Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Beijing is preparing to reinstate certain traffic restrictions, after rules enforced during the Olympic Games helped clean the city's polluted air.
Analysts say the move is an unusual example of Chinese policy being shaped in response to public opinion.
Rules drawn up for the Olympics saw one million cars - a third of the total - taken off Beijing's streets.
The drastic action, along with a freeze on industrial production, brought unusually blue skies to the city.
The measures were taken to satisfy the International Olympic Committee.
They might have remained just an exercise in window-dressing for foreign consumption, but the response from Beijingers themselves was overwhelmingly positive, says the BBC's Andre Vornic.
Although there is no formal system for public consultation in China, internet forums and letters to the media conveyed genuine satisfaction.
Now the authorities have responded by bringing in a milder set of restrictions, which are to be trialled until April and made permanent if found to be working.
Beginning on Wednesday, the government is setting an example by keeping 30% of its vehicles off the streets at any one time.
Later in October, all cars will be banned from the roads on one day a week, depending on their number plates.
Employers are meanwhile being asked to stagger working hours to reduce peak traffic.
In just one generation, Chinese cities have turned from virtually car-free environments into traffic-choked ones.
There are now signs that people are growing more sceptical of cars, as happened in Western countries in the 1970s.
Correspondents say that in just a few more years, Beijingers could well come full circle and rediscover the bicycle - almost the only mode of private transport in their parents' time.



Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says talks with President Mugabe have failed to produce agreement on cabinet posts.
MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa accused Mr Mugabe of demanding all the key ministries for his Zanu-PF party in the new unity government.
He was speaking after a meeting between MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and the Zimbabwean President.
A power-sharing deal was signed two weeks ago to end the political crisis.
Mr Chamisa said the opposition and Mr Mugabe remained far apart on the issue of who should control which ministries.
Further mediation
"He wants to grab all the resource ministries like finance, home affairs, information, justice and make the MDC a peripheral player," he said. "We will end up in but out of government."
Mr Chamisa also called for further mediation as well as African Union involvement.
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki mediated the negotiations which produced the power-sharing agreement.
On Monday, Mr Mugabe said he expected a unity government to be formed by the end of this week and rejected suggestions that the talks were deadlocked over appointments to cabinet posts.
Under the deal, Mr Mugabe will remain president, while Mr Tsvangirai will become prime minister.
The agreement also provides for Zanu-PF to hold 15 cabinet seats.
Economic crisis
Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC will get 13 cabinet posts, and a breakaway faction of the MDC, led by Arthur Mutambara, will be handed three positions, giving the combined opposition a narrow majority.
Mr Mugabe will chair the cabinet, which decides on government policy. Mr Tsvangirai will chair a council of ministers, which implements policy.
The president also keeps control of the military, while the MDC wants to direct the police.
The hope is that a new government can overcome the acute economic crisis. Inflation is still officially about 11 million per cent and there are severe shortages of food.
The crisis worsened after disputed elections earlier this year.
Mr Tsvangirai gained more votes than Mr Mugabe in the March elections but not enough for outright victory.
He pulled out of a run-off in June, accusing Zanu-PF militia and the army of organising attacks on its supporters which left some 200 people dead.



At least 125 people have been killed in a stampede at a Hindu temple in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan.
Officials told the BBC that at least 100 more were injured in the incident at the Chamunda Devi temple in Jodhpur.
A wall near the temple is said to have collapsed, causing panic among thousands of gathered devotees.
There have been a number of deadly stampedes in India's temples recently - last month 140 people were killed in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh.
Before dawn, thousands of people had made their way to the hill-top temple in a huge 15th Century fort overlooking Jodhpur.
They were gathering to celebrate the start of a nine-day Hindu festival known as Navaratra.
It is not entirely clear why the stampede happened, but an official in Jodhpur said the collapse of a wall on the narrow path leading to the temple caused people to flee in panic.
"People are still buried under the wall. We are pulling them out," Kiran Soni Gupta told AFP news agency.
TV news channels showed pictures of injured devotees lying on the streets, and relatives trying to revive unconscious pilgrims.
"When I arrived, I saw chaos, people running around the place. I was looking for my friend and after a while found him," local student Manish said.
"He was unconscious but without serious injuries."
The authorities have ordered an investigation into the incident.



A year ago, few people had heard of the term credit crunch, but the phrase has now entered dictionaries.
Defined as "a severe shortage of money or credit", the start of the phenomenon has been pinpointed as 9 August 2007 when bad news from French bank BNP Paribas triggered sharp rise in the cost of credit, and made the financial world realise how serious the situation was.
The problems, however, started much earlier.
After a two year period between 2004 and 2006 when US interest rates rose from 1% to 5.35%, the US housing market begins to suffer, with prices falling and a rise in homeowners defaulting on their mortgages.
Default rates on sub-prime loans - high risk loans to clients with poor or no credit histories - rise to record levels.


The credit losses associated with sub-prime have come to light and they are fairly significant...Some estimates are in the order of between $50bn and $100bn of losses
Ben Bernanke, Chairman US Federal Reserve, speaking on 20 July 2007
New Century Financial, which specialises in sub-prime mortgages, files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and cuts half of its workforce.
As it sold on many of its debts to other banks, the collapse in the sub-prime market begins to have an impact at banks around the world.
Investment bank Bear Stearns tells investors they will get little, if any, of the money invested in two of its hedge funds after rival banks refuse to help it bail them out.
Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke follows the news with a warning that the US sub-prime crisis could cost up to $100bn (£50bn).

9 August 2007

BNP's statement is scary, to put it mildly
BBC Business Editor, Robert Peston
Read Robert's 9 August blog
BNP Paribas' statement
Investment bank BNP Paribas tells investors they will not be able to take money out of two of its funds because it cannot value the assets in them, owing to a "complete evaporation of liquidity" in the market.
It is the clearest sign yet that banks are refusing to do business with each other.
The European Central Bank pumps 95bn euros (£63bn) into the banking market to try to improve liquidity. It adds a further 108.7bn euros over the next few days.
The US Federal Reserve, the Bank of Canada and the Bank of Japan also begin to intervene.
17 August
The Fed cuts the rate at which it lends to banks by half of a percentage point to 5.75%, warning the credit crunch could be a risk to economic growth.
21 August
UK sub-prime lenders begin to withdraw mortgages or put up the cost of borrowing for UK homeowners with poor credit histories.
28 August
German regional bank Sachsen Landesbank faces collapse after investing in the sub-prime market; it is sold to larger rival Landesbank Baden-Wuerttemberg.
3 September
German corporate lender IKB announces a $1bn loss on investments linked to the US sub-prime market.
4 September
The rate at which banks lend to each other rises to its highest level since December 1998.
The so-called Libor rate is 6.7975%, way above the Bank of England's 5.75% base rate; banks either worry whether other banks will survive, or urgently need the money themselves.
13 September

The fact that it has had to go cap in hand to the Bank is the most tangible sign that the crisis in financial markets is spilling over into businesses that touch most of our lives
Robert Peston, BBC business editor
Read Robert's 13 September blog
The BBC reveals Northern Rock has asked for and been granted emergency financial support from the Bank of England, in the latter's role as lender of last resort.
Northern Rock relied heavily on the markets, rather than savers' deposits, to fund its mortgage lending. The onset of the credit crunch has dried up its funding.
A day later depositors withdraw £1bn in what is the biggest run on a British bank for more than a century. They continue to take out their money until the government steps in to guarantee their savings.
18 September
The US Federal Reserve cuts its main interest rate by half a percentage point to 4.75%.
19 September
After previously refusing to inject any funding into the markets, the Bank of England announces that it will auction £10bn.
1 October
Swiss bank UBS is the world's first top-flight bank to announce losses - $3.4bn - from sub-prime related investments.
The chairman and chief executive of the bank step down. Later, banking giant Citigroup unveils a sub-prime related loss of $3.1bn. A fortnight on Citigroup is forced to write down a further $5.9bn. Within six months, its stated losses amount to $40bn.
30 October
Merrill Lynch's chief resigns after the investment bank unveils a $7.9bn exposure to bad debt.
29 November
The Bank of England reveals the number of mortgage approvals has fallen to a near three-year low.
30 November
The Council for Mortgage Lenders (CML) issues the starkest warning yet of the impact of the credit crunch on the mortgage market, saying that without more funding available on financial markets, mortgage lenders will not be able to offer as many mortgages.
6 December
US President George W Bush outlines plans to help more than a million homeowners facing foreclosure.
The Bank of England cuts interest rates by a quarter of one percentage point to 5.5%.
13 December
The US Federal Reserve co-ordinates an unprecedented action by five leading central banks around the world to offer billions of dollars in loans to banks.
The Bank of England calls it an attempt to "forestall any prospective sharp tightening of credit conditions". The move succeeds in temporarily lowering the rate at which banks lend to each other.
17 December
The central banks continue to make more funding available.
There is a $20bn auction from the US Federal Reserve and, the following day, $500bn from the European Central Bank to help commercial banks over the Christmas period.
19 December
Ratings agency Standard and Poor's downgrades its investment rating of a number of so-called monoline insurers, which specialise in insuring bonds. They guarantee to repay the loans if the issuer goes bust.
There is concern that insurers will not be able to pay out, forcing banks to announce another big round of losses.
9 January 2008
The World Bank predicts that global economic growth with slow in 2008, as the credit crunch hits the richest nations.
18 January
A rush to withdraw money from its commercial property funds forces Scottish Equitable to introduce delays of up to 12 months for investors wanting to take their money out.
It blames the rush of withdrawals on concerns about the US sub-prime mortgage collapse, recession worries and interest rates.
21 January
Global stock markets, including London's FTSE 100 index, suffer their biggest falls since 11 September 2001.
22 January
The US Fed cuts rates by three quarters of a percentage point to 3.5% - its biggest cut in 25 years - to try and prevent the economy from slumping into recession.
It is the first emergency cut in rates since 2001. Stock markets around the world recover the previous day's heavy losses.
31 January
A major bond insurer MBIA, announces a loss of $2.3bn - its biggest to date for a three-month period -blaming its exposure to the US sub-prime mortgage crisis.
7 February
US Federal Reserve boss Ben Bernanke adds his voice to concerns about monoline insurers, saying he is closely monitoring developments "given the adverse effects that problems of financial guarantors can have on financial markets and the economy".
The Bank of England cuts interest rates by a quarter of one percent to 5.25%.
8 February

Some investors forgot the golden rule of financing: 'Don't buy things that you don't understand'
FSA chief executive Hector Sants, speaking on 27 February
In the UK, the latest CML figures show the number of homes repossessed in the UK rose to 27,100 in 2007, its highest level since 1999.
10 February
Leaders from the G7 group of industrialised nations say worldwide losses stemming from the collapse of the US sub-prime mortgage market could reach $400bn.
17 February
After considering a number of private sector rescue proposals, including from Richard Branson's Virgin Group, the government announces that struggling Northern Rock is to be nationalised for a temporary period.
7 March
In its biggest intervention yet, the Federal Reserve makes $200bn of funds available to banks and other institutions to try to improve liquidity in the markets.
17 March
Wall Street's fifth-largest bank, Bear Stearns, is acquired by larger rival JP Morgan Chase for $240m in a deal backed by $30bn of central bank loans.
A year earlier, Bear Stearns had been worth £18bn.
28 March
Nationwide predicts UK house prices will fall by the end of the year, revising its previous forecast of no change in prices.
2 April
Moneyfacts, which monitors financial products, says 20% of mortgage products have been withdrawn from the UK market in the previous seven days.

I have a deep sense of shock at how deeply our successful industry has already been hit by these unprecedented funding market conditions
Steven Crawshaw, chairman of the Council for Mortgage Lenders, speaking on 11 April 2008
Five days later the 100% mortgage disappears when Abbey withdraws the last home loan available without a deposit.
8 April
The International Monetary Fund (IMF), which oversees the global economy, warns that potential losses from the credit crunch could reach $1 trillion and may be even higher.
It says the effects are spreading from sub-prime mortgage assets to other sectors, such as commercial property, consumer credit, and company debt.
10 April
The Bank of England cuts interest rates by a quarter of one percent to 5%.
11 April
A warning is issued by the CML that the amount of funding available for mortgages in the UK could be cut in half this year.
It calls on the Bank of England to kick-start the money markets and ease the effects of the credit crunch.

The effects of the credit crunch are likely to be broader, deeper and more protracted than previously expected
IMF global stability report, 8 April 2008
15 April
Confidence in the UK housing market falls to its lowest point in 30 years in March, according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, because of the "unique liquidity blight".
But it does add that the situation is good news for buyers with large deposits who can buy property that was previously out of reach.
21 April
The Bank of England announces details of an ambitious £50bn plan designed to help credit-squeezed banks by allowing them to swap potentially risky mortgage debts for secure government bonds.
22 April
Royal Bank of Scotland announces a plan to raise money from its shareholders with a £12bn rights issue - the biggest in UK corporate history.
The firm also announces a write-down of £5.9bn on the value of its investments between April and June - the largest write-off yet for a British bank.
25 April
Persimmon becomes the first UK house builder to announce major cutbacks, citing the lack of affordable mortgages and a fall in consumer confidence.
It adds sales have fallen by a quarter since the beginning of the year.

Because of the uncertainties in the global economy and the UK lending environment, it is difficult to predict when the [housing] market will improve
House builder Persimmon
Read the full story from 25 April
29 April
The CML says number of new mortgages approved in March slipped 44% to 64, the lowest monthly number since records began in 1999.
30 April
The first annual fall in house prices for 12 years is recorded by Nationwide.
Prices were 1% lower in April compared to a year earlier after a "steep decline" in home buying over the previous six months.
Later in the week, figures from the UK's biggest lender Halifax, show a 0.9% annual fall for April.
2 May
More than 850 companies went into administration between January and March, government figures show, a rise of 54% on the previous year. Retail and construction firms are hardest hit.
22 May
Swiss bank UBS, one of the worst affected by the credit crunch, launches a $15.5bn rights issue to cover some of the $37bn it lost on assets linked to US mortgage debt.
19 June
There are significant developments in two major credit crunch-related investigations in the US, which it is hoped will restore confidence in the credit markets.
The FBI arrests 406 people, including brokers and housing developers, as part of a crackdown on alleged mortgage frauds worth $1bn.
Separately, two former Bear Stearns workers face criminal charges related to the collapse of two hedge funds linked to sub-prime mortgages.
It is alleged they knew of the funds' problems but did not disclose them to investors, who lost a total of $1.4bn.
25 June
Barclays announces plans to raise £4.5bn in a share issue to bolster its balance sheet.
The Qatar Investment Authority, the state-owned investment arm of the Gulf state, will invest £1.7bn in the British bank, giving it a 7.7% share in the business. A number of other foreign investors increase their existing holdings.
8 July
The gloomy findings of a survey of its members prompt the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) to suggest that the UK is facing a serious risk of recession within months.
Meanwhile, the FTSE 100 stock index briefly dips into a "bear market", in which the market suffers a 20% fall from its recent highs.
The outlook is grim and we believe that the correction period is likely to be longer and nastier than expected
British Chambers of Commerce, 18 July 2008
Read the full story
13 July
US mortgage lender IndyMac collapses - the second-biggest bank in US history to fail.
14 July
Financial authorities step in to assist America's two largest lenders, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As owners or guarantors of $5 trillion worth of home loans, they are crucial to the US housing market and authorities agree they could not be allowed to fail.
The previous week, there had been a panic amongst investors that they might collapse, causing their share prices to plummet.
21 July
Just 8% of HBOS investors agree to take up the new shares offered in its £4bn rights issue, because they are priced higher than existing shares are trading on the stock market.
But HBOS still gets the £4bn it wanted, as the unsold new shares are bought by the issue's underwriters.
31 July
UK house prices show their biggest annual fall since the Nationwide began its housing survey in 1991, a decline of 8.1%.
The average home now costs £169,316. That is nearly £15,000 cheaper than in the same month last year.
Meanwhile, HBOS reveals that profits for the first half of the year sank 72% to £848m, while bad debts rose 36% to £1.31bn as customers failed to repay loans.
4 August
Global banking giant HSBC warned that conditions in financial markets are at their toughest "for several decades" after suffering a 28% fall in half-year profits.
Of Europe's top banks, HSBC has among the heaviest exposure to the troubled US housing and credit markets.
22 August
The bad news continues with revised figures from the ONS revealing that the UK economy is a standstill.
28 August
Nationwide reveals that UK house prices have fallen by 10.5% in a year.
A day later Bradford and Bingley posts losses of £26.7m for the first half of 2008, blaming surging mortgage arrears for a rise in impairment.
Looking ahead, it warned it expected arrears to remain at high levels for the rest of the year.
30 August
Chancellor Alistair Darling warns that the economy is facing its worst crisis for 60 years in an interview with the Guardian newspaper, saying the current downturn would be more "profound and long-lasting" than most had feared.
1 September
Official figures from the Bank of England show a slump in approved mortgages for July.
Meanwhile, while the pound falls to record lows of 81.21 pence against the euro and two-year lows of $1.80.
2 September
In an effort to kick-start the UK housing market the Treasury announces a one year rise in stamp duty exemption, from £125,000 to £175,000.
But there is more bad news, as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development forecasts that the UK will be in a full blown recession by the end of the next two quarters. A day later the European central bank cuts growth forecast 2009 to 1.2% from 1.5%.
4 September
The Bank of England leaves rates on hold at 5% while the latest figures from the Halifax show that house prices in England and Wales continue to fall.
5 September
A raft of negative news from around the world sees the FTSE notch up its steepest weekly decline since July 2002.
The US labour market figures - which showed the unemployment rate rising to 6.1% - were a further jolt to investors who have had to swallow a slew of poor economic data in recent days.
6 September
The Halifax warns that the impact of the credit crunch will be felt well into 2010. Chief executive Andy Hornby explains that British banks will continue to suffer major problems in offering loans until they can raise significant sums on wholesale markets, something that will not be possible until US house prices recover.
7 September
Mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac - which account for nearly half of the outstanding mortgages in the US - are rescued by the US government in one of the largest bailouts in US history.
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson says the two firms' debt levels posed a "systemic risk" to financial stability and that, without action, the situation would get worse.
At the same time, in the UK, the Nationwide announces it will merge with two smaller rivals, the Derbyshire and Cheshire Building Societies.
9 September
More bad news emerges for the UK economy as the ONS reveals manufacturing output fell by 0.2% between June and July, raising a real fear of recession.
Meanwhile, the British Retail Consortium reports UK retail sales values fell by 1.0% on a like-for-like basis from August 2007.
On the housing front, there were more negative headlines with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors published figures showing house sales were at their lowest level for 30 years, while the CML reported that the number of first-time buyers has hit its lowest level since its survey began in January 2002.
10 September
Wall Street bank Lehman Brothers posts a loss of $3.9bn for the three months to August.
The announcement comes against a background of further dire economic warnings from the European Commission, which warned that the UK, Germany and Spain will go into recession by the end of the year.
15 September
After days of searching frantically for a buyer, Lehman Brothers files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, becoming the first major bank to collapse since the start of the credit crisis.
Former Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan dubs failure as "probably a once in a century type of event" and warns that other major firms will also go bust.
Meanwhile fellow US bank Merrill Lynch, also stung by the credit crunch, agreed to be taken over by Bank of America for $50bn, the latest twist in a dramatic turn of events on Wall Street.
16 September
The US Federal Reserve announces an $85bn rescue package for AIG, the country's biggest insurance company, to save it from bankruptcy. AIG gets the loan in return for an 80% public stake in the firm.
17 September
Britain's biggest mortgage lender HBOS is taken over by Lloyds TSB in a £12bn deal creating a banking giant holding close to one-third of the UK's savings and mortgage market. The deal follows a run on HBOS shares.
25 September
In the largest bank failure yet in the United States, Washington Mutual, the giant mortgage lender which had assets valued at $307bn is closed down by regulators and sold to its rival Citigroup.
Analysts say much of its problems have been caused by the group's 2006 purchase of mortgage lender Golden West for $25bn at the height of the then US housing boom.
28 September
The credit crunch hits Europe's banking sector as the European banking and insurance giant Fortis is partly nationalised to ensure its survival. It is seen as too big a European bank to be allowed to go under.
Authorities in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg agree to pour in 11.2bn euros ($16.1bn; £8.9bn). Fortis' share price has fallen sharply amid concerns about its debts.
In the US lawmakers announce they have reached a bipartisan agreement on a rescue plan for the American financial system.
The package, to be approved by Congress, allows the Treasury to spend up to $700bn buying bad debts from ailing banks.
It will be the biggest intervention in the markets since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
29 September
In Britain the mortgage lender Bradford & Bingley is nationalised. The British government takes control of the bank's £50bn mortgages and loans, while its savings operations and branches are sold to Spain's Santander.
The Icelandic government takes control of the country's third-largest bank Glitnir after the company had faced short-term funding problems.
Wachovia, the fourth-largest US bank, is bought by its larger rival Citigroup in a rescue deal backed by the US authorities. Under the deal, Citigroup will absorb up to $42bn of Wachovia losses.
The US House of Representatives rejects a $700bn rescue plan for the US financial system - sending shockwaves around the world. It opens up new uncertainties about how banks will deal with their exposure to toxic loans and how credit markets can begin to operate more normally. Wall Street shares plunge, with the Dow Jones index slumping by 770 points, its biggest ever one-day fall.


Monday, September 29, 2008


The lower house of the US Congress has voted down a $700bn (£380bn) plan aimed at bailing out Wall Street.
The rescue plan, a result of tense talks between the government and lawmakers, was rejected by 228 to 205 votes in the House of Representatives.
About two-thirds of Republican lawmakers refused to back the rescue package, as well as 95 Democrats.
Shares on Wall Street plunged within seconds of the announcement, after earlier falls on global markets.
A White House spokesman said that President George W Bush was "very disappointed" by the result.
He would meet members of his team in the coming days to "determine next steps", spokesman Tony Fratto said.
The BBC's Adam Brookes, in Washington, said Democratic leaders in the House were likely to try and convince a number of their members who voted against the bill to change their minds in coming days.
Speaking after the vote, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives suggested the Democrats were to blame, accusing them of failing to mobilise their majority in the chamber.
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke shortly after the vote, saying it was an outrage that ordinary people were being asked to clean up Wall Street's mess.
Impassioned debate
Speaking ahead of the vote, Mr Bush had argued that the bail-out plan was a "bold" one which he was confident would restore strength and confidence to the US economy.
But after a several hours of impassioned debate, the bill's opponents - the majority of whom were from the Republican Party - got their way.
They had raised concerns about both the content of the plan and the speed with which they were being asked to pass it.
Some agreement on issues such as oversight, greater protection for taxpayers and curbs on executive bonuses had been reached in fraught weekend talks.
But these concessions ultimately failed to persuade many lawmakers that the plan was in the best interests of the nation.
The vote came as banks failed in the US, Europe and the UK.
The fourth largest US bank, Wachovia, is being bought by Citigroup after becoming the latest to hit problems.
In Europe, Benelux giant Fortis was bailed out by three governments, while in the UK the Bradford & Bingley bank was nationalised.
The US Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank and eight other central banks announced further moves to combat the crisis, by making a further $330bn available to provide liquidity to global money markets.



By Rajesh Mirchandani - BBC News, Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara boasts a classic laidback California lifestyle, with uncongested beaches, wholesome cafes and charming Spanish-style architecture.
Of course there's a hefty price tag: nestled between the gentle Santa Ynez mountains and the inviting Pacific Ocean are multi-million dollar homes.
But in this sun-washed haven of wealth, many live far from the American dream.
In a car park across the street from luxury mansions, the evening brings a strange sight.
A few cars arrive and take up spaces in different corners. In each car, a woman, perhaps a few pets, bags of possessions and bedding.
Across the street from homes with bedrooms to spare, these are Santa Barbara's car sleepers.
Homeless within the last year, they are a direct consequence of America's housing market collapse.

In this woman-only parking lot, Bonnee, who gives only her first name, wears a smart blue dress and has a business-like demeanour.
A year ago, she was making a healthy living as, ironically, a real estate agent. But when people stopped buying houses, her commission-based income dried up, and, like many clients, she too was unable to pay her mortgage.
Car sleeper Bonnee still works in the real estate business
Soon she found herself with nowhere to live but her 4x4.
Piles of blankets are in the back of the vehicle. Personal documents are stuffed into seat pockets. Books litter the back seat. A make-up bag and gym membership card (she washes at the gym) are in the front. With her constantly, are photos of her former life.
She can't quite believe her situation.
"My God, America's heart is bleeding," she tells me.
Tears fill her eyes.
"I know it'll get better. But it feels sad. I really fought hard."

A medium-sized 4x4 pulls into the parking lot and 66-year-old Barbara Harvey gets out.
She opens the back door and two large Golden Retrievers jump out.
Barbara begins her nightly routine. She moves a few bags from the boot to the front seat and takes out pyjamas and a carton of yoghurt (her dinner). She then arranges blankets in the back of the car.
Barbara used to work in housing finance - this is the double whammy of the housing collapse where many who worked in the sector lost their jobs and their homes.
But since April, she and her dogs, Ranger and Phoebe, have spent every night in her car. It's cramped, but she says if they sleep diagonally they can all fit.

The car park lets the car sleepers enter from 7pm, local public toilets close at dusk.
As a result, Barbara says she doesn't drink any liquids after she arrives. In the mornings, she showers at a friend's house.
Dressed in clean, comfortable clothes and wearing sunglasses, she is far removed from the stereotypical image of homelessness.
"I don't think I fit into anybody's image," she says.
"There's going to be lots of homeless individuals who are middle-class, there can't be anything but. We're in an awful mess economically. I don't think we've seen half of what's going to happen in this country."

This new phenomenon of middle-class homelessness is hard to quantify, but New Beginnings, an organisation that runs the car park sleeping scheme in Santa Barbara, says they accommodate some 55 people in a dozen parking lots.
Outreach worker Nancy Kapp, once homeless herself, says there is a waiting list for car park spaces and she is getting more and more calls each day from people about to lose their homes.
She identifies it as a new breed of homeless emerging in America.

"Being poor is like this cancer, and now this cancer is filtering up to the middle-class," she says. "I don't care how strong you are, it's a breakdown of the human psyche when you start to lose everything you have."
"These people have worked their whole lives to have a house and now it's crumbling and it's in ashes and how devastating is that?" she says.
"It's not an American dream, it's an American nightmare."
California house prices fell by 30% in the year to May. Few parts of America have been hit as hard.
But national housing groups say they have seen a rise in homelessness across the US since the foreclosure crisis began last year.

The Miller family feel "cramped" in their small mobile home.
In another car park in Santa Barbara, Craig Miller, his wife Paige and their two children say they feel cramped in the small mobile home where they have been living for several months.
"It's hard to keep things clean," says Paige. "It's hard to feel complete and whole."
Originally from Florida, the family used to own a four-bedroom house with a pool. But when Craig's business failed, they lost it.
Undeterred, the family embarked on a dream to drive across America and make a new start in California. But unable to find full-time work, and unable to afford rent, as Craig puts it "we got stuck".
He says it was like a holiday at first but now it is much harder.
"Getting money for food, it's not something we've had to think about before," says Craig.
"We're definitely looking forward to getting out and getting a place. And we're working hard at getting there. This is just the journey, it's not the destination.'
As darkness falls on Santa Barbara, the car sleepers settle in for the night.
They'll have to be up early: they are not allowed to stay in the car parks beyond 7am. Some work, others spend their days driving from one spot to another.
When evening comes around again, they return to their car park homes.
In comparison to other countries, and indeed America's own long-term homeless, they are still fortunate.
But as America's economic crisis deepens, could there soon be more of them?






The Zimbabwean central bank has issued higher denomination banknotes in order to battle the cash shortage caused by the world's highest inflation rate.
New 10,000 and 20,000-dollar notes have been released to help Zimbabweans deal with crippling hyperinflation which is said to be at 11.2 million per cent.
The central bank has issued a slew of new notes since August when it sliced 10 noughts off the local currency.
Cash supply is so tight only Z$20,000 (US$20) can be withdrawn daily.
This has led to large queues outside banks with people hoping to be among the first to be served before the cash runs out.
It has been hoped that a power-sharing deal between President Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai might have a positive effect on the moribund economy but thus far it has failed to have any considerable effect.
The two sides are yet to agree on which party should control key ministries, such as finance, home affairs and information.
Zimbabwe once had one of Africa's most prosperous economies but its fortunes have declined during the past decade.
Now unemployment in the Southern African country is rampant and it is estimated that at least 80% of the population lives below the poverty line.



By Hugh Wilson

Cameras from the BBC's Natural History Unit are heading back out to Kenya's Masai Mara Reserve to observe Africa's biggest predators.
Given that the first Big Cat Diaries was broadcast in 1996, you could be forgiven for thinking that we know pretty much all there is to know about the reserve's lions and cheetahs.
Not so. In fact, this series of Big Cat Live hopes to uncover a side of life in the Mara that has rarely, if ever, been seen.
This year, the show will be broadcast live for the first time; and also for the first time, live filming will go on through the night.
"We're hoping to reveal the nocturnal habits of the big cats as well as the stuff that happens during the day," says producer Colin Jackson. "As for precisely what will happen... we have no idea, but what we do know is that every year the cats surprise us."
It should make for some exhilarating footage - lions and leopards, in particular, do most of their hunting at night. It also makes for an extraordinary technological challenge.

For daily updates/webcams.

"We're using brand new infra-red cameras to allow us to film at night without disturbing the cats," says Jackson. "These new cameras are the first truly widescreen infra-red cameras used in broadcast. And two months ago, they didn't exist.
"We'll also be using thermal-imaging cameras to detect hidden wildlife and a brand new image-intensifying 'starlight' camera developed from military tank gun-sight technology which can film with just the light of the stars."
The team is streaming live footage from the Mara to the show's website (www.bbc.co.uk/bigcatlive), using the first remote location webcams to exploit the new BBC Embedded Media Player coded on location.

The project has been running since 1996.
The internet will be a key component of Big Cat Live. Website users can expect almost instant updates, via text messages, images, audio or video, from the team in the field.
Logistically, all this kit makes the expedition a bit of a nightmare, as Jackson admits. "A generator of the type we need doesn't exist in Africa. One is currently on the high seas and we just hope it arrives in time!"
Aside from the generator, 20 tonnes of equipment (some just back from the Olympics) will help the Big Cat team - including new presenter Kate Silverton - give viewers the most complete Big Cat experience yet.
Field reports from the team's mobiles are already appearing on the Big Cat Live website. Big Cat Live on BBC One will be broadcast every evening, 5-12 October, starting at 1845 BST.



Eleven products are being recalled due to the safety scare. The makers of Cadbury chocolates have decided to recall 11 products from shops in Hong Kong.
The Asia-Pacific regional management of the British-based firm told the Hong Kong government that the recall was a precautionary step.
The government announcement did not specify whether the products had indeed been contaminated by the chemical.
Tens of thousands of babies have been sickened and at least four killed by Chinese milk tainted by melamine.
Cadbury Asia-Pacific said the 11 products were manufactured at their Beijing plant and distributed in Hong Kong.
The products include Cadbury Eclairs, dark and milk chocolate, hazelnut and praline chocolate, dark Chocettes, and products made specially for the Chinese New Year (in February).

Cadbury's Asia Pacific region includes Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan, Thailand, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines and South Korea. The recall order was so far only registered in Hong Kong.
"We appeal to the public to stop consuming the chocolate products concerned," said a spokesman for the government's Centre for Food Safety.
"We would alert the trade to stop selling the affected products," he added.
Click here to see a map of countries affected
The Centre for Food Safety said it would be testing the products itself and was closely monitoring the situation.
China's reputation for food safety has nosedived since the revelations last month that milk products poisoned by melamine were responsible for causing renal problems in babies who drank the milk formula.

In Jakarta, the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency was reported to have found traces of melamine in chocolate and biscuit products apparently made in China by Kraft Foods and Mars.
The two companies said they were investigating the claims, although their products had earlier been cleared of melamine tainting.
Some reports raised the possibility the products - including Oreo wafers, M&Ms and Snickers - could be counterfeit.
"We have asked our trade partners and retailers to suspend the sales of our products in accordance to the agency's order," the Mars spokesman in Indonesia, Bondan Ardi, told The Associated Press on Monday.
The companies involved said they would conduct their own tests.
Four babies have died and more than 53,000 children have so far been made ill by drinking contaminated powder milk in China.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has meanwhile urged five countries to immediately recall all milk powder imported from China.
The scandal came to light earlier this month when baby milk powder from the Sanlu Group was found to contain the industrial chemical melamine.
Since then, at least 22 other companies have been implicated - and milk products made by the Yili, Mengniu and Bright Foods groups have been recalled both at home and abroad.

Melamine is used in making plastics and is high in nitrogen, which makes products appear to have a higher protein content.
Health experts say that ingesting small amounts does no harm but sustained use can cause kidney stones and renal failure, especially among the young.



Mr Chavez said he wanted nuclear power for energy and medical uses. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says he wants to develop a civilian nuclear power programme with Russia's help.
Mr Chavez emphasised that he wanted nuclear power only for peaceful ends, citing energy and medical purposes.
His remarks follow last week's comments by Russian PM Vladimir Putin that Moscow was ready to consider nuclear co-operation with Venezuela.
Such a move would be likely to increase US concerns at the growing ties between the two nations, correspondents say.
"We certainly are interested in developing nuclear energy, for peaceful ends of course, for medical purposes and to generate electricity," Mr Chavez told a political rally in Caracas.
"Brazil has various nuclear reactors, as does Argentina. We will have ours and Vladimir told the media: Russia is ready to help Venezuela develop nuclear energy for peaceful ends," he said, adding that a commission was already working on the issue.

President Chavez was speaking after a global tour last week that included a stop in Russia.
During his visit, Mr Chavez signed accords on energy co-operation with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev.
Mr Putin also indicated that Russia "was ready to consider the possibility" of working with Venezuela to build nuclear power facilities.
Russia and Venezuela have been increasing their ties in recent months. Russian warships are currently en route to the Caribbean Sea for joint exercises with the Venezuelan navy.
Venezuela is one of the best customers of the Russian defence industry, signing weapons contracts worth some $4.4bn (£2.39bn).
A staunch critic of the US, Mr Chavez backed Russian intervention in Georgia and has accused Washington of being scared of Moscow's "new world potential".


Sunday, September 28, 2008


Sudanese officials say their forces have shot and killed six of the kidnappers who abducted a group of European tourists in Egypt last week.
Two other suspected kidnappers have been taken into custody, but the tourists themselves remain in captivity in Chad, officials in Sudan said.
The hostages - 11 tourists and eight Egyptian guides - were taken on 19 September and are said to be unharmed.
They include five Germans, five Italians and a Romanian.
A spokesman for Sudan's military told The Associated Press that the kidnappers were killed following a high-speed desert chase.
Sawarmy Khaled said the missing Europeans, who were abducted in Egypt but thought to have been taken first to Sudan and are now being held in neighbouring Chad.
Leader 'dead'
Mr Khaled said the Sudanese military forces were near the Libyan border when they encountered a white sports utility vehicle carrying eight armed men, AP reported.

"The armed forces called for it to stop, but they did not respond and there was pursuit in which six of the armed men were killed," he said, adding that the group's leader, who he identified as a Chadian named Bakhit, was among the dead.
The remaining two gunmen were captured and they confessed to being involved in kidnapping the tourists and their guides, who were on desert safari in southwest Egypt.
The tourists, who were seized while near Gilf al-Kebir in Egypt, are being held by 35 other gunmen in the Tabbat Shajara region of Chad, Mr Khaled added.
The shootings come as negotiations continue for the release of the hostages.
An Egyptian official told the AFP news agency that the kidnappers and German negotiators had agreed to a deal but that "negotiations were still ongoing to work out details."
The kidnappers have demanded that Germany take charge of payment of an $8.8m ransom.
German officials have declined comment.



Loneliness and coldness are often associated in everyday language, but psychologists have found that social isolation does make people feel cold.
The University of Toronto team found people feeling excluded said a room was colder than those feeling included.
And people who felt left out also chose comforting hot soup, rather than an apple or soft drink.
A UK psychologist said the findings could help people feeling isolated, particularly in the winter months.
In the first study, 65 students were divided into two groups.
One group recalled a personal experience in which they had been socially excluded and felt isolated or lonely, such as being rejected from a club.
The other group recalled an experience in which they had been accepted.
The researchers then asked everyone to estimate the room's temperature.

There may be good reason why people are offered a cup of tea to make them feel better.
The estimates varied from about 54F (12C) to 104F (40C) - with those who had thought about an isolating experience giving lower estimates of the temperature.
In the second experiment, the researchers asked 52 students to play a computer-simulated ball game.
It was designed so that some of the volunteers had the ball tossed to them many times, but others were left out.
Afterwards, all the volunteers were asked to rate the desirability of hot coffee, crackers, soft-drinks, an apple, or hot soup.
The "unpopular" participants were much more likely than the others to want either hot soup or hot coffee.
The researchers suggest their preference for warm food and drinks resulted from physically feeling cold as a result of being excluded.

Dr Chen-Bo Zhong, who led the research, which is published in the journal Psychological Science, said: "We found that the experience of social exclusion literally feels cold.
"This may be why people use temperature-related metaphors to describe social inclusion and exclusion."
The team suggests the findings could be used to treat people's feelings of sadness or loneliness.

Writing in the journal, published by the American Association of Psychological Science, they say: "An interesting direction for research would be to determine whether experiencing the warmth of an object could reduce the negative experience of social exclusion.
"Such an implication has been used metaphorically in the self-help literature, but our research suggests that eating warm soup may be a literal coping mechanism for social exclusion."
They also suggest that raising the temperature could help someone who is feeling low - in the same way that people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) are helped with light therapy.
They added: "Research on this disorder has predominantly focused on the connection between reduced daylight and increased likelihood of winter depression, although some evidence supports the idea that reduced temperature also contributes to an increase in depressive experience.
"Our research suggests one reason why that may be. Perhaps cold temperatures in the winter serve as a catalyst to the psychological experience of social exclusion."
Dr Lesley Prince, a lecturer in psychology at Birmingham University, said: "This is very interesting, and shows there are physiological correlates to emotions."
He added: "I particularly like the idea that if people are feeling despondent or lonely, you could help them feel better by putting the temperature up."



Mathematicians in California could be in line for a $100,000 prize (£54,000) for finding a new prime number which has 13 million digits.
Prime numbers can be divided only by themselves and one.
The prize was set up by the Electronic Frontier Foundation to promote co-operative computing on the Internet.
The team from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) found the new number by linking 75 computers and harnessing their unused power.
This enabled them to perform the enormous number of calculations needed to find and verify a new prime.
Thousands of people around the world linked the powers of their personal computers in the search for a higher "Mersenne" prime number - named after 17th-Century French mathematician Marin Mersenne.
Mersenne primes are expressed as two to the power of P, minus one - with P being itself a prime number.
Edson Smith, the leader of the winning UCLA team, told the Associated Press news agency: "We're delighted. Now we're looking for the next one, despite the odds."



By John Simpson - BBC News, Tora Bora, Afghanistan.

The immense border between Afghanistan and the north-west frontier of Pakistan is harsh, inhospitable and breathtakingly beautiful.
It has been the cause of tension for at least a century and a half.
As "the Durand Line", the border was imposed on the Afghans by Britain in 1893. Even now, Afghanistan refuses to agree to it in principle, although, in practice, it is accepted.
Looking down from the Afghan side at Torkhum towards the Khyber Pass which leads into Pakistan, you can understand why stopping the movement of guerrillas and weapons across the border is so hard.
The road from the Khyber is the main trade route into Afghanistan, and is choked day and night with lorries packed high with Pakistani goods.
The border police on both sides try their best to check that guns and explosives are not hidden under the tons of onions or rice or electrical goods, but the job is an impossible one.
As we left the Black Widow's shadow there was no ambush - maybe the fact that we had an escort of 80 well-trained policemen had something to do with it
In Kabul, I interviewed a would-be suicide bomber from Pakistan who had given himself up when he realised his controllers had lied to him.
I asked if police had examined the lorry which he drove across the border laden with explosives. He shook his head.
The road from Kabul to Jalalabad and on to Torkhum is becoming more and more dangerous.
A year ago, when my team and I travelled along it, the police gave us an escort of a jeep containing four armed men.
This time we had eight jeeps and 48 armed men.

And when, a couple of days later, we drove southwards out of Jalalabad to the Tora Bora mountains, close to the Pakistani border, the Afghan authorities insisted on giving us a 14 vehicle escort.
On the dirt roads and mountain tracks which lead to Tora Bora, the biggest threat is landmines.
The Taleban who operate here cannot have failed to see our convoy, and would have guessed that we had to return this way. It would have been simple to lay mines in our path during the night.
Tora Bora means the black widow. It lies in the shadow of the Spin Garh (white-headed) range, which is covered with snow all year round.
The sight is breathtaking - fierce, brooding and impenetrable except on foot.
The Afghan border police have a hilltop position looking up at Tora Bora.
At the mountain's foot lies a narrow valley leading to the famous caves where Osama bin Laden hid, and eventually escaped from, in 2002.
Could we go there, I asked the police commander? No, he said, they were in no-man's land.
The Taleban, who have been forced out of the caves twice by coalition and Afghan troops, have now established themselves back there again.
From time to time the police fire heavy machine-guns and mortars across at Tora Bora, to assert their presence.
There was no return fire; the Taleban are too wary for that.
Ambush fears
During the night, as we slept under the stars, the police were vigilant. Occasionally, they called out softly to one another to show they were still there, and that their throats had not been cut by marauders.
Yet the base is easily infiltrated. At one point after dark a fully-grown wolf loped across the open space in front of us.
In the morning the commander decided we should return by a different route - until he was told that an American convoy had been ambushed there nine days ago.
It was plain he was pretty anxious.
Then he and his men consulted their maps. By driving along a couple of dry river-beds we could curve round and join the main Jalalabad road after three hours' hard driving across country.
It worked. As we left the Black Widow's shadow there was no ambush.
Maybe the fact that we had an escort of 80 well-trained policemen, all armed with AK-47 assault rifles, had something to do with it.


Saturday, September 27, 2008


Movie legend Paul Newman dies, 83.

Hollywood legend Paul Newman has died of cancer at the age of 83, his spokesman has confirmed.
The blue-eyed star of films like Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid had died at home on Friday surrounded by family and close friends, said Jeff Sanderson.
Newman was nominated for an Oscar 10 times, winning the best actor trophy in 1987 for The Color Of Money.
In May 2007, he said he was giving up acting because he could no longer perform to the best of his ability.


The Silver Chalice, 1955
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1958
The Hustler, 1961
Hud, 1963
Cool Hand Luke, 1967
Rachel Rachel (director), 1968
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1969
The Sting, 1973
The Towering Inferno, 1974
Absence of Malice, 1981
The Verdict, 1982
The Color of Money, 1986
Nobody's Fool, 1994
Road to Perdition, 2002
Cars (Voice) 2006

"I'm not able to work any more... at the level that I would want to," he told US broadcaster ABC.
"You start to lose your memory, you start to lose your confidence, you start to lose your invention. "So I think that's pretty much a closed book for me."
Earlier this year, he pulled out of directing a stage production of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men in Connecticut because of unspecified health problems.
Broadcaster Sir Michael Parkinson, who interviewed Newman for a documentary, said the star had been "a real giant of the cinema".
"He was the link between the great time of Hollywood, the Cary Grant and people like that, and Tom Cruise," he told BBC News.
"He fills the gap between the two, and fills it in a most extraordinary, dominant manner."
Although his handsome looks and piercing blue eyes made him an ideal romantic lead, Newman often played rebels, tough guys and losers.
"I was always a character actor," he once said. "I just looked like Little Red Riding Hood."

The star won a total of three Oscars. He appeared in some 60 movies, including Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, The Hustler, The Sting and Hud.
Along the way, he worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood - including Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, Elizabeth Taylor, Lauren Bacall and Tom Hanks.
He also appeared with his wife, Joanne Woodward, in several films including Long Hot Summer and Paris Blues. The star later directed his wife in movies such as Rachel, Rachel and The Glass Menagerie.
But his most famous screen partner was undoubtedly Robert Redford, his sidekick in both Butch Cassidy and The Sting.
In addition to his Academy Award for best actor, he was given an honorary Oscar in 1986 "in recognition of his many and memorable compelling screen performances and for his personal integrity and dedication to his craft".
In 1994, he won a third Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, for his charitable work.
His philanthropic efforts included the establishment of summer camps for children who suffered from life-threatening illnesses.
He also donated profits from his Newman's Own food range to a number of charitable organisations.

Newman became a professional racing driver and took second place at Le Mans in 1979. Newman's last film role was as the voice of Doc Hudson, one of the most famous racing cars in history, in the Pixar animation Cars.
It was perhaps a fitting epitaph for the actor, who had a lifelong fascination with the sport - and put his film career on hold in the 1970s to become a professional racing driver.
He is survived by his wife, five children, two grandsons and his older brother Arthur.



10 Things we did not know this time last week !

Snippets from the week's news, sliced, diced and processed for your convenience.

1. Hollywood actors were paid to smoke.
More details
2. Brussels is the burglary capital of Europe.
More details
3. Henry V invented passports.
More details
4. Busta Rhymes' real name is Trevor George Smith Jr.
More details
5. Ruth Kelly and David Miliband dated briefly at university.
More details (Daily Telegraph)
6. The ideal drive is 16 minutes long.
More details
7. Hanging upside-down can give you a stroke.
More details
8. Scots drank two litres more pure alcohol than the rest of the UK last year, on average.
More details
9. Anti-depressants can harm sperm.
More details
10. The third most popular pet behind a cat and a dog is a rabbit, with 1.6m owners in the UK. More details (Times)





Police in Germany have arrested two terrorism suspects on a plane preparing to take off from Cologne-Bonn airport.
The two men, both in their early 20s and of Somali origin, were under surveillance for months, police say.
They were said to be "possibly planning attacks" and had left suicide notes at their flats expressing their wish to die in a "holy war".
The KLM airliner, which was bound for Amsterdam, was eventually allowed to take off after a luggage search.
Police boarded flight KL1804 at 0655 (0455 GMT), police spokesman Frank Scheulen said.

"The police did not storm the plane - it was done by ordinary police, special forces were not used," he added, contradicting earlier reports by KLM staff that commandos had made the arrests.
He said the suspects - a 23-year-old Somali and a 24-year-old Somali-born German citizen - were "under suspicion of participating in a jihad [holy war] action and of possibly planning attacks".
The remaining passengers were ordered off the aircraft for a baggage inspection.
The plane was cleared for departure just over an hour later and has since landed in Amsterdam.
Germany's federal crime office said on Thursday it was hunting for two Islamic militants believed to be on their way to Germany.
The arrests in Cologne are thought to be unconnected with that terror alert.



26th September 2008.

Dear Friends,

All week long I have been wandering what I would write about in this week's letter. With so little real news coming out of Zimbabwe during this current impasse, it was hard to see what there was to talk about that the political analysts hadn't already dissected and mulled over all week. Then, Robert Mugabe came to my rescue!

Speaking at the UN General Assembly, Mugabe said : "Once again I appeal to the world's collective conscience to apply pressure for the immediate removal of these sanctions by Britain, the United States and their allies which have brought about untold suffering to our people." No sooner had I read those words and watched the clip on the BBC website when my phone rang. It was a good friend of mine calling from Murehwa. He wanted to thank me for some money I had sent him and to tell me that the gift had enabled him to buy two buckets of maize. With very careful rationing that might last a couple of weeks he told me. One helping of sadza a day and perhaps a little bowl of thin porridge in the morning for the kids before they go to school. No meat, so they supplement the sadza with vegetables from his garden – grown I may add with seeds sent from the UK! My friend is one of the lucky ones but for most of the people in Murehwa it's an early morning trip on foot to the nearest muhacha trees. 'You know muhacha? he asked me. Of course I know muhacha. In this area of the country it is a scared tree and I had often sat under its shade with friends at a rural bottle store. The fruit of the muhacha is edible and sweet. Every child knows that and in the old days it was what you would call a 'leisure' activity, gathering the sweet fruit to munch on the way home. There's a grove of these trees deep in the rural area about eight or ten miles from Murehwa and every morning people trek there to gather the fruit. No longer is it a leisure pastime, now it is the people's only means of survival. 'You have to get there early' my friend told me because people fight, they actually exchange blows so desperate are they for the hacha. It is all they will eat for the day. Like all wild fruits, if eaten to excess, it will have a disastrous effect on the digestive system and acute diarrhoea follows. With nothing else in the stomach such conditions can prove fatal and without drugs or medical intervention people will die - have already died in the area. The local MP for the area is none other than the Minister of Health, himself a doctor. I wonder if he heard his president tell the UN Assembly that "The majority of our rural people have been empowered (by the Land reform programme) to contribute to household and national food security and to be masters of their destiny" If that is the case then why are the people surviving on wild fruits? Why are their own grain huts empty? Why are the huge grain silos in Murehwa housing imported maize accessible only to those with foreign currency to buy the precious commodity?

Mugabe appeals to the 'world's collective conscience' but apparently has none himself as he leaves his people to starve while he struts the world stage accusing everyone else of causing the Zimbabwean people's 'untold suffering.' The contrast between Mugabe's weasel words at the UN and what my friend told me of the people's suffering could not be more marked. This week I listened to two highly respected Africanists, Richard Dowden and William Gumede debating the situation in Zimbabwe and I was shocked to hear Richard Dowden remark that Mugabe cared nothing for Zimbabwe's future, that he was quite prepared to destroy the country in order to save his own position. Of course, I had heard that comment before from friends sitting around under the muhacha tree at the bottle store. I had even been inclined to make the same judgement myself but to hear that view coming from such a scholarly and objective source shocked me. Can it really be true that this great 'Liberation Hero' has become so bloated with power that he is blind to the suffering his policies have caused? Is it the fault of the sanctions against the leadership of Zanu PF as Mugabe claims that have caused the tide of human misery that has swept across the land? Climate change and sanctions have hindered food production, he claims but Mugabe knows that is not true. Has he not himself chivvied the resettled farmers for not growing more food?

I watched the Old Man being interviewed this week in New York. He was asked if he would allow Human Rights monitors into Zimbabwe to see for themselves, "Ah,ah,ah' he replied and shook his head. He was smiling at the time, the smile on the face of the crocodile, I thought. Later he claimed that his government had been falsely accused of human rights abuses. Tell that to the victims and their families, Robert Mugabe. Who else but you gives the orders for your opponents to be 'taught a lesson for not voting the right way.' "We won't stop" said one of his bully boys this week talking of the ongoing attacks on MDC supporters, "until the President himself tell us to."

Like everyone else in the diaspora, we are a long way from home and it's often hard to separate fact from journalistic fiction but that phonecall I received, just this morning, renewed my doubts about the wisdom of negotiating with such a man as Mugabe. Trusting Tsvangirai's personal integrity is one thing but can we be sure that all his top people are similarly motivated by what is best for Zimbabwe and not by hunger for money and power. All we can do from this far away is watch and wait and hope that truth, justice and, above all, conscience will prevail.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle. PH



By Michael Bristow -BBC News, Gansu, China.

On the edge of Tibetan towns in this western province, special police officers carrying rifles stand guard behind checkpoints made of sandbags.
Inside the towns, convoys of police vehicles drive up and down the streets. Security personnel stop shoppers and question them.
Six months after Tibetans staged riots and protests against Chinese rule, Beijing still maintains a tight grip on this largely Tibetan area.
Locals say their lives have not yet returned to normal, and many people arrested during the March unrest are still in prison.
Trouble began in the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in southern Gansu, shortly after riots erupted in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.
According to the local authorities, schools, shops and buildings belonging to the Communist Party and government were attacked by "criminals".
In the town of Hezuo, there is a bustling open-air market, where shoppers haggle over live chickens, dried goods, clothes, fruit and music.
Outside town, in the small villages that line the valley roads, farmers are harvesting highland barley and potatoes. Others herd goats.

Few people will talk about the unrest, and monks are especially cautiousBut things are not as they were before the unrest, as one farmer with a weather-beaten face and a gold tooth was willing to explain.
"It hasn't returned to normal yet. They've released some of the people from prison, but not all of them," he said as he sat on a hillside near the village of Yumo.
The Chinese government blames the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's exiled spiritual leader, for orchestrating the unrest earlier this year.
But the farmer dismissed such claims. "We rose up on our own because there are no human rights here," he said.
Another Tibetan man told a similar story, although he only agreed to speak behind the relative security of closed doors.
"There are military personnel on every corner of the street. We don't have any freedom at all. Life is very difficult right now," he said.
He added that Tibetans want more freedom - and they want the Dalai Lama to return to his homeland.
There are signs that China is taking the carrot-and-stick approach to resolving the still-tense situation in Gannan, where just over half the population is Tibetan.
The large number of personnel from the People's Armed Police - they even guard petrol stations - suggests Beijing is prepared for further trouble.
But the authorities also appear to be spending money in what could be a bid to quieten a population that openly criticises the government.
The Yumo farmer said the local government had handed out 3,000 yuan ($440; £240) compensation to every citizen after the March unrest.
And when the BBC visited Hezuo, a van from the local propaganda department was on the streets telling people about a new healthcare scheme.
The town square was also being spruced up. Workmen were putting new paving slabs in place, planting trees and laying out lawns.
Beijing seems concerned about the unrest, even if it publicly says there was no justification for it.
While we were in Gannan, a national committee in charge of minorities and religious affairs was holding a three-day investigation tour of the area.
A document circulated among delegates at the meeting shows Beijing wants to push ahead and create a "well-off society" in the prefecture.
It talks about developing the area's hydroelectricity potential, and the tourism industry in what is an area of stunning natural beauty, with mountains, clear blue skies and pine forests.
Beijing is also engaged in talks with the Tibetan government-in-exile, based in Dharamsala in India, about the situation in Tibetan areas.
The next round of talks is due to take place in October.
But Wang Lixiong, who has written about the relationship between Beijing and its Tibetan regions, believes China is not serious about making a breakthrough.

The army were called in to stop the unrest in March"I've always thought that the talks were only about letting foreigners think the government is doing something - it's an act," he said.
Meanwhile Tibetans have seen very little benefit from negotiations which have been going on for several years, said the Chinese expert.
Mr Wang believes the next round of talks is critical. If Beijing does not offer concessions, the Tibetans may refuse to continue talking.
Back in Gansu, people are getting on with their lives, even if it is under the watchful eye of China's security forces.
At a monastery with a golden roof in the village of Zagzag, monks - some as young as 13 - are still praying and studying.
They are reluctant to talk about their lives since the March unrest, although that reticence suggests they face pressure from the authorities.
Author Mr Wang believes China's crackdown following the protests has made Tibetans more aware of their rights.
"Slowly, Tibetans who didn't know anything about independence are beginning to understand what it means," he said.
That suggests the tension in China's Tibetan areas will not quickly subside.


Friday, September 26, 2008


Getting behind the wheel of a car can turn the most mild-mannered person into an angry hothead. And as congestion increases, so do the irritation levels of motorists.
But help is at hand for the hard-pressed commuter, from US writer and driving expert Tom Vanderbilt.

Too many people get irate at the sound of the horn, says Mr Vanderbilt, who spent three years examining driving habits around the world.
The horn's function could be entirely innocent, even benevolent. For instance, the honker could merely be pointing out that a fellow driver's petrol cap is loose.
"There's a tendency to want to go off at the first. Don't instinctively react to that noise. Try to think what the context is."
Drivers of convertible cars are less likely to use their horns than others, he says, because they don't have the anonymity of being enclosed and hidden.
Men honk more than women but women are most likely to be honked at, he adds.

You're on a motorway and the traffic has slowed to a crawl. Why do the other lanes always seem to be moving faster?
They don't really, says Mr Vanderbilt. They only seem to because of something called "loss aversion" which means our brains are more sensitive to loss so we tend to notice the cars that overtake us, not the ones we leave behind.
And changing lanes is counter-productive. It increases the risk of an accident, makes a driver more stressed and doesn't make much difference. When tested in Canada, the driver that changed lanes at every opportunity only made four minutes in an 80-minute drive.

Exchange glances as much as possible, especially with pedestrians at crossings, because it makes your intentions clearer.
Eye contact increases co-operation, he says, referring to a study which found that putting a photograph of eyes above an honesty box at a coffee machine made people give more money than if a photo of flowers was put there instead.
But the reality of driving means it's often impossible - not to say dangerous at anything over 20mph - to make eye contact with other motorists.

The idea that any sort of a commute is a good thing might sound odd, but drivers actually benefit from a short spell in front of the wheel twice a day - 16 minutes each way being the optimum time, says Mr Vanderbilt. For many it is valuable, personal time.
"If you commute, you're going to a job so your day is very hemmed in. You have your job and your home.
"People listen to music most frequently in the car so it's a space you can do what you want. You see people singing and behaving in a way that's not usually possible. There aren't many private moments in a day so people turn the car into a private space."
But there are limits. The enjoyment evaporates the longer the drive, and a commute that creeps past the hour mark will test the patience of even the most passionate petrolhead.

People leaving car parking spaces always take longer to do so when another car is waiting to get into the space.
This is because the space becomes more valuable, in the driver's eyes, when it is wanted by someone else.
The car is a private space in a public space, says Mr Vanderbilt, so motorists mistakenly think that once inside it, the land underneath is theirs as well. But there's no need to be territorial.

"For those of us who aren't brain surgeons, driving is probably the most complex everyday thing we do. It is a skill that consists of at least 1,500 'subskills'," says Mr Vanderbilt.
"At any moment, we are navigating through terrain, scanning our environment for hazards and information, maintaining our position on the road, judging speed, making decisions (about 20 per mile, one study found) evaluating risk, adjusting instruments, anticipating the future actions of others - even as we may be sipping a latte, thinking about last night's episode of American Idol, quieting a toddler or checking voice mail."
Because all this appears to be done so easily, experienced motorists treat driving like breathing. But problems arise if something unlikely occurs, because so much of driving is mundane.
The fragmentary nature of our attention was underlined in an experiment in which a video of people playing basketball was showed to the subjects of a study. Half of them failed to notice when a man in a gorilla suit walked through the players.
The lesson is to maintain concentration and don't slip all too easily into auto-pilot.

One of the biggest sources of road rage is late merging - when one motorway lane is going to end and the instructions are quite vague about when drivers should merge into the other lane. If a car doesn't merge straightaway, drivers in the backed up traffic queue get angry. In fact, those "selfish overtakers" are doing everyone a favour, says Mr Vanderbilt.
"People want to carry their personal idea of queuing into traffic and say 'That person is just [jumping the queue]' but why is there a lane anyway?
"More people will get through if drivers use both lanes to the end and then merge one at a time."

Tailgating accounts for 7% of road traffic accidents in the UK, says Mr Vanderbilt, but it's just another form of bully driving and it holds up the traffic.
"It increases your own crash risk and reduces the reaction time of the person behind you. If the person in front brakes, you have to come to a much faster stop and you have a chain reaction crash. Do you want to be reliant on the person behind you stopping in time?"

An experiment conducted in the UK discovered that drivers gave far more space to cyclists that did not wear helmets, than those who did.
The researchers concluded this was because motorists interpreted the helmet as a symbol of a more predictable and sensible cyclist, one less likely to veer into their path.

Racing car drivers accumulate more traffic tickets and take more risks in everyday driving than the rest of us, but there are certain things we can learn from them.
For a start, they have perfect driving posture, erect and alert, whereas others lean back.
And racing drivers always look ahead to where they are going, in order to speed through turns, which is something normal drivers would do well to adopt.
One reason for the high number of pedestrians struck by turning cars while crossing the road, says Mr Vanderbilt, is that drivers are not looking in the right place. They are looking at making the turn rather than where the turn will take them.

Tom Vanderbilt is author of Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (And What That Says About Us)



Police say Mr Fritzl has admitted imprisoning and raping his daughter. Josef Fritzl has been taken back to the house in Amstetten, west of Vienna, where he allegedly abused and jailed his daughter and her children.
Mr Fritzl was taken there under heavy police guard on Thursday to give investigators a tour of the cellar.
Officials say the visit is to help see if the cell can be opened from outside.
Mr Fritzl is accused of keeping his daughter for 24 years in a cellar he built, sexually abusing her and fathering seven children with her.
Lawyers for Mr Fritzl insist that an electronic timer would have unlocked the door in time for the occupants to free themselves if anything had happened to him, but investigators think the door could have been sealed off with metal bars.
Prosecutors say he has confessed to keeping his daughter Elisabeth captive in a cell at his home.
DNA tests have shown he is the father of six of Elisabeth's children - a seventh child is believed to have died shortly after birth - and authorities say that Mr Fritzl will go on trial by the end of the year.
Mr Fritzl has been in custody since April and is being held in pre-trial detention in St Poelten, 80km (50 miles) west of the capital Vienna since April.
Earlier this summer a court spokesman said preparations for the trial of Mr Fritzl, 73, were going at "full speed".
His alleged victims, including Elisabeth, 42, are undergoing treatment at a psychiatric hospital.
The case first came to light in April after 19-year-old Kerstin, one of the children fathered by Mr Fritzl, became seriously ill and was taken to hospital.



A Swiss man has become the first person to fly solo across the English Channel using a single jet-propelled wing.
Yves Rossy landed safely after the 22-mile (35.4 km) flight from Calais to Dover, which had been twice postponed this week because of bad weather.
The former military pilot took less than 10 minutes to complete the crossing and parachute to the ground.
The 49-year-old flew on a plane to more than 8,200ft (2,500m), ignited jets on a wing on his back, and jumped out.

Yves Rossy aimed to reach speeds of 125mph Mr Rossy had hoped to reach speeds of 125mph.
It felt "great, really great", said Mr Rossy: "I only have one word, thank you, to all the people who did it with me."
He said weather conditions on Friday had been perfect and his success signalled "big potential" for people to fly "a little bit like a bird" in the future.
Known as "Fusionman," he was aiming to follow the route taken by French airman Louis Blériot 99 years ago when he became the first person to fly across the English Channel in a plane.
In Dover, Mr Rossy flew past South Foreland lighthouse - which the building's manager Simon Ovenden said Blériot used as a target during his pioneering flight - and looped onlookers before landing in a field.
"It's a remarkable achievement, we saw the climax of his attempt as he came down to earth with his parachute. It's been an exciting afternoon," said Geoff Clark, a 54-year-old spectator from Chatham, in Kent.
His quote consistently is: I'm not worried about risk, I manage risk
Kathryn LiptrottNational Geographic ChannelMark Dale, the senior technical officer for the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, described Rossy's flight as a "fabulous stunt".
In an interview earlier this week, Mr Rossy said: "If I calculate everything right, I will land in Dover. But if I get it wrong, I take a bath."
The flight was broadcast live for the National Geographic Channel. Its producer, Kathryn Liptrott, told the BBC Mr Rossy was fearless.
"When we've talked to him and asked him are you worried about risk his quote consistently is: I'm not worried about risk, I manage risk.
"He flew Mirage fighters for the Swiss army, he now flies an Airbus. And in his sort of heart he's a pilot and a parachutist and what they do is manage risk."
The longest flight he had previously taken lasted 10 minutes.
The wing had no rudder or tail fin, so Mr Rossy had to steer it using his head and back.
As well as a helmet and parachute, he wore a special suit to protect him from the four kerosene-burning turbines mounted just centimetres from him on the wing.



Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has announced plans to build a "guaranteed nuclear deterrent system", to be in place by 2020.
He said he wanted military chiefs to submit plans by December.
He called for a programme to build new nuclear submarines as well as "a system of aerospace defence".
The announcement comes just weeks after Russia accused America of starting a new arms race by siting part of its missile defence shield in Poland.
"We must guarantee nuclear deterrence under various political and military conditions by 2020," Mr Medvedev told military commanders.
He said it was necessary to build "new types of armaments", and to "achieve dominance in airspace", according to quotes carried by the Itar-Tass news agency.

Q&A: US missile defence
Guide to planned US missile shield

"We plan to start serial production of warships, primarily nuclear-powered submarines carrying cruise missiles and multifunctional submarines," Mr Medvedev said.
"We will develop an aerospace defence system, as well," he added.
Moscow has repeatedly criticised the US for going ahead with plans for a missile defence shield, using rockets based in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic, saying it destabilises the strategic balance and builds "a ring of steel" around Russia.
Russia warned it would be "forced to react".
This, it seems, is Russia is showing its own determination to bolster its nuclear deterrent, says the BBC's defence correspondent Caroline Wyatt.


Thursday, September 25, 2008


Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has said he can work with his long-time rival Morgan Tsvangirai, following a recent power-sharing deal.
"I don't see any reason why we can't work together as Zimbabweans. We are all sons of the soil," he said.
Under the deal, MDC leader Mr Tsvangirai becomes prime minister, but the two sides have disagreed over the distribution of ministerial posts.
Mr Mugabe told the AP news agency the hold-up only concerned four posts.
But he did not say which ones they were.
Under the deal, Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party has 15 ministries, with 13 going to Mr Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and three to a smaller MDC faction.
Mr Tsvangirai is understood to want the home affairs portfolio so he can control the police.
Zimbabwe's president recently told his Zanu-PF party that the deal was a "humiliation" but said he would work with it.

Mr Mugabe also told reporters at the UN General Assembly in New York that he was "devastated" by the resignation of South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, who brokered the deal.
It is not clear who will take over as the lead mediator in Zimbabwe, or if Mr Mbeki will continue.

Correspondents say that if he were to carry on with his Zimbabwe role, he would lose much of his authority following his resignation.
Mr Mugabe said it was up to the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) to decide whether Mr Mbeki would be replaced.
Asked who would have the final say if he and Mr Tsvangirai disagreed, Mr Mugabe said it would depend on the issue.
He said that he had always worked with his vice-presidents, so there would be little difference now there was a prime minister.
"And now that we have a prime minister we rope him in and we discuss in the presidency, or whatever we call it, together, and we look at the issues and see what solutions can be applied to any problem that confronts us."
Mr Tsvangirai gained most votes in the March elections but not enough for an outright victory, according to official results.
He pulled out of the run-off in June, accusing Zanu-PF militias and the security forces of attacking opposition supporters, leaving some 200 dead and 200,000 displaced.
Under the deal, Mr Mugabe retains control of the army.



Flights to and from UK airports are being cancelled and delayed because of a computer problem at the main air traffic control centre at Swanwick.
Departures have been suspended and arrivals delayed at Luton airport due to air traffic control restrictions.
Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports have also reported delays, along with Cardiff, Bristol, Southampton, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Air traffic controllers said they hoped to restore the system by early evening.
National Air Traffic Services (Nats) said engineers were investigating the cause of the computer fault at the London Area Control Centre, which deals with planes flying over the south east of England.
The London Terminal Control Centre, also based in Swanwick which is responsible for landing and departing aircraft, is still operating fully but it is restricting departures due to the additional workload.

The London air traffic control centre at Swanwick, Hampshire, has two parts with different responsibilities:
The London Area Control Centre (LACC) is responsible for aircraft flying over England and Wales
The London Terminal Control Centre (LTCC) handles aircraft approaching and departing south-east England airports
Both centres are run by National Air Traffic Services (Nats), which is part-owned by the government and a consortium of airlines

Nats said restrictions on take-offs and landings had been introduced to ensure passenger safety while controllers operated manual systems at reduced capacity.
BBC transport correspondent Tom Symonds said the problems stemmed from a glitch with computers which deal with information about flights when they are at higher altitude.
Air traffic controllers could still see where planes were, but were finding it difficult to identify them, he said.
This has resulted in a reduced flow of aircraft from airports, with planes at Heathrow leaving every two minutes rather than every 90 seconds.

Luton airport has so far cancelled seven European flights to Budapest, Lisbon, Zurich, Barcelona, Berlin, Amsterdam and Dortmund.
Flights from Cardiff International Airport were also temporarily halted by the fault, a spokeswoman said.
"All flights are currently grounded, inbound and outbound. We are not entirely sure at the moment when they are going to be back up and running," she added.
A spokesman for Manchester Airport said some European and international flights had been affected as they were routed to fly over south east of England.
A spokesman for airport operator BAA, which runs Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Southampton airports, said "many UK airports" would be affected by the problem.
"Aircraft continue to land and depart, however the process is slower than normal, which means that inevitably, some flights will be delayed and some will be cancelled," he said.
"We are working hard with the airlines to minimise disruption and restore the operation as quickly as possible."
British Airways says it is cancelling "a few" short haul flights to domestic and European destinations from Heathrow.
Airport authorities have advised passengers to contact their airlines before travelling.



A leading US senator says both parties in Congress have reached agreement on the outline of a $700bn (£380bn) bail-out plan to revive the finance sector.
Democrat Senator Christopher Dodd said they had reached "fundamental agreement" on the principles of a package though he did not give details.
He said Congress could act in the next few days to pass a bill on the subject.
A main concern for Democrats and Republicans has been who will bear the brunt of the cost of the package.
The plan, as it was first proposed last week, would broadly help finance firms offload bad debt, which has triggered a global credit crisis.
"We now expect that we will have a plan that can pass the House, pass the Senate and be signed by the president," Senator Robert Bennett of Utah said after meetings with lawmakers on Thursday.
Details of the package were not immediately available but it is expected to include limits on executives' pay as well as oversight requirements.
The news comes as President George W Bush is set to meet both presidential candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama, to discuss the bail-out and how to revive the economy.
The benchmark Dow Jones index continued to rise after Senator Dodd's comments, adding 3%, to 11,128.7.

The bail-out has been under scrutiny with politicians on both sides nervous about the deal being rushed through too quickly.
Of particular concern has been the issue of pay for the bosses of the firms in question, as well as concerns over the cost of the plan to the US taxpayer.
But both US Federal Reserve head Ben Bernanke and US President George W Bush have warned that without a deal, it would cause a significant set-back to the economy as a whole.

Those in favour of the deal have argued that:

The deal would boost global financial stability
Increase investor confidence
Prevent a global slowdown
Encourage banks to lend to each other, and beat the credit crunch
Those with reservations have said the bail-out would:
Cost the taxpayer too much money
Benefit bosses of firms who have taken huge risks
Increase state debt
Give too much power to the US Treasury


Wednesday, September 24, 2008