Wednesday, April 9, 2008

What Happens When You Bring Babies To Work

An unlikely trend is emerging in the US: a growing number of companies are allowing parents - usually mothers - to bring their babies into work. But is it possible to get anything done? A very sceptical Zoe Williams attempts it in the G2 office, with her six-month-old son in tow. Plus new parents Ian Prior and Imogen Tilden also put the idea to the test

Audio slideshow: The day we brought our babies to work

Money blog: Work as child's play

Zoe Williams, Imogen Tilden and Ian Prior
Tuesday April 8, 2008
The Guardian

Zoe Williams and baby Thurston
Zoe Williams with six-month-old Thurston. Photograph: Anna Gordon

The United States and Australia are the only two countries in the industrialised world that don't have paid statutory maternity leave (there are exceptions in some US states). At least in Australia, though, your job is protected for a year; in America, even the leave protection only lasts for 12 weeks. It's an astonishingly backward state of affairs, like discovering that France doesn't have a postal service. A Harvard Study of 168 countries, measuring how different governments meet the needs of working families, found the US to be in the bottom five. But rather than do anything so tedious as campaign for reasonable terms, American lobbyists have instead thought more laterally, with a softly, softly, looky-after-baby approach: bring your baby to work with you. Until it can crawl, it can think of your workplace as liberty hall.

There are supposedly at least 83 companies doing this in the US. According to the Parenting in the Workplace institute, it is "a viable, inexpensive tool for helping employees return to work sooner, lowering turnover, improving morale, increasing overall productivity, enhancing teamwork and collaboration, recruiting new employees, attracting new customers, and making existing customers more loyal". Wow. It sounds like the robot voice at the beginning of that Radiohead song, but I'm afraid if you don't know the one I mean, I can't look it up because I am using my Google hand to prop up this baby.

In the interests of researching this idea, I have brought my baby into the office. But first, I'm going to tell you why I disagree with it to my very core. For a start, it irks non-parents. A typical response, from a reader of Time magazine after it ran a piece on the trend, was this: "I do not go to work every day to listen to the breeders' brats scream all day and to smell their baby poo diapers. And I certainly don't want to walk past a cubicle to see some woman breastfeeding her baby. NO."

Now, granted, this is a fairly feverish response, but only in tone - parents are annoying. We are self-righteous and a bit frazzled and we're never listening properly, and we bring with us a whole load of noise and smell pollution that we're not prepared to apologise for, and really the only people who can put up with us are other parents, not even of older children, but of babies exactly the same age. Non-parents would assume, not unfairly, that a person fussing over her baby was not doing as much work as everyone else. In one of these progressive American firms, employees are asked to clock off while they tend their infants, to offset these feelings of simmering resentment among colleagues, but I don't really think of that as a solution, so much as an outrage.

Second, if you're being asked to do your job and your childcare at the same time, the implication is that one of those things is not work. Multitasking, schmultitasking, my friend - it is just another word for not concentrating properly, and while it is possible to put on laundry with half an eye on a baby, it isn't possible to undertake anything complex.

But you know, whatever ideological objections I have, if it did work, then for a lot of people, that would be brilliant. I'm just not sure it did. Well, I'll just tell you what happened, you decide.

Getting in to work with Thurston, who is six months old, was an incredible slog - I got on a packed tube with this too-hot baby, way too heavy for me in his sling, and evil-stared the top of this guy's head to make him give up his seat for me, while he resolutely read his paper, pretending not to notice, until he finally looked up and it transpired that we knew each other. So that was embarrassing, even if you're not going to factor in the fact that I was sweating and grunting like a farmyard animal with just the sheer effort of it all. How I managed to be only 27 minutes late is beyond me, though I did sacrifice my makeup and tooth-cleaning me-time, and I also didn't smell my cardigan to see if it was clean, which saved me all of about four seconds and stored up a wellspring of shame that lasted throughout the day. I can't tell you what it smells of, exactly; something stewed. It definitely isn't clean.

Thurston, I have to admit here, is a very good baby, and doesn't scream much, but we started the day at one of those giant meetings, full of people who are either definitely or probably very important. In all the years I have worked in an office - I don't any more, but it was probably seven altogether - I have made it my business to stay silent in things like this. I have no fear of public speaking, I just have a horror of accidentally commanding the attention of 27 people, and then not knowing what to do with it once I've got it. Thurston hasn't given this kind of dynamic any thought, and yodelled freely, from about 10 minutes in. People stared: they meant it in a nice way, but I was custodian of the yodeller, and as such I felt as if I should interpret for him, turn his noise into remarks of meaning. Which, of course, I couldn't do, so I just kind of scarpered.

To recap - it is 10.15am and I am makeup-free and not exactly clean, in a smelly cardigan, I arrive, I definitely haven't got any ideas of my own because the full force of my attention is going into this little sound machine, and then I just retreat out of a room with all the ceremony of a person whose pants are on fire. I mean, it's a false experiment in a way, because there's all this goodwill of colleagues who know it's just for one day, and never see me anyway, with or without a baby, because I work from home. So I don't feel terribly vulnerable in my position, despite my trampy exterior and the fact that I can't concentrate on what anyone is saying, and it's all going pretty well. If, however, I had to do this every day, and it was a more competitive, lawyerly environment, or similar, and there was a dynamic childless person who was after my job, I wouldn't even put up a fight, I would just roll over and give it to them.

Meetings aren't work, though - checking emails, now that's proper work. Technically, you can do this with a baby on your knee, but there are flaws in this plan. Mine likes to thump the keyboard repeatedly, or until he has found "select all" plus delete, whichever is the sooner. Then he likes to stand up, and sit down again, and wriggle and grunt, and all this makes it really hard to think. When I'm at home, I have a whole battery of baby-pleasing techniques - I can sing songs and dance about, I have an elaborate mime that I can do with a monkey, which pleases him so much he almost always needs a snooze afterwards. But for some reason - call me crazy - I feel inhibited in an open-plan office, so it is a bit of a grey day, from his point of view.

I feel guilty, looking at his bored little face. It is much better for me when he goes to sleep, except that he has dropped off on my arm, which means that I can now only use letters on the lefthand side of the keyboard. Even though I've been working pretty much since he was born, albeit not very hard, it has always been in the evenings, when he was good for at least an hour's snooze. With him awake, I can just about keep my mind on an email of two lines, but nothing longer: and I can't hold it together to reply. Sure, employ me in this condition if you want to, but I would strongly counsel that it would be cheaper to pay me to stay at home.

My memory of office life was that you could wait a year for lunchtime to roll around, but now mornings appear only to last 30 or 40 minutes. Suddenly it was 1pm. I hadn't done anything; well, no, I had read a bit of the paper and then Thurston had helped me tear it up. I had spent about an hour and a half chatting to co-workers, which is very much what I would have done in my pre-child working life, and that's why I started working from home in the first place, to thwart my insatiable lust for chat. I think, from the office's point of view, I'm more of a liability than the baby is, but from mine, he was a nuisance. A lovely nuisance, but nevertheless ...

By mid-afternoon, the most taxing task I'd even undertaken, never mind completed, was trying to mash half a banana with a chopstick because I'd forgotten my fork. What I did write - this - took three times, easily, as long as it would normally have done, and since I'm just describing events as they happen, in real time, I should have been able to do it with a baby in one arm and a zebra in the other. I'm doing that annoying thing parents do when they can't explain why it doesn't work, they just shake their heads and say, that's not how it works. No, you can't just make them go to sleep because it's night; you can't just persuade them to like lentils; you can't tell them to choose a cuddly monkey over the ugly synthetic fish you got free in a service station. No, you can't take them into work and plonk them in the corner. I can't say why; that's just not the way it works.
Zoe Williams

'I keep breaking off to gaze adoringly at Miri'

One week after returning to work following my maternity leave and the idea of bringing 10-month-old Miri into the office rather appeals. Both of us shed tears as I left her with the childminder last week; sitting back at my desk I felt as if I was missing a vital organ, so odd - and wrong - did it seem to be without her. But looking after her is a full-time job in itself and she's got me well trained. About four months in I gave up struggling to write emails/read the paper/use the phone, even, with her around, while scheduled daytime naps are still something I fantasise about. I'm not so sure that having her with me at work is going to, well, work for me.

I'm 15 minutes late- not a good start - because as we arrive at the Guardian she looks sleepy, and I push her up and down the street hoping she'll have her morning nap. She doesn't. But she perks up, and I'm reminded of how you feel like royalty with a baby - everyone smiles indulgently at me, and coos at Miri. At my desk in the arts department, Miri lights upon a shelf of DVDs and CDs with enthusiasm, and sets about pulling them off one by one. My colleague Anna swoops her up and takes her on a tour of the floor, allowing me to read a few emails and make a start on the day's work.

Next to my feet is a pile of the weekend's newspapers. A couple of minutes later and Miri is eating the Sunday Telegraph magazine with gusto. I offer her a rice cake instead. On my lap, she reaches forward and grabs the mouse. Several emails disappear from the computer screen and pieces of puffed rice lodge themselves between the space bar and letters X and C. Anna comes to my aid again, and I manage another 20 minutes work. But I keep having to break off to gaze adoringly at Miri and plant kisses on the side of her head - she's perfectly happy and quiet with Anna, it's me who's having trouble concentrating. Gareth, who sits behind me, sensibly puts on headphones.

Nappy-changing and feeding are a problem - there are very few quiet spaces here, and when she starts rooting (I'm still breastfeeding) I firmly offer her a bottle. I manage to make a couple of phone calls, but rather spoil what I hope is my usual professional manner by giggling as she makes a particularly sweet noise, and then completely lose the thread of what I was saying. She has to eat lunch sitting on my lap - so my poor keyboard is now covered in sweet potato and yoghurt. By 1pm she still hasn't slept, and is getting overtired. My boyfriend - not at work today - comes to the rescue, and takes her home. He reports she's asleep "within two minutes of leaving the building".

I feel strangely bereft as I walk back to my desk. For me, the hardest, but perhaps also the best, thing about returning to work has been beginning the process of re-finding myself, remembering who I used to be, and that I can relate to people not as a mother. It's been lovely having Miri here, but I realise I've now got two identities, and I need to keep them separate.
Imogen Tilden

'Two hours into the day and I've done zilch'

The Brighton-to-Bedford rail line is officially the most overcrowded in Britain. It is also my route to the office from south London and frankly, I'd rather crawl to work naked with six-month-old baby Charlie strapped to my nipples than squeeze a loaded buggy on there at rush-hour. So cop-out No 1: we take the car.

Charlie has a kip on the way as seething traffic makes us late and then, having cadged a car-park pass from the boss, we get stuck for 15 minutes on the way in as the barrier won't open. We haven't even arrived and it's already past the time for his feed and he's getting impatient. As the clock speeds towards 10, his mother's voice does Marley's Ghost in my head - "Any later than quarter-to and there'll be trouble." Panicked, I dash past my desk to a quiet corner of the office where I shovel a pureed pear and baby-rice combo down his starveling gullet like one of those penguin mothers just back from three months' fishing. I follow that up with a bottle of the morning's freshly pumped breast milk and, as he guzzles, I have time to reflect that the supreme barrier to bringing baby to work regularly is anatomical; Charlie has been on solids for barely a fortnight and still needs topping up by his mum. She's dead good with that pump, but there are limits.

I throw a rug beside my desk, and get about half an hour's grace as, belly full and smiling, he rolls around with toys. But it's impossible to concentrate on anything as he flings his rattle around and tries to get my chair leg in his mouth. I make one decent phone call - commissioning someone to write about football - and scan headlines of criminally unread newspapers as colleagues take up the slack and do my job for me. The sports desk, where I work, is the most bloke-heavy at the Guardian and interruption from admirers is not excessive but the lads muck in, gamely, shaking Charlie's toys to distract him when he kicks off royally for the photographer.

Babies are used to being the centre of attention and even occasional efforts to get something done are badly received. Charlie, though sweet-tempered generally, is not impressed by the drab surrounds and grunts of tedium become barks for attention. He's briefly mollified by sitting on my lap bashing the keyboard with pudgy fists, which makes typing tricky. Two hours into my day and I've done zilch whatsoever but keep him fed and amused. Colleagues are patient because they know this is a one-off but it wouldn't last. I feel mortified as nap time arrives, tempers worsen through tiredness and the options narrow to (1) walk around the office for 20 minutes as he roars himself to sleep and makes everyone smile through grinding teeth or (2) take the buggy outside and walk him off. Guess which, and yet more work shirked. This feels impossible, not to mention unfair on both of us. By midday it's cop-out No 2 - call mum, hovering in a nearby cafe, and admit defeat.
Ian Prior

Original here

The Last Days of Cheap Chinese

Workers assembling toys on a production line in Shantou, China. Click image to expand.

For years, American importers and Chinese factory managers have been having the same conversation. The importers would demand lower prices for products destined for American shelves. Factory managers would counter with a long list of reasons why they needed to charge more. Most of the time, the American importers would prevail, and Wal-Mart shoppers would rejoice.

Not anymore. The era of cheap Chinese consumer goods may finally be ending, thanks to irrepressible inflation. Now when the Chinese present their lists, some American importers are conceding higher prices, meaning that American shoppers, for the first time in years, are starting to pick up the tab for rising costs in China. Some Chinese factories are now asking their American customers for price increases of as much as 20 percent to 30 percent.

A store manager at a young women's clothing store in Boston tells me the prices of some camisoles are rising. An executive in the athletic shoe industry says that Chinese factories and buyers are now negotiating about spring 2009 shoe lines, and that is where consumers will really start to see the impact of Chinese inflation. A manager of several discount stores confides his company has started raising prices of certain goods while putting others on sale. This is only the beginning: We'll be paying higher prices for Chinese goods for years to come.

Consumers of Chinese exports (read: you and I) have for the past two decades benefited from an extraordinary confluence of factors. China's desire to attract foreign investment, rural workers' hunger for higher wages than they could earn on the farm, and excess capacity in nearly every industry helped limit price increases for Chinese exports. The renminbi was undervalued, wages were low, raw materials were cheap, and government officials turned a blind eye to factories' labor and environmental violations.

But now a perfect storm has hit China's manufacturers. So far this year, the renminbi has been appreciating at a 16 percent annualized rate. And prices for raw materials, which account for 60 percent to 70 percent of manufacturers' costs, are soaring. Hundred-dollar-a-barrel oil has raised transport costs and the price of oil-related materials such as plastics. Although some economists expect raw material prices to weaken in the second half of this year, in the long term, the emergence of millions of new car drivers, home buyers, and office workers in India and China will keep the price of steel, plastic, and other raw materials high.

At the same time, China is rolling out wage increases around the country and tightening its labor laws. Wages are rising at double-digit rates in coastal China. In January, Beijing introduced a new labor law that significantly strengthened the influence of the union in management decisions. The All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the country's state-backed labor organization, has launched an aggressive recruiting campaign. Beijing hopes that better protection for workers through the union and the new labor law will placate its increasingly restive manufacturing workforce. But a tidal shift in the country's demographics—a dwindling supply of young workers as a result of the "one child" policy in effect since 1979—will counteract Beijing's efforts.

China's Generation Y, the children born after the one-child policy came into effect, are increasingly aware of their rights to a legal wage, health insurance, and a certain number of days off every month. Their demands for better treatment will continue to drive up the cost of manufacturing in China. Already, southern China's Guangdong province, known as "the workshop of the world," is short 2 million workers, the equivalent of 14 percent of America's entire manufacturing workforce.

The problem for American retailers and consumers hooked on $3 T-shirts and $30 DVD players is that there is no other China waiting in the wings to make cheap goods reliably for American shoppers. American importers are now arriving by the planeload in Vietnam, hoping to take advantage of the country's lower wages. But Vietnam, hard as it tries, has only 85 million people—the size of one Chinese province. And only a fraction of its population is suitable for factory work. Moreover, prices are rising faster in Vietnam than anywhere else in Asia. Add in the rising incidence of strikes and labor disputes, and Vietnam looks increasingly like a short-term alternative.

India, the other country often mentioned as a China surrogate, has not yet managed to get its act together to take advantage of China's rising export prices. Importers say India is good at certain things—embroidery, for instance—but not at the volume production that the world depends on for cheap goods. India's road and port infrastructure, while improving, is nowhere near as efficient as China's.

So importers are looking back to countries they once rejected in favor of China—Indonesia, Mexico, and Malaysia. And they are looking ahead to countries not yet integrated into the global consumer-goods supply chain, such as Brazil and Kenya. Every country, however, offers its own special risks: strong labor unions in one, political instability in another. None offers the one-stop shop appeal of China, where factories make everything under the sun. For the time being, then, we will all still be buying a lot of "Made in China" products—and paying ever more for them.

Original here

AMD's Revenue Takes Hit;

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. projected a sharp drop in first-quarter revenue and announced a 10% reduction in its work force, as technical gaffes and softening computer demand afflicted the chip maker.

The job cuts will affect about 1,680 workers at the Sunnyvale, Calif., company, which previously employed 16,800, an AMD spokesman said.

AMD, locked in a battle with Intel Corp. over chips known as microprocessors, said it expects first-quarter revenue of $1.5 billion, about 15% lower than the company reported in the fourth period. The company previously had predicted a decline in line with normal seasonal patterns. The AMD spokesman said a decline of about 7% is typical for the period.

Yahoo finally answers Microsoft's ultimatum; Air travelers have worst year according to a survey; Apple gets hit with a downgrade while Alcoa and AMD disappoint.

The company has been coping with a series of problems, including a heavy debt load from its 2006 acquisition of ATI Technologies Inc. and a stronger line of competing products from Intel. AMD counterattacked in September by announcing a new line of chips that pack the equivalent of four electronic brains on a single piece of silicon.

In December, AMD disclosed technical defects that affect models of the chip for server systems and desktop PCs. It has now introduced versions without those bugs, but computer makers held up purchases in the meantime, said JoAnne Feeney, an analyst at FTN Midwest Securities Corp.

She added that demand has been softening for desktop PCs, a field where AMD has been the strongest lately. "They were gaining share in desktops, which paradoxically exposed them more" to the demand problem, Ms. Feeney said.

John Lau, an analyst at Jefferies & Co., estimated that the total PC market declined about 10% from the fourth period, with AMD's 15% drop also reflecting losses in market share.

AMD reported a $1.77 billion loss for the fourth quarter, reflecting write-offs associated with the ATI deal. The company has vowed to return to profitability this year, but Mr. Lau said the announced job cuts may not be sufficient to allow AMD to achieve that goal.

Analysts have been waiting for AMD to disclose plans to reduce manufacturing costs, possibly through arrangements to share production with partners. "We believe part of their solution will be to outsource," Mr. Lau said.

AMD's stock traded at $6.34, up 11 cents, at 4 p.m. on the New York Stock Exchange. Following the news, its shares were down to $6.22 in after-hours trading.

Write to Don Clark at

Original here

Greenspan Says Credit Crisis Is Worst in 50 Years (Update2)

By Lily Nonomiya and Scott Lanman

April 8 (Bloomberg) -- Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said the current credit crisis is the worst in at least 50 years.

``The current credit crisis is the most wrenching in the last half century and possibly more,'' Greenspan told a conference in Tokyo today via satellite from Washington.

Greenspan's remarks echo the assessments of economists including those at the International Monetary Fund, and may add to pressure on policy makers to strengthen their response to the credit crunch. Federal Reserve officials last week acknowledged that capital markets remain distressed even after the fastest interest-rate cuts in two decades.

Greenspan, 82, said the extent of damage stemming from the collapse of the subprime-mortgage market won't be known for months.

``Have we reached a point where prices are stable? We cannot know that for a couple of months,'' he said. He added that prices may begin to stabilize by the start of 2009 as home inventories decline.

The yield on the 10-year note fell 1 basis point to 3.53 percent as of 10:07 a.m. in Tokyo, according to bond broker Cantor Fitzgerald LP.

Greenspan said inflation will be contained during the current slowdown before picking up as the world economy recovers momentum.

Economic Slack

``It's difficult to imagine any major breakout of inflation as economic slack continues to increase,'' he said. ``What we will see is gradually rising inflationary pressures that will probably be subdued during the current period of slack, but that will surely reemerge when economies pick up.''

Greenspan delivered his remarks via satellite from Bloomberg Television's studio in Washington, answering questions from Peter Hooper, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank AG, which hired Greenspan as a consultant in August.

The IMF cut its forecast for global growth this year and said there's a 25 percent chance of a world recession, citing the worst U.S. financial crisis since the Great Depression, according to a document obtained by Bloomberg last week.

Greenspan, who retired in 2006 after 18 years as the U.S. central-bank chief, has come under increasing criticism for his policies as last year's subprime-loan meltdown spread into a broader financial crisis. One recent book, ``Greenspan's Bubbles'' by money manager William Fleckenstein, argues the former Fed chief helped inflate stock and home prices.

Left to Bernanke

Greenspan, in response to the bursting of the Internet and technology bubble and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, lowered the Fed's key rate in 2001 from 6.5 percent to 1.75 percent, then reduced it further in 2003 to 1 percent, a 45-year low.

He left the rate there for a year before starting to raise borrowing costs in quarter-point increments, leaving it to his successor, Ben S. Bernanke, to decide when to stop. Some Fed critics, such as Bear Stearns Cos. economist John Ryding, say rates were too low for too long, encouraging the easy credit that helped inflate a housing bubble and has now returned to burn investors.

Greenspan, who published his memoir ``The Age of Turbulence'' in September, has taken to defending his legacy in newspaper opinion articles.

Yesterday, in a Financial Times piece headlined ``The Fed is blameless on the property bubble,'' Greenspan wrote that the evidence is ``very fragile'' that Fed interest-rate policy added to the U.S. bubble and that ``it is not credible that regulators would have been able to prevent the subprime debacle.''

Bear Stearns Rescue

Fed officials may be rethinking their aversion to acting against asset-price bubbles, an article of faith during Greenspan's tenure.

After last month's near-collapse of Bear Stearns, Minneapolis Fed Bank President Gary Stern -- the longest-serving policy maker -- said in a March 27 speech that it's possible ``to build support'' for practices ``designed to prevent excesses.''

New York Fed President Timothy Geithner, whose district bank took on about $30 billion of Bear Stearns assets to rescue the firm, argued two years ago for a larger role for asset prices in decision making, and there's no indication his views have changed.

Greenspan, in yesterday's FT piece, reiterated his doubts about taking a more active role in leaning against asset bubbles.

At least 14 banks and securities firms have sought cash from outside investors in the past year after more than $230 billion of global markdowns and losses caused by the collapse of the U.S. subprime mortgage market, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Recession Risk

Bernanke, 54, told Congress last week that the U.S. economy may contract in the first half of 2008 and for the first time acknowledged the chance of a recession.

Later today, the Fed releases minutes of its March 18 interest-rate decision and any other conference calls in February and the first half of March. The Federal Open Market Committee that day lowered its benchmark interest rate by 0.75 percentage point to 2.25 percent, capping a cumulative 3 points of cuts since September.

To contact the reporters on this story: Scott Lanman in Washington at; Lily Nonomiya in Tokyo at

Original here

Secret US plan for military future in Iraq

US troops conduct a foot patrol along the Tigris river south of Baghdad, Iraq. Photograph: David Furst/AFP/Getty images

A confidential draft agreement covering the future of US forces in Iraq, passed to the Guardian, shows that provision is being made for an open-ended military presence in the country.

The draft strategic framework agreement between the US and Iraqi governments, dated March 7 and marked "secret" and "sensitive", is intended to replace the existing UN mandate and authorises the US to "conduct military operations in Iraq and to detain individuals when necessary for imperative reasons of security" without time limit.

The authorisation is described as "temporary" and the agreement says the US "does not desire permanent bases or a permanent military presence in Iraq". But the absence of a time limit or restrictions on the US and other coalition forces - including the British - in the country means it is likely to be strongly opposed in Iraq and the US.

Iraqi critics point out that the agreement contains no limits on numbers of US forces, the weapons they are able to deploy, their legal status or powers over Iraqi citizens, going far beyond long-term US security agreements with other countries. The agreement is intended to govern the status of the US military and other members of the multinational force.

Following recent clashes between Iraqi troops and Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army in Basra, and threats by the Iraqi government to ban his supporters from regional elections in the autumn, anti-occupation Sadrists and Sunni parties are expected to mount strong opposition in parliament to the agreement, which the US wants to see finalised by the end of July. The UN mandate expires at the end of the year.

One well-placed Iraqi Sunni political source said yesterday: "The feeling in Baghdad is that this agreement is going to be rejected in its current form, particularly after the events of the last couple of weeks. The government is more or less happy with it as it is, but parliament is a different matter."

It is also likely to prove controversial in Washington, where it has been criticised by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who has accused the administration of seeking to tie the hands of the next president by committing to Iraq's protection by US forces.

The defence secretary, Robert Gates, argued in February that the planned agreement would be similar to dozens of "status of forces" pacts the US has around the world and would not commit it to defend Iraq. But Democratic Congress members, including Senator Edward Kennedy, a senior member of the armed services committee, have said it goes well beyond other such agreements and amounts to a treaty, which has to be ratified by the Senate under the constitution.

Administration officials have conceded that if the agreement were to include security guarantees to Iraq, it would have to go before Congress. But the leaked draft only states that it is "in the mutual interest of the United States and Iraq that Iraq maintain its sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence and that external threats to Iraq be deterred. Accordingly, the US and Iraq are to consult immediately whenever the territorial integrity or political independence of Iraq is threatened."

Significantly - given the tension between the US and Iran, and the latter's close relations with the Iraqi administration's Shia parties - the draft agreement specifies that the "US does not seek to use Iraq territory as a platform for offensive operations against other states".

General David Petraeus, US commander in Iraq, is to face questioning from all three presidential candidates on Capitol Hill today when he reports to the Senate on his surge strategy, which increased US forces in Iraq by about 30,000 last year.

Both Clinton and Democratic rival Barack Obama are committed to beginning troop withdrawals from Iraq. Republican senator John McCain has pledged to maintain troop levels until the country is secure.

Original here

Unmasked: Chinese guardians of Olympic torch

China’s blue-clad flame attendants, whose aggressive methods of safeguarding the Olympic torch have provoked international outcry, are paramilitary police from a force spun off from the country’s army.

The squad of 30 young men from the police academy that turns out the cream of the paramilitary security force has the job at home of ensuring riot control, domestic stability and the protection of diplomats.

Questions are now being asked as to who authorised their presence as the torch was carried through London. The Conservatives demanded clarification from the Government last night.

The guards’ task for the torch relay is to ensure the flame is never extinguished – although it was put out three times in Paris – and now increasingly to prevent protesters demonstrating against Chinese rule in Tibet from interfering with it.

But the aggression with which the guards have been pursuing their brief has provoked anger, not least in London where they were seen wrestling protesters to the ground and were described as “thugs” by Lord Coe.

The Olympic medallist and organiser of the 2012 Games was overheard saying that the officials had pushed him around as the torch made its way through the capital on Sunday. He added that other countries on the route should “get rid of those guys”.

“They tried to punch me out of the way three times. They are horrible. They did not speak English . . . I think they were thugs.”

His comments came after Konnie Huq, the former Blue Peter presenter, who was one of the torchbearers on Sunday, described how she had seen the officials in “skirmishes” with the police.

Ms Huq, who was carrying the torch when a pro-Tibet activist tried to snatch the flame, said of the guards: “They were very robotic, full-on . . . They were barking orders like ‘run’ and ‘stop’ and I was like, ‘Who are these people?’.”

David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, wrote yesterday to Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, seeking clarification of the role of the Chinese officials. Mr Davis asked: “Who in the British Government authorised their presence and what checks were made as to their background?”

He added: “They appear to have some role in providing security and were seen manhandling protesters. They even accompanied the torch into Downing Street and were highly visible in the picture with the Prime Minister.”

The security men entered Britain on visitors’ visas but the Home Office would not reveal whether they had disclosed on the application form for whom they worked.

Less than a year ago these mysterious “men in blue” were elite students from China’s Armed Police Academy and were selected amid great fanfare to form the grandly titled Sacred Flame Protection Unit.

In China, tens of thousands of their paramilitary colleagues have been deployed across Tibetan areas to restore order during riots, even opening fire when the antiChinese demonstrations have threatened to run out of control again.

It is a long way from those heady days last August when the squad was founded. Zhao Si, their leader, said then: “These men, chosen from around the country, are each tall and large and are eminently talented and powerful.” Online reports said that the shortest of them was 6ft 3in.

Mr Zhao said: “Their outstanding physical quality is not in the slightest inferior to that of specialised athletes.” Their training has involved running 40 to 50 kilometres (25 to 31 miles) a day to ensure the squad is fit enough to keep pace with a relay of torchbearers in cities around the world.

They have also undergone training in local customs and languages of the countries in which they would be deployed. This has included learning some English, French, German, Spanish and Japanese.

A total of 30 men have been assigned to follow the torch overseas. Another 40 will be on duty to trail the Olympic flame around China until it reaches Beijing on August 6, just two days before the start of the Games.

In reports published before the young men became the focus of international attention, Chinese media emphasised their ability to ensure that the flame would stay alight. “They received firstly technical training in how to light the first torch of each session of the relay and save the flame in the lantern at the end of each relay in a more efficient and safe way.”

Yang Zhaoke, director of the Beijing organising committee torch centre, told The Times: “We chose young and vigorous men. They can’t be beansprouts because they have to show good endurance. We can’t change people once they are overseas. They have to be able to run from start to finish.”

Some train in such martial arts as taekwondo or tijiquan in their spare time, he said, but added: “Their job is not to fight but to shelter and protect. They are not there to beat people and they have no right to enforce the law. Only the British police have that right in London, for example.”

A source at Scotland Yard said: “They were here because they came as a part of the package. We made it quite clear that they had no executive powers in Britain.

“They were here to maintain the flame. Their responsibility is to look after the flame and to make sure nothing happens to it. They are there to protect the flame.”

Timetable of protest

Planned torch relay route


9 San Francisco
11 Buenos Aires
13 Dar es Salaam
14 Muscat
16 Islamabad
17 Delhi
19 Bangkok
21 Kuala Lumpur
22 Jakarta
24 Canberra
26 Nagano
27 Seoul
28 Pyongyang
29 Ho Chi Minh City


2 Hong Kong
3 Macao
4 Begins tour of China

Early to mid-May

Everest (date determined by weather)


6-8 Arrives in Beijing

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Google Unveils Tool To Track Refugees Worldwide

nternet search giant Google Inc. unveiled a new feature Tuesday for its popular mapping programs that shines a spotlight on the movement of refugees around the world.

The maps will aid humanitarian operations as well as help inform the public about the millions who have fled their homes because of violence or hardship, according to the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which is working with Google on the project.

"All of the things that we do for refugees in the refugee camps around the world will become more visible," U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees L. Craig Johnstone said at the launch in Geneva.

Users can download Google Earth software to see satellite images of refugee hot spots such as Darfur, Iraq and Colombia. Information provided by the U.N. refugee agency explains where the refugees have come from and what problems they face. Although not all parts of the world are displayed at the same high resolution, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company has made an effort to allow users to zoom in closely on refugee camps.

In the Djabal refugee camp in eastern Chad, which is home to refugees from the conflict in neighboring Darfur, Google Earth users can see individual tents clustered together amid a sparse landscape, and learn about the difficulty of providing water to some 15,000 people. Google says more than 350 million people have already downloaded Google Earth. The software was launched three years ago and originally intended for highly realistic video games, but its use by rescuers during Hurricane Katrina led the company to reach out to governments and nonprofit organizations. Google Earth has since teamed up with dozens of nonprofit groups seeking to raise awareness, recruit volunteers and encourage donations. Among them are the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the U.N. Environmental Program and the Jane Goodall Institute. "Google wants to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," said Samuel Widmann, the head of Google Earth Europe.The company estimates that 80 percent of the world's information can be plotted on a map in some way. Rebecca Moore, who heads the Google Earth Outreach program for nonprofit groups, said the company does not control the information published using the software. Google is considering offering a stand-alone version of its mapping software that can be used by aid workers in the field who do not have an Internet connection on hand, she said. Google said it will also provide nonprofit groups in several countries with training and free copies of its $400 professional mapping software, an offer it plans to roll out across the globe over time.

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Airline sorry for dead child error

AN airline has apologised to a man after he was led to believe one of his children had died on a flight from Melbourne to London.

Briton Chris Miller was told a flight carrying his partner and children had landed in India because another passenger had fallen ill, the BBC reported.

He also learnt his children had been taken for treatment for chicken pox.

But when the other passenger, a 22-year-old male backpacker, died, staff from the Emirates airline contacted Mr Miller by mistake.

Mr Miller said on the BBC that a staff member had passed on details for "the undertakers dealing with the body".

The British father said he was stunned and a wave of grief and disbelief swept over him.

"At that point I believed one of my family was dead," he told the BBC.

"I said 'what happened, what's going on?' but they put the phone down on me.

"I ended up sitting in a state of utter disbelief and shock, my whole life was falling apart."

Mr Miller said the airline realised its mistake and rang back within "10 seconds" to say there's been a mistake.

Mr Miller said he deserved compensation beyond the complimentary ticket he was offered to travel to see his family.

"Obviously, to Emirates, putting a family through absolute hell is worth nothing," he said.

In a statement, the airline said it had apologised to Mr Miller and that staff had been deeply distressed by the mix up.

"There were exceptional circumstances surrounding the flight from Melbourne which involved a young man being taken seriously ill on board and dying in tragic circumstances," Emirates said.

"It was a distressing period for both our staff and passengers."

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UN expert stands by Nazi comments

Palestinian children protest against Israeli actions in Gaza, 3 March 2008
Falk believes that Israel has been avoiding criticism

The next UN investigator into Israeli conduct in the occupied territories has stood by comments comparing Israeli actions in Gaza to those of the Nazis.

Speaking to the BBC, Professor Richard Falk said he believed that up to now Israel had been successful in avoiding the criticism that it was due.

Professor Falk is scheduled to take up his post for the UN Human Rights Council later in the year.

But Israel wants his mandate changed to probe Palestinian actions as well.

Professor Falk said he drew the comparison between the treatment of Palestinians with the Nazi record of collective atrocity, because of what he described as the massive Israeli punishment directed at the entire population of Gaza.

He said he understood that it was a provocative thing to say, but at the time, last summer, he had wanted to shake the American public from its torpor.

Israel tanks near border with Gaza
Israeli actions in Gaza are collective punishment, says Falk

"If this kind of situation had existed for instance in the manner in which China was dealing with Tibet or the Sudanese government was dealing with Darfur, I think there would be no reluctance to make that comparison," he said.

That reluctance was, he argued, based on the particular historical sensitivity of the Jewish people, and Israel's ability to avoid having their policies held up to international law and morality.

These and other comments from Professor Falk comments are, if anything, even harsher than the current UN investigator, John Dugard, who himself has been withering about Israel's actions.

A spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry said that Israel wanted the UN investigator's mandate changed, so that he could look into human rights violations by the Palestinians as well as Israel.

If that were not to happen, the Israeli government may consider barring entry to the new UN investigator.

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International Torch Relay May Be Scrapped

CBS/AP) The Olympic torch arrived for its only North American stop amid heavy security Tuesday, one day after its visit to Paris descended into chaos and activists here scaled the Golden Gate Bridge to protest China's human rights record.

Protesters angry with China are taking out their frustrations on the Olympic relay and have dubbed the torch the "Flame of Shame," reports CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy.

Meanwhile, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said the committee would consider ending the international leg of the Beijing Olympic torch relay because of anti-Chinese protests.

Rogge told The Associated Press he was "deeply saddened" by violent protests in London and Paris and concerned about the upcoming torch relay in San Francisco, where activists expressed fears Monday that the torch's planned route through Tibet would lead to arrests and violent measures by Chinese officials trying to stifle dissent.

The flame arrived in San Francisco shortly before 4 a.m. Tuesday and was put in a vehicle to be whisked to an undisclosed location, San Francisco Olympic Torch Relay Committee spokesman David Perry said. No protesters were seen at the airport, but security was heightened because a several demonstrations were planned before the torch's six-mile relay Wednesday, including a relay supporting Tibetan independence.

"We treated it like a head of state visit," airport spokesman Mike McCaron said.

Three people climbed the Golden Gate Bridge on Monday and tied the Tibetan flag and two banners to its cables. The banners read "One World One Dream. Free Tibet," and "Free Tibet 08."

The bridge protest's organizers said they would remain faithful to their mission of protesting peacefully during the torch relay. They said they wanted to take full advantage of the international spotlight to get their message out.

"This is a life-or-death situation for Tibetans," said Yangchen Lhamo, an organizer of the banner-hanging who is on the board of directors of Students for a Free Tibet.

Also Monday, Olympic organizers canceled the final leg of the Paris run after demonstrators scaled the Eiffel Tower, grabbed for the flame and forced security officials to repeatedly snuff out the torch and transport it by bus past demonstrators. China condemned the protests as "despicable" but vowed to continue the relay to the end.

Rogue said the IOC's executive board would discuss ending the international leg in a meeting Friday.

After San Francisco, the torch is scheduled to travel to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and then to a dozen other countries. It is scheduled to enter mainland China on May 4 for the host country's portion of the relay.

San Francisco officials said they were developing a plan that strikes a balance between protesters' rights to express their views and the city's ability to host a safe torch ceremony.

U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman Peter Ueberroth said in a statement the event was "an important moment for the city to show its character, hospitality and commitment to peace and tolerance."

"It must provide a proper forum for the peaceful expression of opinions and dissent. And it must safely and respectfully welcome the flame and honor the U.S. athletes and other participants who will carry the torch," Ueberroth said.

Mayor Gavin Newsom and the police department said they reserved the right to adjust the flame's route, slated to run along the San Francisco Bay, if necessary. The air space above the city will be restricted during the relay, a federal aviation spokesman said.

Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for Newsom, dismissed rumors that the relay would be canceled. Newsom met with Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong on Monday afternoon to discuss security measures for the relay, Ballard said.

"It was a good meeting and they discussed their shared desire to try to limit the kind of chaos that we have seen in London and Paris," he said.

Lorri Coppola, a champion racewalker whose body is being slowly shut down by Lou Gehrig's disease, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, has met with the Dalai Lama in the past and understands the protesters' motives.

"They are doing it in the free countries because they know what might happen should they try to protest in China!" she wrote by e-mail, as the disease has cost her the ability to speak.

She says she's afraid of getting hurt if activists get out of control, especially given her weakened condition.

Activists have been protesting along the torch route since the flame embarked on its 85,000-mile journey from Ancient Olympia in Greece to the Aug. 8-24 Beijing Olympics.

The Golden Gate climbers, who wore helmets and harnesses as they made their way above the famed span, were suspended about 150 feet above traffic. They later climbed down and bridge workers cut down the signs.

In all, seven people were charged with conspiracy and causing a public nuisance, with the three climbers facing additional charges of trespassing, said Mary Ziegenbien, a spokeswoman with the California Highway Patrol.

The Chinese, who have been hoping to use the games as a showpiece for their newfound prosperity and power, have dismissed the protestors as a small group of Tibetan separatists. But this torch-relay fiasco may well unsettle the big Olympic corporate sponsors, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips. The top five alone spent half a billion dollars on the last games and are poised to spend a lot more this time. The risk of being tainted by association with Chinese policy has become a real one for those companies.

"They are trying very hard not to seem like the bad guy and I think a lot of the companies really do sympathize with the cause. But they are really not sure how to go about this because you don't want to tick off the Chinese government," says Judann Pollack, managing editor of Advertising Age.

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Bob Dylan wins a Pulitzer

DylanLegendary troubadour Bob Dylan now has a Pulitzer to add to his Oscar and Grammys.

NEW YORK (AP) -- Thanks to Bob Dylan, rock 'n' roll has finally broken through the Pulitzer wall.

Dylan, the most acclaimed and influential songwriter of the past half century, who more than anyone brought rock from the streets to the lecture hall, received an honorary Pulitzer Prize on Monday, cited for his "profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power."

It was the first time Pulitzer judges, who have long favored classical music, and, more recently, jazz, awarded an art form once dismissed as barbaric, even subversive.

"I am in disbelief," Dylan fan and fellow Pulitzer winner Junot Diaz said of Dylan's award.

Diaz's "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," a tragic but humorous story of desire, politics and violence among Dominicans at home and in the United States, won the fiction prize. Diaz, 39, worked for more than a decade on his first novel -- "I spent most of the time on dead-ends and doubts," he told The Associated Press on Monday -- and at one point included a section about Dylan.

"Bob Dylan was a problem for me," Diaz, who has also published a story collection, "Drown," said with a laugh. "I had one part that was 40 pages long, the entire chapter was organized around Bob Dylan's lyrics over a two year-period (1967-69). By the end of it, I wanted to throttle my like of Bob Dylan."

The Pulitzer for drama was given to Tracy Letts' "August: Osage County," which, like Diaz's novel, combines comedy and brutality. Letts calls the play "loosely autobiographical," a bruising family battle spanning several generations of unhappiness and unfulfilled dreams.

"It's a play I have been working on in my head and on paper for many years now," said Letts, reached by the AP in Chicago at the Steppenwolf Theater Company, where "August: Osage County" had its world premiere last summer.

"There were just some details from my grandmother, my grandfather's suicide (for example) that I had played over and over in my head for many, many years. I always thought, `Well, that's the stuff of drama right there."'

Former U.S. poet laureate Robert Hass, already a National Book Award winner for "Time and Materials," won the poetry Pulitzer, as did Philip Schultz's "Failure."

"This is the book ... I have always wanted to write," Schultz told the AP. "Everyone is expert on one subject and failure seems to be mine. ... I was born into it. My father went bankrupt when I was 18 and he died soon afterward out of (a) terrible sense of shame. And we lost everything, my mother and I."

Other winners Monday: Daniel Walker Howe, for history, for "What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848"; Saul Friedlander, general nonfiction, for "The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945"; for biography, John Matteson's "Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father."

"I wrote my book in a way that is generally accessible to the curious literate reader," Howe said. "And I think that's very important, and I wish more books were written that way."

"It's a special honor because it ties me even more to the country of which I'm now a citizen," said Friedlander, who became a U.S. citizen seven years ago and won the German Booksellers Association's 2007 Peace Prize for his work on documenting the Holocaust.

"I am surprised, grateful, overjoyed -- and a little embarrassed to do this with my first book," said Matteson, a professor of English at John Jay College in New York City who added that his 14-year-old daughter was an inspiration.

"Not only did I understand parenting better after writing the book, but being a parent helped me to write the book."

Dylan's victory doesn't mean that the Pulitzers have forgotten classical composers. The competitive prize for music was given to David Lang's "The Little Match Girl Passion," which opened last fall at Carnegie Hall, where Dylan has also performed.

"Bob Dylan is the most frequently played artist in my household so the idea that I am honored at the same time as Bob Dylan, that is humbling," Lang told the AP.

Long after most of his contemporaries either died, left the business or held on by the ties of nostalgia, Dylan continues to tour almost continuously and release highly regarded CDs, most recently "Modern Times." Fans, critics and academics have obsessed over his lyrics -- even digging through his garbage for clues -- since the mid-1960s, when such protest anthems as "Blowin' in the Wind" made Dylan a poet and prophet for a rebellious generation.

His songs include countless biblical references and he has claimed Chekhov, Walt Whitman and Jack Kerouac as influences. His memoir, "Chronicles, Volume One," received a National Book Critics Circle nomination in 2005 and is widely acknowledged as the rare celebrity book that can be treated as literature.

According to publisher Simon & Schuster, Dylan is working on a second volume of memoirs. No release date has been set.

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