Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Slimmer, Better Airbus?

The other shoe finally is allowed to drop:

Troubled planemaker Airbus has announced it is to cut 10,000 jobs across Europe over the next four years.

France will be worst hit with 4,300 job losses. Germany will see 3,700 jobs go while the UK and
Spain will see 1,600 and 400 jobs cut respectively.

....Union officials, who were informed of the proposals earlier on Wednesday, expressed anger at the scale of the cuts.

"We totally oppose the closure of any site and we won't accept any firings," said European Metalworkers Federation head Peter Scherrer.

French workers earlier downed tools in protest at the firm's plans to review the future of two of its sites.

....German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she regretted the job losses but said the proposals ensured "a balanced distribution of risks and opportunities" across different sites.

In France, presidential candidate Segolene Royal said she would seek to freeze the job cuts if elected, but rival Nicolas Sarkozy said politicians should stay out of the company's affairs.

Dress for Success

Audrey Hepburn did not Golightly into that good night:

LAXMIKANTAPUR, India, Feb 28, 2007 (AFP) - French author Dominique Lapierre on Wednesday opened the first of 15 schools planned in India with money raised by auctioning an iconic dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffany's".

The sleek evening gown by Givenchy that Hepburn wore in her role as Holly Golightly in the popular Academy Award-winning 1961 movie was auctioned last year for 825,000 dollars.

....The co-author of "Freedom at Midnight" about the subcontinent's independence from Britain in 1947 with Larry Collins said he will build 14 more schools with the proceeds across West Bengal state, of which Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, is the capital.

....Lapierre said the Italian silk dress was given to him by its designer Hubert de Givenchy.
Lapierre shuttles frequently between France and India, and shares royalties from his books with the Kolkata charity, which helps the city's slum children.

"City of Joy", which sold over eight million copies, is the tale of a Roman Catholic priest in one of the world's worst slums in Kolkata that is ironically known as Anand Nagar, or the City of Joy.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

a votre sante

Buying votes in France:

Nicolas Sarkozy has indicated he might lift a ban on advertising wine on French TV and in cinemas if he wins April's presidential elections.

During a rally, the centre-right candidate said he supports advertising for "moderate wine consumption". Commercials were banned in 1991.

Competition and a fall in domestic sales have hit France's wine industry.

Mr Sarkozy is currently running neck-and-neck with Socialist rival Segolene Royal in the opinion polls.

....He also promised to protect French wine producers, vowing to bar from the market imported wines which fail to match the domestic wines' quality.

In the last few years, French wine producers have been challenged by imports of "New World" wines, mainly from Australia, United States and Chile, while younger people have started opting for alternative alcoholic beverages.

As Tolls Indiana...So Tolls NJ

If Democrat Jon Corzine gets his way:

New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine has made privatization of the New Jersey Turnpike the centerpiece of his budgetary strategy for the state - greatly raising the stakes in the debate over its wisdom. In his budget address Feb 22 the former investment banker said:

"Potentially, asset monetization (the NJ term for privatization via sale or longterm leasing) could reset the state's finances by dramatically reducing our debt burden, and consequently reducing debt service. Monetization could free up as much as a billion dollars or more in every year's budget - long into the future... Asset monetization gives us the potential to reduce our crushing debt burden - and meet New Jersey's long-term capital needs in a way no other alternative provides."

He listed the Turnpike first among various state assets being considered.

We look forward to Angry Bear posts decrying the corruption afoot in New Jersey.

Stop the Presses

There's corruption in the illegal drug business!

The British-backed campaign to eradicate opium poppy growing in Afghanistan has fallen behind schedule and is threatened by corruption, The Daily Telegraph has learned.

The operation was designed by the British to end record levels of cultivation in the southern province of Helmand.

A 500-man Afghan police force backed by American private security contractors and two helicopter gunships began work in the drug heartlands two weeks ago aiming to destroy 22,000 hectares before April's harvest. In two weeks, only 1,200 have been ploughed.

A policeman provided a detailed account of systematic corruption within the force. "The only people [whose crops are] being eradicated are those without money or connections," said the man, who cannot be named for his own safety. "On the eradication force, this is being called 'the season to make money'."

Powerful local landowners were bribing officials at a rate of about £500 per hectare. A hectare produces about £3,500 worth of opium.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Speaking Truth to the Clueless

The Raw Story ventures to the belly of the beast who is the #1 name in Plameology, Tom Maguire:

BB: If you had to characterize the evolution of all of this in a few sentences, what would your narrative look like?

TM: Wilson lied, Libby was tried!

In response to a question about the left’s ‘Ahabism’ in pursuit of the Great White Republican:

BB: What about the buildup to the outting? Do you buy the account--in Marcy Wheeler's book for instance--about the cooked Niger history? How would you tell that part of the story.

TM: Let's just say that Ms. Wheeler and others of my friends on the left have developed some fascinating theories of varying degrees of plausibility, as have I. However, when I encounter a five thousand word post titled "The Niger Forgeries, Part 8", my eyes glaze over and my knees buckle. Call it a character flaw. Can I wait for the movie?

Strange Brew

Not an oxymoron; 20 year old Islamic Malt Whiskey:

The Islamic republic of Pakistan has won the distinction of producing the Muslim world's first 20-year-old malt whisky.

The Murree Brewery in Rawalpindi, founded in 1860 to make ale and spirits for soldiers during the British Raj, is the only producer of whisky and beer in a constitutionally Muslim country.

Despite a torrid history in which it has been burnt down by Muslim protesters and temporarily shut down in an Islamist purge, the Murree brewery has survived against the odds and has previously produced celebrated eight and 12-year-old single malts.

"Few distilleries in the world, even the high-end ones in Scotland, produce 20-year-old malts," said Minnoo Bhandara, the Parsee businessman whose family has run the brewery since the creation of Pakistan at the partition of British India in 1947.

....the brewery has officially been catering for the three per cent of Pakistan's population that comprises of the non-Muslim communities of Christians, Hindus and those of Mr Bhandara's Zoroastrian faith.

However, the ingenuity of thirsty Pakistanis means that rather a lot of the 660,000 gallons of beer that Murree produces every year and the 110,000 gallons of whisky that is stored in its cellars reaches a Muslim clientele.

"I think 99 per cent of my customers are Muslim," said Mr Bhandara, who is an Oxford-educated MP.

The official punishment sanctioned by the Koran of 80 lashes with an oil-soaked whip has never been applied.



Apres le deluge

Comes the revolution to bring the French wine industry into the 21st century:

French winemakers are beginning to claw back their dominance of the global wine market after years of problems in responding to innovation from the New World.

A series of reforms in the way wine is produced in France, which include labelling wines by grape variety as well as by region, appear to have boosted the beleagured industry.

....

According to a study by the American agency Delaitte and Cie/Deussen, foreigners believe French wine labelling is "incredibly complicated" and contains names that are "impossible to pronounce."

Advertising campaigns remain "all over the place" and appear "inconsistent," according to the industry.

"We are considered, as much in the United States as in the United Kingdom or Japan, as an old country with a product that is too expensive, snobbish, elitist," Affre said.

For which they can thank the French government's absurd regulation, and from which they still won't be free:

Under the French government's plans to shake-up the wine industry, new "wine producing areas" were set up bringing together mid-range wines and wines designated under the formal Appellations d'Origine Controlee (AOC) system, to improve the way regional products were marketed.

....At the same time, reforms to the AOC system, which imposes restrictions on grape varieties and wine-making methods for designated wines, should result in stricter controls.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Life continues to imitate economics textbook

Supply curves slope up, and there's gold in them thar corn fields:

CIUDAD SERDAN, Mexico - Rogelio Zacaula plucks an ear of corn from his field with the pride of a prospector unearthing the gold that legend says is buried in the slopes surrounding the nearby Orizaba volcano.

International corn prices driven by the burgeoning U.S. ethanol industry have soared to their highest in a decade, making farmers like Zacaula feel like they just won the jackpot.

"I have never seen prices like this," said Zacaula, 66, who has been growing corn since he was 10. "We suffered for so many years, years in which no one even wanted to buy our crop - until now."

Corn had languished around $2 a bushel for years before the ethanol boom caused prices to soar, reaching $4.04 a bushel this week. Corn prices should reach new highs over the next five years, according to Keith Collins, chief economist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

....Collins predicts U.S. farmers will need to plant 90 million acres of corn by 2010 - nearly 10 million more than now - to meet demand of the rapidly growing U.S. ethanol industry. And that means world markets will need to turn to corn-producing regions such as Latin America to fill the gap if U.S. exports drop.

Latin America's corn farmers are gearing up for such a possibility, snatching up land and blanketing their fields with corn after decades of struggling to compete against cheap, U.S.-subsidized imports. They hope to sell more domestically, and maybe even export more corn.

What Brown can do for you

Cancel their orders if you don't get your act together:

United Parcel Service (UPS) has signed a new agreement with Airbus that changes the delivery dates for the ten A380 aircraft it has ordered.

The new agreement allows UPS to cancel its order if there are any more delays.

A withdrawal by UPS could be the last straw for the freight version of the superjumbo after the only other customer, FedEx, pulled out last year.

UPS expected its planes between 2009 and 2012 but was told the first one would be at least eight months late.

....Electrical wiring problems have plagued the A380, which is about two years behind schedule.

What Troopers

No slackers, those Belgians:

According to the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions 15 percent of the Belgian working population will retire in the next 10 years and half of the working population is willing to work until the age of 60.

The foundation published the results of its fourth study into the working conditions of Europeans and revealed that 52.3 percent of Belgians feel capable of working the same job until the age of 60.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

When NBA All-Stars Had Class

The Mr. October of basketball passes away at age 52:

Dennis Johnson, a three-time NBA champion as a member of the Seattle Supersonics and Boston Celtics and the head coach of the D-League's Austin Toros, passed away today from a heart attack. He was 52 years old.

....Johnson was named to five All-Star teams and nine straight All-Defensive Teams. He was a member of three NBA championship squads, and his postseason heroics earned him a reputation as a money player. He was imbued with a contagious competitiveness. "I'm a winner," he once said. "I put my heart into the game. I hate to lose. I accept it when it comes, but I still hate it. That's the way I am."

....Johnson retired at age 35 after the 1989-90 season as the 11th player in NBA history to amass more than 15,000 points and 5,000 assists. In Sports Illustrated, teammate [Larry] Bird, who was not known for lightly tossing around compliments, called Johnson "the best I've ever played with."

Hoodlumorama

The NBA's all too obvious problem exposed in Las Vegas:

An event planned to showcase what is right about professional basketball has been turned into a 72-hour display of why commissioner David Stern can't sleep at night and spends his days thinking of rules to mask what the NBA has come to represent.

Good luck fixing All-Star Weekend.

The game is a sloppy, boring, half-hearted mess. The dunk contest is contrived and pointless. The celebrity contest is unintended comedy. And, worst of all, All-Star Weekend revelers have transformed the league's midseason exhibition into the new millennium Freaknik, an out-of-control street party that features gunplay, violence, non-stop weed smoke and general mayhem.

....there were multiple brawls, at least two shootings, more than 350 arrests and a lot of terror in Vegas over the weekend.

....David Stern seriously needs to consider moving the event out of the country for the next couple of years in hopes that young, hip-hop hoodlums would find another event to terrorize. Taking the game to Canada won't do it. The game needs to be moved overseas, someplace where the Bloods and Crips and hookers and hoes can't get to it without a passport and plane ticket.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Make 'em laugh

Or else...in Columbia:

Two circus clowns have been shot dead during a performance in the eastern Colombian city of Cucuta, police say.

The attacker jumped into the arena and fired before fleeing, police chief Jose Humberto Henao told Efe news agency.

Local reports say the audience of about 20 people, mostly children, thought the shooting was part of the show before realising both men had been killed.

Last year, a prominent circus clown, known as Pepe, was also shot dead by a unknown assailant in Cucuta.

Only a failed human being...


...would use his position in the Justice Department to advance a nakedly political agenda, and attempt to send a man to jail in the process. And Byron York sees Patrick Fitzgerald for what he is:
It’s a commonplace observation of the legal system that a trial, whatever the lofty rhetoric of judges and lawyers, is not necessarily a search for truth. If anyone needed any more proof of that, it was on bold display Tuesday at the Libby trial.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Samba Samba Samba

It's that time, in Rio:

Thousands of dancers, singers and musicians have begun to party at the annual Rio de Janeiro carnival bash.

....At the city's Sambadrome, five thousand dancers from the top 13 samba schools in the city were in party mood.

....One of the first huge floats in the carnival carried a 'Statue of Liberty' made from 800,000 pieces of chewing gum.

Another had a group of women wearing collars of golden feathers, and little else.

And one dancer sported a bizarre video screen across her midriff showing a film tribute to Albert Einstein.

Authorities in Rio expect nearly 700,000 tourists to attend this year's festivities, with one third coming from abroad.

What to do...What to do

The politicians' prerogative; delay today that which can be put off til the morrow:

PARIS, Feb 20, 2007 (AFP) - Strains between France and Germany over a rescue plan for Airbus hardened on Tuesday when Germany deflected French suggestions that a top-level meeting on Friday could decide where cuts will fall.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Airbus restructuring would cost 10,000 jobs and the cuts would be discussed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Jacques Chirac at a meeting on Friday.

But a German government spokesman said that details of cuts and closures were "speculation" and that the talks would not turn into "an Airbus summit".

Meanwhile strong concern was expressed on both sides of the border about the dangers of political interference in how restructuring at aircraft maker Airbus, expected to involve the loss of 10,000 jobs, should be applied.

Unemployment and job protection is a hot subject in campaigning in France ahead of a presidential election in April.

....The French newspaper Le Monde said on Tuesday that disagreements between the two countries were, if anything, worsening, under a headline: "Airbus paralysed by egoism in Paris and Berlin."

The rescue plan, arising from problems in the A380 superjumbo airliner programme, has already been in suspended animation for four months over wrangling between German and French interests over where cuts will fall.

On Monday, the company suddenly delayed an announcement due on Tuesday on how the plan would work, citing conflicting national interests, leading Airbus to say the plan was urgently needed.

Airbus chief executive Louis Gallois stressed that Airbus "cannot delay any longer" over the plan to save 5.0 billion euros (6.6 billion dollars) by 2010 and 2.0 billion euros per year thereafter.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Deathcreation

One stop shopping for weddings and funerals in Indonesia, courtesy of the Lippo Group:

Here on the outskirts of Jakarta, an Indonesian developer is taking a very American idea in real estate -- the exclusive, upscale cemetery -- and adding a twist: a country club, complete with swimming pools, a boating lake and a big Italian restaurant.

San Diego Hills, which is based on the renowned Forest Lawn cemetery in Glendale, Calif., is billed by its developers, Indonesia's Lippo Group, as the world's first cemetery with recreational facilities.

....The Lippo Group, run by 77-year-old banking tycoon Mochtar Riady, saw Indonesia's middle class balking at putting loved ones to rest in overcrowded government-managed cemeteries, and sensed a business opportunity.

....The inspiration for Indonesia's first memorial park came from Mr. Riady's son, James, a U.S.-educated pal of the Clinton administration, who paid the largest political fine in American history in 2001 for illegally reimbursing campaign contributions to the Democratic Party.

.... James Riady hit on the idea of expanding to include recreational facilities.....

In the U.S., some cemeteries offer flower shops, cafes and areas for children to play. Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where old-time stars including Jayne Mansfield and Rudolph Valentino are buried, has developed touch screens telling the life stories of people interred on the grounds.

The Lippo Group decided to take San Diego Hills further. There's "Lake Angeles" for boating, swimming pools and a basketball court, in addition to an Italianate convention center and boutiques. There are plans to open a 200-seat luxury Italian restaurant (among the proposed names: Monte di Dio, or God's Mountain).

The chapel will conduct wedding ceremonies as well as funeral services. Eager to attract Islamic clients (Indonesia is 90% Muslim), Lippo has also built an imposing mosque on the site.

Two billion here...

...or 30 billion there, says Governor Rendell:

Pennsylvania's official request for expressions of interest in a concession on the Turnpike just asked for qualifications and expertise. It didn't ask for even ballpark figures on what they'd pay.
That was the official process being administered by the secretary of transportation Alan Biehler and the state DOT.

But, an official tells us, Governor Rendell wanted $#s and he and leading officials have met informally with a bunch of interested companies. Before those meetings Rendell said that a concession was worth between $2b and $30b. Quite a range! After the meetings he honed his estimate down to $10b to $12b, though he added that $16b was the high number he'd got.

But now, the Governor seems to be leaning toward an annual revenue scheme:

Governor Edward Rendell in a forceful speech Feb 9 in Washington DC said he is determined on privatizing the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

....Rendell said he believes a toll concession of the Pennsylvania Turnpike will produce about a billion dollars a year.

(By contrast the Turnpike as a state toll authority produced only a quarter of this in a current surplus of $247m with revenues of $612m offset by cost of operations of $365m. Depreciation of $215m and debt service expenses of $128m mean that the Turnpike presently earns no significant return at all on capital for the state. Annual report for FY2006. TRnews)

In order to get an equivalent cash flow to the concession's billion a year from motor fuels taxes (gasoline plus diesel) the state would have to raise tax rates by 12.5c/gallon, Rendell said. This was unthinkable because it would make the state the highest taxing in the country.

Wants annual income flow from concession

The Governor said he proposes to structure a concession contract so that it yields income for the state on an annual basis rather than providing it all in one upfront concession fee.

White House supports tolls

The meeting was opened by Karl Zinsmeister, White House chief of staff for domestic policy, who talked about the vital importance to the country of improved mobility and how congestion on the roads is as intolerable as electricity blackouts. Zinsmeister said better technology, and better policy were needed to reduce congestion. He said pricing and tolls were central to any congestion fix and that the country had to be open to world capital markets as part of the fix.

Parent Trap

They don't ask, 'Who's your daddy?' at Spanish pageants, only 'Who's the mommy?':

MADRID - A beauty pageant which disqualified the winner because she has a child has caused a national political row.

Angela Bustillo won the Miss Cantabria beauty contest, but later lost her crown after it was revealed she was the mother of a young child.

Bustillo is to appeal against the decision and intends to sue the organisers.

She claims male contestants for the Mr Cantabria contest, who had children, suffered no such "discrimination".

She gained an important ally on Monday in the form of Soledad Murillo, the minister for political equality, who appealed for the organisers to reverse the decision.

Murillo said the government considered the company which organised the tournament, Propulsora MontaƱesa S.A., were guilty of a "clear case of discrimination and no private company is exempt".

Friday, February 16, 2007

No laughing matter

For Dutch comedians:

AMSTERDAM — Actor and stand-up comedian Hans Teeuwen has launched a solidarity campaign to support his colleague Ewout Jansen, who has been receiving death threats from Muslim extremists because of his jokes, De Volkskrant writes.

Teeuwen says he finds it difficult to unite all fellow-comedians as one force, for many seem to be afraid to speak out for the "freedom of humour". Every comedian's agenda tells you the exact time and place where he is going to perform. One or two phone calls with threats and he cannot perform at ease any more, Teeuwen explains.

....Ewout [is]...calling upon all Dutch comedians to join in filing collective charges against a member of the Amsterdam As Soenna Mosque named Kabli and the mosque's current leadership.

At the end of January, Kabli told student magazine Folia that it was supposedly every Muslim's task to fight back if jokes were made about Islam. Such jokes are called haram (reprehensible). If a comedian, despite having been warned, continues with his jokes, he must be punished or even killed, Kabli said in the interview.

Psst. Don't let this get around, but...

I'm voting for Sarkozy:

PARIS, Feb 16, 2007 (AFP) - The rarefied world of France's intellectual elite is in ferment after several well-known philosophers publicly deserted the Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal -- one saying he is "aghast at the state of the left".

Traditionally hostile to the political right, the Latin Quarter salon set has been at daggers drawn since one of its leading members -- former Maoist Andre Glucksmann -- wrote an article two weeks ago in Le Monde newspaper entitled "Why I choose Nicolas Sarkozy".

Glucksmann, who in the 1970s was co-founder of the influential New Philosophy movement, said that the right-wing interior minister and favourite in the April-May election alone represents France's tradition of anti-totalitarian humanism.

....Alain Finkielkraut, who teaches at the elite Ecole Polytechnique and has a radio show on the highbrow France-Culture radio station, said he felt solidarity with Glucksmann "in the face of the hatred that his support for Sarkozy has excited" and described Royal as "manifestly incompetent."

"I am aghast by the current state of the left. I can only observe that the Socialist party is in a coma," Finkielkraut said, and he described a PS tract which depicted Sarkozy as an "American neoconservative with a French passport" as a "slip into fascism".

Pascal Bruckner, another "New Philosopher" and author of the recent book "Must one be ashamed of being French?", said he had initially liked Royal but was put off when her partner, PS leader Francois Hollande, said that "I do not like the rich".

"I do not like the hypocrisy of Socialists who got rich under (late president Francois) Mitterrand," he said.

Go Ahead, Make My Day

At least it's a step up from Jerry Lewis:

PARIS, Feb 15, 2007 (AFP) - Veteran US actor and director Clint Eastwood is to be awarded France's highest distinction, the Legion of Honour, in Paris on Saturday, the French presidency said. President Jacques Chirac will chair the ceremony at the Elysee palace at 1030 GMT.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Soy el gobierno

...of Venezuela, and I'm here to feed you:

CARACAS (AP) - President Hugo Chavez threatened to nationalize any privately owned supermarkets and food storage facilities caught hoarding inventories or violating price controls imposed on basic goods.

Accusing private companies of hoarding foods such as beef, Chavez on Wednesday warned supermarket owners and distributors that he would nationalize their facilities as soon as they gave him "an excuse'' to seize such assets.

"If they remain committed to violating the interests of the people, the constitution, the laws, I'm going to take the food storage units, corner stores, supermarkets and nationalize them,'' Chavez said during a televised broadcast.

"So prepare yourselves!''

There is much ruin in a nation.

You Are So Beautiful

Globalization means more women's faces to paint for the cosmetics industry:

Cosmetics giant L'Oreal reported on Thursday a 4.5-percent rise in net profit to 2.061 billion euros, continuing 22 years of rising profits, and said it saw great scope for growth in emerging economies.

Chief executive Jean-Paul Agon said that emerging countries offered "a historic opportunity for strong and lasting growth."

Presenting the results, he said: "Globalisation and the expansion (of emerging markets) is going to keep us busy for the next 20 years."

Seventy million people across the globe have now reached an income level that allows them to purchase cosmetic products, he added.

"Sixty percent of the growth for the global cosmetics market is coming from developing countries," mainly Brazil, India and China, Agon said.

A Nation of Smokebeaters

George Orwell's tragic nightmare becomes farcical reality:

Thousands of council officers will be on the streets this summer, patrolling bars, restaurants and shops to police the smoking ban when it comes into force.

....Councils have been granted £29.5 million to pay for staff, who will be able to issue £50 fines to people and take court action against premises if they flout the law, which comes into force in July.

Officers will be able to sit among drinkers undercover and photograph and film people.

A Government-funded course is expected to train 1,200 council employees in the next few months, followed by more later.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I'm an Old Cowhand (Who thinks governments are people too)

Judge Reggie Walton presiding over the Scooter Libby trial has a novel interpretation of the Sixth Amendment (as interpreted by Firedoglake):

If that's what SCOTUS is going to require, we're going to say govt isn't entitled to fair trial,but defense is. If I get reversed on that one, maybe I need to hang up my spurs.

Perhaps if Patrick Fitzgerald could be sent to prison if he loses, that might make sense. However, Amendment VI actually reads:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

'the accused shall enjoy the right', not the government. We suspect SCOTUS will require that on Appeal.

A girl can change her mind can't she?

Segolene du Gaffe brings new meaning the the word 'amateur':

PARIS, Feb 14, 2007 (AFP) - France's Segolene Royal stood accused of a fresh campaign blunder Wednesday after one of her top advisers disowned a text in which she harshly attacks President Jacques Chirac's Africa policy.

In a letter to appear in a French Catholic magazine Thursday, the Socialist candidate accuses Chirac of harming France's image in Africa by nurturing "personal friendships" with the leaders of its "most questionable regimes".

The text's publication coincides with the start of an Africa-France summit in southern France, set to be Chirac's swansong on the international stage.

Royal's cabinet director Christophe Chantepy told AFP late Tuesday that it "was sent out due to a technical error" and had "absolutely not been validated in its present form by Ms Royal".
Chantepy insisted Royal "has consistently refrained from making personal attacks throughout this campaign".

But Wednesday morning, after the magazine carrying the article had gone to press, the Socialist Party issued a statement endorsing Royal's attacks on Chirac, in exactly the same terms.

....The apparent confusion in the Socialist ranks drew an immediate attack from supporters of Royal's right-wing rival, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Dominique Paille, a deputy for Sarkozy's UMP party, said the mix-up provided "yet more patent proof of her amateurism", calling it "one more thing to add to the list of the Socialist candidate's gaffes".

World Class Metaphor Alert

Recognition goes to George Washington University professor Mark Feldstein for:

[Q] And the press itself, in its handling of the Valerie Plame story, there seemed to be this typical, almost pack mentality once the story broke, that the White House looked like they had leaked classified information. ... Did the press really get lost in the middle of this?


[A] Yeah. I think the press was rather misguided in the way they covered this. You know, the press sometimes are like a bunch of sparrows, and when one flies off the telephone line, then all the rest follow in a pack.


Though officially, it's a host of sparrows.

Her Funny Valentine


Now that the Scooter Libby trial is about to reach its denouement, the Fly Under the Bridge Academy's subcommittee on L'affaire Niger notes that it is just past the fifth anniversary of that fateful day, February 12, 2002, when CIA superspy 00Plame launched her husband Joe's media career. Catapulting both of them to fortune and fame.


Unfortunately for the story that Ambassador Wilson was peddling to anyone who would listen in Washington DC in the Spring of 2003, the supposed impetus for the trip--a briefing of the Vice President on reports of Iraq's purchasing uranium in Africa--didn't take place until the next day.


The denizens of Just One Minute have known of this problematic timeline for somewhile--thanks to frequent commenter Cecil Turner--and now it has finally come to the attention of National Review's Byron York too:


If the timing spelled out in the new document is accurate — if Wilson had already been picked for the task by February 14 — the new evidence sheds a different light on the version of events given by Wilson himself in his book The Politics of Truth. In that, Wilson wrote about a meeting with CIA officials — a meeting that took place on February 19, 2002 — at which “I was asked if I would be willing to travel to Niger to check out the report in question.” Perhaps Wilson was indeed asked to go to Niger at that meeting, but the newly-released CIA document suggests the agency settled on Wilson several days earlier.


But, we wouldn't have Joe Wilson, change one hair for us. This Valentine's Day.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Flamethrowers at 30 Paces?

Diplomacy Italian-Croatian Style:

Croatia and Slovenia were stunned by a weekend speech by Italy's president, Giorgio Napoletano, devoted to the suffering of Italians in former Yugoslavia towards the end of the second world war.

Describing the pogroms of Italians by Yugoslav communist partisans as "the barbarism of the century", "ethnic cleansing" and a campaign of annexation of Italian territory fuelled by "Slav bloodthirsty hatred and rage", Mr Napoletano stirred a storm of controversy and appeared to raise questions about Croatia's bid to join the European Union.

Mr Prodi and his foreign minister, Massimo D'Alema waded into the row yesterday, with Italian officials implying that while Italy had faced up to its fascist past, Croatia had yet to do so.

"We don't need any lessons in fascism from Italy," quipped a Croatian politician after Mr Mesic said the Italian statesman's speech smacked of "open racism, historical revisionism, and political revanchism".

The dispute has to do with the pogroms and population shifts enforced at the end of the second world war all across central Europe, but it also touches on sensitive current property claims and compensation demands.

....Observers were surprised by the strength of the language used by both sides, since both presidents are former communists with roots in the wartime partisan movements who fought guerrilla wars was against the fascists.

....Italian officials have made it clear that Croatia could run into problems with its EU bid unless it is more accommodating towards Italy. Zagreb fears it may face demands either to return or sell property in what are now much coveted holiday hotspots in Dalmatia and Istria.

Piketty and Saez, call your office...

...'cause if you want to study inequality, there's been a laboratory experiment going on for nearly half a century just south of Florida:

"Fidel has starved us," he whispered. "Yes, there is a lack of food but it is more than that. We are starving for information, for opportunity, for freedom. We want to enjoy the same things as those people over there," he said as a fresh batch of tourists spilled out of the doors of a tour bus.

Cubans struggle to survive on an average wage of less than £10 a month to supplement the state rations which provide them with basics such as rice and beans and either one small bar of soap or tube of toothpaste a month.

Visiting foreigners can spend almost double that on a taxi ride to the airport or a meal in one of Old Havana's state-run restaurants.

"It sticks in the throat," says Oscar Espinosa, an independent economist and dissident who was jailed in 2003 for criticising the regime's economic strategy and is now confined to his home on conditional release.

"Such obvious inequality in a country where for decades the people have laboured in the mistaken belief that they are creating a classless society. The truth is we have created a paradise for tourists and those that live off them, but for the rest of us, daily life gets worse," he said

Cuba's society has been split into those with access to the CUC, the convertible currency used by tourists and sent in remittances from those abroad, and the majority of the population who must rely solely on their salary paid in Cuban pesos.

Castro introduced the dual currency in the 1990s as a means of the boosting the economy after the collapse of the Soviet Union when Cuba threw open its doors to foreign tourists. Last year almost 2.5 million foreign travellers, mainly from Canada, Britain, Italy, Spain and Mexico, visited the Caribbean island.

The changes are credited with keeping the economy afloat but also created a vast and troublesome gap between the population of 11 million dividing those who have the convertible currency and those who don't.

"You can't buy anything with Cuban pesos," said Mr Espinosa. "Anything worth buying – soap, cooking oil, shoes – must all be purchased in convertibles.

"We are in a situation where a bell hop or a chambermaid can earn many times the salary of a doctor or civil engineer. What incentive is there now to train to be such a thing?"

Monday, February 12, 2007

Back to the Future

In France, if the Socialists get their way:

France's socialist champion Segolene Royal launched her presidential manifesto Sunday, promising a generous package of welfare measures aimed at the most vulnerable in society.

In a speech before 15,000 Socialist Party (PS) delegates, Royal announced a 100-point "presidential pact" including promises to increase the minimum wage, boost social housing, invest in renewable energy sources and "consolidate" the 35-hour-week.

...."The cries of silent distress, the poor broken lives, the humiliated families ravaged by misery and injustice ... all this inspired me to propose the policies of change which alone are capable of surmounting the crisis," she said.

At the end of the speech, activists unveiled the campaign's new slogan: "A fairer France for a stronger France."

Royal's exhaustive list was heavily influenced by the PS's own manifesto -- a left-wing document that was released last year.

The minimum wage should be increased to 1,500 euros (1,950 dollars) from its current rate of around 1,250 euros "as early as possible in the next legislature", while basic pensions should go up by five percent, she said.

But it didn't play well elsewhere:

A member of Sarkozy's party, Lionnel Luca, called Royal's speech "boring," saying she appeared as "if she was leafing through a mail-order catalogue that had only leftwing pages and where they forgot to give the prices."

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Yup, that's a downward slope...

On the demand curve for unskilled labor in Arizona:

Oh, for the days when Arizona's high school students could roll pizza dough, sweep up sticky floors in theaters or scoop ice cream without worrying about ballot initiatives affecting their earning power.

That's certainly not the case under the state's new minimum-wage law that went into effect last month. Some Valley employers, especially those in the food industry, say payroll budgets have risen so much that they're cutting hours, instituting hiring freezes and laying off employees.

....Mark Messner, owner of Pepi's Pizza in south Phoenix, estimates he has employed more than 2,000 high school students since 1990. But he plans to lay off three teenage workers and decrease hours worked by others. Of his 25-person workforce, roughly 75 percent are in high school.

"I've had to go to some of my kids and say, 'Look, my payroll just increased 13 percent,' " he said. " 'Sorry, I don't have any hours for you.' "

Messner's monthly cost to train an employee has jumped from $440 to $580 as the turnover rate remains high. "We go to great lengths to hang on to our high school workers, but there are a lot of kids who come in and get one check in their pocket and feel like they're living large and out the door they go," he said. "We never get our return on investment when that happens."

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Nobody does it better...

Than The Telegraph's obituary writers:

Anna Nicole Smith, who died on Thursday aged 39, was a former stripper and Playboy centrefold and became a star of American reality television on the strength of her eye-popping figure and her brief, notorious marriage to one of the richest oilmen in Texas; although she endured tabloid obloquy as "the queen of trailer trash" she revelled in her claim to rank among the best-known widows in the world.

In 1991, as a penniless 22-year-old, she was pole-dancing at a seedy club in Houston when she caught the eye of J Howard Marshall II, a Yale-educated, wheelchair-bound tycoon almost four times her age. He had a reported $1.4 billion fortune in oil stocks and "a strong yearning", as his son later put it, "for large breasts".

By the time Marshall had wooed and won her — they were married in June 1994, the bride absenting herself afterwards with her handsome black bodyguard — Anna Nicole's 42 DD charms had also caught the attention of Playboy magazine; she was a cover girl in March 1992, posed naked for the centrefold (as Vickie Smith) in May and in June 1993 (as Anna Nicole) was named Playmate of the Year.

During their courtship Marshall flew her to New York where, in less than an hour, she spent $2 million on jewellery, charging it to his platinum American Express card; by the end of his life Marshall was said to have lavished a total of $6 million on her — $4 million in jewellery and the balance on property, cars, furs and spending money.

Her marriage to Marshall (or "Poopsie Baby", as she called him) lasted only 403 days and ended with his death in August 1995 from a heart attack at the age of 89; told by her husband's family to stay away from the official funeral, she held one of her own, dressed in her spectacular white wedding gown which struggled to contain her precipitous embonpoint: "It plunged so deep," noted one observer, "it almost struck oil."

Friday, February 09, 2007

Tiene Sopa


In addition to too skinny runway models, Spain is also worried about the supersized:
MADRID — Two hundred overweight Spanish children are to be taught to eat properly and in order to emerge slimmer and happier from a syndrome known as "the 21st century epidemic".
The children, aged 13 to 16, form part of the burgeoning population of obese youngsters.
One out of four males and one out of five females are said to be obese or overweight.
Those statistics place the Iberian nation at the fore - behind only Britain - of European countries dealing with unhealthily chubby or fat children.
...."The whole society is implicated," said Navarre University nutritionist Amelia Marti del Moral, one of the programme's experts.
"Fashion, television and other media, misleading advertisement and the accelerated pace of life that leaves parents with no time to teach their kids good eating habits and often makes them simply give the child what he or she asks for."
The lifestyle factor is the framework within which so many young people these days eat so much junk food - french fries and hamburgers, mass-produced pastries, candy and soft drinks, Marti said.
She told EFE that the problem is not limited to what children eat, but also includes how the food is ingested.
She said among the bad habits are excessive snacking, eating too fast, by oneself, and even in hiding.
Marti said children would be better off if they ate more of what for centuries was a big part of the traditional Spanish diet - potages, or thick vegetable-based soups she said "have great hunger-satisfying capacity".

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Sit under the Apple tree with me

UPDATED

And anybody else too, says Steve Jobs:

Apple has indicated that its iTunes store will sell music that plays on devices other than the iPod if major music labels abandon their anti-piracy technology.

Chief executive Steve Jobs urged the big four music companies to distribute their music without digital rights management (DRM) – the code that restricts users reproducing material and has an impact on the interoperability of devices.

Apple’s rights system, called FairPlay, works to prevent illegal copying of music by ensuring that songs purchased on iTunes can only be played on authorized devices Mr Jobs said consumers fighting for change should instead look to the music companies such as Universal Music, Sony BMG, Warner and EMI which he said required Apple to create a DRM for iTunes as a condition to selling their music online.

“Convincing them to license their music to Apple and others DRM-free will create a truly interoperable music marketplace,” he said. “Apple will embrace this wholeheartedly.”

Was it something I said?

Apple’s demand that record companies do away with copyright protection for songs they sell online has set up a bitter battle between the two camps as they prepare for broad-ranging contract negotiations.
.

...However, several music executives on Wednesday dismissed his suggestion as disingenuous and reiterated their argument that inter-operability between devices would be improved if Apple were to license its own DRM to other companies rather than doing away with the protections altogether. They also suggested that Mr Jobs’s true motive was to defuse legal problems in Europe, where Apple is being asked to make iTunes compatible with other devices. Torgeir Waterhouse, senior adviser to Norway’s Consumer Council, said Mr Jobs was “pushing the ball as far away from himself as he can”.

John Kennedy, chairman and chief executive of the IFPI, the music industry trade group, said of Mr Jobs: “I think he’s expressing some frustration at being the bad guy...and people like the Norwegian government beating him up, and he’s taking it out on us.”

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Fly in a plane built by this company?

It's a race to the bottom in Europe to see which country's workers are the more revolting:

Nearly 90 percent of Airbus workers in France staged a one-hour work stoppage Tuesday to voice concerns over a restructuring plan that could lead to job cuts at the aircraft manufacturer, trade unions and management said.

"The stoppage was heavily followed by almost 90 percent of the workers, 17,000-18,000 of the 21,000" employed by Airbus in France, said Jean-Francois Knepper of the FO trade union and deputy head of the company's European workers' council.

Airbus management confirmed the figures, saying participation had been "very high."

Not to be outdone:

Airbus management has pledged to implement a cost-cutting program called Power 8 that is expected to include job losses, increased sub-contracting and an overhaul of many factories.

German Airbus employees last Friday staged demonstrations at plants all over Germany last Friday in protest against the restructuring scheme.

Management, which also faces political pressure to preserve jobs, has said the cost-cutting plan is essential for the development of new aircraft, notably the mid-size, longhaul A350 model.

Airbus announced last month that it would likely report an operating loss for 2006, capping a torrid 12 months for the Toulouse-based group.

Last year was one of drama for the manufacturer, marked by production problems and delivery delays to the A380 program, a string of poor financial results, abrupt management changes and the resurgence of chief rival Boeing.

G'day and G'bye, Mates

Australia, the tour of death awaits:

Australia has proven a deadly holiday destination for 2,433 tourists in the past seven years because of baking weather, dangerous terrain and an array of deadly animals, according to new government figures.

A British tourist was killed by a 13ft crocodile while swimming north of Darwin in 2005, while at least one visitor was stung to death by jellyfish.

Deaths have also occurred on hang-gliding, parachuting and fishing expeditions. Accounts of attacks by sharks, crocs and other deadly animals are almost weekly occurrences as are fatalities.

Ranger Craig Adams, of the Australian Reptile Park, said: "Going bush here is a far cry from the urban European lifestyle. A mud pool can hold a five-metre crocodile. And while koalas are cute, people don't realise one will give you a nasty bite or carve you up with its claws. A wombat can knock you over."

But, there's good news:

More than five million people visit Australia every year. The vast majority of them return home safely.

Belgian Beggars' Belief

That the homies do better than foreigners at it:

Mon 05/02/07 - A large-scale study by researchers from the Sint-Aloysius Economic Polytechnic in Brussels has revealed that the Roma gypsies who beg on the capital's streets make an average of about 350 euros a month. This compares to an average monthly income of 900 euros for Belgian beggars.

Two thirds of the beggars in the capital are Roma gypsies. The remaining one third is made up of a large group of Belgian beggars and a smaller group of foreign beggars from various countries. The researchers found that the Belgian beggars receive the most money from people in the capital.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Hours; the Reason Why...

Minimum wage laws hurt the people they supposedly were designed to help. Life imitates an economics textbook for one fast-food restaurant worker:

Minimum wage went up this year, so if anything I should be happy. However, starting this week, the owner of the restaurant started cutting back our hours. The business isn't failing or anything, yet he just decided to cut back our hours. While I used to get around 23 hours a week, I now have 14. My co-workers are suffering the same fate, each of them losing five or more hours. When I calculated my coming paycheck, I realized that I was making more money before the raise than I will now. How is it that our wage goes up, but we end up making less than before?

Because (as economists such as Craig Newmark know) Demand Curves slope down, and employers demand less labor at higher prices.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Reverse! Reverse!

Senator Jim Webb in full politician mode on Fox News Sunday, first tries to explain why the National Intelligence Estimate doesn't disagree with his idea that diplomacy with Iran will be key to resolving Iraq:

[Chris] WALLACE: ... because it would seem — I know it does to a lot of people — that Iran is thoroughly enjoying the fact that we're tied down and that our blood and treasure is being spent in Iraq.

You talked about the National Intelligence Estimate, the NIE, the considered judgment of all 16 U.S. national intelligence agencies. They disagreed with you. They came out with a report on Friday and said Iraq's neighbors are not likely to be a major driver of the prospects for stability.

WEBB: That's not really a disagreement.

WALLACE: Well, but they said it's primarily an internal...

WEBB: They also were saying...

WALLACE: Well, if I may, they said it's an internal problem and that these outside forces, the neighbors, cannot be the major driver.

WEBB: No, what they were saying was that even though these countries may be meddling inside Iraq, that they were not the major players inside Iraq in terms of the military solution.
And what the administration is doing right now is playing up Iranian participation in order to try to drive the stakes up to the extent that we don't deal with Iran.

Now, yes, Iran's definitely, from everything that I can see, playing in some way inside Iraq. And tactically, as a former Marine, in the places where Iran is definitely playing, they should be dealt with.

China was playing inside Vietnam when I was in Vietnam. So was the Soviet Union. There wasn't a weapon that was used against me that wasn't made in Eastern Europe or China.
At the same time, that doesn't mean that we should have been isolating China and not dealing with them. In fact, the reverse was true.
The Chinese situation is a direct parallel to the situation we have with Iran right now.

Which idea didn't last long, as the next question was:

WALLACE: Okay. You, as you point out, fought in Vietnam where you won the Navy Cross. And back in 1985, you had this to say. Let's put it up on the screen.

"If I had one lesson that stands out in my mind, it is that you cannot fight a war and debate it at the same time." Senator, why not? What's the problem, especially for our troops, when we're trying to fight a war and debating it at the same time here at home?

WEBB: Well, the difficulty that we have right now — there are so many people trying to make a direct parallel between Vietnam and Iraq, on both sides of the issue, by the way.

You have the people who are opposed to the Iraq war saying this is just another Vietnam. You have the people who supported the Vietnam war, many of them — I supported the Vietnam war. I still support what we attempted to do in Vietnam — trying to draw direct parallels, and there are no direct parallels.

Unless he says so (we guess); The Chinese situation is a direct parallel to the situation we have with Iran right now.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Don't say you weren't warned

By Clinton Administration Treasury official J Bradford DeLong:

My two cents' worth--and I think it is the two cents' worth of everybody who worked for the Clinton Administration health care reform effort of 1993-1994--is that Hillary Rodham Clinton needs to be kept very far away from the White House for the rest of her life.

....Hillary Rodham Clinton has already flopped as a senior administrative official in the executive branch--the equivalent of an Undersecretary. Perhaps she will make a good senator. But there is no reason to think that she would be anything but an abysmal president.

Because of her idiotic beliefs--such as that the President of the United States controls what is done with the profits of privately owned (and publicly traded) corporations in the USA.

'I want to take those profits, and I want to put them into a strategic energy fund'

What, not into cattle futures?

Friday, February 02, 2007

No Hablan Espanol...

alguno mas, los Senores de USC:


Summertime, and the grading is easy

The stampede of student athletes up Figueroa Street from USC to Los Angeles Trade Tech College nearly two miles away drew curious attention during summer school registration at the downtown community college last June.

Among those signing up were three 300-pound Trojans linemen, including one with academic troubles at the university. There was also the beefy linebacker son of television's "Incredible Hulk" and a succession of strapping athletes, among them millionaire ex-USC receiver Keary Colbert of the Carolina Panthers.

They all wanted the same class — a shortcut around the tough advanced foreign language courses required at USC.

Joining them was a USC song girl famous on the Internet in a photo of her appearing to cheer for the wrong side in the 2006 Rose Bowl — along with members of the USC women's basketball, volleyball and water polo teams. And others from men's basketball, baseball and track.

....In June, the athletes were looking for Senora Rose Mary Ross, 73, a grandmother and Spanish instructor with an engaging teaching style and a generous grading philosophy — suddenly so popular that she had to take on two classes at once.....

Like many other community college courses, her five-unit classes qualified for transfer to USC and cost a fraction of the university tuition — $141 at Trade Tech compared to about $5,500 two miles south.

And there was plenty of additional motivation."Those USC kids told me, 'If I took this class at USC, I'd get a D.' All of them said that," Ross said. But she is not apologetic.

"I've never given an easy grade in my life," she told The Times in a recent interview. "You come to my class and work, and I see you want to learn, I'll give you an A. I see some lazy ass, coming late all the time, acting like he doesn't care, I won't give him an A. I'll give him a B."

Thursday, February 01, 2007

You've Got Mail

From your wife. The former topless actress. To the editor of a newspaper that hates your guts, complaining that you are an old dog up to new tricks with babes that resemble her when she was young.

And you're the richest man in Italy, as well as the country's former Prime Minister.

La Dolce Vita:

Silvio Berlusconi was forced to issue a grovelling public apology to his wife last night after she accused the former Italian prime minister of chatting up other women.

....In a letter in the anti-Berlusconi newspaper La Repubblica, headlined "My husband owes me a public apology", the 50-year-old former actress said that she had been forced to take action because Mr Berlusconi, 20 years her senior, had failed to apologise in private after flirting with at least three women at an awards ceremony last week.

The enraged Miss Lario claimed that the billionaire media tycoon had deployed chat-up lines such as "if I wasn't already married I would marry you right away" and "with you I'd go anywhere".

....The couple met and married 20 years ago after Mr Berlusconi was entranced by Miss Lario's charms as she appeared topless on stage in a play in Milan.

The women Mr Berluconi is reported to have spoken to at the event last week include two female MPs from his Forza Italia party, Micaela Biancofiore and Mara Carfagna. Miss Carfagna, 29, also a former beauty queen and topless model, said: "I'd have said yes straight away but he's married and he's not my age."

Another of the women involved was the Venezuelan-born model and television presenter Aida Yespica. It was reported that Mr Berlusconi told her: "With you I would go anywhere, even a desert island."

Jacques, Your Freudian Slip is Showing

To France it's just a ****** little country, that won't be missed, much:

PARIS, Feb 1, 2007 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac told journalists that a nuclear-armed Iran would not be "very dangerous" and that Tehran would be "razed" if it launched a strike on Israel, in remarks that he later retracted, reports said Thursday.

"Having one or perhaps a second bomb a little later, well that's not very dangerous," Chirac said in the interview to the New York Times, the Paris-based International Herald Tribune and the French weekly Nouvel Observateur.

"Where would Iran drop this bomb? On Israel?" he asked. "It would not have gone off 200 meters into the atmosphere before Tehran would be razed to the ground," Chirac was quoted as saying by the three publications.