Periscope

STRIKES

A Wakened Giant

Stagnant pay and unease at the prospect of labor-market reforms are pushing Europe's largest unions toward confrontation. This summer's walkout by a million Spaniards was the country's first general strike in eight years. Recent weeks have seen union-led strikes in Italy, Belgium and Portugal. The British Army was recently called in to cover for the nation's striking firefighters. And last week, in France, tens of thousands--from air-traffic controllers to train drivers--quit work to protest. Worse could be on the way: Germany's biggest union is squaring up for a tussle with the government. The unions have acted in a "very responsible" manner up until recent months, says Wim Bergans of the Brussels-based European Trades Union Confederation--which represents 44 million workers. But restraint is now out of fashion.

The upsurge in action is a blow to any optimists lulled into believing that union militancy was on the wane. One reason for the calm was rising prosperity. No longer. And although their numbers have been declining, Europe's unions still have power. Only Britain has managed to push through the kind of legislation needed to de-claw the unions. The German government, in particular, still likes to see its unions as close partners rather than adversaries. And under its own statutes, the EU itself is obliged to consult the unions on a slew of topics.

What's more, union membership has actually stayed strong in the EU's public sector, where around half of all employees still pay their dues. And state employees have new grievances. In many Eurozone countries, the public sector felt the tightest pinch of the fiscal belt-tightening required in the late '90s, before countries could sign up for membership of the single currency. The result: pent-up demand for hefty pay raises to narrow the gap with the private sector. The immense German union Verdi is now talking of its first mass walkout in a decade unless the government promises a settlement of more than 3 percent.

For some states a tough struggle could lie ahead. Once upon a time, EU governments could--and likely would--have bought peace with generous pay deals. But with economies on the slide, that's no longer an easy option. And the Eurozone countries are tied by a pledge--the Growth and Stability Pact--to avoid running up the deficits that might undermine the currency. Last week EU president Romano Prodi, under pressure from hard-pressed member states, suggested a loosening of the pact's rules. But an important principle is still in place. "The pact may be no more than a symbol, but there is still a fundamental commitment to budgetary stability in the long run," says one commission insider. Sure, today's government tightwads have one excuse never available to the last generation: blame the euro. But that probably won't help them stall the strikers.

DICTATORS

The Least Wanted

Belarus and the Ukraine, two former Soviet backwaters, are rapidly becoming renowned for the wrong reasons. No, their leaders, Aleksandr Lukashenko and Leonid Kuchma, are not on any "wanted" lists. But they've got the opposite problem. Both are deemed persona non grata as soon as they try to head West.

Last week the United States imposed a travel ban on Belarus's President Lukashenko because of what the State Department described as the "erosion of human rights and democratic principles in Belarus." Kuchma has recently had the same problem--although he simply ignored the restrictions. Despite NATO's repeated demands that Kuchma stay away from its November meeting in Prague, he crashed the conference. NATO officials were forced to orchestrate a new seating plan, arranged alphabetically to keep Kuchma as far away as possible from President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

For the leader of a country that aspires to future EU and NATO membership, Kuchma seems strangely intent on irritating the West. His administration is already under fire for allegations of corruption, abuse of office, murder and selling a radar system to Iraq. Even Kuchma's efforts to please have gone astray. He recently ushered in an unlikely newcomer to the post of prime minister: regional governor Viktor Yanukovych. Kuchma is despised at home (Ukraine has been in political crisis since September, when tens of thousands took to the streets to call for his ouster), and his team is in dire need of a political makeover. But Yanukovych is hardly a departure from the standard Kuchma cast. According to local press reports, he has at least two criminal convictions, one of them for gross embezzlement.

Kuchma has done little to change public opinion in the West, either. The United States, for its part, is unimpressed with his new man on the block. Washington still has "concerns regarding Kuchma and his policies," says a State Department spokesperson. A shadowy new prime minister is hardly going to alleviate those--or boost Ukraine's chances of making friends in the EU and NATO. But the lonely Lukashenko might be free for tea.

DEPT. OF IRONY

Privacy Is In the Past

In October 1997, a pro-Internet privacy article by a U.S. Republican senator from Missouri was published in the State Department's Electronic Journals. Entitled keep big brother's hands off the Internet, the piece condemned Bill Clinton's administration for attempting to "harness the Internet with a confusing array of intrusive regulations" and trying to give federal authorities "the capability to read any international or domestic computer communications." The Missouri senator denounced efforts to give the FBI "access to decode, digest and discuss financial transactions, personal e-mail and proprietary information sent abroad--all in the name of national security."

In recent weeks, those very same issues of privacy have been in the thoughts of most Americans. Under new legislation being pushed hard by Attorney General John Ashcroft, federal authorities would be granted the access that the Missouri senator had feared: the power to trace e-mails and other Internet traffic (in some cases without standard court pre-approval), and the government capability to demand user records from Internet service providers. In the past year, the FBI has already been granted a wider range of power in its use of Carnivore, a computer program that can follow and record the Internet user's every action by filtering networks for traffic and searching for key phrases.

Civil-libertarian groups are notably outraged. They agree that terrorists must not be allowed to use the Internet to harmful ends. But that doesn't mean Big Brother can rule the Web. Jay Stanley of the ACLU recently declared that these so-called advances are "the way rights are lost." At a time like this, those opposed could do far more if they had the help of that same senator from Missouri to argue their case. Unfortunately for them, he was John Ashcroft.

NIGERIA: Fatwa Follies

The prophet Muhammad, the Christian Nigerian reporter Isioma Daniel wrote in ThisDay, might have chosen a bride from among the Miss World contestants. The slight, which exploded into rioting in northern Nigeria (leaving 250 dead), has now set off a debate over the reach of Islamic law in a country that's about half Muslim. Daniel was reportedly forced into U.S. exile last week after the deputy governor of Nigeria's Zamfara State told a rally that the Muslim faithful should behead her. Daniel, whose boss remains in police custody, had also been told to report to the Secret Security Service. But Nigeria's Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs says the Zamfara politician had no authority to issue what was being called a fatwa, and voided it. Outside experts agree. "They have no right to kill if the person expresses regret," says Sheikh Saadal-Saleh, an official of Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Islamic Affairs. The newspaper has repeatedly apologized.

The debate coincides with the run-up to the 2003 national elections. Also wrecked in the rioting were businesses owned by one of President Olusegun Obasanjo's closest allies. Obasanjo, a Christian, hopes to be the first Nigerian head of state to succeed himself in democratic elections, and Muslim power brokers are doing their best to stop him. The president blames the whole mess on the press. But Daniel's boss says her resignation and departure came at the behest of another set of authorities--her parents.

FIGURES

A Banker's Vocal Wife

With the economy in the tank and interest rates still a hot issue, it's a good time for European Central Bank president Wim Duisenberg & Co. to lie low. But it seems Duisenberg's wife, Gretta, didn't get the memo. Her pro-Palestinian antics have been causing controversy in Europe of late. She chairs the Dutch-based movement Stop the Occupation, attends demonstrations against the Israeli presence in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, and has been known to fly a Palestinian flag from her balcony. Her actions have also become a concern for ECB reps, who believe that her bad publicity could harm her husband as he tries to close out his ECB term with dignity. NEWSWEEK's Friso Endt got her side of the story:

Why are you suddenly so active? Because your husband will retire in July and you will have to withdraw from the limelight?
That's a wrong impression. I have always been active for the people of Palestine, before and during my marriage. I took part in political movements to support these poor Palestinians.

Press reports said during the demonstration in April, in which you took part, there was violence, and people yelled, "Hamas, Hamas, all the Jews at the gas." Did you act this way, too?
No--I never did. The violence broke out at the end of the demonstration, when I had gone home already.

Some have called you anti-Semitic.
I am not anti-Semitic at all. I never have been. I am not that kind of woman.

Do you realize that your activities could be hurting your husband's reputation?
I have offered to stop several times. [Wim] doesn't want me to; he has said in public that he [and] the bank have nothing to do with [my] private activities.

But you are using his name.
Duisenberg has been my name [for] 15 years. I always have been active under my married name. Should I stop doing so suddenly under pressure from outside?

You were supposed to leave for Israel and Palestine on Nov. 6. You didn't go for "security reasons"?
When our movement received the message that we [couldn't] go for "security reasons," I burst into tears. Instead, Wim took me to Mexico, where he had to attend a conference, and we went to museums. [But] we want to go with a small delegation in early January, as [Yasir] Arafat's invitation still stands.

VIAGRA

Splitting The Cost

Sex sells, but how much should it cost? For an American man who uses Viagra, it's roughly $10 a tablet, whether he needs the 25mg, 50mg or 100mg dose. To save money, some men buy 100mg pills and slice them in half. But pill-splitting can be problematic with Viagra, which has a beveled shape, hard exterior and a powdery inside. So Carmen Reitano invented the V2 Pill Splitter. His soon-to-be-patented gizmo features a Viagra-shaped crevice and a surgical blade to hold the tablet secure for a perfect cut. He's sold more than 1,500, at $25 each, on the Internet since June. (Ken Welch, inventor of the more sophisticated $79 Swiss Pill Cutter, says he may lower his price to better compete.) Doctors say that with or without a special Viagra splitter, more men are discovering the trick. "More than half the people who use Viagra in our practice are pill splitters," says Dr. Irwin Goldstein, a prominent Boston urologist.

SKIING

Trying to Stay Cool

Ski-resort operators in the Rocky Mountains are elated about this year's early-season snowfall: despite advances in snowmaking technology, resorts still live or die with Mother Nature. No other business, it seems, should care more about global warming--you can't schuss in slush. But until now the industry has been loath to address the issue for fear of creating the impression that the sport is imperiled. In February the U.S. National Ski Areas Association, which represents 350 hills from Maine to California, will formally announce its Keep Winter Cool campaign, the first industry-wide initiative aimed at combating climate change. Locales will ramp up their efforts to reduce greenhouse gases--ski areas will purchase more wind power to run lifts and snowmaking operations (which account for the bulk of their carbon-dioxide emissions). The industry also plans to use its clout in Washington to encourage federal incentives for renewable energies; with their affluence and Republican tilt, skiers may become major players in policymaking. "It's mind-boggling that the ski industry has not been on the forefront of this issue," says Auden Schendler of Aspen Skiing Co. "We utterly depend on climate."

So why is the industry acting now? Resort officials say there is no longer any doubt about the science--the United Nations and the Bush administration agree the planet is warming. Climate models predict that nights (when resorts make snow) will be warmer and winters shorter, with more rain, less snowfall and unpredictable weather. A U.N. report shows the Alps are warming faster than the rest of the globe, and a rising snow line could turn some ski runs into green pastures by the end of the century. Nobody can predict what the Rockies will look like in 100 years, but climate trends indicate the ski industry has real reason for concern.

EXHIBITS: Homes Away From Home

Grand Hotel. Always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens," said Dr. Otternschlag in the 1932 film "Grand Hotel." In his time, maybe he was right. But today, hotels are business centers, diplomatic gathering grounds and nightlife hubs. And with top names like Philippe Starck designing them, hotels are even being regarded as art. Little wonder, then, that New York's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum is currently showing "New Hotels for Global Nomads," an exhibit in honor of the home-away-from-home.

Through photos, miniature replica models, videos and hotel accessories on display, the visitor is introduced to the hotel as comfort, luxury, convenience and escape. At the museum, you can see for yourself what kind of roamer you are. The opulent nomad would love Dubai's sail-like Burj Al-Arab. The rooms with tiny bunk beds in Tokyo's capsule hotels should appeal to those who miss boarding school.

For the true escapist, there are the gimmicks of the future. The Lobbi_Ports, a system of capsules that developers can add to hotels to provide additional high-rise lounges and observation decks, seem straight out of "Back to the Future II." Such fantasies unfortunately are a little overeager to impress--in fact, just like the exhibit itself. While the actual hotels make one's jaw drop, the setting here disappoints. For instance, a model and a photo of the Burj Al-Arab, displayed in a minimalist room with dim lights, simply don't do the real thing justice. The usually cutting-edge Cooper-Hewitt tries too hard to emulate the minimalist chic--and now overplayed--style of Starck, whose designs are copied from New York to Sydney. If Dr. Otternschlag could see hotel design today, he might well apply his statement to museums, not hotels.