Wednesday, January 30, 2008
China crisis: The human cost
You could only admire her bravery. A stream of pumped-up Chinese police reinforcements was slicing at speed through a tactical opening in the security barricades at Guangzhou train station.

The woman, 40ish, slightly built and alone, flung herself into the breach. For a moment it seemed she'd be minced meat. A police officer wrenched her aside and pulled the barricades back together.

"I want to go," she wailed. "I want to go."

But she was back with so many others, on the wrong side of security, with tens of thousands of people between her and the great prize of a seat on a train heading anywhere.

China's current emergency can be seen on one level as an epic collision.

On one side: nature, wild and indifferent. On the other: a very human drive to visit family during one slender window each year.

It is a deeply intimate story.

China's economic rise - and my cheap T-shirts and kids' toys - depend on ordinary Chinese who leave their homes to work often seven days a week in factories in the south. The trip home for Lunar New Year fulfils ancient obligations to family. It is also the only chance most of them have to see family members - including spouses and children - all year.

The vast tides of people waiting at Guangzhou might be sources of fascination, curiosity - even incomprehension. They can never be figures of fun.

Thirty years ago, the travel writer Jan Morris made a trip from Guangzhou to Hong Kong. She spoke of not seeing people so much as "statistics on the move." A neat line.

But the tens of millions currently disrupted by China's weather are no mere statistics. Theirs are all too human faces, desperate to keep faith with their families after for the long months of separation.

Their powers of endurance will be remembered long after their occasional flashes of exasperation or anger.

-- From CNN Correspondent Hugh Riminton in Guangzhou
Saturday, January 26, 2008
President Karzai's personal war
Switzerland is a stranger to conflict, having opted out of World War II in a state of neutrality, but some visitors bring their own battle with them.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai was in the remote Swiss town of Davos this week as part of his ongoing mission to rally international help to drive the Taliban from his homeland.

Though reminiscent of the snow-capped peaks that loom over Kabul, the ski slopes are a far cry from the scarred Afghan landscape – a peaceful picture postcard scene that would set anyone’s mind at ease.

But Karzai remains on his guard.

CNN visited the Afghan leader in his rented Swiss mountain villa overlooking Davos for an interview that drove home the constant state of peril in which he has spent every day since he took office after the 2001 fall of the Taliban.

Before entering the villa, the CNN crew was marched 100 meters along a deserted snow-covered road by a team of security guards. Bags were unpacked, video cameras were scrutinized and each of us given a thorough body check.

The equipment is a particular concern for Afghans, who in the days prior to the Taliban’s defeat, lost iconic Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Masood when a suicide bomber posing as a journalist detonated a bomb in a TV camera.

Only after we have all been checked -- under scrutiny from almost a dozen Afghan security guards, Swiss police and special agents -- are we admitted to the building, where Karzai is waiting.

The level of vigilance surrounding the president is one of the best reminders that his country is still in a state of conflict – one that has come perilously close to ending the life of its leader on several occasions.

Karzai himself is, as always, cucumber cool, but clearly pensive.

There is a clear contrast the following day when the CNN crew sets up to film Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda.

Although this takes place within the security surrounding the World Economic Forum in Davos, the event is a markedly relaxed affair.

Fukuda himself is all smiles, joking with the crew when the cameras stop rolling. Asked if he was still enjoying being Japanese prime minister, he grins sheepishly, and replies: “I’m suffering.”

Clearly not as much as Karzai.

By CNN.com Digital Producer Barry Neild in Davos, Switzerland
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Can online networkers 'poke' in real life?


People who don’t do MySpace, Facebook or similar sites usually moan that they prefer real life social networking, deeming avid fans losers who chat to their pretend friends in secluded dingy bedrooms.

While the rest of us are “poking” or posting on “funwalls”, they are out pressing the flesh, chewing ears, slipping business cards into wallets and no doubt harping on about people who waste their time on the Internet.

The two worlds collided this week at the meeting of big business cheeses and global leaders that is the World Economic Forum. A seminar titled: “Add a Friend: Accept or Decline” lured online community leaders out into the schmoozing open.

So the question is: Can online social networkers do it in real life?

The answer is yes. With gusto.

There was a raucuous hubbub of conversation at the seminar as key figures from business and blogosphere came face-to-face.

As far as I know there was no poking, but plenty of gentle ribbing from networking rivals -- a rather flushed Reid Hoffman, chairman of LinkedIn, absorbed a heckling as he outlined ideas for improving Internet interaction.

Plenty of actual LOL followed blogging legend Robert Scoble’s account of getting booted off Facebook for violating the site’s rules and abusing the trust of his 5,000 “friends”.

Much of the discussion focused on how social sites are miscast as work distractions and how they can in fact drive the workplace, with anecdotes of businesses tapping innovative skills beyond company boundaries through the Internet.

Given the professions of those attending the seminar, it was no surprise that some were blogging the event as it happened, cutting edge cell phones and computers glowing from every table.

But at the end of the evening, these digital pioneers abandoned their electronics and indulged in a bit old school networking – swapping business cards.

From CNN.com Digital Producer Barry Neild in Davos
The new darlings of Davos

Almost as heavy as the snowfall that greeted participants at this Swiss Alpine resort, was the cloud of anxiety hovering over the start of this year's World Economic Forum.

Stock markets around the globe were badly shaken by the potential spread of a credit crisis from the U.S. This was not lost on Middle Eastern markets which started selling-off Sunday, their first day of trading, and carried through Tuesday.

The dramatic, and what some saw as a panicked, reaction by the Federal Reserve, to cut interest rates by three-quarters of a percentage point sent mixed signals. What is the Fed seeing that others might not? Certainly the signal is that the bottom certainly has not been found on Wall Street, and for that matter some of the European banks as well.

That, however, does not mean the rest of the world should freeze in its tracks and that growth should come to a halt. The Middle East in fact is coming off some of the fastest growth in three decades. The excess liquidity of $400 billion each year from oil prices in the $80 per barrel range has changed the dynamics of the region and what these players are doing with their capital.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that $800 billion will be put into infrastructure in the region. Tall buildings, new financial centers, energy cities, new university hubs -- they are all being built. But the region can only absorb so much capital.

This is where the new darlings of Davos come in: The sovereign wealth funds. In case you missed it, the funds were the subject of front page articles on both Business Week and the Economist over the weekend. The danger from my vantage point here is that there is a lot of discussion about moving fast, taking advantage of buying opportunities (like Citigroup & Merrill Lynch), but also about competing with each other. There is a hint that some of the players are getting ahead of themselves.

Giant Stimulus Plan

There is potential here in Davos to bring like-minded players together for the greater good of the global economy. While the White House debates the merits of the $150 billion stimulus package, there is $1.5 trillion available in the Gulf. That is a serious stimulus package. As respected economist and old Davos hand Fred Bergsten rightly said, this liquidity could lead to a re-coupling of east and west. The investment money from the Gulf, China and Singapore will help avert a recession in the U.S. if, and a big "if" here, the funds are welcomed.

Some anxiety about this was expressed this morning by Mervyn King, now of Standard Chartered Bank, but formerly head of the Bank of England. He said that the funds should agree to a code of conduct for transparency or risk being labelled "irresponsible." That certainly does not set the tone for a collegial Davos-like discussion on closing the gap between those in need of capital and those who hold it right now.

Another Davos veteran, Arif Naqvi, Chief Executive of Abraaj Capital sees this in two stark colors: Black and white. The region is sitting on two commodities in great demand right now: Oil and cash.

Those commodities put the 200 or so players from the Middle East in an enviable position within the halls of the conference center; now if we can only work on the politics so the money can get to work in the right way.

-- From CNNI Marketplace Middle East Presenter John Defterios
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Perfect timing at Davos


World Economic Forum blogger Loic Lemeur on the big topics that will drive Internet chat at the Davos 2008 meeting.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Security high at Sundance for suits

There’s a relaxed feel on the train to Davos, as normally staid business travelers eschew polished shoes for hiking boots on their way to the World Economic Forum.

With a dress-down policy, free-thinking agenda and pretty ski resort backdrop, the annual meeting could be viewed as something of a Sundance festival for suits, drawing comparisons to the leftfield Utah film festival.

Yet behind the scenes at Davos, there’s a far-from-relaxed security operation that has seen hundreds of police deployed to ensure that only those invited to Davos get in.

A simple stroll through this snowy town involves several checks as friendly but firm officers in uniform scrutinize ID badges, looking to weed out undesirables. Checks at the entrance to the main buildings increase by the hour.

The steely security is by no means over the top, with world leaders, leading business figures and a smattering of celebrities converging on the town’s hotels and conference halls.

Terror risks aside, there is however little likelihood of the kind of messy and sometimes violent protests that have dogged other global finance meetings, thanks to Davos’ remote location.

Two (expensive) train rides from the nearest major city or a long and slippery drive through snow-covered roads keep the town at arm’s length from many.

Those resourceful enough to reach here then face another problem – where to stay. Expensive at the best of times, accommodation is at a premium during the five-day forum, with hotels sold out months in advance.

For residents who remain in town for the forum, the huge police presence must seem a little ironic. Crime rates are low in Switzerland and even lower in tiny resort towns like Davos, where displays of extreme wealth are everywhere.

This has one happy consequence on the train to Davos, where my traveling companion – a professional photographer covering the forum – absentmindedly left a rucksack containing more than $20,000 worth of equipment.

In many places, the bag would have vanished in seconds, its contents sold on.

Here, its battered exterior is probably viewed with disdain from well-heeled passengers, and it arrives safely unmolested at the station’s lost property department.

-- From CNN.com Digital Producer Barry Neild in Davos
Storm gathers over Davos
It's Tuesday, it's snowing, I'm already cold ... it can only be Davos.

Technically the World Economic Forum doesn't begin until Wednesday, but in the mind of its thousands of participants and millions of observers, the debate has already begun.

Whereas the "R" word was merely "on everyone's lips" last week, here it will be the lingua franca; a common currency uniting politician and economist, film star and human rights campaigner. And if there was ever a time to sandwich "economic" back between the bread and butter of "world" and "forum," it'd be now.

What should have been a gradual start to proceedings for CNN evolved quickly into a decision to immediately ramp up coverage following a rout of epic proportions on global equity markets. The gathering storm: gathered. Time to sideline cliches and focus on the task in hand. Richard Quest and Todd Benjamin are already putting the world to rights; paving the way for the likes of Bill Gates, Bono and Queen Rania ... All of whom we'll talk to in the coming days.

The snow is coming down heavier and heavier right now and the circus is moving into town, train by train, car by car, bus by bus. Not two by two, but 4x4 and with snow chains. Helicopters have been put off by the snow, but the security is already a thick blanket enveloping Davos. Soldiers drill in the snow while workers drill inside the conference building, still adding the finishing touches to the corridors of power. An Alpine town of barbed wire and beauty. You get the sense that participants will be knee deep in two things this week.

Some say this Swiss ski resort is a last resort, a chance to brainstorm and solve what lies in wait for our world. Others consider the Forum a sort of mental chewing gum, refreshing and stimulating but ultimately always discarded. Talking off camera with WEF's founder Klaus Schwab he was quick to point out that last year's debate highlighted the rising damp of the US subprime market, showing that Davos is "on the money."

Afterwards I wondered why, with so many of the financial elite gathered, it took them more than six months to act? Some of those who discussed the issue last year have now lost their jobs to subprime; their skiing will be done elsewhere at this time of year.

So as the resort gradually fills with both participants, snow and expectation in equal measures, I may opt for a brief chance to sleep. My one window of skiing opportunity closed by the virtual white out. Still, already I am feeling the first clutch of fatigue, and I sense that as the peace of Davos is disturbed by economic disquiet, an extra dose of rest is exactly what the doctor ordered. Perhaps the global economy could do with the same. Ben Bernanke, can you hear me?

-- From CNNI Senior Planning Editor James Partington
Thursday, January 17, 2008
On the Gaza border

We're sitting on a hill over looking Gaza, waiting to do live shots. It's strangely peaceful here. The sky is clear. The sun is bright. You can see past the security fence, past the green fields, into the homes of Beit Hanoun and the towers of Gaza City beyond them. Just a sliver of the Mediterranean is visible.

It's quiet. Except for the monotonous buzz of an Israeli drone overhead. Most times, we can't see it. But now and then, you can catch it's white triangular body against the blue sky, waiting and watching. It never seems to change speed.

Our producer calls to tell us of an Israeli air strike in Gaza City. It missed it's target and hit a family travelling in a car. 3 people were killed. I wonder if the drone above us had anything to do with it.

Occasionally, we hear a different noise. A distant boom and then a plume of smoke climbs the sky. Another rocket attack. That makes 26 today. I'm sure there are more.

Our cameraman calls us. He's out getting gas and sandwiches for lunch. The rocket landed less than 200 meters from the station, he says. But don't worry, he says, no injuries and lunch is on the way.

Earlier, an Israeli army unit dropped by. They told us not to linger here too long. There are snipers, says one soldier. He is wearing a battered flak jacket and points to Gaza.

Thanks, we say, we'll be careful. He shrugs his shoulders. Up to you, he says, and they drive off.

Now, we can hear the call to prayer. It drifts over the border from the village of Beit Hanoun in Gaza. We notice another column of smoke rising on the Israeli side. Qassam rocket, maybe? A little later a much louder boom, that shakes the ground. But still far away. Israeli missile strike in Gaza perhaps?

Our cameraman drives up, grinning and unscathed, clutching a bag of sandwiches and diet sodas. So, we sit down for a picnic on the border, basking in the sunshine and listening to the distant sounds of war.

-- From CNN correspondent Atika Shubert on the IsraelGaza border.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008
100 cows for my camera
It is the most modern country in East Africa, but as the current crisis has shown, however modern, Kenya can sometimes still harken back to a more traditional way of life.

Here are two recent examples:

During the first week of the election crisis there was some looting in Mombasa. In one case, wood was stolen from a lumberyard. Rather than get the police involved- the owners of the lumberyard merely gave the looters six days to return the goods or they would put a spell on the looters. It worked, within two days all the lumber was returned. No spells ended up being necessary. The police said they wished that solving each crime could be so simple.

On Friday, as I was going through security at the Mombasa airport, the woman at the x-ray machine was in awe at the size of my Professional Video camera. She said it must cost a lot, I said it was probably not a much as she thought. She thought for a second, and jokingly said “100 cows… I’ll give you a hundred cows for the camera.”

I do admit to thinking about it- thinking to myself ‘where would I put 100 cows?’ How would I explain a trade of 100 cows for 1 camera to CNN management? Could I trade 100 cows for a newer HD camera? In the end it seemed like it would definitely be too much hassle- but it is good to know that my camera I have used for many years could garner 100 cows should it become necessary.

-- From CNN Chief Photographer Todd Baxter, in Mombasa, Kenya.

Friday, January 11, 2008
Let it Snow.... in Baghdad

There’s little which can surprise the people of Baghdad these days but when a light scattering of snow fell this morning, even our burliest security men looked a little taken aback.


Some of our local staff thinks some snow may have fallen in 1969 but some reports are saying that it’s been closer to one hundred years since the city has seen its last snowfall.


To most of us, we possibly wouldn’t even consider what fell to be actual snow, more of a sleety rain but the locals remain entranced. One of our staff was stopped by at a local checkpoint this morning on the way to work. Fearing an interrogation from the Iraqi Security Force he rolled down his window. The only question that was posed to him was ‘Hey! Do you think we’re in Russia?’ before he was waved on his way.


However, on walking through the Green Zone this morning, it seems not everybody was enjoying the unusual weather. Peruvian soldiers looked less than amused as they stood on guard in the freezing temperatures.


Nevertheless, upon entering the Baghdad newsroom this morning, it was good that the topic of conversation revolved around something much better than the latest attacks or security scares. Staff showed each other their pictures of the falling snow on their mobiles and argued over when the last time such a sight was seen in this violent city.

--From CNN Producer Carol Jordan, CNN Baghdad
Saturday, January 05, 2008
Stories of sheer terror
We were anxious to get out of Nairobi and see what was going in the western part of the country, towards the Rift Valley. We drove about 240km northwest of the capital, to a rural hub called Molo, and there it all unfolded.

Thousands of people squatting on the grass without food, shelter or medicine. They had escaped with their lives and stories of sheer terror. Tribal clashes had led to machete murders, burning, raping and looting.

As if these stories weren't enough, when the survivors did reach safety, there was very little of anything they needed. On the day we arrived, there was no food distribution and some of the victims of machete attacks had been in their blood-stained clothes for three days.

Worse yet, we saw very little evidence that mass quantities of organized aid were on their way to Molo.

What is so frustrating as a journalist is the cruel paradox of modern life. The whole time I was in Molo I had full BlackBerry service. I was e-mailing photos from the aid camp to CNN Center in Atlanta in seconds, and yet the people I was interviewing had to accept that the "modern world" could not feed them.

Watch my report on Kenya's refugee crisis


-- From CNN Correspondent Paula Newton in Kenya
Friday, January 04, 2008
Forget analysts: What do the stars say?
I thought we could all use a bit of "cosmic" relief at the end of a tiring week, so here goes:

Baghdad producer Mohammed Al-Tawfeeq just sent me these pictures of Ali Al-Bakri, one of Iraq's most popular astrologers.


41-year old Al-Bakri has been an astrologer for 10 years.


On the set of Your Fortune (all photos Mohammed Tawfeeq)

Ali Al-Bakri is the host of a call-in show on state-run Iraqiya Television called Your Fortune. In a country traumatised by decades of dictatorship and war, a surprising number of viewers ask only about their love lives.

"Does she love me?"; "Will he marry me?"

Ah, good old human nature.

Al-Bakri says viewers also ask about their health or if it is safe for them to travel on a specific date. Let's hope he gets those predictions right.

But, Al-Bakri doesn't just make love life prophesies, he also looks into the stars to predict the future for all of humanity. He told CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq that Hillary Clinton will be the next U.S. president and that her time in office will be made very difficult by sky-rocketing oil prices.

Also, Al-Bakri whispers that several Iraqi politicians use his services as well. They don't call into the live show: The politicians, he says, call his private cellphone.

-- Posted by CNN Anchor Hala Gorani
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