- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 4, 2003

New York Times

They must be breathing a sigh of relief in Detroit. Roberto Colaninno, the entrepreneurial turnaround artist, now seems set to play the role of white knight in Fiat's tale of woe. He may buy a controlling interest and relieve General Motors of its potential obligation to acquire the 80 percent stake in the iconic but troubled Italian automaker that it doesn't already own.

The fact that GM now has little interest in owning Fiat is what makes this deal — if it goes through — good news. But it will be a happy ending to a bad scenario. This was a plan orchestrated in part by the Italian government, which encouraged Mr. Colaninno to get involved because Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was driven by a misplaced sense of economic nationalism to make sure Fiat remained in Italian hands.

His protectionist impulse is part of a disquieting trend undermining the European Union's goal of supplementing its common currency with a single financial market, governed by one set of rules, by 2005. Most egregiously, the French government announced a $9 billion bailout to heavily indebted France Telecom last month.

Such interventionism distorts competition, protects inefficiency and mocks the very idea of a single European economy by discouraging cross-border investment. It is no surprise that in this environment, Brussels' ambitious drive to create a common financial market has stalled. The inability of EU member nations to agree on rules governing corporate takeovers is particularly telling.

The European Union cannot fulfill its economic potential, nor achieve its avowed goal of surpassing American competition, unless it succeeds in creating a single financial market. And Americans should be hopeful that Brussels will ultimately prevail in its uphill march toward making the European Union a more formidable competitor. Growth is not a zero-sum game, and the United States needs as much help as it can get in trying to reignite the world economy.

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Chicago Tribune

The bloodbath in Chechnya doesn't lend itself to easy comparisons to previous or current conflicts elsewhere in the world. What is clear — particularly after the recent terrorist bombing that killed more than 80 in the capital of Grozny on Dec. 27 — is that Russian President Vladimir Putin's iron-fisted approach won't bring an end to the conflict. The futility of Russia's relentless pounding of Chechen rebels shows the only solution is a political one, most likely brokered by outside mediators.

Yet on New Year's Day, Russia closed the Chechnya mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe — the only neutral group trying to monitor the human rights conditions in the breakaway republic and work toward a negotiated settlement. Russia ought to reconsider. The U.S. and its European allies ought to press Russia to do so. …

Washington and the U.S. ought to keep pressuring Putin to open negotiations with Chechen separatists. Russia's continued "mop-up" operations, which have killed scores of Chechen civilians, only engender more fighting. A negotiated political solution is the only way out of this conflict. That is clear to the rest of the world, which needs to persuade the Russians.

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Salt Lake Deseret News

Everyone remembers telling elephant jokes (How do you fit six elephants in a Volkswagen? Answer: Put three in the front and three in the back). But now, according to Joyce Poole, a British zoologist, elephants just may be telling human jokes behind our backs. Poole — in true Dr. Doolittle fashion — has learned to interpret 75 different "phrases" that elephants use to communicate with each other. And she says that number may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Elephants, it seems, are turning out to be bigger chatter boxes than monkeys. …

The more that can be done to preserve them, the better. And if elephants are able to search their long memories communicate their needs and wishes to humans, better still.

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Los Angeles Times

A decade after the U.S. Peace Corps arrived in the former Soviet Union, Russia has told the organization's volunteers to pack their bags and find a country that really needs help.

Fine. It's probably time. Still, it will be a loss for both nations.

The peculiarly American organization's stated mission is to promote world peace and friendship through volunteerism — a humble goal as hard to quantify as it is important. …

Russian officials had previously charged that Peace Corps volunteers were badly trained and had a penchant for spying — accusations that U.S. officials rejected.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman was more gracious in dis-inviting the volunteers in December, suggesting that Russia had merely outgrown its need for their assistance.

The U.S. State Department took the news in stride. If Russia didn't want the Peace Corps, a spokesman said, "we can certainly … send the volunteers where they are needed."

Such places are hardly in short supply.

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Los Angeles Times

Indonesia's brutal occupation of East Timor turned especially violent around the time of a 1999 referendum on independence for the province. The United Nations estimates that 1,000 people were murdered before and after the voting, as Indonesian soldiers goaded civilian militias to rampage, burning homes and attacking native Timorese who favored freedom.

Indonesia has done a dismal job of holding army officers accountable for that brutal mayhem. …

The failure to provide justice makes reconciliation between the oppressed former colony and Indonesia even harder.

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Boston Herald

OPEC members are suggesting they'll take steps in the near future to prevent a further surge in oil prices, which have climbed in part on fears that war in Iraq would disrupt supplies already cut by instability in Venezuela.

The major oil producers should follow through, since most of them would be prime beneficiaries of the Mideast stability that would result from toppling Saddam Hussein.

Soon enough, American consumers will feel the pinch of the twin threats to oil supplies. Gasoline has been holding steady in Massachusetts at an average $1.47 per gallon for regular unleaded, according to the state Division of Energy Resources. But rising crude prices in world oil exchanges inevitably mean drivers pay more at the pump and homeowners pay more to fill oil tanks.

This is hardly fair, since it is Americans who will bear the cost of any war against Saddam Hussein and his forces — not just the cost in lives, which is by far the more important, but the financial cost, which President Bush has put at as much as $60 billion.

It is right that the Saudis and Turks would let U.S. forces use their bases for any military action. It is only fair that OPEC members would forego excessive oil profits resulting from military action.

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(Compiled by United Press International)




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