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Sunday, May 31, 2009

The fall of the larrikin

Gloria Manuel. Abdon Johnson. Grenville Fernandes. Veronica Fitzgerald…I’m leafing through the tacky yearbook of my undergraduate class of 1987 at my alma mater: St Joseph’s College of Commerce, Bangalore. I estimate nearly half the class is now Aussie, settled into suburban lives in the far suburbs of Melbourne, the city where Indian students are being attacked.

I am as horrified at the vicious attacks, now on our television screens and in our consciousness. This is happening in Australia? Down Under? The land of Andrew Symonds and Brett Lee, those beer-swilling, cheerful larrikins who play hard but fair? Unfortunately, as this paper first pointed out, Indians have gradually become easy targets for young toughs: At least 60 attacks had been reported till March, before last week’s round of violence.

This, I believe, is the reason. After enjoying one of the biggest booms in its history — starting in the late 1990s — Australia is facing hard, unprecedented times:

l The economy has been contracting since late last year and its central bank predicts it will keep shrinking till the middle of next year.

l An unprecedented drought, the worst in a century, has dried Australia’s sparse rivers and brought thousands of farmers to their knees.

l Nervous of China’s rise (ironically, its biggest trading partner), Australia now plans an unprecedented military build-up over the next 20 years.

l And on city streets, some of its rowdy — but formerly always cheerful — larrikins are draping themselves in the flag and evolving an ugly nationalism reminiscent of Mumbai’s Shiv Sena.

Hate was never a factor for my classmates. Many were a part of the great Anglo-Indian migration to their promised land. Some went for economic reasons. Others went because they felt it was part of their destiny as Indians who were a part of a Western blood legacy. All went to find a better life, and Australia welcomed them.

The Indian economic boom was a blip in the 1990s, and for many of my classmates, it was a time of uncertainty.

As the sun set over the British empire, their grandfathers worked in the railways or the defence forces; many were sportsmen. Those opportunities and privileges fell away for their fathers, some of whom looked towards the oil-rich Arabian states.

My classmates struggled. They were secretaries, clerks, accountants, restaurant managers. They lived in Bangalore’s leafy inner suburbs, or “towns”: Benson town, McIver town, Tasker town, Frazer town. Most lived in tiny but independent homes, their simple, cosy living rooms adorned with extracts from the bible, colourful bless-our-home signs, a cross - and photos of family who had migrated to Australia.

They were cheerful and party happy; everyone knew to jive and do the birdie dance.

No one knew the local language, Kannada — save for some street lingo — but they all managed just fine with Tamil.

No one officially tracked the Anglo-Indian exodus to Australia. But many families, at the back of their minds, quietly prepared for migration.

Last year, I was in Melbourne, visiting one of my closest friends and classmate, Roger Christopher Galway. He told me how he had given his children names - Sean and Jeanette — that would be easy to pronounce in foreign lands, if he ever migrated.

Roger’s story illustrates how thousands of Indians became a part of Aussie society, integrated comfortably into local communities. These are the Indians whose stories you will never hear in the growing hysteria over the attacks on Indian students.

Roger was an impish, cheerful cricketer who nearly made it to the Karnataka Ranji team. His left arm spin was vicious, and on a good day he was unplayable. But, as he said ruefully, he wasn’t ever going to make it as a cricketer.

Roger had — and has — a sharp mind. He taught me the little I managed to grasp of advanced accountancy. But, like many in his community, he joined the Railways (Roger Railway, we joked) on a sports quota. Officially, he was a clerk of some description, roaming the south on his railway pass, playing cricket and dashing around town in his Lambretta. I was unemployed then and thought he led quite a grand life.

As you can tell, we weren’t exactly Indian achievers and St Joseph’s Commerce was no St Stephen’s.

Today, Roger is a true-blue Aussie, living in a three-bedroom, park-facing house with a family van, a car, and yes, that national symbol, a barbie (barbeque). He is a team leader at an Aussie telecom company, but presently on sabbatical, during which he’s also become a realtor. He says about half the kids at the local school are now Indians, many who knew each other back in Bangalore.

Most of their parents were sponsored by brothers, uncles, aunts or cousins already Down Under. This chain was endless, emptying entire lanes in Bangalore. When sons and daughters finally made it to that home and car in the Melbourne suburbs, they sponsored their parents.

Deep brain stimulation: Expanding its reach to new patients

Under the skin, a battery is surgically implanted -- generally within the upper chest. From the battery, wires snake up to the head, to tickle different targets deep inside the brain.

Such is the hardware for deep brain stimulation -- the equivalent of a cardiac pacemaker for the mind.


Until recently, deep brain stimulation was approved in the U.S. only to treat certain movement disorders, primarily those of Parkinson's disease, for which it diminishes tremors and rigidity and improves mobility. To date, more than 60,000 patients worldwide have had the devices implanted.

But now use of the technique seems set to mushroom.

This year, the Food and Drug Administration granted a so-called humanitarian device exemption for the treatment to be used in severe cases of obsessive-compulsive disorder -- the first approval of deep brain stimulation therapy for any psychiatric condition.


Large clinical trials are also in the works for use of deep brain stimulation for epilepsy and depression, and experimental studies in the U.S. and elsewhere -- still in their early stages -- are exploring the treatment for obesity, traumatic brain injury, severe chronic pain, Alzheimer's disease, anorexia, tinnitus and addiction.

There are discussions too on the possible use of deep brain stimulation to treat hypertension.

"The field is taking off," says Dr. Ali Rezai, director of functional neurosurgery at the Cleveland Clinic, who has been involved in research on movement disorders, traumatic brain injury, obsessive-compulsive disorder and severe depression, among others.

Some researchers warn, however, that with all this activity -- pushed in part by the industry that makes the brain-stimulation devices -- the field may be moving too fast.

"There is so much progress that's been made and so much potential -- you would hate to lose that potential," says Dr. Joseph Fins, chief of the division of medical ethics and a professor at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.

Here's a look at deep brain stimulation as it moves beyond Parkinson's disease. (See the related story about reservations scientists have about the growth of the field, and go online at latimes.com/health for a look at less-explored applications such as traumatic brain injury and obesity.)

Obsessive- compulsive disorder

In studies with a total of 26 patients with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, 60% of those whose device was turned on demonstrated "very much improved" symptoms after months of deep brain stimulation as measured by interviews and questionnaires, says Dr. Benjamin Greenberg, an associate professor at Brown University Medical School and Butler Hospital in Providence, R.I., who was one of the study researchers.

The patients had previously failed on medicines as well as behavioral cognitive therapy.

Yet the data, published last year in Molecular Psychiatry, can't really nail the effect of the treatment, Greenberg says, because the patients for the most part knew whether their devices were turned on or off. Thus, researchers can't rule out that some of the observed improvements were due to a placebo effect.

Patients were stimulated in an area called ventral capsule/ventral striatum, chosen, in part, because removal of nerve fibers in that area is known to cause improvement in obsessive-compulsive symptoms.

Based largely on these findings, the FDA recently granted a limited humanitarian device exemption that permits the device to be used in as many as 4,000 of the country's most severe cases of obsessive compulsive disorder per year.

To get this kind of exemption, Medtronic -- makers of the only deep brain stimulation device that is FDA-approved -- needed only to show its safety and probable benefit.

Greenberg is now doing a randomized, double-blinded trial with 30 patients, some of whom have devices turned on right away and some who have them turned on after a delay. No one will know whose device is turned on for the first several months of the trial.
Medtronic has conducted a large-scale randomized trial for deep brain stimulation on epilepsy. Data will be submitted to the FDA this year, says Paul Stypulkowski, senior director of therapy research of Medtronic.

The device was turned on, for three months, in half of the 110 volunteers, stimulating -- and thereby, paradoxically, inhibiting-- an area called the anterior nucleus of the thalamus. That area is believed to influence a circuit involved in seizures.


The data, presented in December at a meeting in Seattle, show that deep brain stimulation reduced the number of seizures by 38% compared with what was seen before implanting the device.

That is slightly better than improvement seen with vagus nerve stimulation, another FDA-approved electrical stimulation treatment, which reduces seizures by about 25%.

The control group whose device was kept turned off, also improved, by 14.5%. That could be due to a placebo effect. Or it might be because people who join trials are usually at their worst -- and often tend to improve somewhat on their own, says trial researcher Dr. Douglas Labar, of the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.


If deep brain stimulation is approved, Labar says, patients will have the choice between a more efficient but also more risky treatment and the slightly less efficient but also less risky vagus nerve stimulation.

Depression

Medtronic and a second company, St. Paul, Minn.-based St. Jude Medical, have two large-scale randomized trials underway for severe, treatment-resistant depression. (St. Jude Medical recently received approval to sell its device for the treatment of Parkinson's disease in Europe and is now completing studies aimed at securing FDA approval for treating Parkinson's and another movement disorder in the U.S.)

Medtronic's depression trial will follow about 200 patients stimulated in an area called the anterior limb of the internal capsule for at least one year.

This brain target for depression was identified by accident: When obsessive-compulsive disorder patients who also had depression were stimulated in this area, their depression also improved.

In one case, a patient produced a one-sided smile when stimulated on one side of the brain and also expressed feelings of happiness, says study researcher Dr. Wayne Goodman of the National Institute of Mental Health.

In a recently published unblinded study, about half of 15 patients showed at least a 50% improvement in severe depression symptoms a year or more after surgery when the anterior limb of the internal capsule was stimulated, says Rezai, who was involved in the study.

St. Jude Medical chose a different brain target, area 25, for its depression trial, which will enroll more than 100 patients. Brain imaging studies have shown that area 25 is more active in depressed people.

In a study of 20 patients, 55% still responded to treatment as late as one year after surgery, says study author Dr. Helen Mayberg, professor of psychiatry and neurology at Emory University. That is an "unheard-of response rate" given that these patients had tried and failed every other treatment, including several medications and electroconvulsive therapy, Mayberg says.

By comparison, Mayberg says, stimulation of the vagus nerve in the neck, approved by the FDA for depression, has only a 15% response rate at 10 weeks in similarly severely depressed patients.

Dr. Thomas Schlaepfer, vice chairman of the department of psychiatry of the University of Bonn in Germany, has been treating severely depressed patients by stimulating yet a third brain target, the nucleus accumbens.

The nucleus accumbens doesn't show normal activity in depressed patients, which could explain why they are less able to experience pleasure.

Last year, Schlaepfer showed that deep brain stimulation in this area led to acute improvements in three severely depressed patients. He says he has extended the work to 10 patients, half of whom showed an improvement when examined a year later.

With deep brain stimulation now being tried in at least three brain areas for depression, the question is, which target is the best? All agree that it's too early to tell.

Put Ad on Web. Count Clicks. Revise.

ON a recent Thursday, Darren Herman, the president of Varick Media Management, was sequestered in his SoHo office. He wasn’t scrutinizing a television ad or images from a photo shoot. He was combing through graphs and Excel spreadsheets.

Mr. Herman had run 27 ads on the Web for his client Vespa, the scooter company. Some were rectangular, some square. And the text varied: One tagline said, “Smart looks. Smarter purchase,” and displayed a $0 down, 0 percent interest offer. Another read, “Pure fun. And function,” and promoted a free T-shirt.

Vespa’s goal was to find out whether a financial offer would attract customers, and Mr. Herman’s data concluded that it did. The $0 down offer attracted 71 percent more responses from one group of Web surfers than the average of all the Vespa ads, while the T-shirt offer drew 29 percent fewer. And Mr. Herman didn’t just compare the messages in the ads — he also looked at the sites where they ran, when they ran and what groups of people responded.

From the “Mad Men” era until now, advertising has been about a catchy tagline, an arresting image, the Big Idea. But Mr. Herman and his competitors are bringing some Wall Street-like analysis to Madison Avenue, exploiting the huge amounts of data produced by the Internet to adjust strategy almost instantly.

“It’s putting numbers to an industry that never had numbers before,” says Mr. Herman, 27, who started and sold three media and technology companies before founding Varick last summer. “It’s nice to be able to tell your brand manager or the chief marketing officer which audience is interacting with the unit, what time of day, what day of the week, and what the response is on certain types of offers. Before, nobody could really tell you that.”

This approach turns marketing “upside down,” says Ron Proleika, the vice president of marketing communications at Windstream Communications, an Internet service provider and a client of Mr. Herman’s. “It forces marketers to stay on their toes and think of thousands of small great ideas instead of one great big one."

Major advertising holding companies like WPP, the Publicis Groupe, Havas, MDC Partners and the Interpublic Group are starting data practices, hoping to latch onto what is expected to be the fastest-growing category of online advertising in the next five years.

Where the data guys were once an afterthought in a marketing presentation, now they are at the core of the online strategy. What’s more, they can help advertisers save money in traditional media by testing different phrases or images online to see what works before producing an expensive television commercial or magazine ad. Who attracts more clicks in a grape juice ad, for example — the blond girl or the brown-haired boy?

The shift to data-based campaigns is forcing marketers to learn new skills and drawing a new breed of worker to Madison Avenue. While most data executives now in the field came from media backgrounds, they are recruiting Wall Street math geniuses because the job requires hourly adjustments in strategy based on numbers.

Mr. Herman is trying to hire people from Citigroup and Bank of America, and he hopes that the layoffs in the financial industry will help him do it on the cheap.

“It mirrors the financial markets in many ways,” he says, so “that’s where we go."

Still, getting advertising agency employees to rely on data is difficult, agencies say. And as people trained on Wall Street migrate to Madison Avenue, executives anticipate battles between creative types and wonks.

Traditional ad agencies still don’t have budgets that allow for a lot of digital experimentation, Mr. Herman says. He notes that most traditional agencies “make the bulk of their money in print, radio and television.”

So even as this area becomes increasingly technology-driven, old ways of doing business and clients reluctant to embrace radically new approaches mean that the advertising culture won’t change overnight.

“At the end of the day,” Mr. Herman says, “the entire process isn’t digital because our clients aren’t.”

UNTIL the Internet, advertising required heavy research at the front and back ends. Millions of dollars went into television and print ads, so the advertisers had to get the idea right before they produced one. Determining the effectiveness of those ads was hard. It required follow-up surveys and interviews. And once advertisers began a campaign, they were locked into it — they usually booked TV spots four months before the season began, for instance, and even if a show tanked, they couldn’t always abort their plans.

1 2 “In the olden days, the consequences of planning were great, so we’d spend nine months before air date” doing research, says Barry Lowenthal, the president of the Media Kitchen, a media planning and buying company that, like Varick, is a unit of MDC Partners. “Then, nine months after we’d been running the ad, we’d finally figure out whether it was working or not.”

Online, though, advertisers get instant measurements and can make instant changes to a media plan.

Varick and its handful of competitors cement their strategies around a system called exchanges, a mechanism that helps online publishers like NBC.com or Yahoo.com sell ad space. While publishers have some ad space no company would bid on in advance — few advertisers would book a random Yahoo mail page, for instance — publishers still want to show an ad when someone loads that page. So the publishers let an ad exchange like Right Media, from Yahoo, or DoubleClick Advertising Exchange, from Google, sell that space instantly, through an electronic auction, and get a cut of sales.

Such random, seemingly unwanted space could be virtually worthless. But because ad agencies can now use multiple sources to gather very specific demographic data about visitors, such space gains value and can be brokered on an exchange.

Among the sources agencies rely on for data-mining is information gathered from other sites. Imagine that every time someone entered a store while shopping, she received a stamp on her hand. By the time she got to Macy’s, the clerk could see she had visited Williams-Sonoma and Home Depot and could direct her to housewares. A similar principle is followed online.

When someone visits a site like Expedia or Autobytel.com, that site captures valuable information: Someone is a first-class traveler, for instance, or shopping for a hybrid car. Those sites have deals with data companies, like , to place a so-called cookie — a small text file — on that visitor’s hard drive, indicating those preferences. An advertiser like Varick bids on those cookies, instructing an exchange that it will pay a certain amount for an ad when a certain cookie is for sale.

Other companies, like Media6Degrees and 33Across, analyze the world of social media, using cookies and interaction data to find “lookalike” groups among friends on Facebook, Flickr or other social sites. Their theory is that friends share values and are likely to respond to similar marketing messages.

Finally, companies can add cookies for anyone who visits pages on their sites — if someone gets to the checkout page, then abandons his shopping cart, the company will probably pay lots of money to advertise to him again.

This combination — real-time data and ad exchanges — has monetized what was once considered throwaway space online. ThinkEquity, a research firm, estimated that advertising based around Web publishers’ extra space brought in $4.1 billion in 2008, up 32 percent from 2007, and it expects it to be the highest-growth segment of the online advertising market between now and 2013, outpacing even search. (It is still a small part, however, of what ZenithOptimedia, a media agency, estimates to be the overall $487 billion advertising market.)

All this tracking has raised privacy concerns. Some privacy advocates have asked Congress and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the issue, seeking clear policies about sensitive data, more information on the way companies are tracking consumers and options for consumers to avoid online tracking.

So far, the commission has recommended that the industry police itself. But Jon Leibowitz, one of the commissioners, warned in February that the industry needed to do a better job or face new laws and regulations.

Without much regulation, says Michael Brunick, vice president and media technology director for Cadreon, a competitor of Varick’s, “the data game right now is a little bit of the Wild West.”

WITH so much information to trade on, several advertising firms are creating their own data-based practices.

“We have, over the last year or so, gotten more and more interested in the ways that you can use data to make advertising more effective online,” says Matt Greitzer, the vice president of search marketing and auction-based media at Razorfish, which is building its exchange group.

In addition to what an ad should say, and where and when it should run, advertisers have to figure out how much each ad, or “impression,” is worth. The data helps them do that. “You’re making, in some cases, real-time decisions about how much to pay for a specific impression,” Mr. Greitzer says.

In a simple example, if an advertiser knew that his ads attracted more clicks on profiles.yahoo.com than on movies.yahoo.com, he would pay more when space was auctioned for the first site.

Edward Montes, the managing director for North America at Havas Digital, who oversees its exchange group, says that his data analysts are “basically looking for anything that affects performance — any time they find variance in the matter of how the media performs, that’s what they go in and exploit, and that’s what the exchanges are perfectly set up to do.”

As data executives continue to build on their research, this arena could resemble Wall Street even more: yield managers could hedge their purchases, buy futures to lock in prices and use other trading strategies. And this type of sophisticated testing and trading will require changes in clients’ attitudes.

Mediabrands, a unit of the Interpublic Group, has been quietly running a data practice called Cadreon for nine months that it soon plans to roll out more publicly. In addition to buying standard Web site ad space, Cadreon also buys mobile advertising, online video slots and, soon, spots on digital billboards and other new media.

Traditionally, marketers allocate certain amounts of money for each medium. Quentin George, the interim chief executive of Cadreon and the chief digital officer of Mediabrands, says Cadreon instead would base its strategy on the audience, not the medium.

For a campaign it’s now running for a technology client, Cadreon bought data on visitors to Web sites of the client’s competitors. It divided them into groups that its client already used to segment existing customers offline — like new parents, gamers or designers.

By examining clicks and other data, Cadreon determined the demographic profile of groups that were most interested in the ads. In this particular campaign, new parents responded at high rates so Cadreon emphasized pitching ads online to that group.

As more ads are bought and sold through exchanges, it could transform the ad marketplace. “It is foreseeable that you can go into the system, select an audience and not know whether you are ultimately buying” a cellphone ad or a video ad on a Web site like Hulu, Mr. George says. “That’s a very, very big change.”

Industry Fears Americans May Quit New Car Habit

For all the drastic cuts and financial overhauls that are meant to secure a future for General Motors and Chrysler, their prospects in coming years will be determined more by the answer to a simple question: Can American drivers live without that new-car smell?
In recent years Americans appeared to be hooked on it and took advantage of home equity loans, easy credit and cheap short-term lease deals to send new-car sales to levels of more than 17 million a year.

Now the market has collapsed by 46 percent to below 10 million, as people are making do with the cars they have, leaving the industry to debate — and worry — about what the new normal will be once the recession ends.

Some say the downturn is temporary and that sales will spring back in a few years. Others believe Americans will rethink whether they need so many cars, particularly new ones.

The answer will be important to the Obama administration as it prepares to put G.M. into bankruptcy on Monday. After the company emerges from bankruptcy, the federal government will own about 70 percent of it, in return for $50 billion in taxpayer aid. G.M. has already received about $20 billion in federal help.

The Treasury Department’s advisers, who initially expected auto sales to pick up late next year, now foresee no jump in demand this year or in 2010. And even five years out, they expect annual sales to be about 15 million, still well below the peaks of this decade.

Making predictions is tricky in this economy. The market has grown more bleak, and worst-case scenarios drafted only months ago are becoming reality.

If sales do not recover, the Treasury will have to provide more financial support for G.M. and for Chrysler, which has received about $10 billion in federal aid, before they can stand on their own and the government can divest its shares.

People like Kate M. Emminger do not offer the carmakers much hope. Ms. Emminger sold her 2006 Toyota Corolla last April because she decided she could not afford her $250 monthly payment, even though she earns about $60,000 a year as a university events planner.

“It just became too expensive to have a car,” Ms. Emminger said. Now, she volunteers at City CarShare, a nonprofit organization in San Francisco, in order to earn free use of its vehicles, which normally rent to members for $5 an hour plus 40 cents a mile. Otherwise, she takes public transit.

But plenty of people in Detroit argue that once the recession is over, buyers will rush back to dealer showrooms.

If sales do pick up, carmakers eventually could be more profitable than they have ever been because of all the costs they have shed, said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“After you rebound from this artificial low in demand, wow,” Mr. Cole said of the potential for auto sales and profits.

He estimates that pent-up demand for new cars is actually about 4 million vehicles higher than the current selling rate, which in April would translate to 9.3 million a year, according to Autodata Incorporated.

Others, however, point to shifts suggesting that Americans’ desire — and need — for new cars may be cooling.

Baby boomers, the biggest group in the car market, are beginning to enter retirement, a stage of life when people typically buy fewer cars. Home values are down sharply, making consumers feel less wealthy, and also cutting off a handy source of money from home-equity loans for new cars.

“We sold to people who purchased cars by refinancing their houses,” said Wilbur Ross, the billionaire financier who has invested in steel mills and auto parts companies.

The housing and financial crisis has taken its toll on reliable customers like Frank Powell, a school administrator in the East Palo Alto school district in California. He moved out of the house he had lived in since 1983 and started renting a few months ago because of his debt burden, which includes auto loans.

“I used to buy cars all the time and took out loans to pay them off,” he said. “As soon as I paid part of one off I’d get another. I’d buy one for my kids, my wife, myself. I can’t do that anymore”

He now has a Cadillac Escalade sport-utility vehicle, but he is thinking about downsizing and driving something much smaller — and for longer.

“Something had to change,” he added. “You just can’t keep going with that many cars.”

Lifestyles have changed, too. As many people move back to cities from suburbs, they are swapping three-car garages for a single parking space. Public transit use is up.

“Too many people are looking at alternatives,” said Scott Griffith, chief executive of Zipcar, the national car-sharing company that has more than 300,000 members, up from about 200,000 a year ago. Mr. Griffith estimates that for every three members, a new car probably goes unsold.

“They’re much smarter about spending money and looking for ways that don’t even involve cars any more,” he added.

Of course, car-sharing services like Zipcar are not available everywhere. They are concentrated in urban areas and college towns, where owning a car can be burdensome and expensive.

Donald Grimes, an economist at the University of Michigan, is forecasting the lowest sales for the driving-age population this year since 1970.

From 1970 to 2001, there were 0.76 vehicles sold per driver in the United States. Now that figure has dropped to 0.4 vehicles per driver, and he does not see much of a rebound in coming years.

The swift decline has spooked the industry. “I don’t think there has ever been a period in our history like this,” Josephine Cooper, Toyota’s group vice president for government and industry affairs, said of her company, which lost $7.1 billion in the first three months of the year. “It is very, very sobering.”

Now Toyota and other carmakers must wait to see if Americans will return to their old car-buying habits — people like Jay S. Allen, owner of a San Francisco consulting firm, and his wife, Jennifer Nicoloff, a product manager at Gap. Over the years, they have owned eight cars between them.

But now they are carless, with no plans to buy. When he needs transportation, Mr. Allen either rides his scooter or borrows a car for a few hours from a local car-sharing service.

“The biggest thing right now is fear,” Mr. Allen said. “We don’t know which way the economy is going to go. We don’t want to buy anything that has long-term implications.”

For G.M., a Step Toward Bankruptcy and a New Start

General Motors, the fallen giant of the American auto industry, is expected to file for bankruptcy protection on Monday and put its fate in the hands of President Obama and the nation’s taxpayers.

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President Obama is scheduled to announce his support of G.M’s bankruptcy filing in a televised speech late Monday morning at the White House, according to people with knowledge of the automaker’s plans, much as he did on April 30 when G.M.’s cross-town rival, Chrysler, sought court protection.

G.M., which has been subsisting on federal loans since January, is expected to file for reorganization in Federal Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan, and immediately begin to restructure its troubled operations under government control. G.M. executives plan a news conference shortly after Mr. Obama’s speech.

The filing would be a stunning climax to G.M.’s financial collapse, triggered last year when auto sales plunged and the automaker appealed to Washington for emergency aid.

While G.M. has already received $19.4 billion in federal loans, the government will probably spend another $30 billion or more to pay for the reorganization.

Mr. Obama and his advisers expect G.M. to emerge from court protection in a few months as a new, radically smaller company owned by the federal government, the United Automobile Workers union and its bondholders.

But the road to recovery will be a long and arduous for the 100-year-old automaker that has towered over the American economy since the 1950s and for decades built and sold more cars than any company in the world.

“For all the talk about a new beginning, there is no denying that the collapse of this once great company is a national tragedy,” said John Casesa, an industry consultant and former Wall Street analyst. “Fortunately, the government has been decisive and remarkably quick in salvaging what’s worth saving.”

The last obstacle to an orderly bankruptcy was removed Saturday when a majority of investors holding $27.2 billion in G.M. bonds agreed to exchange their debt for stock and not fight the filing in court.

A G.M. bankruptcy has been widely anticipated since Mr. Obama and his auto task force forced Chrysler, G.M.’s smaller Detroit rival, to file for Chapter 11 last month.

Administration officials have described Chrysler’s bankruptcy as a test case for the more complex task of restructuring G.M, a far larger company that last year lost $30.9 billion.

A federal judge is expected to rule on the sale of most of Chrysler to Fiat, the Italian carmaker, sometime on Monday or Tuesday. The judge, Arthur J. Gonzalez, heard arguments and testimony on the proposal during three days of marathon hearings last week.

If approved, Chrysler and the government expect to close on the Fiat deal within days of receiving permission. But the sale is being challenged by several parties, including three Indiana state funds and several groups of dealers that have been designated for removal from Chrysler’s network.

G.M. essentially came under government control when it received its first federal loans from the Bush administration in late December and, in return, agreed to cut labor costs, reduce its debt and drastically downsize.

Since taking office, Mr. Obama and his advisers have pushed G.M. to cut deeper into its global work force of 160,000, drop underperforming brands and models, and shrink its network of factories and dealers to match its shrinking market share.

Mr. Obama rejected G.M.’s initial plans for restructuring, and forced its chief executive, Rick Wagoner, to resign as a condition for more government aid.

Two of the president’s advisers, Steven Rattner and Ron Bloom, also took over negotiations with the bondholders and unions in an effort to reduce G.M.’s debt load.

Earlier this month, the U.A.W. agreed to take 17.5 percent of G.M.’s stock to finance half of an estimated $20 billion in future health-care obligations for hundreds of thousands of retirees.

After soundly rejecting an initial offer to swap their debt for equity, about 54 percent of G.M. bondholders agreed on Saturday to a deal that could eventually give them 25 percent of the automaker.

But the primary owner will be the federal government, which will convert most of its outstanding loans to G.M. into a 72.5 percent ownership stake.

The government also plans to name Albert A. Koch, a managing partner at the advisory firm AlixPartners, as the chief restructuring officer, according to people briefed on the situation. Mr. Koch will report to G.M.’s chief executive, Fritz Henderson, as well as to the G.M. board. Associates of AlixPartners have been working for weeks, drafting a turnaround plan.

The government did not name a restructuring officer at Chrysler, which sought bankruptcy protection in April, namely because of plans to sell assets of Chrysler to the Italian automaker Fiat. But G.M. does not have a partner waiting, and the government wants to make sure that an outsider who did not come up through the G.M. system is on hand to help lead the restructuring, people who had been briefed on the matter said.

In G.M.’s case, business experts said that the company could remain under federal supervision for years, even if it manages to emerge from bankruptcy on an accelerated timetable.

“It’s going to mean a new chapter in the history books on American capitalism,” said Michael Useem, a professor of management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. “This is truly without precedent in scope and scale.”

Mr. Obama and his auto advisers have said that the nation can not afford to let G.M. go bankrupt on its own and put millions of jobs at risk in the tightly integrated auto industry, where car companies share many of the same parts suppliers.

However, the bankruptcy filing will set in motion a painful overhaul of its struggling operations. G.M. has said it will cut 21,000 factory jobs in the United States by next year, and close more than a dozen plants. The company has also pledged to eliminate 40 percent of its 6,000 dealers and drop four of its brands.

As part of its restructuring, G.M. is also expected to identify 14 assembly and parts plants that it expects to close, as it reorganizes its manufacturing operations to concentrate more on smaller vehicles.

In the industrial Midwest, where G.M. has its biggest presence, the bankruptcy filing is likely to fuel more unemployment in a region already hit hard by the recession.

“It’s the auto apocalypse now, not just for Michigan, not just for manufacturing, but for America,” said Representative Thaddeus McCotter, Republican of Michigan.

G.M. is already a shadow of the automotive colossus it once was. Its American market share has slid from a high of 50 percent in the 1960s, to about 20 percent today. Its union work force has dwindled to about 60,000 from a high of 395,000.

The company has been losing money since 2005, but bottomed out last year when a weak economy and tight credit conditions caused new vehicle sales to drop to their lowest levels in 25 years.

Last November, the top executives at G.M., Chrysler and the Ford Motor Company appealed for financial help from Congress and the Bush administration. Ford ultimately declined to take government loans because it still had a line of credit to draw upon with its banks.

But both G.M. and Chrysler would have run out of money without government intervention, and possibly been forced to liquidate.

British scientists ask WHO to condemn homeopathy for diseases such as HIV

British scientists have appealed to the World Health Organisation to publicly condemn homeopathy as a treatment for serious diseases, such as HIV, TB and malaria.

The researchers, many of whom have worked in developing countries, called on the WHO to act amid fears that vulnerable patients are dying after turning to homeopathic preparations instead of effective medicines.

The WHO works with national organisations that promote homeopathy and other alternative medicines in their public health programmes.

Homeopathy practitioners have opened clinics throughout Asian and sub-Saharan Africa and offer to treat patients with HIV, malaria, influenza and childhood diarrhoea, none of which have been shown to respond to homeopathy. Many patients are told that conventional drugs work only temporarily and that homeopathic preparations are cheap and effective alternatives with fewer side effects.

"Those of us working with the most rural and impoverished people of the world already struggle to deliver the medical help that is needed. When homeopathy stands in place of effective treatment, lives are lost," the scientists write in an open letter to the organisation.

Homeopathic medicines are made by repeatedly diluting preparations with water until there is no trace left of the original compound. The overwhelming medical opinion is that homeopathic treatments are no more effective than placebos.

"The WHO's strategy is very unclear on homeopathy and that is shocking. They are supposed to be articulating evidence-based medicine, but their stance is very wishy-washy," said Dr Daniella Muallem, a biophysicist at University College London, who signed the letter.

"Homeopathy is cheap, but there is no evidence that it works for these diseases, and the way they are being sold by practitioners is dangerous and completely unethical. There are medicines that do work and we should be advocating trying to get those to people," Muallem added.

According to WHO estimates, 33 million people were living with the HIV virus at the end of 2007, and during that one year, 2 million people died of Aids, including 270,000 children. Two-thirds of the world's HIV cases are in sub-Saharan Africa.

The organisation recorded 247 million cases of malaria and nearly 1 million deaths in 2006. A child dies of the disease every 30 seconds.

In the letter, early career medics and researchers from the Voice of Young Science network highlight homeopathy projects in Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana and Botswana that all offer to treat patients with HIV, malaria, diarrhoea or the flu.

"Many people in developing countries urgently need access to evidence-based medical information and to the most effective means of treating these dangerous diseases. The promotion of homeopathy as effective or cheaper makes this difficult task even harder. It put lives at risk, undermines conventional medicine and spreads misinformation," the letter says.

Raymond Tallis, emeritus professor of geriatric medicine at Manchester University, said: "The catastrophic consequences of promoting irrational and ineffective treatments for serious illnesses have been demonstrated in South Africa, where Thabo Mbeki's policies have led to an estimated 365,000 unnecessary premature deaths. The prospect of replicating this reckless behaviour elsewhere in developing countries by advocating homeopathic treatments for AIDs and other potentially lethal conditions is appalling."

Creation of cells from hair raises hope of treatments for inherited diseases

Scientists have taken a big step towards treating a rare inherited disease by creating healthy cells from flakes of skin and strands of hair plucked from patients.

The study is the first to demonstrate that it is possible to repair genetic faults in human cells and make batches of healthy replacements that could potentially be used to treat a disease.

In a report in the journal Nature, researchers describe how they took skin and hair cells from six patients with a rare inherited blood disorder called Fanconi anaemia.

The disease is caused by a genetic defect that leads to bone marrow failure and a greater risk of cancers, such as leukaemia. People who are born with Fanconi anaemia are usually diagnosed in early childhood and rarely survive beyond 30 years old.

In a three-stage procedure, the researchers used gene therapy to fix the faulty DNA in the cells they had taken from patients. Next, they used a technique called cell reprogramming to convert these cells into healthy stem cells, which are unique in being able to grow into any kind of tissue in the body.

In the final stage of the process, the researchers grew the stem cells in petri dishes into early stage bone marrow cells, which in principle could be injected into patients to treat their condition.

"We haven't cured a human being, but we have cured a cell," said Juan-Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte, who led the study at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. "[But] in theory we could transplant it into a human and cure the disease."

The feat will raise the hopes of stem cell scientists all over the world who are working on similar techniques to treat other inherited diseases. The technique is appealing because it uses a patient's own cells, which would not be rejected by the immune system.

The California team stopped short of injecting the healthy cells back into the six patients because they are not considered safe enough to be transplanted. The reason is that harmless viruses are used in the procedure, which could cause the cells to turn into tumours. Scientists are developing alternatives that do not rely on viruses.

"[This work shows] it is possible to reprogram skin cells from these patients into stem cells in which the genetic defect has been corrected. In future it may become possible to transfer the corrected stem cells back into the patient, but much work remains to be done before this can be transferred from the lab bench to the bedside." said Chris Matthews, professor of molecular genetics at King's College London.

Chris Mason, professor of regenerative medicine at University College London, added: "There is no doubt that this paper will be the first of many to offer hope for conditions where today there is no real therapy, let alone a cure."

Late-term abortion doctor shot dead inside US church

A doctor who was one of the few in the US to continue carrying out late-term abortions was shot dead in a church today.

George Tiller, 67, who had been picketed, bombed and shot in the arms in previous incidents, was killed at his church in Kansas, according to police sources.

Tiller was a controversial man, whose clinic has been the site of protests for two decades. He was shot and wounded by a protester in 1993 and someone placed a bomb on the roof of the clinic in 1986, seriously damaging the building.

Police spokesman Gordon Bassham would not confirm the victim's identity but said a 67-year-old "high-profile individual in the community" was shot and killed. He was shot at 10am in the lobby of Reformation Lutheran church in Wichita, police and city officials said.

According to the reports a white man carrying a handgun shot the doctor and then fled in a blue Ford Taurus.

"It's an unfortunate incident to happen on a Sunday morning," Wichita police ­captain Brent Allred told reporters. "These things should not occur at any time."

The FBI and state police were called in to help search for the gunman, whose licence plate was registered to a home in a suburb of Kansas City, 200 miles away.

The shooting came just two weeks after Barack Obama sought "common ground" over the divisive abortion debate in a ­controversial speech at one of America's leading Catholic universities.

The president has attempted to defuse one of the most emotive issues in US public life by arguing that while abortion should remain legal, the government should do all it can to limit unwanted pregnancies.

Tiller had been regularly targeted by abortion opponents who protested outside his clinic. Some 2,000 protesters were also arrested outside the clinic during summer-long demonstrations in 1991.

He was acquitted in March on charges that he performed 19 illegal abortions in 2003. His lawyer described the prosecution as a witch-hunt. Tiller testified during the trial that he spent years under police protection after the FBI discovered an anti-abortion hit list in 1994 that named Tiller as the top target.

The doctor also testified that he owns one of only three clinics in the US that perform late-term abortions, which are performed on foetuses that could survive outside the mother's womb.

Late-term abortions are legal in Kansas if two independent doctors agree that the mother could suffer irreparable harm by giving birth.

Gordon Brown insists he won't stand down as election rout looms

Gordon Brown today tried to draw the poison from the ongoing scandal over MPs' expenses as a remarkable ICM poll of election voting intentions pushed Labour into third place for the first time in almost 25 years.

After 10 days of lying low, the prime minister finally attempted to establish a clear way forward, setting out a code of conduct for MPs and insisting that he would not step aside, regardless of the scale of defeat for Labour in this week's local and European elections.

Though Brown continued to insist that he would reject any cabinet attempt to persuade him to retire, one leading rebel said yesterday that the weekend's polls confirmed his belief that either "Gordon goes or the Labour party does". The rebel said he had not come across a single voice in England and Wales supporting the prime minister, though Brown continued to enjoy the support of Scottish MPs.

Brown only has a short while to inject new purpose into his party, with many MPs using the days between now and Thursday's polls to decide whether to fall in behind him or join a push to oust him.

However, asked on BBC1's Andrew Marr show today whether he would stand aside if cabinet members said it would help Labour's chances at a general election, Brown replied: "No, because I am dealing with the issues at hand. I am dealing with the economy every day."

His challenge was made more difficult yesterday with a sequence of opinion polls suggesting historically bad results in this week's elections. An ICM poll for the Sunday Telegraph of voting intentions in a general election put Labour on 22 points, 18 behind the Conservatives (on 40 points) and three behind the Liberal Democrats on 25 – the first time since 1985 that Labour has plunged so low in an ICM survey.

Brown hinted at an end to the current source of public outrage – the generous MP resettlement allowances – suggesting that the independent Kelly commission looking at MPs' salaries and due to report in the autumn would end their so-called "golden goodbyes".

He said: "I don't think that when the Kelly committee reports this thing will still be like it is." Saying that recent claims had offended his "Presbyterian conscience", he outlined a new system to "clean up" politics and all institutions that rely on public funds, including the NHS and the BBC. The prime minister hopes the plans may be inserted into the constitutional renewal bill due in parliament this year.

It is thought likely to include minimum service commitments to constituents, with those who break it facing a possible fine, being "named and shamed", or even ejected from their seats.

Brown said of the reforms: "[They] cannot be gimmicks. It's got to be serious, it has got to be ordered, and it has got to be done in a calm way. What I have seen offends my Presbyterian conscience. What I have seen is something that is appalling. I did not expect to see instance where there are clear cases which maybe have to be answered to for fraud."

The last four years' worth of receipts submitted by all MPs are currently being scrutinised by an independent committee of auditors. Brown has also set up a Labour party "star chamber" which is hearing the cases of backbenchers David Chaytor and Ian Gibson. Last week two of their colleagues, also in front of the panel, removed themselves from proceedings by announcing that they would stand down at the next general election.

At the weekend, the health secretary, Alan Johnson, who has been repeatedly tipped as preparing to step into the prime minister's shoes, warned Labour activists that the party would be the most badly affected by the expenses scandal when the election results come in on Friday.

The party faces the ignominy of losing all its county councils across England, with the Tories confident of taking control of Lancashire and Staffordshire while robbing Labour of overall control in the other two, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

Backbenchers believe the prime minister's aides are planning to outfox any backbench coup and expect Brown to hold a reshuffle of his cabinet on Friday which would make more difficult the organisation of a challenge. One said: "It will be difficult to get on side ministers who have within the last few hours agreed to take part in a new government."

Meanwhile, the bullishness of the Tory leader, David Cameron, who has sought to articulate public outrage over MPs' expenses, was pricked yesterday when a Sunday newspaper alleged that he had paid off a loan of £75,000 on his London home after buying a second home in Oxfordshire on which he could claim the second home allowance.

Though he defended an arrangement whereby all of his mortgage appeared to be on the property for which he could claim allowances, he said he would accept the finding of his party's scrutiny panel.

Indian growth unexpectedly strong

India's economy grew 5.8% in the first three months of the year compared with the same period last year, which was better than had been expected.

The official gross domestic product figure was down from 8.6% annual growth seen in the first quarter of 2008.

Although growth has slowed from last year, the economy is still expanding faster than most other countries.

It grew 6.7% in the full financial year, which was down from a rate of 9% in the year to the end of March 2008.

'Growth bottomed out'

"The GDP growth number justifies the claim that India is dealing with the global crisis from a position of strength," said Rupa Rege Nitsure, chief economist at Bank of Baroda in Mumbai.

"This means that growth has bottomed out, or at least the deceleration has stopped."

The figures are good news for the newly-elected Congress-led government, which has made reviving growth its top priority.

Among the sectors showing an improvement was farm output, which grew at an annualised rate of 2.7% in the first three months of 2009 having contracted 0.8% in the previous quarter.

Construction grew 6.8% in the period compared with 4.2% in the previous quarter.

But the manufacturing sector contracted an annual 1.4%, having grown 0.9% in the previous three months.

Last Titanic survivor dies at 97

Millvina Dean was nine weeks old when the liner sank after hitting an iceberg in the early hours of 15 April 1912, on its maiden voyage from Southampton.

The disaster resulted in the deaths of 1,517 people in the north Atlantic, largely due to a lack of lifeboats.

Miss Dean, who remembered nothing of the fateful journey, died on Sunday at the care home in Hampshire where she lived, two of her friends told the BBC.

Her family had been travelling in third class to America, where they hoped to start a new life and open a tobacconist's shop in Kansas.

Miss Dean's mother, Georgetta, and two-year-old brother, Bert, also survived, but her father, Bertram, was among those who perished when the vessel sank.

The family returned to Southampton, where Miss Dean went on to spend most of her life.

Despite having no memories of the disaster, she always said it had shaped her life, because she should have grown up in the US instead of returning to the UK.

She was fond of saying: "If it hadn't been for the ship going down, I'd be an American."

In 1985 the site of the wreck was discovered and, in her 70s, she found herself unexpectedly in demand on both sides of the Atlantic.

"I think sometimes they look on me as if I am the Titanic!" she said after a visit to a Titanic convention in America. "Honestly, some of them are quite weird about it."

Unimpressed

But she never tired of telling her story.

"Oh not at all. I like it, because everyone makes such a fuss of me! And I have travelled to so many places because of it, meeting all the people. Oh I wouldn't get tired of it. I'm not the type."

But she was unimpressed when divers started to explore the wreck, located 3,000m below the surface of the Atlantic, saying: "I don't believe in people going to see it. I think it's morbid. I think it's horrible."

According to BBC South transport correspondent Paul Clifton, she refused to watch James Cameron's epic film of the disaster, starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo diCaprio, fearing it would be too upsetting.

But in the last years of her life, she began struggling with monthly bills of £3,000 at her care home and had been in danger of losing her room.

She began selling some of her Titanic-related mementoes to raise funds, and in April a canvas bag from her rescue was sold at auction for £1,500. It was bought by a man from London who immediately returned it to her.

Actors Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, who appeared in the 1998 movie Titanic, also contributed towards her care costs, along with the film's director James Cameron, by donating to the Millvina Fund which was set up by her friends
John White, managing director of exhibition company White Star Memories, and organiser of the Millvina Fund campaign said Miss Dean was always "very supportive".

She travelled to exhibitions around the country and took the time to sign autographs and write personal messages for adults and children.

"She was a lovely supportive lady and very kind-hearted," Mr White told BBC News website.

International Titanic Society President Charles Haas, from Randolph, New Jersey, met Miss Dean on numerous occasions and described her as an "effervescent person with a wonderful sense of humour".

"It is truly the end of an era," he said.

"She was a truly remarkable woman. She had a marvellous approach to life. It is almost as if God gave her the gift and she really took advantage of it."

David Lawrence, from the Nomadic Preservation Society, was a friend of Miss Dean and said he was "very sad" to hear the news.

"She was very sharp-minded and very spritely. One of those people who could make a whole room laugh with a story," he said.

Youngest passenger

Built in Belfast, the White Star Line vessel became infamous for not having enough lifeboats onboard, leading to the deaths of many passengers.

Elizabeth Gladys Dean, better known as Millvina, was the Titanic's youngest passenger, born on 2 February 1912.

Another baby on board, Barbara Joyce West, was nearly 11 months old when the liner sank. She also survived.

Barbara Joyce Dainton, as she became when she married, died in October 2007, leaving Miss Dean the last Titanic survivor

Pakistan city centre 'destroyed'

The scale of the war damage to the main city in the Swat valley has become clear, as fears are expressed about the humanitarian situation in the region.

Taliban rebels were driven out of Mingora on Saturday by Pakistan government troops.

The defence secretary says operations in the whole Swat valley region should end in the next few days, though military chiefs are more cautious.

A BBC correspondent who went to Mingora has reported widespread damage.

Rifatullah Orakzai, reporting for the BBC's Urdu Service, said that all the buildings and shops in the town square had been completely destroyed.

However, local people have now been able to seek supplies in the town's market after the lifting of a curfew.


Pakistan's army said essential services were being restored to the city.

The International Red Cross said it was "gravely concerned" by the humanitarian situation in Swat.

Water and electricity were not available, there was no fuel for generators, most medical facilities had stopped operating and food was scarce, it said.

"The people of Swat need greater humanitarian protection and assistance immediately," said Pascal Cuttat, head of the organisation's delegation in Pakistan.

Fawad Hussein, of the United Nations office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs, said:

"Since there is no electricity supply, the wells are not working. People are forced to use alternative water sources, which is causing water-borne diseases. There is no electricity in any of the health facilities."

Some 2.5 million people have fled their homes since military operations began in Swat more than a month ago.

Army operations

Earlier, the Pakistani Defence Minister, Syed Athar Ali, told a meeting of Asian nations in Singapore that only "5% to 10% of the job" of clearing the Taliban from the Swat valley remained.


Syed Athar Ali said the Swat operations had 'almost met complete success'
But an army spokesman said it was not possible to predict when the military operation would be completed.

Meanwhile, 40 militants were killed in an attack on a Pakistani army base near the Afghan border, officials said
Officials said four soldiers were also killed in an eight-hour gun battle at the camp in South Waziristan, a Taliban stronghold.

"Militants came in force and attacked a paramilitary camp and fighting lasted for eight hours," an intelligence official in the region told Reuters news agency.

'Elusive enemy'

The army has said it will pursue "hardcore" rebels after recapturing Mingora, the main town in Swat.

Mingora was home to 300,000 people before the fighting began.

"The main cities in the Swat valley stand clear today. The operation is being conducted in the countryside to the right and left of the valley and to the North... so the operation is ongoing and it will take a little more time," army spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas told the BBC.

But while Maj Gen Abbas said the remaining militants were being hunted down, he could not confirm when the army's operation in the area would be complete.

"It's difficult to give a timeline because this is an elusive enemy that has strongholds in the countryside," he said.

The US is giving full backing to the Pakistani operations, which are linked to its own offensive against the Taliban in Afghanistan

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Police fined for FIR against kissing

When policemen in Dwarka charged a newly-married couple with obscenity for “sitting in an objectionable position” and kissing openly near a Metro station in September last year, they said it was done as the “passers by were annoyed and embarrassed”.

Eight months down the line, it turns out that it is the police who have been left deeply embarrassed by the criminal proceedings against the couple.

So much so that Delhi Police Commissioner Y S Dadwal has informed the Delhi High Court that he is ready to write a letter of apology to the couple for “the hardship they were subjected to”.

The Delhi Police had earned severe criticism from the Delhi High Court for “over-reacting” after the couple filed a plea seeking dropping of the charges. An angry judge even ordered an enquiry against the policemen involved. This was after the couple told the court that the policemen sought Rs 20,000 for setting them free or for booking them for a lesser offence.

Questioning how an expression of love by a married couple at a public place amounts to obscenity, Justice S Muralidhar quashed the FIR against them. He also asked the state to pay a compensation of Rs 5,000 each to the man and woman.

The 28-year-old man and 23-year-old woman were booked under IPC Section 294 (obscene act) with maximum imprisonment of three months and Section 34 (act done by more than one person in furtherance of common intention).

“The gesture of the Delhi Police in offering to write a letter of apology to each of the petitioners, which it is expected would be done immediately, will doubtless earn goodwill for them”, the judge said.

The judge went on to quash the FIR after a fresh vigilance enquiry ordered by the court exonerated the couple. The police said they had no objection to the quashing of the FIR.

Indians rethink Oz option

“I was screaming, ‘Please don’t kill me, please don’t kill me.’”

As the Australian government struggled to calm growing anger in India, a fatigued Baljinder Singh — the third Indian student to be stabbed in a week in the south-eastern Australian city of Melbourne — told Hindustan Times on Saturday that he was “very scared” to leave home.

The 25-year-old hospitality graduate was stabbed in the stomach after handing over his cash to two attackers, who took the money but knifed him anyway.

Singh, who spoke to HT from a small Melbourne flat he shares with three other Indians, is one of 93,000 Indians who contributed Australian $2 billion (Rs 7,500 crore) to the Australian economy in the last financial year.

As Singh recovers, Sravan Kumar Theerthala (25), is fighting for his life, after being stabbed in the head at a party last weekend in Melbourne, where Sourabh Sharma, 21, fractured his cheekbone and broke a tooth after being beaten on a train earlier this month.

In March, HT reported that there have been as many as 60 attacks in Melbourne — a city of 3.9 million, Australia’s second largest — over the past six years on Indian students, who suffered broken bones and required stitches.

The Indian student community in Melbourne, capital of the province of Victoria, was “apprehensive” and the atmosphere “tense” according to Amit Menghani, president of its national student body, the Federation of Indian Students in Australia.

Many Indian students HT spoke to said they were scared.

Pooja Thaker, a Masters student at Melbourne’s La Trobe University, said she was “feeling insecure” about going out, meeting people or using public transport.

Thaker said three of her friends had experienced physical violence, including one who was attacked by a group of men and women while waiting for a tram.

“It makes us think for sure that it’s not safe to live in this country in the future,” said Puneet Gulati, a student in community welfare at a private Melbourne college. “We don’t see ourselves settling down in this country for a long period with our families.”

Gulati said many parents in India were asking their children to return home.

With many cases unreported, former Australian Trade Commissioner in Mumbai, Shabbir Wahid, said the issue was “quite complex”; with Indian student-recruitment agents providing inadequate briefings.

“Students come from a different culture to the one in Melbourne and they have a poor knowledge of the role of authorities,” Wahid said.

The Indian mission is preparing an advisory to inform future Indian students about living, studying and working in Australia, said Indian consul-general Anita Nayar. The advisory will be posted on all relevant websites “as soon as possible”.

Wahid said while Indians have featured “highly in the statistics of assault”, physical violence of the kind that injured Singh, Sharma and Theerthala, “is not restricted to Indians.”

Indian students will march for peace and harmony from the Royal Melbourne Hospital to the Victorian parliament on Sunday.

Can poor people be protected by global warming laws?

Heat waves, droughts and floods affect poor people disproportionately, according to a new report that recommends legislation to alleviate the impact as the climate warms.

African Americans living in Los Angeles have a projected heat-wave mortality rate that is nearly twice that of other Los Angeles residents, according to researchers from the University of Southern California and the University of California Berkeley who focused on the growing field of "environmental justice." And Latinos are the primary population in many neighborhoods and regions, including Los Angeles and the San Joaquin Valley, that have the worst air quality in the nation.

The report, "The Climate Gap, Inequalities in how Climate Change hurts Americans and How to Close the Gap" comes as the California Legislature and the U.S. Congress are grappling with how to design systems to control greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. And how they are designed will have a major impact on low-income neighborhoods located near refineries, power plants and other industrial facilities that also spew unhealthful conventional pollutants.

"People of color will be hurt the most -- unless elected officials and other policymakers intervene," said Rachel Morello-Frosch, a UC Berkeley researcher.

Next week, the California Assembly is expected to take up a bill, AB 1404, that would drastically limit the amount of greenhouse gases that polluters could offset by paying emitters in other regions to cut their gases. Under loose guidelines adopted by the California Air Resources Board under the state's landmark global warming law, up to 49% of greenhouse gas pollution could be reduced through offsets such as planting trees or capturing landfill gases.

But AB 1404, introduced by Assembly members Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) and Manuel Perez (D-Coachella), would limit offsets to 10% and charge fees to fund careful verification of their integrity. "The big loophole in California’s otherwise exemplary global warming program would allow polluters to buy “offsets” — credits that polluters can buy for emission reductions elsewhere as a substitute for making reductions themselves, "said Erin Rogers of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group. "California’s big global warming polluters should invest in local solutions instead of buying offsets and continuing to pollute as usual."

More than 60 California public health groups and labor unions -- who want to maintain green jobs in the state rather than allow offsets to occur outside California -- support the legislation.

But it is opposed by industrial groups who want flexibility in meeting greenhouse gas targets. "An arbitrary limit..would result in higher costs for energy and infrastructure providers that would be passed along to state and local governments," according to a letter to legislators from the Western States Petroleum Assn., the California Chamber of Commerce and other business groups.

A battle is looming in Congress over whether offsets to federal limits on greenhouse gases are overly broad. The principal legislation, sponsored by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly HIlls) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) would allow U.S. industries to offset up to 2 billion metric tons of gases per year, and a majority of the offsets could come from projects outside the U.S.

The Climate Gap report recommends that federal and state legislation force industries to purchase permits to emit greenhouse gases through an auction system, or a fee system. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last week proffered the same advice to a state working committee that is designing the system.

According to the researchers, offering fewer free pollution permits to oil facilities, which are mostly located in minority and low-income neighborhoods, would be particularly effective in cleaning up unhealthful air that is linked to heart disease and respiratory illness

Gay marriage a minefield for candidates for California governor

From the start of his run for governor, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has tried to show there is more to his career than the gesture that won him worldwide fame: his 2004 decree legalizing same-sex marriage.

Yet there he was Tuesday on CNN's "Larry King Live," speaking out for gay rights after the state Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage ban that Californians passed in November.


For Newsom and five major-party rivals, the resurgence of the same-sex marriage issue has added a new complication to the race for governor.

If gay rights groups get their way, the nominees to succeed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will share the November 2010 ballot with a measure to repeal Proposition 8, turning an emotionally charged cultural issue into a central focus of the campaign.

Across the nation, the subject has grown more challenging for candidates of all kinds as the mere concept has given way to the reality of tens of thousands of married gay couples. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Maine and Iowa have legalized same-sex marriage.


Voters have also shifted their views. In April, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 49% of Americans said gay marriage should be legal, and 46% said it should be illegal. Three years earlier, 36% had said it should be legal, and 58% had said it should not.

"The trajectory of public opinion on this issue has been dramatic," said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman.

In California, where Newsom's rebel edict in 2004 touched off the court battles that spawned some 18,000 marriages that were declared valid Tuesday, candidates for governor face multiple dangers on the issue. Although support for gay marriage has risen over the last decade -- the 52% yes vote on Proposition 8 was down from 61% on a similar measure in 2000 -- the issue still sharply divides Californians.

"People care about this one -- a lot -- on both sides," said Steve Smith, a Democratic strategist who worked on the campaign to defeat Proposition 8.

A Field Poll taken three months ago affirmed stark generational and ideological splits on same-sex marriage.

Younger voters were far more likely to approve of it than older voters. And Democrats overwhelmingly favored it, while Republicans were strongly opposed.

In that environment, candidates for governor are juggling wildly different needs for the primaries and the general election.

To score points with partisan voters in the June 2010 primary -- regardless of party -- is to risk harm in the broader arena of the general election.

So Newsom or any other Democrat who gets too bold about same-sex marriage in the primary could face a backlash if running as party nominee come November, said Republican strategist Frank Schubert.

"In the general election, it's a huge problem, because it identifies you so closely with a polarizing issue that could define your candidacy," said Schubert, who led the campaign for Proposition 8.

Schubert said blacks and Latinos, both strong Democratic constituencies that have largely opposed gay marriage, will be targets of opportunity for the Republican nominee -- particularly if a marriage measure is on the same ballot. Likewise, Democrats believe that a staunchly anti-gay marriage stance could limit a Republican nominee's success in appealing to the moderates whose support is necessary for victory.

So far, the candidate taking the biggest gamble on the issue is a Republican, Tom Campbell of Orange County. The former Silicon Valley congressman supports gay marriage, putting him starkly out of sync with the conservatives who hold sway in GOP primaries. (That is not a surprising position for Campbell, who is also touting higher taxes as a way out of the state's fiscal mess.)

Republican rival Meg Whitman, a former EBay chief executive, supported Proposition 8. But she too has vexed conservatives, in her case by saying the 18,000 same-sex marriages that occurred before the measure passed should stay legal.

"That's very troubling," said Karen England, a key state Republican Party leader. England also faulted another GOP candidate, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, for not speaking out sooner and more forcefully for Proposition 8.

On the Democratic side, a spat has broken out between Newsom and state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown over which man has been a stronger supporter of same-sex marriage.

In a tack apparently aimed at undercutting Newsom among backers of gay marriage, Brown waged a court fight to overturn Proposition 8. It was an unusual move for an attorney general, who typically defends initiatives passed by voters, and the state Supreme Court rebuffed him Tuesday.

But Newsom, in turn, has cast Brown as late to the gay-marriage cause. Newsom strategist Garry South hammered Brown for a bill that he signed into law as governor in 1977; it defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

In an interview, Brown brushed the bill off as a technical clarification of previous laws. "I saw it as codifying legislative intent," he said.

South, however, said Brown "is responsible for the fact that California defines marriage as between a man and a woman." And for a man who often "blabbers" about being a forward-looking governor in the 1970s, South said, "there's a certain irony to that."

This week, Newsom made clear that he would not shy from the gay-marriage issue, even as he tries to familiarize Californians with his record on healthcare, education and other issues.

"It sets him apart as a politician in terms of doing what he thought was right," South said.

Another potential candidate, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, has also made a point of speaking out for gay marriage as he weighs whether to run. On Tuesday night, he took part in a West Hollywood protest against the California Supreme Court's ruling.

A Promise to Be Ethical in an Era of Immorality

When a new crop of future business leaders graduates from the Harvard Business School next week, many of them will be taking a new oath that says, in effect, greed is not good.

Nearly 20 percent of the graduating class have signed “The M.B.A. Oath,” a voluntary student-led pledge that the goal of a business manager is to “serve the greater good.” It promises that Harvard M.B.A.’s will act responsibly, ethically and refrain from advancing their “own narrow ambitions” at the expense of others.

What happened to making money?

That, of course, is still at the heart of the Harvard curriculum. But at Harvard and other top business schools, there has been an explosion of interest in ethics courses and in student activities — clubs, lectures, conferences — about personal and corporate responsibility and on how to view business as more than a money-making enterprise, but part of a large social community.

“We want to stand up and recite something out loud with our class,” said Teal Carlock, who is graduating from Harvard and has accepted a job at Genentech. “Fingers are now pointed at M.B.A.’s and we, as a class, have a real opportunity to come together and set a standard as business leaders.”

At Columbia Business School, all students must pledge to an honor code: “As a lifelong member of the Columbia Business School community, I adhere to the principles of truth, integrity, and respect. I will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” The code has been in place for about three years and came about after discussions between students and faculty.

In the post-Enron and post-Madoff era, the issue of ethics and corporate social responsibility has taken on greater urgency among students about to graduate. While this might easily be dismissed as a passing fancy — or simply a defensive reaction to the current business environment — business school professors say that is not the case. Rather, they say, they are seeing a generational shift away from viewing an M.B.A. as simply an on-ramp to the road to riches.

Those graduating today, they say, are far more concerned about how corporations affect the community, the lives of its workers and the environment. And business schools are responding with more courses, new centers specializing in business ethics and, in the case of Harvard, student-lead efforts to bring about a professional code of conduct for M.B.A.’s, not unlike oaths that are taken by lawyers and doctors.

“I don’t see this as something that will fade away,” said Diana C. Robertson, a professor of business ethics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s coming from the students. I don’t know that we’ve seen such a surge in this activism since the 1960s. This activism is different, but, like that time, it is student-driven.”

A decade ago, Wharton had one or two professors who taught a required ethics class. Today there are seven teaching an array of ethics classes that Ms. Robertson said were among the most popular at the school. Since 1997, it has had the Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research. In addition, over the last five years, students have formed clubs around the issues of ethics that sponsor conferences, work on microfinance projects in Philadelphia or engage in social impact consulting.

“It’s been a dramatic change,” Ms. Robertson added. “This generation was raised learning about the environment and raised with the idea of a social conscience. That does not apply to every student. But this year’s financial crisis and the downturn have brought about a greater emphasis on social ethics and responsibility.”

At Harvard, about 160 from a graduating class of about 800 have signed “The M.B.A. Oath,” which its student advocates contend is the first step in trying to develop a professional code not unlike the Hippocratic Oath for physicians or the pledge taken by lawyers to uphold the law and Constitution.

Part of this has emerged by the beating that Wall Street and financiers have taken in the current economic crisis, which can set the stage for reform, Harvard students say.

“There is the feeling that we want our lives to mean something more and to run organizations for the greater good,” said Max Anderson, one of the pledge’s organizers who is about to leave Harvard and take a job at Bridgewater Associates, a money management firm.

“No one wants to have their future criticized as a place filled with unethical behaviors,” he added. “We want to learn from those mistakes, do things differently and accept our duty to lead responsibly. Realistically, we have tremendous potential to affect society for better or worse. Let’s humbly step up. We are looking out for our own interest, but also for the interest of our employees and the broader public.”

Bruce Kogut, director of the Sanford C. Bernstein & Company Center for Leadership and Ethics at Columbia, said that this emphasis did not mean that students were necessarily going to shun jobs that paid well. Rather, they will think about how they earn their income, not just how much.

At Columbia, an ethics course is required, but students have also formed a popular “Leadership and Ethics Board,” that sponsors lectures with topics like “The Marie Antoinettes of Corporate America.”

“The courses make people aware that the financial crisis is not a technical blip,” Mr. Kogut said. “We’re seeing a generational change that understands that poverty is not just about Africa and India. They see inequities and the role of business to address them.”

Dalia Rahman, who is about to leave Harvard for a job with Goldman Sachs in London, said she signed the pledge because “it takes what we learned in class and makes it more concrete. When you have to make a public vow, it’s a way to commit to uphold principles.”

No Mere Walk in the Park

Adrian Benepe, 52, has been the New York City parks and recreation commissioner since 2002. He and his wife, Charlotte Glasser — they were married in Central Park — live on the Upper West Side with their son Erik, 18. Their other son, Alex, is 22. ALAN FEUER

RISE AND SHINE I’m up pretty early — usually by 8 o’clock. I’ve lost the ability to sleep late in middle age. The first thing I do is have a cup of coffee, make some sort of breakfast and look at the paper. I usually cook myself an omelet: jalapeño peppers, onions, scallions and some kind of cheese.

THE SUNDAY PAPER I have this bad habit, according to my wife, of squirreling away the sections I haven’t read yet. Right now, the pile’s about a foot and a half tall. If I have a light weekend and I’m not working, I’ll go through 50 or so old papers and clip out photographs. I save them for decorating presents. I wrap the gift with regular paper, then put a picture on it and make some sort of comment. It’s kind of a family tradition.

THE WORKOUT Generally, in the late morning or early afternoon, I’ll get in some extended vigorous exercise, usually a long run or a bike ride or a walk in Central Park or Riverside Park or the Hudson River waterfront.

AND THE WORK The only problem is, I can’t relax in a park. My wife went walking with me recently in Central Park and said, “This isn’t a walk. This is a sector patrol.” It’s way beyond taking mental notes. My BlackBerry has a camera, which has actually become the bane of all parks department employees. I take pictures and e-mail them to people right away. Or I’ll see someone stomping through a flower bed or letting their dog run where it shouldn’t and I have to get involved. When people ask me “Who are you,” I usually tell them I work for the parks department.

AND THE PAPERWORK Every Sunday, I go through the biweekly reports from my senior managers. When the weather’s nice, I’ll take it outdoors and sit on a bench and watch people go by. Riverside Park is my backyard. I once read a piece about a guy who wrote a novel on a bench in Riverside Park. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen that guy.

FOOD I don’t do brunch. I just can’t see spending too much time indoors on a Sunday and I can’t see drinking alcohol that early. But Sundays are one of the few nights at home when I actually have time to cook. I’ll make a homemade spaghetti sauce, heavy on vegetables, or a tomato sauce with something interesting like ginger, anchovies, capers and hot peppers — sort of an arrabbiata-puttanesca combination. My wife doesn’t eat meat, so it’s always vegetarian or, if we’ve thought about it in advance, I’ll cook some seafood. Occasionally, in the winter, I’ll make a beef stew.

IDLE, AND HAPPY Sunday is the one day I can count on not doing something. I’m usually at functions five nights a week and I’m always doing something even on a Saturday. It might be taking 50 economic-development people from Amsterdam on a bike tour down the West Side waterfront, but it’s still work. Sundays, I relax.

On Diverse Force, Blacks Still Face Special Peril

Two black police officers stand outside the 70th Precinct station in Brooklyn and consider the disastrous turn of events the night before: an off-duty black officer dead in a Harlem street, felled by the bullets of a white officer who mistook him for a threat.

One runs his hand across his corn-rowed scalp; he is disgusted. “Same deal always,” he says of the deadly encounter between colleagues on Thursday night. “They’ll say it’s about training.”

A block away, a Latino officer with six years on the force acknowledges being conflicted. “Tell you the truth, I feel bad for the shooter. It happens so fast, and now he has got to live with this.” His voice trails off.

At the Newkirk Avenue subway station, a black officer of many years’ experience stares straight ahead. “There’s your training and there’s your reaction,” he says quietly of such split-second tragedies. “That’s two different things.”

Its serried ranks are more diverse than ever, its training and rules on the use of force more rigorous than in the past, yet the New York New YorkPolice Department still struggles with the problem of fraternal shootings across the color line. Beginning with the first such shooting in 1940, when white officers in Harlem mistook a black officer, John A. Holt Jr., for a burglar and shot him dead in his own apartment building, these relatively rare shootings come attended by an air of political ritual: protesters march, panels are appointed and reforms are most often accepted by police commissioners.

After a white officer shot and killed an undercover detective, William Capers, in 1972, the department drew up guidelines intended to prevent fraternal fire and undercover officers began wearing their badges on strings around their necks.

In 1994, after a white officer fired shots into the back of a black undercover transit officer, Desmond Robinson, the police commissioner, William J. Bratton, acknowledged what seemed painfully obvious to black undercover officers — the department needed to appoint a panel to examine the racial assumptions of their white colleagues.

“It’s a reality,” Mr. Bratton said. “Minority officers are at risk.”

New York City has fewer fatal police shootings per officer than any other large police department in the nation, according to a department official. Since 1990, fewer than a half-dozen police officers have been shot by other officers in New York. And the Police Department has consistently tightened rules governing when and how officers should use firearms. But a 25-year-old police officer, Omar J. Edwards, now lies in a city morgue, and his death imposes its own reality. Anguish and tears come accompanied by questions about whether too many officers harbor too many assumptions and fire too quickly.

“This is the most Shakespearean aspect of policing,” said State Senator Eric Adams of Brooklyn, who is black and a former police captain. “Your greatest fear is to be shot and slain on duty, and that’s only matched by your fear of shooting another officer.”

He added, “If you speak with nine out of 10 officers of color they would tell you that when they hear sirens, in their head they are thinking: ‘I hope these cops know that I’m one of the good guys.’ ”

That worry comes embedded in a paradox: The New York New Yorkepartment never has been so diverse. A majority of the cadets in the last rookie police class were members of ethnic and racial minorities, offering a rainbow cross-section of the city itself. Over all, 47.8 percent of the city’s officers are white, 28.7 percent Hispanic, 17.9 percent black and 5.4 percent Asian.

But, replenished although this department is, its very youth and diversity present a challenge. Officer Edwards had been on the force for two years; the officer who shot him, Andrew P. Dunton, had been for 4 ½ years. Younger officers, say their instructors, are more likely to experience surges of judgment-blurring testosterone and adrenaline.

In Officer Edwards’s case, the young, off-duty officer apparently had drawn his weapon and was chasing a man who had tried to break into his car when he encountered his on-duty colleagues, who according to their initial testimony saw his gun, shouted “Police!” and fired when he turned to face them. Such actions might have been in violation of departmental protocols.

“The department has very good training on use of force and firearm simulators,” said Maria Haberfeld, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a specialist in the use of force. “The physiological impact on the officer is great. It’s very detrimental to solid judgment. Your adrenaline is pumping, and your visual skills are impaired.

“It’s not a situation you can replicate in a classroom.”

On Diverse Force, Blacks Still Face Special Peril
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The city is a measurably safer place than it was two decades ago, when the number of homicides hovered around 2,000 each year. Last year, the city recorded 516 homicides. When former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani folded the transit and housing police forces into the New York New Yorkepartment in the mid-1990s, he eliminated much of the confusion that came with balkanized forces. But particularly for young officers, whose training comes in high-crime precincts, New York City can cast a confusing, even threatening shadow.
Officers, many of whom grew up in segregated neighborhoods, find themselves challenged to remember daily that their own come in every shape and color.

“There was a time if you were a cop you could grab your gun and go into the streets and count on a stereotype to protect you,” said Eugene J. O’Donnell, professor of law and police studies at John Jay and a former officer. “Now the cops look like everybody, and everybody looks like a cop.

“So stereotypes,” he said, “offer no protection at all.”

Sorting out the shooting of one officer by another, not least the role played by race, is complicated. In a few cases, gunman and victim share an ethnicity. In 2006, a gang brawled with an off-duty police officer, Eric Hernandez, at a White Castle restaurant in the Bronx. Officer Alfredo Toro responded to a 911 call and shot Officer Hernandez, not realizing he was a colleague. Officer Hernandez later died.

It “is naïve to assume that our department is driven by racism,” Dr. Haberfeld says. “Your experience will be based on what you encounter, and it’s natural to build up a profile.”

But some black officers and academics counter that this is too easy. “If it was just a mistake, we would see more of these mistakes with officers of different colors,” said Prof. Delores Jones-Brown, director of John Jay’s Center on Race, Crime and Justice.

Instinctual judgments about race and crime are woven into the culture of the streets. “We tend to pretend in the police force that we don’t see race, we don’t see ethnicity, but we do,” said Senator Adams, the former police captain. “One of my cops once said that if he sees a non-uniformed black man with a gun, he takes precautions for himself; if he sees a white guy with a gun, he takes precautions for both because he knows it could be a fellow cop.”

Desmond Robinson lived this experience. In 1994, in the confusion of the 53rd Street subway station, he chased a teenager with a gun. Another undercover officer, Peter Del-Debbio, who is white, came from the other direction and fired at Officer Robinson, the last few shots pumped into his back at close range.

Officer Del-Debbio was convicted of second-degree assault and sentenced to five years’ probation. Officer Robinson recovered and left the force.

“Everyone carries baggage subconsciously and retraining the mind takes lots of work,” said Mr. Robinson, who lives in Florida. “There are a lot of black undercovers out there, and officers need to understand that not every black man with a gun is a criminal.”

Amid Mourning, Circumspection

As New York City prepared for the funeral of Officer Omar J. Edwards, who was fatally shot by another officer in East Harlem on Thursday, his relatives and elected and civic leaders called for consideration of the split-second decisions officers must make. Article, nytimes.com/nyregion.

Contractors Vie for Plum Work, Hacking for the United States

The government’s urgent push into cyberwarfare has set off a rush among the biggest military companies for billions of dollars in new defense contracts.
The exotic nature of the work, coupled with the deep recession, is enabling the companies to attract top young talent that once would have gone to Silicon Valley. And the race to develop weapons that defend against, or initiate, computer attacks has given rise to thousands of “hacker soldiers” within the Pentagon who can blend the new capabilities into the nation’s war planning.

Nearly all of the largest military companies — including Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon — have major cyber contracts with the military and intelligence agencies.

The companies have been moving quickly to lock up the relatively small number of experts with the training and creativity to block the attacks and design countermeasures. They have been buying smaller firms, financing academic research and running advertisements for “cyberninjas” at a time when other industries are shedding workers.

The changes are manifesting themselves in highly classified laboratories, where computer geeks in their 20s like to joke that they are hackers with security clearances.

At a Raytheon facility here south of the Kennedy Space Center, a hub of innovation in an earlier era, rock music blares and empty cans of Mountain Dew pile up as engineers create tools to protect the Pentagon’s computers and crack into the networks of countries that could become adversaries. Prizes like cappuccino machines and stacks of cash spur them on, and a gong heralds each major breakthrough.

The young engineers represent the new face of a war that President Obama described Friday as “one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation.” The president said he would appoint a senior White House official to oversee the nation’s cybersecurity strategies.

Computer experts say the government is behind the curve in sealing off its networks from threats that are growing more persistent and sophisticated, with thousands of intrusions each day from organized criminals and legions of hackers for nations including Russia and China.

“Everybody’s attacking everybody,” said Scott Chase, a 30-year-old computer engineer who helps run the Raytheon unit here.

Mr. Chase, who wears his hair in a ponytail, and Terry Gillette, a 53-year-old former rocket engineer, ran SI Government Solutions before selling the company to Raytheon last year as the boom in the military’s cyberoperations accelerated.

The operation — tucked into several unmarked buildings behind an insurance office and a dentist’s office — is doing some of the most cutting-edge work, both in identifying weaknesses in Pentagon networks and in creating weapons for potential attacks.

Daniel D. Allen, who oversees work on intelligence systems for Northrop Grumman, estimated that federal spending on computer security now totals $10 billion each year, including classified programs. That is just a fraction of the government’s spending on weapons systems. But industry officials expect it to rise rapidly.

The military contractors are now in the enviable position of turning what they learned out of necessity — protecting the sensitive Pentagon data that sits on their own computers — into a lucrative business that could replace some of the revenue lost from cancellations of conventional weapons systems.

Executives at Lockheed Martin, which has long been the government’s largest information-technology contractor, also see the demand for greater computer security spreading to energy and health care agencies and the rest of the nation’s critical infrastructure. But for now, most companies remain focused on the national-security arena, where the hottest efforts involve anticipating how an enemy might attack and developing the resources to strike back.

Though even the existence of research on cyberweapons was once highly classified, the Air Force plans this year to award the first publicly announced contract for developing tools to break into enemy computers. The companies are also teaming up to build a National Cyber Range, a model of the Internet for testing advanced techniques.

Military experts said Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics, which have long been major players in the Pentagon’s security efforts, are leading the push into offensive cyberwarfare, along with the Raytheon unit. This involves finding vulnerabilities in other countries’ computer systems and developing software tools to exploit them, either to steal sensitive information or disable the networks.Mr. Chase and Mr. Gillette said the Raytheon unit, which has about 100 employees, grew out of a company they started with friends at Florida Institute of Technology that concentrated on helping software makers find flaws in their own products. Over the last several years, their focus shifted to the military and intelligence agencies, which wanted to use their analytic tools to detect vulnerabilities and intrusions previously unnoticed.

Like other contractors, the Raytheon teams set up “honey pots,” the equivalent of sting operations, to lure hackers into digital cul-de-sacs that mimic Pentagon Web sites. They then capture the attackers’ codes and create defenses for them.

And since most of the world’s computers run on the Windows or the Linux systems, their work has also provided a growing window into how to attack foreign networks in any cyberwar.

“It takes a nonconformist to excel at what we do,” said Mr. Gillette, a tanned surfing aficionado who looks like a 1950s hipster in his T-shirts with rolled-up sleeves.

The company, which would allow interviews with other employees only on the condition that their last names not be used because of security concerns, hired one of its top young workers, Dustin, after he won two major hacking contests and dropped out of college. “I always approach it like a game, and it’s been fun,” said Dustin, now 22.

Another engineer, known as Jolly, joined Raytheon in April after earning a master’s degree in computer security at DePaul University in Chicago. “You think defense contractors, and you think bureaucracy, and not necessarily a lot of interesting and challenging projects,” he said.

The Pentagon’s interest in cyberwarfare has reached “religious intensity,” said Daniel T. Kuehl, a military historian at the National Defense University. And the changes carry through to soldiers being trained to defend and attack computer and wireless networks out on the battlefield.

That shift can be seen in the remaking of organizations like the Association of Old Crows, a professional group that includes contractors and military personnel.

The Old Crows have deep roots in what has long been known as electronic warfare — the use of radar and radio technologies for jamming and deception.

But the financing for electronic warfare had slowed recently, prompting the Old Crows to set up a broader information-operations branch last year and establish a new trade journal to focus on cyberwarfare.

The career of Joel Harding, the director of the group’s Information Operations Institute, exemplifies the increasing role that computing and the Internet are playing in the military.

A 20-year veteran of military intelligence, Mr. Harding shifted in 1996 into one of the earliest commands that studied government-sponsored computer hacker programs. After leaving the military, he took a job as an analyst at SAIC, a large contractor developing computer applications for military and intelligence agencies.

Mr. Harding estimates that there are now 3,000 to 5,000 information operations specialists in the military and 50,000 to 70,000 soldiers involved in general computer operations. Adding specialists in electronic warfare, deception and other areas could bring the total number of information operations personnel to as many as 88,700, he said.