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Saturday, March 11, 2006

China Points an Accusatory Finger Back at the U.S.

China Points an Accusatory Finger Back at the U.S.China Points an Accusatory Finger Back at the U.S.
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March 09, 2006

China Points an Accusatory Finger Back at the U.S.
IOL, South Africa's largest news and information site on the Web, reports that China has lashed out in response to United States criticism of its human rights record. Racial discrimination, the Chinese point out, is still rife in America.

This retort came one day after the U.S. state department attacked the Chinese government's human rights record, saying it "remained poor, and [that] the government continued to commit numerous and serious abuses."

The US report also said there was increased repression in 2005, with a trend toward "increased harassment, detention, and imprisonment" of people seen as threats to the Chinese government. Also mentioned in the report were Chinese measures designed to more tightly control print, broadcast and electronic media, and censor online content.

China's cabinet issued an immediate response, denouncing the United States for widespread discrimination against minorities, especially blacks, and pointed out that Blacks are given heavier criminal penalties, arrested more frequently and are more likely to be targeted for hate crimes. American treatement of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba also received mention.

You can read more about the U.S. state department's accusations and the Chinese response on the IOL website.

Slobodan Milosevic, Former Yugoslav Leader, Is Found Dead - New York Times

Slobodan Milosevic, Former Yugoslav Leader, Is Found Dead - New York TimesMarch 11, 2006
Slobodan Milosevic, Former Yugoslav Leader, Is Found Dead

Filed at 9:30 a.m. ET

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) -- Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav leader, who was branded ''the butcher of the Balkans'' and was on trial for war crimes after orchestrating a decade of bloodshed during the breakup of his country, was found dead Saturday in his prison cell. He was 64.

Milosevic, who suffered chronic heart ailments and high blood pressure, apparently died of natural causes and was found in his bed, the U.N. tribunal said, without giving an exact time of death.

He had been examined by doctors following his frequent complaints of fatigue or ill health that delayed his trial, but the tribunal could not immediately say when he last underwent a medical checkup. All detainees at the center in Scheveningen are checked by a guard every half hour.

The tribunal said Milosevic's family had been informed of his death, which came nearly five years after he was arrested, then extradited to The Hague.

His wife, Mirjana Markovic, who was often accused of being the power behind the scenes during her husband's autocratic rule, has been in self-imposed exile in Russia since 2003. His son, Marko, also lives in Russia, and his daughter, Marija, lives in Serb-controlled half of Bosnia.

Borislav Milosevic, who lives in Moscow, blamed the U.N tribunal for causing his brother's death by refusing him medical treatment in Russia.

''All responsibility for this lies on the shoulders of the international tribunal. He asked for treatment several months ago, they knew this,'' he told The Associated Press. ''They drove him to this as they didn't want to let him out alive.''

Milosevic asked the court in December to let him go to Moscow for treatment. But the tribunal refused, despite assurances from the Russian authorities that the former Yugoslav leader would return to the Netherlands to finish his trial.

Milosevic has been on trial since February 2002, defending himself against 66 counts of crimes, including genocide, in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. But the proceedings were repeatedly interrupted by Milosevic's poor health and chronic heart condition.

He was accused of orchestrating a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing against non-Serbs during the collapse of the Yugoslav federation in an attempt to link Serbia with Serb-dominated areas of Croatia and Bosnia to create a new Greater Serbia.

Milosevic had spent much of the time granted to him by the U.N. court for his defense dealing with allegations of atrocities in Kosovo that took up just one-third of his indictment. He also faced charges of genocide in Bosnia for allegedly overseeing the slaughter of 8,000 Muslims from the eastern enclave of Srebrenica -- the worst massacre on European soil since World War II.

The trial was recessed last week to await his next defense witness. Milosevic also was waiting for a court decision on his request to subpoena former President Bill Clinton as a witness.

Steven Kay, a British attorney assigned to represent Milosevic, said Saturday that the former Serb leader would not have fled, and was not suicidal.

''He said to me: 'I haven't taken on all this work just to walk away from it and not come back. I want to see this case through,''' Kay told the British Broadcasting Corp.

Milosevic's death came less than a week after the star witness in his trial, former Croatian Serb leader Milan Babic, was found dead in the same prison. Babic, who was serving a 13-year prison sentence, committed suicide.

His testimony in 2002 described a political and military command structure headed by Milosevic in Belgrade that operated behind the scenes.

Milosevic's death will be a crushing blow to the tribunal and to those who were looking to establish an authoritative historical record of the Balkan wars.

Though the witness testimony is on public record, history will be denied the judgment of a panel of legal experts weighing the evidence of his personal guilt and the story of his regime.

''It is a pity he didn't live to the end of the trial to get the sentence he deserved,'' Croatian President Stipe Mesic said.

The European Union said Milosevic's death does not absolve Serbia of responsibility to hand over other war crimes suspects.

The death ''does not alter in any way the need to come to terms with the legacy of the Balkan wars,'' Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, whose country holds the rotating EU president, said in Salzburg.

Milosevic was due to complete his defense at the war crimes tribunal this summer.

A figure of beguiling charm and cunning ruthlessness, Milosevic was a master tactician who turned his country's defeats into personal victories and held onto power for 13 years despite losing four wars that shattered his nation and impoverished his people.

Milosevic led Serbia, the dominant Yugoslav republic, into four Balkan wars during the 1990s. The secret of his survival was his uncanny ability to exploit what less adroit figures would consider a fatal blow.

He once described himself as the ''Ayatollah Khomeini of Serbia,'' assuring his prime minister, Milan Panic, that ''the Serbs will follow me no matter what.'' For years, they did -- through wars which dismembered Yugoslavia and plunged what was left of the country into social, political, moral and economic ruin.

But in the end, his people abandoned him: first in October 2000, when he was unable to convince the majority of Yugoslavs that he had staved off electoral defeat by his successor, Vojislav Kostunica, and again on April 1, 2001, when he surrendered after a 26-hour standoff to face criminal charges stemming from his ruinous rule.

Milosevic was born Aug. 20, 1941, in Pozarevac, a drab factory town in central Serbia best known as the home of one of the country's most notorious prisons.

His father was a defrocked Orthodox priest and sometime teacher of Russian. His mother was also a teacher. Both parents eventually committed suicide.

In high school, he met his future wife, the daughter of a wartime communist partisan hero. Markovic also was the niece of Davorjanka Paunovic, private secretary and mistress of Josip Broz Tito, the communist guerrilla leader who seized power in Yugoslavia at the end of World War II.

Milosevic became president of Serbia in 1989 elections widely considered rigged. His rise alarmed the other peoples of former Yugoslavia -- Slovenes, Croats, Macedonians, Albanians and others -- who feared that the hard-line nationalist would allow Serbs to dominate the country.

In 1991, Croatia and Slovenia declared their independence from Yugoslavia. Milosevic sent tanks to Slovenian borders, triggering a brief war that ended in Slovenia's secession.

Serbs in Croatia, encouraged by Milosevic, took up arms. Milosevic responded by sending the Serb-led Yugoslav army to intervene, triggering a conflict that left at least 10,000 people dead and hundreds of Croatian villages and towns devastated before a U.N.-patrolled cease-fire was arranged in January 1992.

Three months later, Bosnia-Herzegovina declared its independence, too. Milosevic bankrolled the Bosnian Serb rebellion, triggering an even bigger war that killed an estimated 200,000 people before a U.S.-brokered peace agreement was reached at Dayton, Ohio, in 1995.

During those conflicts, Yugoslavia was ostracized worldwide and the United States called Milosevic ''The Butcher of the Balkans.'' Strict international sanctions and government mismanagement devastated the economy and left its people impoverished.

Realizing that the conflicts could not continue, Milosevic agreed to the Dayton talks, accepting a deal that abandoned Croatia's rebel Serbs, who were driven from their homes when the Croatian army recaptured almost all the land the Serbs had seized there in 1991.

The Dayton agreement also meant giving up the nationalist goal of a Serb state in Bosnia. Nevertheless, it bought Milosevic time and transformed his image from Balkan villain to benign peacemaker.

Milosevic's term as Serbian president ended in 1997 and the constitution prevented him from running again. However, he exploited legal loopholes in the constitution to have parliament name him president of Yugoslavia, which by then included only the republics of Serbia and Montenegro.

It was the thorny problem of Kosovo, the majority Albanian province that had served as his springboard to power, which finally set the stage for his downfall. In February 1998, Milosevic sent troops to crush an ethnic Albanian uprising there.

The United States and its allies responded by imposing some of the sanctions that were lifted after the Bosnian war. In 1999, after Milosevic refused to sign a Western-dictated peace agreement at Rambouillet, France, NATO launched 78 days of punishing air strikes against Yugoslavia.

Milosevic refused to back down and instead ordered his troops to crack down on Kosovo Albanians even harder. More than 800,000 Albanians fled into neighboring Albania, Montenegro and Macedonia before Milosevic finally accepted a peace plan and handed over the province to the United Nations and NATO in June 1999.

Before the conflict ended, the U.N. tribunal indicted Milosevic and four of his top aides for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Kosovo. Milosevic became the first sitting head of state ever to be indicted for such crimes. Later, they broadened the charges against him to include genocide.

Split Verdict Ends Trial of Ex-Mayor of Atlanta - New York Times

Split Verdict Ends Trial of Ex-Mayor of Atlanta - New York TimesMarch 11, 2006
Split Verdict Ends Trial of Ex-Mayor of Atlanta

ATLANTA, March 10 — After a five-year investigation that culminated in a two-month-long trial, it took the jury hearing the federal corruption case against former Mayor William C. Campbell only two days to find him not guilty of perhaps the most serious charges against him: racketeering and bribery.

But Mr. Campbell was found guilty of three counts of tax evasion, and for that he could serve up to nine years in jail and pay up to $300,000 in fines. If he had been convicted of all seven counts against him, he could have spent more than 50 years in prison.

The verdict was a bittersweet ending for both sides. Prosecutors had hoped to end their seven-year crusade against corruption in City Hall by convicting its top official. It was an investigation that ultimately convicted 10 people who were contractors and city officials, many of them close associates of Mr. Campbell.

"Obviously I have great regrets that the jury found me guilty of anything," Mr. Campbell said after the verdict. "But there's no doubt I've been vindicated with regard to any allegations of corruption."

He said sloppy recordkeeping, rather than any desire to hide ill-gotten gains, was behind underreported income on his tax returns.

Mr. Campbell was smiling as he stood beside his wife, Sharon, outside the courthouse. As he answered reporters' questions, people drove by honking and cheering.

"It was a fair trial," Mr. Campbell added. "The judge was fair."

W. Fred Orr II, one of the defense lawyers, said he was disappointed with the outcome of the trial.

"We knew there were some technical violations of the tax code," Mr. Orr said. "They're serious, but we're going to be O.K."

Sally Q. Yates, first assistant United States attorney in Atlanta and lead counsel for the prosecution, echoed Mr. Orr's sentiments.

"I'm personally somewhat disappointed," Ms. Yates said. "I think it would be a little foolish for me to stand out here and try to pretend otherwise. I'm disappointed the jury didn't feel they had enough evidence to find him guilty of the RICO count," she said, referring to the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization Act, which provides for extended punishment for those found guilty of running criminal enterprises.

In a prepared statement, David E. Nahmias, United States attorney for the northern district of Georgia, declared victory, saying, "The jury's verdict today confirms that Mayor Bill Campbell was also a criminal."

Mr. Nahmias also said he fully expected Mr. Campbell to go to prison on the tax evasion convictions.

The 43-page indictment against Mr. Campbell detailed bribes and illegal campaign contributions in excess of $250,000. During the trial, prosecutors painted him as a high-stakes gambler who took frequent trips to places like Las Vegas and Reno, Nev., and Tunica, Miss., often in the company of his mistresses.

The expenses of these lavish vacations, the prosecutors said, were always paid with cash that Mr. Campbell got from the city contractors he used as "human A.T.M.'s." They said he raised money to retire campaign debt after he was elected to a second term, but instead of using the money to pay off his creditors, he used the account as a slush fund for his personal expenses. Prosecutors also sought to prove his extensive use of straw donors to launder illegal campaign contributions.

As federal marshals escorted members of the jury to their cars, one juror said in answer to shouted questions, "It's been a long seven weeks."

Gentrification Changing Face of New Atlanta - New York Times

Gentrification Changing Face of New Atlanta - New York TimesMarch 11, 2006
Gentrification Changing Face of New Atlanta

ATLANTA, March 8 — In-town living. Live-work-play. Mixed income. The buzzwords of soft-core urbanism are everywhere these days in this eternally optimistic city, used in real estate advertisements and mayoral boasts to lure money from the suburbs and to keep young people from leaving.

Loft apartments roll onto the market every week, the public housing authority is a nationally recognized pioneer in redevelopment and the newest shopping plaza has one Target and three Starbucks outlets.

But although gentrification has expanded the city's tax base and weeded out blight, it has had an unintended effect on Atlanta, long a lure to African-Americans and a symbol of black success. For the first time since the 1920's, the black share of the city's population is declining and the white percentage is on the rise.

The change has introduced an element of uncertainty into local politics, which has been dominated by blacks since 1973, when Atlanta became the first major Southern city to elect a black mayor.

Some, like Mayor Shirley Franklin, who is serving her second and final term, play down the significance of the change, saying that the city — now 54 percent black — will remain progressive and that voters here do not strictly adhere to racial lines. Others warn of the dilution, if not the demise, of black power.

"It's certainly affecting local politics," said Billy Linville, a political consultant who has worked for Ms. Franklin. "More white politicians are focusing on possibly becoming mayor and positioning themselves accordingly, whereas in the past they would not have. The next mayor of Atlanta, I believe, will be African-American, but after that it may get very interesting."

The changes do not mean that Atlanta has lost its magnetism for blacks. Twenty-year projections show the percentage of African-Americans continuing to inch upward in the 10-county metropolitan area. Blacks already hold the majority on the Clayton County commission, and they are gaining footholds in counties like Cobb and Gwinnett.

But the city itself, a small splotch of fewer than half a million residents in a galaxy of sprawl, is now attracting the affluent, who are mostly white, in part because they want to avoid gear-grinding commutes that are among the nation's longest.

In that sense, demographers say, the shift is driven by class rather than race. In 1990, the per capita income in the city of Atlanta was below that of the metropolitan area as a whole, but in 2004 it was 28 percent higher, the largest such shift in the country, according to a University of Virginia urban planning study.

So rapid is the explosion of wealth that Ms. Franklin recently tried to impose a moratorium on McMansions, new houses bloated far beyond the size of their older neighbors.

According to census figures, non-Hispanic blacks went from a high of 66.8 percent of Atlanta's population in 1990 to 61 percent in 2000 and to 54 percent in 2004. In the same time period, non-Hispanic whites went from 30.3 percent to 35 percent. The 2004 figures are estimates.

Even the Old Fourth Ward, the once elegant black neighborhood where Martin Luther King Jr. was born, is now less than 75 percent black, down from 94 percent in 1990, as houses have skyrocketed in value and low-rent apartments have been replaced by new developments.

"There could be a time in the not-too-distant future when the black population is below half of the city population, if this trend continues," said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, a Washington research group.

Atlanta's upward shift in its white population is atypical, Mr. Frey said. Although many other cities have embarked on revitalization programs, only Washington is seeing a similar, if less stark, racial trend as Atlanta. More often, blacks and whites both are losing ground to a surging Latino population. Even in Atlanta, the Latino population rose to 26,100 in 2004 from 18,700 in 2000.

Most mayors would see a physical revitalization like Atlanta's as an accomplishment. The city has led the country, rivaled only by Chicago, in the race to replace public housing projects with mixed-income developments.

Housing has also mushroomed in places where it had not previously existed. The most ambitious project, Atlantic Station, a shopping and residential district on the site of a former steel mill near downtown, will have more than 2,000 units. Loft prices start at $160,000.

But critics say Mayor Franklin and her predecessor, Bill Campbell, betrayed their voter base by not doing enough to keep Atlanta affordable for poor blacks as property taxes increase and landlords sell out to developers.

"It's clear as the nose on your face who it's going to impact the most," said Joe Beasley, the human resources director at an Atlanta church and a member of the city's Gentrification Task Force, now defunct, which studied ways to ease the effects of rising property taxes and housing prices. "Bill Campbell was cutting his own throat, and Shirley Franklin is continuing to cut her own throat."

Ms. Franklin counters that many new developments, including Atlantic Station, have set aside areas for low-income or affordable housing. She says one of her major accomplishments, financing a badly needed overhaul of the sewage and water system without a large increase in rates, has kept city living affordable. But the bottom line, in the mayor's view, is that the city must try to mold development where it can.

"We're constantly seeking a balance in what we support," Ms. Franklin said last week in a telephone interview.

David Bositis, a senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington group that studies black issues, said he viewed the change as largely positive. "I don't know that it ever was a good thing when you had cities that were becoming viewed as black cities," Mr. Bositis said.

He added, "People said, 'This is our city now,' but half the time you looked at what was there and you said, 'Who cares?' "

Race is not the only factor in the political equation.

"We're talking about an era in which you see a conservative trend among certain sectors of the black community," said William Boone, a political science professor at Clark Atlanta University, a predominantly African-American institution. "That's going to have some impact on who's offered for mayor."

Power in Atlanta has always involved coalitions of blacks and other groups, said Ms. Franklin, who has received high marks for restoring credibility to city government and who was re-elected in 2005 with 91 percent of the vote.

"This whole notion that the sky is falling, I don't see it," Ms. Franklin said. "To me the question is, Will Atlanta be a progressive city, given that it's the home of the civil rights movement, the home of the historically black colleges? Will that continue with the demographic shifts? And my answer is yes."

Already, the change has had unpredictable effects. Kwanza Hall is a young black politician from the rapidly gentrifying Old Fourth Ward, a neighborhood that is part of a mostly white City Council district that includes affluent areas like Inman Park. But in the last election, Mr. Hall, who ran his campaign from a year-old coffee shop next to a soon-to-open men's spa, defeated two whites for an open seat.

To Joe Stewardson, who owns the coffee shop building and was the first white president of the ward's community development corporation, the question was not Mr. Hall's race but his ability to forge relationships outside a neighborhood whose boundary was, not too long ago, what Mr. Stewardson called "an iron curtain."

"You would not have seen that," Mr. Stewardson said, "if this neighborhood had not changed so much."

Brenda Goodman contributed reporting for this article.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Dubai Deal's Collapse Prompts Fears Abroad on Trade With U.S. - New York Times

Dubai Deal's Collapse Prompts Fears Abroad on Trade With U.S. - New York TimesMarch 10, 2006
News Analysis
Dubai Deal's Collapse Prompts Fears Abroad on Trade With U.S.

DP World's decision yesterday to transfer a handful of American port terminals, rather than chilling interest in investing in the United States, may actually have made it safer for foreigners by relieving some of the political pressure that was building up against them.

But as part of a pattern of other antiforeign actions in Washington, fears remain that the United States is becoming a less welcoming place for investment from overseas.

"We need a net inflow of capital of $3 billion a day to keep the economy afloat," said Clyde V. Prestowitz Jr., a former trade official in the Reagan administration who is president of the Economic Strategy Institute. "Yet all of the body language here is 'go away.' "

At least initially, those who support increased globalization were relieved that Dubai appears to have backed away from a confrontation with Congress.

"It is our hope that this relieves some of the political pressure," said Nancy McLernon, senior vice president of the Organization for International Investment, a lobbying group in Washington representing the United States subsidiaries of foreign multinationals.

"People were starting to question the benefits of foreign investment," she said. "We haven't seen this since the Japanese bought the Rockefeller Center."

DP World's takeover was a special case: a state-owned company from the Middle East buying a sensitive American asset. Most multinationals that invest in the United States come from Western industrial democracies and are unlikely to be subject to such scrutiny.

The flap over the ports acquisition alone is unlikely to make a consequential dent in foreign investment flows into the country, most economists agree.

"I don't think this is going to have a major effect on capital flows into the United States," said Ben Stapleton, a partner specializing in mergers and acquisitions at the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell in New York. "It will just affect a deal at the margin every once in a while."

Indeed, while protectionist sentiment in Congress is never far from the surface, so far it has done little to damage the intricate web of cross-border business deals that are going on just about every day. Last summer, animosity against the effort by a state-owned Chinese oil company to buy the American oil company Unocal helped force China to retreat. But there has been no letup in investment flows into the United States in its wake.

Foreign companies plowed $38.8 billion worth of direct investment into the United States in the third quarter of last year, according to government statistics, more than two and a half times the amount recorded in the second quarter and roughly 9 percent more than in the period in 2004.

Foreign investment in American financial markets is even stronger. Last year, capital flows into Treasury bonds, equities in American companies and other securities totaled more than $1 trillion, 14 percent more than in 2004. Much of it came from China and the Middle East.

Some economists argue that it is good that foreign investment in sensitive areas be subject to more scrutiny.

"There are some assets that are absolutely essential to U.S. security and today's action reflects the House and Senate actually drawing a line," said Robert E. Scott, a senior economist and trade specialist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute.

"The question," he added, "is whether or not this is going to be a one-time event or whether we are going to look more carefully at foreign acquisitions, particularly in the military sector."

But some analysts warn that further political hostility against foreign companies buying American assets could boomerang against the United States.

"I think it is very dangerous to enter a new world in which every purchase of an American asset by a foreign entity is scrutinized by the government," said Kevin Hassett, director of economic policies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

"It could make U.S. assets less attractive to foreign buyers because they wonder whether there will be potential future buyers if they decide later to sell what they have purchased."

Some observers worry that nationalist sentiment seems to be on the rise not just in the United States but in other prosperous countries where economic anxieties are present.

The attempt by Mittal Steel, a European company headed by an Indian executive who lives in London, to buy Arcelor, a Luxembourg steel company with many workers in France, is coming under intense scrutiny.

In Britain, officials have worried over the interest of Gazprom, the Russian government-controlled oil monopoly, in the British gas company Centrica.

"It may be well part of a global backlash against globalization," said Michael Grenfell, a partner at the law firm Norton Rose in London. "America could usually be relied on to champion free trade. If that changes, things could get quite chilly."

In the United States, the political flap over the ports deal is still not over. Ms. McLernon noted that members of Congress had submitted some two dozen bills in the last few weeks aimed at changing the review process for foreign investment. Many, without being specific, could end up blocking all kinds of deals.

A bill submitted in the House by Duncan Hunter, Republican of California, and H. James Saxton, a Republican from New Jersey, for example, would bar foreign-controlled concerns from buying any company that operated "critical infrastructure," which could include everything from water and energy companies to those involved in telecommunications.

"It's almost certain that one or another of those bills will pass," Mr. Prestowitz said. "The question is whether it will have sufficient votes to override a veto by the president."

Louis Uchitelle contributed reporting for this article.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Record Set for Hottest Temperature on Earth: 3.6 Billion Degrees in Lab on Yahoo! News

Print Story: Record Set for Hottest Temperature on Earth: 3.6 Billion Degrees in Lab on Yahoo! News Record Set for Hottest Temperature on Earth: 3.6 Billion Degrees in Lab

Ker Than
LiveScience Staff Writer
LiveScience.comWed Mar 8, 5:00 PM ET

Scientists have produced superheated gas exceeding temperatures of 2 billion degrees Kelvin, or 3.6 billion degrees Fahrenheit.

This is hotter than the interior of our Sun, which is about 15 million degrees Kelvin, and also hotter than any previous temperature ever achieved on Earth, they say.

They don't know how they did it.

The feat was accomplished in the Z machine at Sandia National Laboratories.

"At first, we were disbelieving," said project leader Chris Deeney. "We repeated the experiment many times to make sure we had a true result."

Thermonuclear explosions are estimated to reach only tens to hundreds of millions of degrees Kelvin; other nuclear fusion experiments have achieved temperatures of about 500 million degrees Kelvin, said a spokesperson at the lab.

The achievement was detailed in the Feb. 24 issue of the journal Physical Review Letters.

The Z machine is the largest X-ray generator in the world. It’s designed to test materials under extreme temperatures and pressures. It works by releasing 20 million amps of electricity into a vertical array of very fine tungsten wires. The wires dissolve into a cloud of charged particles, a superheated gas called plasma.

A very strong magnetic field compresses the plasma into the thickness of a pencil lead. This causes the plasma to release energy in the form of X-rays, but the X-rays are usually only several million degrees.

Sandia researchers still aren’t sure how the machine achieved the new record. Part of it is probably due to the replacement of the tungsten steel wires with slightly thicker steel wires, which allow the plasma ions to travel faster and thus achieve higher temperatures.

One thing that puzzles scientists is that the high temperature was achieved after the plasma’s ions should have been losing energy and cooling. Also, when the high temperature was achieved, the Z machine was releasing more energy than was originally put in, something that usually occurs only in nuclear reactions.

Sandia consultant Malcolm Haines theorizes that some unknown energy source is involved, which is providing the machine with an extra jolt of energy just as the plasma ions are beginning to slow down.

Sandia National Laboratories is located by Albuquerque New Mexico and is part of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Bubbles Get Hotter than the Sun Z Machine: Zero to 76,000 mph in a Second Simple Experiment Creates Surprising State of Matter Laser Could Rival Sun's Energy

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Dubai to give up ports control - U.S. Security -

Dubai to give up ports control - U.S. Security - MSNBC.comDubai to give up control of U.S. ports
Deal ran into tough opposition in Senate over security concerns
The Associated Press
Updated: 7:32 p.m. ET March 9, 2006

WASHINGTON - Bowing to ferocious opposition in Congress, a Dubai-owned company signaled surrender Thursday in its quest to take over operations at U.S. ports.

“DP World will transfer fully the U.S. operations ... to a United States entity,” the firm’s top executive, H. Edward Bilkey, said in an announcement that capped weeks of controversy.

Relieved Republicans in Congress said the firm had pledged full divestiture.

The announcement appeared to indicate an end to a politically tinged controversy that brought President Bush and Republicans in Congress to the brink of an election-year veto battle on a terrorism-related issue.

“It does provide a way forward and resolve the matter so we can continue working on other important priorities,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

'Strong relationship'
“We have a strong relationship with the UAE and a good partnership in the global war on terrorism and I think their decision reflects the importance of our broader relationship,” he said.

A leading congressional critic of the ports deal, Rep. Peter King, applauded the decision but said he and others would wait to see the details. “It would have to be an American company with no links to DP World, and that would be a tremendous victory and very gratifying,” said the New York Republican, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

It was Sen. John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee and a member of the Senate committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, who took the Senate floor to read to colleagues a press release from Dubai Ports World disclosing its new stance.

“Because of the strong relationship between the United Arab Emirates and the United States and to preserve that relationship, DP World has decided to transfer fully the U.S. operation of P&O Operations North America to a United States entity,” he read from a statement by Bilkey, DP World’s chief operating officer. The announcement did not specify which American company would be involved.

Warner said that Sheik Mohammed Al Maktoum, prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, “advised the company ... that this action is the appropriate course to take.” Dubai is in the Emirates.

“This should make the issue go away,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. The Tennessee Republican was one of several GOP leaders to tell President Bush earlier in the day that Congress was ready to ignore his veto threat and scuttle the deal.

Several Republican officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Frist and Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, had been privately urging the firm to give up its plans.

Sudden turnaround
After weeks of controversy — and White House veto threats that McClellan renewed at midmorning Thursday — the end came unexpectedly.

The House Appropriations Committee voted 62-2 on Wednesday to block the deal, and GOP congressional leaders privately informed the president Thursday morning that the Senate would inevitably follow suit. Senate Democrats clamored for a vote, increasing pressure on Senate Republicans to abandon the president.

“Our goal is to make sure that the security of our ports is in America’s hands and I look forward to learning more about this recent development,” House Appropriations Chairman Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., told NBC News.

It was unclear how DP would manage the planned divestiture, and Bilkey’s statement said its announcement was “based on an understanding that DP World will not suffer economic loss.”

The firm finalized its $6.8 billion purchase Thursday of Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co., the British firm that through a U.S. subsidiary runs important port operations in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia. It also plays a lesser role in dockside activities at 16 other American ports.

Despite the furor, the company’s U.S. operations were never the most prized part of the global transaction. DP World valued its rival’s American operations at less than 10 percent of the nearly $7 billion total purchase.

Election year angst
Senate Republican GOP leaders had been hoping to prevent any votes until the conclusion of a 45-day review of the deal. At the same time, administration officials were using the time to try and ease the concerns of lawmakers.

That strategy collapsed in dramatic fashion on Wednesday, when the House Appropriations Committee overwhelmingly signaled its opposition to the deal.

Increasingly, it appeared the controversy was headed in one of two directions — a veto confrontation between Bush and Congress, or the decision by the company to shed its plans. The company had arranged to hold the rights as part of its takeover of Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co., a British company that holds contracts at several U.S. ports.

Bush has defended the deal, on grounds of open, free trade, and, he says, because the United Arab Emirates has been a strong ally in the war on terror.

By a 62-2 margin, the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday attached the ports legislation to a $91 billion bill providing funds for hurricane recovery and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Developments in the legislature underscored the political concern among congressional Republicans in the run-up to midterm elections. The GOP has long held an advantage over Democrats on issues relating to national security and the war on terrorism, but pollsters from both parties agree the gap has narrowed significantly in the past few weeks.

At the same time, individual Republicans have said their constituents are calling and writing to express overwhelming opposition to the port arrangement.
NBC News contributed to this report.

Carter criticizes Iraq war - Conflict in Iraq -

Carter criticizes Iraq war - Conflict in Iraq - MSNBC.comCarter urges U.S. troop drawdown in Iraq
Ex-president criticizes war as U.S. enters its fourth year of conflict in Iraq
The Associated Press
Updated: 3:37 a.m. ET March 9, 2006

SEATTLE - Former President Jimmy Carter criticized the war in Iraq on Wednesday, urging a troop drawdown as the United States enters its fourth year of conflict in Iraq.

“It was a completely unnecessary war. It was an unjust war,” said Carter, the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize winner. “It was initiated on the basis of false pretenses. All of those are true, but we can’t just pre-emptively withdraw.”

He urged the Bush administration to bring home as many troops as possible within the next 12 months.

“The violence is increasing monthly,” Carter said. “My prayer is we’ll see some kind of democracy eventually evolve.”

His comments came at a news conference before a building dedication at the University of Washington.

Carter was the keynote speaker at the dedication of the university’s new Genome Sciences and Bioengineering Building in honor of William H. Foege. Foege directed the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during Carter’s presidency and later headed The Carter Center, which promotes peace and health programs around the world.

Carter credited Foege with saving the lives of millions of people through his efforts to eradicate smallpox, Guinea worm and river blindness, and by encouraging childhood immunization.

Foege works with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which contributed $50 million for the building.
© 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Wild Web of China: Sex and Drugs, Not Reform - New York Times

The Wild Web of China: Sex and Drugs, Not Reform - New York TimesMarch 8, 2006
The Wild Web of China: Sex and Drugs, Not Reform

SHANGHAI, March 7 — By some estimates, there are more than 30,000 people patrolling the Web in China, helping to form one of the world's far-reaching Internet filtering systems.

But while China's huge Internet police force is busy deleting annoying phrases like "free speech" and "human rights" from online bulletin boards, specialists say that Wild West capitalism has moved from the real economy in China to the virtual one.

Indeed, the unchecked freedoms that exist on the Web, analysts say, are perhaps unwittingly ushering in an age of startling social change. The Web in China is a thriving marketplace for everyone, including scam artists, snake oil salesmen and hard-core criminals who are only too eager to turn consumers into victims.

Chinese entrepreneurs who started out brazenly selling downloadable pirated music and movies from online storefronts have extended their product lines — peddling drugs and sex, stolen cars, firearms and even organs for transplanting.

Much of this is happening because Internet use has grown so fast, with 110 million Web surfers in China, second only to the United States. Last year, online revenue — which the government defines more broadly than it is in the United States — was valued at $69 billion, up around 58 percent from the year before, according to a survey by the China Internet Development Research Center.

By 2010, Wall Street analysts say China could have the world's leading online commerce, with revenue coming from advertising, e-commerce and subscription fees, as well as illicit services.

The authorities have vowed to crack down on illegal Web sites and say that more than 2,000 sex and gambling sites have been shut down in recent years. But new sites are eluding them every day.

"It's a wild place," Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at the graduate journalism school of the University of California, Berkeley, said of China's Web. "Outside of politics, China is as free as anywhere. You can find porn just about anywhere on the Internet."

On any of China's leading search engines, enter sensitive political terms like "Tiananmen Square" or "Falun Gong," and the computer is likely to crash or simply offer a list of censored Web sites. But terms like "hot sex" or "illegal drugs" take users to dozens of links to Web sites allowing them to download sex videos, gain entry to online sports gambling dens or even make purchases of heroin. The scams are flourishing.

A small sampling recently turned up these sites:

¶A look-alike Web site pretending to be part of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China asks visitors to enter their account passwords.

¶A Web site that calls itself Honest Company specializes in deception — selling bugging devices, machines to produce fake credit cards and tools that rig casino slot machines.

¶A pornographic Web site asks people to pay $2 a month to download sex videos and chat with other online customers in the nude.

¶A Web site advertises the sale of gamma hydroxybutyrate, a drug that acts as a relaxant and is thought to reduce inhibitions. Sometimes called a "date rape" drug, it is sold on the Web in China with instructions about how to use it to assault women.

Even the official New China News Agency seems to have gotten into the act. While the top of its news pages carries dispatches like "China Aims to Achieve Balance of Payments in 2006," some at the bottom feature links to soft-porn photographs of Chinese movie stars like Gong Li and Zhou Xun.

"The Internet is a reflection of the real world," says Lu Weigang, an analyst at the China Internet Network Information Center in Beijing. "Everything you have in the real world appears on the Internet."

Countless Web sites peddle police weapons, pepper spray and even machines to siphon electricity from power lines. Earlier this week, an eBay user in China offered to put up for auction his or her kidney and liver for $100,000. Reached on Monday, eBay said that selling human organs was forbidden on its site and deleted the entry.

And a Web site called the Patriotic Hacker asserts that an instructor "led and initiated attacks on Japanese Web sites more than 10 times." It says he even managed to shut down the official Web site for the Yasukuni Shrine, dedicated to Japan's World War II military heroes.

There are also Web sites here that sell "miracle drugs" promising to cure cancer or AIDS, sites that say they will create fake government ID cards; some that even promise to break into the national education database to change official records.

Most of the sites are forbidden by law. On paper, the government's Internet regulations forbid the display of any information that damages state security, harms the dignity of the state, promotes pornography and gambling, or "spreads evil cults" and "feudal superstitions."

How does all this get by the Internet patrols in a country where violators risk 3 to 10 years in prison, or in some cases even the death penalty? Analysts say that the growth in the Internet has simply created too many sites to patrol. In contrast, there are too few incentives to close down sites, particularly when government-owned Internet service providers, telecommunications companies and even state-run Web sites are making big profits from them.

"The Chinese government launches campaigns on the Internet to crack down on pornography or the sale of illegal goods once or twice a year, but this is not an efficient way," Mr. Lu at the China Internet Network Information Center said.

What is successful is online entertainment., a Google-like search engine, has a daily poll of the top 10 most beautiful women. publishes a popular celebrity blog by the actress and director Xu Jinglei.

A social networking Web site,, opened last August, and months later its owner, a Shanghai-based private company, said the site had more than three million registered users, mostly 15 to 25, who create personalized Web pages and meet online. "Most Internet services are about entertainment," said Pang Shengdong, 29, who founded "What do people do every day other than make money? They entertain themselves."

Richard Ji, an Internet analyst at Morgan Stanley, said traffic in this country was dominated by young singles, many of them searching for games, dates, entertainment and community. A recent survey found that nearly 38 percent of the nation's Internet users search for entertainment on the Web. The growing enthusiasm for the Internet in China is one reason some of the biggest Internet and technology companies, like Microsoft, Yahoo and Google, are eager to have a presence here, even if it means submitting to China's stringent censorship rules.

In the view of Dali L. Yang, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago: "It's truly remarkable. This is fundamentally a social revolution."

Mr. Yang says that the social dynamics taking place on the Web might once have been considered political, and certainly marks of a bourgeois lifestyle.

"But now," he said, "the Communist Party realizes that in a market economy and a globalized economy, they don't have the manpower to cover it all. It may be political, but it's not high politics."

Monday, March 06, 2006

'Crash' Walks Away With the Top Prize at the Oscars - New York Times

'Crash' Walks Away With the Top Prize at the Oscars - New York TimesMarch 6, 2006
'Crash' Walks Away With the Top Prize at the Oscars

LOS ANGELES, March 5 — In a stunning twist, the motion picture academy turned its back on "Brokeback Mountain" and its unflinching gay love story Sunday night, awarding the Oscar for best picture to "Crash," a moody kaleidoscope of racial confrontation in Los Angeles in which every character is at once sympathetic and repulsive.

"Brokeback Mountain," which had taken nearly every major best-picture prize in the run-up to the Oscars, won the awards for its director, Ang Lee, and for best score and adapted screenplay. "I wish I could quit you," Mr. Lee joked in accepting his award, echoing the film's best-known line.

But it was Paul Haggis's "Crash," which opened to decidedly mixed reviews but was a sleeper hit last summer, that proved a hometown favorite among the Angelenos who make up the vast majority of academy voters. They no doubt approved of its depiction of blacks, whites, Latinos and Iranians venting at one another, and perhaps, too, of its racial humor in service of a more serious point about intolerance and preconceptions.

"Crash" also won the Oscars for best original screenplay, for its writers, Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco, and for the film's editor, Hughes Winborne.

The upset victory for "Crash" came on a night when the academy honored some of Hollywood's favorite performers, as Philip Seymour Hoffman was named best actor for inhabiting the role of Truman Capote and Reese Witherspoon won best actress for her steely, charming turn as June Carter Cash in "Walk the Line."

The 78th Academy Awards, like the year in film, seemed preoccupied with political and moral subjects. George Clooney won the best supporting actor award for his performance in "Syriana" as a C.I.A. agent caught between terrorists and his corrupt bosses.

And Rachel Weisz was named best supporting actress for her performance in "The Constant Gardener" as a muckracking activist in Kenya whose victimization by an evil pharmaceutical company rouses her emotionally deadened diplomat husband into action.

Mr. Clooney, who acknowledged that politically "we are a little bit out of touch in Hollywood," said that once in a while that was "probably a good thing." And he returned the academy's compliment.

"We were the ones who talked about AIDS when it was just being whispered; we talked about civil rights when it wasn't popular," he said. "I'm proud to be part of Hollywood, proud to be part of the community and proud to be out of touch."

Moments later, Mr. Clooney mused that Hollywood was, about two years late, getting around to wrestling with the social and political issues confronting the nation. "It won't last very long, but we've done this on and off," he said. "We did it in the 30's, we did it in the 50's, we certainly did it in the 60's and 70's and we'll probably continue to do that, which is reflect society, not truly lead it."

Mr. Hoffman, accepting his Oscar, congratulated his mother. "We are at the party, Ma," he said. A radiant Ms. Witherspoon thanked her parents, too. "It didn't matter if I was making a bed or making a movie, they never hesitated to tell me how proud they were of me," she said.

A departure to the serious themes was the winner for best documentary feature: "March of the Penguins." The surprise hit bested a field that included documentaries on the scandal at Enron and on a hard-fought mayoral election in Newark.

With the comic Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" as its host, this Oscars telecast was bound to scald a little, and Mr. Stewart had what were no doubt welcome barbs for Republicans, perhaps less welcome ones for Democrats, and plenty at the movie industry's expense.

He said that the singer Bjork could not attend: "She was trying on her Oscar dress, and Dick Cheney shot her." He suggested that casting their academy ballots may well have been "the first time many of you have ever voted for a winner."

And, in introducing Terrence Howard, who played a pimp who aspired to be a rapper in "Hustle & Flow," Mr. Stewart defined a pimp as "an agent with a better hat." In fact, it was the rap song of Mr. Howard's character, "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," by the heretofore unknown Memphis group Three 6 Mafia, that won the Oscar for best original song, immediately after the group gave a raucous performance of it.

Mr. Stewart's narrow and young viewership on the cable network Comedy Central made him relatively unknown to the worldwide Oscars television audience, but his court jester's combination of sarcasm and flattery seemed to work with the Hollywood royalty in the room.

He said Mr. Clooney's "Good Night, and Good Luck" was not just a movie but "how Mr. Clooney ends all his dates." He assured Steven Spielberg that after "Schindler's List" and "Munich," "I think I speak for all Jews when I say, I can't wait to see what happens to us next."

On a night in which the expectations were high for "Brokeback Mountain," Mr. Stewart saved his best prerecorded material for what he called "the elephant in the room." With faux indignation, he said that "Brokeback" had "tarnished" the image of the staunchly heterosexual American western.

What followed was a montage that illustrated the kind of homoeroticism that has pervaded Westerns, and for that matter a half-century's worth of buddy movies and all kinds of mainstream literature at least as far back as Huck and Jim: Cowboys, sheriffs, and ranch hands stripping down to their union suits, admiring and handling one another's guns, winking, sweating, bunking down for the night, and asking, "Mind if I look at your Winchester?"

The award for best foreign language film went to "Tsotsi," from South Africa, Gavin Hood's story of crime and redemption set against a Johannesburg shantytown.

The director Robert Altman, whose films include "Nashville" and "The Player," the latter a classic take on the movie business, was given an honorary award for lifetime achievement. He revealed that he had received a heart from a 30-year-old woman 10 years ago — and kept it a secret until now for fear of the stigma that comes with it. "I think I've got about 40 years left in it," he said, "and I plan on using it."

While 2005's movie calendar was short on polarizing events — no one tackled the Passion or excoriated the Bush administration the way Mel Gibson and Michael Moore had the year before — it was teeming with modest movies making small statements about Important Subjects.

The nominees for best picture, all but one of them from studio specialty divisions, alone bore evidence of Hollywood's sudden case of seriousness: "Capote" and "Good Night, and Good Luck" cast a critical eye on the roles and responsibilities of journalists, "Crash" explored racial animosity and challenged preconceptions, "Munich" took on Middle East violence, and "Brokeback Mountain" illustrated the point-blank impact of intolerance. The lone big-studio picture, "Munich," was made for some $75 million, more than twice the combined budgets of all four other nominees.

The messages here were seldom radical, the causes rarely unpopular: Niki Caro's "North Country" tackled the evils of sexual harassment, and the point of "Munich" seemed to be little more than the schoolyard lesson that violence solves nothing.

By and large, it was a wretched year for Hollywood's major studios, with a steady stream of action movies and comedies performing belly flops into empty pools.

"King Kong," Peter Jackson's three-hour remake of the epic classic, won the awards for best achievement in visual effects, beating out "War of the Worlds" and "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," and for sound editing. "Kong" also won the awards for sound mixing and sound editing.

The Oscar for best animated feature went to "Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit," over "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride" and "Howl's Moving Castle."

"Memoirs of a Geisha," Rob Marshall's wartime Japanese romance, won three craft Oscars: best cinematography, for Dion Beebe; best art direction, for John Myhre and Gretchen Rau; and best costume design for Colleen Atwood. "Narnia" won the award for best makeup.

In a fairly tame race, about the only thing interrupting the tedium of "for your consideration" ads and breaking the monotony of acclaim for "Brokeback" — with the exception of the critic Roger Ebert's ardent agitating on behalf of "Crash" — was an acrimonious lawsuit between two "Crash" producers, Bob Yari and Cathy Schulman.

Mr. Yari, who put together the $7 million budget for "Crash," was barred by academy rules from joining Ms. Schulman and two other credited producers onstage — and in fact watched from home. Perhaps brimming over with generosity, Ms. Schulman, in the end, did mention Mr. Yari's name.

The red carpet offered the usual weave of glamour, fashion and Hollywood striving. Stars who usually move in their own little orbits stood shoulder to shoulder, some hugging, some checking the others with sidelong glances. It can get pretty thick at times, and did. When Mr. Clooney, a nominee in the director, supporting actor and screenwriting categories, reached over to shake the hand of Heath Ledger, a best actor nominee, he did so across Michelle Williams, who had her own nomination as best supporting actress.

Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock embraced as Keanu Reeves, who accompanied Ms. Bullock, looked on.

It has been a long season of precursor awards — the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild, the Independent Spirit awards — and not everyone will miss the ritual. Paul Giamatti, up for best supporting actor, surveyed the phalanx of reporters confronting him and said, "I'm thinking about putting up a hedge in my house and having a bunch of guys come over to my house and stand behind it just so I don't get lucky." Some, like Mr. Hoffman, skipped the chain gang of press, while others embraced the opportunity.

Juicy J, Jordan Houston, a member of the Three 6 Mafia and one of the co-authors of "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," stepped up to the Oscars with not one, but two diamond encrusted watches, topped off by a set of diamond "grills," two rows of jewels that he wore over his teeth.

Ludracris, the rapper-turned-actor who has a role in "Crash" and introduced the performance of Three 6 Mafia, said that Hollywood should get used to it.

"I'm proud to be part of history, the first time hip-hop is performed at the Oscars," he said on the red carpet. Asked whether he was worried how the audience might respond, he said: "I think they will go out an buy the record. It's about time for this kind of music to start showing up."

Huge Phone Deal Seeks to Thwart Smaller Rivals - New York Times

Huge Phone Deal Seeks to Thwart Smaller Rivals - New York TimesMarch 6, 2006
Huge Phone Deal Seeks to Thwart Smaller Rivals

The AT&T Corporation, in announcing plans yesterday to buy BellSouth Corporation for $67 billion after months of speculation, took the offensive against low-cost rivals in the free-for-all for phone, wireless and television customers.

With cable providers and technology companies entering the phone business, the former Baby Bells starting to sell television programming and more and more services available on mobile phones and on the Internet, companies like AT&T are trying to bulk up and turn themselves into one-stop shops for all communications needs.

"We literally have hundreds of competitors coming in every day; it's nothing like the old days," said Edward E. Whitacre, Jr., the chairman and chief executive of AT&T, the country's largest phone company. "If we're going to have the strength to compete, we better get our companies together."

The new company, with $120 billion in sales, about 317,000 workers and 71 million local phone customers in 22 states, would recreate a big chunk of the former AT&T monopoly that was broken up a generation ago. With the deal, only three Baby Bells would remain: AT&T, the former SBC Communications that provided service in the Southwest and elsewhere; Qwest and Verizon, the $90 billion company which is AT&T's chief rival. The latter two might now face renewed pressure to build themselves up.

The merger, one of the dozen largest deals ever, was long the subject of speculation and got a major push in January when the chiefs of both companies went bird hunting together in Georgia.

The deal still must pass muster with regulators and it will probably face close scrutiny from consumer groups and AT&T's main competitors who argue the merger would give AT&T too much power and will ultimately lead to higher prices.

But while AT&T — which was formed last year when SBC bought the long-distance carrier, AT&T — might look much like its old self, the landscape where it competes is completely different. In 1984, when the old Ma Bell was broken up, the Internet and cellphone service barely existed and the cable industries was far smaller.

The new, more complex environment is a big reason why anti-trust watchdogs have not blocked large phone deals in recent years. Regulators in the Bush Administration have also been generally sympathetic to mergers, which has not escaped AT&T's attention, analysts said.

Indeed, AT&T and BellSouth consider themselves complementary partners because they compete very little for local phone and Internet customers, and they jointly own Cingular Wireless.

As a result, consumers buying services from AT&T, BellSouth and Cingular are unlikely to see much immediate impact. Ultimately, the companies hope that their new size will help them hold down their prices and potentially undercut cable and satellite companies with cheaper television programming, which they are just beginning to introduce.

Any benefits to customers notwithstanding, consumer groups expressed concern about a deal to merge the two companies.

"Things were already quite bad, but this eliminates any possibility of phone companies competing against each other," said Gene Kimmelman, the vice president for federal policy at Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports. "The bottom line for consumers is that you can kiss goodbye the declining cellphone and long distance prices that people have become used to." Investors have considered a union between AT&T and BellSouth likely because of their mutual stake in Cingular and because of their shared history as Baby Bells.

Mr. Whitacre has not been shy about paying top dollar for rivals to scare away other bidders. In the past decade, he bought three other local phone companies, Pacific Telesis Group, Southern New England Telecommunications and Ameritech Corp.

In 2004, Cingular bought AT&T Wireless for $41 billion, and last year, SBC bought AT&T for $16.8 billion and adopted its name.

"The empire-building continues," said Jeffrey Halpern, an industry analyst at Sanford Bernstein. "He has a track record of gobbling competitors at premium prices."

AT&T said it would pay $37.09 for BellSouth's shares, which is 17.9 percent above the closing stock price on Friday. The company, whose headquarters will remain in San Antonio, said it expected to save about $2 billion a year by buying BellSouth, some of which would come from an unspecified number of job cuts. AT&T planned to keep its name if the merger is approved, and Mr. Whitacre would remain at the helm.

With the deal, Duane Ackerman, the chairman of BellSouth, and several of his top lieutenants stand to collect hefty special payments, according to the terms of their employment contracts. Mr. Ackerman, who 63 years old and nearing retirement, could sell $28,374,000 worth of restricted stock and options if he is asked to leave the company, according to publicly filed documents.

Mr. Whitacre and Mr. Ackerman have been inching closer to a deal for years. In the fall of 2004, the companies held extensive negotiations, but the talks collapsed after BellSouth pushed for a price that included a premium of more than 30 percent, people involved in those talks said.

Mr. Whitacre then turned his attention to buying AT&T. Just days before that deal was signed, BellSouth tried to return to the bargaining table, seeking a premium of slightly more than 20 percent, these people said. But it was too late for Mr. Whitacre to turn back.

When SBC absorbed AT&T in November, Mr. Whitacre turned once again to BellSouth because, among other reasons, the two companies were having trouble managing Cingular. In mid-January, Mr. Whitacre sent one of his bankers, Roger Altman, who worked in the Treasury Department under President Clinton, to approach Mr. Ackerman again and make an informal proposal. The next day, Mr. Whitacre and Mr. Ackerman went bird hunting, these people said.

After their day out, the men promised to go to their boards and pursue a deal. Several weeks later, the executives met again privately and shook hands on a deal, setting off another three-week marathon of conference calls and meetings.

The deal was given the code name Project Mountain, while AT&T was referred to as Aspen, BellSouth was called Birch and Cingular Cedar. The mountain theme was chosen because, as one person put it, "This deal has been a long climb."

Over the last three weeks, both sides camped out at the midtown Manhattan offices of Sullivan & Cromwell, which represented AT&T. Mr. Whitacre called in from Turino, where he was watching the Olympics. On Saturday, the boards of both companies met to approve the transaction.

The new company would dwarf its nearest competitor, Verizon, which has in the past reacted to Mr. Whitacre's deals by following with ones of its own. After SBC bought AT&T last year, for example, Verizon outbid Qwest Communications for control of MCI Inc., the long-distance carrier.

Verizon's next move will probably be to try to dissolve its relationship with Vodafone, which owns 45 percent of Verizon Wireless. Verizon has expressed interest in buying Vodafone's share, but the price tag is likely to be steep because Verizon Wireless is extremely profitable.

Less likely, Verizon could also pursue Qwest, the primary local phone provider in the western United States, which is saddled with heavy debts. Verizon may also look more closely at Alltel, the country's fifth-largest wireless carrier.

"Verizon's business plan remains unchanged," said Peter Thonis, a Verizon spokesman. "We are focused on integrating MCI, divesting our directories business and working to acquire from Vodafone the remaining 45 percent of Verizon Wireless."

Verizon, like AT&T, is also trying to head off its rivals by offering its own television services. But the construction of the networks to carry their programming is proving expensive and the carriers have had to acquire permission from municipalities to sell their service.

The Bells have asked lawmakers in Washington to help them streamline the process, alarming cable companies that have moved closer together to defend themselves.

In addition to selling home phone lines, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and other cable companies are working with Sprint-Nextel, the third-largest cellphone company, to introduce mobile phone services that compete with Cingular and Verizon Wireless.

Cable companies are also using Sprint's long-distance network to carry its phone calls to rely less on AT&T and Verizon.

"Cable and Sprint are the counter force to the Bells," said Daniel Berninger, an analyst at Tier 1 Research. "The cable guys may get more aggressive and stick it to the Bells" as a result of an AT&T-BellSouth deal, he said.

Mr. Berninger said cable companies might distance themselves from a plan by the Bells to charge content providers like Amazon and Yahoo to guarantee that their content is delivered to customers faster. Consumer groups, technology companies and lawmakers worry that such a service would destroy the open nature of the Internet.

Andrew Ross Sorkin and Eric Dash contributed reporting for this article.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Korea Herald : The Nation's No.1 English Newspaper

The Korea Herald : The Nation's No.1 English NewspaperChina's expanding shipyards threaten Korea

China's shipbuilders plan to double production capacity by 2010, threatening a glut that may cut profits at Hyundai Heavy Industries Co., the world's biggest builder, and other South Korean yards.

Chinese shipmakers are undercutting competitors in Korea and Japan as they bid to increase market share. Beijingbased China State Shipbuilding Corp.'s new shipyard on Changxing Island near Shanghai, which starts constructing oil tankers next year, will overtake Korea's Hyundai Heavy as the world's biggest when it's completed in 2015.

The rise of China's shipbuilding industry may cause today's near-record prices for vessels to fall as Changxing and other yards compete with Korean and Japanese rivals for business, investors including Song In-ho said.

The dockyard of China State Shipbuilding Corp.
“The speed of capacity increases in China is somewhat threatening to Korean shipbuilders," said Song, who counts Hyundai shares among the $413 million in assets he helps manage at Kyobo Investment Trust Management Co. in Seoul. Chinese yards have 20 percent of global orders for ships measured by cargo capacity, according to London-based shipbroker Clarkson Plc. Hyundai and other Korean builders have 35 percent and Japan's yards 32 percent. Shipyards outside Asia have less than 10 percent of global orders.

China's shipbuilders will double capacity in the next five years, state news agency Xinhua reported, citing Zhu Rujing, an analyst with the Beijing-based China Shipbuilding Economy Research Center. As well as the Changxing project, new shipbuilding docks are planned at Bohai in northern China and Guangzhou in the South.

Profit at Hyundai, based in Ulsan, rose fivefold last year as it benefited from record orders and shipbuilding prices that have more than doubled since 2002. Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co., the world's second-largest shipbuilder, said last month that its fourth-quarter profit more than tripled.

“The rise of the Chinese yards is definitely a risk factor for Korean shipbuilders," said Choi Chang-hoon, who helps manage about $1.1 billion at Woori Asset Management Co. in Seoul.

“Competition is increasing." Frontline Ltd., the world's largest tanker company by capacity, may order four VLCCs from Changxing for $105 million each, London-based shipbroker Clarkson Plc said on Feb. 10. The price of a VLCC at a Korean or Japanese yard is $123.5 million, the broker said.

“Shipyard capacity is well past the 1976 peak, with more on the way," Martin Stopford, Clarkson's head of research, who's speaking at the Shipping China 2006 conference that starts in Shanghai this week, said on Dec. 12. "Record shipyard capacity is a reminder that oversupply can be very painful."

Shipyard prices have more than doubled since 2002 as rising demand for oil and other commodities increased orders for oil tankers and cargo ships.

The global oil tanker fleet will grow 6.5 percent this year, according to Maritime Strategies International Ltd., a Londonbased consulting company, the fastest pace of growth since 1976.

To be sure, shipyard earnings may stay near today's highs for several years as yards complete current orders and before all China's planned dockyards come on line. Order books remain full at Hyundai, Daewoo and other Korean shipbuilders until the beginning of 2009.

Korean yards dominate the market for liquefied natural gas carriers, the most expensive and technically complicated type of cargo ship. China State Shipbuilding will complete the country's first LNG ship this year. Hyundai has orders for 17 of the gas tankers, which cost $215 million each, according to Clarkson.

“Korean yards can concentrate on high-end products like LNG carriers," Kyobo's Song said in a Feb. 24 interview.

“China's yards are coming from a fairly low productivity base."

China didn't deliver its first VLCC until 2003, which was built at Dalian New Shipyard in northeast China for the National Iranian Tanker Co. Four VLCC orders were placed at Changxing last week by a Chinese tanker owner, shipbrokers said.

China's increase in shipbuilding capacity is driven by its need for imported commodities including oil and iron ore and its surging exports of electronics, clothes and other manufactured goods, carried on container ships.

China Shipping Container Lines Co. and China Ocean Shipping (Group) Co., the country's two biggest shipowners, said on Feb. 27 they carried 16 percent more cargo boxes in 2005 than a year before as exports to the U.S. and Europe increased. (Bloomberg)


BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Mass rally against Thailand's PM

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Mass rally against Thailand's PM Mass rally against Thailand's PM
Thousands of opponents of Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra are holding a protest in Bangkok, vowing to stay in the streets until he steps down.

About 50,000 people marched to Mr Thaksin's office waving Thai flags and shouting anti-government slogans. Police said the march was peaceful.

This is the latest in a series of rallies accusing Mr Thaksin of corruption and abuse of power.

He has called a snap election in April in an attempt to win back authority.

One of Mr Thaksin's most prominent opponents, Sondhi Limthongkul, told the crowd: "We will rally around the clock until Thaksin and (his wife) Potjaman leave the country."

Another protest leader, Suriyasai Katasila, said: "The rally will go on and we won't stop unless we win."

The rally included the burning of Mr Thaksin in a mock funeral to cries of "Thaksin out! Thaksin out!"


On Sunday afternoon, the protesters marched from Sanam Luang (Royal Field) to the Democracy Monument, which commemorates the end of absolute monarchy.

In the evening, rally organisers called on the crowd to march towards the prime minister's office.

Waving flags and accompanied by a van playing music the crowd made its way there.

The BBC's Simon Montlake in Bangkok says there were tense moments as protest leaders negotiated their way past police lines.

Critics of Mr Thaksin say he has destroyed democratic institutions and is guilty of corruption, tax evasion and human rights violations.

Mr Thaksin, who has said he will resign if his party does not win at least 50% of the vote in the election, is campaigning in the north-east. He has strong support in the countryside, where the majority of Thais live.

About 100,000 supporters rallied on Friday to support him.

Mr Thaksin warned ahead of Sunday's rally the authorities would not tolerate violence.

"Protest leaders must be cautious and make good plans to control the mob. If violence or chaos occurs, state authorities will take legal action against anyone who violates the law," he said.

Mr Thaksin dissolved parliament on 24 February after about a month of street protests.

But his attempt to regain the initiative has been thrown into doubt by the main opposition Democrat Party and two other parties, which have said they will boycott the election.

Analysts say this would seriously threaten their legitimacy.

What do you think of the protests? Are you planning to attend the rally or have you been there? Send us your comments and experiences using the form below:

Story from BBC NEWS:

BBC NEWS | Africa | Benin votes for a new president

BBC NEWS | Africa | Benin votes for a new president Benin votes for a new president
Votes are being counted in the presidential election in the West African state of Benin.

Polling continued late into the night after administrative problems caused delays in a number of districts.

There have been no reports of unrest, and international observers praised people's discipline in an election seen as a key moment in Benin's history.

Four million were eligible to vote to replace Mathieu Kerekou, in power for all but five years since 1972.

A constitutional age limit of 70 barred both Mr Kerekou and his chief rival Nicephore Soglo from standing.

With 26 candidates in the race, the vote seems certain to go to a second round.

"We're going to have change," university student Carolle Assankpon told the Associated Press news agency in Cotonou, the main city.

"We're going to have a new chief."

Fraud fears

Voting was delayed in some areas as polling stations waited for equipment to be delivered or officials to appear but no serious incidents were noted.

Adrien Houngbedji, Bruno Amoussou and Yayi Boni are seen as the favourites.

Mr Boni's camp accused the election body of irregularities on the eve of the election, speaking of "missing voting materials, late opening of polling stations and inflated voter lists".

President Kerekou said he expected attempts to rig the vote and suggested it might be months before the result of the first round is known.

"The elections, which we had hoped would be transparent, will not be," he told reporters as he voted in Cotonou.

"If necessary it will take three or four months to check the results, like in the United States."

Mr Kerekou came to power as a Marxist but eventually opened up his country to multi-party democracy.

Mr Soglo was president for five years in the 1990s.

Benin is one of the 20 least developed countries in the world.
Story from BBC NEWS:

The State | 03/04/2006 | AP clarifies story about Katrina, Bush

The State | 03/04/2006 | AP clarifies story about Katrina, BushAP clarifies story about Katrina, Bush

WASHINGTON — In a Wednesday story, The Associated Press reported that federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his Homeland Security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees in New Orleans, citing confidential video footage of an Aug. 28 briefing.

The Army Corps of Engineers considers a breach a hole developing in a levee rather than an overrun. The story should have made clear that Bush was warned about floodwaters overrunning the levees, rather than the levees breaking.

The day before Katrina, Bush was told there were grave concerns the levees could be overrun.

It wasn’t until the next morning, as the storm made landfall, that Michael Brown, then head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Bush had asked about reports of breaches. Bush did not participate in that briefing.