In India swine flu panic spreads faster than virus

NEW DELHI, India -- The streets of the western city of Pune were half-empty, schools in Mumbai were ordered closed, and people suffering aches flooded hospitals across the country as India confronted dueling outbreaks of swine flu and swine flu panic.

Twenty one people have died from the flu here, the government said Friday, and 1,390 have been confirmed infected in this nation of 1.2 billion people. But fear of the flu has outpaced the virus itself.

"The amount of frenzy or hysteria is totally disproportionate to the overall reality of the disease," Dr. Jai Narain, the head of the regional communicable disease office for the World Health Organization, said Friday.

Breathless reports of swine flu have dominated India's 24-hour news channels desperate for stories amid the August doldrums. That in turn has helped whip the public into a frenzy, even in cities with relatively few cases of flu.

In New Delhi, where no deaths have been reported, people have begun wearing surgical masks in the street. In Lucknow, parents demanded their children be tested.

"Over 1,000 people lined up at different hospitals. ... Eleven of them tested positive," Dr. R.R. Bharati, a top health official in the northern city of Lucknow said earlier this week.

In Mumbai, the country's financial capital, the government closed all schools and movie theaters, hammering the Bollywood film industry over the long Independence Day holiday weekend. The government also asked malls in Mumbai to tone down their traditional holiday sales to keep away crowds.

The nearby city of Pune is India's worst affected, with 13 of the country's 21 deaths.

There, the streets were half-empty, the usual crowds shunned the shopping malls and many workers stopped showing up at offices. With schools closed, worried parents kept their children shut inside.

Many who did venture out wore surgical masks, despite a shortage that sent the price of a single mask skyrocketing from 5 rupees (10 cents) to 150 rupees ($3).

"The situation in Pune is alarming considering the number of ... positive cases and deaths. We are augmenting the resources in the city to handle the situation. However, we appeal to people not to panic," said Chandrakant Dalvi, a city official.

In response to the outbreak, India's government has set up testing centers around the country and plans to increase its stock of the anti-viral drug Tamiflu to 30 million doses, the government said. But officials have also asked people to stop wearing surgical masks in the street unless they or a family member are infected.

"I cannot see anything to panic about," said Dr. Jayaprakash Muliyil, a professor of epidemiology at Christian Medical College in Vellore. "These kinds of rumors are not good for the health of the nation."

The fatality rate from the virus is relatively low, though scientists worry it could eventually mutate into a more deadly strain, he said.

Yet the flu has garnered far more attention than India's raft of other health problems, including tuberculosis, which kills nearly 1,000 Indians every day, according to World Health Organization figures.

In Pune, more than 11,000 people lined up to be tested for the swine flu virus Thursday and 73 tested positive, Mahesh Zagade, a city official, told reporters.

"I think we are suffering a psychological disorder. We keep asking each other if we feel sick, cold, have a body ache, fever or breathlessness," said a 25-year-old man waiting to be tested in Pune who identified himself as Aditya. "I called up my doctor this morning and told him that I felt like I was suffocating."

The entire staff at one pharmacy donned gloves and masks after hearing a pharmacist was among those killed by the virus.

"We were planning to shut down, but we know we can't do that because people here need medicine," said Anand Agarwal, the 42-year-old pharmacist.

According to the World Health Organization, there were 177,457 cases of swine flu and 1,462 deaths across the world as of August 12.

After more than a week of feverish coverage of India's outbreak, some news organizations are now counseling calm.

"Stop the panic," urged the Hindustan Times.


Associated Press writers Biswajeet Banerjee in Lucknow and Jeeja Purohit in Pune contributed to this report.

Woodstock Nation

And did those feet in ancient time walk upon upstate New York’s mountains green? And did the fascist pigs seed the rain clouds over the festival site, causing them to unbosom upon the heads of the beautiful people? And was Jerusalem builded there, if only for 72 hours? Pretty much, apparently. No one was killed, at least not on purpose; and who knows—some scraping enlightenments may even have been attained. Peace on Earth. A different America, squatting BlackBerry-less in the mud—and smiling! Like you, perhaps, I was in diapers at the time, which means that I view the events recorded in the movie Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music as through an electric fence of skepticism, generational disenchantment, blah blah. Nonetheless: what a scene. What a mind-blower.August marks the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, or “Aquarian Exposition"—the famous festival/happening attended (or overwhelmed) by some 400,000 people, which took place on 600 acres of farmland in Sullivan County, New York. To celebrate, we have an expanded DVD rerelease of the original 1970 documentary, directed by Michael Wadleigh, as well as Ang Lee’s period piece Taking Woodstock and a little outbreak of books. The occasion would be as appropriately honored with a 50-mile traffic jam or an Internet crash: on every front, cultural and material, Woodstock was too much. Mass electrocution was averted only by an act of God. (Lee’s protagonist, on his way up to the stage, puts his hand on a metal stair rail and snatches it back with a hiss: thanks to an unholy marriage of rainwater and guerrilla wiring, the entire structure is live.)

The kids at Woodstock were either the first generation to taste true liberty, or the last generation able to police itself—we’re still working that one out. Wadleigh’s Woodstock begins with a kind of remote and Edenic eeriness: cool pulses of keyboard—the sound of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Long Time Gone”—as the camera roams the hazy pastures of Max Yasgur’s farm. We see the blameless cows, the soon-to-be-defiled meadows and lake, and then the paradise-dwellers themselves—the hippies, tanned and shirtless, chakras ablaze, starting to set the place up. In an instant, the scope of the dietary disaster that has since overtaken us is revealed. No high-fructose corn syrup in 1969, baby: the men are as lean as jaguars, the women firm-fleshed and passionate-looking. And no protein shakes, either—none of the congested muscularity of your 21st-century gym jockey.

Then night falls, and we get the first taste of the mayhem to come. Dancers, madly dancing; silhouetted druidic gestures; pale ass-cleft of hippie maiden, vibrant in the dusk. CSN’s “Wooden Ships” kicks in: “Silver people on the shoreline, let us be / Talkin’ ’bout very free and easy …” Magic!

In addition to cataloguing a mass freak-out, Woodstock stands as a monument to the spirit of ’60s documentarianism. The Maysles Brothers, Albert and David, had a bid in to make the film, but were narrowly beaten out by Wadleigh, who had dazzled the festival promoters with split-screen footage of an Aretha Franklin performance. (The brothers went on, of course, to make Woodstock’s dark twin, the Altamont movie, Gimme Shelter.) The idea of cinema verité still had a bit of buzz on it, and Wadleigh was fresh from working on Merv Griffin’s innovative out-and-about TV special, Sidewalks of New England. He and his crew were adepts in the new recording technology—the shotgun mikes, the sparkling Nagra sound equipment, and the handheld, quick-load Eclair NPR cameras that would effect the McLuhan-esque transmutation of Woodstock into Woodstock.

Once in position at the festival, they filmed everything: they filmed themselves filming, they caught the enormity upon enormity of the crowd, and they captured the touch of panic in the eyes of the performers. They came away with endless footage, 160 hours in total; the helicopters that came thumping in with musicians on board (because all the roads were choked) were also loaded with cases of raw stock for the cameras. Onstage, the cameramen scuttled and skidded around at knee height to get those fawning, swooning rock-star shots; out in the campgrounds, Wadleigh’s interviewers prodded the people with straight-man questions.

As a style, it was binocular, to say the least, and not for the purist. As Al Maysles averred in Dale Bell’s 1999 book, Woodstock: An Inside Look at the Movie That Shook Up the World and Defined a Generation,

Just as you go to church and God is your guide, in documentary filmmaking the controlling element—the guiding hand, if you will—is reality. And we leave that powerful force to give us what we get, so we don’t ask anything of anybody and certainly don’t interview them.

But what we’d have lost, without those interviews! The blunt anthropology of Al Wertheimer enquiring, “You bring your own coals to Newcastle?” of the young man, girlfriend at his side, who has announced that he has come to the festival because “there’s gonna be a lot of ballin’.” And the strange contagion of benignity that seems to grip the local burghers, their dazed regard for the kids best expressed by the chief of police: “We think the people of this country should be proud of these kids … their inner workings, their inner selves, their self-demeanor cannot be questioned. They can’t be questioned as good American citizens!” (Note here the chief’s jazzy mashup of New Age jargon and patriotic bluster. TrèsWoodstock.) Best of all is the progressive dissolution of one of the festival organizers, Artie Kornfeld, wet-eyed and helplessly grinning, whose head—by Sunday morning—appears to have been dunked in a bucket marked NERVOUS BREAKDOWN. “Financially, this is a disaster!” But he looks so happy …? “You have to understand, the turnabout that I’ve gone through in the last three days, in the last 3 million years … [Faintly adjusts the flower in his hand.] I meaning us, all of us …”

And then there was the music. Richie Havens, his top teeth gone, was the first to play, hunched with a deadly humility over his guitar: his “Freedom,” improvised on the spot, was pure suffering inspiration, pure duende. The Who walloped their way through a 3:30 a.m. set—impressive at the time, no doubt, though viewed today, the performance seems coarse and bombastic. Jefferson Airplane, staggering onstage a few hours later, were shakily magnificent. “Good morning, people!” yelled Grace Slick. What was the color of her eyes, in that tribal dawn? It was near-death-experience blue. Santana … Sly Stone … Sha Na Na, whose glam-revivalist take on ’50s rock and roll turned out to be the most futuristic thing there. And finally Hendrix, drug-jumpy but soothed with Valium, before a dwindled crowd, snaking onstage to give the worst performance of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” on record before conjuring ex nihilo—out of some shreds of feedback—the pop-art masterpiece that was his “Star-Spangled Banner”: Francis Scott Key reimagined as a muezzin with his finger in the wall socket.

Did I say that Wadleigh and his crew filmed everything? Not quite. No cameras seem to have been present, for example, near Hurd Road, on the east side of the site, on Saturday afternoon, when the Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers charged the Food for Love concession stands in a fit of anarcho pique and burned 12 of them to the ground. (At issue—as reported in Bob Spitz’s Barefoot in Babylon—were the stinking-capitalist profits allegedly being made by Food for Love, and the horse meat allegedly in its hamburgers.) The Maysles Brothers, with their nose for a good bummer, would have sniffed that scene out and made it a centerpiece. Nor did Wadleigh record the Grateful Dead demanding an enormous cash payment up front, or Pete Townshend beaning Abbie Hoffman with his guitar.

But these were sideshows, after all. The story of Woodstock, slice it how you will, is anti-Darwinian; nature suspended her processes of selection, and everyone more or less lovingly muddled through. Such menaces as there were seem to have been collective—the dodgy brown acid, the lack of sanitation, the rain that left concertgoers huddled under (packaged in?) sheets of clear plastic. When Sri Swami Satchidananda, ochre-robed, inaugurated the proceedings on August 15, he proclaimed the imminent oneness of everything: “America is becoming a whole!”

Well, he was wrong about that, wasn’t he? The intervening 40 years have certainly not improved or united us, and for Woodstock Nation, several species of doom were just around the corner. Hendrix would soon be dead. Altamont was four months away, when the Maysleses would have their hour of vision: they would record the scowling Hells Angels; the flying pool cues; the heads turning, all day, at the murmured circulation of bad news; the steady inexorable worsening of everything.

But Wadleigh had his vision too, and it was no dippier or more sentimental than the Maysles Brothers’. Look again at the wallowing happy people, lotus-eating in squalor. Listen to the amazed and rattled townsfolk, the chief of police with his “inner selves,” and enjoy the light music of collapsing hierarchies. The screen splits, and splits again; one thing ironizes or illuminates another. Woodstock plays cyclical social strife, the grating of the generations, as the grandest human comedy. Which, in the end, it may well be.

Missing cargo ship 'found' off Cape Verde

Cape Verde coastguards reported that the Russian owned and crewed merchant vessel, which is thought to have been hijacked, has been seen cruising over 460 miles from archipelago, which lies 280 miles off the coast of Senegal.

"The Arctic Sea is some 400 nautical miles off one of the islands of Cape Verde, therefore outside its territorial waters," said an official, without specifying the vessel's precise location.The Cape Verde authorities have hinted that the sighting may have followed an ongoing surveillance operation of the Maltese-flagged vessel by Nato or other international security agencies.

"The Cape Verde coastguard is in contact with international agencies and organisations that are continually informing it of the movement and progress of the ship," said the official.

Later, the French defence ministry confirmed the sighting, saying the ship had been "found", and was last seen about 520 miles off the islands.

Russian diplomatic sources said that at least one frigate was headed to the West African islands on Friday night in pursuit.

The sighting of the ship, the first since Aug 1, comes three weeks after its Russian crew of 15 reported a first boarding of the vessel in Swedish waters by 12 armed, English-speaking, men disguised as police officers.

According to European Union officials a second attack was reported a week later off the Portuguese coast, possibly by intruders who had remained as stowaways after the first attack.

The Russian state news agency Itar-Tass has reported that the original tip-off giving the Arctic Sea's location came from Russia's old Cold War rival Nato, with the French armed forces playing a key role.

Cmdr Chris Davies, the spokesman at Nato's British maritime headquarters, acknowledged that the Western military alliance had been monitoring the situation since the first reports of a possible hijacking.

Five Russian naval vessels, including frigates and nuclear submarines, are in the region after being scrambled on Wednesday in an international maritime hunt for the 4000 ton ship.

The sighting off Cape Verde, a key staging post for cocaine trafficking from Latin America, will renew speculation that the vessel could been have been hijacked by drug or arms smugglers.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, was in Cape Verde on Friday on the final leg of an 11-day tour of Africa.

At a joint press conference with Jose Maria Pereira Neves, Cape Verde's prime minister, Mrs Clinton praised the former Portuguese colony as representing "a new and emerging Africa".

The Arctic Sea left the Finnish port of Pietarsaari on July 23 en route to the Algerian port of Bejaia with an official cargo manifest of sawn timber.

The ship has food supplies for a 45-day voyage and enough fuel for 40 days of cruising.

The freighter's Helsinki-based management company said it was "unaware of any report that the ship has been located".

Car Bomb Explodes in Kabul Outside NATO HQ, Near US Embassy

A suicide bomber in the Afghan capital, Kabul, blew up a car in a heavily fortified section of the city. At least seven people were killed and 91 others wounded, including children in an attack that comes five days before Afghanistan's presidential election.

Afghan and NATO authorities say the car exploded on the road in front of the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force, near the U.S. Embassy and the Presidential Palace.

NATO says some ISAF soldiers are among the wounded. But most of the casualties appear to be Afghan civilians, including children who congregate in the area to sell chewing gum to passersby.

An ambulance driver told VOA he saw numerous dead and injured. He says all of the people he transported were civilians, including women.

Bloodied and dazed wounded stood near firemen who extinguished the flames coming from the vehicle that had detonated.

Windows of nearby shops were shattered. The force of the blast rattled windows several kilometers away and sent a plume of smoke into the Saturday morning sky. It is the first such attack in Kabul in six months, although this month a barrage of rockets was launched at the capital, most landing harmlessly.
Kabul police criminal investigations director, Brigadier-General Sayed Abdul Ghaffar, tells reporters at the scene this is obviously a suicide car bombing.

General Ghaffar says the identity of the bomber will be difficult to ascertain because he blew himself into many pieces, but investigators hope to arrest his accomplices.

Taliban claims responsibility

The Taliban, in phone calls to news agencies, claimed responsibility for the car bomb, saying it contained 500 kilograms of explosives and the intended target was the U.S. Embassy.

Embassy spokesperson Fleur Cowen says the American diplomatic compound was not hit. Cowan said, "I was in my office when a blast occurred a little after 8:30 a.m. and I certainly heard it but I didn't feel anything. We're still gathering information, however, to the best of our knowledge all U.S. Embassy personnel have been accounted for and there has been no damage to the Embassy."

General Ghaffar acknowledges the attackers were able to penetrate an area of the capital that is supposed to be heavily secure, less than a week before Afghans go to the polls for the first national election since 2004.

Officials urge Afghans to vote

The police official says this suicide bombing should not deter Afghans from voting or derail the election.

President Hamid Karzai, running for re-election, earlier in the week urged citizens not to be intimidated by Taliban threats to attack voting sites and disrupt balloting.

A successful election is considered as a key test for this country's fledgling democracy and the ability of the joint Afghan and international forces to provide adequate security.

Afghan suicide bomb near Nato HQ

A suicide car bomb has exploded outside the Nato headquarters in the Afghan capital, Kabul, killing up to seven people, the defence ministry says.

The presidential palace and several embassies are also located in the area.

The attack comes ahead of presidential and provincial elections due on Thursday which the Taliban have vowed to disrupt.

The BBC's Martin Patience says a group affiliated to the Taliban is likely to be responsible for the attack.

'People lying there'

Initial reports said three people, all Afghan civilians, had been killed and 70 people injured.

The Afghan defence ministry issued a statement later saying that it believed seven people had been killed.

The blast hit the heavily fortified area of the city at about 0830 local time on Saturday. "It was a suicide bombing carried out in a car right in front of Isaf (the Nato-led peacekeeping force)," Afghan defence ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi said, speaking from the scene.

Sirens blared as police and ambulances rushed to the area which was sealed off by international forces.

"As I was walking into the Nato compound I heard a loud explosion and fell to the ground," one man, Ahmad, told the BBC.

"People were screaming and I saw flames from the headquarters. We all left the area, as we were worried there might be a second bomb."

One of the injured was the female MP Hawa Alam Nuristani, who is also working for President Hamid Karzai's election campaign.

Some of those taken to hospital have been undergoing surgery to treat severe wounds.

The BBC's Martin Patience in Kabul says there will be real concern that there will be more attacks in the city in coming days.

He says that attacks inside the capital are relatively rare but have tended to be big ones.

The last major attack on the capital was in February when several gunmen, some wearing suicide vests, attacked the Ministry of Justice.

In July 2008, a massive car bomb killed more than 50 Afghans and two diplomats outside the Indian embassy.

These two attacks were believed to have been carried out by a group called the Haqqani network, our correspondent says.

It is named after the veteran Afghan militant Jalaluddin Haqqani, who is based in Pakistan's North Waziristan region. He is an old man now and the group is led by his son, Sirajuddin Haqqani.

Obama keeps heat on insurance firms

BIG SKY, Montana (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Saturday U.S. healthcare worked better for insurance companies than for patients, as he pressed his case for a major overhaul that critics say is too expensive.

Obama, who is in the middle of a multi-state tour to promote his healthcare policies, also accused "special interests" of misleading Americans about aspects of the reform bills making their way through Congress.

"These are the stories that aren't being told - stories of a healthcare system that works better for the insurance industry than it does for the American people," Obama said in his weekly radio address, referring to people he has met who have struggled with the current system.

"And that's why we're going to pass health insurance reform that finally holds the insurance companies accountable."

In recent days, the president, a Democrat, has stepped up his attacks on insurance companies, saying they bear much of the blame for the country's healthcare problems.

On Friday, the first day of a Western trip designed to shore up crumbling support for his top domestic priority, Obama told a town hall meeting-style event insurance firms were holding the country hostage.

He will hold a similar event in Grand Junction, Colorado later on Saturday.

Without naming her, Obama also accused former Alaska Governor and Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin as well as other critics of spreading false information.

"The history is clear - every time we come close to passing health insurance reform, the special interests with a stake in the status quo use their influence and political allies to scare and mislead the American people," Obama said.

He debunked, again, a rumor that one of the bills working its way through Congress included a provision to create government-run "death panels" to decide whether senior citizens live or die.

In fact, the provision would have provided insurance coverage for patients who wished to discuss end-of-life issues such as hospice care with their doctors.

Palin had referred to that process as "death panels."

"When folks with a stake in the status quo keep inventing these boogeymen in an effort to scare people, it's disappointing, but it's not surprising," Obama said.

Republicans and some Democrats have also raised concerns about the cost of the nearly $1 trillion overhaul to extend coverage to millions of uninsured Americans. Obama repeated on Friday his promise not to raise taxes on Americans making $250,000 a year or less in order to pay for the overhaul.

(Editing by Alan Elsner)

Taiwan Typhoon Death Toll Expected to Reach 500

Taiwan's president says the death toll from flooding and mudslides triggered by Typhoon Morakot will likely exceed 500 people, in the worst storm to hit the island in 50 years.

Ma Ying-jeou told aides at a national security meeting Friday that nearly 400 people were probably buried alive when a mudslide covered the village of Shiao Lin in southern Kaohsiung county. More than 100 people have been confirmed dead due to the disaster.

Mr. Ma's government has been criticized for what many say was its slow response to the crisis. Thousands of villagers were trapped when floods and mudslides wiped out scores of bridges and roads after Morakot hit last week, dumping more than two meters of rainfall on the island.

Taipei has deployed troops to the region to rescue thousands of villagers and provide emergency aid, mainly by helicopter.

Rescue officials in Taiwan are appealing to foreign governments for large helicopters that are capable of airlifting earth-moving equipment and prefabricated houses.

Mr. Ma's Cabinet is expected to create a special budget to cover more than $3 billion in estimated damages incurred by Typhoon Morakot.

The typhoon also damaged undersea cables, disrupting Internet and telephone services to several countries in East Asia. Taiwan's Chunghwa Telecom issued a statement Friday, saying it is working on restoring service.

In Gaza Strip, a deadly clash at mosque

Hamas forces storm the mosque in the southern town of Rafah after its imam, guarded by gunmen, declares that his militant group will impose an Islamic state. Sixteen people are reportedly killed.Reporting from Gaza City and Jerusalem - Hamas government forces stormed a mosque in the Gaza Strip on Friday and apparently subdued a heavily armed group of Al Qaeda-inspired militants whose imam had vowed to impose theocratic rule in the Palestinian territory.

Sixteen people were reported killed in fighting that raged for much of the day in the city of Rafah.

Residents contacted by telephone said it took Hamas six hours to capture the two-story mosque from a group calling itself Jund Ansar Allah, or the Soldiers of the Companions of God. Fighting spread to the nearby home of the imam, who had fled the mosque, and ended early today after an explosion demolished part of the house, witnesses said.

Medical officials said combatants on both sides were killed, along with some civilians, including a child caught in the crossfire of machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. At least 120 people were reported wounded.

The whereabouts of the imam, Abdel-Latif Moussa, was unclear.

Gaza's interior ministry announced at 2 a.m. that its forces had regained full control of Rafah from what a Hamas spokesman, Sami abu Zuhri, called outlaws led by a "mentally disturbed" cleric. The southern city remained under curfew.

Moussa, a 60-year-old Palestinian physician sporting a thick beard and red robe, triggered the confrontation with a defiant sermon and display of weapons at midday prayers. Surrounded by four black-clad men with assault rifles, he declared that his group would make Gaza an Islamic "emirate" by force of arms.

Witnesses said several hundred followers filled the mosque with shouts of approval. Al Qaeda uses the term "emirate" to mean a state of clerical rule across the Islamic world. Hamas forces later ringed the mosque and demanded the surrender of the imam and his gunmen.

Rafah, along the Gaza-Egypt border, is a stronghold of Salafist groups that claim inspiration from Al Qaeda and pose a growing challenge to Hamas, which they consider too liberal. Their numerical strength and links to Al Qaeda are unclear.

Hamas itself is an armed Islamic movement with ties to Iran and Syria. But it defines its cause as a nationalist struggle against Israel, not global jihad against the West.

Despite scattered efforts by members of Hamas to impose dress codes on Gaza's Mediterranean beaches and in other public places, its leaders have resisted Salafist demands to put Gaza under rigid fundamentalist rule. Jund Ansar Allah has threatened to burn down Internet cafes, which are popular among the enclave's 1.5 million people.

The imam's uprising was the strongest internal challenge to Gaza's rulers since 2007, when Hamas gunmen ousted security forces of the U.S.-backed secular Fatah movement that had long dominated Palestinian politics.

In the winter, Hamas survived a 22-day assault on Gaza by Israeli forces that in effect halted years of rocket attacks by the group against Israeli communities across the border. Hamas' adherence to a cease-fire is under criticism from smaller militant groups.

The first challenge from Jund Ansar Allah came in June when the group claimed responsibility for an attack by militants on an Israeli military base on the Gaza border. Three of the attackers, who were on horseback, were killed.

Typhoon Morakot death toll expected to pass 500

The death toll from typhoon Morakot is expected to be more than 500, Taiwan's president said today, as hope faded for hundreds of people still trapped by mudslides.

Ma Ying-jeou gave his estimate at a national security meeting, a presidential aide said, after Taiwan was struck by the worst floods in 50 years. The official number of deaths stands at 117 so far.

Ma, who came to power more than a year ago, has come under pressure amid criticism of the government's emergency response.

"As one of the victims said the other day, 'I voted for you, but now I can't even reach you'," said Lin Chong-pin, a strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taipei. "So there's a big drop in satisfaction with his performance."

Morakot triggered widespread mudslides, smashed houses and cut roads and bridges in southern Taiwan when it struck last weekend. Relief workers are trying to rescue 1,900 villagers still stranded and officials said as many as 400 people may have been buried in mudslides in the worst-hit village.

Authorities have given up hope for those buried under tonnes of mud in Shiao Lin, which is inhabited by the Pingpu tribe of aborigines, said the Kaohsiung county chief, Yang Chiu-hsing, said. A memorial park would be built on the site, he told reporters.

The island's official death toll does not include the estimated 400 people buried in Shiao Lin. A total of 15,400 people have been rescued since more than 2,000mm (80in) of rain fell during the typhoon, the disaster relief centre said.

Survivors were hauled to safety one by one along a 100-foot long cable by rescue workers yesterday. Soldiers in fatigues and heavy gloves resorted to using a makeshift cable to move people from the village of Sinkai over the Ba Si Lan river, where a bridge was destroyed.

"It rained for days," Li Wen-chuan, 68, told the Associated Press. "But the flood came so suddenly and with a tremendous roar. It destroyed everything in the village."

"This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me," he said, adding that many of the 32 who died in his village were friends and family. "My life will never be the same."

Rescuers have relied on helicopters and authorities requested larger craft from foreign governments capable of carrying earthmoving equipment and shelters. Many villagers have conducted their own rescue operations. More than 20,000 troops have joined civilian workers on rescue, cleanup and rehabilitation work.

Air traffic controllers suspended after Hudson River crash

An air traffic controller who was on duty during last week’s tragic mid-air collision over New York’s Hudson River, has been suspended for allegedly talking on the phone at the time of the fatal crash, which killed nine people.

The American Federal Aviation Administration has also suspended a supervisor who was not in the control centre in Teterboro, New Jersey, as required. The aviation watchdog said that while there was no reason to believe that the employees' actions contributed to the tragic accident, such conduct “is unacceptable”.

Air traffic controllers are expected to be alert at all times while on duty and are given regular breaks, sometimes hourly, for that reason.

The two employees, who were not identified by the FAA, were placed on administrative leave with pay. The FAA said it has begun disciplinary proceedings against the controller, who was handling the small plane that collided with a tour helicopter, and against the supervisor on duty at the time.
Related Links

* Hudson crash raises fears over tourist flights

* Nine killed as aircraft collide over New York

* Bird hits were like hail, says Hudson pilot


* Pictures: Hudson mid-air collision

Three members of a Pennsylvania family on the plane and five Italian tourists and a pilot, a New Zealand man named Jeremy Clarke, on the helicopter were killed when the two stricken aircraft plunged into the river.

The moment of collision was captured by a friend of the Italian tourists, who was filming their joyride from a ferry on the water below and unwittingly captured their deaths on camera. The amateur video shows the helicopter flying overhead when suddenly a single-engine Piper plane appears behind it, apparently climbing and turning. The plane clips the helicopter's rotor blades, and a wing shears off. Debris rains down, and the plane flips. Both aircraft plunge toward the water to the horror of the people onboard boats on the water below, who begin screaming “oh my god” at the tragic sight.

The FAA said the controller at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey was involved in “apparently inappropriate conversations” on the telephone at the time of the accident. The agency said the supervisor was not in the building at the time as required.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the labour union representing controllers, said in a statement that it supports a full investigation of the allegations “before there is a rush to judgment”.

The investigation came as the remains of the Italian tourists arrived in their hometown of Bologna for burial.

General release (112 minutes) Reviewer Jake Wilson

WRITTEN and directed by South Africa's Neill Blomkamp, District 9 is a film about apartheid with a science-fiction twist. A spaceship appears in the sky above Johannesburg, carrying a crew of aliens seeking asylum.

Twenty years later, the aliens are the country's latest despised outsiders, living in a ghetto on the city's outskirts and rummaging in garbage for food.

They speak their own guttural language of clicks and groans, and are known contemptuously as ''prawns'' because, as someone reasonably says, ''That's what they look like.''

A private military company known as Multinational United is hired to transport the "prawns" to a concentration camp further away from the city. Wikus (Sharlto Copley) is one of the operatives assigned to this task, but he, too, becomes an outcast when he's sprayed with a mysterious black liquid and begins to mutate.

With producer Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) helping out with the special effects, Blomkamp has made two films in one. The first is an ambiguous allegory about racial conflict.

The second is an adventure story that uses shaky, first-person video camerawork to make bizarre events seem plausible - the technique used by Danny Boyle in 28 Days Later (2002).

Neither story here completely works. The script runs out of ideas about two-thirds of the way through: the hapless Wikus never becomes an interesting character, and we don't learn much about the culture of the aliens.

As an action director, Blomkamp is no John Carpenter. Parts of the story are not dramatised but narrated direct-to-camera by supposed interview subjects - a lazy device that reduces immediacy and momentum.

But for all its failings, District 9 belongs to an honourable line of B-movies that blend social commentary with pulp excitement, which is more than can be said for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

A Harsh Hello for Visitors From Space

For decades — at least since Orson Welles scared the daylights out of radio listeners with “War of the Worlds” back in 1938 — the public has embraced the terrifying prospect of alien invasion. But what if, notwithstanding the occasional humanist fable like “E.T.,” all those movies and television programs have been inculcating a potentially toxic form of interplanetary prejudice?
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A Young Director Brings a Spaceship and a Metaphor in for a Landing (August 6, 2009)

“District 9,” a smart, swift new film from the South African director Neill Blomkamp (who now lives in Canada and who wrote the screenplay with Terri Tatchell), raises such a possibility in part by inverting an axiomatic question of the U.F.O. genre. In place of the usual mystery — what are they going to do to us? — this movie poses a different kind of hypothetical puzzle. What would we do to them? The answer, derived from intimate knowledge of how we have treated one another for centuries, is not pretty.

A busy opening flurry of mock-news images and talking-head documentary chin scratching fills in a grim, disturbingly plausible scenario. Back in the 1980s a giant spacecraft stalled in the skies over Johannesburg. On board were a large number of starving and disoriented creatures, who were rescued and placed in a temporary refugee camp in the part of the city that gives the film its title. Over the next 20 years the settlement became a teeming shantytown like so many others in the developing world, with the relatively minor distinction of being home to tall, skinny bipeds with insectlike faces and bodies that seem to combine biological and mechanical features. Though there is evidence that those extraterrestrials — known in derogatory slang as prawns because of their vaguely crustacean appearance — represent an advanced civilization, their lives on Earth are marked by squalor and dysfunction. And they are viewed by South Africans of all races with suspicion, occasional pity and xenophobic hostility.

The South African setting hones the allegory of “District 9” to a sharp topical point. That country’s history of apartheid and its continuing social problems are never mentioned, but they hardly need to be. And the film’s implications extend far beyond the boundaries of a particular nation, which is taken as more or less representative of the planet as a whole.

No group, from the mostly white soldiers and bureaucrats who corral and abuse the prawns to the Nigerian gangsters who prey upon the aliens and exploit their addiction to cat food, is innocent. And casual bigotry turns out to be the least of the problems facing the exiles. As it progresses, “District 9” uncovers a horrific program of medical experimentation yoked to a near-genocidal agenda of corporate greed. A company called M.N.U. (it stands, none too subtly, for Multi-National United) has taken over administration of the prawn population, which means resettling the aliens in a remote enclosure reminiscent of the Bantustans of the apartheid era.

The M.N.U. executive charged with carrying out this program is Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), a nervous nebbish whose father-in-law (Louis Minnaar) is the head of the company. Cowardly, preening and hopeless at projecting authority, Wikus is the kind of guy who gives nepotism a bad name. It says a lot about Mr. Blomkamp’s sense of humor, and about his view of his own species, that this pathetic little paper pusher is his chosen agent of mankind’s potential moral redemption.

But I’m getting ahead of the story, and perhaps overselling the allegory. Not that the metaphorical resonances of “District 9” aren’t rich and thought provoking. But the filmmakers don’t draw them out with a heavy, didactic hand. Instead, in the best B-movie tradition, they embed their ideas in an ingenious, propulsive and suspenseful genre entertainment, one that respects your intelligence even as it makes your eyes pop (and, once in a while, your stomach turn).

The early pseudo-documentary conceit, which uses footage that pretends to have been harvested from news choppers and security cameras as well as some by the unseen crew accompanying Wikus on his tour of the prawn camp, fades away after a while. The academic authorities do too, having served the dual functions of providing narrative exposition and demonstrating the high-minded uselessness of official liberal discourse.

Once a terrible accident befalls Wikus, we are at his side and under his skin, and “District 9” subtly shifts from speculative science fiction to zombie bio-horror and then, less subtly, turns into an escape-action-chase movie full of explosions, gunplay and vehicular mayhem.

In the midst of it all you almost take for granted the carefully rendered details of the setting, the tightness of the editing and the inventiveness of the special effects. Not the least of these are the aliens themselves, who are made expressive and soulful without quite being anthropomorphized. (Their whirring, clicking speech, partly understood by Wikus and others who work with the creatures, is translated for the rest of us via subtitles.)

One in particular, named Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope), becomes Wikus’s protector and ward, and their relationship turns “District 9,” in its final act, into an intergalactic buddy picture, with some intriguing (and also possibly disappointing) sequel opportunities left open.

At its core the film tells the story — hardly an unfamiliar one in the literature of modern South Africa — of how a member of the socially dominant group becomes aware of the injustice that keeps him in his place and the others, his designated inferiors, in theirs. The cost he pays for this knowledge is severe, as it must be, given the dreadful contours of the system. But if the film’s view of the world is bleak, it is not quite nihilistic. It suggests that sometimes the only way to become fully human is to be completely alienated.

“District 9” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has intense violence and violent swearing in the languages of two planets.


Opens on Friday nationwide.

Directed by Neill Blomkamp; written by Mr. Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell; director of photography, Trent Opaloch; edited by Julian Clarke; production designer, Philip Ivey; music by Clinton Shorter; produced by Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham; released by TriStar Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 51 minutes.

WITH: Sharlto Copley (Wikus), David James (Koobus), Jason Cope (Christopher Johnson), Vanessa Haywood (Tania) and Louis Minnaar (Piet Smit).

Bill Clinton: The Time Is Now

PITTSBURGH — At times fiery with his familiar finger-pointing repeatedly jabbing the air, former President Bill Clinton implored an audience of bloggers and activists tonight not to lose out on a moment that he said he had worked all his life for.

It was as though this was his time, too, not just that of President Obama. The former president revisited several pieces of his legacy, drawing comparisons between his battle for health care overhaul to the fight occurring now and even angrily defending the compromise that became “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for the military when a protester in the audience shouted at him. He even drew on Americorps and student loans to bridge the time between his administration and that of Mr. Obama.

As the keynote speaker on the opening day of the Netroots Nation conference, Mr. Clinton began rather quietly, apologizing for a hoarse voice caused by being on too many planes lately. (Perhaps a reference to his rescue mission for the journalists detained in North Korea or to recent speaking events around the country. Or to that birthday party in Las Vegas. … )

He then sort of slipped in an oblique reference to his role versus his wife’s job these days, on the heels of her outburst in Africa, where she recoiled intemperately from a question about what he might think on a particular subject. Being a former president, he joked, was great because he could speak his mind, but on the other hand, the worst thing is nobody cares anymore. “Unless,” he quipped, “Your wife becomes secretary of state and then they only care when you screw up.” (At another point, he defended her work there ardently, praising her for touring sites of human misery in the Congo.)

The past work of Hillary Rodham Clinton hung in the air, too, as opposition to the current health care bills has reached such a loud pitch that the echoes were all too noisy for the former president. He urged the audience to debate the major points – he said he still favored a public option but that there were many options; but he cautioned them not to lose sight of the opportunity they have now with a Democratically controlled Congress.

He complimented President Obama’s town-hall meeting in New Hampshire earlier in the week, saying he hit the right message. (He oddly noted, though, that “one good day in New Hampshire does not a campaign make,” which, while he was referring to Mr. Obama’s town-hall, also holds resonance from his wife’s primary win in that state that restored her confidence after her loss in Iowa to Mr. Obama.)

Mr. Clinton concluded that segment by saying, “the president needs your help and the cause needs your help.’’

And he continued, drawing on his own history with the failed health care bills of his own terms: It is “politically imperative for the Democrats to pass a health care bill now. One thing we know and that I’ve lived through — if you get out there and you don’t prevail — the victors get to rewrite history.”

He counseled them to debate the best parts, toss out the ones no one could agree on and forget the bad. But stay, he urged, in the lane to get it done.

At that point, Mr. Clinton began a point-by-point revisit of the 1993-94 health care battles, contending that the insurance companies were now rewriting that history. He ended the segment by asking, “Do you want to go through that again? Of course you don’t.”

“This battle is not over,” he cajoled the friendly audience. “We have big-time responsibilities. It is an honor for all us to be alive and to carry this responsibility. We can’t be in the peanut gallery. We have to be actors. … Don’t lose your energy because things don’t work out the way you want. It won’t take you 40 years to get health care reform. ….”

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

One of the other interesting moments tonight (and there were several) was when a person in the audience stood up and shouted to Mr. Clinton about the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military. At first, Mr. Clinton turned his head and said: “Hey, you ought to go to one of those congressional health care meetings.” They’d be happy to have him, he added.

But then Mr. Clinton turned very irritated and pointedly used the second person in challenging his critic in the audience. You, he said, didn’t get me any support in Congress. The media exacerbated his efforts on gays in the military, he added. Then he kept on in this vein, partially paraphrased: Most of what you did was to attack me instead of getting me some support in the Congress. “Now that’s the truth. That’s the truth.”

He again mentioned how times have changed, and how much more support there is within the military for change. He also recalled how General Colin Powell had developed the policy, with the idea that no one’s personal life out of uniform would ever be reason for a penalty. But, he said, after Mr. Powell left, those intentions went awry. Mr. Clinton lamented that just recently the government spent a ton of money to oust a gay person who spoke Arabic, and also mentioned so many who risked their lives in the first Gulf War but were let go as soon as it was over. “I hated what happened,” Mr. Clinton said. “I regretted it.”

He insisted that those decisions were made against the backdrop of worry about whether Republicans would be able to muster the votes for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. (We ask, are most members of the audience old enough to even remember that time?)

Later on, in the context of another issue, Mr. Clinton digressed to say he didn’t mind debating the person who challenged him on this issue. But his angry, lengthy digression – totally unscripted — into that historical part of his presidency suggested that he does indeed mind the impressions still indelibly left in people’s minds.

This segue was a truly Clintonesque moment — one that just came out of the blue and drew him into a vortex of what he remembered and who he remembered as enemy or friend.

… Just a few more notes: After all the rivalry and bitterness between the Clinton and Obama campaigns in 2007 and 2008, and especially Mr. Clinton’s controversial statements that upset African-Americans during the primaries in certain states, the aftermath – at least in public – is interesting to watch.

Following up on comments made by Representative Brad Miller of North Carolina tonight that 47 percent of his state’s residents believe Mr. Obama wasn’t born in the United States, Mr. Clinton opened up his remarks by saying he was surprised it was that low because of prejudice and sustained racial divisions. Mr. Miller had worried aloud that much of the health care debate had been twisted into identity politics, where presidential proposals for changes that were less onerous than those for car insurance had resulted in calling Mr. Obama “Hitler.”

As for Mr. Clinton, he did late in the speech return to the notion that people don’t believe Mr. Obama’s citizenship. He said the election of an African-American lifted a “burden” off the shoulders of Southerners like him, and was not only an inspiration to young black children, but to so many others in a country that was more and diverse. And it’s also a time when Democrats, to Mr. Clinton, finally have a chance to grab a moment that could last three decades or more, unlike his own Democratic reign betwixt and between many Republican administrations.

To the audience, he pointed again to this time: “But we should realize that we have been given this staggering responsibility. I have been waiting 40 years for this.”

Another Note: And F.Y.I., liberal bloggers aren’t the only ones online who are in the Steel City. RightOnline, a conference of conservative bloggers, has set up a smaller counterconvention nearby, just as it did last year. It doesn’t begin until Friday night, when Pat Toomey, the former congressman and Republican candidate for Senator in Pennsylvania will be among the high-profile guests. We visited them last year in Austin.

And a P.S.: As a hometown, this one can only be said to hold considerable sway tonight as the Steelers played a pre-season event.

Obama westward bound with healthcare message

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama is taking his healthcare reform message out west this weekend with two more public meetings seeking to overcome vociferous opposition to the $1 trillion overhaul scheme.

During a multi-state trip to national parks with his wife and daughters, Obama will speak and take questions in Montana and Colorado to try to convince Americans that the massive reform plan -- his top domestic policy priority -- is necessary to fix a broken system and push back against conservatives who say he wants a government takeover.

The two "town hall" meetings on Friday and Saturday will be Obama's second and third such events within less than a week, after a meeting in New Hampshire on Tuesday.

They come as poll numbers reflect concern about the U.S. budget deficit and Republicans contend that the plan would be an expensive mistake, especially as the country tries to emerge from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Screaming demonstrators have disrupted some recent public information meetings on healthcare held by members of Congress from Obama's Democratic party, which captured media attention and overshadowed debate on the plan's complex details.

Even some healthcare supporters have faulted Obama for relying too heavily on others to make his case, and faulted the White House for letting healthcare opponents dominate the discussion.

"It's OK if the fringes believe certain things, but you don't want their ideas creeping into the mainstream," said Darrell West of the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Obama's public meetings will help, experts said.


"A president, only a president, has a pulpit bully enough to reshape the debate," said James Morone, a Brown University professor and author of "The Heart of Power: Health and Politics in the Oval Office"

"It's entirely in Obama's hands," he said.

Others said a president who ran a nearly flawless media campaign while he sought the office should have stepped in sooner, and more strongly.

"The Obama campaign was almost perfect on message," said George Lakoff, a linguistics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of "The Political Mind," on how politicians frame their debates.

"How could the same people make this mess of things?" he asked. Lakoff, who has advised Democrats on communications, said the White House had mis-framed its argument by focusing too much on policy details.

For example, "'Public option' doesn't resonate," he said, referring to plans for a government-run insurance program that would compete with private firms. Continued...

After Early Errors, Wal-Mart Thinks Locally to Act Globally

SÃO PAULO -- Having powered its way to the top in U.S. retailing, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has struggled to extend its dominance across the globe.

But the world's largest retailer is learning in Brazil and elsewhere that the most successful ideas don't necessarily flow from its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. That has it tailoring inventories and stores to local tastes -- and exporting ideas and products pioneered outside the U.S.

Traffic-choked São Paulo, for instance, proved inhospitable to the kind of vast stores with which Wal-Mart dominates in American suburbs. At the same time, the local-market savvy of Brazilian retailers that Wal-Mart acquired has proved invaluable."What we have learned in the past couple of years is that one size does not fit all," says Anthony Hucker, a British retail veteran now tasked with taking winning Wal-Mart store formats and expanding them globally.

Wal-Mart's challenge abroad is to cater to local tastes for native products that are not popular elsewhere, while still making the most of the global purchasing might that lets its squeeze down its costs.

Finding new frontiers for expansion has become crucial for Wal-Mart. The company reported nearly flat second-quarter earnings Thursday, including a 1.2% decline in sales at U.S. stores open for at least a year. But Wal-Mart said it notched a significantly stronger performance abroad. The company estimated its foreign unit posted a 13% rise in profits for the quarter and a 11.5% increase in sales, if currency fluctuations are taken out of the equation.

And though Wal-Mart's stock rose smartly last year, as its low prices appealed to recession-strapped shoppers, it has slid 7% in 2009 on skepticism about how well it will prosper when the economy and consumers bounce back. The big retailer has been gradually boosting its international spending in recent years, even as it reduces overall capital expenditures. It has estimated it will spend up to $5.3 billion on foreign expansion projects in the fiscal year that began Feb. 1. And that figure doesn't include its splashiest new move, the acquisition of a controlling stake in Chile's largest grocery chain, Distribucion y Servicio D&S SA.

Wal-Mart's international division already includes some 3,700 stores and provides nearly a quarter of the company's $401 billion in annual sales. In all but one of the 14 foreign countries where Wal-Mart International does business, executives say, its sales are growing faster than that country's retail market.

Yet Wal-Mart wants its international business to be much more. It has stepped up spending in China, has struck a retail partnership in India, is exploring possibilities in the Middle East and is planning a move into Russia soon.

Though it puts the Wal-Mart name on many of its stores abroad, it also uses some 60 other names, often those of local retail chains it has acquired. In Brazil, a market Wal-Mart entered in 1995, it now is primarily building small discount stores catering to the emerging middle class, but under the name Todo Dia.

In the city of Carapicuiba on the edge of São Paulo, a gleaming new Todo Dia in a hardscrabble neighborhood pocked with graffiti offers a decidedly Brazilian take on Wal-Mart shopping. A produce section styled after a fruit stand is piled with fresh oranges. A huge display hawks the black turtle beans and salted pork ears needed to cook a feijoada, a traditional Brazilian stew.

"This format is very close to the people," says store manager Francisco Dias, who is locked in a heated price war with five neighborhood rivals, mostly mom-and-pop businesses.

After initially failing to gain ground in Brazil with U.S.-style superstores, Wal-Mart has come on strong after acquiring two established local chains and adopting their hyper-local approach. Executives estimate the Brazil operation has been notching near-double-digit year-over-year sales gains during the global downturn, exceeding the 6% overall growth of the Brazilian retail market.Wal-Mart remains No. 3 behind two more-established merchants: France's Carrefour SA and Pão de Açúcar Group, which is jointly controlled by a Brazilian family and Casino Guichard-Perrachon SA of France. "It's a close contest -- they all have the best prices on something," said Maria-Inez Buzato-Faria, 55 years old, as she compared the three retailers' circulars while shopping at Pão de Açúcar's Extra discount superstore.

Carrefour, which pioneered the hyper-market format mixing food and general merchandise that helped Wal-Mart prosper in the U.S., has also sensed the trend toward smaller stores. It is expanding in Brazil with new outlets called Dia that closely resemble Wal-Mart's Todo Dia. "Dia enables a wider presence," says a spokeswoman for Carrefour, adding that it has 331 Dia stores in the state of São Paulo alone.

The battle of Brazil illustrates one of the biggest challenges Wal-Mart faces in trying to spread its high-volume discount retailing around the world: Established competitors have greater scale and stronger relationships with local suppliers, which sometimes allow them to buy fresh groceries and regional food brands at lower prices.

"In international discount retailing, the ability to leverage being a $400 billion company has its limits," says Anil K. Gupta, a Maryland business professor who wrote a book titled "The Quest for Global Dominance" that examined Wal-Mart's foreign missteps. "If I had to pick Wal-Mart's No. 1 weakness, it is that they have not historically factored in the fundamentally local nature of retailing, and that is surprising."

Wal-Mart executives agree that offering the regional products that locals like, while still pressing global purchasing advantages, is the balance the company must master if it is to repeat its huge U.S. success world-wide. "It's the challenge of being a global company," says Wan Ling Martello, Wal-Mart International's chief financial officer.

When Wal-Mart began an aggressive overseas expansion a decade ago, it believed that winning meant doing things the American way. Compared with veterans of global retailing such as Carrefour, which entered Brazil in 1975, Wal-Mart seemed culturally tone-deaf, peddling golf clubs and baseball gloves to Brazilians as if they were U.S. suburbanites. Wal-Mart pulled out of Germany and South Korea after heavy losses earlier this decade, in acknowledgment that its U.S. retail formula didn't work everywhere.Now, one way Wal-Mart is having better luck is by using innovations pioneered not in the U.S. but in various countries abroad. It often takes ideas that worked in one part of its far-flung empire and transplants them to others half a world away.

In India, Wal-Mart and its local partner, Bharti Enterprises Ltd., launched a store for small merchants called Best Price Modern Wholesale. Cross-pollination is at work. The stores are based on a format Wal-Mart developed in Brazil called Maxxi. Indian store managers, rather than starting from scratch in building wholesale outlets, went to Brazil and studied Maxxi's store layout, merchandise assortment and measures used to chart success.

In China, where Wal-Mart has more than 250 stores, it is expanding with help from a discount supermarket concept called Smart Choice. This is a carbon copy of the Todo Dia convenience-store format in São Paulo -- which was itself a loose translation of a Wal-Mart-owned Mexican discount store called Bodega Aurrera.

In Japan, where Wal-Mart has struggled to make inroads, the company says it now is posting a profit, thanks in part to wines, cookies and other private-label products developed by its Asda stores in the U.K. These products have become a surprise hit 6,000 miles from London. "The best-selling wine in Japan today is a private label Asda Bordeaux," says Vicente Trius, Wal-Mart's former Asia chief, who now heads its Latin American operations.

Wal-Mart is recognizing that the best ideas sometimes come from a market where it is having success, such as the U.K., where Asda is gaining ground on rival Tesco PLC amid this recession. Mr. Hucker, the executive whose job is to expand successful Wal-Mart ideas, says there was initially some resistance back at U.S. headquarters to de-emphasizing the power of Wal-Mart's Arkansas wisdom. But, noting that early big-box stores in China didn't meet expectations, he says: "There's nothing like data to win any argument."

Wal-Mart has even begun bringing some ideas back to the U.S. from abroad. It is testing two smaller store formats in the Southwestern U.S. -- Mas Club and Supermercado de Walmart -- that cater to Latino immigrants. The experiments piggyback on the experience of Wal-Mart de Mexico, the largest retailer south of the border, which was the company's first international triumph and remains its biggest success.

Roughly 80% of Wal-Mart International consists of acquisitions rather than new stores.

For survivors of Wal-Mart's early foreign misadventures with copies of U.S. megastores, the new spirit of collaboration and cultural diversity is striking. José Rafael Vasquez, Wal-Mart vice president for northeastern Brazil, says that when Wal-Mart arrived in the country in the 1990s, U.S. executives never showed curiosity about local food tastes. He found that puzzling, knowing that catering to those yearnings was the competition's strength.

Marcelo Vienna, a São Paulo native employed by the U.S. giant, was sent to a Wal-Mart in Branson, Mo., the country-music mecca, to learn the ropes. He translated store-management manuals into Portuguese but wondered how all this would play in Brazil. "There was a lot more micromanaging from Bentonville," says Mr. Vienna, now Wal-Mart Brazil's chief merchandizing officer. Some of that was justified, he adds, because he and his colleagues were retail greenhorns.

Wal-Mart is taking the local approach further, now, by separately targeting the country's three quite-different population areas: the northeast, the south near Argentina, and the cosmopolitan southeast where São Paulo, the country's financial capital, is. This approach stems in part from Wal-Mart's acquisitions earlier this decade of two large regional retailers, Bompreco and Sonae, which were fluent in local customs.

Many poorer consumers shop at "informal" businesses, a Brazilian euphemism for merchants that sell smuggled goods or don't collect sales taxes. Wal-Mart is testing some unorthodox strategies to lure some of those shoppers to its stores in Salvador, a former Portuguese colonial capital of majestic old churches in the northeast, now home to three million people.

A Todo Dia outlet contains, in addition to merchandise aisles, a Wal-Mart-funded community center. This includes a gynecologist's office, an Internet cafe and a bank offering microloans.

The center also offers free classes for impoverished teens in basic skills such as using a computer. "My identity is created in here," says a grateful Marcos Paulo, 21, a student of the free course, which already has a waiting list. "You start to think of yourself as something more valuable than what is thrown in the trash."

So the center clearly is boosting Wal-Mart's local reputation. Whether it augments sales remains to be seen. Early results show an uptick in visits but not in purchases. Even so, the experiment is being closely watched by Wal-Mart officials in other nations.

It's easy for cultural subtleties to be lost on foreign merchants, says Mr. Vasquez, the vice president for northeastern Brazil. He believes that after Wal-Mart's early stumbles in Brazil, catering to regional differences is now becoming a Wal-Mart strength. The retailer's merchandise buyers understand, for instance, that favorite espresso brands can differ in cities two miles apart -- crucial knowledge in a country where 99% of households drink coffee.

It wasn't always so. Touring a hyper-market of the Bompreco chain, Mr. Vasquez picked up a bottle of lavender perfume and observed that sales for the item spike some 2,000% before Feb. 2 each year. That was a surprise to executives of Wal-Mart when the U.S. company acquired Bompreço several years ago, but hardly to Bompreco veterans. What they knew but no one from Arkansas did: In an Afro-Brazilian religion called Candomblé, practitioners used the perfume each February in a rite honoring a sea goddess named Yemaja.

FAA: 2 Employees Investigated in Midair Collision

Authorities have removed from duty an air traffic controller who they say was talking on the phone during last week's deadly midair collision over New York's Hudson River, along with a supervisor who was out of the building at the time.

The Federal Aviation Administration said late Thursday that while there was no reason to believe thus far that the employees' actions contributed to the accident, which killed nine people, such "conduct is unacceptable." Air traffic controllers are expected to be alert at all times while on duty and typically are given about a 15-minute break every two hours for that reason.

The two employees, who were not identified by the FAA, were placed on administrative leave with pay. The FAA said it has begun disciplinary proceedings against the controller, who was handling the small plane that collided with a tour helicopter, and against the supervisor on duty at the time. Three members of a Pennsylvania family on the plane and five Italian tourists and a pilot on the helicopter were killed when the two stricken aircraft plunged into the river.

Taiwan leader says more than 500 dead in typhoon

CISHAN, Taiwan (Reuters) - Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, under pressure over his government's response to the aftermath of Typhoon Morakot, on Friday estimated that more than 500 people had died in flooding and mudslides.

Survivors and opposition parties say efforts to rescue people stranded in towns and villages have been sluggish. Some villagers were seen shouting at Ma as he toured devastated areas this week.

Ma gave his estimate of the death toll, a jump from previous figures of just over 100, at a national security meeting, a presidential aide said. Officials said about 300 may have died in a mudslide that leveled most of Hsiao Lin village in the south.

Increased pressure on Ma, who has improved ties with Beijing since taking power more than a year ago, could drain support for his Nationalist Party (KMT) in local elections in December.

"As one of the victims said the other day, 'I voted for you, but now I can't even reach you'," said Lin Chong-pin, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taipei. "So there's a big drop in satisfaction with his performance."

Some are also calling for Ma to reshuffle his cabinet and may think long-term that he "doesn't care," said Hsu Yung-ming, a political science professor at Soochow University in Taipei.


After days of dispatching helicopters to rescue survivors and distribute food in Hsiao Lin, authorities opened a road into the stricken district on Thursday.

But it was now unlikely that anyone trapped since Monday in the landslide had survived.

"The county magistrate gave the premier a report that in his judgment about 300 were dead," a Government Information Office section chief said.

"These are the conditions now. Specific numbers will depend on the army opening the road and sending people in."

Morakot has caused about T$30 billion ($910 million) in losses to agriculture and infrastructure and reconstruction is expected to cost about T$120 billion. The government spent about the same amount after a 1999 earthquake that killed 2,400 people.

The typhoon has knocked out 34 bridges and severed 253 segments of road in Taiwan, with repairs expected to take up to three years in the worst spots, the transportation ministry said.

In Cishan, a storm-ravaged town of 41,000, both road bridges had collapsed, smashing houses and taking down cars. Residents jammed a footbridge which remained standing.

Army crews used earth movers to clear mud from roads as hundreds of people cleaned homes or storefronts, heaving out water-logged possessions.

"My store has been closed for days because I figured no one could get to it," said Chen Chih-lu, who owns a furniture shop in Cishan. "My guess is 90 percent of us are digging out of the mud."

Outside Cishan, swathes of banana trees lay flat in the mud, testimony to agricultural losses totaling T$10 billion. Food prices soared by up to 50 percent and some staples were in short supply.

The government will spend T$3 billion to help farmers recover in the coming weeks, a council of agriculture official said.

(Reporting by Ralph Jennings, Editing by Ron Popeski)
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UN 'concerned' over Aung San Suu Kyi sentence

The UN Security Council has agreed on a watered-down statement expressing "serious concern" at the extended detention of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma after a tougher draft met opposition from China, Libya, Russia and Vietnam. After two days of closed-door bargaining, the 15-member body could only agree on a statement expressing "serious concern at the conviction and sentencing of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and its political impact" and reiterating "the importance of the release of all political prisoners."

John Sawers, the British ambassador to the UN and the council chair this month, described the non-binding statement as "an important expression of serious concern about the outcome" of the Suu Kyi trial.A court at Rangoon's notorious Insein Prison on Tuesday sentenced Mrs Suu Kyi to three years' imprisonment and hard labour for breaching the terms of her house arrest following an incident in which a US man swam to her lakeside residence in May.

General Than Shwe, head of the ruling junta, commuted the sentence to 18 months under house arrest but the trial and the verdict have created international outrage.

"I think we all know that different members of the Security Council have different views on the situation there and that the strong views in various Western capitals are not entirely shared in countries elsewhere," Mr Sawers noted as he sought to explain why an initial US draft was watered down.

The tougher US draft which would have condemned Mrs Suu Kyi's conviction ran into opposition from China, a key ally of Burma, as well as from Russia, Vietnam and Libya.

The four countries invoked the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of a UN member state.

A day in the life of a Marine combat outpost

U.S. Marine Capt. Zach Martin, second from left, discusses areas on a map of the town of Dahaneh with Afghan National Army Capt. Bahader Kahn while planning a joint operation to search the village house to house to clear it of Taliban during Operation Eastern Resolve, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009, in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
By Alfred de Montesquiou
Associated Press Writer / August 14, 2009
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ANP HILL, Afghanistan—Cpl. Justin Thompson crawled out of his rat hole dug deep into a wind-beaten, barren hilltop. Stepping over mounds of protective sand bags, he watched the sun rise over the Now Zad valley, a Taliban stronghold.

Thompson is part of a small Marine force that keeps watch over the deserted town of Now Zad.

About 10 miles (16 kilometers) away, Marines from the same company are fighting to drive the Taliban out of the town of Dahaneh. But Marines stationed on ANP Hill are removed from the battle, relegated to keeping an eye on insurgent movements elsewhere in the Zad valley.

Three years of intense fighting between the Taliban and NATO forces have chased away Now Zad's 30,000 inhabitants, leaving what had been one of the largest towns in southern Helmand province deserted.

The Marine company lacks the firepower to force the Taliban out of their positions just a mile away. So the Marines of ANP Hill keep watch over the area from their lonely outpost.

"Things can drag pretty slowly up here," said Thompson, of Manchester, Tenn., who is on duty six hours out of every 18. His unit has been stationed on ANP Hill for over three months, with that many still to go. The position's name, ANP, stands for Afghan National Police -- even though no Afghan government official or police official has been stationed in the valley for years.

"The biggest thing here is not shooting the people who don't need to be shot," says 1st Lt. Malachi Bennett, of Tampa, Fla., the outpost's commander and --at 26-- one of the oldest men on the hill. He says the platoon has been making some progress at befriending residents on the outskirts of town and luring them away from the Taliban.

"At first, villagers looked at us like animals from a zoo," Bennett said early this week from the command post, where the briefing room is an earthen pit with an old Russian anti-aircraft battery that serves as a beam to hold the ceiling. "Now they come to talk to us on patrols."

Life on ANP Hill is Spartan. The Marines have no air conditioning despite temperatures that can reach 125 degrees Fahrenheit. The men sleep alone or in pairs in tiny dugouts barely 4 feet high that they've dubbed "Hobbit Holes," a reference to J.R.R. Tolkien's dwarflike character.

"It's great, I love being up in the outpost," Thompson said. "You get to know everybody, and there's less hassle, it's much more relaxed."

Afghanistan is Thompson's third deployment. He's spent seven months "with some intense war stories" near Haditha in Iraq in 2006, and another "pretty peaceful" seven months in Fallujah in 2008.

Helmand is different from Iraq, Thompson said, because the Marines have learned their lessons from years of counterinsurgency. "In this type of fight you can't be 'gung-ho, kill everything,'" he said. "You'll just be turning more people against you."Continued...

Crow Chief receives Medal of Freedom

WASHINGTON -- A 95-year-old Crow Indian who went into battle wearing war paint under his World War II uniform has been awarded the nation's highest civilian honor.

Wearing a traditional headdress, Joe Medicine Crow on Wednesday received the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House. The award was clasped around his neck by President Barack Obama.

"Dr. Medicine Crow's life reflects not only the warrior spirit of the Crow people, but America's highest ideals," Obama said as he introduced him and called him "a good man" in the Crow language.

Medicine Crow broke tradition and briefly spoke after Obama gave him the medal, telling the president he was "highly honored" to receive it.

Other recipients this year were Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, physicist Stephen Hawking, retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and 12 other actors, athletes, activists, scientists and humanitarians.

The president met Medicine Crow during a campaign stop last year when Obama, then a U.S. senator, was adopted as an honorary member of the Crow tribe.

In 1939, Medicine Crow became the first of his tribe to receive a master's degree, in anthropology. He is the oldest member of the Crow and the tribe's sole surviving war chief - an honor bestowed for a series of accomplishments during World War II, including hand-to-hand combat with a German soldier whose life Medicine Crow spared.

After the war, he became tribal historian for the Crow and lectured extensively on the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Medicine Crow's grandfather served as a scout for the doomed forces of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer.

Medicine Crow was nominated for the presidential medal by Sen. Jon Tester of Montana and former Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming.

(This version CORRECTS Custer's military rank from general to lieutenant colonel.)


WHAT: A four-bedroom house with three full bathrooms.

HOW MUCH: $425,000.


SETTING: Golden Valley is a suburb just west of Minneapolis, five miles from downtown. This house is in a residential neighborhood tucked between three parks — Rice Lake, Mary Hills and the public Wirth Golf Club — that are threaded by Bassett Creek. Byerly’s, a Twin Cities grocer, is about a mile west; a pharmacy and other basics are nearby. For restaurants, there’s West Broadway Avenue, a mile east — or Minneapolis. For public school, students head two miles north to Robbinsdale, a neighboring city. A transit bus stops a block away from the house.

INSIDE: The house has four bedrooms. The downstairs one is used as an office and has a separate entrance. The three upstairs bedrooms all have views of the surrounding gardens, and the master bedroom also has a Juliet balcony. The dining area has a built-in hutch. In the family room, French doors open out to a patio. There is a gas fireplace in the family room and a wood-burning one in the living room.

A four-season domed gazebo, attached to the house through a hallway from the living room, has views of the property from every side. There is a two-car garage with a little room for storage.

OUTDOOR SPACE: Surrounding the house are rose and perennial gardens that the owners have tended for 45 years. Other accents include a koi pond, a small waterfall, a porch swing under a deck and window boxes that have been fitted with a watering system. The place is so inviting, the listing agent said, that that people have stopped and “set up picnics in the backyard.”

TAXES: $5,317 a year.

CONTACT: Karla Rose, Edina Realty; (612) 840-2550;


WHAT: A one-bedroom, one-bath cabin with two sleeping lofts.

HOW MUCH: $425,000.


SETTING: This cabin, built in 1940, sits in woods adjacent to a county road, about 100 yards from a creek that flows from the Clark Fork River. Ketchum, year-round population 3,000, more in the summer, is in the Sun Valley, and built like a crescent around Bald Mountain, Baldy to residents. The nearest ski lift is a 10-minute drive from the cabin. Groceries are available downtown, also about 10 minutes away. The elementary school is named after Ernest Hemingway, who had a house in Ketchum and is buried in town. Middle and high schools are in Hailey, 12 miles south.

INSIDE: Essentials in the cabin have been updated, but most of the details are original, including a cast-iron stove in the kitchen, a working rock fireplace in the living room and knotty-pine paneling through most of the house. There’s one bedroom downstairs and two sleeping lofts on an upper level, accessible by ladders. In the kitchen, a strip of windows over a low bank of built-in cabinets faces a pond on the property. There is also a den.

OUTDOOR SPACE: Aspen trees and other native plants surround the house. On one side of the house is the pond, and in the front is a covered porch.

TAXES: $690 a year.

CONTACT: Heidi Baldwin and Summer Bauer, Sotheby’s International Realty, Sun Valley Brokerage; (877) 578-1869;


WHAT: A two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath house.

HOW MUCH: $425,000.


SETTING: This one-story, adobe-style house is on 2.8 acres in a 358-lot subdivision at the base of Granite Mountain, about 20 miles north of the center of Prescott. The wilderness leading up the mountain — named for its arrangements of huge granite boulders — is cut with hiking, biking and equestrian trails, and many residents have horses and recreational and all-terrain vehicles. Prescott, once the capital of the Arizona Territory, is a 40,000-person city five miles north of the Bradshaw Mountains. The city has a mix of big-chain and independent businesses. Whiskey Row, a chunk of Montezuma Street once lined with saloons, now caters to gallery-goers and diners, although there are still plenty of places for drinkers. Residents in this part of town can buy groceries downtown or in Chino Valley, about 14 miles east.

INSIDE: Floors are made of stained concrete throughout. The living room has a fireplace and vigas, peeled-log ceiling supports. A Native American floor design is painted on the entryway floor, and a legend for it is painted on a wall. The master bedroom has a window seat, a walk-in closet and patio access. The second bedroom, used as an office, opens to the living room. The kitchen, which is eat-in, has a pantry, and several rooms have access to patios.

OUTDOOR SPACE: The back patio, with views of a retention pond, is reached from both the great room and the master suite. The front patio is off the dining area, while the side patio is off the guest room.

TAXES: $3,004 a year.

CONTACT: Lorinda Johnson, Prescott Realty; (928) 445-0155;

Gay marriage lawyers say no

SAN FRANCISCO - THE prominent lawyers leading the fight to legalize gay marriage in California on Friday formally told San Francisco officials and three other groups supportive of same-sex weddings 'thanks, but no thanks' for trying to join their federal lawsuit.

BOIES and Olson, who represented Al Gore and George W. Bush respectively in the legal fight over the 2000 presidential elections, filed the lawsuit on behalf of two gay couples seeking to marry in California.

They argued that they are now in the best position to legalize gay marriage in the state with arguments that the ban violates federal anti-discrimination protections.
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Attorneys David Boies and Theodore Olson petitioned US District Court Judge Vaughn Walker with legal arguments meant to block the city and the groups from standing together with the lawyers at trial.

San Francisco put gay marriage front and center on Valentine's Day 2004 when Mayor Gavin Newsom opened City Hall to same-sex weddings.

Boies and Olson argued that allowing San Francisco into the legal fight would needlessly delay the case's resolution.

A spokesman for San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera didn't return a telephone call late Friday night.

Boies and Olson also asked that three other gay-rights groups should be barred from joining the case on similar grounds.

They also argued that the conservative Campaign for California Families be prevented from joining the case in opposition, saying the group also doesn't have standing in the case.

'Campaign has failed to offer any argument that differs from those raised by' the parties already officially fighting the lawsuit, Boies and Olson wrote.

The lawyers said all of the organization's concerns are being addressed by lawyers with the Alliance Defense Fund, which the judge has allowed to intervene to argue against the lawsuit. -- AP

Republican senator hears health care concerns back home

Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa held four town meetings in his home state Wednesday, welcoming what he called much larger crowds than such gatherings usually attract.

"We're here at a time when I sense that people are scared for our country, and that's why we're having big turnouts," he said of the audiences that were mostly conservative but also included left-leaning Iowans. Some booing and arguments occurred, but the overall tone was more orderly than similar health care meetings by Democratic politicians.

Grassley is one of six members of the Senate Finance Committee -- made up of three Democrats and three Republicans -- negotiating the only bipartisan health care legislation so far.

The six negotiators are not considering a government-funded public health insurance option favored by President Obama and Democratic leaders, but are looking at nonprofit cooperatives that would negotiate collective polices for members.

Grassley warned that the months of negotiations may fail to produce a bill he can support.

"Nothing may come out of our committee," Grassley said at a morning meeting in Winterset, Iowa. "It may not be something I can agree with, so I may be pushed away from the table."
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He listed his conditions for a bill, saying "what we stand for is that the government is not going to take over the health care system."

Opponents of a public health insurance option -- including Grassley -- contend it would drive private health insurers out of the market.

"Government is not a competitor, it's a predator," he said to applause. "Then everyone else's premiums go up, and pretty soon, there's not any private insurance."

His other requirements include no government intervention in patient-doctor relations, no public funds for abortion, and eliminating denial of health insurance because of pre-existing conditions.

Grassley heard emotional questions from both sides of the political spectrum. Conservatives called a Democratic bill passed by one House committee a threat to the country.

"This is no less than liberty versus tyranny, good versus evil, and there is no middle ground," said one woman at a meeting in Adel, Iowa.

Grassley responded that his Senate negotiations have yet to produce a bill, but he would oppose the House bill cited by the questioner.

At the same meeting, several questioners called for a government-run health care system to ensure all people have coverage. One man noted that Iowans have a government-funded public option for education in state-run universities, and asked why that won't work for health care.

In response to other questions, Grassley explained specific provisions of proposed legislation to clear up misconceptions expressed by questioners. He gave a detailed description of health insurance exchanges proposed by Democrats to offer consumers a choice of options.

"You would be able to go to an exchange on the Internet or an 800 number and compare prices or whatever," he said. "You'd be able to go to one site and get the best policy."

Grassley also called for reducing health care costs through better management of chronic conditions and capping the damages in malpractice lawsuits.

Some questioners were angry about the current system, with one woman asking, "What are you going to do about these insurance companies that are putting everything in their pocket and just laughing at everybody else?"

Grassley said the bipartisan bill, if eventually completed, would hold down health insurance premiums and provide refundable tax credits to help low-income Americans obtain coverage.

His goal is to have a bill that can be supported by most senators, rather than just the Democrats and a few Republicans, so that it can avoid a filibuster, he said.
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