...Views from mid-Atlantic
23 October 2004

Columnist Debra J Saunders describes how process trumped justice in the case of a UN employee, a Hutu, who has been linked to the deaths of 32 Rwandans who were members of Rwanda's ethnic Tutsi minority. In the Washington Times, she says the scandal is not, as others have suggested, that a UN administrative tribunal voted to give 13 months' back pay to Callixte Mbarushimana, but that he continued to work for the United Nations for years after he was accused of a role in the deaths of his co-workers, and the United Nations failed to either prosecute or exonerate him.

Reviewing the new film Finding Neverland, author AS Byatt rather darkens the aura of Peter Pan and other works that occupy the same little niche in literature. In the Guardian, she calls it "dangerous Victorian fantasy...The Lost Boys are those who vanished from their prams. Pan is Barrie, whose formative experience was the death of his brother (aged 15) when he was little and felt compelled to try to replace him for his mother, even wearing his clothes and whistling his whistle. Peter Pan is the ghost of a dead child, flying in the dark.

"What happens to those who have inhabited Neverlands? One thing is that they get called "the boy who was Peter Pan", or the "boy who was Little Lord Fauntleroy" or "the boy who was Christopher Robin" all their adult lives, and the haunting is not pleasant. What happened to the golden boys of the Edwardian Age was, of course, the First World War."

After centuries of isolation and stagnation, followed by 100 years of civil war, revolution, famine and foreign occupation, China is rejoining the modern world, determined to restore the wealth, power and status that are the birthright of the planet's most populous country and oldest continuous civilization. It's going to be China's Century, says The Globe and Mail.

An economy that grew 9.1% in the third quarter of the year leaves little room for doubt.

22 October 2004

Hot news on the insurance front this morning is that the outside directors of Marsh & McLennan met yesterday to talk about Eliot Spitzer's investigation into the firm's business practices. As a result of that meeting, they have broached with the New York's attorney general the possibility of having Jeffrey Greenberg, its chief executive, step aside while the probe runs its course. The Wall Street Journal is the source for this story being run on MSNBC.

Meantime, American International has disclosed that it is also the target of a federal grand jury investigation over its role in helping a Midwest cellphone distributor cover up millions in business losses.

And as a possible service to some readers, I thought I would include a link to this Boston.com layman's guide to what Spitzer's case is all about.

China is getting on with the business of creating a body of civil law, as it progresses from communist to 'democratic' state. Its legislature is currently discussing statutes on property and bankruptcy, according to People's Daily.

A team of physicists at the Georgia Institute of Technology has taken a significant step toward the development of quantum communications systems by successfully transferring quantum information from two different groups of atoms onto a single photon, according to SpaceDaily. The team's work, to be published in the October 22 issue of the journal Science, represents a 'building block' that could lead to development of large-scale quantum networks.

UN secretary general Kofi Annan acknowledges, says the Washington Times, that the organisation has been damaged by Oil-for-Food scandal allegations. He had been briefed on progress in the official investigation into the programme by Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve Chairman who is leading it. Mr Volcker released yesterday a list of some 248 companies that bought Iraqi oil and another 3,545 firms that sold food, medical supplies and other humanitarian goods to Saddam Hussein's regime under the seven-year programme that closed in 2003.

Enstein was right, apparently, when he theorised that the gravity of large bodies, such as the Earth, distorts space and time, much the way a bowling ball would stretch a rubber sheet held aloft on all four corners. The Washington Post says "frame-dragging", as the phenomenon is called, occurs "because the Earth's rotation pulls space-time along with it. Salamon likened the effect to dipping a spoon into a cup of honey and turning it. Close to the spoon the honey twists, but the effect dissipates with distance. Scientists have wanted to prove Einstein's theory since the dawn of the space age. Gravity Probe B, conceived more than 40 years ago, is measuring frame-dragging from a satellite by focusing a telescope on a distant 'guide star' and measuring how the axes of gyroscopes deviate from their original positions pointing directly at the star."

And while we're talking about genius, it's worth mentioning that a million copies of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's new book, Memories of My Melancholy Whores went on sale in Latin America and Spain this week. The Guardian says the book, "described as a hymn to the renewing qualities of love and the rich possibilities of old age, has been lavished with praise by the critics."

Miss Marple had a lover? Actress Geraldine McEwan, in a new film due out in December, is introduced as Miss Marple sitting in an arm chair of her home in the quiet English village of St Mary Mead, gazing fondly at a sepia-tinted photograph of a uniformed man. The Guardian says "McEwan's portrayal of Marple is markedly different from that of Joan Hickson, thought to have been the definitive. She is warmer, less prim, and with a hint of a hippy past, yet still the recognisable maiden aunt who carries everywhere a knitting basket and a pair of reading glasses." Seems to me like farting in church. But then, I don't think people should appear in public unshaven, either.

You'd have thought an organisation like the New York Times would know better than to stick that rogue apostrophe between the C and the s, wouldn't you? Where's Lynn Trusse when she's needed?

Now that he's got something going in the insurance industry, Eliot Spitzer seems to be measuring some people in the music industry for a fall. The New York Times said that "investigators in Mr. Spitzer's office have served subpoenas on the four major record corporations - the Universal Music Group, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, the EMI Group and the Warner Music Group - seeking copies of contracts, billing records and other information detailing their ties to independent middlemen who pitch new songs to radio programmers in New York State. The inquiry encompasses all the major radio formats and is not aiming at any individual record promoter, these people said. Mr. Spitzer and representatives for the record companies declined to comment." I just hope they nail the prick who designed that chastity-belt packaging for CDs. Society needs to be protected from him forever.

21 October 2004

The Washington Times is editorialising this morning about the role of the press in the presidential election. They approvingly quote Michael Barone, senior writer for US News & World Report, who has said: "This campaign has been less one between George W. Bush and John Kerry than one between George W. Bush and old media."

Marsh & McLennan says it took in more than $1.2 billion in incentive payments over the past 18 months - $845 million of such fees in 2003, and another $420 million through June 30 this year. In Insurance Journal, the company says the $845 million in fees represented 12 percent of its risk and insurance services revenue of $6.9 billion and 7 percent of its $11.6 billion in overall revenue. The fees also represented more than 50 percent of the company's earnings over the same period.

In London, Lloyd's of London members Amlin Plc and Hardy Underwriting Plc told Bloomberg that UK insurers typically pay brokers extra commissions for business. Placement agreements are "reasonably common" across the industry in London and the US, said Richard Hextall, finance director at Amlin. He said the payments are for additional services such as policy issuance and handling. But he said his firm didn't like them because they meant that "effectively, we are giving our profits away."

California's Insurance Commissioner has confirmed that he, too, plans to file a civil suit in connection with the widening investigations of the prevalent sales practices in the insurance industry. He says he expects the investigation to expand beyond the property and casualty insurance sector. The Commissioner told newratings that preliminary investigations had indicated "a long, long unhappy situation for the insurance industry."

And on the East Coast, the New York Times is fussing about Trident II, a partnership that Marsh & McLennan Board Members and senior executives, including CEO Jeffrey Greenberg, invested in, that profited by buying companies from Marsh and investing in companies that worked with Marsh. The newspaper says that it is not suggesting that the company made deals to benefit Trident investors at the expense of Marsh's public shareholders. "Still," it says, "it is unusual for a company's directors, who represent the interests of shareholders, to invest in company-managed private funds alongside the executives they are supposed to supervise. Marsh repeatedly worried about the possibility of conflicts of interest in the fund, according to the partnership's incorporation papers and other public filings.

"Experts on corporate governance have complained that Marsh's board, which has 6 insiders and 10 independent directors, is extremely weak and has not taken leadership as the insurance broker's legal problems worsen. Only two independent directors are employed by public companies: Lord Lang, a former British politician who is chairman of Thistle Mining, and Stephen Hardis, chairman of Axcelis Technologies."

A Munich-based journalist and historian, Heinrich Maetzke, writes in a Washington Times op-ed piece this morning that "The Bush doctrine had been overdue for almost 30 years. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s we knew about Middle Eastern despots harboring terrorists and terrorist-training camps. We knew where those camps were and we also knew the assorted German, Italian, Spanish and Irish terrorists bonding there with their Palestinian kin. But no one ever did anything about it.

"When President Reagan finally lost patience with Libyan terror-host Moammar Gadhafi and had US fighters pay a well-deserved visit to Tripoli, outraged European governments lectured him about international law and sovereignty. Terrorists and terror-hosts took the lesson to heart: International law actually protected them. At long last the Bush Doctrine has put an end to such nonsense. Libyans, Syrians and Iranians seem to have taken in the message."

Nice to know someone in that country can think.

Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri resigned on Wednesday in what the Washington Post sees as "a sign of deepening divisions within Lebanon's fragile government over the decisive role that Syria, a larger and powerful neighbor, plays in Lebanon's political life.

"Hariri, one of Lebanon's leading postwar political figures, submitted his resignation to President Emile Lahoud, dissolved his cabinet and said he would not form the country's next government. He will return to parliament, where he helps lead a bloc of Christian and Muslim legislators increasingly opposed to Lahoud, a Maronite Christian whose term in office was extended last month under pressure from the Syrian government."

Luscious is the word the Los Angeles Times uses to describe the reaction of consumers to George Nakashima's designs - "Emphatically luscious. The spirituality, they all agree, and how it transfers into your home. And if that sounds weird, they can't help it, it's true. In the insistent opinion of Peter Loughery, owner of Los Angeles Modern Auctions, 'It's in a category unto itself.'

"By the time you've gone through the two floors of Nakashima furniture in an exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum in downtown LA, and seen the last of the 50 pieces (several of which are by Mira Nakashima, who has taken over the work of her late father), you're not likely to question these impassioned assertions. Or why these designs have become, as Bob Aibel of Philadelphia's Moderne Gallery - the leading dealer of vintage Nakashimas in the country - will inform you, the hottest thing going in the world of 20th Century furniture: 'In the last 10 years, it exploded in America; in the last five, it's doubly exploded. The big change is that it's not just in America anymore. Interest spans the globe.'"

The Guardian's odd little scheme to influence the American Presidential election by getting its readers to write voters in Ohio, has backfired. Instead of helping those who wanted to oust President Bush, who the Guardian dislikes, it has instead, according to the Telegraph , given Mr Bush a boost.

"Across America," says the Telegraph, "the Guardian project has sparked disdain from the Right, and dismay from Kerry campaigners. Coverage in the US media has stressed the risks of offending voters. Furious e-mails have reached the Guardian, such as this one from Texas, stating: 'Real Americans aren't interested in your pansy-ass, tea-sipping opinions.' In Clark County, Mr Harkins, the local Republican chairman, has no doubt that the Guardian has helped him - and Mr Bush. He showed figures from Republican polls, indicating that only four per cent of the county's voters were still undecided last week. 'This is a very competitive county, where the undecided vote is very small. What the Guardian has done is firm up the Republican base. What a gift.'"

A senior Fatah official has told the Jerusalem Post that a power struggle between rival Palestinian security services is the main reason behind the state of anarchy and lawlessness in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Sakher Habash, a veteran member of the Fatah Central Committee and close aide to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, accused the commanders of the Palestinian security forces of running the services as if they were private fiefdoms.

Danish Statistician Bjorn Lomborg, the author of the controversial book, the Skeptical Environmentalist, has infuriated the Green Front yet again by asserting that from an economic point of view, climate change is the least important of the world's immediate problems. He assembled a group of economists, including three Nobel prize winners, last year to prioritise how money could be spent most effectively on helping the world's poor. The team of six American and two other economists said it was not worth spending money on climate change because the effects were expected to be far in the future. They recommended that money should be spent immediately on HIV/AIDS, water and free trade.

20 October 2004

Justice is sometimes a bit of a Wild West affair in Russia, as this story from the Moscow Times illustrates. President Vladimir Putin, however, has now finally signed off on "a law designed to protect witnesses from intimidation and retribution at the hands of criminal suspects and help shore up Russia's shaky justice system. The new law will come into effect on January 1, and will offer protection to, among others, witnesses, plaintiffs, suspects, lawyers, court translators and outside experts who give testimony." Human rights activists and crime experts, however, say the law opens the door to numerous police abuses and that the government is currently incapable of offering such protection.

The New York Times' case for resisting the US special prosecutor charged with finding out who leaked Valerie Plame's identity to columnist Robert Novak may be a little arcane for many people. But among US journalists, it has the feel of a significant battle. Michael Kinsley, who was the founding editor of Slate, and is now a columnist, takes the view that some things (and a CIA agent's identity is one of them) are too important to allow journalists blanket immunity from the need to reveal their sources. He wrote a piece along that line for the Los Angeles Times earlier this month.

The Times is running a reply by Bill Keller, NYT editor, this morning. He says Kinsley's theory doesn't play in the real world. "As far as we can tell, the special counsel is on a fishing expedition. This debate is not about an absolute right to protect sources; it's about the absence of any right whatsoever." Kinsley reiterates (I'm not quite sure why the LAT is giving him another crack at the whip, but there we are) that "The case at hand involves the illegal exposure of an undercover CIA agent. If this doesn't trump the journalist's privilege, what will?"

In Britain, if my memory serves me properly, it would likely work a slightly different way - a journalist could be required only by a court or similar body to give up his source. There is no right to refuse - doing so would be considered contempt for the court, something most judges are apt to get fairly exercised about. The journalist would have to be prepared to be held in contempt, something for which, in theory, he (or she) could be held until he relented.

The Guardian is running a piece this morning originally written by Tim Grieve for Salon. It's about interpreting polls - a good read just at the moment.

Reuters is reporting this morning that Marsh & McLennan warned yesterday that it would have only limited ability to borrow money through the rest of the year. The company said in a regulatory filing it may be prohibited from tapping any of its four revolving credit lines totaling $2.755 billion due to the probe. Each of the facilities contain standard material adverse change clauses that require compliance with laws. The New York-based company reached an agreement with each of the facilities to waive the effect of the probe until Dec. 31. In return, Marsh agreed to tap the facilities only to support commercial paper borrowings.

Marsh shares have plummeted nearly 48 percent since the lawsuit was filed last Thursday. Fitch Ratings on Monday lowered its debt ratings for the company and warned it may cut them further.

Marsh isn't the only one losing ground, of course. Investor's Business Daily says that "Ace Ltd. and broker Aon Corp. tumbled again Tuesday on concern the firms will become more embroiled in New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's probe of the insurance industry."

And there isn't only one way to lose. The New York Times observes that Marsh employees own something like five million shares, or "almost 1 percent of the 533 million shares outstanding at the company at the end of last year. Marsh employees have also bought their company's stock aggressively in various 401(k) plans, a decision they now almost certainly rue. According to Marsh filings, at the end of last year, a defined-contribution plan for Marsh & McLennan employees had assets of $2.24 billion. Almost 60 percent of the plan's assets were in Marsh stock - $1.3 billion worth. Another $938 million in the plan was in funds managed by, you guessed it, Putnam Investments (a Marsh subsidiary). Of the 17 fund choices on the plan's menu, 10 are Putnam funds."

Kofi Annan's comment to Britain's ITV news on Sunday was almost pathetic as Richard Nixon's protestation that "I am not a crook." The UN chief said it was "inconceivable" that Russia, France or China might have been influenced in Security Council debates by Saddam Hussein's Oil for Food business and bribes. "These are very serious and important governments," Mr. Annan said. "You are not dealing with banana republics."

Claudia Rosett is giving him stick about it in this morning's Wall Street Journal: "Mr. Annan did not actually deny that the Chinese, Russians and French had taken big payoffs from Saddam. Mr. Annan merely disputed that the Chinese, Russians and French would have delivered anything in return for the bribes. In other words, they may be corrupt, but at least they weren't honest about it."

Terrorism, says a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who is working on a study of the United Nations to be published next year, has a silent partner in the UN. In the Los Angeles Times, Joshua Muravchik says that "For eight years now, a UN committee has labored to draft a 'comprehensive convention on international terrorism'. It has been stalled since Day 1 on the issue of 'defining' terrorism. But what is the mystery? At bottom everyone understands what terrorism is: the deliberate targeting of civilians. The Islamic Conference, however, has insisted that terrorism must be defined not by the nature of the act but by its purpose. In this view, any act done in the cause of 'national liberation', no matter how bestial or how random or defenseless the victims, cannot be considered terrorism. This boils down to saying that terrorism on behalf of bad causes is bad, but terrorism on behalf of good causes is good. Obviously, anyone who takes such a position is not against terrorism at all - but only against bad causes."

19 October 2004

You read it here first! The 1st World Traditional Wushu Festival opened in Zhengzhou, capital of the central Henan province of China yesterday. People's Daily Online says 2,100 contenders from 62 countries and regions are to compete in four traditional Wushu events during the three-day festival. There are pictures of people wushuing.

Don't expect January's election in Iraq to be as smooth as Afghanistan's. The Washington Post is reporting this morning that "The U.S.-led coalition had anticipated that the United Nations would have the dominant role in Iraq's elections, as it has in democratic transitions around the world over the past quarter-century. A prominent UN role was also considered essential to confer legitimacy on the political transition, which has faced challenges both inside and outside Iraq because it has been widely viewed as controlled by the United States so far.

"But the United States and the United Nations are now caught in a diplomatic Catch-22, US and UN officials and election experts said. The Bush administration is disappointed in UN reluctance to deploy more staff; the United Nations is frustrated that the United States has not quashed the insurgency, leaving the country too dangerous for foreign election workers. US officials insist the elections will proceed as planned, but election experts say the UN team is inadequate to oversee the process. 'It certainly looks like an enormous gap between what is needed and what's available,' said Columbia University's Edward Luck. 'It looks like the UN has a group that would be sufficient for Costa Rica. It's clearly not sufficient for a country as large and diverse as Iraq, especially when taking place under very special circumstances.'"

Stocks of cod in the North Sea are so depleted, it is said, that they may never recover. The annual assessment of the cod by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, in Copenhagen, shows there has been no recovery as politicians chose to ignore scientists' calls for a ban for the past two years. The assessment will be used by the EU over the next two weeks as they prepare proposals for next year's total allowable catches.

Some of the slang we use is older than you may think. English has been the fastest-moving language for 100 years, says a new book, Larpers and Shroomers, the Language Report. The Telegraph quotes its editor, Susie Dent, as saying she had drawn up a list of neologisms coined in each year of the past century. "It is hard to believe that it is 100 years from hip to chav, but it is," she said. "The extraordinary thing about new words is that probably only about one per cent of them are new. Most are old words revived and adapted." Chav, by the way, is a pejorative term for council estate fashions.

The gangster Arafat has agreed to appoint a team to investigate the 80 or so embassies the Palestinian Authority has around the world, after allegations of corruption and mismanagement. The Jerusalem Post says there have been allegations that some of the ambassadors were running the embassies as private enterprises and exploiting their diplomatic immunity for criminal purposes. In one case, a PA ambassador was caught driving a stolen car. Another official said the PA suspected that some of the ambassadors and embassy workers had been recruited by European and Arab intelligence services to collect information about the PA leadership.

With more than 500,000 Jews and an estimated 5 million Muslims, France has the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe. It also has an anti-Semitism problem of a magnitude that caused Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to trigger an international incident earlier this year by saying France was host to "the wildest anti-Semitism" and urging French Jews to flee the country and move to Israel. In self-defence, the French ordered an inquiry to quantify the problem.

Now, according to Haaretz, they have their answer: The report says the recent wave of anti-Semitism in France is so serious that it represents a "radical threat" to the survival of France's democracy. It urges that the French authorities publish data on anti-Semitic acts that is "clearer and more transparent," so that people are able to compare "the specific gravity of the situation in France" with other countries.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is widening his investigation into the insurance industry to include a look at whether brokers and consultants are demanding extra fees for favoured coverage in the sale of employee benefits like group life and disability coverage. The New York Times is saying this morning that, "like the investigation into commercial insurance brokers, this inquiry began when Mr. Spitzer's office received a tip. In this case, an industry executive, upset by deals involving brokers and employee benefits insurers, telephoned the attorney general. In June, subpoenas were issued to Aetna, Cigna and MetLife, some of the biggest sellers of what the industry calls group benefits. These include life, disability and accident insurance bought for workers by businesses and nonprofits, who often allow employees to add to their coverage if they dip into their own pockets."

Britain's Independent newspaper, meantime, is suggesting that the scandal has now spread to Britain - "The UK regulator for the insurance industry has said it attempted to launch investigations into several of its member firms earlier this year, after receiving complaints about "contingent commissions" paid between brokers and underwriters - now the subject of a major inquiry by the New York attorney general, Eliot Spitzer. Chris Woodburn, the chief executive of the General Insurance Standards Council, the industry's independent non-statutory watchdog, said his organisation held extensive discussions about the issue during the summer, but stopped short of launching any formal inquiries after the complainants said they were unwilling to be identified as whistle-blowers."

18 October 2004

Mark Steyn is making some fairly unequivocal points about the campaign of presidential hopeful John Kerry. In the Washington Times this morning, he said "if clueless complacent Mr. Kerry wins, more Americans - and Britons and Canadians and Australians and Europeans - will die in terrorist 'nuisances'." Don't lose any sleep, though, because Steyn says he isn't going to win - "Because enough Americans understand going back to where we were means a return to polite fictions and dangerous illusions. That world is broken and you can't put that world back together."

Perhaps as a result of the slaughter of schoolchildren at Beslan, incidents of racially-motivated killing are on the increase in Russia. The Moscow Times says three people were killed in the last week alone in assaults that appear to be racially motivated. "The attackers, usually members of radical groups of young men, seem to be exploiting a surge of xenophobic sentiment among the general public - a natural reaction for a population that feels defenseless in the face of terrorism, observers said."

Two stories in this morning's Telegraph highlight weaknesses in the European Union's sometimes unusual way of doing things. The first criticises weak fishing regulations which are resulting in the slaughter of juvenile fish. One witness told the newspaper that 'It is totally incomprehensible that sane human beings are doing this...This could not happen in Iceland, the Faroes, or New England. If a skipper runs into juveniles in Iceland he is obliged to phone in and the authorities close the fishery within two hours and broadcast it on the radio.'" At issue is the size of the mesh in the EU-approved net, which British fishermen say is too small.

The second concerns a ruling of the European Court, which has "brushed aside 50 years of international case law in a landmark judgment on press freedom, ruling that Brussels does not have to comply with European human rights codes," according to the Telegraph.

Its judgment has profound implications for civil liberties, the newspaper said, reporting that the Euro-judges backed efforts by the European Commission to obtain the computers, address books, telephone records and 1,000 pages of notes seized by Belgian police - on EU instructions - from Hans-Martin Tillack, the former Brussels correspondent of Germany's Stern magazine.

About that case, according to the Telegraph, "Raymond Kendall, the former Interpol chief and now head of anti-fraud office oversight board, testified to the Lords in May that officials had acted improperly 'purely on the basis of hearsay' and were 'obviously' in collusion with Belgian police to identify Mr Tillack's sources. Claiming that the anti-fraud office head had more power to launch raids and seize documents than any other police chief in the world, he said the body was a danger to civil liberties. 'They can do whatever they want to do. There is absolutely no control whatsoever,' he said."

A few days ago, the Guardian suggested its readers write US voters in Ohio to let them know how they felt about the presidential election. This morning, the paper has printed some of the reaction. If you don't like strong language, don't click on the link. I especially liked the message from an American reader who wrote: "Feel free to respond to this email with your advice. Please keep in mind that I am something of an anglophile, so this is not confrontational. Please remember, too, that I am merely an American. That means I am not very bright. It means I have no culture or sense of history. It also means that I am barely literate, so please don't use big, fancy words."

Blogger Arthur Chrenkoff is naturally focusing, in his most recent Wall Street Journal compendium of good news from Afghanistan, on that country's recent election. He quotes Canada's London Free Press with some relish: "After months of what proved to be empty threats, military commanders and ordinary Afghans said yesterday the vote was a serious setback for the holdouts of the hardline Islamic regime that was driven from power by US bombs almost three years ago for harbouring Osama bin Laden. 'Yesterday was a big defeat for the Taliban and a huge defeat for al-Qaida,' said Lt.-Gen. David Barno, the top American commander in Afghanistan. 'It shows that the political process is overwhelming any influence they may have.' Voters also said the Taliban had been exposed as weak. Bismillah Jan, a driver for an aid group in this southern city, where the Taliban began, said his fear of attacks Saturday quickly disappeared when he saw the heavy security on the way to the polling station where the atmosphere 'was like a festival. This government has the support of the world and the help of God,' said the 20-year-old, who recently returned home after a spell as a refugee in Pakistan. 'The Taliban are weak and they are fading day by day.'"

Zimbabwe's opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai might have been acquitted of treason by a Zimbabwean Court, but he still sees no grounds for optimism in his country which is preparing for a general election early next year. The Independent quotes him as having said: "This [treason acquittal] is more of an exception than the rule as far as the conduct of the judiciary is concerned," he says. "It was all political persecution. They never had a case against me. I never did any wrong. So you cannot expect me to be on cloud nine over an acquittal on a fabricated case which should not have reached the courts in the first place." Some observers feel that the reason he was charged was to disrupt his preparations for the next election.

17 October 2004

Claudia Rosett is outraged that Kofi Annan has decided to fund Paul Volcker's investigation of the UN Oil-for-Food programme from money left in its coffers. That money, she says, belongs to Iraq. In the National Review, she says "If Volcker wants to run a decent investigation into Oil-for-Food, he would do well to insist that Annan find some way to fund it other than robbing the Iraqi people while creating a financial conflict of interest for Volcker's own inquiry. All that said, if Annan and Volcker go ahead with this plan, the U.N. should probably keep in reserve a last few drops of that leftover Saddam oil money. Annan just might need it for the logical next act in this U.N. saga: The independent investigation into what is about to become the not-so-independent Volcker investigation."

Meantime, the Telegraph is alone in reporting this morning that "American prosecutors are preparing charges against Benon Sevan, the former head of the United Nations oil for food programme, who has been accused of accepting millions of dollars in kickbacks from Saddam Hussein's regime."

There seems to be a feeling in New York this morning that Eliot Spitzer's suit against the insurance industry is the tip of an iceberg. The New York Times says other companies are going to come under the mircoscope, and it seems clear that Mr. Spitzer's accusations and his continuing investigation will have many other repercussions for the business.

"In other words, the trouble for investors in insurance stocks has only just begun...Marsh dominates the global insurance brokerage market, with a 40 percent share. Almost $7 billion, or roughly 60 percent of the company's $11.5 billion in revenues last year, was generated by brokering insurance to corporate clients. Any significant change to the way the business is done will have a big impact on Marsh. That is why Mr. Market has punished its stock the most. 'The upshot of the news and the investigation is that there will be a fundamental change to the economics of the insurance brokerage business,' said Adam Klauber, director of research at Cochran, Caronia Securities L.L.C., a research firm in Chicago specializing in insurance."

So-called tax havens, like Bermuda, are taking a pasting this weekend at the European Social Forum, a global gathering for Left-wing activists, being held in London. No need for our local media to get in a panic about it, though. According to the Telegraph, it's all a bit of a giggle - "The impression is that of a doomed village fete rather than an invigorating global revolution."

Some of the command and control of the insurgency in Iraq is based in Syria, the Guardian says this morning, and the idea that a long-standing plan is being followed is gaining currency. "'The idea that it was organised before the war is beginning to reassert itself,' says Dr Rosemary Hollis of Chatham House. 'There is a thesis that is gaining some currency with Arab nationalists that this definitely required a lot of preparation. There is also an increasingly long-term view, that they are playing a long game and, with a properly managed resistance, this is a conflict that can be won and that the Americans can be forced to go home.'"

The New York Times is wondering this morning what would happen if the United States dropped income tax and payroll tax and replaced them with a sales tax. It might work, but who would be prepared to listen to all the complaining about unfair tax competition that would come from across the Atlantic?


Art in Bermuda
Bermuda's Cuban Connection
Death of the Nation State
Helen Lives!
Joe Wilson and Michael Moore
Linton Kwesi Johnson's Dub Poetry
Me and Evergreen Review
Michael Howard's Vision
Miss Lou and Jamaican Patois
More Doomsday Nonsense
Mullah Nasrudin's Lessons
New York Dogs
OECD's Unfair to Competition
On Catullus
On Charles Ives
On Colin MacInnes
On Collecting Books
On Collecting Books - Part Two
On Gambling in Bermuda
On Napoleon
On Patrick Leigh Fermor
Race and Bermuda's Election
The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Gift of Slang
The Limits of Knowledge
The Nature of Intelligence
The Shared European Dream
The US Supreme Court's First Terrorism Decisions
Useful Yiddish
Yukio Mishima's Death

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2003 Index


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