Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Want to be rich? Don't get too happy

New research shows income rises with happiness, but bliss can be bad for the bank account.

jean_chatzky_new.03.jpgEditor-at-large Jean Chatzky appears regularly on NBC's Today. Contact her at money_life@moneymail.com.

(Money Magazine) -- Checked out the bestseller lists lately? In February you would have spotted motivational expert Marci Shimoff's "Happy for No Reason," which claims to teach you "how to experience sustained happiness for the rest of your life." In March came "The Geography of Bliss" by journalist Eric Weiner, a travelogue of places on Earth where people are the happiest. Both of these follow on the heels of "Stumbling on Happiness" by Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert, which has been translated into 20 languages.

Clearly, for a lot of people, finding happiness is the ultimate goal. But should it be? New research suggests maybe not - at least if wealth and success are also at the top of your list.

University of Illinois psychology professor Ed Diener and others have established that while money won't buy happiness, happy people tend to earn more than sad people. A few years ago, however, investing legend John Templeton wrote Diener a letter that had the professor scratching his head. "Is life satisfaction always great?" Templeton asked. "Maybe a little bit of dissatisfaction is okay."

"I started wondering," Diener recalls, "do you have to be happier and happier? How happy is happy enough?"

Thus, a new study was born. Diener and his colleagues used data from the World Values Survey, which measures the happiness of respondents on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 the happiest). They found that income did indeed increase along with happiness but not at the very top. The 10s earned significantly less than the 8s and the 9s. The latter were also more likely to have gone to college, have engaged in the political process and have saved money.

Don't worry, spend money

Why is it better to be happy but not euphoric? Diener's take is that happy - but not too happy - people are strivers. They're interested in making the sorts of changes necessary to get ahead in life, including engaging in competition (not always a happy pursuit), obtaining more education and changing their behavior when what they're doing now isn't working. The 10s, on the other hand, are too complacent to adjust enough.

Diener isn't the only dog on this trail. When Duke University finance scholars undertook an examination of optimists using the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances, they also found that people who saw the glass as filled to the brim (classified as those who overestimated their own life spans by 20 years or more) behaved in ways that weren't good for their future.

"When you compare moderate optimists with extreme ones, one of the biggest areas of difference is in self-control," says David Robinson, a lead researcher on the Duke study. The extreme optimists overspent. They accumulated debt. They didn't save. They were more likely to be day-traders. On the other hand, moderate optimists, recognizing the possibility of a run of bad luck, saved more than extreme optimists did.

The idea that you can be too happy applies in other areas of life besides finance. Academic success, for example, went up as happiness increased, Diener found. But it peaked at people classified as "happy" and then fell back for the "very happy."

There are some circumstances in which the very happy have an edge. They're more likely to be successful as volunteers, and they're better at dating and at maintaining close friendships. All keys to life satisfaction, but not necessarily wealth boosters. Eventually the boss notices that his cherished staffers spend all their time socializing rather than getting work done.

So what are the takeaways from this research? To be sure, it's better to be generally happy than sad when it comes to your finances. But sheer bliss isn't all it's cracked up to be. To keep yourself a bit more balanced, try these two courses of action.

Surround yourself with the right people. Take the optimism test above. If you scored at the top or bottom, maybe you need to find a few new friends. "If you're looking to get happier, hang out with the optimists and avoid pessimists," says Frederick G. Crane, executive professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at Northeastern University. If you're too happy, pessimists are the order of the day for you.

Challenge yourself. Even if you're not constantly floating on a cloud, super-happiness can make you complacent, says Diener. As long as your approach to life and its tribulations is working, after all, why should you try anything new? The problem with such thinking is that when your way of doing things falls short, you may not realize it.

The solution: Alter your typical tack to problem solving. In my case, for years the only way I knew to get more work done was to put in longer hours. I had to learn to delegate. Once I did, I gained others' perspective, not to mention my own time. So push yourself in a new direction. You'll be richer for it.

Editor-at-large Jean Chatzky appears regularly on NBC's Today. You can contact her at money_life@moneymail.com.

Arielle Mcgowen contributed to this article.

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Through the floor

America's house prices are falling even faster than during the Great Depression

AS HOUSE prices in America continue their rapid descent, market-watchers are having to cast back ever further for gloomy comparisons. The latest S&P/Case-Shiller national house-price index, published this week, showed a slump of 14.1% in the year to the first quarter, the worst since the index began 20 years ago. Now Robert Shiller, an economist at Yale University and co-inventor of the index, has compiled a version that stretches back over a century. This shows that the latest fall in nominal prices is already much bigger than the 10.5% drop in 1932, the worst point of the Depression. And things are even worse than they look. In the deflationary 1930s house prices declined less in real terms. Today inflation is running at a brisk pace, so property prices have fallen by a staggering 18% in real terms over the past year.

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Student Loans Start to Bypass 2-Year Colleges

Some of the nation’s biggest banks have closed their doors to students at community colleges, for-profit universities and other less competitive institutions, even as they continue to extend federally backed loans to students at the nation’s top universities.

Citibank has been among the most aggressive in paring the list of colleges it serves. JPMorgan Chase, PNC and SunTrust say they have not dropped whole categories, but are cutting colleges as well. Some less-selective four-year colleges, like Eastern Oregon University and William Jessup University in Rocklin, Calif., say they have been summarily dropped by some lenders.

The practice suggests that if the credit crisis and the ensuing turmoil in the student loan business persist, some of the nation’s neediest students will be hurt the most. The difficulty borrowing may deter them from attending school or prompt them to take a semester off. When they get student loans, they will wind up with less attractive terms and may run a greater risk of default if they have to switch lenders in the middle of their college years.

Tuition and loan amounts can be quite small at community colleges. But these institutions, which are a stepping stone to other educational programs or to better jobs, often draw students from the lower rungs of the economic ladder. More than 6.2 million of the nation’s 14.8 million undergraduates — over 40 percent — attend community colleges. According to the most recent data from the College Board, about a third of their graduates took out loans, a majority of them federally guaranteed.

“If we put too many hurdles in their way to get a loan, they’ll take a third job or use a credit card,” said Jacqueline K. Bradley, assistant dean for financial aid at Mendocino College in California. “That almost guarantees that they won’t be as successful in their college career.”

So far, financial aid administrators say they have been able to find fallback lenders that students can switch to, but the hurdles are costly to students — in money and time. The maximum interest rate on federal loans, now at 6.8 percent on the most commonly used loans, is set by Congress, but lenders are scrapping benefits, like rate cuts for borrowers who make their payments on time or allow direct withdrawals from bank accounts.

Some loan companies have exited the student loan business entirely, viewing it as unprofitable in the current environment. By splitting out community colleges and less-selective four-year institutions, some remaining lenders seem to be breaking the marketplace into tiers. Students attending elite, expensive, public and private four-year universities can expect loans to remain plentiful. The banks generally say these loans are bigger, more profitable and less risky, in part perhaps because the banks expect the universities’ graduates to earn more.

Lenders will not say how many colleges they have dropped, making it hard to determine just how many institutions have been affected. Although financial aid administrators say the trend is widespread, they are often reluctant to identify which lenders have stopped serving their colleges, for fear that it will complicate matters for current students who have taken out loans from those lenders and still need to deal with them.

Michelle McClain, 40, who is studying to become a teacher, learned on Friday that she would have to find a new lender after Citibank dropped William Jessup University. The news angered her.

“The loan is between me and the lender,” Ms. McClain said. “I’m the one that’s taking out the loan, I’m the one whose credit is in jeopardy if I don’t pay it, I am the one totally responsible for the loan, and as long as I’m going to an accredited college, I don’t understand why it would make one iota of difference where I am going to college.”

The government has been taking additional steps to keep the student loan market operating smoothly. And some lenders’ doors remain wide open. Sallie Mae and Nelnet recently reaffirmed their commitment to federal loans regardless of the institution a student attends. Kristin Shear, director of student financial services at Santa Rosa Junior College, said that days after the school was dropped by Citibank, Wells Fargo called to say it was eager to lend to students there.

The banks that are pulling out say their decisions are based on an analysis of which colleges have higher default rates, low numbers of borrowers and small loan amounts that make the business less profitable. (The average amount borrowed by community college students is about $3,200 a year, according to the College Board.) Still, the cherry-picking strikes some as peculiar; after all, the government is guaranteeing 95 percent of the value of these loans.

Mark C. Rodgers, a spokesman for Citibank, which lends through its Student Loan Corporation unit, said the bank had “temporarily suspended lending at schools which tend to have loans with lower balances and shorter periods over which we earn interest. And, in general, we are suspending lending at certain schools where we anticipate processing minimal loan volume.”

Financial aid officials in California said that Citibank had stopped making loans to students at all community colleges in the state. Mr. Rodgers said the bank would not provide details about which schools were affected.

The financial aid director at William Jessup, Korey Compaan, said he did not understand the bank’s explanation.

“The logic is so flawed, that for us to have volume with them in the future, we have to have had volume with them in the past,” Mr. Compaan said. Simply to cut off students at a college, he continued, “I find it totally and completely unethical.”

The government sets the criteria for college participation in federal loan programs, requiring that colleges be accredited and have low default rates to participate, for example. Now lenders are being more selective than the government.

“There’s been a certain amount of market segmentation going on, but this is the first time we’ve seen a lender, especially as large as Citibank, saying, ‘We don’t want to do business with you,’ ” said Samuel F. Collie, director of financial aid at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande, Ore.

“There’s a fundamental issue of fairness and equity that’s certainly not being addressed in this,” Mr. Collie said. “But short of completely revamping the way that financial aid, especially loans, is being delivered to students in this country, I don’t know that we have any easy answers.”

The credit crisis, which has made it harder for some lenders to raise money, and a reduction in the government’s subsidy to lenders have contributed to the reevaluations by the lenders.

“This is one of those perfect storm situations,” said Susan L. Mead, director of financial aid at Dutchess Community College in New York. She said her institution had been dropped by no less than six lenders: HSBC, Citibank, M&T, Chase, Citizens Bank and Student Loan Xpress.

Christine Holevas, a spokeswoman for Chase, said that the bank considered several factors in deciding whether to lend to a particular college’s students. “The repayment rate, you look at the size and length of the loan,” she said. “We have tightened credit standards, yes, but we haven’t cut off any category of school.”

Hugh Suhr, a spokesman for SunTrust, said it was “stepping away from some relationships” with universities, but that this was “not based on any particular type of school.” Mr. Suhr said the bank continued to lend to students at a range of institutions.

Another danger for students is that as they are forced to find and switch to replacement lenders, they may lose track of some debt obligations and miss a few payments.

“It might put them in default,” said Claudia Martin, director of financial aid at Monterey Peninsula College, a community college in California that was dropped by Citibank and two other lenders. “We always recommend that a student stay with the same lender all through school.”

Commercial colleges, among the first to suffer when lenders withdrew from the market, have been openly critical of the new differentiation.

“From what I can tell from our lawyers, it’s not technically illegal for them to reject schools,” said Harris N. Miller, the president of the Career College Association in Washington, a trade group for commercial colleges. “I just think that’s very objectionable.”

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Wounded man died while handcuffed to a tree, B.C. inquest told

Donald Dwayne Lewis, seen in an undated photo, was shot by an RCMP officer near Williams Lake in 2006. Donald Dwayne Lewis, seen in an undated photo, was shot by an RCMP officer near Williams Lake in 2006. (Courtesy of Sara Lewis)

An American man shot by the RCMP near Williams Lake, B.C., died while he was handcuffed to a tree, a coroner's inquest heard Monday.

Donald Dwayne Lewis, 43, died on Aug. 13, 2006, following an altercation with a Williams Lake RCMP officer near McLeese Lake, off Highway 97.

On Monday, the first day of the inquest, excerpts from 911 and dispatch calls were played in the court.

"I have one suspect in custody. He's currently cuffed to a tree," RCMP Const. Cole Brewer is heard saying on one of the recordings.

"He's been shot, OK? And I just have some injuries from a fight. To my knowledge there's only one suspect. He's cuffed with one set of cuffs behind the back and the second one is to a tree. He has a gunshot wound to his abdomen/hip area."

The RCMP officer had responded to a call about a suspicious man illegally camping on private property, the inquest heard.

Brewer testified on Monday that Lewis ran away as he approached the camp area and a chase ensued, followed by a fight between the two men.

Officer says he exhausted all options of force

The officer said he had used his fists, his baton and pepper spray to try to subdue Lewis but failed. He finally drew his gun and shot him once.

He said Lewis kept on fighting even after he was wounded.

After handcuffing Lewis to a tree, Brewer went to his car to radio for help but Lewis died before paramedics arrived, the inquest heard.

"What we did hear is that Mr. Lewis was shot once, only after Const. Brewer used a variety of intervention options from the bottom of the spectrum," RCMP spokesperson Const. Annie Linteau said outside the inquest.

Jurors were also shown photographs of Lewis dead on the forest floor, still handcuffed to a tree.

"They're disturbing images. He does handcuff him to the tree. There's a fear that perhaps leaving him there, he might run away, etc.," she said.

The jury will have the opportunity to make recommendations aimed at preventing deaths under similar circumstances in the future.

The coroner's inquest is expected to last two weeks.

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George Bush insists that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. So why, six years ago, did the CIA give the Iranians blueprints to build

In an extract from his explosive new book, New York Times reporter James Risen reveals the bungles and miscalculations that led to a spectacular intelligence fiasco

State of War by James Risen

State of War, by James Risen

She had probably done this a dozen times before. Modern digital technology had made clandestine communications with overseas agents seem routine. Back in the cold war, contacting a secret agent in Moscow or Beijing was a dangerous, labour-intensive process that could take days or even weeks. But by 2004, it was possible to send high-speed, encrypted messages directly and instantaneously from CIA headquarters to agents in the field who were equipped with small, covert personal communications devices. So the officer at CIA headquarters assigned to handle communications with the agency's spies in Iran probably didn't think twice when she began her latest download. With a few simple commands, she sent a secret data flow to one of the Iranian agents in the CIA's spy network. Just as she had done so many times before.

But this time, the ease and speed of the technology betrayed her. The CIA officer had made a disastrous mistake. She had sent information to one Iranian agent that exposed an entire spy network; the data could be used to identify virtually every spy the CIA had inside Iran.

Mistake piled on mistake. As the CIA later learned, the Iranian who received the download was a double agent. The agent quickly turned the data over to Iranian security officials, and it enabled them to "roll up" the CIA's network throughout Iran. CIA sources say that several of the Iranian agents were arrested and jailed, while the fates of some of the others is still unknown.

This espionage disaster, of course, was not reported. It left the CIA virtually blind in Iran, unable to provide any significant intelligence on one of the most critical issues facing the US - whether Tehran was about to go nuclear.

In fact, just as President Bush and his aides were making the case in 2004 and 2005 that Iran was moving rapidly to develop nuclear weapons, the American intelligence community found itself unable to provide the evidence to back up the administration's public arguments. On the heels of the CIA's failure to provide accurate pre-war intelligence on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, the agency was once again clueless in the Middle East. In the spring of 2005, in the wake of the CIA's Iranian disaster, Porter Goss, its new director, told President Bush in a White House briefing that the CIA really didn't know how close Iran was to becoming a nuclear power.

But it's worse than that. Deep in the bowels of the CIA, someone must be nervously, but very privately, wondering: "Whatever happened to those nuclear blueprints we gave to the Iranians?"

The story dates back to the Clinton administration and February 2000, when one frightened Russian scientist walked Vienna's winter streets. The Russian had good reason to be afraid. He was walking around Vienna with blueprints for a nuclear bomb.

To be precise, he was carrying technical designs for a TBA 480 high-voltage block, otherwise known as a "firing set", for a Russian-designed nuclear weapon. He held in his hands the knowledge needed to create a perfect implosion that could trigger a nuclear chain reaction inside a small spherical core. It was one of the greatest engineering secrets in the world, providing the solution to one of a handful of problems that separated nuclear powers such as the United States and Russia from rogue countries such as Iran that were desperate to join the nuclear club but had so far fallen short.

The Russian, who had defected to the US years earlier, still couldn't believe the orders he had received from CIA headquarters. The CIA had given him the nuclear blueprints and then sent him to Vienna to sell them - or simply give them - to the Iranian representatives to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). With the Russian doing its bidding, the CIA appeared to be about to help Iran leapfrog one of the last remaining engineering hurdles blocking its path to a nuclear weapon. The dangerous irony was not lost on the Russian - the IAEA was an international organisation created to restrict the spread of nuclear technology.

The Russian was a nuclear engineer in the pay of the CIA, which had arranged for him to become an American citizen and funded him to the tune of $5,000 a month. It seemed like easy money, with few strings attached.

Until now. The CIA was placing him on the front line of a plan that seemed to be completely at odds with the interests of the US, and it had taken a lot of persuading by his CIA case officer to convince him to go through with what appeared to be a rogue operation.

The case officer worked hard to convince him - even though he had doubts about the plan as well. As he was sweet-talking the Russian into flying to Vienna, the case officer wondered whether he was involved in an illegal covert action. Should he expect to be hauled before a congressional committee and grilled because he was the officer who helped give nuclear blueprints to Iran? The code name for this operation was Merlin; to the officer, that seemed like a wry tip-off that nothing about this programme was what it appeared to be. He did his best to hide his concerns from his Russian agent.

The Russian's assignment from the CIA was to pose as an unemployed and greedy scientist who was willing to sell his soul - and the secrets of the atomic bomb - to the highest bidder. By hook or by crook, the CIA told him, he was to get the nuclear blueprints to the Iranians. They would quickly recognise their value and rush them back to their superiors in Tehran.

The plan had been laid out for the defector during a CIA-financed trip to San Francisco, where he had meetings with CIA officers and nuclear experts mixed in with leisurely wine-tasting trips to Sonoma County. In a luxurious San Francisco hotel room, a senior CIA official involved in the operation talked the Russian through the details of the plan. He brought in experts from one of the national laboratories to go over the blueprints that he was supposed to give the Iranians.

The senior CIA officer could see that the Russian was nervous, and so he tried to downplay the significance of what they were asking him to do. He said the CIA was mounting the operation simply to find out where the Iranians were with their nuclear programme. This was just an intelligence-gathering effort, the CIA officer said, not an illegal attempt to give Iran the bomb. He suggested that the Iranians already had the technology he was going to hand over to them. It was all a game. Nothing too serious.

On paper, Merlin was supposed to stunt the development of Tehran's nuclear programme by sending Iran's weapons experts down the wrong technical path. The CIA believed that once the Iranians had the blueprints and studied them, they would believe the designs were usable and so would start to build an atom bomb based on the flawed designs. But Tehran would get a big surprise when its scientists tried to explode their new bomb. Instead of a mushroom cloud, the Iranian scientists would witness a disappointing fizzle. The Iranian nuclear programme would suffer a humiliating setback, and Tehran's goal of becoming a nuclear power would have been delayed by several years. In the meantime, the CIA, by watching Iran's reaction to the blueprints, would have gained a wealth of information about the status of Iran's weapons programme, which has been shrouded in secrecy.

The Russian studied the blueprints the CIA had given him. Within minutes of being handed the designs, he had identified a flaw. "This isn't right," he told the CIA officers gathered around the hotel room. "There is something wrong." His comments prompted stony looks, but no straight answers from the CIA men. No one in the meeting seemed surprised by the Russian's assertion that the blueprints didn't look quite right, but no one wanted to enlighten him further on the matter, either.

In fact, the CIA case officer who was the Russian's personal handler had been stunned by his statement. During a break, he took the senior CIA officer aside. "He wasn't supposed to know that," the CIA case officer told his superior. "He wasn't supposed to find a flaw."

"Don't worry," the senior CIA officer calmly replied. "It doesn't matter."

The CIA case officer couldn't believe the senior CIA officer's answer, but he managed to keep his fears from the Russian, and continued to train him for his mission.

After their trip to San Francisco, the case officer handed the Russian a sealed envelope with the nuclear blueprints inside. He was told not to open the envelope under any circumstances. He was to follow the CIA's instructions to find the Iranians and give them the envelope with the documents inside. Keep it simple, and get out of Vienna safe and alive, the Russian was told. But the defector had his own ideas about how he might play that game.

The CIA had discovered that a high-ranking Iranian official would be travelling to Vienna and visiting the Iranian mission to the IAEA, and so the agency decided to send the Russian to Vienna at the same time. It was hoped that he could make contact with either the Iranian representative to the IAEA or the visitor from Tehran.

In Vienna, however, the Russian unsealed the envelope with the nuclear blueprints and included a personal letter of his own to the Iranians. No matter what the CIA told him, he was going to hedge his bets. There was obviously something wrong with the blueprints - so he decided to mention that fact to the Iranians in his letter. They would certainly find flaws for themselves, and if he didn't tell them first, they would never want to deal with him again.

The Russian was thus warning the Iranians as carefully as he could that there was a flaw somewhere in the nuclear blueprints, and he could help them find it. At the same time, he was still going through with the CIA's operation in the only way he thought would work.

The Russian soon found 19 Heinstrasse, a five-storey office and apartment building with a flat, pale green and beige facade in a quiet, slightly down-at-heel neighbourhood in Vienna's north end. Amid the list of Austrian tenants, there was one simple line: "PM/Iran." The Iranians clearly didn't want publicity. An Austrian postman helped him. As the Russian stood by, the postman opened the building door and dropped off the mail. The Russian followed suit; he realised that he could leave his package without actually having to talk to anyone. He slipped through the front door, and hurriedly shoved his envelope through the inner-door slot at the Iranian office.

The Russian fled the mission without being seen. He was deeply relieved that he had made the hand-off without having to come face to face with a real live Iranian. He flew back to the US without being detected by either Austrian security or, more importantly, Iranian intelligence.

Just days after the Russian dropped off his package at the Iranian mission, the National Security Agency reported that an Iranian official in Vienna abruptly changed his schedule, making airline reservations to fly home to Iran. The odds were that the nuclear blueprints were now in Tehran.

The Russian scientist's fears about the operation seemed well founded. He was the front man for what may have been one of the most reckless operations in the modern history of the CIA, one that may have helped put nuclear weapons in the hands of a charter member of what President George W Bush has called the "axis of evil".

Operation Merlin has been one of the most closely guarded secrets in the Clinton and Bush administrations. It's not clear who originally came up with the idea, but the plan was first approved by Clinton. After the Russian scientist's fateful trip to Vienna, however, the Merlin operation was endorsed by the Bush administration, possibly with an eye toward repeating it against North Korea or other dangerous states.

Several former CIA officials say that the theory behind Merlin - handing over tainted weapon designs to confound one of America's adversaries - is a trick that has been used many times in past operations, stretching back to the cold war. But in previous cases, such Trojan horse operations involved conventional weapons; none of the former officials had ever heard of the CIA attempting to conduct this kind of high-risk operation with designs for a nuclear bomb. The former officials also said these kind of programmes must be closely monitored by senior CIA managers in order to control the flow of information to the adversary. If mishandled, they could easily help an enemy accelerate its weapons development. That may be what happened with Merlin.

Iran has spent nearly 20 years trying to develop nuclear weapons, and in the process has created a strong base of sophisticated scientists knowledgeable enough to spot flaws in nuclear blueprints. Tehran also obtained nuclear blueprints from the network of Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, and so already had workable blueprints against which to compare the designs obtained from the CIA. Nuclear experts say that they would thus be able to extract valuable information from the blueprints while ignoring the flaws.

"If [the flaw] is bad enough," warned a nuclear weapons expert with the IAEA, "they will find it quite quickly. That would be my fear"

© James Risen 2006

· This is an edited extract from State of War, by James Risen, published by The Free Press

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Death and dirt collide in mafia violence

· Fourth victim in shootings targeting state witnesses
· Camorra gangs involved in Naples rubbish crisis

Orsi's murder has given a new and sinister twist to the Naples garbage crisis. Photograph: Carlo Hermann/AFP/Getty

A "super-witness" who was due to testify on the links between politicians and mafia mobsters in Naples was gunned down in the street yesterday - the fourth victim in a month of shootings directed against witnesses who turn state's evidence.

The killing of Michele Orsi, the 47-year-old boss of a waste disposal firm, highlighted the Italian state's inability to protect people prepared to give evidence against organised crime.

As security officials yesterday held crisis talks, Orsi's murder gave a new and sinister twist to the Naples garbage crisis, where rubbish is still piled high on streets and roads in Campania, the region that includes the city. Since the emergency began last December one of the worst-affected provinces has been Caserta, where Orsi was shot dead in a bar in the town of Casal di Principe yesterday afternoon.

The Carabinieri, the military police, said yesterday the killing was impossible to reconstruct because no one would admit to having seen it. However, after a search for bullets and casings, they concluded that at least 18 shots were fired from two 9mm-calibre automatics. Orsi was hit twice in the chest and once in the head, suggesting that, in classic mafia style, he was given a "coup de grace" by one of the killers as he lay dying.

Casal di Principe is the home town of the author Roberto Saviano and features prominently in his best-selling book, Gomorrah. Saviano, who lives under round-the-clock protection because of death threats, said yesterday Orsi was a "leading entrepreneur in the waste sector who did millions of euros' worth of business with the [mafia] clans". Orsi's lawyer, however, described him as a victim whose company had been paying at least €15,000 a month to the Camorra, the mafia of Naples and Campania.

The murdered businessman was to have given evidence on Thursday in a trial in which the defendants include a prominent member of Silvio Berlusconi's governing Freedom People alliance.

Franco Roberti, the chief anti-mafia prosecutor of Naples, said: "A formidable opportunity to strike at the clans has been lost." He told the daily La Repubblica paper that Orsi "had decided to talk [and] denounce all the bonds that link politics to the Camorra. His words would have angered many people. Too many of them had an interest in taking him out."

Roberti said the only effective way to protect witnesses was to move them out of territory controlled by the mob, and Orsi had not applied for inclusion in a programme that would have enabled that to happen. However, the dead man's lawyer said: "Orsi was frightened. He came to my office every day because it was the only place he felt safe."

Camorra gangs are themselves leading players in the waste disposal sector - illegally dumping toxic waste, usually trucked down from the more industrialised north of Italy.

Their presence is also a key reason why people in Campania are so opposed to the construction of incinerators that would provide them with a long-term solution to the region's waste problems. They fear the facilities would come under the control of the Camorra and be used to burn toxic waste.

Orsi's death also appeared to form part of a killing spree intended to stem the flow of secrets of the mob clans operating in and around Casal di Principe. It began on May 2 when Umberto Bidognetti, the father of a mobster turned state's witness, was shot dead at nearby Castelvolturno.

Two weeks later hitmen killed a businessman who gave vital evidence against racketeers in a trial in 2001. Then, on Friday night, mobsters disguised as police officers demanded to be let into a flat owned by relatives of another state witness, Anna Carrino. The former partner of a "godfather" her testimony has led to the arrest of several of his henchmen. Her niece opened the door and was shot in the stomach. She is expected to live.

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Despite free land, no cry of northward ho in Japan

A roadside billboard in Shibetsu, Japan, which is trying to stem population loss, reads: "If you build a home and move here, the land is yours for free."
(Norimitsu Onishi)

SHIBETSU, Japan: "If you build a home and move here, the land is yours free," read a billboard on the side of a quiet two-lane highway that disappeared straight into the horizon here, under northern Japan's big sky.

An orange hand atop the billboard pointed to a large, empty tract of flat land on which three new houses stood, surrounded by nothing.

Yellow stake signs dotted the land. Some displayed the name of a future settler, like a certain Inehara-san from Hyogo prefecture on lot B-9; others, only the details of a piece still up for grabs, including the 4,300 square feet on B-11.

Desperate to stanch a decline in population, this town and another on Hokkaido, the northernmost island in Japan, are trying to lure newcomers with free land. It was a back-to-the-future policy since Hokkaido was settled by Japanese drawn here by the promise of free land in the late 19th century, a time when Japan was growing and modernizing rapidly.

Since 1998, Hokkaido, like the rest of rural Japan, has been losing its residents to cities and old age. Significantly, just as Hokkaido's earlier development resulted from Japan's expansion, the decline in its population presaged the new era of a shrinking Japan, whose overall population started sliding in 2005.

Towns like Shibetsu — on Hokkaido's eastern coast, so far east of Tokyo that the sun rises at 3:30 a.m. this time of the year because of Japan's single time zone — have been hardest hit. Outside the small town center, few cars could be seen on the roads the other day. The open, flat land characteristic of Hokkaido, in sharp contrast to the densely packed mountains elsewhere in Japan, merely emphasized the area's emptiness.

"If you think of it in American terms, this is like a Wild West town you see in movies or on television," said Hiroaki Matsui, 50, a truck driver born here. "But even in America's Wild West, this would be the remotest of all towns."

Matsui supported the policy of giving away land but wondered whether newcomers, used to the comforts of modern Japan, were ready to move to an isolated town where winter temperatures drop to minus 4 Fahrenheit. "Will they really come here?" he asked incredulously.

In the United States, depopulated communities in the Great Plains have been giving away land in recent years. But in Japan, where a population more than 40 percent the size of the United States' is squeezed into a country the size of California, offering free land seemed like an extreme measure.

"Land is cheap in Hokkaido," said Akira Kanazawa, the mayor of Shibetsu, adding that many communities on the island were trying to attract new residents by offering rebates on land. "But free? That's highly unusual."

Because of a hollowing out of Shibetsu's main industries, dairy farming and fishing, the town's population has fallen by more than 10 percent in the last decade, to 5,889 today. So in late 2006, the town announced that it would give away 28 parcels of land ranging from 4,300 square feet to 5,230 square feet each, very generous by Japanese standards. A third of the lots were reserved for locals, with the rest going to outsiders.

The only stipulation was that the newcomers build a house on the lot within three years and move there officially.

Town officials had expected a big response. "But it wasn't as simple as that," the mayor said. "After all, it's a huge commitment to migrate here."

So far, only 11 families or couples, five from outside Hokkaido and six from within, have taken up Shibetsu's offer, leaving 17 unclaimed lots. Locals now live in two finished houses; a third, to be occupied by a couple from Osaka, is under construction.

For centuries, the island was inhabited only by Ainu, an indigenous group, and was too cold to grow rice. But in the decades following Japan's forced opening by the United States in the mid-19th century, Tokyo pressed to expand north, especially to counter growing Russian influence in the region.

The Hokkaido Colonization Board was established in 1869, guiding the migration of Japanese who displaced the Ainu and leading to the island's acquisition by Japan. That migration was the first step in a movement that would send Japanese migrants to Hawaii, North and South America, and, with the growth of Japanese militarism, to Manchuria and other corners of Asia. As land grew scarce on the other Japanese islands, mostly second- or third-born sons who would not inherit any land back home arrived on Hokkaido with a frontier spirit, heeding the government's call to develop the new land.

"That's because back then Hokkaido was the only place in Japan with available land," said Koichi Miura, a local historian in Yakumo, a town in southern Hokkaido that is also offering newcomers free land. He said that each settler then was given about 30 acres.

The lots being handed out this time in Yakumo are far smaller, roughly the size of those being given away in Shibetsu. In addition, unlike the earlier settlers, today's tend to be older, with many deciding to move here for retirement. Town officials said that even if the newcomers were retirees, the economic benefits to the towns would outweigh the costs.

Toshiaki Nakamura, 48, who is scheduled to move here from Tokyo in the fall with his wife and daughter, said he wanted to escape the stress of Tokyo and was drawn by the nature on Hokkaido. Over the years, he and his wife, Toyomi, 52, had come to Hokkaido many times on vacation and decided to move here last fall after looking at three other locations on the island.

The land giveaway was also a factor. "It made me think how much those local governments are hurting as Japan's population declines," Toshiaki Nakamura said.

The couple planned to sell their Tokyo home, built on 1,200 square feet, and were making plans for a new house on their 5,000-square-foot lot here.

"I feel bad, receiving free land in this day and age," Toyomi Nakamura said. "That's unimaginable in Tokyo."

Original here

China earthquake: Teacher admits leaving pupils behind as he fled Chinese earthquake

A secondary school teacher has set himself dramatically against the tales of heroism arising from the Sichuan earthquake by describing how he callously abandoned his pupils to their fate.

Teacher run from the school leaving his pupils behind

In an act of moral foolhardiness, Fan Meizhong set out on a blog his guiding principle: in matters of life and death, it's every man for himself.

When the quake struck, rather than overseeing an orderly evacuation, he said he just shouted "Stay calm, it's an earthquake!" and ran for it without looking back to see if his pupils were following.

"I ran towards the stairs so fast that I stumbled and fell as I went. When I reached the centre of the football pitch, I found I was the first to escape. None of my pupils was with me," wrote the man now known across China as 'Runner Fan'.

When his pupils began to arrive, they asked: "Teacher, why didn't you bring us out?"

His explanation was simple. "I have a very strong sense of self-preservation," he said. "I have never been a brave man and I'm only really concerned about myself."

While newspapers have largely followed instructions to concentrate on uplifting tales of rescue work since the earthquake, the internet has seen a wild variety of tales emerge.

It was internet sites that first reported the quake, and where some of the first pictures of collapsed schools were posted. Internet users have debated how to apportion blame for shoddy building work, as well as rallying praise for emergency services and politicians seen to have done a good job.

Other local officials have been vilified by name for a variety of offences, some relatively trivial, such as smiling too much during visits by their superiors.

Some plotlines have been wild, such as those which have discussed whether fortune-tellers could have foretold disaster, but few have hit upon such a sensitive topic as Mr Fan.

He was not the first to raise the issue. Many news reports have focused on stories of teachers putting children first, almost certainly representing the vast majority, such as that of another teacher, Tan Qianqiu, whose body was found shielding four of his pupils, all of them alive.

But some schools were uneasy that their teachers had a higher survival rate than pupils.

One such was Juyuan School, where hundreds of pupils died - parents say 500 to 700 though the official number is 278 out of 900 - but only six out of 80 teachers. Parents pointed out that teachers stood nearest the doors.

But Mr Fan went further, attempting to justify his abandonment of his pupils, who all survived the quake.

"I didn't cause the earthquake, so I have no reason to feel guilty," he said in an interview. "When I got back to the classroom, the students were all fine."

He also risked angering those closer to him, saying he would not have tried to save his own mother if she had been present, though he might have made an exception to his general rule for his one-year-old daughter.

He pointed out that education law does not demand that a teacher save his pupils during an earthquake.

"If every teacher was like Mr Tan, then we'd have no more heroes," he said. "I admire heroes like Mr. Tan, but I can't do that myself. I love my life more."

Now the head of the private school where Mr Fan worked is under pressure to fire the teacher, and publicly questioned Mr Fan's wisdom in being so frank. Running might be a normal reaction, he said, but talking about it afterwards was something else entirely.

One commentator in a state newspaper, the Shanghai Daily, described Mr Fan as a "courageous coward" for admitting what happened - but added that his courage was not sufficient to exonerate his cowardice.

Mr Fan may as he said have been trying to prick the hypocrisy of "insincere tears", the commentator said.

"Yes, there are insincere tears but you, Fan Meizhong, should have challenged hypocrisy with sincere tears," he wrote.

Original here

China Lists Dos and Don’ts for Olympics-Bound Foreigners

HONG KONG — Do not bring any printed materials critical of China. Do not plan on holding any rallies or demonstrations in China. Do not think that you are guaranteed an entry visa because you hold tickets to an Olympic event. And do not even think about smuggling opium into China.

That is some of the eclectic advice issued by the Beijing Organizing Committee on Monday, in a document listing 57 questions that foreign visitors to the Olympic Games in August may have: “Does China have any regulation against insults to the flag or national emblems?” “After eating or drinking at restaurants or hotels, if you have diarrhea or vomiting symptoms, how do you lodge a complaint?”

The advisory to foreigners, posted on the committee’s Web site, but only in Chinese, provides answers for each question in a deadpan style. (Burning or soiling the Chinese flag or emblems is a criminal offense; food poisoning symptoms are to be reported to the local health department.) Some of the rules, like a ban on religious or political banners or slogans at Olympic sites, appear aimed at preventing protests of China’s crackdown in Tibet this year and other Chinese policies.

The Beijing Organizing Committee took pains at the start of the document to say that all the answers were based on existing Chinese regulations. The International Olympic Committee had no immediate response on Monday to the rules. Its position on freedom of expression issues as they relate to the Olympics is not entirely clear.

“A person’s ability to express his or her opinion is a basic human right and as such does not need to have a specific clause in the Olympic Charter because its place is implicit,” said Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, at a meeting in Beijing in April.

But Mr. Rogge also pointed out at the time that the International Olympic Committee had a rule for more than half a century that “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or areas.”

The advisory issued by the Beijing Organizing Committee includes a ban on bringing into China “anything detrimental to China’s politics, economy, culture or moral standards, including printed material, film negatives, photos, records, movies, tape recordings, videotapes, optical discs and other items.”

All rallies, demonstrations and marches, at athletic sites or anywhere else, are also banned during the Games unless approved in advance by public security agencies, a longstanding policy in China even when no Games or other big events are being held.

Before being awarded the Olympics, China promised in 2001 to improve its human rights record. But China and the International Olympic Committee have never released the text of their contract for the Olympic Games, in contrast with other recent Olympic host cities.

Nicholas Bequelin, the Hong Kong-based China researcher for Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group, said China had chosen a very broad interpretation of the Olympic restriction on political and religious activity. “It is a slippery slope, and the Games in Beijing are testing the limit,” he said.

Jill Savitt, the executive director of Dream for Darfur, which wants China to put more pressure on the Sudanese government to bring peace to the Darfur region in western Sudan, said the group had been considering ways to protest in Beijing during the Olympics, like having visitors wear green, a color associated with Sudan.

But the earthquake last month, together with the controversy over the sometimes violent protests by Tibet supporters during the Olympic torch relay, has prompted Dream for Darfur to reassess its plans, and no decision has been made, she said.

Original here

Gun T-shirt 'was a security risk'

Brad Jayakody wearing the T-shirt
Brad Jayakody changed his T-shirt before boarding the flight

A man wearing a T-shirt depicting a cartoon character holding a gun was stopped from boarding a flight by the security at Heathrow's Terminal 5.

Brad Jayakody, from Bayswater, central London, said he was "stumped" at the objection to his Transformers T-shirt.

Mr Jayakody said he had to change before boarding as security officers objected to the gun, held by the cartoon character.

Airport operator BAA said it was investigating the incident.

Mr Jayakody said the incident happened a few weeks ago, when he was challenged by an official during a pre-flight security check.

I was just looking for someone with a bit of common sense
Brad Jayakody

"He says, 'we won't be able to let you through because your T-shirt has got a gun on it'," Mr Jayakody said.

"I was like, 'What are you talking about?'.

"[The official's] supervisor comes over and goes 'sorry we can't let you through and you've a gun on your T-shirt'," he said.

Mr Jayakody said he had to strip and change his T-shirt there before he was allowed to board his flight.

"I was just looking for someone with a bit of common sense," he said.

"It's a cartoon robot - what threat is it to security or offensive to anyone at all?"

A BAA spokesman said there was no record of the incident and no "formal complaint" had been made.

"If a T-shirt had a rude word or a bomb on it, for example, a passenger may be asked to remove it," he said.

"We are investigating what happened to see if it came under this category.

"If it's offensive, we don't want other passengers upset."

Original here

Glenn Greenwald

Newest McCain official: President has "near dictatorial powers"

(updated below - Update II)

Bill Kristol today proudly announces that one of his Weekly Standard staff members, Michael Goldfarb, was just named the Deputy Communications Director of the McCain campaign. Last April, this newest McCain official participated in a conference call with former Senator George Mitchell, during which Mitchell advocated a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. Afterwards, this is what Goldfarb wrote about what he thinks are the powers the President possesses in our country:

Mitchell's less than persuasive answer [to whether withdrawal timetables "somehow infringe on the president's powers as commander in chief?"]: "Congress is a coequal branch of government...the framers did not want to have one branch in charge of the government."

True enough, but they sought an energetic executive with near dictatorial power in pursuing foreign policy and war. So no, the Constitution does not put Congress on an equal footing with the executive in matters of national security.

As I noted at the time:
Until the Bill Kristols and John Yoos and other authoritarians of that strain entered the political mainstream, I never heard of prominent Americans who describe the power that they want to vest in our political leaders as "near dictatorial." Anyone with an even passing belief in American political values would consider the word "dictatorial" -- at least rhetorically, if not substantively -- to define that which we avoid at all costs, not something which we seek, embrace and celebrate.
And the very idea that the Founders -- whose principal concern was how to avoid consolidated power in any one person -- sought to vest "near dictatorial power" in the President is too perverse for words. But that's been the core "principle" driving the destructive radicalism of the last seven years, and it's an extremist view that is obviously welcomed at the highest levels of the McCain campaign.

Kristol closes his boastful announcement by noting that the pro-dictatorial Goldfarb will return to the Weekly Standard after the campaign ends -- "unless he's appointed national security adviser in the McCain White House." Somehow, McCain continues to be depicted in the media as a "moderate" and the like despite the enthusiastic support of our nation's most crazed and unprincipled warmongers. But even more revealing is that McCain is now staffing his communications apparatus at the highest levels by reaching into Bill Kristol's The Weekly Standard -- one of the most deceptive propaganda organs of the Bush years. Does one even need to point out that there are few things more incompatible with one another than "straight talk" and The Weekly Standard?

UPDATE: Michael Goldfarb on waterboarding and other illegal interrogation practices internationally considered to be "torture" (h/t A.L.):

The Times indicts the Bush administration for exposing terrorists captured abroad to "head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures." Boo hoo.
McCain is a deeply principled opponent of torture and waterboarding which is why his new communications official's view of objections to those techniques is "Boo hoo."

UPDATE II: Last October, this is what Goldfarb wrote in arguing that telecoms deserve amnesty even if they broke the law in enabling warrantless spying on Americans:
[I]f federal agents show up at a corporate headquarters for a major American company and urgently seek that company's officers for assistance in the war on terror, the companies damn well ought to give it as a matter of simple patriotism, whether the CIA wants a plane for some extraordinary rendition or help in tracking terrorists via email. . . . [T]o expect a company to resist a plea from the government for help in a time of war is ridiculous.
So, consistent with his President-as-Dictator vision, McCain's new communications official believes that -- as I wrote at the time -- when "federal agents" come knocking at your door and issue orders, you better "damn well" obey -- you had better not "resist" -- even if the orders you're being given are illegal, even if they're designed to spy on Americans in violation of the law, and even if they're intended to facilitate the torture of detainees. That's what patriotic Americans do -- they obey the orders of their near-dictatorial Leader, so sayeth the heel-clicking Michael Goldfarb. That's a superb, and very mainstream, new addition to the maverick McCain team.

Original here

Soldiers Discuss Using "Drop Weapons" To Cover Up Killing Innocent Iraqi Civilians

Several soldiers who have returned from combat zones talk with the American News Project about what they say is the widespread practice of using "drop weapons" to cover up the killing of innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. We feature five veterans and current members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, plus retired Lieutenant Colonel Gary Solis, a Vietnam War veteran and legal scholar who taught "Law of War" at West Point. Watch the video from ANP below:

Read and watch more from ANP here.

Original here

U.S. won't confirm report of Chinese hacking

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Government officials are not confirming a report that Chinese officials may have secretly copied the contents of a government laptop computer during a December visit to China by Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.


Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez's visit to China has raised security questions.

The Associated Press said an investigation into the suspected incident also involved whether China used the information to try to hack into Commerce computers.

The AP cited officials and industry experts as sources for the story, which said the surreptitious copying is believed to have occurred when a laptop belonging to someone in the U.S. trade delegation was left unattended.

When asked whether the Commerce Department is looking into the matter, spokesman Richard Mills said, "We take security seriously, and as we learn of concerns about security, we look into them."

The AP account says that when it asked the Commerce secretary about this alleged breach, he said, "because there is an investigation going on, I would rather not comment on that. To the extent that there is an investigation going on, those are the things being looked at; those are the questions being asked. I don't think I should provide any speculative answers."

The Commerce spokesman said this comment was taken out of context but would not elaborate.

The FBI does not confirm or deny investigations, but a government official said the agency is not conducting one.

Department of Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said, "It's unclear to me who the AP is citing as conducting an investigation. The DHS at this time is not undertaking an investigation. There is nothing to substantiate an actual compromise at this time."

Knocke said that US-CERT, a DHS entity charged with analyzing and reducing cyberthreats and vulnerabilities, has visited the Commerce Department "roughly eight times" since Guttierez's December trip but that the visits had "nothing to do with laptops or these allegations." At some agencies, laptops and other electronic devices officials take abroad are routinely "scrubbed" upon return.

CNN also tried to reach the Chinese Embassy and the Consulate General of the People's Republic of China, but messages were not returned.

Original here