US space shuttle computer sabotaged: NASA

A computer due to be installed on the US space shuttle Endeavour for an August mission was found sabotaged, NASA said on Thursday, the latest in a string of shocks concerning the US space agency.

"One of our subcontractors noticed that a network box for the shuttle had appeared to be tampered with," NASA spokeswoman Katherine Trinidad told AFP. "It is intentional damage to hardware."

Endeavour is due to be launched on August 7 with seven crew members on board from the NASA base at Cape Canaveral in Florida , for a mission to continue construction of the International Space Station , a manned orbiting laboratory.

The workers who discovered the damage to the computer equipment intended for Endeavour notified NASA "several days ago," Trinidad said. "There is an ongoing investigation."

Safety is a major concern in US shuttle missions after damage sustained by the Columbia craft on launching caused it to break up on re-entry in February 2003, killing all seven astronauts on board.

"The tampering occurred at a subcontractor's facility and not while the unit was at the Kennedy Space Center ," NASA's Cape Canaveral base, Trinidad said of the damage to the Endeavour equipment.

She gave no details of who the subcontractors were nor exactly where the damage was.

"What we are trying to do now is repair that unit and try and fly it when possible."

The shuttle Atlantis successfully completed a mission to the station in June, a welcome bit of good news for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) after several embarrassing incidents in recent months.

In February astronaut Lisa Nowak, a former crew member on the shuttle Discovery, was arrested, accused of a bizarre attempt to kidnap a love rival. NASA fired her in March.

Then in April, a NASA contractor Bill Phillips managed to sneak a revolver past security at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and barricaded himself inside a building at the sprawling campus, police said.

He duct-taped a female co-worker to a chair and shot a male colleague dead before turning the gun on himself.

Also on Thursday, the trade magazine Aviation Week Space Technology citing an internal NASA panel said that astronauts had been allowed to fly spacecraft while drunk. A NASA spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

The agency also faced political bother in May when NASA chief Michael Griffin drew fire for comments on the hot topic of harmful climate change. He publicly questioned the need to tackle global warming.

The successful Atlantis mission, meanwhile, was initially delayed by three months because the shuttle's external fuel tank was damaged during a freak hail storm as it stood on its launch pad.

The delay forced NASA to cut the number of planned shuttle flights this year from five to four.

On the August mission, astronauts are to deliver a giant truss to be attached to the ISS, along with an external stowage platform and a Spacehab module -- a pressurized cargo carrier.

Strategies For Maintaining Peace In The Niger Delta Region Of Nigeria


The Niger Delta, an area of dense mangrove rainforest in the southern tip of Nigeria, comprises nine of Nigeria's thirty-six states: Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo, and Rivers. The region's oil accounts for approximately 90 percent of the value of Nigeria's exports, but the Niger Delta remains one of Nigeria's least developed regions.

Conflict, present in the region for many years, began to surge appreciably in the late 1990s. Consequently, in 2000, the government of the former president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Olusegun Obasanjo created the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to help end the violence and spur socio-economic development. Still, during and after the run-up to the 2003 presidential election, violence between rival militia groups and against the oil corporations increased considerably. Facilitated by poverty, political disenfranchisement, and the easy availability of firearms, armed groups fought each other over the control of illegally acquired oil and engaged in violent acts against oil companies, such as kidnapping key officials of the oil companies(especially expatriates).


Efforts of successive administrations to correct these anomalies translated to minor successes. The Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission, OMPADEC, was to ensure development got to the oil producing States. The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), given the promises that preceded its birth has not made the type of impact people in the region expected. The same politics and greed that have always placed the interests of a tiny few above the people, hijacked NDDC from inception. AFTER decades of obvious official neglect, it is heart-warming that a Niger Delta Regional Development master plan to be supervised by Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, has been drawn up. The development plan with a duration of 15 years is to gulp $50 billion (about N6.4 trillion).

The master-plan is a comprehensive analysis of the life development imperatives, challenges and opportunities in the Niger Delta which puts into perspective the economic growth; human and community needs, institutional development, physical infrastructure and natural environment of the region.


Nothing should be allowed to stall the successful implementation of the master plan. The funding has been spelt out in the 2000 NDDC Act as follows - Ecological Fund 50 per cent; Federal Government 15 per cent; oil and gas industry three per cent; and 29 per cent from other sources. Proper development of the Niger Delta region would create more global economic opportunities in the area, stable oil and gas prices, which means more income for the government, in addition to the most needed peace.

All parties involved in the implementation of the master plan should do their best to provide the resources to remove the blight that the Niger Delta has become. Government has to provide leadership in this direction. In view of this, the partnership between one of Nigeria’s foremost banks, the United Bank for Africa Plc and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in order to ensure the success of the Master Plan should be commended.

The success of this task does not only rest on providing the necessary infrastructure for the socio-economic development of the people of the Niger-Delta, but the people themselves must be involved from the policy formulation stage. We must not assume that we know what the people need. That was the mistake made by past administrations at various levels of government and the organizers of the master plan must not allow their intervention and participation in this plan to go the same way.

The main focus of this work therefore will be to critically consider and discuss some key success management factors that may make or mar the success of the Master-Plan.


Before funds are deployed in respect of the Master Plan, the organizers should consider the following critical factors:

(a) The Niger Delta Peace and Security Strategy

The organizers, in working to ensure the success of the Master Plan should lay emphasis on linking peace and development—the same strategy adopted by the oil and gas companies in the region and one that complements the work of the NDDC. Concerted efforts should be made to determine how the skills of the armed groups can be harnessed for positive purposes. In this regard, a peace and security strategy to be formed by the organisers to aid the master plan, should target the corporate, media, governmental, international, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to address oil corporations' responsibility toward the Niger Delta.

It should also focus on mechanisms to reduce oil theft; media practices in reporting violence; reconciliation between groups; illegal arms importation; disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of militia groups; human capital development and employment/urban youth policies; early warning systems; money laundering; and good governance.

(b) Violence and Conflict Resolution Efforts in the Niger Delta

Previous governments largely ignored the Niger Delta, partly because its geography made it relatively inaccessible. The long period of military rule in Nigeria contributed to bad governance and corruption; and the burden for the provision of government services fell to oil and gas companies, which were ill equipped to supply water and electricity and maintain road networks. The scale of this neglect has been an important factor behind the violence in the Niger Delta, which is carried out by social groups or street gangs, referred to by many as "cults."

These groups—made up of youths from the Niger Delta —originated with the intention of offering physical protection and providing its members with an opportunity to meet people with similar ethnic or social identities. In time these groups (now known as Militants of the Niger Delta) acquired arms and also began to compete with each other over oil bunkering. The most recent violence in the Niger Delta grew out of the political campaigns in 2003. As they competed for office, politicians in Rivers State—a focal point of violence in 2003—manipulated the Niger Delta Vigilantes, led by Ateke Tom, and the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force, led by Alhaji Asari Dokubo. Exacerbating rivalries, political candidates used these groups to advance their aspirations —often rewarding gang members to commit acts of political violence and intimidation against their opponents. The conclusion of the 2003 electoral period did not end the violence. The Niger Delta Vigilantes and the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force continued to fight each other throughout 2004.

The hostilities peaked when over 300 commanders of the Ijaw ethnic group announced that if the government did not change conditions in the Niger Delta, they would take action against both the government and the oil installations. In September 2004, the former president Obasanjo invited Ateke Tom and Alhaji Asari Dokubo to the capital city of Nigeria, Abuja. And on October 1, 2004, a peace agreement was signed between the two groups. Following the peace agreement, various concerned groups worked with the Rivers State Government to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate members of the armed groups. More than 3,000 weapons were handed in and publicly destroyed.

In December 2004, the former combatants requested a reconciliation church service to acknowledge the violence they had inflicted. In January 2005, a camp was organized for the former combatants to help reorient and reintegrate them into society. A program beginning in February 2005 provided over 2,000 youths with technical skills and training. However, the program did not provide jobs for these youths after their training. Moreover, due to the lack of an overall strategy, a coordinating agency, and a community-based program, the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program was never completed. Thus the gains reaped in September and October 2004 gradually evaporated. Now, after the 2007 elections, many fear a resurgence of violence in the Niger Delta and worry that politicians may once again mobilize youths for political ends.

The threat of violence is exacerbated by international arms dealers who continue to find Nigeria a lucrative market and by neighboring African states that recruit Nigerians as mercenaries, creating a reservoir of people with the means and the motive to maintain a violent atmosphere.

(c) Human Capital Development and Employment/Urban Youth Policies:

Concerned that demobilization and disarmament may increase the amount of cult group and illegal activity, as former insurgents will not have options for employment, job creation strategies must be comprehensive. As such, human capital development and employment strategies pursued by the Peace and Security Working Group will include developing a profile of cults, such as incentives behind their formation, leadership, membership, and territory. Additionally, the Peace and Security Working Group, will work with oil and gas companies in the Niger Delta to develop leadership skills and the NDDC to create jobs.

As a priority, emphasis should be placed on finding economic opportunities for the youth of the Niger Delta. Below are some of the employment opportunities that can be extended to the people of Niger Delta:

- The government can look at the possibility of establishing a public works program; developing sectors outside of oil and gas, which are traditionally not labor-intensive industries; and special employment set-asides for the Niger Delta's residents.

- The Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) can be made to assume the responsibility to monitor that 25 percent of management positions and 67 percent of staff positions in the oil and gas companies go to those from the Niger Delta.

- Cleaning up the Niger Delta communities might also serve as a way to engage the youth and address the environmental damage by the oil industry.

(d) Corporate Responsibility:

Oil and gas corporations remain the target of grievances by local groups in the Niger Delta. A committee on corporate practices should be formed by the organizers of the Master Plan (although it may be chaired by the senior staff of NNPC) to examine the causes of conflict and corruption, how to increase corporate transparency, and how to more effectively enforce good policies. Oil companies and the government should be encouraged to increase transparency by instituting the "publish what you pay" system where the government reports all revenues received by oil corporations. Alternatively, they can initiate and monitor a Permanent Fund system—where residents receive an annual dividend from oil's proceeds—this can be adopted as a model for the Niger Delta to increase resource transparency.

(e) Reducing Oil Theft:

Oil theft is one of the major causes of conflict between rival armed groups as illegally acquired oil is sold on black markets for high profits. Indeed, as the price of oil increases, the loss to the state increases as well. For example, when oil stood at $20 per barrel, the Nigerian government lost $3.7 billion per year; when oil prices rose to $30 per barrel, the Nigerian government lost more that $6 billion annually. There should be a working group to coordinate efforts with local, state, and federal authorities to understand the factors that facilitate oil theft. Focusing on the external markets, it will launch an international campaign against oil theft. However, the most effective strategy to stop the thievery should be to create alternative sources of income.

(f) Media Relations:

News reports play a large role in sensationalizing and thus exacerbating conflicts. Subsequently, part of the peace and security strategy is working with the media on how they report conflicts in the Niger Delta and ensuring that the media fully understands the purposes of the working group.

(g) Reconciliation Processes:

Initial reconciliation efforts will begin with the Ogoni conflict in Rivers State, which dates back to the mid 1990s. In time, this will serve as a model for settling grievances of other groups in the Niger Delta—demonstrating an alternative to violence as a means to settle disputes.

(h) Arms Importation:

The easy acquisition of small arms and light weapons in the Niger Delta undermines disarmament and demobilization efforts. There should be a Peace and Security Working Group working with local, state, federal, and international agencies, the Peace and Security Working Group will undertake efforts to reduce illegal arms importation; facilitate the exchange of information between relevant agencies; and review the accountability standards of local and international weapons' manufacturers. A particular focus will be to curb the illicit arms trade at the international level.

(i) Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration:

Previous attempts at disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration did not succeed due to the absence of a coordinating body and alternative employment possibilities. In this regard, the new government should plan a more comprehensive approach that will address the incentives of groups to hold arms; implement "best practices" from successful programs; institute a process for destroying weapons; invite international observers to monitor disarmament processes; and ensure coordination between disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration efforts. In addition, the reintegration programs will include meaningful employment opportunities.

(j) Early Warning:

It is indeed necessary to design a system for early warning of conflict. Devising a comprehensive early warning system on impending violence will require the integration of local networks, investment in effective communication methods, building the capacity of governments and NGOs to respond to crises, and recruiting experts to design conflict analysis methods appropriate for the Niger Delta.

(k) Money Laundering:

Money laundering activities undermine the search for peace and the creation of legal markets in the Niger Delta. Thus, in coordination with international financial institutions, NGOs, and government agencies, the government should devise means to prevent money laundering in Nigeria and means to return money that has been stolen (as occurred with funds taken by former head of state, late General Sani Abacha). Senior government officials must be transparent in the handling and disbursement of such stolen monies.

In summary, previous governments in Nigeria had unsuccessfully tried to solve the Niger Delta problem mainly because they overlooked or ignored the above issues which are fundamental to the success of any peace and development programs in the area.


Russia warns UK over expulsions

The Kremlin has warned Britain it faces "serious consequences" after expelling four Russian diplomats from the UK.

The move followed Moscow's refusal to hand over the former KGB agent accused of murdering Alexander Litvinenko in London last year.

Suspect Andrei Lugovoi, who denies involvement, claimed the charges against him had a "political subtext".

But Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Britain would make "no apologies" for expelling the four Russians.

Mr Brown said that because "there is no forthcoming co-operation, then action has to be taken".

The Foreign Office has not named the four Russian diplomats, but the BBC understands they are intelligence officers.

'Absolutely clear'

The BBC's James Rodgers in Moscow said the expulsions would not go unanswered and that the two countries were "facing off" in way not seen since the end of the Cold War.

Moscow has warned that what it describes as "Russophobia" in British politics would damage British-Russian relations, he said. A statement from Moscow is expected later.

Mr Litvinenko, another former KGB agent, died of exposure to radioactive polonium-210 in London in November 2006.

The radioactive isotope used to poison him was found in several places that Mr Lugovoi had visited in London.

But Mr Lugovoi told Russian television that the outcome of the inquiry had been predetermined.

He said: "The British authorities have in effect emphasised yet again that the Litvinenko case actually has a political subtext.

"In all the eight months that this row has been developing in earnest, I have not received a single official invitation from the official British authorities, and all those statements that the investigation was carried out competently are lies."

Action 'necessary'

On a visit to Berlin on Monday, Mr Brown said: "When a murder takes place, when a number of innocent civilians were put at risk as a result of that murder, and when an independent prosecuting authority makes it absolutely clear what is in the interests of justice, and there is no forthcoming co-operation, then action has to be taken."

The prime minister added that he wanted a "good relationship" with Russia.

Russia's Foreign Ministry chief spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said: "London's position is immoral.

"Such provocative actions masterminded by the British authorities will not be left without an answer and cannot but entail the most serious consequences for Russian-British relations."

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitri Peskov said: "We don't want to be provoked into a ping-pong game, although of course the Russian side will provide a necessary response."

Mr Litvinenko's widow Marina said she was "very grateful" for the British government's actions and "proud to be a UK citizen".

Right to refuse

Under the European Convention on Extradition 1957, the Russians have the right to refuse the extradition of a citizen.

The UK has the right to request Mr Lugovoi be tried in Russia, but the UK's director of public prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald, has already turned down the offer.

The Conservative MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind was foreign secretary the last time Russian diplomats were expelled.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that it had always been unlikely that President Putin, himself a former KGB agent, would have allowed Mr Lugovoi's extradition.

"But you know it's important that the Russians, if they do choose to behave in this way... realise that there is a price and that price is the embarrassment, the inconvenience the difficulties caused by the expulsion of their diplomats," he said.

"Of course it will not produce the result we would ideally like, but it's important that the very, very deeply unsatisfactory nature of this event is well demonstrated."

The UK's director of public prosecutions has recommended Mr Lugovoi be tried for murder by "deliberate poisoning".

UN confirms N Korea nuclear halt

UN inspectors have verified the shutdown of North Korea's main nuclear reactor, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed.

Mohamed ElBaradei said the process of shutting the Yongbyon reactor was "a good step in the right direction".

The move is part of an deal agreed in February, in which Pyongyang pledged to disarm in exchange for fuel aid.

Analysts say that while the shutdown is important, it is just one stage in a long process to disable the reactor.

Speaking in the Thai capital, Bangkok, Mr ElBaradei said his 10-man team of experts - who arrived in North Korea on Saturday - had verified an earlier statement from Pyongyang confirming the shutdown.

"Our inspectors are there. They verified the shutting down of the reactor yesterday," he said.

The IAEA chief said that the next step was to verify the shutdown of other nuclear facilities and then disable them, something he warned would be "a complicated process".

"It's a very important step that we are taking this week, but it's a long way to go," Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

More aid

Under the terms of the disarmament agreement, struck in February after intense negotiations, Pyongyang is to receive 50,000 tons of fuel aid for shutting Yongbyon down, and another 950,000 tons for disabling all its nuclear facilities.

Last week it received its first shipment of fuel aid, and early on Monday a second shipment was dispatched, carrying 7,500 tons of fuel from South Korea's Ulsan port, bound for Nampo in North Korea.

Talks between representatives from the six countries involved in the deal - North Korea, Japan, China, Russia, the US and South Korea - are to resume this week in the Chinese capital, Beijing.

While the news of the shutdown is bound to be welcomed by the delegates at the talks, analysts know there is a long road ahead.

In the next phase, North Korea will need to declare all the nuclear material it already has, and confirm whether it has a uranium programme in addition to the plutonium produced at Yongbyon, correspondents say.

Persuading North Korea to disable the reactor completely, or give up any nuclear weapons it already has, may prove far more difficult than the initial shutdown, according to the BBC's Kevin Kim in Seoul.

Japan rocked by major earthquake

Damaged houses in Japan
The quake destroyed a number of houses in the area
A strong earthquake in north-western Japan has killed at least three people and injured more than 150.

The quake of preliminary magnitude 6.8 struck off the coast of Niigata, some 260km (160 miles) north-west of Tokyo, Japan's meteorological agency says.

A number of houses were damaged, and a fire started at the Kashiwazaki nuclear plant. But officials said there was no risk of a radiation leak.

Waves up to 50cm (20 inches) high were reported to have hit the coast.

The tremor also swayed buildings in Tokyo.

'I was so scared'

The earthquake hit the country at 0113 GMT, the meteorological agency says. The epicentre was about 60km (37 miles) south-west of Niigata.

Japan earthquake map

Some wooden buildings in the Niigata area collapsed, injuring and trapping more than 100 people, Japan's media said.

Black smoke was seen billowing from the Kashiwazaki nuclear power station, after a fire started at an electricity transformer building.

But the reactor - like several others - shut down automatically, and there was said to be no risk of any radiation leak.

One of the worst-hit areas appears to be the city of Kashiwazaki - close to the quake's epicentre.

"I was so scared - the violent shaking went on for 20 seconds. I almost fainted through fear of the shaking," local resident Ritei Wakatsuki told the Associated Press news agency.

Water and gas was cut off to the city's 35,000 households, and in Niigata 27,000 houses were without power.

TV picture of fire at Kashiwazaki reactor
A fire started in a building at the Kashiwazaki reactor

A tsunami warning was issued, but it was later lifted.

In Tokyo, buildings swayed and bullet train services were briefly suspended.

The government has set up a crisis management headquarters to deal with the impact of the tremor.

Earthquakes are common in Japan, which is situated in one of the world's most seismically active areas, and the country regularly holds safety drills.

In October 2004, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 struck Niigata, killing 65 people, and in 1995 a magnitude 7.2 tremor killed more than 6,400 in Kobe.

Most foreign insurgents in Iraq are Saudis: report

Most foreign fighters and suicide bombers in Iraq come from Saudi Arabia , despite attempts by US officials to portray Syria and Iran as the main culprits of violence, a US newspaper reported Sunday.

Citing an unnamed senior US military officer and Iraqi lawmakers, the Los Angeles Times newspaper said about 45 percent of all foreign militants targeting US troops and Iraqi security forces were from Saudi Arabia, 15 percent from Syria and Lebanon , and 10 percent from North Africa

Official US military figures made available to The Times also show that nearly half of the 135 foreigners in US detention facilities in Iraq are Saudis, the report said.

Fighters from Saudi Arabia are thought to have carried out more suicide bombings than those of any other nationality, the paper said.

The senior US officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said 50 percent of all Saudi fighters in Iraq come as suicide bombers, The Times pointed out.

The situation has left the US military in the awkward position of battling an enemy whose top source of foreign fighters is a key ally that at best has not been able to prevent its citizens from undertaking bloody attacks in Iraq, and at worst shares complicity in sending extremists to commit attacks against US forces, Iraqi civilians and the Shiite-led government in Baghdad , the paper said.

Bush administration accused of putting ideology above science

Testimony from President George W. Bush's former surgeon general last week has fueled charges that his administration has trumped science in favor of its political and religious ideologies.

The administration has been at loggerheads with scientists since it came to power in 2001 on issues ranging from stem cell research to global warming and the theory of evolution.

It stood accused again of putting ideology over science this week after the administration's former surgeon general charged that it deliberately quashed or downplayed several important health reports for political reasons.

Dr Richard Carmona, a Bush appointee who held the post as the country's chief health educator from 2002 to 2006, told a Congressional committee Tuesday that he was not authorized to discuss certain sensitive subjects in public.

They included embryonic stem-cell research, whose federal funding Bush restricted in 2001, the controversial morning-after pill and sex education.

Carmona admitted to lawmakers that when he had taken up his post he had been "still quite politically naive" but he was "astounded" by the "partisanship and political manipulation" he witnessed.

Health department spokesman Bill Hall rejected Carmona's accusations, saying: "It has always been this administration's position that public health policy should be rooted in sound science."

Michael Halpern, a member of the influential Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group, said scientists believe the Bush administration is the "worst" ever in terms of political interference and censure.

"Information inconvenient to the administration's priorities is sidelined," Halpern told AFP.

In 2004, the Union of Concerned Scientists organized a petition signed by more than 12,000 scientists, including 50 Nobel prize winners and former senior science advisers to several US presidents, to denounce political interference by the Bush administration.

"Scientists believe that political interference is unacceptable," the petition said.

"If our policy makers are going to make fully informed decisions about our health, safety, and environment, they need access to independent science," it said. "Reforms can and should be put in place to insulate science from politics."

The petition has apparently had little impact on the White House.

In 2006, NASA's top climate expert, James Hansen, accused the administration in a New York Times interview of pressuring him to censure his research on global warming, notably during the 2004 presidential campaign.

His charges were confirmed by other staffers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, leading Democrats as well as Bush's own Republicans in Congress to call for greater scientific transparency in the agency.

A NASA press official, George Deutsch, who was close to Bush's reelection campaign, was forced to resign after being accused by Hansen for barring journalists from interviewing him.

In his book "The Assault on Reason," former vice president Al Gore said that Deutsch, who has no scientific education or university diplomat, wrote a memo to scientists saying that the Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is an opinion."

"This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue," Deutsch wrote, according to Gore, the former Democratic candidate who lost the 2000 election to Bush.

New Populism Spurs Democrats on the Economy

On Capitol Hill and on the presidential campaign trail, Democrats are increasingly moving toward a full-throated populist critique of the current economy.

Clearly influenced by some of their most successful candidates in last year’s Congressional elections, Democrats are talking more and more about the anemic growth in American wages and the negative effects of trade and a globalized economy on American jobs and communities. They deplore what they call a growing gap between the middle class, which is struggling to adjust to a changing job market, and the affluent elites who have prospered in the new economy. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, calls it “trickle-down economics without the trickle.”

Populism is hardly new in the Democratic Party. Al Gore vowed to fight for “the people versus the powerful” in his presidential campaign seven years ago, and Republicans have long accused the Democrats of practicing “class warfare.”

But the latest populist resurgence is deeply rooted in a view that current economic conditions are difficult and deteriorating for many people, analysts say, and it is now framing debates over tax policy, education, trade, energy and health care. Last week, Senate Democrats held hearings on proposals to raise taxes on some of the highest fliers on Wall Street, the people at the top of private equity and hedge fund firms.

In the House, Representative Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the Financial Services Committee, convened party leaders and economists for a searching discussion of “globalization, outsourcing and the American worker — what should government do?” Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, offered the participants some blunt marching orders: “The American people want to know what we’re doing about their economic security.”

Their language, and to some degree their proposals, reflect a striking contrast with the approach taken by Democrats during much of the 1990s, when President Bill Clinton asserted that trade would create American jobs and that paying attention to the concerns of Wall Street would help the economy by lowering interest rates. The more populist tone is one indication of a broader debate among Democrats over economic policy and how much they should break with the careful centrism of the Clinton years embodied by Robert E. Rubin, the former treasury secretary, who was a champion of free trade and cutting deficits.

So far, Republicans have, by and large, stuck by their free-market philosophy. They point to a rebounding stock market, declining deficits and steady if unspectacular economic expansion as evidence that conservative policies of tax cutting, less regulation and more trade are working.

But Democrats say they are responding to economic trends that the statistics in the headlines do not capture, including middle-class insecurity about jobs, the affordability of health insurance and the costs of education. The times have changed, these Democrats argue, and six years of Republican tax and economic policies have heightened the inequities.

Even as Mrs. Clinton has sought to associate herself with the economic growth of her husband’s administration, she, like other Democratic presidential candidates, has been expressing a sharp skepticism toward trade and globalization under President Bush. In recent weeks she has announced her opposition to the proposed South Korean Free Trade Agreement and denounced globalization that “is working only for a few of us.” She accepted the endorsement of former Representative Richard A. Gephardt, who spent much of his political career fighting what he asserted were unfair trade agreements.

And Mrs. Clinton has increasingly focused on “rising inequality and rising pessimism in our work force,” and suggested that another progressive era is — and ought to be — at hand.

Former Senator John Edwards, another Democratic candidate, staked out similar positions months ago and regularly notes that in the last 20 years, “about half of America’s economic growth has gone to the top 1 percent.” Mr. Edwards praises recent efforts to raise taxes on private equity and hedge funds. His campaign manager, former Representative David E. Bonior, notes that Mr. Edwards has been sounding these themes since his first presidential campaign in 2004.

“John Edwards was there at the beginning of this,” Mr. Bonior said.

While campaigning in Iowa last week, Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, suggested that even those who followed the standard advice for coping with a globalized economy — get more education for higher-skilled jobs — were losing out.

“People were told, you’ve got to be trained for high-tech jobs,” Mr. Obama said, “and then it turned out that some of those high-tech jobs were being outsourced. And people were told, now you need to train for service jobs. And then it turned out the call centers were moving overseas.”

It is not unusual for candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination to move left in the primary season; Mr. Clinton himself touched on some of these populist themes in his 1992 campaign. But all the major Democratic candidates for president are promising to use government to ease the insecurity of the middle class, on issues like education and health care.

Sixteen months before the election, with their domestic platforms being formed, these candidates are proposing, for example, to let the Bush tax cuts expire for the most affluent Americans and, in some cases, redirect that money to expanded health care. On the campaign trail and in Congress, Democrats are also talking about expanding assistance for college and help for workers who lose their jobs to cheaper labor abroad.

Democrats have also been pushing for legislation that would allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare with the pharmaceutical industry, a favorite target of the economic populists.

Democratic leaders say that unless Congress restores the confidence of the middle class, it will be hard to sell Americans on more trade or even an immigration overhaul.

“I don’t think we’ll be able to do trade agreements, immigration reforms or any of these other kinds of reforms,” Ms. Pelosi said, “until we present a positive, aggressive economic agenda to the American people — until they know where they stand, now and in the future.”

Representative George Miller, the California Democrat who is chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor, said, “Trade may not be the reason, or the number one reason, they’re losing their jobs, but they think it is.”

Democratic leaders in the House recently announced that their legislative priorities did not include the renewal of the president’s “fast track” authority to negotiate new trade agreements, which expired this month. First, they said, they want to find ways “to expand the benefits of globalization to all Americans.”

There is anxiety on both left and right of the Democratic Party about this new populism. Many on the left worry that the Democratic establishment is merely paying lip service. They are skeptical about the party leaders’ loyalties, noting that many rely on huge contributions from Wall Street, and many have a long commitment to a free-trade agenda. Democratic leaders have, in fact, tried to advance some trade agreements this year, only to meet with substantial resistance within their caucus. Many of the new populists also see the Democratic establishment as far too cautious in confronting what they see as broad inequities in the tax code.

At the same time, centrist Democrats, like those at the research group the Third Way, worry that the party is veering left away from the optimistic, pro-growth, business-friendly policies that Mr. Clinton championed.

But many Democrats argue that this is an inevitable response to the dislocation and unease in much of the country, which was a crucial factor in the party’s victory in Congress last November. The case for populism is made most powerfully by the Democrats who were elected to Congress last fall. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who defeated a Republican incumbent with a sharp attack on the trade and economic policies of recent years, said he was convinced that the populists were on the rise. He noted that he carried Ohio by 12.5 percentage points and that John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, lost the state by only about 2 percentage points, and with it the presidency.

“That’s because of the economic populist message,” Mr. Brown said. “They voted minimum wage, they voted trade, they voted student loans, they voted health care and prescription drugs, over what their traditional conservative social values might suggest. And that’s the route to winning Ohio for Hillary or Barack or anybody else.”

Even Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, who is viewed as far too much of an establishment, free-trade Clintonian by many populists, says the party must respond. “The party that deals with globalization and economic security will win,” Mr. Emanuel said.

Pakistan militants end truce deal

Pro-Taleban militants in Pakistan's North Waziristan region say they have ended their truce with the government.

In a statement issued in Miranshah, the main town, the militants accused the government of breaking the agreement.

It came as Pakistan deployed more troops in the area fearing "holy war" after the storming of the militant Red Mosque last week that left 102 dead.

More than 50 Pakistanis, including soldiers and police recruits, have died in three attacks in the last two days.

Last September's truce ended two years of clashes and was aimed at stopping cross-border attacks into Afghanistan.

Growing tension

"We are ending the agreement today," the Taleban Shura or Council said in pamphlets distributed in Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan.


The council leaders released the statement Sunday amid growing tension in the area.

In a second consecutive day of violence on Sunday, at least 11 Pakistani soldiers - and three civilians - were killed in the Swat area of North West Frontier Province. Another 40 had been injured in Sunday's attack near the town of Matta, local police said.

In the city of Dera Ismail Khan, in the same province, at least 14 people died in a blast at a police recruitment centre. Dozens were wounded.

The area is well-known as a stronghold of pro-Taleban militants, they said.

On Saturday, a suicide attack on an army convoy near the village of Daznary, about 50km (30 miles) north of Miranshah, killed 24 and wounded at least 30.

There are fears the attacks could be linked to the storming of the Red Mosque.


The 102 dead there included 11 soldiers and an as yet unknown number of extremists and their hostages.

The government has sent thousands of new troops to the north-west fearing there could be a new "holy war" in revenge for the siege.

Many of the militants in the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) complex were thought to have come from the north-west.

President Pervez Musharraf last week vowed to root out extremists "from every corner of the country".

Emotional front line of US war in Iraq

(l-r) Marine First Staff Sgt Chad Bilyeu with Tammy and Steven Delle
Chad Bilyeu had to break the worst possible news to Mr and Mrs Delle
Nashville, Tennessee, is the cradle of country music, home of doleful ballads about love, faith and sacrifice.

Here, as elsewhere in the US, people worry about Iraq.

But unless they have sons or daughters serving there, most of them remain emotionally detached - and they never have to think about what the arrival of a marine in a white van means.

Marine First Staff Sergeant Chad Bilyeu is a delivery man of sorts. But with a knock on the door, what he delivers is the worst kind of news.

As a casualty information officer for the 3rd Battalion of the US Marine Corps, based in Nashville, he has the task of telling families that their son or daughter, brother or sister, has died.

He has now made 11 personal visits of this kind - one of them, a little over a year ago, to Tammy and Steven Delle.


The Delles live just outside Nashville, in a middle-class neighbourhood where patriotism can be measured by the height of the flagpoles.

Tammy's 20-year-old son David Bass, a marine corporal, had been in Iraq for six weeks on his first tour when Staff Sgt Bilyeu's white van pulled up outside the house at 1100 one day.

"When we show up in our vehicle and knock on this door, they know that it's not good news," says Staff Sgt Bilyeu.

Tammy was summoned downstairs. "When I came down there were three marines standing right there," she says, describing the moment a year later with tears in her eyes.

She knew immediately that it meant her son was dead, she says.

"I felt that somehow if I could go back up the stairs I could make it not be true."

Staff Sgt Bilyeu, a reserve officer, says: "Coming in and telling that news is definitely hard. I think it's the least that I can do for him and his family - and hopefully give that family some closure."

Since that first visit, he has also provided much-needed emotional and practical support to the family, becoming almost like a surrogate son in the process.

"I cannot imagine why anybody would want to do that job but I'm very grateful that he did and that someone with such compassion is doing that job," says Tammy.

"How these marines are so tough and they have to be able to do things that the rest of us can't imagine doing and then when they're here telling me my son died, they are so gentle."

'Care for their hearts'

Preparation for the role of casualty notification and casualty assistance officers starts with a sobering lecture in the cold light of a conference room.

Marines salute fallen comrades, Camp Pendleton (file picture)
More than 3,500 US troops have died since the 2003 invasion of Iraq

Michelle Spark, with the Army Reserve's 99th Regional Readiness Command, tells a room full of trainees: "To be honest with you there isn't going to be enough training and there is no training that will actually prepare you to do the duty of casualty notification."

Reserve officers are briefed on the protocol of the process, which includes the requirement that the rank of the messenger be higher than that of the casualty.

They are also instructed to act as naturally as they can and to try to memorise the details of the casualty and how they died, so that they do not have to refer to their notes.

"Treat the family as you would like your family treated, and give them your full attention," Ms Spark says.

"There is more to being a good casualty assistance officer than the paperwork - take care of their hearts."

But there is no manual for the emotional front line of this war.

'No easier'

Back at the Delles's home, the living room has become a shrine to David. His uniform is on display and so is the flag that was draped over his coffin.

It is an austere room cluttered with memories and with symbols of David's dream, to serve as a marine.

With more than 3,500 US troops killed in Iraq since the invasion in 2003, according to Pentagon figures, it is a scene that is repeated in many homes across the country.

Staff Sgt Bilyeu, who has three young sons himself, says he believes his task is getting harder the more times he has to do it.

"When you are telling them the worst news they can possibly imagine, it takes a grind on you," he says. "It just does not get easier."

Beyond the bitter debate about this war, sons and daughters continue to die, families to grieve - and the officers delivering the bad news have many more miles to clock up.

North Koreans Say They’ve Shut Nuclear Reactor

North Korea told the United States today that it has shut down the nuclear reactor and readmitted a permanent international inspection team, completing its first step toward reversing a four-year-long confrontation with the United States during which the country appears to have built a small arsenal of nuclear weapons.

The North sent a message that the reactor at Yongbyon had been shut down through the country’s small mission to the United Nations at 9:30 this morning, according to Christopher Hill, the assistant secretary of state who negotiated the accord in February after gradually getting the Bush administration to reverse many of the decisions it made in the first term about how to deal with the reclusive state.

The North Korean claim, which was carefully synchronized with the arrival of a first shipment of fuel oil from South Korea, can be easily verified by the 10-member inspection team from the International Atomic Energy Agency. They arrived at the bleak, heavily guarded nuclear site roughly 60 miles north of Pyongyang today, to begin supervising what is envisioned as a lengthy disarmament plan.

American spy satellites will also be able to detect whether the reactor core is cooling, though that confirmation could take several days.

But Mr. Hill has said that it could be the end of the year before North Korea, in return for large shipments of additional fuel oil, completes the next critical steps required under the accord: Permanently disabling the reactor so that it can no longer produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, and issuing a complete declaration of all of its nuclear assets — including how many weapons it may have produced since it threw out inspectors just before New Years Day in 2003.

“Declaration is one of the early next steps,” Mr. Hill said in Tokyo before the notification of the shutdown. “We would expect a comprehensive list, declaration, to be in a matter of several weeks, possibly a couple of months. We see it as coming before disabling of the facilities,” he said.

He cautioned that the shutdown was “just the first step.”

It may also be the easiest. Far more difficult, according to experts and former negotiators with North Korea, will be convincing the country to disgorge what the C.I.A. estimates is enough plutonium fuel for eight or more weapons. Almost all of that was produced starting in 2003, while the United States was distracted by the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath.

The accord signed in February commits the country to eventually ridding itself of that fuel or the weapons it may have been turned into. But it sets no deadlines, and getting the North to take those steps would require a second negotiation.

“I could imagined that the next steps could extend beyond this administration,” William Perry, the former defense secretary under President Bill Clinton, who conducted negotiations with North Korea all through the late 1990s, said in an interview in his office at Stanford University on Friday. “And the North Koreans will demand a pretty high price for that.”

Still, for President Bush the announcement today constitutes a rare diplomatic victory for an administration besieged on many fronts. In recent weeks the rising demands from Congress for a date to begin the withdrawal from Iraq, the struggle to keep Al Qaeda and the Taliban from expanding new footholds in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and a rapidly expanding nuclear challenge from Iran has created a sense in Washington and around the world that Mr. Bush is badly weakened, and could spend the last 18 months of his presidency attempting to undo steps taken in the first six and a half years.

But the shutdown of the reactor and readmitting inspectors gives him an opportunity to argue that a five-year-long strategy of negotiating alongside North Korea’s neighbors — China, Japan, South Korea and Russia — is finally bearing fruit. Mr. Bush’s innovation in dealing with the North Koreans has been an insistence that all of those countries must be party to any deal.

That approach appears to have been vindicated, though in the end the administration had to drop its insistence that North Korea would not be rewarded from reversing the steps it took in 2003, when it threw out the inspectors, cranked up the production of bomb material, and withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

To lure Kim Jong Il, the North’s reclusive leader, to return to the status quo of 2002, Mr. Hill and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had to route around Vice President Cheney to strike a deal that called for the North to receive large shipments of oil as it took these first steps. They returned $25 million in cash that the administration had claimed was the ill-gotten gains of counterfeiting and arms sales, in the end using the Federal Reserve to get the money from a bank in Macao into the hands of the North Korean leadership. That process took months longer than anyone expected, delaying the reactor shutdown.

The administration’s critics also noted that the February agreement to provide the North with oil bore a strong resemblance to the 1994 accord between the North and the Clinton administration that Ms. Rice had denounced at the beginning of the Bush administration as an ill-conceived giveaway, and that hardliners in the administration dismantled in 2003.

The divisions over North Korea policy ran so deep that some members of the Bush Administration departed, partly in protest. Among them was Robert Joseph, the assistant secretary of state for arms control and disarmament, who told Ms. Rice that he believed the United States was helping prop up a regime that President Bush had termed evil, one that locks dissidents in gulags and whose people have starved.

Russia suspends arms control pact

Russian President Vladimir Putin has suspended the application of a key Cold War arms control treaties.

Mr Putin signed a decree citing "exceptional circumstances" affecting security as the reason for the move.

Russia has been angered by US plans to base parts of a missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE) limits the number of heavy weapons deployed between the Atlantic Ocean and the Urals mountains.


The Russian suspension will become effective 150 days after other parties to the treaty have been notified, President Putin's decree says.

The suspension is not a full-scale withdrawal - but it means that Russia will no longer permit inspections or exchange data on its deployments.

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak said Moscow was not "shutting the door to dialogue".

"We have submitted to our partners proposals on ways out of the situation. And we continue to wait for a constructive reaction," Mr Kislyak said.

But a Nato spokesman said the alliance "regretted" Russia's decision.

"The allies consider this treaty to be an important cornerstone of European security," James Appathurai said.

He added that the move was "a disappointing step in the wrong direction".

Russia's suspension of its application of the treaty is yet another sign of a worsening relationship between the US and Russia, says the BBC's diplomatic correspondent, Jonathan Marcus.

An informal meeting earlier in July at the Bush family's Maine home seems to have done very little to improve ties between the two leaders, he says.

It is also yet one more sign of a more assertive Russian foreign policy, our diplomatic correspondent says.

The CFE agreement of 1990 was one of the most significant arms control agreements of the Cold War years.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (l) and US President George W Bush (file image from 02/07/2007)
Talks at President Bush's family home did little to defuse tensions

It set strict limits on the number of offensive weapons - battle tanks, combat aircraft, heavy artillery - that the members of the Warsaw Pact and Nato could deploy in Europe, stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals.

In the wake of the collapse of communism, the treaty was revised in 1999, in part to address Russian concerns.

But this revised treaty has never been ratified by the Nato countries who want Russia to withdraw all of its forces from two breakaway regions with Russian-speaking majorities - Abkhazia in Georgia and Trans-Dniester in Moldova.

"The CFE treaty and missile defence are the two major irritants between Russia and the West. It would have been easy, it still is easy, I think Nato allies feel, to move closer to ratifying the CFE treaty," the Nato spokesman added.

Senate doubles Bin Laden reward

The US Senate has voted 87-1 to double the reward for the death or capture of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden to $50m.

The Senate vote comes amid warnings that al-Qaeda has rebuilt its capacity to mount attacks and is trying to insert agents into the US.

"It has been six years, and al-Qaeda is now rebuilding its terrorist training camps," said Senator Byron Dorgan.

Intelligence analysts told Congress on Wednesday that al-Qaeda had created a safe haven in remote parts of Pakistan.

A leaked draft of a new US intelligence report says al-Qaeda is at its strongest since just before the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US.

Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff said earlier this week that he had a "gut feeling" that the US would be at greater risk of attack over the next few months.

President George W Bush has played down the anxiety, however:

"There is a perception in the coverage that al-Qaeda may be as strong today as they were prior to September 11th," he said on Thursday.

"That's simply not the case."

Bin Laden has not been heard from in more than a year, but his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri has released a series of messages in recent weeks that have appeared on Islamist websites.

His most recent urged Pakistanis to rise up against President Pervez Musharraf in retaliation for the bloody storming of the militant Red Mosque in Islamabad.

N Korea's military seeks US talks

North Korea's military has called for direct talks with US forces to discuss "peace and security on the Korean peninsula", state media reports.

The talks, to be attended by a UN representative, could take place at a mutually acceptable place and time, a statement from KCNA news agency said.

But it also warned that US pressure could derail a key disarmament deal.

Under the deal, North Korea agreed to end its nuclear programme in return for fuel aid and political incentives.

UN inspectors are currently heading to North Korea to monitor the shutdown of the North's main nuclear reactor at Yongbyon.

US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, Washington's chief envoy to North Korea, said on Friday that he wanted the Yongbyon reactor to be disabled by the end of this year.

No pressure

North Korea's proposal reportedly came from the chief of the military mission at the truce village of Panmunjom, which is located in the demilitarized zone that divides the two Koreas.

"The Korean People's Army side proposes having talks between the DPRK [North Korea] and US militaries, to be attended by a UN representative," the statement said.

But the statement also told the US not to pressurise North Korea "under the pretext of the nuclear issue", warning that it would boost defensive measures if this was the case.

It is unclear why the North has chosen to make these comments now, and there has so far been no immediate response from the US to the proposal of military talks.

US and North Korean military officials already hold general-level meetings, about the administration of the ceasefire that ended the Korean War, but analysts say this latest request by the North is noteworthy because it appears to widen the remit for military discussions.

The comments have been interpreted as being an attempt to discuss a formal peace treaty on the Korean peninsula.

Despite a ceasefire being signed to end the conflict in 1953, this has never been replaced by a peace treaty, leaving the region technically in a state of war.

But US envoy Mr Hill told Reuters on Friday: "I want to emphasise that we're not going to be reaching any peace arrangement on the peninsula ahead of denuclearisation."

Currently the main forum for discussions between Pyongyang and Washington is the ongoing six-party talks, which involve delegates from South Korea, Japan, China and Russia as well as North Korea and the US.

Bilateral talks do sometimes occur on the sidelines of these discussions, but between political rather than military representatives.

The latest round of six-party talks are set to resume in Beijing on Wednesday.

IAEA mission

UN inspectors have set off for North Korea for the first working visit by an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team since Pyongyang expelled monitors in 2002.

Nine members of the IAEA team left Vienna late on Thursday. They will make a brief stop in Beijing, from where they will fly to North Korea on Saturday. A tenth expert is expected to join the group later.

Leaving Vienna, leader Adel Tolba told the Associated Press news agency that the team members were optimistic about their mission.

"We have a reason to believe that it will be successful," he said.

North Korea - which shocked the world with its first nuclear test in October 2006 - has strongly indicated that it will consider starting to shut down its key nuclear reactor, Yongbyon, as soon as the first shipment of aid arrives.

A South Korean vessel carrying aid - 6,200 tons of fuel oil - set sail on Thursday and is due to dock in North Korea's Sonbong port on Saturday.

Under the February deal, North Korea is to receive 50,000 tons of energy aid for closing Yongbyon and another 950,000 tons for closing and dismantling all its nuclear facilities.

China glaciers melting at alarming rate

Massive glaciers in northwest China have melted at an alarming rate over the past 40 years, with global warming believed to be the culprit, scientists said in comments published Friday.

China's remote Xinjiang region is home to nearly half of the nation's glaciers that supply the rest of the country and other parts of Asia with water.

However they have shrunk by 20 percent and snow lines there have receded by about 60 metres (200 feet) since 1964, the Chinese Academy of Sciences said in a report, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Global warming is believed to be to blame, with the internal temperature of the glaciers rising by 10 percent over the past two decades, the academy said.

"Like the hard drive of a computer, glaciers record how the environment has changed. Warm weather has been the major cause of the glaciers' retreat," Xinhua quoted Wang Feiteng, a researcher with the academy, as saying.

In the most alarming example, the largest glacier in Xinjiang, located 3,545 metres above sea level in the Tianshan mountains, split in two in 1993 and has since been melting extremely quickly, according to Wang.

Another researcher with the academy, Hu Wenkang, said the shrinking glaciers would have a major impact on Xinjiang, one of China's most arid regions, and beyond.

"Glaciers are sometimes called solid reservoirs. They are one of the major water resources in... Xinjiang," Hu said.

"But melting glaciers may cause floods and landslides in some areas, and (eventually) fail to provide water for rivers."

Xinjiang has 42 percent of China's glaciers, with most of the others in the Himalayan areas in and around Tibet to the south.

While other reports have emerged in China's state-run press about the demise of Tibet's glaciers, those in Xinjiang have previously been given scant attention.

One of China's top glaciologists, Yao Tangdong, warned last year of an "ecological catastrophe" in Tibet because of global warming.

He said most glaciers in the region could melt away by 2100 if no efficient measures were taken.

UN scientists agreed in a landmark report this year that human activity was responsible for global warming, largely due to the use of fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

For Parking Space, the Price Is Right at $225,000

In Houston, $225,000 will buy a three-bedroom house with a game room, den, in-ground pool and hot tub.

In Manhattan, it will buy a parking space. No windows, no view. No walls.

While real estate in much of the country languishes, property in Manhattan continues to escalate in price, and that includes parking spaces. Some buyers do not even own cars, but grab the spaces as investments, renting them out to cover their costs.

Spaces are in such demand that there are waiting lists of buyers. Eight people are hoping for the chance to buy one of five private parking spaces for $225,000 in the basement of 246 West 17th Street, a 34-unit condo development scheduled for completion next January. The developer, meanwhile, is seeking city approval to add four more spots.

Parking in new developments is selling for twice what it was five years ago, said Jonathan Miller, an appraiser and president of Miller Samuel.

Although spaces in prime sections of Manhattan are the most expensive, even those in open lots and in garages in Brooklyn, Queens, Riverdale and Harlem are close to $50,000, although at least one new Brooklyn development is asking $125,000.

Scarcity figures big in the escalating prices. Mr. Miller estimated that less than 1 percent of all co-op and condominium buildings in the city have private garages. The city also limits how much parking new buildings below 96th Street can offer, requiring that no more than 20 percent of the units have spaces.

“It’s a fairly rare amenity,” Mr. Miller said. “And in the world of pet spas and on-site sommeliers, it’s actually a pretty functional amenity.”

In other densely packed cities where space and parking are at premium, parking spaces in condos also tend to trade at high prices. In Boston, they can sell for as much as $175,000, and they go for as much as $75,000 in Chicago. But in other cities, like Los Angeles and Dallas, most condos include parking in their prices.

For developers in New York, parking is the highest and best use for below-grade space and fetches about the same price per square foot as actual living space, which costs much more to develop. According to Miller Samuel, the average parking space costs $165,019, or $1,100 per square foot, close to the average apartment price of $1,107 per square foot. Those are averages, of course. A $200,000 parking space is about $1,333 per square foot.

If parking at the Onyx Chelsea, a new 52-unit condo at 28th Street and Eighth Avenue, is any indication, there is plenty of demand. The first two spots sold for $165,000, the third for $175,000 and the last two for $195,000. Each space will include about $50 in monthly maintenance costs. Still, there are three buyers on a waiting list.

Cynthia Habberstad is at the top of that list. She chose not to buy a spot when they were selling for $165,000, but changed her mind only to learn that all the spaces had been taken.

“At first, I was getting overwhelmed and didn’t want to spend the money,” Ms. Habberstad said. “I’m kicking myself now, believe me.”

She and her three children, ages 7, 9 and 11, live on Long Island, but the children’s modeling schedules bring them into the city at least twice a week, and the apartment they bought in the building will be a pied-à-terre.

“If we’re coming in late from dinner or we have a lot of stuff in the car, do we really want to have to walk a few blocks to get home?” Ms. Habberstad said. “It all makes sense now that I don’t have it.”

Developers are well aware of the demand. “We’re putting in parking in pretty much every development that we’re working on,” said Shaun Osher, the chief executive of Core Group Marketing, which represents 246 West 17th Street and about a dozen other new condo buildings.

In-building parking allows city dwellers with cars to replicate the suburban ideal where they can park, take their keys and walk right into their homes, Mr. Osher said.

At the Fifth Street Lofts in Long Island City, Queens, which are scheduled for completion at the end of the year, Jackie and Lee Freund bought an apartment and three garage spaces at $50,000 each, even though they own only one car.

“We bought three because we know the parking situation is bad now and its only going to get worse,” Jackie Freund said.

The Freunds, who have a 2-year-old son, have lived in a nearby rental building for the last three years. After dealing with the hassles of parking on the street, they got a space in a nearby garage.

“We’ve had the car towed, and my sister had hers towed when she came to visit and parked on the wrong side of the street,” she said. “They’re crazy for towing around here since the tow pound is nearby.”

The Freunds plan to sell one of their extra spots at the Fifth Street Lofts and rent out the other.

Buyers and brokers across the city are confident that prices will only go up as finding a parking space becomes more difficult. In fact, 40 parking garages or lots in the city have closed within the last nine months while only 23 new ones have opened, said Margot J. Tohn, publisher of “Park It! NYC 2007,” a parking garage guide.

“It’s not at a huge, huge scale, but we definitely are losing parking,” Ms. Tohn said.

Tom Postilio, a broker for Core Group Marketing and the director of sales at 246 West 17th Street, said: “There are people looking for apartments who have the attitude, ‘Love me, love my car.’ And for them, if there’s no place to park on the streets, it’s practically a deal to get a parking spot for $225,000.”

The lure of the no-maintenance lawn

It was the teamwork that was really annoying. As Melanie Locke watched, raccoons worked in pairs to rip up the freshly laid sod in a portion of her backyard. They rolled back the strips of grass, and then took a break while the automatic sprinkler moistened the exposed earth, bringing out their favourite snack.

"They … would come back and eat worms to their hearts' content," she says.

But Dr. Locke and her husband, Dave Seymour, have had the last laugh: The shaded patch of backyard is now covered with the latest in artificial grass and used as a putting green. It's perfectly even, green, maintenance-free and raccoon-proof.

The couple, who live with their three young children near Taylor Creek Park in East York, are among a growing number of homeowners who find maintaining perfectly green, healthy grass too labour-intensive, and are turning to the artificial kind for putting greens, play areas, pool surrounds, rooftops and full lawns.

"People are so frustrated with trying to grow lawns that artificial grass now makes up 80 per cent of our total sales," says Jerome Keays of Toronto-based Design Turf. It's one of several companies that sell and install the product, whose look and feel is much more realistic that it was a decade ago.

Mary and Jeff Kopman are also among the converted. They turned to Mr. Keays in the summer of 2005 after raccoons completely destroyed new sod they had laid in the backyard of their North Toronto home.

"My husband's mother, Ruth, came by to keep tabs on things … while we were on vacation in Muskoka, and was horrified," Ms. Kopman recalls. "By the time we came home, the back garden was a sod graveyard."

The couple had Design Turf install synthetic lawn in their backyard garden, which also includes stone benches, sculpted planting beds with flowering shrubs, and a slide and playhouse for their two young sons.

"Many of our clients have small children and they are desperate to provide an area, like a lawn, where they can play," Mr. Keays notes. "They have sometimes had to replace their lawns every year, and in some cases, they just want something that is maintenance-free. We consider the artificial grass as adding extra space to a home, in the same way as a deck. Several of our clients flood the space in the winter and let it freeze for a skating rink."

The Kopmans say they are thrilled with the artificial grass, especially because it doesn't require maintenance — there's no cutting, pulling weeds, fertilizing, seeding or watering.

A pine tree that towers over the rooftops and shades the area, but the artificial turf — unlike real grass, which tends to die out in such locations — is as green as ever, and any needles or pinecones from the tree can be swept, hosed or raked away. Promoters of the product also say it can be ideal for areas that are excessively wet or dry.

Meredyth Hilton of the Toronto-based garden design/build firm Artistic Gardens, says that for some people, successfully growing grass is not an option. "Because of the shade produced by the number of very mature trees in Toronto, grass is often hard to grow," she explains.

"It's also fairly high maintenance. You can't just leave it for a few weeks; it has to be tended to regularly and often. When you see artificial grass, it's surprising how realistic it looks."

In the spring of 2006, the Kopmans decided to have the same thing done in the front garden. "We were nervous," Ms. Kopman recalls. "We wondered how it would look next to the real grass of our neighbours. But we were cutting, watering and fertilizing [the natural lawn], and that care is not something either Jeff or I enjoy."

The artificial grass at the Kopman home is very uniform, very green, and you wouldn't necessarily notice it wasn't real unless you knew.

Installation of artificial grass takes only a couple of days. Design Turf's process includes taking out any existing vegetation and adding two inches of either crushed limestone or an aggregate sand mixture, which is smoothed and levelled. The artificial turf, which comes in 15-foot-wide strips, is held down with five-inch lawn staples.

The cost is between $6 and $8 a square foot (actual sod runs about $4 a square foot), and there are several options in terms of colour and blade length. "The [artificial grass] is made of polyethylene and nylon, with a guaranty of eight years," Mr. Keays explains.

He notes that putting greens cost a bit more than $13 a square foot because "the installation process is more rigorous and requires a more substantial sub base."

The thought of artificial grass is bound to bring to mind similar products made years ago largely for athletic fields. Greg Woolvett of Pro Putt (, a company that installs artificial grass in a number North American cities, including Toronto, says that with the old product, the surface was hard and resulted in injuries to athletes." Things changed when manufacturers turned to machines that had been used to make shag carpets, he says. "The process and the products are a lot more sophisticated today."

Real estate agent Jan Scott-Charles of Toronto-based Guild Manor Realty Ltd. says that although landscaping with artificial grass may not add to a home's value on a dollar for dollar basis, it will likely add curb appeal, an intangible and invaluable asset.

"When a home is for sale, it doesn't matter how nice it looks inside if it looks so bad from the outside that people refuse to even go in," she points out.

F1 won't return to Indianapolis in 2008

Formula One's U.S. Grand Prix won't return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway next year.

The race will not be held at Indy in 2008 after eight years at the track, spokesman Ron Green said Thursday. He declined to give other details, but said speedway CEO Tony George would speak later in the day.

George had set Thursday as the deadline for reaching an agreement to extend the contract with F1. Indianapolis, the only American race on the F1 schedule, draws one of the biggest crowds on the circuit.

George, who met with F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone last month during U.S. Grand Prix weekend in Indianapolis, had said he was confident a new deal would be reached.

But Ecclestone had repeatedly said F1 did not need to race in the United States. He mentioned the possibility of moving the U.S. Grand Prix to New York or Las Vegas.

The 2.6-mile, 13-turn road course was built inside the speedway's famous oval to attract the F1 race.

Attendance figures are not released at Indianapolis, but estimates have been around 125,000 each of the past six years. The inaugural race in 2000 drew more than 200,000.

The event was marred in 2005 when 14 of the 20 drivers pulled off the track just before the start over concerns about the safety of the Michelin tires used by seven teams. Afterward, George refused to wave the checkered flag or join Michael Schumacher in the winner's circle.

Last year's negotiations to extend the deal dragged into August before the two sides agreed to a one-year deal. Speedway officials had said they wanted a more permanent solution this time.

Despite F1's absence, the speedway could still be the site of three races next year as track officials expect to announce with MotoGP, the international motorcycle racing series, next week.

Besides the Indianapolis 500, the speedway also is the site of NASCAR's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard on July 29.

Report on Iraq Sees Progress on 8 of 18 Benchmarks

President Bush said today that talk of troop withdrawals did not at this time constitute the “real debate” on Iraq, as his administration released an assessment report this morning asserting that the Iraqi government has shown satisfactory performance on a number of the 18 benchmarks for progress in political and security fronts.

The report, which also said it would take time before a trend could be measured on a number of other key indicators and forecast a possible rise in insurgent activity in the coming months, was released by the White House before President Bush’s news conference, which began at 10:30 a.m.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Bush said that progress has been satisfactory in eight areas, including the military realm and modernization of Iraqi forces, while eight other areas of focus needed more work, such as in preparations for local elections.

In two areas, progress was too mixed to be characterized, Mr. Bush noted.

Mr. Bush sought to reiterate his policies in Iraq, and to deflect the discussion from troop withdrawal. “This is not the real debate,” he said.

He said that support for the Iraqi government and sustained military pressure must be increased at this “crucial moment,” as troops work to defeat Al Qaeda and other extremists; and thereby create the conditions allowing American forces to return home. Asked at the news conference why he was resistant to the idea of a change of course in Iraq, which has found wide support among Americans in recent polls, Mr. Bush said he was not surprised that there was deep concern. “I believe we can succeed,” he said, “and I believe we are making security progress that will enable the political track to succeed as well.”

The report also forecast a rise in attacks by insurgents in the coming months.

It said that Al Qaeda in Iraq, a local insurgent group that has claimed a loose affiliation with the Al Qaeda of Osama bin Laden’s network, would probably step up its attacks in the coming months.

“The surge of additional U.S. forces into these areas allows us to better combat AQI and other terrorists,” the report said. “We should expect, however, that AQI will attempt to increase its tempo of attacks as September approaches, in an effort to influence U.S. domestic opinion about sustained U.S. engagement in Iraq.”

On the political front, the report said that significant progress had been made on both substantive issues and technical details in the constitutional review process, and it gave a mixed assessment on several aspects of the elections commission.

There has been a lack of satisfactory progress on de-Ba’athification, it said.

“This is among the most divisive political issues for Iraq, and compromise will be extremely difficult,” the report said. “Given the lack of satisfactory progress, we have not achieved the desired reconciliation effect that meaningful and broadly accepted de-Ba’athification reform might bring about.”

There has also been unsatisfactory progress on equitable distribution of oil and gas revenue, the report said.

But it praised the Iraqi government’s quick reactions to condemn major attacks, such as the recent one in Samara last month.

While the White House report noted progress in the military realm, with an overall decrease in the numbers of Iraqi civilians killed in sectarian violence and in casualties from car and truck bomb blasts, some of the benchmarks have not been met in that section, such as improvements in the ability and political neutrality of the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi government.

It largely pinned any further gains on increased troop activity in the coming months, capitalizing on the troop surge.

“Tough fighting should be expected through the summer as Coalition and Iraqi Forces seek to seize the initiative from early gains and shape conditions for longer-term stabilization,” the report said. “These combined operations, named Operation Phantom Thunder, were launched on June 15, 2007, after the total complement of surge forces arrived in Iraq. The full surge in this respect has only just begun.”

The administration’s decision to qualify many of the political benchmarks will enable it to present a more optimistic assessment than if it had provided the pass-fail judgment sought by Congress when it approved funding for the war this spring.

The administration officials who provided details of the draft report, in advance of its official release, to The New York Times, insisted on anonymity, partly to rebut claims by members of Congress in recent days that almost no progress had been made in Iraq since President Bush altered course by ordering the deployment of about 30,000 additional troops earlier this year.

Bush says US can succeed in Iraq

President George W Bush has insisted the US mission in Iraq can still succeed, saying it was vital for the security of the US and the Middle East.

He said troops would only be withdrawn when conditions were right, adding that to do so early would risk handing Iraq over to al-Qaeda.

Mr Bush was speaking after an interim report said Iraq's progress towards meeting goals set by the US was mixed.

The president said he saw some of the findings as "cause for optimism".

The report comes amid growing pressure in Congress on the Bush administration to change course in Iraq.

The report says Baghdad has had more military than political success since a US troop surge began in January.

It says Iraq has made satisfactory progress towards meeting eight targets, but less so towards another eight.

The report says Baghdad has shown mixed results in its progress towards meeting another two goals.

The BBC's Washington correspondent Matt Frei says it is not yet clear whether the report will help or hinder the administration in its efforts to limit a Republican rebellion in Congress that might force the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

The Senate is expected to vote next week on amendments to the military budget, which could force cuts in troop numbers.

In May, the House passed a bill to immediately release some $43bn (£21.8bn) of funding requested by Mr Bush for the war in Iraq.

It also earmarked $53bn for release only if progress was made towards the political and military benchmarks.

US Democrats want a timetable for withdrawal or a change in the focus of the US mission from combat to counter-terrorism and the training of Iraqi forces.

Some Republicans have joined the ranks of those calling for a phased troop withdrawal.

Mr Bush has said he will veto any bill on a pull-out timetable.