Monday, January 30, 2012
Sunday, January 29, 2012
By JULIE BOSMAN
IN March 2009, an eternity ago in Silicon Valley, a small team of engineers here was in a big hurry to rethink the future of books. Not the paper-and-ink books that have been around since the days of Gutenberg, the ones that the doomsayers proclaim — with glee or dread — will go the way of vinyl records.
No, the engineers were instead fixated on the forces that are upending the way books are published, sold, bought and read: e-books and e-readers. Working in secret, behind an unmarked door in a former bread bakery, they rushed to build a device that might capture the imagination of readers and maybe even save the book industry.
They had six months to do it.
Running this sprint was, of all companies, Barnes & Noble, the giant that helped put so many independent booksellers out of business and that now finds itself locked in the fight of its life. What its engineers dreamed up was the Nook, a relative e-reader latecomer that has nonetheless become the great e-hope of Barnes & Noble and, in fact, of many in the book business.
Several iterations later, the Nook and, by extension, Barnes & Noble, at times seem the only things standing between traditional book publishers and oblivion.
Inside the great publishing houses — grand names like Macmillan, Penguin and Random House — there is a sense of unease about the long-term fate of Barnes & Noble, the last major bookstore chain standing. First, the megastores squeezed out the small players. (Think of Tom Hanks’s Fox & Sons Books to Meg Ryan’s Shop Around the Corner in the 1998 comedy, “You’ve Got Mail”.) Then the chains themselves were gobbled up or driven under, as consumers turned to the Web. B. Dalton Bookseller and Crown Books are long gone. Borders collapsed last year.
No one expects Barnes & Noble to disappear overnight. The worry is that it might slowly wither as more readers embrace e-books. What if all those store shelves vanished, and Barnes & Noble became little more than a cafe and a digital connection point? Such fears came to the fore in early January, when the company projected that it would lose even more money this year than Wall Street had expected. Its share price promptly tumbled 17 percent that day.
Lurking behind all of this is Amazon.com, the dominant force in books online and the company that sets teeth on edge in publishing. From their perches in Midtown Manhattan, many publishing executives, editors and publicists view Amazon as the enemy — an adversary that, if unchecked, could threaten their industry and their livelihoods.
Like many struggling businesses, book publishers are cutting costs and trimming work forces. Yes, electronic books are booming, sometimes profitably, but not many publishers want e-books to dominate print books. Amazon’s chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, wants to cut out the middleman — that is, traditional publishers — by publishing e-books directly.
Which is why Barnes & Noble, once viewed as the brutal capitalist of the book trade, now seems so crucial to that industry’s future. Sure, you can buy bestsellers at Walmart and potboilers at the supermarket. But in many locales, Barnes & Noble is the only retailer offering a wide selection of books. If something were to happen to Barnes & Noble, if it were merely to scale back its ambitions, Amazon could become even more powerful and — well, the very thought makes publishers queasy.
“It would be like ‘The Road,’ ” one publishing executive in New York said, half-jokingly, referring to the Cormac McCarthy novel. “The post-apocalyptic world of publishing, with publishers pushing shopping carts down Broadway.”
Shouldering the responsibilities of Barnes & Noble is one thing. Holding the fate of American book publishing in your hands is quite another. But William J. Lynch Jr., the C.E.O. of the company, says he is up for the battle. With all of three years of experience in bookselling, Mr. Lynch must pull off a balancing act that would be tricky even in good times. He must carve out a digital future for Barnes & Noble without forsaking its hard-copy past, all while his company’s profit and share price are under pressure, his customers are fleeing to the Web and Amazon is circling.
It might come as a surprise, but Mr. Lynch says Barnes & Noble is, in fact, a technology company. Never mind that it has 703 bookstores and operates in all 50 states. To the delight of publishers, he has pushed hard into e-books and, with the help of the well-reviewed Nook, even grabbed a lot of market share from Amazon. But he is playing David to Mr. Bezos’s Goliath. Barnes & Noble’s stock closed on Friday at $11.95, putting the value of the company at $719 million. Amazon’s shares closed at $195.37, valuing Mr. Bezos’s company at $88 billion.
“We could sit here and bang our head against the wall and get sick about it like we do every week,” Mr. Lynch, 41, said of his company’s stock price. But he contends that pushing into e-books with the Nook is the right way, and perhaps the only way, forward.
“Had we not launched devices and spent the money we invested in the Nook, investors and analysts would have said, ‘Barnes & Noble is crazy, and they’re going to go away,’ ” Mr. Lynch said.
BEFORE Mr. Lynch joined Barnes & Noble in 2009, he had never sold a book in his life. (The last book he read — on the Nook, he said last week — was “The Spy Who Came In From the Cold,” by John le Carré.) Mr. Lynch came to the job from IAC/InterActiveCorp, where he worked for HSN.com, the online outlet of the Home Shopping Network, and Gifts.com.
And yet, in three years, he has won a remarkable number of fans in the upper echelons of the book world. Most publishers in New York can’t say enough good things about him: smart, creative, tech-savvy — the list goes on. It helps that he has forged the friendliest relations between publishers and Barnes & Noble in recent memory. They are, after all, in this together.
Mr. Lynch grew up in Dallas and still speaks with a hint of Texas twang. But he has the foot-tapping intensity of a tech type running on four Mountain Dews. It seems fitting, then, that he usually works out of an office in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, where Barnes & Noble’s Web and digital operations are based, rather than at the company’s stately headquarters on Fifth Avenue, not far away. When he talks, you get the sense that he could be selling just about anything. As it happens, he is selling books.
Mr. Lynch says Barnes & Noble stores will endure. The idea that devices like the Nook, Kindle and Apple iPad will make bookstores obsolete is nonsense, he says.
“Our stores are not going anywhere,” he said in an interview this month in his office. He pointed to a surprisingly robust holiday season. In the nine weeks leading up to Christmas, sales were up 4 percent from the previous year. Titles for children and young adults are doing well, partly a result of the popularity of fiction with paranormal or dystopian themes, like “The Hunger Games.” And in the second half of 2011, Barnes & Noble picked up a big chunk of business from its vanquished rival, Borders.
Yet no sooner had the holidays passed than Barnes & Noble came out with some downbeat news for the year ahead. On Jan. 5, it projected it would lose as much as $1.40 a share in fiscal 2012. On top of that, Mr. Lynch said shareholders seemed to be underestimating the Nook’s potential so much that perhaps the company would be better off if it just spun off its digital business. Wall Street howled, and Barnes & Noble’s stock still hasn’t fully recovered. A bit of good news for the company is that, thanks to the Nook, it’s been grabbing e-book business from Amazon. Mr. Lynch said Barnes & Noble now held about 27 percent of the market, a number that publishers confirm gleefully. Amazon has at least 60 percent.
Responding to questions about the battle over e-books, Amazon issued a statement on Friday pointing to its own recent growth. In the nine-week holiday period ended Dec. 31, it said, “Kindle unit sales, including both the Kindle Fire and e-reader devices, increased 177 percent over the same period last year.”
Granted, Mr. Lynch inherited a company at a pivotal moment in its long, winding history. Barnes & Noble dates back to 1873, when Charles Barnes went into the used-book business in Wheaton, Ill. His company later moved to New York, bought an interest in an established textbook wholesaler, Noble & Noble, and opened a large bookshop on Fifth Avenue.
So it went until an enterprising young bookseller, Leonard Riggio, came along. After gaining a foothold in college bookstores, he bought that Barnes & Noble bookshop in 1971. Before long, he was offering deep discounts — and expanding wildly across the nation.
Early in his tenure, Mr. Lynch pressed Mr. Riggio’s brother, Stephen, his predecessor as C.E.O., to explain the business he’d gotten himself into.
“I had this ‘La Femme Nikita’ immersion with him,” Mr. Lynch recalled. “We went to lunch and I just told him, ‘Tell me everything you know about the book business.’ ”
But at that time, Amazon had already made the first successful move in e-readers: the first-generation Kindle hit the market in November 2007. Mr. Lynch had arrived in the C-suite, but was perilously late to the party.
ON Homer Avenue in downtown Palo Alto is a tiny, two-story building that once housed the maker of Palo Alto Bread. It was here, in March 2009, that Barnes & Noble brought a few new hires to create the Nook. Outsiders weren’t quite sure what the company was up to. The landlord figured that Mr. Lynch wanted to open a store.
What began as an almost quixotic effort to catch up with the Amazon Kindle has now grown into a 300-person operation in the heart of Silicon Valley. Mr. Lynch has hired engineers, software developers and designers, who are today spread among five low-slung buildings.
In one room, a virtual wallpaper of Nook color devices hangs in rows neat as a checkerboard. A common area holds a foosball table and a cooler of VitaminWater. Some of the walls are made of silver-colored mesh. Some of the cubicles are lime green.
But there are also reminders of the old Barnes & Noble. Over here is a basket of actual books, including “Travels With Charley” and “The Little Prince.” Over there on a wall are enormous vintage covers of books like “Of Mice and Men” and “The Great Gatsby.”
It was Nick Carraway who told Jay Gatsby, “You can’t repeat the past.” That warning seems to hang over these offices. A sign above one group of engineers says: “We are changing the future of bookselling.”
For all the bells and whistles and high-minded talk, Barnes & Noble doesn’t exactly have the cool factor (or money) of, say, a Google or a Facebook.
Ravi Gopalakrishnan, the first engineer whom Mr. Lynch hired and now the chief technology officer for digital products, said his techie friends were incredulous when he joined Barnes & Noble.
“They were all wondering what I was up to,” Mr. Gopalakrishnan, 46, said. “I’m a technology guy — why I was working for a retail company? They thought I was nuts. There were a lot of e-mails that said, ‘Barnes & Noble?!’ ”
Bill Saperstein, a mild-mannered surfer and a veteran of Apple, said he was persuaded to leave retirement to join Barnes & Noble as vice president for digital products hardware engineering.
“We don’t see a lot of the stock and the free sushi bar and everything else that you find at Google, but there’s a lot of responsibility,” said Mr. Saperstein, 62, who spent seven years working for Steve Jobs. “It was stuff that I strongly believed in, which was reading.”
Barnes & Noble is trying to strike at Amazon with another device. At its labs in Silicon Valley last week, engineers were putting final touches on their fifth e-reading device, a product that executives said would be released sometime this spring. (A Barnes & Noble spokeswoman declined to elaborate.)
Back in New York, Mr. Lynch has been working to revamp the look of Barnes & Noble stores. Last year, the company expanded sections for toys and games and added shiny new display space for its Nook devices. In another sign of the digital revolution, Mr. Lynch expects to eliminate the dedicated sections for music and DVD’s within two years — while still selling some of them elsewhere in the stores. He also plans to experiment with slightly smaller stores. And, before long, executives will take the Nook overseas — a big switch, given that Barnes & Noble has focused almost exclusively on the American market for decades. The first stop is expected to be Waterstones bookstores in Britain.
All of this would be a tall order for any C.E.O., and some analysts wonder if Mr. Lynch has bitten off more than he can chew. Then again, given this industry’s pace of change, Barnes & Noble may have to adapt to new realities, or die trying.
“I think they realize they can’t continue at the rate they’re going,” said Jack W. Perry, a publishing consultant. “They need more money to invest, to slug it out.”
THESE are trying times for almost everyone in the book business. Since 2002, the United States has lost roughly 500 independent bookstores — nearly one out of five. About 650 bookstores vanished when Borders went out of business last year.
No wonder that some New York publishers have gone so far as to sketch out what the industry might look like without Barnes & Noble. It’s not a happy thought for them: Certainly, there would be fewer places to sell books. Independents account for less than 10 percent of business, and Target, Walmart and the like carry far smaller selections than traditional bookstores.
Without Barnes & Noble, the publishers’ marketing proposition crumbles. The idea that publishers can spot, mold and publicize new talent, then get someone to buy books at prices that actually makes economic sense, suddenly seems a reach. Marketing books via Twitter, and relying on reviews, advertising and perhaps an appearance on the “Today” show doesn’t sound like a winning plan.
What publishers count on from bookstores is the browsing effect. Surveys indicate that only a third of the people who step into a bookstore and walk out with a book actually arrived with the specific desire to buy one.
“That display space they have in the store is really one of the most valuable places that exists in this country for communicating to the consumer that a book is a big deal,” said Madeline McIntosh, president of sales, operations and digital for Random House.
What’s more, sales of older books — the so-called backlist, which has traditionally accounted for anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of the average big publisher’s sales — would suffer terribly.
“For all publishers, it’s really important that brick-and-mortar retailers survive,” said David Shanks, the chief executive of the Penguin Group USA. “Not only are they key to keeping our physical book business thriving, there is also the carry-on effect of the display of a book that contributes to selling e-books and audio books. The more visibility a book has, the more inclined a reader is to make a purchase.”
Carolyn Reidy, president and chief executive of Simon & Schuster, says the biggest challenge is to give people a reason to step into Barnes & Noble stores in the first place. “They have figured out how to use the store to sell e-books," she said of the company. "Now, hopefully, we can figure out how to make that go full circle and see how the e-books can sell the print books.”
Mr. Bezos, for one, isn’t waiting. Amazon has set the book industry on edge by starting a publishing unit that has snagged authors like Timothy Ferriss and James Franco. And, each day, the stock market provides a sobering reminder that Mr. Bezos, not Mr. Lynch, has the deeper pockets.
While publishers’ fates are closely tied to Barnes & Noble, said John Sargent, the C.E.O. of Macmillan, it’s not all about them.
“Anybody who is an author, a publisher, or makes their living from distributing intellectual property in book form is badly hurt,” he said, “if Barnes & Noble does not prosper.”NYT
Saturday, January 28, 2012
LATE last month the British newspaper The Guardian asked readers to vote for its person of the year. The candidates included household names like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Egyptian techno-revolutionary Wael Ghonim and the Burmese pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. All placed far behind a striking, nose-ringed student from Chile named Camila Vallejo.
Though far from a familiar face in the United States, the 23-year-old Ms. Vallejo has gained rock-star status among the global activist class. Since June she has led regular street marches of up to 200,000 people through Santiago’s broad avenues — the largest demonstrations since the waning days of the Pinochet regime in the late 1980s. Under her leadership, the mobilization, known as the Chilean Winter, has gained nationwide support; one of its slogans, “We are the 90 percent,” referred to its approval rating in late September.
Ms. Vallejo’s charismatic leadership has led commentators to make the obligatory comparisons to other Latin American leftist icons like Subcomandante Marcos and Che Guevara. Yet “Commander Camila,” as her followers call her, has become a personality in her own regard. She skewers senators in prime-time TV debates and stays on message with daytime talk-show hosts hungry for lurid details about her personal life, while her eloquence gives her a preternatural ability to connect with an audience far beyond her left-wing base.
In perhaps the most poignant set piece in the year of the protester, Ms. Vallejo addressed a dense ring of photographers and reporters in August while kneeling within a peace sign made of spent tear-gas shells, where she calmly mused about how many educational improvements could have been bought with the $100,000 worth of munitions at her feet.
Ms. Vallejo, like many of her fellow student leaders, is an avowed communist. But while she has publicly commended other regional leftists like Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador, she and her generation have little in common with the older left of Fidel Castro or Hugo Chávez. They are less ideological purists than change-seeking pragmatists, even if that means working within the existing political order.
Still, there’s no question that the movement is upending Chilean society. True, it is centered on a policy question, namely reforming an educational system that disproportionally favors the children of wealthy families. But the earth-shaking Paris protests in 1968 also began with calls for university reform — before spiraling into street battles between radicalized students and truncheon-wielding gendarmes, opposing symbols in the culture war between old and new France.
The same process is under way in Chile. As the protests increasingly devolve into rock and tear-gas exchanges between students and the police, it’s becoming clear that more than education policy is at stake: a nonviolent social revolution in which disaffected, politically savvy youth are trying to overthrow the mores of an older generation, one they feel is still tainted by the legacy of Pinochet. It is not just about policy reform, but also about changing the underlying timbers of Chilean society.
It’s no surprise that the movement should be led by someone as charismatic as Ms. Vallejo. Paris 1968 had its celebrity protesters, handsome faces that brought hundreds of thousands into the streets, photogenic young men like Jacques Sauvageot and Daniel Cohn-Bendit. Chile has Ms. Vallejo.
Chile is perhaps Latin America’s greatest success story. After decades of authoritarian rule, it has spent the last 20 years building a thriving economy with a renewed democratic culture and a booming, educated middle class. But it is also confronting a dangerous imbalance: While the liberalization of higher education has led to improvements in access, tuition has consistently outpaced inflation and now represents 40 percent of the average household’s income.
At the same time, protesters say that wealthy students from private and expensive, co-pay charter schools have unfair access to elite universities, while the rest struggle to meet entrance standards at under-financed public institutions.
Criticism of the university system has been growing for years, but it was only in April that, energized by protests against a dam in Patagonia, students finally took to the streets. The protests grew over the winter; by the first press conference held by the national confederation of student unions, known as the Confech, Ms. Vallejo had emerged as its leader.
Echoing 1960s street activism, the Chilean Winter dabbled in the absurd, but with a high-tech, social-media twist. Thousands gathered in front of the presidential palace in June dressed as zombies, then broke into a choreographed dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” In July, students again gathered in front of the palace for a huge “kiss-in.”
Though the ideas came, said Giorgio Jackson, former student president of Chile’s Catholic University, from “everywhere, absolutely every local space,” the movement’s success hinged on the leadership’s ability to channel such creativity while maintaining a unified front to government and the media. The organization used a Web site to gather ideas and disseminate content for placards and posters. And it has used Ms. Vallejo’s 300,000-plus Twitter followers to quickly initiate huge “cacerolazos,” a form of dictatorship-era protest where people walk the streets banging on pots and pans.
While they vow to continue until all their lofty demands are met, the students have already scored some political victories. The government’s proposed 2012 budget has a $350 million increase for higher education, with promises to finance scholarships for qualifying students from families up to the 60th percentile in household income. Meanwhile, the year began with the naming of Chile’s third education minister in six months.
It was only a matter of time, perhaps, before the movement’s focus on education began to broaden. As more support for the movement came from outside the universities, its interests changed accordingly. “This year we have already started talking about political reforms and tax reforms, and we think the students and youth in general play an important role in profound reforms in the country,” said Noam Titelman, the new student president at Catholic University.
Tax reform is, not coincidentally, now at the top of the government’s agenda. And rightly so: though it has the largest economy in Latin America, Chile is the 13th most unequal country in the world.
“Something very powerful that has come out of the heart of this movement is that people are really questioning the economic policies of the country,” Ms. Vallejo said. “People are not tolerating the way a small number of economic groups benefit from the system. Having a market economy is really different from having a market society. What we are asking for, via education reform, is that the state take on a different role.”
The movement has also begun to spread regionally. Ms. Vallejo lent her star power to Brazilian student protests in August, while in November students demonstrated in France, Germany and several other countries in support of Confech’s Latin American March for Education.
“The student movement here is permanently connected to other student movements, principally in Latin America, but also in the world,” Ms. Vallejo said. “We believe this reveals something fundamental: that there is a global demand for the recovery and defense of the right to education.”
But the students clearly have a lot to learn about real-world politics. Ms. Vallejo and other student leaders spent weeks lobbying in Parliament, only to be left out of the final budget negotiations.
Frustration with Ms. Vallejo’s strategy propelled a rival leftist, Gabriel Boric, to challenge her in the latest round of student-government elections. On Dec. 7, national TV news crews lingered past 5 a.m. outside the University of Chile to cover a stunning defeat for the world’s most famous student leader.
Yet even in her early-morning concession speech, Ms. Vallejo claimed victory, recognizing that the movement was greater than any one figure. Indeed, her rise has barely broken stride. She just left for a speaking tour in Europe, while her first book, a collection of her speeches and essays from the last year, is rising through the best-seller ranks. And she is being heavily courted by the Communist Party to run at the top of its list for the Chilean Congress in the 2013 elections.
For all its recent stumbles, the movement’s prospects of getting a woman under 26 elected to Congress would help fulfill one of its underlying aims, to kindle young people’s interest in traditional politics. This may be Ms. Vallejo’s greatest contribution: to restore faith in a discredited system by showing a new generation that politics can be responsive to the people’s demands.
William Moss Wilson is a freelance journalist based in Chile.
William Moss Wilson is a freelance journalist based in Chile.NYT
Friday, January 27, 2012
Thursday, January 26, 2012
You know George Soros. He’s the investor’s investor—the man who still holds the record for making more money in a single day’s trading than anyone. He pocketed $1 billion betting against the British pound on “Black Wednesday” in 1992, when sterling lost 20 percent of its value in less than 24 hours and crashed out of the European exchange-rate mechanism. No wonder Brits call him, with a mix of awe and annoyance, “the man who broke the Bank of England.”
Soros doesn’t make small bets on anything. Beyond the markets, he has plowed billions of dollars of his own money into promoting political freedom in Eastern Europe and other causes. He bet against the Bush White House, becoming a hate magnet for the right that persists to this day. So, as Soros and the world’s movers once again converge on Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum this week, what is one of the world’s highest-stakes economic gamblers betting on now?
He’s not. For the first time in his 60-year career, Soros, now 81, admits he is not sure what to do. “It’s very hard to know how you can be right, given the damage that was done during the boom years,” Soros says. He won’t discuss his portfolio, lest anyone think he’s talking things down to make a buck. But people who know him well say he advocates making long-term stock picks with solid companies, avoiding gold—“the ultimate bubble”—and, mainly, holding cash.
He’s not even doing the one thing that you would expect from a man who knows a crippled currency when he sees one: shorting the euro, and perhaps even the U.S. dollar, to hell. Quite the reverse. He backs the beleaguered euro, publicly urging European leaders to do whatever it takes to ensure its survival. “The euro must survive because the alternative—a breakup—would cause a meltdown that Europe, the world, can’t afford.” He has bought about $2 billion in European bonds, mainly Italian, from MF Global Holdings Ltd., the securities firm run by former Goldman Sachs head Jon Corzine that filed for bankruptcy protection last October.
Has the great short seller gone soft? Well, yes. Sitting in his 33rd-floor corner office high above Seventh Avenue in New York, preparing for his trip to Davos, he is more concerned with surviving than staying rich. “At times like these, survival is the most important thing,” he says, peering through his owlish glasses and brushing wisps of gray hair off his forehead. He doesn’t just mean it’s time to protect your assets. He means it’s time to stave off disaster. As he sees it, the world faces one of the most dangerous periods of modern history—a period of “evil.” Europe is confronting a descent into chaos and conflict. In America he predicts riots on the streets that will lead to a brutal clampdown that will dramatically curtail civil liberties. The global economic system could even collapse altogether.
“I am not here to cheer you up. The situation is about as serious and difficult as I’ve experienced in my career,” Soros tells Newsweek. “We are facing an extremely difficult time, comparable in many ways to the 1930s, the Great Depression. We are facing now a general retrenchment in the developed world, which threatens to put us in a decade of more stagnation, or worse. The best-case scenario is a deflationary environment. The worst-case scenario is a collapse of the financial system.”
Soros’s warning is based as much on his own extraordinary personal history as on his gut instinct for market booms and busts. “I did survive a personally much more threatening situation, so it is emotional, as well as rational,” he acknowledges. Soros was just 13 when Nazi soldiers invaded and occupied his native Hungary in March 1944. In only eight weeks, almost half a million Hungarian Jews were deported, many to Auschwitz. He saw bodies of Jews, and the Christians who helped them, swinging from lampposts, their skulls crushed. He survived, thanks to his father, Tivadar, who managed to secure false identities for his family. Later, he watched as Russian forces ousted the Nazis and a new totalitarian ideology, communism, replaced fascism. As life got tougher during the postwar Soviet occupation, Soros managed to emigrate, first to London, then to New York.
Soros draws on his past to argue that the global economic crisis is as significant, and unpredictable, as the end of communism. “The collapse of the Soviet system was a pretty extraordinary event, and we are currently experiencing something similar in the developed world, without fully realizing what’s happening.” To Soros, the spectacular debunking of the credo of efficient markets—the notion that markets are rational and can regulate themselves to avert disaster—“is comparable to the collapse of Marxism as a political system. The prevailing interpretation has turned out to be very misleading. It assumes perfect knowledge, which is very far removed from reality. We need to move from the Age of Reason to the Age of Fallibility in order to have a proper understanding of the problems.”
Understanding, he says, is key. “Unrestrained competition can drive people into actions that they would otherwise regret. The tragedy of our current situation is the unintended consequence of imperfect understanding. A lot of the evil in the world is actually not intentional. A lot of people in the financial system did a lot of damage without intending to.” Still, Soros believes the West is struggling to cope with the consequences of evil in the financial world just as former Eastern bloc countries struggled with it politically. Is he really saying that the financial whizzes behind our economic meltdown were not just wrong, but evil? “That’s correct.” Take that, Lloyd Blankfein, the Goldman Sachs boss who told The Sunday Times of London at the height of the financial crisis that bankers “do God’s work.”
To many, the idea of Soros lecturing the world on “evil” is, well, rich. Here, after all, is an investor who proved—and profited hugely from—the now much-derided notion that the market, or in his case a single investor, is more powerful than sovereign governments. He broke the Bank of England, destroyed the Conservative Party’s reputation for economic competence, and reduced the value of the pound in British consumers’ pockets by one fifth in a single day. Soros the currency speculator has been condemned as “unnecessary, unproductive, immoral.” Mahathir Mohamad, former prime minister of Malaysia, once called him “criminal” and “a moron.”
In the U.S., where the right still has not forgiven him for agitating against President George W. Bush and the “war on terror” after 9/11, which he described as “pernicious,” his prediction of riots on the streets—“it’s already started,” he says—will likely spark fresh criticism that Soros is a “far-left, radical bomb thrower,” as Bill O’Reilly once put it. Critics already allege he is stoking the fires by funding the Occupy movement through Adbusters, the Canadian provocateurs who sparked the movement. Not so, says Soros.
Soros’s fragrant personal life will also prompt many to pooh-pooh his moralizing. Last year, Adriana Ferreyr, his 28-year-old companion for many years, sued him in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan, alleging he reneged on two separate promises to buy her an apartment, causing her extreme emotional distress. Ferreyr, a former soap-opera star in Brazil, said Soros had given the apartment he had promised her to another girlfriend. She also claimed he assaulted her. Soros has dismissed Ferreyr’s claims as “frivolous and entirely without merit” and “riddled with false charges and obviously an attempt to extract money.”
Despite his baggage, the man who now views himself as a statesman-philanthropist is undeterred. Having profited from unregulated markets, he now wants to deliver us from them. Take Europe. He’s now convinced that “if you have a disorderly collapse of the euro, you have the danger of a revival of the political conflicts that have torn Europe apart over the centuries—an extreme form of nationalism, which manifests itself in xenophobia, the exclusion of foreigners and ethnic groups. In Hitler’s time, that was focused on the Jews. Today, you have that with the Gypsies, the Roma, which is a small minority, and also, of course, Muslim immigrants.”
It is “now more likely than not” that Greece will formally default in 2012, Soros will tell leaders in Davos this week. He will castigate European leaders who seem to know only how to “do enough to calm the situation, not to solve the problem.” If Germany’s Angela Merkel or France’s Nicolas Sarkozy nurses any lingering hopes of finding their salvation outside the continent, they are mistaken. “I took a recent trip to China, and China won’t come to Europe’s rescue,” Soros says. Despite all its woes, he nevertheless thinks the euro will—just barely—survive.
While Soros, whose new book, Financial Turmoil in Europe and the United States, will be published in early February, is currently focused on Europe, he’s quick to claim that economic and social divisions in the U.S. will deepen, too. He sympathizes with the Occupy movement, which articulates a widespread disillusionment with capitalism that he shares. People “have reason to be frustrated and angry” at the cost of rescuing the banking system, a cost largely borne by taxpayers rather than shareholders or bondholders.
Occupy Wall Street “is an inchoate, leaderless manifestation of protest,” but it will grow. It has “put on the agenda issues that the institutional left has failed to put on the agenda for a quarter of a century.” He reaches for analysis, produced by the political blog ThinkProgress.org, that shows how the Occupy movement has pushed issues of unemployment up the agenda of major news organizations, including MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News. It reveals that in one week in July of last year the word “debt” was mentioned more than 7,000 times on major U.S. TV news networks. By October, mentions of the word “debt” had dropped to 398 over the course of a week, while “occupy” was mentioned 1,278 times, “Wall Street” 2,378 times, and “jobs” 2,738 times. You can’t keep a financier away from his metrics.
As anger rises, riots on the streets of American cities are inevitable. “Yes, yes, yes,” he says, almost gleefully. The response to the unrest could be more damaging than the violence itself. “It will be an excuse for cracking down and using strong-arm tactics to maintain law and order, which, carried to an extreme, could bring about a repressive political system, a society where individual liberty is much more constrained, which would be a break with the tradition of the United States.”
In spite of his warnings of political turmoil in the U.S., he has no plans to engage in politics directly. “I would prefer not to be involved in party politics. It’s only because I felt that the Bush administration was misleading the country that I became involved. I was very hopeful of a new beginning with Obama, and I’ve been somewhat disappointed. I remain a supporter of the Democratic Party, but I’m fully aware of their shortcomings.” Soros believes Obama still has a chance of winning this year’s election. “Obama might surprise the public. The main issue facing the electorate is whether the rich should be taxed more. It shouldn’t be a difficult argument for Obama to make.”
If there is a glimmer of hope for the world in 2012, Soros believes it lies in emerging markets. The democratic-reform movement that has spread across the Middle East, the rise of democracy and economic growth in Africa, even reform in Russia may yet drag the world out of the mire. “While the developed world is in a deep crisis, the future for the developing world is very positive. The aspiration of people for an open society is very inspiring. You have people in Africa lining up for many hours when they are given an opportunity to vote. Dictators have been overthrown. It is very encouraging for freedom and growth.”
Soros insists the key to avoiding cataclysm in 2012 is not to let the crises of 2011 go to waste. “In the crisis period, the impossible becomes possible. The European Union could regain its luster. I’m hopeful that the United States, as a political entity, will pass a very severe test and actually strengthen the institution.” Nor has he quite given up hope that the central bankers and prime ministers gathering in Davos this week have got what it takes to rally round and prove him wrong. This time, being wrong would make him happy indeed.Newsweek
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
MEXICO CITY – Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams denounced in Mexico the impunity that prevails for crimes against women in this country and the lack of political will to seek solutions.
After meeting with a group of 50 women’s rights activists, Williams criticized the “pretty words” of the Mexican government and demanded real solutions to a problem that affects the entire population.
“There’s no more time for excuses. The families who are suffering in this country want to see action and the women who have been raped by police officers and soldiers want to see justice,” she said.
To reverse the situation, she said that joint action by civil society is necessary, and she demanded answers from the government, saying that “nobody can change society alone; it has to be a whole community that takes action.”
Therefore, she said that the unity that the victims’ associations had demonstrated in denouncing the cases of disappearances, rapes and murders has been a positive thing.
In addition, she said that one of the main obstacles in achieving justice and ending impunity in Mexico is the high number of people implicated in these crimes.
“This problem requires a continuous struggle if we want to see a society in which we can live without fear,” she said.
Williams’ visit comes within the framework of the investigation she is undertaking along with fellow Nobel Peace laureate Rigoberta Menchu of the murders of women in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala.
Williams is scheduled on Monday to visit the southern state of Guerrero to hold a meeting with women and on Tuesday she will meet with diplomatic representatives and women who hold high positions in political life and the Mexican judicial system.
The aims of the visit include making visible the role, contribution and actions that women have taken to eradicate violence and insecurity in the country, as well as urging the Mexican government to guarantee protection for human rights defenders.
During 2010, some 3,100 women were murdered in Mexico, while in Honduras some 1,500 were killed between 2008 and 2011 and in Guatemala more than 5,000 women died violently over the past 10 years.
U.S. activist Williams received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her intense struggle to prohibit and remove landmines. EFE
Taken From Latin American Herald Tribune
Monday, January 23, 2012
By KENNETH CHANG
Samantha Garvey, an 18-year-old senior at Brentwood High School on Long Island, flew cross-country last week to appear on Ellen DeGeneres’s daytime talk show. Her face was on the cover of Newsday, her hometown newspaper. Her congressman, Steve Israel, invited her to work in his office in Washington this summer. She has hired an agent to juggle interview requests.
Ms. Garvey, a semifinalist in the Intel Science Talent Search, is exhilarated by the sudden celebrity, but said she would not mind when the attention passed and she could spend more time with her mussels. (Her work on them earned her the honor.)
The Intel contest is the premier science competition for high school students, so all semifinalists earn time in the spotlight. But Ms. Garvey has received far more than the 299 others this year: She and her family are newly homeless, living in a Suffolk County shelter.
“It’s not bad,” she said. “It’s a nice place.”
Her parents were injured in a car accident last year. Her father, a cabdriver, was able to keep driving. Her mother, a nurse’s assistant, could not work for more than half a year. The eldest of three children, Ms. Garvey tried to help with the family finances, applying for jobs at Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts. “Nobody called me back,” she said.
The Garveys were evicted from their home on Dec. 31.
Through the turmoil, Ms. Garvey continued working with her mussels, studying a dynamic that plays out in ecosystems around the world.
The mussel species, Geukensia demissa, or ribbed mussel, is native to Long Island Sound. The Asian shore crab, Hemigrapsus sanguineus, is not. It is a predatory interloper that arrived in the waters near Cape May, N.J., in 1988, and has since spread from Maine to North Carolina.
The crabs like to eat mussels.
The scientific question was whether the ribbed mussels would just sit there and be eaten by the new predator, or had nature provided them with a means of defending themselves?
Ms. Garvey collected mussels from different parts of Flax Pond, a salt marsh on the North Shore of Long Island. She compared the shell length, width, weight and other measurements of those that lived where Asian shore crabs were prevalent with those that lived in areas with few crabs.
She found that the mussels that lived in areas where the crabs were prevalent had thicker shells. Was that because the Asian shore crabs ate the mussels they could pry open most easily, leaving thicker-shelled survivors, or were the mussels able to grow greater protection in response to the predators?
In a laboratory at Stony Brook University, Ms. Garvey put some young mussels in tanks with the crabs, although the crabs were in cages. In other tanks, mussels lived alone. After 65 days, she found that the mussels that shared their tank with the crabs had developed thicker shells than the ones that lived alone.
The finding suggests that chemicals released by the Asian shore crabs in the water set off a defense mechanism in the mussels: they produce thicker shells that fend off predators. When the crabs are not around, the mussels do not pad their shells.
During the school year, Ms. Garvey spent about a dozen hours a week on her mussel research, and much more during the summer. In all, she spent two and a half years on the work, as part of a research curriculum that Rebecca Grella, a Brentwood High School chemistry teacher, successfully pitched to administrators eight years ago.
More than 60 students now take part. Ms. Grella, a doctoral candidate at Stony Brook, took advantage of her university connections to match Ms. Garvey with Dianna Padilla, a professor in the ecology and evolution department at Stony Brook, for the mussel research.
Brentwood is a melting-pot community with more of a reputation for gangs than for budding scientists, but last year, Ms. Grella’s efforts paid off when three of her students were named Intel semifinalists.
This year, two weeks after her family became homeless, Ms. Garvey found out she was among this year’s semifinalists.
She said she could not imagine what her life would be like if she had not had the opportunity to study mussels. “Maybe flunking out of school, honestly,” she said.
Instead, she hopes to attend Brown or Yale. Ms. DeGeneres’s show has already given her a $50,000 scholarship.
On Tuesday evening, Ms. Garvey will be in Washington, a guest of Mr. Israel, sitting in the House of Representatives gallery listening to President Obama deliver the State of the Union address. On Wednesday, she will find out if she is one of the 40 Intel finalists for a top prize of $100,000.
Life will soon resume an air of normalcy. A day after Intel announced its semifinalists, Suffolk County officials said they had found a home for the Garveys.
Then there will be time for mussels.
“The marsh — it smells and stuff,” Ms. Garvey said. “But I still love it. It’s home.”NYT