confident that more people will come knocking on his door. The process has become quite confrontational. On one occasion, Rodriguez threatened to call the fire department to break open the vault before the bank finally caved in and gave his client $40,000. "They didn't think I was serious until I pulled out my cellphone and dialed," he says. Rodriguez's cut is typically 10 to 15 percent of the award, depending on his relationship with the client. Although he still has other work, Rodriguez is happy to have found a new niche. "Amparos arrived like a gift," he says. But, it is unclear how much longer Rodriguez and other lawyers will be presenting these cases. Two weeks ago, a lower court ruled unanimously that some of the government's efforts to stabilize the economy, including the corralito, are unconstitutional. President Eduard Duhalde is appealing the decision to the country's Supreme Court. Even the smallest of small-business owners are changing to survive. Roberto Montes runs a kiosk in Floresta, one of Buenos Aires' many neighborhoods. For years he has sold packs of gum, soft drinks, and beer. When the crisis came last December, Mr. Montes saw a golden opportunity for his little shop. "Since I sell [drinks] and snacks at a lower price than bars and discos, people can still afford to stop by," says Montes. When he noticed that more customers were hanging around the shop, he decided to place a few tables on the sidewalk. Then he added a foosball table and his corner store was transformed into a local hot-spot. Across the city, ubiquitous kiosks are challenging bars and cafes for the ever-shrinking share of the entertainment market. While the discos are having a hard time attracting customers, kiosks are full every weekend. Some in Buenos Aires don't like the way their sidewalks have been transformed into the local watering hole. Mariana Alfaro who owns a bed and breakfast complains that "the customers at the kiosks don't respect the neighborhood and leave trash everywhere." She also adds that the kiosks don't have a license to sell alcohol for on-site consumption. While she doesn't file formal complaints, she hopes that the police start to crack down. Montes doesn't think that he is causing any problems, he looks at his business as a service to the neighborhood. "What are they going to do, close the only affordable bars in Buenos Aires down?" he asks.

From Christian Science Monitor-Americas, by Adam Raney, 25 September 2002