Malcolm Beith

Stories by Malcolm Beith

  • Bush Walks, Putin Shrugs

    President George W. Bush announced last week that the United States would withdraw from the anti-ballistic missile treaty in six months, but he emerged unscathed politically. With the war on terror, "Who's going to complain?" said a former Clinton official. Even former general Vladimir Belous, a veteran of the Soviet Union's elite nuclear strike forces and long-time opponent of U.S. missile defense plans, seemed unfazed. "This is the best thing that could have happened," he said. Although he wasn't happy that Washington had withdrawn from the treaty, Belous believes that Russia will now win political points for seeming like a peacemaker.Why the striking sense of calm in Russia? Weakness, for one. Moscow could have done nothing to prevent Washington from pulling out--its threats thus far of installing multiple warheads on existing missiles have failed to persuade the United States to be more cooperative. More important, the recent White House proposals for sharp cuts in offensive...
  • One Night In Bangkok

    So much for the Wild, Wild West of the East. A wave of government-imposed morality has swept through Bangkok since last summer, when Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra launched a campaign against "social evils." Go-go bars, street beer stalls and upscale pubs alike were forced to shut their doors by 2 a.m.--just when tourists and expats in the Thai capital usually shift into high gear. Night owls have decried the move as ill conceived, saying it will cost everyone from the government to bar girls serious money. "They're destroying what makes Bangkok 'Bangkok'," grumbles one Canadian. "People are going to stop coming here if they can't have a few wild nights." Um, not quite. PERI's Joe Cochrane offers a few of the many alternatives:The night market in Patpong is just spitting distance from the sex shows. Why gaze drunkenly at cheap flesh when you can pick up cheap booty? Clothing, CDs and trinkets, that is.Take a boat trip along the Chao Phraya River. A cheap and popular activity...
  • Is Cavallo Cornered?

    Argentina made a crucial debt payment last week, avoiding (for now) a plunge into the abyss. But Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo's days may be numbered. He's managed to alienate everyone and his banker. A catalog: ...
  • Currency Euro Follies

    The Irish like to keep it in the mattress. The Germans stash it in Luxembourg bank accounts. The Spaniards, some say, hide it in the freezer. They call it dinero negro--black money that by any other name might be Deutsche marks, lire or pesatas. But come the new year, they're all history. And the proceeds of Europe's vast underground economy have to go public by being converted into euros. So, how do Europe's savvy double-dealers avoid the consequent scrutiny of the taxman? PERI counts the ways:Villas in Marbella. Mediterranean real-estate purchases have skyrocketed in the past two months. A near 30 percent rise amid a global recession. Please. Then there are the flashy cars--sales of Mercedeses have risen by 37 percent this year; and Audi and BMW trail not far behind. Jewelry, electrical goods, fine wine and art also top the recent European shopping lists.No one can accuse the Europeans of not having fun--or at least not taking the changeover too seriously. The Dutch have...
  • War Watch Flying Right

    Afghanistan's national airline, Ariana, is back in the air. At least its two surviving planes are. The fleet was largely destroyed by U.S. airstrikes, but the show goes on. A 50-seat flight bound for Herat took off from Kabul on Thursday. And soon, Ariana hopes to resume international travel to neighboring Iran and Tajikistan.U.S. authorities believe a secret mountain bunker in Virginia may have been an intended target of Al Qaeda. It was used by the Federal Reserve Board as a nerve center for recording financial transactions and storing backup data. But in 1997 the Fed gave the cave to the Library of Congress, which uses it to store a priceless collection of old movies. Nice intelligence, Mr. bin Laden.Anthrax mania is costing a fortune. Thousands of hoaxes, including an October "guacamole" spill in Chicago, have brought teams of investigators to each scene. The cost of each scare has varied, but they add up. A random--and benign--sample:
  • Arrum With A Modern View

    The crowd at the bar might belong to any of London's new-wave nightspots. But this is ArRum, an Islamic club that recently opened in London's hip Clerkenwell district. The name is taken from a verse in the Quran that promotes diversity. Instead of merely giving its visitors (who are mostly Muslim) an escape from the rat race, ArRum seeks to provide a place "where Muslims can bring their non-Muslim friends to give them an informal and less insular insight into how Muslims live their daily lives," says Luqman Ali, co-founder of British Muslim theater company Khayaal and frequent ArRum visitor.A visit to ArRum shows how Islamic culture (or lifestyle) can coexist with a modern, Western youth culture. Nestled among the chic and trendy bars, clubs and restaurants of London's financial district, ArRum displays the best of Islamic art and design: whitewashed walls, a mosaic courtyard fountain, a richly stocked library (most of the books are in Arabic or about Islam) and Islamic art. No...
  • New Power For The President

    The world has certainly changed. Not because the war in Afghanistan is all but over and the forces of terror are on the run, although that may be part of it. More important is President George W. Bush's other victory, a battle Bill Clinton lost miserably. That is in the war for free trade. Coupled with China's accession to the World Trade Organization this week, it makes the struggle against anti-globalists look well and truly won.China gambled on globalization by joining the WTO. Chinese business, particularly its still massively inefficient state companies, will be forced to compete on the world's terms. It will have to phase out the quotas and subsidies that now protect these cosseted industries. The transition will be difficult, but the Chinese understand one key thing: if they are successful, competition will also make them rich.On American shores, the prospect of free trade looks even more promising, as fast-track legislation squeaked through the House of Representatives last...
  • Old Boy's Club

    High hopes for a breakthrough in the 27-year-old Cyprus conflict emerged from last week's meeting between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders, Glafcos Clerides and Rauf Denktas. Denktas, 77, invited his old pal Clerides, 82, to dinner at his home. The Greek Cypriot leader agreed--a courageous gesture, involving a drive through the Turkish checkpoint and into the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Over a Turkish menu (at Clerides's request) and a sweet dessert, the two talked of the good old days, when they were young attorneys and close friends. Politics were left out altogether. But they did agree to start a new process of negotiations in January, again in Nicosia. The social event warmed the atmosphere on both sides of the island. But it's a darker omen, as well. Time is running out for the old boys and their ties. Soon, a generation raised in unity and friendship will have been replaced by one that has known only enmity, making an eventual rapprochement all...
  • Murder Spree

    In most countries, last week's murder of Marika de Klerk would seem to represent only a random act of violence. For South Africans, it underscored a wider point: with 21,000 annual murder victims, not even a former First Lady is safe. Mrs. de Klerk, 64, had lived alone in a luxury seaside apartment near Cape Town since her marriage to former president F. W. de Klerk fell apart in 1998. Last week authorities found her there--strangled, with the blade of a serrated knife in her back. It appears Mrs. de Klerk stumbled in on a robbery, to which one of her building's security guards confessed on Saturday after being arrested. As is most often the case in South Africa, Mrs. de Klerk knew her attacker. Most South African murders involve "people who know each other," said Safety and Security Minister Steve Tshwete recently. "We cannot police this."
  • Heating Up?

    It seems we're not alone in the universe, especially when it comes to big problems. Researchers say that Mars, too, may be a victim of global warming. The planet's solid carbon-dioxide polar caps seem to have receded over the past Martian year (687 days). The more they evaporate, the more the atmosphere warms. Scientists say that if the trend continues, the Martian atmosphere would be warmer, with stronger winds--and even more dust. Experts don't know what made the caps dissolve in the first place. But they're pretty sure it wasn't exhaust from Sojourner, the SUV that roamed the Red Planet in 1997. It was powered by a solar panel.
  • Viva The Crusades?

    After the pope recently supported measures to "bring those responsible [for Sept. 11] to justice" and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi decreed that the West is "superior to Islam," Italians may have been feeling nervous. Then last week the U.S. Embassy in Rome warned that "symbols of American capitalism" in Italy might be imminent terrorist targets. The Italian police force stepped up its readiness, even guarding local McDonald's outlets. Italians around the country stocked up on supplies.Who could top his own careless words but Berlusconi himself? On Wednesday Italy passed a law making it more difficult for Italian courts to accept foreign evidence unless it has been subjected to tough bureaucratic procedures. It will likely let Berlusconi off the hook in one of the fraud cases pending against him. Nice for him, but it won't make it any easier to track down international terrorists.
  • Changing Roles: Has Dubya Become A Diplomat?

    He was the missile-slinging cowboy, a "cartoon oilman belching out carbon fumes," as London's Guardian put it. But since Sept. 11 George W. Bush has grown. The boy president has come to be seen as a man--indeed, a statesman. Adjectives PERI never thought we'd see: ...
  • What's Under Your Burqa?

    The Taliban has relaxed rules on having women wear the all-covering burqa, especially near Afghanistan's borders. A victory for modernism? Nah. The Taliban is moving to prevent another Yvonne Ridley, the British journalist who recently sneaked in under cover of a burqa. You would think her capture--even if the Taliban did agree to release her--would be deterrent enough.
  • Nuances

    How do accountants respond to crises? Like accountants, obviously. Though unusual, the WTC attack was nothing "extraordinary," the Financial Accounting Standards Board ruled last week. That's a big issue for the bean-counting set: an "extraordinary item" would have required the bookkeepers to consign all Sept. 11-related costs to one line on the balance sheet. Such an approach, the rulemakers feared, could lead to suspicious dumping of costs. Companies could simply use the attacks as convenient cover for financial problems that were festering prior to Sept. 11. "People must think we're crazy," acknowledges Jim Harrington of PriceWaterhouseCoopers. "This is obviously one of the most extraordinary events in the history of mankind."
  • Is There Room For Optimism?

    We knew things were bad before Sept. 11--and worse after. The latest U.S. figures for last month showed the sharpest drop in consumer confidence in a decade; in addition, shipments of capital goods sank to the lowest level in 25 years, a dismal decline--or make that "horrendous," as Morgan Stanley economist Stephen Roach put it. Now come the latest employment numbers, showing 200,000 layoffs last month--the largest one-month decline since February 1991.Some experts are nonetheless cautiously optimistic. According to Bank One Chicago economist Diane Swonk, 19 percent of U.S. manufacturers report that inventories have grown "too tight"--setting the stage for new purchases. The Bush administration beefed up its stimulus package even more last week, and the Federal Reserve cut rates by half a point. As a result, some economists have dropped the "R" word (recession), in fact, and are talking "V's"--as in a sharp economic upswing by spring or summer.The most hopeful economists are...
  • Cronyism Is Still King

    As if Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri didn't have enough problems. While she was out of the country last month trying to entice wary foreign investors, militant Muslims at home threatened to storm the U.S. Embassy and American economic interests and expel American citizens. Instead of striking new deals, jittery foreign businesses began dusting off evacuation plans.It gets worse. The Indonesian Supreme Court issued a surprise ruling overturning last year's corruption conviction of Tommy Suharto, the former dictator's youngest son. Megawati had vowed to crack down on corruption and reform the court system, but the Suharto decision leaves her well-meaning words in tatters. "This ruling goes to show how helpless she is," says one Western diplomat in Jakarta. "Money, threats and fear still rule."
  • Lift Off!

    Name the first tourist in space!" Nineteen-year-old Juan Pablo Nigita, from Argentina, did--identifying U.S. businessman Dennis Tito. Nigita's prize from his Internet provider: a trip to... you guessed it. But he's only going as far as the stratosphere--no space stations. PERI caught up with him as he prepared to take off later this month in a Russian spy plane for a three-hour whirl 15 miles above the Earth:Did you dream of this day?Have you done much flying?Is your family pleased? My mother said: "Juan Pablo, are you stupid?"Nervous?
  • Osama's Day In Court

    In 1995, while preparing his trial defense for Timothy McVeigh, lead counsel Stephen Jones tried to come up with alternative suspects. Osama bin Laden was one, prompting Jones to joke, "Just imagine how difficult it would be for us if the government went after him."It could happen, if U.S. forces manage to locate him and bring him back alive for criminal prosecution. But would anyone represent bin Laden? "It might be a career-breaker," says attorney Jack Litman. "A lawyer who took that case--even the mob would shun him," says Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University.Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor who's made a career of taking on unpopular clients like O. J. Simpson, says he might defend bin Laden if a court appointed him. "It would be emotionally wrenching--I hate everything he stands for," Dershowitz says. But Dershowitz says the U.S. system demands every defendant get a fair trial, and "how could I say no in principle?" Dershowitz likens a defense of bin...
  • What A Nice Afghan!

    People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is speaking out about a war against Afghanistan in its new ad (below), to be published in U.S. magazines this month. Wait a minute. Doesn't PETA represent animals? That's still its main focus, explains PETA president Ingrid Newkirk. "We're against speciesism. Animals are at the bottom of the barrel, and if we can't treat those closest to us well, what chance do animals have?" Not a bad way to kill two birds with one stone. Just don't tell PETA we said that.
  • Welcome To Word War I

    The "war" against terrorism has become a semantic minefield. President George W. Bush even called it a "crusade," to the consternation of his staff, which quickly issued a retraction lest the boss be seen as declaring war against all Islam. PERI recaps some other recent misnomers. ...
  • The Running Of The Bulls

    By most accounts, the United States was in a recession before Sept. 11. And the news seems only to get worse.U.S. jobless claims have soared to 450,000 from 392,000 just two weeks ago--in part due to massive airline layoffs. It's the largest surge ever recorded since the Feds began tracking claims in 1968--and in sheer numbers the highest since 1992. Next comes another round of layoffs in industries from telecom to high tech and automaking.Remember consumer spending, which Alan Greenspan & Co. assured us would sustain the U.S. economy? Consumer confidence plunged to 97.6 in September, down from 114 in August--the largest one-month drop since the gulf war in 1991 and a sure sign of deepening recession. The stock market has tanked since Sept. 11, too, with the exception of shares in companies with contracts to make biological-weapons vaccines. Hardly what one might call a silver lining.The list goes on. Corporate earnings are expected to plummet. Industrial production fell about 0...
  • The Most Fortunate People In The World

    For the past two weeks, it's been all bin Laden, all the time. He diverted the attention of the world's most outspoken media and critics, allowing several scandal-ridden politicians around the globe to escape an unwelcome glare. PERI's gallery of the luckiest public figures to benefit from bin Laden mania: ...
  • Clashing Realities

    Who'll win the first "real" battle? CBS, maker of the hit reality show "Survivor," or CNN's likely 24-hour war coverage? So far, it looks like reality has reality TV scared silly. CBS had looked to Jordan as a location for the fourth season, but now has reportedly decided to relocate its survivor troupe to the somewhat safer tropical haven of Tahiti. CBS, notorious for misleading the media (at least on all things "Survivor"), has issued no official comment.
  • Down Home With Dubya

    Attention, White House press corps. Vacationing with the president can be fun. Remember Lyndon Johnson's wild parties on his ranch? Or those trips to Maine with Daddy Bush? With Dubya it's a little different. There ain't much to do in Crawford, Texas. Diversions include: eating chicken-fried steak and gravy at the local restaurant. Vegetarians (quiet now, you're in Texas) keep an eye out for those fried jalapenos, the perfect snack in 110-degree heat. Crawford's also a "dry" town. No beer for nine miles. Best to just head for Waco, 25 miles east. Specials for White House staff and the press corps: $2 Margaritas at Gratziano's, a $10 fee for use of Baylor University's gym (including a 52-foot climbing wall) and a $4 tour of the Dr Pepper museum.
  • The Lion King

    Pop quiz. who wrote the song "Wimoweh" (a.k.a. "The Lion Sleeps Tonight")--Pete Seeger, the Kingston Trio or the Tokens? None of the above--or any of the other 150-plus bands who've recorded the song, raking in $15 million in the process. It was written in 1939 by South African Solomon Linda, who died penniless in 1962. But Linda's now due for some well-deserved credit--and royalties. Gallo Records has just released a compilation CD containing the original recording and other versions by popular South African groups. At least some of the profits will go to Linda's three daughters and their families in Soweto.
  • Magic Cures

    Battered by foot-and-mouth disease, Britain's tourism authorities have turned to a magical savior: Harry Potter. The idea is to promote landmarks shown in the upcoming kid-wizard film. Planning a trip to the green isles? Don't miss the 11th-century Alnwick Castle and Gloucester Cathedral, a.k.a. Hogwarts School. Visit the delightfully quaint village of Ottery St. Mary--or in Harry-speak, Ottery St. Catchpole. Or even make a gold withdrawal from Gringotts Bank (The Australian High Commission, in Gringotts's real--and slightly less exciting--incarnation). But can Pottermania erase the memory of all the diseased animals? Officials are optimistic. It's amazing the influence a little boy and his wand can have on us Muggles.
  • Rumsfeld's Rift With Japan

    When U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld proposed shifting military strategy to emphasize the importance of Asia, nobody was happier than the Japanese. But six months later Tokyo is quietly seething: Rumsfeld has yet to ask for its input in the department's strategic review of the region. "We have not been consulted," says Masashi Nishihara of Japan's National Defense Academy. "It is a source of worry." Worrisome enough for senior U.S. Defense officials to visit Tokyo in the coming weeks to smooth ruffled feathers. But not enough for Rumsfeld himself to make an appearance. In a nation that so values self- respect, Tokyo appropriately insists it has not been dissed completely. Says one senior Japanese government official: "It won't be too late to put forward our views."
  • Read The Fine Print

    The Holocaust never happened. So screamed the posters in Berlin. Come again? Oops, PERI forgot to mention the small print, which most Berliners missed, too: THERE ARE STILL MANY PEOPLE WHO MAKE THIS CLAIM. IN 20 YEARS THERE COULD BE EVEN MORE. MAKE A DONATION FOR THE MEMORIAL FOR MURDERED JEWS OF EUROPE. The posters caused outrage and were taken down last week. When it comes to shock advertising, it just goes to show: always read the fine print.
  • Is This The Party To Whom I Am Speaking?

    Want to flesh out your resume? A job at Rotterdam-based telemarketer Telesales may be just the thing. "Always Wanted to Work in the Nude?" it recently advertised, trying to lure hard-to-find staff. "In an office job like a call center," the Dutch company explains, "it doesn't matter what you're wearing because customers don't see you." This select team will operate under the name Au Nature Telesales. Not to worry. Applicants don't have to interview naked. "We are not a sex-line center. And we have no erotic demands at all," insists co-owner Robert van Sligter. "We [just] want everybody in our office to feel pleasant and free."
  • Internal Affairs

    So, Bubba has his $12 million book deal. Should bookstores stack it under fiction or nonfiction? Clinton once said: "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is," but now insists the book will be "setting the record straight." Still, maybe best to simply stack it under biography.Elsewhere, the American Bar Association backed a rule prohibiting lawyers from having sex with clients. No word as to whether a similar law will be considered by politicians.Copyright 2001 Newsweek: not for distribution outside of Newsweek Inc.
  • You Can't Be Too Clean

    We Brits still abide by the five-second rule. If food has been lying on the floor less than that, go ahead and eat it--regardless of surface conditions. Which explains the shocked faces clustered around my barbecue in Brooklyn the other day. The "chef," another Brit, had just flipped a hot dog off the ground and back onto the grill. "It'll cook off the germs," he said nonchalantly. I understood perfectly. But not my American guests. They are clean freaks, almost one and all.To outsiders, America's mania for hygiene is quite extraordinary. When I moved to New York a year ago, I was astonished at what I would occasionally see on the subway: commuters carrying MoistWipes (tiny hand towels laced with antimicrobial detergents) to clean off the residue left on seats and poles by previous riders. Some even refused to touch the poles, instead hugging them with their jackets or some other makeshift bacterial body condom. I'd regarded such people as aliens--until one day last summer when I...