Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Business Reporters Shine In 2008 Pulitzers

Walt Bogdanich, New York Times Reporter after receiving news that he had won his third Pulitzer.

Business reporters win top honors for stories about tainted toys and counterfeit drugs and toothpaste from China, to the privatization of services to business contractors in Iraq.

Two prizes were awarded for investigative reporting: to Walt Bogdanich and Jake Hooker of The Times, for articles about counterfeit and toxic drugs from China; and to The Chicago Tribune staff, for exposing flawed government regulation of toys, car seats and cribs.


* Complete Series: A Toxic Pipeline From NYTimes.com
* Times Topics: Walt Bogdanich

For articles exposuring faulty governmental regulation of toys, car seats and cribs.

* Hidden Hazards: Kids at Risk Series From Chicagotribune.com

For an examination in the Washington Post of private security contractors in Iraq.

* Private Armies | The Role of Private Contractors in Iraq From Washingtonpost.com


Saturday, March 8, 2008

No Jobs - Bad Economic Times Are Here

If history is a reliable guide, a dismal jobs report suggests that the recession of 2008 is now unavoidable. The dismal jobs report released Friday showed overall employment to be lower than it was three months ago. Every time such a slump has occurred since the early 1970s, a recession has followed — or already been under way.

Over the last year, the number of officially unemployed has risen by 500,000, while the number of people outside the labor force — neither working nor looking for a job — has risen by 1.3 million.

Employment has risen by 100,000, but even that comes with a caveat: there are also 600,000 more people who are working part time because they could not find full-time work, according to the Labor Department.

Got a Mint, Comrade? Chinese Ban Liquid Lunch

A Communist Party campaign in Xinyang, China, seeks to catch civil servants partaking of alcohol-soaked meals. Drinking on the job is hardly unique to China, but ritualized drinking is deeply ingrained in China’s business culture. Restaurants usually offer private banquet rooms, some with lounge areas, flat-screen televisions and private bathrooms. Tables are often set with specific glasses for beer, wine or baijiu, the fiery Chinese liquor that lubricates nearly every banqueting experience.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Economy sheds 63,000 jobs; recession looms

The economy shed 63,000 jobs in February, the government said on Friday, the fastest falloff in five years and the strongest evidence yet that the nation is headed toward — or may already be in — a recession.

Manufacturers and construction companies, reeling from the worst housing slump in decades, led the declines in payrolls. But the losses were spread across a broad range of businesses — including department stores, offices and retail outlets — putting increased pressure on consumers’ pocketbooks.

European Central Banks Concentrate on Inflation

FRANKFURT -- European central banks left their key interest rates unchanged yesterday as policy makers focused more on the threat of higher prices than on resurgent turmoil in credit markets and a darkening outlook for economic growth.

The European Central Bank kept its policy rate at a more-than-six-year high of 4%, while the Bank of England held its key rate steady at 5.25%.

ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet stressed the euro-zone economy's soundness even as he projected slower investment and consumption growth. And he sought to dispel market expectations of speedy rate cuts by saying that stubbornly high inflation remains the bank's central focus.

At a news conference after the 21-member Governing Council's meeting, Mr. Trichet said the policy makers' decision was unanimous. "We believe that the current monetary-policy stance will contribute" to keeping inflation, and expectations of future inflation, steady, he said. The remarks suggest policy makers are unlikely to consider cutting the key rate soon unless the economy deteriorates rapidly.


Central Banker Dismisses Prospect of Yuan Surge

BEIJING -- China's central-bank governor said a stronger currency isn't the best or only way to fight inflation, countering widespread expectations that the yuan's gains will accelerate as the nation's prices rise at their fastest pace in more than a decade.

"Faster currency appreciation helps to rein in inflation, but not a lot," Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People's Bank of China, told reporters on Thursday. "To curb inflation, we will rely more on domestic policies....There is no need to use exchange-rate reforms as a way to fight inflation.

Mr. Zhou's statements were unusual because the central bank is widely seen as an advocate of a stronger currency, a policy that is disliked by exporters and often has been opposed by other parts of the Chinese bureaucracy. Indeed, in its October monetary policy report, the People's Bank of China wrote that "Theoretical economic analysis and the experience of many countries both show that an appreciation of the currency helps contain domestic inflation."

China has pushed up the yuan at a faster rate against the dollar since inflation first surged above 3% in March last year. The Chinese currency rose 4.2% against the dollar in the second half of last year alone, and is up a further 2.6% this year. (Because the dollar is falling against other currencies, the yuan is down 1.9% against the euro this year.)


Alleged Russian Arms Dealer Arrested

Russian businessman Viktor Bout was arrested by Thai police in a U.S. sting operation after years of slipping past accusations that he operated an arms-trafficking network that fueled wars from Africa to the Balkans to Asia.

Agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration had been trying for nearly a year to lure Mr. Bout into showing up to finalize a fictitious $5 million deal to deliver a cache of guns and surface-to-air missiles to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia guerrillas, or FARC, according to U.S. officials.

Mr. Bout, 41 years old, was arrested in Thailand yesterday along with an associate, Andrew Smulian, on charges of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, according to court documents unsealed by federal prosecutors in New York's Southern District. U.S. authorities said they planned to seek the men's extradition to the U.S.


Labs to Get Job of Ensuring Toy Safety

Congress is giving the job of ensuring that children's products are safe to many of the same private laboratories that already work for importers, manufacturers and retailers.

A bill approved yesterday by the Senate -- as well as a similar bill already passed by the House -- aims to plug holes in the government's consumer safety net that have been letting hazardous products aimed at children slip through. Dozens of toys were recalled by manufacturers in 2007 because of dangers including choking risks and contamination involving lead, asbestos and other toxic chemicals.

Under the new bills, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission would develop procedures for certifying and monitoring the work of independent labs that test for conformance with federal safety standards. The commission would also have more powers, including the ability to assess fines of up to $20 million for violations of product safety laws.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Cuban Cyber Rebels Defy Government

HAVANA — A growing underground network of young people armed with computer memory sticks, digital cameras and clandestine Internet hookups has been mounting some challenges to the Cuban government in recent months, spreading news that the official state media try to suppress.

Last month, students at a prestigious computer science university videotaped an ugly confrontation they had with Ricardo Alarcón, the president of the National Assembly.

Mr. Alarcón seemed flummoxed when students grilled him on why they could not travel abroad, stay at hotels, earn better wages or use search engines like Google. The video spread like wildfire through Havana, passed from person to person, and seriously damaged Mr. Alarcón’s reputation in some circles.

Cuban officials have long limited the public’s access to the Internet and digital videos, tearing down unauthorized satellite dishes and keeping down the number of Internet cafes open to Cubans. Only one Internet cafe remains open in Old Havana, down from three a few years ago. Yet the government’s attempts to control access are increasingly ineffective. Young people here say there is a thriving black market giving thousands of people an underground connection to the world outside the Communist country.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

China Plans Steep Increase in Military Spending

Sustained increases in its annual defense outlays put China on track to become a major military power. China’s military budget for 2008 will increase by 17.6 percent to 417.8 billion yuan, or about $58.8 billion, Jiang Enzhu, spokesman for the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, said at a news conference. This follows a 17.8 percent increase in 2007.

Military experts in the United States and elsewhere say Beijing’s real military spending is at least double the announced figure. But even if it was double, China’s yearly military budget would still be only about one-fourth the size of the Pentagon’s. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/05/world/asia/05china.html?ex=1362459600&en=0616459f1f798579&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

Kosovo Builds Economy From the Ground Up

PRISTINA, Kosovo — Bekim Kuqi has braved civil war, exile, bombs falling on his factories and the detonation of a car filled with explosives in one of his stores. So he says he is prepared for the daunting challenge of doing business in the newly independent Kosovo. For years the electricity grid has been so unreliable that just keeping the lights on in his retail stores has been a daily struggle, forcing Mr. Kuqi to spend more than $1,000 a day on backup generators. Even then, shoppers browse with the lights flickering on and off. And given that the average monthly wage here is about $220, he laments that most people can afford little more than a Coca-Cola at one of the restaurants in his stores.

Colombia Is Flashpoint in Chávez’s Feud With U.S.

CARACAS, Venezuela — In the four days since Colombian forces crossed into Ecuador and killed a guerrilla leader taking refuge there, tensions between Colombia — Washington’s top regional ally — and its leftist neighbors have erupted, highlighting the fact that Colombia and its policies are increasingly viewed here as American proxies.http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/05/world/americas/05venez.html?ex=1362459600&en=cc7f84aa1d711f3a&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

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