Canada optimistic it will be exempted

Canada, America’s top trading partner, is cautiously optimistic it will be exempted from protectionist provisions in the economic stimulus bill moving through the senate that call on major public works projects to favor U.S. iron, steel and manufactured goods over imports, Canada’s international trade minister said Saturday.

Canada and other U.S. trading partners warn that favoring U.S. companies would breach Washington’s trade commitments and could set off a retaliatory trade war.

Canadian International Trade Minister Stockwell Day voiced strong objections when he met with interim U.S. trade representative Peter Allgeier at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this weekend.

U.S. President Barack Obama does not have a trade representative yet, but was represented by Allgeier, a Bush administration holdover who served as ambassador to the World Trade Organization. Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, Obama’s nominee for U.S. trade representative, is awaiting Senate confirmation.

“Following the discussions I’ve had, and with the interventions we’ve made on a number of levels I’m cautiously optimistic that something can be worked out,” Day said in a conference call with reporters on Saturday.

Day said Allgeier was very much aware how big of a concern it is to Canada. He said the president has certain abilities to waive parts of the legislation if they go against the obligations of the North American Free Trade Agreement — which links the U.S., Canada and Mexico — and other international pacts aimed at liberalizing world trade.

“They are looking for ways to handle our concerns,” Day said. “The administration is very aware. There seems to be a desire to do something to mitigate the effects of the legislation going through, if it does go through.”

Asked about the protectionist provisions Friday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs would say only that the administration was reviewing them.

The provisions are likely to find support among Americans outraged that money from a stimulus package likely to top $800 billion could go to foreign competitors of U.S. companies.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the $819 billion stimulus bill on Wednesday that included “buy American” provisions that would call on major public works projects to favor U.S. steel and iron.

Canada’s trade minister noted the Senate is considering expanding the measure to include manufactured goods, a more far-reaching provision. The proposed Senate provision states that none of the funds may be used for a project “unless all of the iron, steel and manufactured goods used in the projects are produced in the United States.”

Day said the provisions in the stimulus bill are similar to the U.S. Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930, a tariff law which he said had exacerbated the Great Depression of the 1930s.

“In a time of global downturn countries should not be lapsing backwards into protectionist activity. That only results in other countries then wanting to put up barriers and the last thing we need now is a retaliatory trade war,” Day said.

U.S. trade with Canada totaled about $560 billion in the first 11 months of last year, well ahead of trade with second-place China, which was about $379 billion in the January-November period.

Canada and the EU are waiting to see if the measure is included in the final economic-recovery package that is expected to emerge from the Senate next week. Democratic leaders have pledged to deliver it to the White House for Obama’s signature by mid-February.

Obama is scheduled to make his first foreign trip as president to Canada on Feb. 19. Day said it is a major issue for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“If it’s not resolved by the time the president arrives here, I just know how concerned our PM is on this,” Day said.


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A bidding war and a row over ethics: how the octuplets story turned sour

It was a heart-warming tale of a young Californian mother who gave birth to eight babies. But now, as more details emerge, public reaction has turned from from joy to shock to anger.

It was a midwinter miracle; eight babies born to a single mother and every one of them delivered alive. For a nation enduring its deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the tale was a welcome relief from bail-outs and bankruptcies. But this weekend, as the journalistic pack chases an altogether darker dimension to the story of Nadya Suleman, the feel-good factor has suddenly vanished.

The birth of Suleman’s eight babies – six boys and two girls – was clearly an extraordinary event. Only one previous case of eight surviving babies had ever been recorded in the US. Yet as the eccentricity of Suleman’s background and biography emerges, America is suddenly recoiling in shock. Far from being a heart-warming tale of wonder, the more that becomes known about the Suleman family, the more it seems something very disturbing has occurred. Public reaction has quickly turned from joy to shock and anger.

By last night, it was clear that Suleman is not an infertile woman who sought medical help to have children. The 33-year-old Californian already has six children. She is single and has no visible means of support for her current family, let alone the additional eight babies that now give her enough offspring to field a football team with three substitutes.

In fact, Suleman still lives with her parents. Her family has revealed that she may have serious mental-health problems and be addicted to having children. Her own mother, Angela Suleman, told one Associated Press reporter: “[She] is not evil, but she is obsessed with children. She loves children, she is very good with children, but obviously she overdid herself.”

Angela Suleman also revealed that her daughter’s obsession with children caused her considerable stress, and led her to seek help from a psychologist, who had told her to order her daughter out of the house.

“Maybe she wouldn’t have had so many kids then, but she is a grown woman,” Angela said. “I feel responsible and I didn’t want to throw her out.”

The case of the Suleman octuplets is now sending shockwaves through the medical fertility community. Few reputable doctors can understand how a healthy mother-of-six could have been allowed to have fertility treatment that resulted in octuplets without serious questions arising about the mother’s mental health, her capacity to raise such a large family or the huge medical dangers involved in giving birth to so many babies at once.

The family has now taken refuge behind the curtains of its modest three-bedroom suburban home in Whittier, a town near Los Angeles. Usually in these situations, the proud parents parade before the cameras, appear on talk shows and land lucrative sponsorship deals with baby-products firms.

But when Nadya Suleman’s father, Edward, briefly emerged, he did not appear full of the joys of enlarging his family with more grandchildren. “I wish it happens to you people, so you go through hell,” he snapped at the media throng as he unloaded bags of shopping from his car. It was later revealed that Edward was considering going back to his native Iraq – where he has worked as a contractor – in order to raise some cash for the family. As the bidding war begins for Suleman’s story, the quickest and most likely route to financial security is likely to be a publishing contract.

The money seems to be desperately needed. Details of the family’s finances suggest that the Sulemans are already struggling with the load of looking after six children and are ill-prepared for the arrival of eight more.

Court records in nearby San Bernardino show that Suleman’s mother filed for bankruptcy last year, claiming $1m in liabilities as a result of a bad housing investment. At the same time, the records hint at an unusual personal history for the family. They show that Suleman – who changed her name from Nadya Doud in 2001 – divorced her husband, Marcos Gutiérrez, a year ago. Gutiérrez, however, may not be the father of her first six children, because the divorce filing indicates no children were produced from the marriage.

In fact, birth certificates name one “David Solomon” as the father of her eldest four children. It also seems that Suleman had been living with her parents, not her husband, for the past eight years, at a variety of addresses. However, her own parents, who still live together, are also divorced, having legally separated in Las Vegas in 1999.

Suleman herself seems to have little employment history. Neighbours have reported that she worked as a psychiatric technician before she began having children. After that, she attended college, studying child development. She graduated with a bachelor of science degree and returned to do a masters. She last went to a classroom in the spring of 2008.

But even more mysterious than the family’s history are the details of how Suleman became impregnated. Officials at Kaiser Permanente, where a 46-strong medical team delivered her eight children, have said she first appeared there when she was already three months pregnant. Yet it seems that the fertility clinic that implanted Suleman with so many embryos was going against current medical practice. Leaving aside the wisdom of treating a single mother with six children, it is dangerous to implant so many embryos in a woman so young. The likelihood of all those embryos taking hold is much higher in younger mothers and so most doctors would only implant one or two embryos.

Then there is the question of why doctors allowed Suleman to keep all eight embryos once they took hold in her womb, despite the enormous risks to her: even having triplets puts a woman and her babies at huge risk of death or serious injury.

Medical experts across America have queued up to express their rage. “If this resulted from an IVF treatment, we can say that transferring eight embryos in an IVF cycle is well beyond our guidelines,” said Dale McClure, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Meanwhile, Arthur Wisot, a fertility doctor in Los Angeles, raised a further prospect. “I cannot imagine that any of the mainstream practices in the Los Angeles area were involved in this. I would guess… she either went out of the country or went to a practice that flies below the radar,” he told a TV reporter.

All the drama has left many questions still unanswered as the eight babies at the centre of the controversy recover in hospital.

They are all doing well. But if the American public was looking for hope and inspiration in the face of tough times, the Suleman octuplets will have provided little in the way of light relief.


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Bullying at school ‘can be good for you’


Being a victim of schoolyard thugs can help pupils learn how to manage disputes and boost their ability to interact with others

According to official figures, almost half of children claim they are bullied at school.

One of the biggest studies of its kind by Ofsted showed 48 per cent of young people had been verbally or physically abused in the last year.

It comes despite a raft of Government initiatives designed to crack down on attacks and intimidation.

Writing on the website Spiked, Dr Guldberg said: “Teachers are increasingly lumbered with the task of looking after children’s health and wellbeing rather than being allowed to get on with the task of educating them.

“Children are encouraged to assume their relationships with other children are damaging, and tacitly encouraged to look upon their peers with trepidation and suspicion.”

She added: “If we treat children as if they cannot possibly cope with hurtful experiences, then we will likely undermine their confidence and make them less likely to cope with difficult events in the future. In effect, we will prevent them from growing up.”

The comments echo remarks made by teachers in recent years who claim the education system has been too focused on developing children’s social skills at the expense of academic learning.

But Sue Steel, national manager of the Anti-Bullying Alliance, said: “Children who are being bullied often find it difficult to tell anyone. Teachers can help by maintaining an appropriate level of vigilance.”


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More on Nonprofit Newspapers

The sad irony of the predicaments facing newspapers today is that their troubles are not a function of loss of audience. In fact, the total readership of the content of the New York Times and the Washington Post has grown more than fivefold since the emergence of the World Wide Web. My statistics are not up to date, but the Washington Post and New York Times Web sites combined have in excess of twenty-five million unique monthly users. Several million of these readers live overseas. The problem is that the business model that created the newsrooms that made this journalism so popular has been shattered at the same time. New readers are, per capita, less profitable than the old ones. That is hardly a reason to allow the destruction of the journalism that attracted them to these newsrooms in the first place.

Second, the sheer scale of legacy newsrooms creates strength—an independence of mind, an imperviousness to deep pockets and political pressure. At the height of the Washington Post’s powers, I was working as an investigative reporter in London and got into a dispute over my reporting with an exiled Russian, er, businessman. The Post’s lawyers never blinked. They shelled out in the range of a million bucks of cash and insurance to defend our reporting, sent private investigators to Russia to acquire files that proved our case, and handled the matter without ever breaking a sweat. The powerful institutions, whether private or public, that journalism should report on simply dwarf those smaller entities that will emerge in the coming era of self-publishing and philanthropic journalism. We need a few big dogs with enough money to choose principle even when it does not make economic sense.

Third, and perhaps obviously, ambitious reporting is expensive. Foreign bureaus are expensive. Investigative projects can take a year or more. You have to be willing to drill dry holes. Some of this sort of reporting can be replicated on a smaller scale by groups like Voice of San Diego. The deep, sustained international reporting that crosses borders and travels to refugee camps and civil wars without an advocacy agenda; multifaceted investigative reporting disciplined by continuous contact with audiences; expert beat reporting where the writers’ instincts about what matters and how to document difficult, hidden facts has built over many years—all of this is now in jeopardy unless it is endowed.

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A Long-Lived Privilege?


Rove was instructed by then White House counsel Fred Fielding to exert executive privilege if subpoenaed.

Just four days before he left office, President Bush instructed former White House aide Karl Rove to refuse to cooperate with future congressional inquiries into alleged misconduct during his administration.

On Jan. 16, 2009, then White House Counsel Fred Fielding sent a letter (.pdf) to Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin. The message: should his client receive any future subpoenas, Rove “should not appear before Congress” or turn over any documents relating to his time in the White House. The letter told Rove that President Bush was continuing to assert executive privilege over any testimony by Rove—even after he leaves office.

A nearly identical letter (.pdf) was also sent by Fielding the day before to a lawyer for former White House counsel Harriet Miers, instructing her not to appear for a scheduled deposition with the House Judiciary Committee. That letter reasserted the White House position that Miers has “absolute immunity” from testifying before Congress about anything she did while she worked at the White House—a far-reaching claim that is being vigorously disputed by lawyers for the House of Representatives in court.

The letters set the stage for what is likely to be a highly contentious legal and political battle over an unresolved issue: whether a former president can assert “executive privilege”—and therefore prevent his aides from testifying before Congress—even after his term has expired.

“To my knowledge, these [letters] are unprecedented,” said Peter Shane, an Ohio State University law professor who specializes in executive-privilege issues. “I’m aware of no sitting president that has tried to give an insurance policy to a former employee in regard to post-administration testimony.” Shane likened the letter to Rove as an attempt to give his former aide a ‘get-out-of-contempt-free card’.”

The issue arose this week after House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers announced that he had subpoenaed Rove to be deposed under oath next Monday to answer questions about his alleged role in the firing of U.S. attorneys and the prosecution of the former Democratic governor of Alabama, Don Siegelman. Conyers, whose panel extensively investigated both matters last year, signaled that he has no intention of dropping them now just because Bush has left office. “After two years of stonewalling, it’s time for him [Rove] to talk,” Conyers said in a press release.

But it is unclear whether Rove—or Miers, who was found in contempt of Congress last year when she refused to honor an earlier subpoena—is close to doing so. Luskin said he did not solicit the letter from Fielding, but maintains that its contents give his client little choice in the matter.

Fielding’s letter cited the aggressive position of the Bush Justice Department on executive-privilege issues. That doctrine essentially held that White House aides not only did not have to answer specific questions before Congress about their presidential duties, they didn’t even have to show up in response to subpoenas because they had “absolute immunity.”

“We anticipate that one or more committees of the United States Congress might again seek to compel Mr. Rove’s appearance, testimony or documents on the subject of the U.S. attorneys matter,” Fielding wrote. “Please advise Mr. Rove … that the President continues to direct him not to provide information (whether in the form of testimony or documents) to the Congress in this matter …”

Reached Wednesday afternoon, Fielding declined to comment. But a former presidential aide, who asked not to be identified talking about sensitive matters, said that the letter to Rove was “basically the same” as the one sent to Miers (and a third letter sent to former White House chief of staff Josh Bolten). “If the president was going to assert privilege,” this source said, he had to do it before he left office on Jan. 20.

Luskin said that he forwarded a copy of Fielding’s letter, as well as the subpoena he got from Conyers, to Obama’s White House counsel, Greg Craig, and essentially asked for the new president’s position on these matters.

So far, he said, Craig hasn’t responded; Luskin also says he has asked the House Judiciary Committee to postpone its deposition of Rove until he hears back. The committee has agreed to put off the deposition—but only for a few weeks.

The issue is likely to come to a head soon. The Justice Department is due to state its position on executive privilege to the U.S. Court of Appeals in a few weeks in response to the House’s attempt to enforce its previous subpoenas for Miers and Bolten, who were subpoenaed to turn over documents relating the U.S. attorneys firings. Both refused to comply, or even show up—relying on the Bush Justice Department’s sweeping position on “absolute immunity” from testifying before Congress.

Few legal observers expect the Obama Justice Department to endorse that position, but it remains an open question how the new administration will define the scope of presidential privilege. Bush’s attempt to assert privilege even after he leaves office throws a new wrinkle into the dispute.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” Luskin said to NEWSWEEK when asked whether a former president can still assert executive privilege after he leaves office. He added that Rove has no personal objection to testifying and will cooperate with an ongoing Justice Department inquiry into the U.S. attorneys firing—although Luskin says he has not yet been contacted. (Rove is an occasional contributor to Newsweek).

A White House aide said Wednesday afternoon that Craig’s office was still reviewing the issue.


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Judge rejects Obama bid to stall Gitmo trial

A military judge at Guantanamo on Thursday rejected a White House request to suspend a hearing for the alleged mastermind of the USS Cole bombing, creating an unexpected challenge for the Obama administration as it reviews the U.S. war-crimes trials process.

The judge, Army Col. James Pohl, said his decision was difficult but necessary to protect “the public interest in a speedy trial.” The ruling came in the case against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. The bombing of the Navy destroyer in 2000 in the harbor of Aden, Yemen, killed 17 U.S. sailors.

It seemed to take the Pentagon completely by surprise.

“The Department of Defense is currently reviewing Judge Pohl’s ruling,” said Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman. “We will be in compliance with the President’s orders regarding Guantanamo.”

Obama has ordered the detention center in Cuba to be closed within a year. The administration asked last week for a 120-day suspension in proceedings against some 20 detainees as it considers whether to continue trying alleged terrorists in the military commissions, revamp them or try suspects in other courts.

On Jan. 22, Obama signed an executive order directing Defense Secretary Robert Gates to ensure that “all proceedings of such military commissions to which charges have been referred but in which no judgment has been rendered … are halted.”

But Pohl wrote in his ruling that “on its face, the request to delay the arraignment is not reasonable.”

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Reyes, the Pentagon-appointed attorney for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, said the decision gives the Obama administration few options.

“The next step, if the government wants to halt the proceedings, is to withdraw the charges,” Reyes said. “Now it’s in the government’s hands,” he said. “I have no idea what they’re going to do.”

Pohl is the chief judge at the tribunals at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. At least two other judges have already granted the continuance sought by the president, with the defense and prosecution agreeing in both cases that they should be suspended.

Pohl noted that no substantive legal issues would be litigated at al-Nashiri’s arraignment, scheduled for Feb. 9, meaning that “nothing will be mooted or necessary for relitigation” if Obama scraps the tribunals.

The war crimes court came to an abrupt halt Jan. 21 after two other military judges granted Obama’s request to suspend proceedings while he reviews former President Bush’s strategy for prosecuting terrorists. Obama’s executive order came the following day in Washington.

Those proceedings were against a Canadian accused of killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan and five men charged in the Sept. 11 attacks.

In all, war crimes charges are pending against 21 men at Guantanamo. Before Obama became president, the U.S. said it planned to try dozens of detainees in a system that was created by Bush and Congress in 2006 and has faced repeated challenges.

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Plight of the humble bee


Native British bees are dying out — and with them will go flora, fauna and one-third of our diet. We may have less than a decade to save them and avert catastrophe. So why is nothing being done?

Think of summer. Meadows and gardens daubed with so much colour it looks as if some giant hand has gone berserk with a paintbrush. Now expunge that picture and think of another. This time the giant hand has mislaid every pigment save brown and olive. There are no blooms, no insects, no birds. No visible wildlife of any kind. No fruit. No sound other than the mechanistic din of humankind harvesting fungi and the approaching cries of battle.

The first picture is a poetic fiction, a received vision of England as it never was, an idyllic land of apple-cheeked rustics singing in harmony with a bountiful Nature. The second is a piece of bleak futurology that assumes the process of environmental degradation will be irreversible, leaving hollow-cheeked starvelings to follow the rest of the world’s fauna across the Styx. The creature that links the two visions — by its abundance in the first and absence from the second — is the same that now buzzes unseasonably among the dripping foliage of our winter gardens. The bee.

“The” bee, of course, is a gross oversimplification. There are many species of bumble as well as of honeybee. Or there were. In the bounteous days of teeming hedgerows and fields of clover, Britain had 25 kinds of bumble, all merrily gathering nectar and pollinating plants and trees. Three of these already have vanished, and seven more are in the government’s official Biodiversity Action Plan (Uk Bap) as priorities for salvation.

It’s the same right across Europe, and the reasons everywhere are the same — changes in agricultural practice that have replaced historic mixed farmscapes with heavily industrialised monocultures in which wild animals and plants are about as welcome as jackals in a pie factory. Insects in particular have been targets of intense chemical warfare. We are, at the eleventh hour, learning from our mistakes, but patching nature back together again is exponentially more difficult than blowing it apart.

Most people do now get the point about honeybees. Following the multiple crises that continue to empty the hives — foulbrood, varroa mites, viral diseases, dysfunctional immune systems, and now the mysterious but globally devastating colony-collapse disorder (CCD) — it is understood that the true value of Apis mellifera lies not so much in the sticky stuff that gives our favourite insect its name as in the service it provides as a pollinator of farms and gardens. If you add retailers’ profit to farm gate prices, their value to the UK economy is in the region of £1 billion a year, and 35% of our diet is directly dependent on them. It is an equation of stark simplicity. No pollination: no crops. There is nothing theoretical about it. The reality is in (or, more accurately, not in) the hives. The US has lost 70% of its honeybee colonies over the past two winters. Losses in the UK currently are running at 30% a year — up from just 6% in 2003.

But fewer people realise that bumbles, too, are important not just to some remote, bug-ridden process called “ecology”, of interest only to bearded men in anoraks. Growers of beans, oilseed rape and fruit especially have reason to feel alarm at their disappearance. So vital are they to the productivity of the fields, and so lethal the pressures on them, that farmers are having to import captive-bred reinforcements, many of them southern-European species raised in Slovakia. The total annual influx is reckoned at some 100,000 nests, each containing a queen and 200 workers, priced around £50 a time.

As the example of honeybees shows, this is a strategy of literally incalculable risk. International trade in honeybees has spread pests and diseases that imminently threaten their survival. In November 2007 the then food-and-farming minister, Lord Rooker, declared in the House of Lords that if things went on as they were, the honeybee in the UK would be extinct within 10 years. The situation since then has worsened, so at the best estimate the 10 years have shrunk to eight.

For bumbles, too, time is running out, and nobody knows whether the introduction of alien bees will delay the end or bring it closer. The signs are not encouraging. In the US, wild-bumblebee numbers have collapsed dramatically since the 1990s — they have been killed by parasites carried by European species brought in to pollinate greenhouse crops such as tomatoes and peppers.

“There is a high likelihood of interaction between wild and commercially reared bees at flowers,” says Dave Goulson, professor of biological sciences at the University of Stirling and a world expert on bumblebees. This creates the ideal conditions for what ecologists call “pathogen spillover”. Nor is disease the only risk. There is also the “grey-squirrel effect”, in which native species are driven out by more aggressive foreigners. This is happening in Japan, where, ironically, imports of Bombus terrestris — the same bumblebee now humming in southern England — have escaped and are outbreeding the locals. And it may already be happening in the UK.

As in Japan, the aliens are better foragers and breed more rapidly than the natives, whose health and territory they threaten, while there is no guarantee that the immigrants themselves will not be poleaxed by local infections. This is bad news for more than just the bees themselves. In the complex world of inter-species relationships developed over millennia, small changes can have massive effects. In addition to his general theory of relativity, Albert Einstein had a specific theory about the relativity of man and bee. “If the bee disappears off the surface of the globe,” he is supposed to have said, “then man would only have four years of life left.”

If other scientists are more cautious, it is only in terms of the timescale.

On the face of it, the midwinter appearance of Bombus terrestris looks encouraging — a harbinger of the all-year summers that optimists look forward to. But this is precisely the problem. Contrary to what one might expect, says Goulson, a warming climate will not set the hedgerows buzzing. “Bumblebees evolved in the Himalayas. They are unusual among insects in that they don’t like warm weather.” Their thick fur coat is an aid to survival in a cool climate but an energy-sapping body-broiler in the heat. “This is why the southern hemisphere has no bumblebees.”

Once upon a time, for example, the great yellow bumblebee, Bombus distinguendus, which thrives in the cold and wet, was common throughout Britain. Now it has been driven so far northwards that it occurs on the mainland only within half a mile of the extreme north coast of Caithness and Sutherland. “So,” says Goulson, “it can go no further. It is probably doomed as a result of climate change.” Other species, too, are shrinking into local redoubts. The shrill carder bee, Bombus sylvarum, is now limited to the Somerset Levels, Salisbury Plain and the Thames Estuary, where much of its habitat is on brownfield sites and impossible to protect. Since 1980, the formerly common large garden bumblebee, Bombus ruderatus, has been recorded at fewer than 10 sites in the UK.

And so it goes on. As the entire insect world is being forced inexorably northwards, it may be hoped that other pollinators from southern Europe may be sucked into the vacuum behind them. Hoped, but not expected. Bumblebees are not like migrating birds — they do not fly for hundreds of miles between remote habitats. They are more like mammals, needing a continuous corridor of suitable habitats to move through. Without a linked route up through France, they are more likely to die out where they are.

Even if new species did arrive, they would be unable to take on all the work of the old. Many bumblebees, including all those under threat, are specialist feeders that depend upon — and pollinate — particular groups of plants. By the miracle of evolution, some species have developed long tongues, with which they can reach the nectar of deep-throated flowers. Without them, the plants could not reproduce. The incomers can offer no solution: their tongues are too short. The first casualties of the bumblebee exodus, therefore, will be some of the best-loved British wild flowers such as foxgloves, irises, red clover, comfrey, toadflax, tufted vetch… Soft fruit, oilseed and bean crops would also take a hit.

And that is the thin end of the long-term catastrophe that now stares us in the face. You take one brick out of the ecological wall, others crumble around it. Then more crumble, on and on until the edifice collapses. Ecologists call it an extinction vortex. You lose bees, you lose plants. You lose plants, you lose more bees. Then more plants, then other insects, then the birds and animals that depend on them and on each other, all the way up the food chain. But never mind animals — if you stretch the process far enough, you’re talking about humans.

The more extravagant, ocean-boiling scenarios of climate science have drama on their side, but the entomologists in their quiet way are just as scary. In his book The Creation, the world’s most celebrated biologist, E O Wilson, has spelt out what would happen if the vortex swallowed insects. “People need insects,” he says, “but insects do not need us. If all humankind were to disappear tomorrow, it is unlikely that a single insect species would go extinct, except three forms of human body and head lice… In two or three centuries, with humans gone, the ecosystems of the world would regenerate back to the rich state of near-equilibrium that existed ten thousand or so years ago… But if insects were to vanish, the terrestrial environment would soon collapse into chaos.”

Flowering plants would go first, then herbaceous plants, then insect-pollinated shrubs and trees, then birds and animals and, finally, the soil. Wilson corrects the generally held misapprehension that the principal “turners and renewers” of the soil are worms. That distinction more properly belongs to insects and their larvae. Without them, bacteria and fungi would feast on the decaying plant and animal remains, while — for as long as it was able to support them — the land would be recolonised by a small number of fern and conifer species. The human diet would be wind-pollinated grasses and whatever remained to be harvested from a fished-out sea. It would not be enough. Widespread starvation would shrink the population to a fraction of its former size.

“The wars for control of the dwindling resources, the suffering, and the tumultuous decline to dark-age barbarism would be unprecedented in human history.” Wilson concedes that we might survive quite happily without body lice and malarial mosquitoes. Otherwise, he says: “Do not give thought to diminishing the insect world. It would be a serious mistake to let even one species of the millions on Earth go extinct.”

But here again is a parallel with global warming. Changes have taken place that cannot be reversed, and further change is unstoppable. Unlike global warming, however, loss of insects has not inspired national governments or the UN to take expensive action to forestall it. The plight of the honeybee has been well documented if not well understood. The causes of colony-collapse disorder, in which bees disappear without trace from their hives, are debated as fiercely as the causes of climate change, with opinion dividing along very similar fault-lines determined often by vested interests.

Bee farmers and the European parliament blame arable farmers for killing or poisoning their bees with GM crops and careless use of insecticides. The arable farmers say their critics don’t know what they are talking about. Others suspect viruses, parasites or fungi. Some even blame radiation from mobile telephones for disrupting the insects’ navigational systems. Many think it likely that a combination of factors is at work — pesticides perhaps weakening the bees’ immune systems and rendering them defenceless against common pests and diseases (though again the arable boys won’t have it). Tim Lovett, president of the British Beekeepers’ Association (BBKA), suspects a combination of varroa mites, viruses and a vicious parasite called Nosema ceranae, a microsporidium that occupies some strange biological niche between animal and plant.

What all outside the government are agreed upon is that more money is needed for research. Until recently the UK government committed only £1.2m a year to the bee industry, most of which was spent by Defra’s own National Bee Unit on site inspections, though in January it announced another £400,000 a year for research.

“The government blames poor beekeeping,” says Lovett. “But there is absolutely no reason to suppose that standards in the last few years have got worse. On the contrary, they have got better because beekeepers are aware of the problems.” The BBKA argues that effective research into prophylactics and treatments for bee disease would cost £8m over five years — which, given the economic returns from improved crop yields and the knock-on benefits of jobs and taxation on profit, has all the hallmarks of a bargain. But nothing is certain. The economic cavalry may or may not arrive before the last honeybee flops onto its back, and it may or may not do the trick if it does.

With bumblebees the situation is even worse. Beyond their inclusion in the Biodiversity Action Plan, where they are just seven among 1,149 listed species ranging from mosses to whales, the government offers no direct funding for their protection. Artificial nitrogen fertilisers mean there is no need for the old-fashioned rotation crops, most importantly clover, that they used to forage on, and herbicides have eliminated most of the wild alternatives. Their nesting sites have gone too. Some species live in dense grass above ground; others prefer underground cavities — typically abandoned rodents’ nests. The removal of hedgerows and unploughed field margins has put paid directly to the upstairs bees and indirectly to the downstairs ones by starving out the voles and mice that create their homes. Any that do find nesting places are likely to have them smashed by farm machinery or zonked by pesticides.

Even that is not the end of it. Many surviving populations of bumblebees are small and isolated. This results in inbreeding, which weakens the gene pool and increases the threat of extinction. Goulson reports that the highly virulent small hive beetle, Aethina tumida, whose larvae have devastated tens of thousands of honeybee colonies in the US and Canada, has spread into bumblebee nests, along with deformed-wing virus (which has the effect implicit in its name and is carried by mites). The small hive beetle has not yet appeared in the UK but it has reached other parts of Europe, and its transmission here via imported bees is a matter of “when”, not “if”.

Good news? There is a little. Government subsidies are available to farmers who replant hedgerows, restore grassland or sow wildflower strips. This is for “biodiversity”, but bees will get some benefit. But it is nowhere near enough. “Most bumblebees,” says Goulson, “cannot be conserved by managing small protected islands of habitat within a sea of intensively farmed land. Large areas of suitable habitat are needed to support viable populations in the long term.”

If the worst happens and Lord Rooker’s requiem for the honeybee reaches its solemn conclusion some time around 2017, the burden of responsibility heaped upon the bumblebee will be unsupportable. Bookmakers would give very long odds against the survival of long-tongued bumblebees and the plants that depend on them, and even longer odds against their short-tongued cousins filling the void left by honeybees. Given that a bumblebee nest contains only a few hundred insects, while a honeybee hive contains thousands, it would require a population explosion on the scale of a biblical plague.

Already, says Goulson, crop yields are beginning to suffer. Bald spots are appearing at the centres of bean fields where bumblebees are failing to penetrate. As in so many other aspects of global life, it is China that lights the way ahead. In Sichuan province, the most important crop is pears, which depend on pollination by bees. But there are no bees. A blunderbuss approach to pesticides has all but wiped them out. Result: thousands of villagers have to turn out with paintbrushes to pollinate the trees by hand. “It’s just about possible in a country where labour is cheap,” says Goulson, “but it wouldn’t work in Europe.”

Bombus terrestris meanwhile chugs happily along the Channel coast, following its scrambled instincts and ignoring the calendar. Not since the sirens tempted Odysseus has a mellifluous sound raised such a lethal echo.

Full article and photo:

Latin America’s Quiet Revolution

An unprecedented political and economic transformation is under way in most of the region

The Mexican government is locked in a vicious war against powerful drug cartels which assassinate public officials seemingly at will. Bolivian President Evo Morales’s constitutional rewrites threaten to push the country toward civil war. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez persecutes his political opposition, supports the FARC rebels in Colombia and is training a civilian militia supposedly designed to defend against an impending U.S. invasion.

A report by the U.S. Joint Forces Command released earlier this month calls Mexico a potential failing state, likening it to Pakistan. This assessment is particularly striking in light of the $400 million per year that the United States provides in military and security assistance to Mexico. It also adds urgency to the U.S. government’s plans to complete a 700-mile-long border fence and dramatically expand the number of Border Patrol agents, to over 20,000 by the end of 2009 from 11,000 in 2004 — both of which have opened a rift between Washington and Mexico City. Our relationship to Venezuela is even more strained. In 2004 the Bush administration refused to continue our policy of selling military hardware and spare parts to the Venezuelans, prompting the Chávez government to not only purchase fighter-bombers, helicopters and 100,000 assault rifles from Russia, but to invite the Russian navy for joint naval maneuvers.

[Venezuela's President Hugo Ch[aacute]vez.]

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez.

It is no mystery why so many people think that Latin America is plunging headlong into chaos. There is, of course, a group of troubled countries that includes Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador and Nicaragua. The governments in these countries are hostile to the U.S., and act arbitrarily against their own citizens. What is taking place in these countries is not, however, a departure from a gloried past of rule of law, strong property rights and economic success. Rather, it is a continuation of a long history of mismanagement, overlaid with a thin patina of anti-imperialist rhetoric.

Most of Latin America is, however, undergoing a period of unprecedented political and economic transformation. In Chile, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Panama, the Dominican Republic and, yes, Mexico — which is most decidedly not a failing state — there has been a quiet but substantial movement toward the creation of societies that are characterized by increased economic opportunity, social mobility and political democracy. This is not to say that Brazilians have achieved the same standard of living as the Dutch, or that the rule of law operates in Mexico as it does in Canada. It is to say, however, that these countries have undertaken a series of economic and political reforms that make them vastly different places than they were two decades ago.

The most obvious manifestations of this change are sound macroeconomic policies that have held down inflation, opened markets and encouraged investment, but these policies are often undergirded by changes in much deeper institutions, such as electoral rules that give rise to governments with centrist agendas or constitutional amendments that provide for independent central banks.

Chile provides perhaps the most obvious example of a country that has been undergoing dramatic changes — and its success has served as a model for the rest of the region. Beginning in the 1970s, a series of reforms reshaped the economic playing field. Analysts often point to Chile’s sound macroeconomic policies — and rightly so. But these policies are the result of parliamentary rules that create incentives for legislators to converge on balanced budgets and of electoral rules that favor the two largest parties — one of which is center-right and the other center-left, thereby minimizing the probability of a return to populist economic policies.


Chilean President Michelle Bachelet delivers her annual message to the nation at the National Congress in 2007.

Other institutional reforms changed the nature of regulation and the enforceability of property rights. Under the Chilean constitution, the government can only expropriate private property if Congress enacts a specific law, and even then compensation must be paid in cash at market prices; all economic activities are legal, unless Congress passes specific laws regulating them; and citizens can protect themselves from arbitrary government actions that reduce their rights to life, liberty and property by obtaining an injunction from an appellate court — in which they need not be represented by legal counsel. Chilean gross domestic product per capita has doubled over the past 18 years, the fastest sustained expansion in the country’s history. Poverty rates have fallen precipitously. Young Chileans from humble families are attending college and buying homes. Indeed, Chile has a homeownership rate roughly equal to that of the United States, about 70%.

Mexico provides a similar example. From 1929 to 2000 a single party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), monopolized political power. After decades of corruption, economic mismanagement and arbitrary actions against the property rights of citizens — which included the expropriation of the entire banking system — the PRI was finally forced from power in 2000, when voters elected Vicente Fox, the presidential candidate of the center-right National Action Party (PAN). Voters again elected a PAN candidate, Felipe Calderón, in 2006.

Since 2000, PAN governments have enacted reforms that have enhanced the rule of law by establishing the legal principle of innocent until proven guilty, mandated government transparency through a freedom of information act, eased access to credit by increasing competition in financial services and encouraged homeownership via reforms to contract and banking law. Some sense of Mexico’s transformation can be gleaned from one fact: In order to run competitively in the 2006 election, leftist Andres Manuel López Obrador had to jettison most of his left-wing stances during the campaign in order to be competitive with the PAN — and he lost anyway.

[Felipe Calderon, president of Mexico, whose PAN party has introduced many reforms since 2000.]

Felipe Calderón, president of Mexico, whose PAN party has introduced many reforms since 2000.

Many of Mexico’s reforms are of a variety that only a CPA might find exciting. Not surprisingly, they have gone unnoticed in the foreign press. A 2001 reform allows banks to write mortgage contracts as bilateral trusts, in which the bank is both trustee and beneficiary, instead of as liens on property. This new form of contract means that a mortgagee can no longer default on a loan and prevent repossession for years on end by using the country’s notoriously inefficient bankruptcy courts, because the assets being collateralized are held by the trust and are not part of an individual’s bankruptcy estate. As a result, banks are more likely to make housing loans in the first place. Coupled to additional reforms that created a system of private housing accounts financed by payroll taxes, and that created a federal mortgage society that operates in a manner similar to Fannie Mae, homeownership has been placed within reach of millions of Mexican families.

Recent reforms have also encouraged competition in financial services. As a first step, the government allocated charters to nonbank financial intermediaries that could make housing and automobile loans. As a second step, it granted bank charters to retail giants, including American-owned Wal-Mart, thereby allowing families of modest means to open accounts and obtain credit to finance the purchase of consumer goods. The bottom line: Living standards, as measured by infant mortality rates, life expectancy and years of education, have all improved in Mexico over the past decade.

The Mexican state is weak when compared to the U.S., but incredibly strong when compared to places in Central Asia or Africa that are usually called failing states. There are no foreign troops on Mexican soil. There is no martial law. Garbage is picked up, streets are swept and children go to school. Middle-class couples take weekend getaways, and drive there on highways as good as those in the United States. After falling for a decade, Mexico’s homicide rate increased in 2008, because the Calderón government courageously decided to take on the drug traffickers. If it keeps rising, it may soon be as high as that of…Louisiana.

costa rica

People strolling in San José, Costa Rica.

Chile and Mexico are not isolated cases. Recent Brazilian governments have brought an end to the country’s long history of hyper-inflation, privatized inefficient and corrupt state-owned banks and created a social welfare system based on the premise that families can only obtain public assistance if they keep their children in school. In Peru, recent governments have not only practiced sound economic and fiscal policies, they have taken the advice of reform-minded economists like Hernando de Soto seriously, granting title to some 1.2 million poor families between 1988 and 1995. The country has grown at better than 6% per year over the past decade.

The quiet nature of the changes occurring in most of the region tend to be lost among the din created by bombastic leaders such as Bolivia’s Mr. Morales and Venezuela’s Mr. Chávez, and to a lesser extent by Argentina’s Cristina Fernández, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega. These leaders do not represent a break with a mythic past of strong private property rights, government accountability and sound economic policies. The 20th-century history of all five countries was characterized by fiscal profligacy and property expropriations.

Argentina’s Ms. Fernández is a case in point. For all her ability to make headlines by pronouncing her friendship with Mr. Chávez, she is not very radical by Argentine standards. Her predecessors partially expropriated the bank deposits of Argentine citizens — on two different occasions within an 11-year period. Thus, her recent nationalization of the pension funds of millions of Argentines a new twist on an old story.


A street scene in Valparaiso, Chile. Chile has undergone dramatic changes recently, including a series of economic reforms.

Mr. Chávez’s expropriations of domestic and foreign companies, as well as Chavista seizures of farm land and urban real estate, are also making a bad situation worse. Venezuela should have been a major beneficiary of the oil price hikes that began in 1973, but systematic mismanagement meant that, during the two decades preceding Mr. Chávez’s election in 1998, Venezuelan per capita GDP actually shrank by a staggering 21%.

Seen in this light, Mr. Chávez’s rise to power is easily understood. His regime is based on a simple principle: direct oil revenues toward the creation of public employment, subsidized food and other policies that benefit the country’s poor, who, in turn, provide him with electoral support. Indeed, the civil militias he has created have nothing to do with defending the country against a foreign invasion, and everything to do with putting $50 per month in the pocket of an unemployed young voter.

Every country in the region is now being hit by falling commodities prices and the contraction of credit. The economic and institutional modernizers have sound economic fundamentals and popular political support. That will not make them immune from calls from some quarters to return to populism — and to cover that populism with anti-imperialist rhetoric and anti-American foreign policies. If that happens, we will have a difficult time stemming drug trafficking and combating terrorism. These economic and institutional modernizers are our natural partners; we need to be able to offer them more than border fences and platitudes about free trade. They will likely need technical and financial assistance — and it is in our national security interest that they receive it.


Mexico City’s Stock Exchange Building.

The countries that have chosen leaders who think that bombast is a substitute for property rights are going to find that they have painted themselves into very tight corners. The most bombastic, Mr. Chávez, will, in fact, find himself in the tightest corner of all. He has created a set of powerful expectations among Venezuela’s poor that were difficult to satisfy even when oil prices seemed to have no end in sight. Now, as oil prices collapse, the mismatch between what his constituents have come to expect and what he can deliver grows larger by the week. In the short run, he has two options: print money or curtail imports. The outcome of both policies will be observationally equivalent: the very group that provides him with electoral support, Venezuela’s poor, will see its standard of living fall dramatically.

If the history of Latin America’s earlier populist regimes is any guide, the end will be predictable. As his base of support erodes, Mr. Chávez will be forced to increase repression, but that requires the absolute loyalty of the armed forces, something that he does not have. Mr. Chávez’s situation, along with the deteriorating political futures of other populists, most particularly Ms. Fernández, is not lost on political elites in the rest of the region. They are, in short, becoming far less consequential to the rest of Latin America — and to us.

Stephen Haber is a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution and a professor of political science at Stanford University.


Full article and photos:

Hijacked on the High Seas


A French sailor aboard the navy frigate Jean de Vienne guards merchant ships against pirates near the coast of Somalia.

When Somali Pirates Attacked, They Kicked Off 56 Days of Drama Over the Fate of a Ship and 28 Crewmen

A few hours after dawn on the Friday after Thanksgiving, a speedboat carrying five men with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades raced toward a massive tanker in the Gulf of Aden. They fired at the ship as they approached, denting the hull.

The skinny, barefoot men wearing T-shirts and shorts hitched an aluminum ladder to the railing and scampered up to the deck. They shot through a window of the bridge, which the crew had locked. The ship’s captain hit the distress button.

At 12:05 a.m. that day, James Christodoulou awoke to the ringing of the bedside phone in his New Jersey apartment. Pirates had captured his company’s tanker, the MV Biscaglia, a company security official told him.

“Say that again?” Mr. Christodoulou replied.

The news thrust the 48-year-old chief executive of Industrial Shipping Enterprises Corp., a tiny Stamford, Conn.-based company, and the crew of 28 men onto the front lines of a rash of piracy targeted at huge ships sailing off the coast of Somalia en route to the Suez Canal.

ChritodoululJames Christodoulou, the owner of the Biscagilia which was captured in the Gulf of Aden by Somali pirates two months ago greets Karan Dinesh Sharma

For the next 56 days, the ship’s crew of Indians and Bangladeshis were held by armed Somali pirates. Mr. Christodoulou talked daily by phone with Somali negotiators demanding a hefty ransom. He traveled to India to beg the grandmother of one of his crewmen to end a hunger strike she had begun to protest the hijacking.

During the ordeal, he befriended a competing ship owner whose vessel also had been hijacked. That friendship played a crucial role in Mr. Christodoulou’s efforts to raise a $1 million-plus ransom, which was dropped last week in a watertight container into the ocean to secure the release of his crew and ship.

On Friday, the ship’s crew members were reunited with their families at Mumbai’s international airport, all of them safe. What they and Mr. Christodoulou have lived through since late November offers a rare glimpse into the machinations of modern-day piracy on the high seas, and shows how Somali pirates have turned hijacking international vessels into a well-calibrated and lucrative business.

The coast off Somalia has become a hotbed of piracy as the Somalian state has collapsed, offering safe haven for pirates targeting the nearby Gulf of Aden, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Some 18,000 ships sail through the gulf every year, delivering Saudi oil and China-made iPods to Europe and Porsches to Dubai and French wine to China. Over the past year, as the attacks succeeded and ransoms were paid, “it turned into a rampage,” says Michael Howlett, division director of the London-based International Maritime Bureau, a monitoring group that tracks piracy.

World-wide, there were 293 incidents of piracy in 2008, up 11% from 2007, according to the IMB. There were 889 crew members taken hostage, another 32 were hurt, 11 killed and 21 reported missing, probably dead. In the Gulf of Aden alone, there were 50 attacks in the last three months of 2008, though in many cases the assaults were repelled. In all of 2008, 32 vessels were hijacked in the gulf, compared to one in 2007, according to the IMB.

Officials from various governments have criticized shipping companies for paying ransoms, which are often covered by insurance companies, arguing that they encourage further hostage taking. Shipping-company executives respond that while they don’t approve of the process, they have little choice. So far, experts estimate, tens of millions of dollars in ransoms have been paid in Somali hijackings.

Because the Gulf of Aden is in international waters, it doesn’t fall under any one country’s jurisdiction to police. Moreover, ships often are owned by a company in one country, registered in another, with a crew from somewhere else, so it’s difficult to determine whose responsibility it is to protect them.

Last summer, the United Nations passed a resolution authorizing force against Gulf of Aden pirates. In December, the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization deployed seven ships to patrol the Gulf. Twenty warships from 14 countries are now there, according to the IMB. Every merchant ship is given a recommended route, near a military escort. Nevertheless, there have been 17 attacks and three hijackings in January.

Mr. Christodoulou, a shipping-company veteran, was well aware of the dangers that lay in the gulf. In November, he considered routing his 27,300-ton, double-hull tanker around Africa instead of through the gulf as it sailed from Indonesia to Spain with 25,000 tons of palm oil.

But the global financial crisis has caused cargo rates to plunge. Re-routing the ship around Africa would have added two weeks and cost his firm an extra $250,000, which was unaffordable, Mr. Christodoulou said in an interview Friday. He also figured that, despite the increase in piracy, less than 1% of vessels in the gulf are hijacked.

Instead, he hired three unarmed security guards, at a cost of $25,000, and directed his ship to follow a convoy being guarded by a French navy ship. But as the convoy proceeded through the gulf, the Biscaglia, traveling at 13 knots, fell behind.

By the time the pirates struck, the French ship was two hours away, says a spokesman for the French armed forces, who adds that the French had not been assigned to guard the Biscaglia.

The captain’s distress signal alerted the tanker’s owners and the military in the area. Then the captain capitulated to the armed men. “Everybody, come to the bridge and show yourselves,” he called out to his crew, the crewmen recall.

Crew member Asif Azam Khan, 28 years old, says he emerged from below deck with his arms above his head. The other crewmen also came out of hiding. The Somalis led them into the wheelhouse, where they would eat, sit and sleep for their entire captivity, the crewmen say.

A few minutes later, French and German helicopters appeared overhead. Two Somalis trained their weapons on Hanif Kapade, the ship’s chief engineer, and the ship’s captain, both of whom were in the wheelhouse. Other Somalis pulled two crewmen onto the deck and pointed guns at them, signaling they would shoot if the helicopters attacked, recalls Mr. Kapade.

As the helicopters hovered, distracting the Somalis, the three unarmed security guards, who were British, jumped overboard, several crewmen say. They were later rescued.

Once the helicopters retreated, the Somalis tried to reassure the terrified crew they wouldn’t be hurt.

“No problems. We want only money, money, money,” one of the attackers said, gesturing as if counting money with his hand, recalls Mr. Khan.

The Somalis directed the crew to steer the ship south, the crewmen say. Over the next two days, the assailants changed their destination several times. They finally dropped anchor a few miles off a deserted, sandy stretch of Somali coast.

At home in Hoboken, N.J., Mr. Christodoulou decided to take on the role of intermediary. He pretended to the pirates that he was a midlevel employee assisting his boss. He bought a new Motorola phone and taped the handwritten name “Gus” on top — a reminder that he should answer by that pseudonym.

On Dec. 4, a fax arrived on his computer.

“Mr. Gus First Greetings From US,” began the ransom note, written by hand in capital letters. The note outlined demands.

Mr. Christodoulou declines to disclose the exact ransom they demanded, for fear of jeopardizing negotiations by other vessel owners. He says it was less than $10 million. “Received your fax,” Mr. Christodoulou wrote back. “Please call between 1800 and 1900 GMT.”

That evening, Mr. Christodoulou and three others — a media adviser, a lawyer and a piracy expert from a crisis management company — sat around a table at the Sheraton Suites Hotel in Weehawken, N.J., waiting for the call.

Late that evening, the phone rang. The four men froze. Then Mr. Christodoulou lunged for it. In his haste, he dropped it. A few minutes later, it rang again.

“This is Gus,” he answered.

“We have your ship,” said a distant voice muffled by static, Mr. Christodoulou recalls. It was a negotiator for the pirates. “We want money for the safe release of the ship.”

“First let me ask: How are the crew?” Mr. Christodoulou responded, in a dialogue he had practiced in his head many times in the preceding days. “Are they eating? Are they sleeping? Are they safe?”

“They are all very fine, Mr. Gus,” came the polite reply.

Mr. Christodoulou says he thought about how the doctors and nurses at the hospital where his elderly mother had once stayed seemed to appreciate his questions about their well-being. So he asked the same of the captors in a bid to build a trust.

“How are the Somali gentlemen?” he asked. “Do they need any medical care?”

“No, Mr. Gus. All good. The Somali gentlemen just need money,” said the negotiator in a matter-of-fact tone.

They agree to talk again the next day.

In India and Bangladesh, the families of the crewmen were trying to come to grips with the news.

Rashmi Sharma, mother of Karan Sharma, a 20-year-old crew member on his first voyage, heard the news from an officer from Ishima International Shipmanagement. The Singapore firm provides technical support to cargo ships. The official assured her that Karan was safe and being fed. “I felt like the ground shook,” Mrs. Sharma says, speaking in Hindi.

As days went by, the crewmen on the Biscaglia settled into a routine. They spent their days on the floor in wheelhouse. Breakfast was corn flakes with milk, at about 10 a.m. Dinner was curry made from goats that the Somalis brought by speedboat every few days.

Back in New Jersey, the negotiations were progressing slowly — something Mr. Christodoulou was told to expect, because the average hijacking lasts about 60 days.

Mr. Christodoulou made an initial offer, which he declines to reveal. The Somali negotiators — first a man named Hussein, then another who called himself Abbas — took the offer to the pirates. They called back the next day with a response.

“Hey Mr. Gus, the Somali gentlemen say the money is very less,” Abbas said, according to Mr. Christodoulou. “They need more money.”

Mr. Christodoulou didn’t budge. The Somalis needed to feel they had squeezed every dollar out of the ship’s owners, he had been advised, so he shouldn’t increase his offer early.

“We want you to get the money and move onto another project,” Mr. Christodoulou recalls saying. “But you have to understand, we have our limitations.”

The conversations continued daily through December, with little progress. By the end of the month, the families in India were feeling desperate.

Karan Sharma’s grandmother, 76-year-old Savitri, began a hunger strike. “I couldn’t bear to eat anything knowing my Karan was in grave danger,” she said.

Tom Rozycki, Mr. Christodoulou’s public-relations adviser, says he decided a new approach was needed to keep the families hopeful — and away from the media. Publicity could empower the captors and delay the hostages’ release, he believed. It would also be embarrassing for the company, making it even more difficult to face the families.

On Jan. 6, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel near Mumbai’s international airport, Mr. Christodoulou met with the families of the crewmen.

Seeing Mr. Sharma’s hunger-striking grandmother in the front row, he knelt beside her and held her hand. “Granny, your grandson is going to get out. And we want him to get out and come back to the healthy loving family that he left,” he said, according to Mrs. Sharma and Mr. Christodoulou. That night, Mrs. Sharma ate some strawberry ice cream, her son recalls.

By mid-January, the pirates on the Biscaglia were growing frustrated. “They told us they were going to take us off the ship and hide us in the mountains,” Mr. Khan, the crewman, says. The pirates gave him and the others a mobile phone to call home. “We all told our families that unless the company gave more money, we would be killed,” Mr. Khan says.

Mr. Kapade, the chief engineer, says he realized the pirates were trying to pressure the company by terrifying the crew. When he spoke to his wife on Jan. 14, he lowered his voice and spoke in Hindi. “Pass on to others that we’re fine,” he whispered.

By then, Mr. Christodoulou says, he thought it was time to raise his offer. He declines to say what he offered, but says it was close to what he thought the Somalis would accept based on the range provided to him by experts: $700,000 to $3 million.

He set about trying to raise the money. He approached his own company’s biggest investor, Regent Private Capital LLC, a private-equity firm based in Tulsa, Okla. Lawrence Field, Regent Private Capital’s managing director, declined to discuss the conversation with Mr. Christodoulou. “Regent does not negotiate with terrorists or pirates or any kind of criminal,” he said on Friday.

That evening, Mr. Christodoulou called Per Gullestrup, the Danish chief executive officer of Clipper A/S, a larger competitor in the chemical-transport industry. The two men hadn’t known one another until both had vessels hijacked by Somalis. They had often commiserated.

Mr. Christodoulou told Mr. Gullestrup he was struggling to raise the funds. A few days later, Mr. Gullestrup called back. “We’d be happy to advance the money if that’s what it takes,” he said. That promise allowed Mr. Christodoulou to secure a loan for the purpose.

Buoyed by that success, Mr. Christodoulou decided to apply some pressure. He raised his offer slightly, he says, and told the negotiator: “You have 24 hours to accept this offer, or we have to retract it.”

Over the next 24 hours, the two sides exchanged at least 20 phone calls. “Mr. Gus, this isn’t enough money for the Somali gentlemen,” the negotiator said several times, according to Mr. Christodoulou.

The next day, Mr. Christodoulou went a little higher, he says. At 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 16, Abbas called back: “The Somalis accept your offer. Thank you very much. It’s really been a pleasure to work with you on this project.”

On Thursday, Jan. 22, Clipper sent a plane to London to pick up an 80-pound airtight container stuffed with new, $100 bills totaling more than $1 million. The container was transferred to another plane that specializes in airdrops in the Gulf of Aden.

The Biscaglia crewmen, having washed their faces and put on fresh clothes, followed the pirates’ directions to wait together in the ship’s smoke room.

Overhead, the pilot dropped the container, via parachute, into the ocean. The Somalis retrieved it in the speed boat, brought it aboard to count and divide, then returned to the room where the crew was waiting.

“You guys are free,” the head pirate said, speaking in Arabic, according to Mr. Khan. “You won’t be harmed. We’re leaving.”

Then the pirates escaped.

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Law Like Love

Law, say the gardeners, is the sun,
Law is the one
All gardeners obey
To-morrow, yesterday, to-day.

Law is the wisdom of the old,
The impotent grandfathers feebly scold;
The grandchildren put out a treble tongue,
Law is the senses of the young.

Law, says the priest with a priestly look,
Expounding to an unpriestly people,
Law is the words in my priestly book,
Law is my pulpit and my steeple.

Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose,
Speaking clearly and most severely,
Law is as I’ve told you before,
Law is as you know I suppose,
Law is but let me explain it once more,
Law is The Law.

Yet law-abiding scholars write:
Law is neither wrong nor right,
Law is only crimes
Punished by places and by times,
Law is the clothes men wear
Anytime, anywhere,
Law is Good morning and Good night.

Others say, Law is our Fate;
Others say, Law is our State;
Others say, others say
Law is no more,
Law has gone away.

And always the loud angry crowd,
Very angry and very loud,
Law is We,
And always the soft idiot softly Me.

If we, dear, know we know no more
Than they about the Law,
If I no more than you
Know what we should and should not do
Except that all agree
Gladly or miserably
That the Law is
And that all know this
If therefore thinking it absurd
To identify Law with some other word,
Unlike so many men
I cannot say Law is again,

No more than they can we suppress
The universal wish to guess
Or slip out of our own position
Into an unconcerned condition.
Although I can at least confine
Your vanity and mine
To stating timidly
A timid similarity,
We shall boast anyway:
Like love I say.

Like love we don’t know where or why,
Like love we can’t compel or fly,
Like love we often weep,
Like love we seldom keep


W.H. Auden