Sunday, December 31, 2006


Innovators Were the Big Winners in 2006
By Rob PegoraroSunday, December 31, 2006; Page F02
To succeed, computing and electronics firms need to reinvent themselves regularly, not just their products. Doing business in the same old way only invites competitors to leap ahead.
Consider the firms that were willing to rip up their own scripts this year, such as Google and Apple Computer. They were often rewarded with dramatic success, while those that couldn't play against type, such as Microsoft and most of the big movie studies, fell behind. Google turned out to be one of the most aggressive innovators of this year. Had the company motored through 2006 on autopilot, it likely would have remained a fine Web search engine. Instead, it accelerated its software-development efforts with free, frequently improved releases, such as the Google Desktop search tool, the Picasa photo editor and the Google Pack of Internet and media software. The company also introduced an assortment of simple sites that offer free calendar, spreadsheet and writing tools. They're not fancy, but are far simpler and cheaper than Microsoft Office.
Apple also surprised the world in 2006. In January, only six months after announcing its decision to switch from its existing PowerPC processors to Intel chips, the company shipped its first Intel-powered models -- and by October, it had finished that transition. At the same time, Apple persuaded most developers of Macintosh software to make the switch to writing for Intel chips, which can't have been an easy sell. But most quickly rewrote their programs, earning impressive gains in performance. Apple's Intel adoption yielded another benefit: With extra software from Apple and other companies, new Macs run Windows programs as fast as a PC can.


If Equity Funds Saw It, They Bought It
Sunday, December 31, 2006; Page F02
History will remember 2006 as the Year of Private Equity. Acting alone and in groups, funds like Carlyle, Blackstone and Texas Pacific seemed to buy up everything in sight, from the country's biggest hospital chain to the biggest real estate firm. Their relentless dealmaking made for another record year for mergers and acquisitions, and for bonuses at the Wall Street firms that arranged and financed the highly leveraged deals. Just as the private equity firms were coming into their own, hedge funds struggled to maintain their reputation as the masters of the financial universe. Several went bust or were forced to close as a result of bad bets or outright fraud.
Energy was a big part of the story this year, knocking the wind out of economic growth as oil prices jumped to nearly $80 a barrel in the spring before falling back below $60. The gusher created record profits for oil giants, and brought out the worst in some oil-rich nations like Russia, which used the proceeds to renationalize much of its economy under control of President Vladimir Putin and his cronies. In politics, this will be remembered as the year the business community lost its sway over economic policy by allowing itself and its Republican allies to overplay their hand. Corporate America will spend the next two years, if not the next decade, playing defense.
Globalization suffered its worst year in memory as the Doha round of trade talks collapsed, public sentiment turned against immigration and Congress threw a hissy fit over a Dubai-based company running several U.S. ports.
We also learned that Alan Greenspan was neither indispensable nor infallible. Ben Bernanke proved to be a worthy successor as Fed chairman. And the housing bubble, which Greenspan doubted, finally burst, with more force and consequence than the old man would have thought.
After more than a decade of health-policy paralysis, Massachusetts stepped forward with a plan to require everyone to have insurance in an experiment closely watched in Washington and other state capitals. This was a year of reckoning for the Big Three automakers, their unions and their parts suppliers, which were finally forced to align wages, benefits and job security with competitive reality. It came too late to save the jobs of tens of thousands of autoworkers who reluctantly accepted buyout packages, or to stop Toyota from taking yet more market share from Ford and General Motors.
It took nearly five years, but the top executives of Enron were convicted of securities fraud. The big corporate scandal this year, however, involved backdating of stock options that forced the ouster of dozens of top executives.
The world of economic thought lost both Milton Friedman and Ken Galbraith this year. And in the biggest outsourcing deal in history, Warren Buffett donated his billions to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Saturday, December 30, 2006


Closing Strong, Stocks Flexed Muscle in 2006
Year Ends With Markets Showing Biggest Gains Since 2003
By Michael S. RosenwaldWashington Post Staff WriterSaturday, December 30, 2006; Page D01 Wall Street strategists often employ metaphors to describe stock market performance, and 2006 provided plenty of options.
The best, perhaps, came from David Darst, chief investment strategist for Morgan Stanley Global Wealth Management, who likened 2006 to a football game with a scoreless first half, followed by a second half marked by multiple touchdowns.
Stocks came roaring back from a middling first six months to end 2006 with gains that far exceeded the expectations of many analysts and investors. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index, which fell 6.43 points yesterday to 1418.30, climbed 14 percent for the year. The Nasdaq composite index, which dipped 10.28 points to 2415.29, gained 9.5 percent in 2006.
Dow Jones industrial average, which fell 38.37 points yesterday to 12,463.15, climbed more than 16 percent for the year and spent the fourth quarter notching one all-time high after another.
Fifteen strategists tracked by Bloomberg News had predicted an average rise of 8.2 percent for the S&P 500. In the end, Darst said, "I think the market put on a good showing."
Stocks were helped to their best year since 2003 by a host of factors: record corporate profits, falling oil prices, a halt to interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve and a flood of deals that topped $4 trillion globally. Investors looked past a slumping U.S. housing market, softness in the U.S. manufacturing sector and concerns about global stability prompted by nuclear proliferation fears in Iran and North Korea.
"It was a year in which a lot of things were shrugged off that could have been upsetting," Darst said. To many observers, the market certainly didn't look as if it would close with such a flourish. From the start of the year, stocks hummed along at a fairly modest clip, moving slightly up and down, with the S&P closing at 1325.14 on May 9 for about a 6 percent gain from the close of 2005.
But stocks then entered a six-week slide, marked by volatile trading. All major U.S. stock indicators and other global markets fell. The S&P 500 dropped 7.7 percent, hitting a low of 1223.69 on June 13, leaving it down for the year. The S&P recovered a little bit before falling again to 1234.49 on July 17.
Analysts gave varying reasons for the dip, but most agreed that high oil prices, which rose through the spring and peaked at $77.03 on July 14, were partly to blame. Those high oil prices stirred fears that inflation might jump out of control.
The markets began their comeback in midsummer. Oil prices began to decline from that July peak, eventually sliding to close below $60 a barrel in early October. In early August, the Federal Reserve stopped raising its benchmark short-term interest rate, ending 17 consecutive increases.
Third-quarter earnings forecasts started trickling in, proving to be stronger than expected. Standard & Poor's, for example, expects full-year operating earnings for 2006 to be the best ever, up nearly 15 percent over 2005.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


Comentário a Rigor Criativo, de Tiago Mendes, colocado em “Diário Económico”


TM diz:

“A falta de empatia que o aluno português médio tem com a Matemática terá que ver, em parte, com um certo desejo de liberdade, mais negativo do que positivo: um não querer ver-se aprisionado por regras, mais do que um querer criar algo de novo.”

E, mais adiante,

“Há quinze dias, escrevemos que o economista é um ”marginalista”: alguém que tenta compreender as escolhas dos agentes económicos à luz dos custos e benefícios marginais que cada alternativa disponível proporciona.”

Ora eu vejo nestas duas afirmações uma contradição, pelo menos:

Na primeira, TM refere a “falta de empatia do aluno português médio com a Matemática” em alternativa a um certo desejo de liberdade de regras. Não conheço nenhum estudo de onde se possa inferir que o aluno português médio sofre de uma insuficiência biológica congénita que o torna menos convivente no relacionamento com as questões da medida. A correlação entre o português e os seus maus resultados médios na matemática não decorre necessariamente de uma aversão idiossincrática. Pessoalmente, creio que não decorre, em absoluto, nada disso.

Verdade seja que TM também não explicita as causas remetendo-se para a constatação:
“somos – portugueses – demasiadamente avessos às ciências exactas e ao pensamento lógico

Desconsiderando as razões biológicas restam-nos as razões sociológicas: a tradição, a cultura, a religião, e outros entorses, imprimiram-nos uma aversão à matemática que se vincou na nossa personalidade colectiva como um instinto. Esta é, contudo, uma suposição especulativa mas não quantificada, precisamente o tipo de discurso que TM condena, e bem.

Como “economista”, TM deveria, salvo melhor opinião, procurar utilizar os instrumentos da análise marginalista na identificação das causas da falta de motivação dos portugueses pelo estudo da matemática que ele refere e ninguém, razoavelmente, contestará.

Porque é na análise marginalista que TM poderá avançar com algum cientismo na abordagem do assunto. Provavelmente não existirá uma razão mas várias. Seguramente, contudo, uma delas será nuclear e essa só poderá decorrer da apreciação que as pessoas fazem da utilidade que a aprendizagem da matemática lhes pode oferecer em alternativa a outras aprendizagens. Porque é essa a pergunta que deve ser colocada antes de qualquer outra: Por que é o estudante português, em geral, subestima a matemática como instrumento da sua valorização profissional e social?

Um raciocínio marginalista leva-me a uma conclusão diferente da de TM: as pessoas subalternizam a matemática no leque dos seus interesses de aprendizagem porque as envolventes (económicas, sobretudo) não incentivam à sua valorização.

Aliás, há muitos sintomas à volta: Se consultar as folhas de oferta de emprego concluirá que a maior parte aponta para ocupações de onde os próprios empregadores não valorizam especialmente a matemática, nomeadamente o Estado, o maior empregador. O discurso habitual que refere a insuficiência de licenciados nas ciências exactas e na engenharia é, também ele, mais retórico que quantificado. Muitos engenheiros não encontram saídas profissionais nas áreas em que se formaram e acabam por seguir carreiras profissionais relacionadas com vendas e funções afins. O que não significa que a sua formação em matemática não lhes possa, eventualmente, dar mais competências mesmo nessas áreas mas essa possível vantagem não é tão evidente que o recrutamento de profissionais para elas se faça também em função da aquisição de conhecimentos específicos de matemática. E não sendo, a opção pelo curso de engenharia desses profissionais engenheiros não engenheiros fez-se por outras razões e não pela vantagem de domínio da matemática.

Um marginalista não pode deixar de pegar a questão da falta de empatia pelas razões próximas e essas situam-se inquestionavelmente na frequente falta de utilidade marginal da matemática relativamente a outros interesses ou incentivos.

Uma situação muito semelhante se pode observar nos EUA, com um perfil social e económico que não é comparável com o português: surpreendentemente os resultados observados entre os norte-americanos quanto às suas empatias com a matemática são muito idênticos aos que se observam em Portugal. E ninguém pode, razoavelmente, inferir que isso se deve ao facto de os norte-americanos serem“demasiadamente avessos às ciências exactas e ao pensamento lógico”.

É essa ausência tão generalizada entre 300 milhões de habitantes que os obriga a importar competências na matéria da Índia, da China, de Taiwan, etc.? Porque da Índia e da China para os EUA, é bom saber-se, não está entrar apenas o que trás etiqueta “made in”.

E de Portugal também estão saindo muitos dos que tiveram a errada intenção de estudar matemática a mais do que aquilo que em Portugal se exige. A começar pelo Estado.


O Público noticiava e comentava, há dias, os valores que alguns quadros de arte moderna têm vindo crescentemente a atingir nos tempos mais recentes e, nomeadamente, nos últimos leilões da Christie´s e da Sotheby´s. Apenas numa noite a Christie´s facturou o valor mais elevado de sempre: 384 milhões de dólares em 78 lotes. A Sotheby´s, por seu lado, realizou o leilão mais vultuoso dos últimos 16 anos.

Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko e Willem de Kooning, entre outros, vêm os seus trabalhos valorizados por preços que eles nunca imaginariam, e que chegam a superar o preço de um Boeing, admirava-se o comentador do P'ublico.

Para um ultra-liberal estas são boas notícias do funcionamento dos mercados. Os preços atingidos são a resultante transparente das leis da oferta e da procura nesta actividade de transacções de obras de arte. Ninguém é coagido a vender por menos ou a comprar por mais. Não há distorções de concorrência em monopólio. Não há assimetria de informação. O mercado da arte é, por conseguinte, o exemplo mais acabado de um mercado livre de qualquer entorse.

E no entanto, a notícia acrescenta que são russos, chineses, árabes, entre outros novos ricos, as novas vedetas dos leilões. O dinheiro que transborda desta gente tem geralmente cheiros específicos.

Mas não é de cheiros de dinheiro que trata o ultra liberalismo, já se sabe.
E muito menos deste cheiros, claro.
Também não cuidam os ultraliberais de saber que a exponencial de crescimento dos preços da arte contemporânea correlaciona-se com outra, de perfil parecido, correspondente ao enriquecimento acelerado de uns quantos e é, na razão inversa, reflexo do depauperamento crescente de muitos.


A Deadly Story We Keep Missing
By Peter J. WoolleyWednesday, December 27, 2006; Page A19
The non-story of 2006 was also the non-story of 2005. It is a non-story every year going back decades. Yet the number of people who die in car crashes in the United States is staggering, even if it is absent from the agenda of most public officials and largely ignored by the public.
When all is said and done and the ball begins to drop on New Year's Eve, 44,000 people, give or take several hundred, will have died in auto accidents this year. To put that number in perspective, consider that:
. At the 2006 casualty rate of 800 soldiers per year, the United States would have to be in Iraq for more than 50 years to equal just one year of automobile deaths back home. . In any five-year period, the total number of traffic deaths in the United States equals or exceeds the number of people who died in the horrific South Asian tsunami in December 2004. U.S. traffic deaths amount to the equivalent of two tsunamis every 10 years. .According to the National Safety Council, your chance of dying in an automobile crash is one in 84 over your lifetime. But your chances of winning the Mega Millions lottery are just one in 175 million. .If you laid out side by side 8-by-10 photos of all those killed in crashes this year, the pictures would stretch more than five miles. .If you made a yearbook containing the photos of those killed this year, putting 12 photos on each page, it would have 3,500 pages. If you wanted to limit your traffic-death yearbook to a manageable 400 pages, you'd either have to squeeze more than 100 photos onto each page or issue an eight-volume set.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Myths And the Middle Class By Robert J. SamuelsonWednesday, December 27, 2006; Page A19
Almost all Americans see themselves as "middle class." To declare yourself middle class is to say you've succeeded without openly bragging that you're superior -- a no-no in a democratic culture. You're like everyone else, only a little more or less so.
Not surprisingly, a recent poll done for the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, finds that only 2 percent of Americans put themselves in the "upper class" and a mere 8 percent consider themselves "lower class." The large majority classify themselves as "upper-middle class" (17 percent) or "middle class" (45 percent). The rest (27 percent) see themselves as "working class," a stepping stone to the middle class.
Because the "middle class" isn't really the middle -- it's a huge blob -- describing how "it" feels and thinks is usually an act of simplification, exaggeration or invention. Yet that's routine because politicians and commentators want to show that they grasp the hopes and fears of everyday Americans.
The middle class today is said to be angry and anxious. It's worried about jobs, health insurance and retirement income. The EPI poll explores these discontents. Up to a point, it confirms conventional wisdom. One question asked respondents to agree with one of the following statements:
Most people today face increasing uncertainty about employment, with stagnant incomes, paying more for health care, taxes, and retirement, while those at the top have booming incomes and lower taxes.
Our economy faces ups and downs, but most people can expect to better themselves, see rising incomes, find good jobs and provide economic security for their families.
By an overwhelming 61 to 34 percent, respondents preferred the first statement. They didn't like oil companies (66 to 13 percent), drug companies (49 to 25 percent) and corporate CEOs (35 to 18 percent). One interesting exception to the anti-big-business sentiment was Wal-Mart, whose favorable rating (45 to 29 percent) almost equaled Social Security's (48 to 24 percent). Globalization wasn't especially popular either; by 59 to 32 percent, respondents favored more limits on imports.
So the middle class is furious, as portrayed. Well, not exactly. What's striking is the huge gap between people's views about "the economy" -- an abstraction -- and their own personal situations:
. Although only 32 percent rate the overall economy as "excellent" or "good," 52 percent judge their personal situation as excellent or good (35 percent said "fair" and 13 percent "poor").
. Most Americans (60 to 37 percent) think their own living standards are rising; parents of children under 18 overwhelmingly (54 to 24 percent) think the same will be true for their children.
. Almost 70 percent of Americans say they've attained or will attain the "American Dream," as they define it. More than half say success comes from a good education and hard work, not from connections (18 percent) or being born wealthy (13 percent).
Just as Americans often criticize public education but like their local school (or hate Congress while supporting the local congressman), they rationalize personal economic success with national economic shortcomings.
Both "conservative and liberal elites" are out of touch with typical Americans, say the pollsters who conducted the survey. Conservatives' focus on overall economic performance (say, gross domestic product) minimizes individuals' "hard work" to improve "their living standards against the odds." But liberals underestimate Americans' "emphasis on personal responsibility and overestimate the degree to which [people] see themselves as victims."
Maybe. But there's a simpler explanation for the confusion: Americans' optimism and perfectionism are constantly mugged by reality. Consider why this will continue.
People value stability and security. They also want higher incomes. Unfortunately, the two sometimes collide. In a recent book, "Economic Turbulence," three economists show that the constant turnover of companies and business locations ("establishments") improves economic growth -- but creates disruption and stress. In the five industries studied (trucking, computer chips, financial services, software and food stores), the productivity of the best establishments is often double that of the worst. Replacing the less efficient with the more efficient ultimately lowers costs and raises living standards.
Compounding the stress, the price of entry into the middle class is always rising. The more we can have, the more we must have. Keeping up with the Joneses is the curse of our advances and ambitions. Thirty years ago a middle-class existence didn't include central air-conditioning, computers, cellphones or cable television. It will soon include flat-panel TVs. Similarly, new drugs and surgeries raise the cost of health insurance, reducing coverage and take-home pay. From 1991 to 2005 the cost of fringe benefits (mainly health insurance) rose nearly twice as fast as wages.
Americans cannot escape these realities. The economy will remain precarious if it remains productive. The new technologies and products we celebrate inflict anxiety by redefining middle-class society. The causes of our success are also the sources of our stress. Of course, many of today's complaints (growing inequality, eroding health insurance) are legitimate and, to some extent, might be corrected. But the remedies -- assuming they didn't make matters worse -- would succeed only temporarily, because they would not erase the basic dilemma.
The middle-class "squeeze" never vanishes. Sometimes the economy so outperforms expectations (say, after World War II or during the late 1990s) that it creates a lull. But that merely elevates expectations to more unrealistic levels and ensures later disappointment. The economy pleases most people most of the time -- but can never please everyone all of the time.


A última edição do Economist deste ano dedica a capa, o editorial e um artigo à medida da felicidade. A questão é por demais candente mas está longe de ser nova. A novidade estará no facto de começar a ser uma nova forma de análise económica, a qual, até agora, tem sido sustentada na premissa fundamental de que a riqueza das nações e dos indivíduos se mede pelos valores materiais arrecadados e acumulados.

Quando os méritos da democracia representativa são postos em causa por poderem legalizar situações pouco democráticas, subordinando interesses legítimos à excitação dos populismos ou por desbancarem na perseguição ilegítima dos indivíduos por parte daqueles que são donos e senhores de informação pessoal, o capitalismo, enquanto sistema propulsor do crescimento económico medido em cifras transaccionáveis poderá ter que rever também alguns dos seus fundamentos mais emblemáticos.

Nomeadamente, a relação supostamente sempre virtuosa entre a produtividade e o crescimento económico para o crescimento do consumo ( não faria sentido algum o crescimento, nos termos em que tem sido considerado até agora, se não for dirigido ao consumo ou ao desfrute ) não consentirá, se o paradigma se alterar, que o emprego cresça em função do crescimento de maior riqueza material.

Reforça-se, deste modo, o argumento daqueles que têm alertado para a redução do emprego em consequência dos crescentes aumentos de produtividade acelerados pela globalização, opondo-se aos que, muito maioritariamente, defendem que os crescimentos da produtividade têm até agora induzido sempre crescimento dos níveis de emprego global.

Afinal a restrição ao crescimento dos consumos imposta pela duração do dia, igual para todos, implicando a redução do emprego na razão inversa do aumento da produtividade, encontra nesta teoria fundada em GWB (“general well-being”) , em oposição ao tradicional GDP, uma reforço notável. E o reforço mais decisivo decorre da resposta à questão: Que crescimento de felicidade, afinal, está subjacente ao crescimento para consumo que excede as nossas necessidades razoáveis?

As necessidades razoáveis dependem naturalmente da escala de valores que cada qual adoptará na sua medida. A mudança de paradigma na análise económica é, todavia, importante para a reavaliação individual dessa escala de valores.


Of Public Debt and Private Wealth By Steven PearlsteinWednesday, December 27, 2006; Page D01
With Democrats about to take charge on Capitol Hill, we're going to be hearing a lot about the widening income gap between rich and poor. There are a variety of different measures for inequality and lots of factors that drive the data, ranging from winner-take-all labor market competition and the weakness of unions to the pace of immigration and the tendency of high-income people to marry each other. Furthermore, during different periods, this widening of the gap has been most apparent at various rungs of the income ladder -- between the poor and the middle class in the '80s, between the middle class and the upper class in the early '90s, and, most recently, between the very rich and just about everyone else. All of this is about to become grist for a great national debate on inequality, with everyone picking the income measures, gaps and causes that best support their economic views or their preferred solutions. As it plays out, it's important to remember that there isn't one correct analysis or any silver-bullet solution. In that spirit, I'd like to toss out an idea borrowed from a reader in Canada with no particular training in economics but an intuitive sense about the connection between trade flows and income inequality. The idea goes something like this: In terms of the global economy, the elephant in the room for much of the last 25 years has been the large and persistent U.S. current account deficit (loosely, the trade deficit), which this year is likely to exceed $800 billion. Roughly speaking, the richest country in the world spends 106 percent of its income. If the United States were almost any other country, we wouldn't be able to sustain this huge imbalance for very long because the rest of the world would be unwilling to finance it. But, as it happens, developing nations suddenly have more savings than they know what to do with, much of it denominated in dollars as a result of selling us inexpensive clothing and electronics and very expensive oil. These countries know that if they were to try to exchange all those dollars for their own currencies, it would drive down the value of the dollar -- and with it, demand by American consumers for all the things they sell. Rather than accept slower growth and higher unemployment, they have decided to keep their currencies loosely pegged to the dollar by investing those trade-surplus dollars in U.S. assets. One obvious effect of this decision is to drive up demand for U.S. stocks, bonds and real estate, which foreigners have purchased either directly or through such intermediaries as hedge and private-equity funds. Their money was a significant factor in the tech and telecom bubbles of the 1990s, the current bubble in corporate takeovers and commercial real estate, and the just-ended bubble in residential real estate. Indirectly, it also helps explain why stock prices are at or near all-time records. Moreover, because so much of the trade deficit is reinvested in debt instruments such as Treasury bonds, it has had the effect of lowering interest rates below where they would otherwise be. Low interest rates, in turn, encourage both foreign and American investors to use more borrowed money in their investment strategies, allowing them to buy more assets with the same amount of their own money. So what does this have to do with income inequality? Quite a bit, actually. We've known for a long time that increased trade with low-wage countries depresses wages of workers who produce goods and services now imported. A trade deficit equal to 7 percent of economic output obviously magnifies that effect. But as the trade deficit is depressing wages at the bottom, it is now boosting incomes at the top by significantly inflating the value of stocks, bonds and real estate -- assets whose ownership is concentrated heavily in the hands of high-income people. By buying and selling these assets, and borrowing against them, these people have been transforming their paper wealth into spendable (and measurable) income at a record pace. Finally, let's remember that all this buying, selling and monetizing of assets has created lots of fat fees for handling these transactions or serving as financial intermediaries. Those fees, in turn, translate into eye-popping bonuses for Wall Street investment bankers, hedge fund managers and partners in private-equity firms. It would be an exaggeration, of course, to argue that our large and persistent trade deficit is the major factor in rising inequality. After all, inequality also is rising in countries with trade surpluses. But I think the deficit does help explain why so much of the country's income gains have gone into the pockets of investment bankers, money managers, real estate developers, wealthy families and corporate executives loaded up with stock options. I'm sure these folks believe they are pulling away from the pack because they work harder and create more economic value than the rest of us. But in the coming debate, we need to remember that they are also the lucky beneficiaries of a runaway trade deficit and the bubble-prone economy it has created.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Justice Dept. Database Stirs Privacy Fears
Size and Scope of the Interagency Investigative Tool Worry Civil Libertarians
By Dan EggenWashington Post Staff WriterTuesday, December 26, 2006; Page A07 The Justice Department is building a massive database that allows state and local police officers around the country to search millions of case files from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal law enforcement agencies, according to Justice officials.
The system, known as "OneDOJ," already holds approximately 1 million case records and is projected to triple in size over the next three years, Justice officials said. The files include investigative reports, criminal-history information, details of offenses, and the names, addresses and other information of criminal suspects or targets, officials said.
The database is billed by its supporters as a much-needed step toward better information-sharing with local law enforcement agencies, which have long complained about a lack of cooperation from the federal government.
But civil-liberties and privacy advocates say the scale and contents of such a database raise immediate privacy and civil rights concerns, in part because tens of thousands of local police officers could gain access to personal details about people who have not been arrested or charged with crimes.
The little-noticed program has been coming together over the past year and a half. It already is in use in pilot projects with local police in Seattle, San Diego and a handful of other areas, officials said. About 150 separate police agencies have access, officials said.
But in a memorandum sent last week to the FBI, U.S. attorneys and other senior Justice officials, Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty announced that the program will be expanded immediately to 15 additional regions and that federal authorities will "accelerate . . . efforts to share information from both open and closed cases."
Eventually, the department hopes, the database will be a central mechanism for sharing federal law enforcement information with local and state investigators, who now run checks individually, and often manually, with Justice's five main law enforcement agencies: the FBI, the DEA, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Bureau of Prisons and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.


The Crush of Year-End Rulemaking
By Cindy SkrzyckiTuesday, December 26, 2006; Page D01
With year-end festivities looming, federal regulators have spread their own version of holiday "cheer," churning out dozens of potential rules and guidelines. They reach into the far corners of commerce, like so many last-minute gifts -- or lumps of coal -- stuffed in a stocking.
Some are in the "can you believe the government is involved in this?" category. Others are more like "thank goodness someone is paying attention.''
For example, in case you're making eggnog from scratch, consider the latest from the egg regulators at the Food and Drug Administration. They advise practicing "egg safety." In an effort to prevent food poisoning cases, the agency put out a reminder on Dec. 20 that there are an estimated 118,000 cases each year of salmonella enteritis from undercooked eggs. A survey this year showed that cookie dough was the major source of raw-egg consumption.
The agency suggests using pasteurized egg products, cooking dishes with eggs in them to 160 degrees, and abstaining from unbaked cookie dough (you know who you are). Other seasonal projects published in the Federal Register in recent days:
. The Coast Guard issued a rule changing the date of the annual Gasparilla Marine Parade in Hillsborough Bay and Tampa, to the last Saturday in January, a week earlier than usual. The edict also creates a staging area so boats are properly lined up and a 50-foot safety zone around them to handle "safety concerns associated with an increased number of spectator vessels that gather to watch this parade."
. The Federal Railroad Administration told the Toledo, Peoria & Western Railway not to run any cars or equipment on a timber railroad bridge spanning Prairie Creek, near La Hogue, Ill., because the span is rotting and deteriorating.
.The U.S. Mint issued an interim rule, effective through April 14, prohibiting the exportation or melting of pennies and nickels. Treasury is worried that the value of the metal (copper, nickel and zinc) exceeds the face value of the coins, encouraging speculation and recycling. The rule said that if there were a shortage of the coins, it could take up to $1 million a day to replenish the supply and tax the Mint beyond capacity.



Science Stops for No Holiday 

At Local Biotech Labs, Christmas Was Quiet Day for Research
By Michael S. RosenwaldWashington Post Staff WriterTuesday, December 26, 2006; Page D01 Tuberculosis did not take the day off to mark Christmas. Neither did cancer. Or arthritis. And so neither did Rama Raghunandan, a scientist in Rockville. Yesterday morning, as millions of people around the world were unwrapping gifts, Raghunandan was alone in her lab at CytImmune Sciences, feeding cells that may one day help produce new drugs. Her white Honda minivan was the only vehicle in the parking lot. Her family and gifts were at home waiting for her. "You can think of them as babies," Raghunandan said, not about her family but about her cells. "They need to be fed and cleaned. That's something we can't stop doing." Rank-and-file scientists like Raghunandan make up the backbone of Montgomery County's thriving biotech sector, home to more than half of the state's 360 bioscience firms. Despite all the high-tech gadgetry that hums and buzzes in a modern biotech company's laboratory, projects depend on a human being to be there to administer solutions, measure reactions or just plain wait. This is the painstaking, sometimes monotonous, early stage work that one day -- perhaps a decade away -- will produce a drug.

Monday, December 25, 2006


Aconteceu quase na Idade Média, poucos anos depois de ter terminado aquela a que chamaram a Segunda Grande Guerra. O nosso mundo tinha passado em pouco tempo da candeia de azeite ao candeeiro de petróleo mas a electricidade ainda levaria mais algum tempo a aparecer.

Naquele tempo a quarta classe era uma coisa puxada: Em Dezembro, cada erro no ditado ja' custava caro, a aritmética para ser resolvida a tempo e horas obrigava ao domínio instantâneo da tabuada, a história pátria já ia na segunda dinastia, as linhas férreas, os sistemas hidrográfico e orográfico estavam metade descascados, e a gramática tinha entrado a bem ou a mal em todas as cabeças do grupo.

Para nem perder a rodagem nem ganhar maus hábitos, o professor entendeu encomendar para as férias meio caderno de contas e uma redacção por dia, temas livres, mas uma delas teria de ser um conto de Natal. Apesar do encargo ainda houve muito tempo para jogar à bola.

Quem não jogou à bola nem fez os trabalhos de casa foi o Silvino porque lhe entrou em casa a papeira, coisa que atrapalhou a valer porque só na data de volta à escola o rapaz e os irmãos, que eram três, estavam todos recompostos. E foi assim, de alma tranquila, que o Silvino se apresentou ao serviço.

O professor é que não entendeu que a papeira fosse impedimento, mesmo atendendo ao facto de ter atingido a casa toda, e exigiu-lhe para o dia seguinte as contas e o conto.

Voltou o Silvino a falhar. Para hilaridade da turma confessou que ou o aperto dos trabalhos ou a sopa da ceia lhe tinham desarranjado os intestinos de forma imparável, de modo que não tinha feito as contas, só tinha escrito o conto.

Não era obra acabada o conto do Silvino, a diarreia não é favorável à inspiração e o Silvino não tinha boas relações com a gramática. Mas, ainda que tosca, a última de seis ou sete frases que o Silvino tinha alinhavado nos intervalos das aflições diarreicas ficou-nos para toda a vida: era, mais ou menos assim,

... e tive de ajudar a tratar dos outros, e aquecer a água para lavar o que nasceu na noite de Natal.


A atribuição a M J Morgado do processo dos árbitros veio colocar mais e mais fortes holofotes na ribalta onde se encena a revista à portuguesa repescada com os meios tecnológicos que fazem nos dias de hoje a delícia e os proveitos dos media: “O Caso do Apito Dourado”. Tratando-se de um negócio win-win-win, dificilmente sairá de cena tão cedo. E se sair, transitoriamente, voltará com novo “casting” e enredo eventualmente revisto e actualizado.

O futebol é um negócio que ancorou à sua volta um “cluster” com muitas ramificações, algumas insondáveis. Como qualquer negócio produz para venda. Compra e vende. Tem os seus clientes e os seus fornecedores, os seus accionistas e os seus obrigacionistas. E empregados e financiadores, como é da praxe. Como em qualquer negócio, é do sucesso dos produtos vendidos pelo futebol que dependem os lucros a distribuir pelos seus accionistas.

O mais visível dos produtos do futebol é o jogo. E se nem sempre são as vendas do produto “âncora” que proporcionam as receitas mais elevadas (a transacção de jogadores, por exemplo, é frequentemente superior às receitas dos jogos nas bilheteiras ou por transmissões televisivas) é da sorte dos jogos que depende basicamente a sorte dos outros produtos do negócio: publicidade, merchandising, transacções de jogadores, vendas de camisolas, etc. O “core business” não pode, no caso do futebol, ser subalternizado porque se o coração falhar todos os outros “business” entrarão em falência.

Nada, portanto, obriga a configurar uma análise económica do negócio futebolístico de uma forma original. Mesmo as ligações perigosas entre o futebol e a política, a política e a construção civil, a construção civil e o futebol, mais não são do que “remake” da promiscuidade germinada pela concubinagem entre tutores do Estado e a iniciativa privada. E se do futebol esses tutores nem sempre esperam a oportunidade de encherem os bolsos, a visibilidade política que o “show” lhes proporciona vale bem os bolsos por encher.

No que o futebol, enquanto negócio, tem de original são os árbitros. Em nenhum outro negócio é tão flagrante o papel que pode desempenhar um intruso na sua sorte. O papel que mais se aproxima, nos seus desempenhos, daquele a que se presta um árbitro comprado por um dos concorrentes é o do espião industrial. Em ambos os casos a sorte do negócio é fortemente influenciada por um intruso. Mesmo assim a diferença é flagrante porque o árbitro é conhecido e interveniente visível no jogo e a parcialidade comprada é exibida à vista de todos os que vêm ou visionam o jogo. Com uma subtileza incontornável: a parcialidade pode ser involuntária ou comprada e, neste último caso, a prova pode ser impossível nas actuais condições de ausência de controlo de fluxos financeiros.

Casos como os que recentemente passaram a ocupar as discussões dos portugueses para delícia dos empresários e actores desta comédia de polícias e ladrões, e dos jornalistas, não serão de futuro detectáveis porque os empresários e actores depressa aprendem os caminhos por onde se evadem outros trânsfugas impunes: os que transaccionam drogas, armas, humanos e órgãos humanos, atrás dos intocáveis que se evadem dos impostos.

Haverá, evidentemente, sempre uns Vale de Azevedo distraídos, mas afinal de contas razoavelmente bem tratados, para confirmar a regra, enquanto o grosso do pelotão se escapa.

Aos árbitros, fornecedores de um serviço de cujos resultados observados em campo não há lugar a apelo, continuarão a ser oferecidas contrapartidas para interferirem nesses mesmos resultados. A aceitação dessas ofertas tenderá, quanto muito e a partir de agora, a aumentar o valor da parada e a exigir a adopção de canais seguros.

A menos que se dispensassem os árbitros, o que retiraria ao futebol um dos aliciantes que alimenta a sua popularidade.

Um dos intervenientes neste circo que poderia e deveria, com vantagem para quase todos, retirar-se de cena é o Estado. O que seria fatal para aqueles seus tutores que parasitam à volta do futebol. O instinto de sobrevivência vai continuar a mantê-los agarrados ao negócio como árbitros entre os interesses dos construtores civis e as dependências do futebol. E como árbitros, sujeitos à compra.

Uma desinfestação legal poderia reduzir as consequências nocivas destes últimos. Mas essa desinfestação só seria possível se fosse minoritária a fracção de tutores parasita.

Pelos vistos não é.


Area Nonprofits Are Hiring

Monday, December 25, 2006; Page D02

Washington ranks first in the country in the percentage of its workforce employed by charities and other nonprofit organizations. A new report by the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies shows that the District is mirroring a nationwide trend of employment in the nonprofit sector growing faster than the overall job market.

For example, Salamon said, more jobs are created in health care as the population ages. As more women join the workforce, there has been more need for child-care services. Many such jobs are provided by nonprofit organizations.
Nearly 18 percent of the District's total workforce in 2004 were employed by charitable nonprofit organizations, according to the report. That compares with 10.5 percent in the nation overall.

The report, which drew data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, broadly defines charitable nonprofit jobs to include fields such as scientific research, entertainment, health care, education and social assistance organizations entitled to tax exemption under the Section 501(c)(3) code by the Internal Revenue Service.
The BLS, in its separate monthly employment survey, shows that the number of overall Washington area jobs in "religious, grant making, civic, professional, and similar organizations" rose about 2 percent in October to 94,600 jobs from 92,800 jobs in the same period a year earlier. The BLS report captures a smaller universe of nonprofit jobs than that defined by the Johns Hopkins report, which includes more industries and counted more than 118,425 nonprofit jobs in the District alone.

Nonprofit employment is growing faster in the suburbs than in the District, the report said. Nonprofit jobs in Northern Virginia rose 44 percent between 1995 and 2003, compared to an increase of 28 percent in the District during the same period.

"As people move to the suburbs, so do the nonprofits," Salamon said.

District - 17,6%

Vermont - 16,5%

Rhode Island - 15,8%

New York - 15,6%

Maine - 15,3%

Pennsylvania - 14,9%

North Dakota - 14,8%

Massachussets - 14.6%

Montana - 14,1%

Wyoming - 14%

US Average - 10,5%

Maryland - 12,1%

Virginia - 9%


Something to Show for 15 Years
Human Genome Sciences Puts 2 Drugs to Final Tests

By Michael S. RosenwaldWashington Post Staff WriterMonday, December 25, 2006; Page D01

Earlier this month, a man suffering from hepatitis walked into an examination room at a doctor's office in Fairfax so he could be injected with an experimental new drug made by Human Genome Sciences. His doctor, Vinod Rustgi, was in the room. So was a clinical trial coordinator.

For the patient, a man in his late 40s, the moment represented an opportunity to try a drug that he would need just twice a month, rather than once a week -- a significant lifestyle improvement given that hepatitis treatments can cause severe flu-like symptoms for a few days. For the doctor, the director of liver transplantation at Georgetown University, the drug could be an important new approach to treating a potentially deadly disease.

And for Human Genome Sciences, the moment marked the clearing of its biggest hurdle to date: The Rockville company, now nearly 15 years old, has finally entered the last stage of testing for one of its drugs. In a few days, HGS is expected to do it again, starting final testing for a lupus treatment. The company has spent hundreds of millions of investor dollars to get to this moment, with both products offering entree into multibillion-dollar markets. Yet the cruelest cruelty of the drug development business, for patients and companies, is that the drugs still might fail.

"When you are in the very early stages of research, you're sitting around trying to find a new idea you can develop that might have a chance in the future to help patients," said James H. Davis, the biotechnology firm's general counsel and one of the few executives left at the company who were around during its early research days. "Now we are at the point of knowing whether we are helping a patient or not."

The weight of the moment in the examination room was not lost on Rustgi as he watched his patient receive the injection. It is too early to tell how effective the drug will be in large numbers of patients. "There's a lot of stake for the field and for the company in that this a very important project for them," Rustgi said.

HGS has always had high hopes but little to show investors or patients. The firm was founded in 1992 by Harvard scientist William Haseltine, a self-confident genius who hung Renaissance art prints on company walls and was driven to meetings by a chauffeur. By understanding and leveraging the power of the decoded genome, his scientists could make drugs that would go beyond alleviating symptoms. They'd fix the problems.
The idea caught on quickly. The pharmaceutical drug giant now known as Glaxo SmithKline pumped $125 million into the company for the right to access its gene database. HGS went public not long after, raising about $31 million to use discovering genes for use in developing products. With the excitement surrounding the mapping of the human genome in the late 1990s, the stock rocketed to more than $200 a share. Haseltine showed up on the cover of BusinessWeek. The headline: Mr. Green Genes.

And then nothing happened. Dozens of drugs did not come fast and furious, as was expected (rightly or wrongly) by many investors. Over the next few years, two drugs actually made it to advanced human testing. They failed. The company's stock fell. (It closed at $12.69 on Friday.)

Company executives and scientists remained resolute. HGS executives continued spending money, even committing $235 million to build a manufacturing plant when the company did not have any products in the final stage of testing. The plant is now up and running, producing drugs that HGS is testing in humans.

Haseltine constantly reminded investors that it would take 15 years to produce a product. But in early 2004, as pressure mounted on the company, Haseltine resigned. The company, he agreed, should pare down the 12 potential drugs in its pipeline to a handful that it could bring to market quickly. Drugs aimed at hepatitis and lupus were winners in that process. Some treatments for cancer were slowed down for a year or so but are now picking up speed. An HIV treatment is a likely candidate to be licensed for development by another company.

"There is some tiering of the priorities," said H. Thomas Watkins, a longtime drug company executive who replaced Haseltine as chief executive. "Any life sciences company has to do that. You have to be concerned about your near-term prospects and moving those forward rapidly, particularly in a case like ours, when we are pre-commercial. So getting those products to market takes on an even higher importance. But you have to make sure you have sustainability too, with a pipeline, or you aren't going to be here very long."
Watkins's experience in the drug business is in the boardroom, not the lab, and upon taking over HGS he immediately found the pressure from investors and analysts unforgiving. Even in recommending the firm's stock last year, a
Bank of America analyst called the company a "perennial underperformer" and its shares' performance "apathetic at best." Watkins was forced to become a change agent, and fast.

One of his earliest and most important hires was Barry A. Labinger, a seasoned drug sales and marketing executive who was given the title of chief commercial officer. Watkins also leaned heavily on David C. Stump, the firm's executive vice president of drug development and a veteran of biotech giant Genentech.

But narrowing the focus on quickly bringing drugs to market seemed to lessen the importance placed on executives with skill sets more attuned to the early, research-driven stages of biotech. That included people like Craig A. Rosen, a well-known microbiologist who co-founded the company with Haseltine. Along with the company's chief financial officer, Rosen spun off a unit of HGS by essentially buying a sizable chunk of its research-and-development capabilities. HGS maintains a financial interest in the new company, called CoGenesys, which has three drugs in its clinical pipeline. "We've evolved from the days of great research led by Craig to great drug development led by David Stump and great commercial development led by Barry Labinger," said Davis, who joined HGS in 1997. "It's not a difficult transition, but it's a significant transition."
HGS is also doing clinical trials to wrap up development of an anthrax treatment for the federal government's stockpile. But the biggest market opportunities are for the lupus and hepatitis drugs. Now the company's executives will have to wait a couple of years to see if their biggest bets to date actually pan out. The company is going from zero drugs in the final stage of development to two -- at the same time.

"I don't think anybody envisioned it being this close together," Davis said. "It doubles the excitement and doubles the odds of our success."


A story of hope, as needed as ever

Monday, December 25, 2006; Page A28

"AND IT CAME to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed." So begins the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke. There's some historical dispute about whether such a decree was issued around that time, but let that pass, too. It's an important part of the story now, a story not just of divinity, as it's seen by Christians, but of humanity -- and for all of us.

The Augustan Age of ancient Rome is generally regarded as a glorious period, a time when the empire was well-ruled, prosperous and full of creative activity. But, as ever, a lot depended on where you were and what your station was. In the eastern reaches, people could be displaced and driven about by great impersonal forces, made to answer to the whims of distant governors. A vast, efficient, civilizing empire that was also marked by cruelty and cold indifference ruled over a volatile part of the world riven by religious fanaticism and hatreds, tribal contention, and other conflicts.

The universal appeal of the Christmas story lies in its portrayal of a universal experience -- childbirth -- overcoming the most distressful of circumstances and bringing forth new life and new hope. It is a story of warmth, light and love. As he grew, Jesus of Nazareth conveyed a message that was to set a difficult path for those who believed deeply: to give up everything they owned and loved to follow him. But another part of his message has, like the Bethlehem story, inspired and comforted people of many faiths and was not much different from what has been preached there and in many other places: of the transforming power of love, the importance of humility, forgiveness, generosity and tolerance. The message of peace.

Today our own country, while never untroubled, is enjoying itself on an Augustan scale. But there is, of course, no peace. A good many of our noblest -- the Roman allusion is merited here -- are in difficult and dangerous conditions in that same faraway part of the world where the story of this day was set. And today a good number of them, whether religious or not, will take needed comfort in the old tale and in the atmosphere of the day and the greetings from home -- most now carried instantaneously on a glowing screen, which is the new light of Christmas and bearer of good tidings. Keep it shining this day, long and often.

Sunday, December 24, 2006



Seize the Chance
The politics of inequality have shifted. Now policy must follow.

Sunday, December 24, 2006; Page B06

THIS SERIES opened with the observation that Americans prefer not to discuss inequality. Nine months later, the climate has changed. John W. Snow, who served as Treasury secretary until July, broke ground for this administration by acknowledging that inequality was worth debating -- though he never quite conceded it was a problem. His successor, Henry M. Paulson Jr., forthrightly declared that "amid this country's strong economic expansion, many Americans simply aren't feeling the benefits." Meanwhile, Ben S. Bernanke, installed by President Bush as Federal Reserve chairman, has called for the fruits of globalization to be distributed more evenly. During his 2000 presidential campaign, Mr. Bush quipped that his base consisted of the "haves and the have-mores." We doubt he would make this joke now.

The question is whether the new climate will lead to a policy breakthrough. Some of the Democrats who unseated incumbents in the midterm elections -- notably Sens.-elect James Webb in Virginia and Sherrod Brown in Ohio -- campaigned on the issue of inequality and feel that they have a mandate for action. But the action they emphasize is trade protectionism, which would harm growth without necessarily reducing inequality. Higher tariffs might help workers in struggling manufacturing companies, but they would push up prices for workers in the service sector, which includes janitors, fast-food workers and other low-income employees.

The field is therefore open for leaders in both parties to come up with better ideas. This series has suggested several options and explained their policy merits. But we also believe that our proposals are politically marketable.
Take our suggested tax increase: A 5-percentage-point increase in the rate paid by the top 1 percent of households. Members of Congress appear to believe that calling for a tax increase -- any tax increase -- is political suicide. But can it really be true that voters are wedded to all of the tax cuts enacted this decade, even though the richest 1 percent stand to pocket more than a third of the windfall? By definition, the tax increase we suggest would not affect 99 percent of households, and it would not damage growth either. It would merely restore the top rate that existed in the 1990s -- a period when the U.S. economy performed excellently.
The same goes for tax reform, another policy endorsed in this series. Members of Congress may think they'll be skinned alive for messing with mortgage-interest deductions or tax shelters for savings. But what if they explained that half the benefits of these schemes flow to the richest tenth of households? What if they promised that the majority of voters would keep their tax breaks, and only those with mortgages of $500,000 or more would suffer the indignity of reduced subsidies? If voters understood that these tax deductions are unfair, inefficient and condemned by policy experts of all stripes, they would applaud the politician who tamed them.

This series has also proposed a boost to education spending, including an increase of $2 billion annually to upgrade the quality of the Head Start preschool program. Of all the policies we offer, this is perhaps the easiest sell. Mr. Bush has demonstrated that it's possible to generate a bipartisan coalition on education, and this month a commission headed by former education and labor secretaries from both parties endorsed the idea of starting school for most children at 3 years old. The chief obstacle to action is the fear that education reform seldom yields real improvement. But experiments with high-quality preschool have shown dramatic reductions in later dropout and arrest rates for students, proving that education investments are effective and save money for society in the long run.

Then there is the dysfunctional health system, which national politicians often shy away from in the belief that it is impossibly complex. But the pressure for reform is stronger now than it was when President Bill Clinton's proposal crashed spectacularly: The nation has suffered another decade of galloping health costs that eat into take-home wages, damage the bottom lines of companies and leave a shamefully large number uninsured. Besides, the idea that ambitious health-care proposals will explode in the face of their sponsors is belied by recent experience. Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts signed a plan for universal health coverage and is now running for president. A dozen other states are pushing health-reform experiments; California's governor, assembly speaker and Senate president are coming out with rival ways to expand coverage. This month Sen. Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, unveiled a voluminous bill that promises to extend coverage to all Americans without costing taxpayers a cent more.

Inequality has increased in most rich countries over the past quarter-century. We do not claim that eliminating it is possible, nor even desirable: Unequal rewards help motivate people to work and innovate. But excessively unequal rewards can backfire. They can allow a successful elite to insulate itself from the rest of society, actually dulling competition and incentives, which is why economists find no evidence that more unequal societies grow faster -- and some evidence of the opposite. The level of inequality in the United States is bad for the social fabric without being good for economic dynamism. There are win-win opportunities to reduce inequality and at the same time boost efficiency. When the new Congress convenes in January, it should seize them.

This is the 10th and final editorial in a series on inequality. Previous editorials in this series can be found at


15 years later
Which Way Did It Go?

By Peter BakerSunday, December 24, 2006; Page B01

Fifteen years ago tomorrow, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned, the hammer-and-sickle flag over the Kremlin was hauled down and the Soviet Union officially ceased to exist, replaced by an independent, theoretically democratic Russia and 14 cousin states. But don't look for parades in Moscow to celebrate the anniversary. There will be no fireworks, no national commemoration of the epochal event of the last half of the 20th century.

By contrast, the 100th birthday of the late Leonid Brezhnev last week touched off a wave of nostalgia for the old apparatchik with the bushy eyebrows. Wreaths and flowers were laid at his tomb in Red Square, conferences were held on his legacy, a street and park were renamed for him. A state television correspondent rhapsodized about how he "was quite a hit with the ladies." A poll showed that more than 60 percent of Russians saw the Brezhnev era in a positive light compared with 17 percent who did not.

What to make of a Russia that today grows misty-eyed over a period of tyranny and stagnation while growling that the breakup of one of the world's most despotic regimes in 1991 was, as President Vladimir Putin put it, "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century"? What to make of a country with all the trappings of a Western-style capitalist democracy but the KGB-style cynicism to seemingly reach out and kill a critic in exile using radioactive polonium?

Russia today defies easy characterization. It is not your father's Soviet Union. Everyday Russians enjoy enormous freedom to live as they choose without worrying that neighbors will rat them out for making a joke about authorities. They can travel abroad, start businesses, watch foreign movies and surf the Internet unfettered.

And yet the Kremlin has nearly completed a seven-year project to reconsolidate power and eliminate any serious opposition. It started by taking over television, then parliament, then business. It manipulated elections and then, when that became inconvenient, eliminated voting altogether for the country's 89 governors and now is considering the same for big-city mayors. It has intimidated human rights groups and assumed control of newspapers one by one.

So Russia in some ways appears a little like China, where the economy flourishes with new freedom but politics remain tightly controlled. Or in other ways, it seems like Hugo Ch?vez's Venezuela. Or Augusto Pinochet's Chile. Or all of the above. There was a reason the old monarch was called the Czar of All Russias.
There are many Russias all coexisting together.

The 15-year path from the demise of Gorbachev to the rise of Putin is instructive at a time when Washington is talking about planting democracy in hard soil around the world. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said this month that "it takes time" to transform Iraq into a beacon of democracy. If Russia is any guide, it may take so much time that many of us won't be around to see that day.
"There have been some missed opportunities," Rice, who was a Soviet specialist at the White House as the Soviet Union headed toward collapse, told The Washington Post. "There have been some disappointments. It hasn't gone in a straight line. I think that the linking up of energy and politics is pretty troubling. But it's also not the Soviet Union, and personal freedoms are considerably greater than anything that we would have imagined when I was there."

The optimism of those first weeks after the Soviet collapse was infectious. Gorbachev succumbed to the pressures he himself had unleashed with reforms intended to save socialism. President George H.W. Bush hailed the end of the Soviet Union as "a victory for democracy and freedom" and welcomed "the emergence of a free, independent and democratic Russia."

Under Boris Yeltsin, Russia moved fitfully forward, but every advance seemed to encounter an equally powerful setback. Elections brought in a representative parliament only to trigger a tank battle with Yeltsin. State property was divested to private owners only to be stolen by newly minted oligarchs. The borders opened but the economy collapsed. Regions asserted greater autonomy but war broke out when Chechnya claimed too much. By the time an ailing Yeltsin picked a little-known former KGB colonel to succeed him on New Year's Eve 1999, the country was ready for anything resembling stability.

Putin's tough-fisted rule combined with soaring oil prices have transformed Russia. During my last visit there a few months ago, a massive new shopping mall -- the largest, it was said, in all of Europe -- had risen a block from my old apartment in less than two years. Ikea, which opened its first store in Russia the same week Putin was formally elected in 2000 and found 40,000 ravenous customers on its doorstep the first day, had five furniture stores and eight malls with plans for 11 more, making it the second-largest landlord in Moscow. Russia is swimming in money; its economy has grown fivefold under Putin, from $200 billion to $920 billion, and the once-destitute government has paid off its international debt in full and early.



Having a Hard Old Time

By Martha M. Hamilton
Sunday, December 24, 2006; Page F01

Barbara E. Davis was 57 when the heart attack struck at midnight in April 1996. She had just turned over to look at the clock, and as she turned back, "the pain hit me between my breasts and went all the way through to my back."

Until that day, Davis had worked as a chef at the College of Preachers at the Washington National Cathedral, but the heart attack and subsequent open-heart surgery made it hard to continue at the job she had held since 1972, although she tried briefly. As a result, she retired sooner than expected -- before she was eligible for a full pension, she said.

Now she gets along on a little less than $15,000 a year in retirement -- her combined net income from Social Security and a pension benefit of $216.02 a month.

She is more typical than it often seems when you live in the world of the worried well -- those of us with the luxury of wondering whether to open a Roth or a traditional individual retirement account or whether to annuitize that lump sum. Nearly a quarter of all retirees have no income other than Social Security. For 40 percent of elderly recipients, Social Security is more than 90 percent of their income -- which underscores why strengthening Social Security is so important.


Saturday, December 23, 2006


The Gurus of YouTube

How a couple of regular guys built a company that changed the way we see ourselvesBy JOHN CLOUD

Posted Saturday, Dec. 16, 2006Let's say you're in your 20s and you start your first Internet company. Let's say 21 months later you sell it for $1.65 billion. What happens next?

At first, not much. Some of the money is tied up in escrow, and the traditions of modesty in Silicon Valley require a period of restraint before you spend in the big, life-changing way that your wealth will permit.
Still, the world wants to talk to you. Japanese television, Argentine newspapers, a bunch of French journalists and what seems like every news outlet in the U.S. Friends you haven't heard from in a long time send e-mails. Hey, how's it going? Long time no see! BTW I have this great business idea...

And so even though you've just left a photo shoot with an imperious, name-dropping L.A. photographer and ride to the airport in a jet-black Escalade, when you arrive at LAX, you have to stand in the United Economy line because you're still flying coach. Having removed your shoes to get through security—an indignity you'll never again endure if one day you spend an inconsequential few million on a jet—you walk past a newsstand to see your company on the cover of Wired and GQ.

"Oh, and have you seen Fortune?... Yeah, we're in there too."
And there they are: Steve Chen, 28, and Chad Hurley, 29, two of the three founders of YouTube (the other, Jawed Karim, went to grad school last year), a couple of boy-men looking out from a magazine and up at themselves in real life. Then they board the plane, Steve way in the back and Chad closer to the front after paying an extra $24 for an "Economy Plus" seat.


A TIME elegeu, na sua última edição deste ano, o “Blogger” como “Personalidade do Ano”.

A história do ano eleita pela mesma revista foi, sem surpresas, a Guerra do Iraque. Para dissecar a golpes largos os começos desta guerra, que ninguém arrisca apostar como vai acabar (a generalidade da opinião dos responsáveis pela condução das hostilidades concorda com a imprevisibilidade dos resultados de qualquer estratégia que venha a ser adoptada a partir de agora), a TIME convidou seis autores de livros dedicados à Guerra do Iraque:

The Real War – What led so many post-9/11 fumbles? A group of intrepid authors gives us answers.

Não dão. A conversa à volta da mesa não dá respostas concludentes nem consensuais sobre as causas próximas nem sobre os atropelamentos observados até agora. Ao ler os diferentes depoimentos fica-se com a conclusão de que há muita interrogação para desbravar nos princípios da história, que, tudo leva a crer, ainda está longe de findar. Já as histórias por eles contadas – State of Denial (Woodward Ricks), Cobra II (General Bernard Tainor/Michael Gordon), The One Percent Doctrine (Ron Suskin), The Looming Tower (Lawrence Wrigt), parecem resumir o fim da história no título da última delas: Fiasco, de Thomas E. Ricks.

Nada disto é surpreendente, e é esperável que muitos aspectos que rodearam o avanço, aparentemente inesperado e impreparado, se mantenham inexplicados durante muitos anos ainda.

Surpreendente, contudo, continua a ser a quase ausência de referência aos interesses estratégicos dos norte-americanos naquela zona do globo, interesses esses que começaram a ser demarcados nos princípios do século passado e se reforçaram de forma muito nítida no período entre as duas guerras mundiais. Interesses esses que não são exclusivamente norte-americanos porque é cada vez mais flagrante a sua importância para todo o mundo, incluindo a Rússia, que passou à qualidade de grande exportador com a intensificação da exploração dos seus recursos de crude e o relativamente ainda baixo índice dos seus consumos.

Apenas Michael Gordon (Cobra II), respondendo à questão “When it comes to war planning, military commanders are told to prepare for the worst. Why was hope such an important of the tool kit this time?
tocou no assunto:

Well, they in fact prepared for the worst. But they were very much fighting the last war. I mean, they were worried the oil fields would be set on fire. Why? Because Saddam had set the Kuwaiti oil fields on fire. So they entered the situation prepared for all the things that didn’t happen and not the things that did.

O que, claramente, parece melicianice a mais (ou excesso de instinto de rebanho) considerando que estamos perante as forças militares supostamente mais bem apetrechadas e preparadas do mundo, em todos os sentidos, e aquelas que, por outro lado, têm vindo a intervir em várias partes do globo, quase continuamente há quase um século.

Lonely blogger, sem riscos nem recompensas, pela minha parte não vejo razão para alterar a minha aposta: Os EUA estão no Iraque por amor ao petróleo e não vão sair de lá enquanto não puderem prescindir dele.

E, sem nada a perder por isso, aposto a dobrar.
E se a guerra não se eternizar pode acontecer que ainda tenha a sorte de poder reconhecer que perdi.


Stores Stay Open, Hope for Last-Minute Rush
Washington Post Staff WriterSaturday, December 23, 2006; Page D01

Procrastinating consumers racing to buy last-minute Christmas gifts are expected to make tomorrow the busiest shopping day of the year -- and, retailers hope, provide a much-needed boost to what has so far been a lukewarm holiday season.

Only about 11 percent of shoppers had finished crossing off the names on their lists after last weekend, according to a recent survey by the National Retail Federation, a trade group. More than 15 percent hadn't even started. The group predicts that holiday sales will grow 5 percent over last year, to $457.4 billion, compared to 6.1 percent growth in 2005.

To help boost traffic, many stores are advertising extended hours and discounts reminiscent of the blockbuster weekend after Thanksgiving.

The L.L. Bean stores at the Mall in Columbia and Tysons Corner Center have been open 24 hours a day for the past week and won't close until tomorrow at 6 p.m., company spokeswoman Kathy Whitney said. The stores have been ringing up shoppers at all hours of the day and night since last Saturday. Whitney said this year is the first time the retailer has attempted such an approach outside its flagship store in Freeport, Maine.
more :

Friday, December 22, 2006


Se o desenvolvimento económico e social de Portugal dependesse do número de comentadores e analistas políticos que enchem páginas dos jornais com as suas sentenças, há muito que teríamos os nossos problemas estruturais resolvidos. Mas se os problemas do país não se resolvem, ou não se resolvem segundo as suas receitas, pelo menos vai ficando resolvido o problema da sua subsistência. O que não é aspecto de somenos considerando o considerável número de colunistas abrangidos.

De entre eles merece destaque, pela especialização em regurgitar verrina, Vasco Pulido Valente. Alguns outros fazem propostas, VPV nem isso.

E talvez porque lhe tenha parecido estarem as suas qualidades a serem desperdiçadas com as limitações do rectângulo onde nasceu, VPV entendeu numa das suas últimas crónicas atirar-se sobre Ingleses e Americanos que se atemorizam, segundo ele, de festejar abertamente o Natal e escondem os seus símbolos não vá o Diabo tecê-las; estes mesmos ingleses e americanos, que se metem com iraquianos e outros cavalheiros ao redor fora de portas, em casa, pelos vistos de VPV, são uns cágados, uns criminosos um dia destes, por isso.

Mas como o tema se lhe esgotou antes dele ter escrevinhado as linhas do contrato, pegou nele por uma das orelhas e terminou o artigo desancando nas crianças que têm o condenável hábito de desassossegá-lo nos restaurantes que frequenta.

Pelos vistos, VPV, além de tocar de cor os hábitos alheios, desconhece que o melhor do mundo são as crianças; deixai vir a mim as criancinhas, disse Jesus. Parece que os restaurantes devem dizer o mesmo por amor ao Natal. Ainda que as liberdades dos outros por vezes nos perturbem. Custos da vida em sociedade.

Também, pelos vistos, VPV quer desconhecer que os EUA são um país enorme onde coabitam 300 milhões de pessoas com diferentes cores e credos, onde cada um é livre de celebrar as suas festas no respeito mútuo pelas celebrações dos outros. E o Natal vê-se por toda a parte. O VPV não vê porque não vem cá, ou deve ter visto como o outro viu Braga.

Não verá, certamente a exuberância bacoca da árvore do Millennium, que ofende seguramente quem com frio e fome se sentirá esmagado pelo desprezo que lhe merecem tantas luminárias juntas. Desde quando a devoção sincera é medida em termos de Kwh?

A coabitação tolerante dos norte-americanos poderá medir-se, embora nem sempre se meça, valha a verdade, pela tolerância do ecumenismo que transparece de um programa para este período de festas numa escola pré-primária da área de Washington DC:


...This week we are continuing our discovery of holidays. We will be laerning about Kwanzaa, New Years Day, Hanukkah, and Christmas.Kwanzaa is an African American holiday.
A candle holder that is called a Kinara is used during Kwanzaa. It holds seven candles. Every night a new candle will be lit. We will be reading several books on Kwanzaa, and filling out our holiday passport.

New Years Day is an important day of reflection. We will talk about making new years resolutions for the next year. We will be talking more about New Years Day after break.

Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday. It lasts for eight days. A candle holder that is called a Menorah is used during Hanukka. Each night a new candle will be lit. The children receive gifts of gelt (chocolate coins), and play dreidel games. We will be celebrating Hanukkah, and playing dreidel games.

Christmas Day is on December 25 every year. Santa Claus visits children all over the world on Christmas Eve. He lives at the North Pole and flies on his sleigh with his reindeer. On Christmas Eve, he lives children presents under thr tree. Children also leave a stocking out for Santa to fill..."

Transcreve-se a prosa do cronista:

Milhões de polícias

Na Inglaterra e na América é politicamente incorrecto, e hoje quase criminoso, festejar o Natal. Porquê? Porque, celebrado com tanta exuberância, o Natal se arrisca a ofender (ou a convencer) os crentes de religiões minoritárias, sobretudo, claro está, os muçulmanos. Mas como não se pode proibir o Natal, coisa que decerto os puristas gostariam de fazer em nome dos direitos do homem, a ortodoxia política tem por enquanto de o camuflar. Isto obriga naturalmente a algumas contorções verbais, a muita hipocrisia e a uma boa dose de intimidação. A "árvore de Natal" passou a "árvore da amizade" e o "jantar de Natal" a "jantar do solstício de Inverno". Os "cartões de Natal" são agora também "cartões da estação" e o "Bom Natal", suponho, "Boa Estação".Nos países católicos, como Portugal, esta espécie de purga ainda não começou. Mas cá chegará, com o atraso e o zelo do costume. Entretanto, mesmo aqui, o totalitarismo (e uso a palavra deliberadamente) alastra sem sombra de protesto. O comportamento "aceitável" do cidadão comum é regulado e é imposto ao pormenor: e ninguém percebe, ou nota, o que se passa. No princípio da semana, por exemplo, um rapazinho fanático, porta-voz da Deco, exigia que o Estado obrigasse por lei qualquer restaurante (ou qualquer hotel) a admitir crianças. Segundo a lunática lógica da criatura, o princípio da igualdade, constitucionalmente consagrado, obrigava a essa medida de justiça. Não lhe ocorreu que o princípio da igualdade não se aplica, sem qualificação, a crianças. Como não lhe ocorreu que se propunha limitar a liberdade do próximo. A ideia de que há restaurantes que oferecem cerimónia e sossego e pessoas que gostam de cerimónia e sossego só lhe inspira desprezo. Se o consumidor que a Deco defende quer jantar entre correrias, choradeira e berros, o Estado não deve permitir outra maneira de viver. O resto não interessa.Pouco a pouco, os "direitos do homem", pervertidos por pequenos grupos de pressão, que o Estado muitas vezes sustenta (para não ir mais longe, somos nós quem paga a Deco), vão servindo para criar uma sociedade minuciosamente vigiada. Não existe a menor diferença entre a actual ortodoxia "bem-pensante" e o jacobinismo ou o comunismo clássico. É a velha ambição de criar um homem racional e perfeito pela força política. Não por acaso os "marxistas" de ontem prosperam neste novo mundo. A tolerância sempre foi ou já se transformou em intolerância e há lugar para milhões de polícias.»