Nardelli's seat upsets fund

Home Depot's $250,000 donation to George W. Bush's lavish inauguration ceremony last week appears to be irking shareholders.

As Observer reported, Bob Nardelli, the chief executive of the country's second-largest retailer, received a prime seat for his donation to the committee that funded Bush's second inauguration. Now F&C Asset Management, a shareholder in Home Depot, wants to know what it got the company.

"We feel companies should put their donations to a shareholder vote; we believe they should seek some level of shareholder backing," Karina Litvack, head of governance and socially responsible investment at the London-based fund manager, tells Observer.

"I have nothing to say about Mr Nardelli's personal donations. What caught my attention was Mr Nardelli using shareholder funds to fund what is clearly a political event."

The Atlanta-based retailer said yesterday that it "has historically supported certain government and community affairs. Our support for the inauguration stems from our commitment to the democratic process . . . The company will respond directly to any stockholders' inquiries concerning this subject."

Litvack says Home Depot is not alone. The fund manager has also questioned the manner in which political donations were made by Citicorp, Morgan Stanley and others. Then again, the companies should not feel picked on: "We take the same view toward charitable donations."

Free advertising?

Here's a man bites dog story. JWT, an advertising agency unit of the UK's WPP, said yesterday it no longer would judge itself "using financials as the sole performance measure".

Instead, the agency formerly known as J. Walter Thompson said it would use a new evaluation tool that would consider "an office's work, people, client relationships and reputation, in addition to the bottom line".

The change comes as part of an effort by Bob Jeffrey, JWT chief executive, to transform his agency from what he calls "a service-driven organisation that is ruled by the rational to a creative organism that is inspired by the visceral". Observer wonders whether WPP's shareholders will be so relaxed about JWT's bottom line.

Davos dudes

Delegates at the World Economic Forum in Davos engaged in a rare exercise of self-examination yesterday. An electronic poll revealed that 66 per cent were men, 41 per cent in their 50s and 70 per cent from North America and Europe. "We have some serious imbalances," said the moderator.

The marginalisation of the developing world is glaring. But for the WEF the bigger problem is the shortage of delegates from Asia: only 15 per cent of the total, when Asia accounts for more than half the world's population and most of its most dynamic economies.

So what's on the delegates' minds? Davos Man (two-thirds are men) apparently has a heart. Delegates ranked global poverty the number one priority, followed by equitable globalisation and climate change. Spreading education, fixing the Middle East and improving global governance came next.

The global economy came in eighth: odd considering 50 per cent of the delegates are businessmen. Perhaps there is something in the Swiss mountain air.

High line

News of exciting new growth in Mexico City - another traffic jam. The city already had plenty of those, but the much-heralded opening of the second level of the city's ring road was supposed to help fix that. The problem was not enough signs, resulting in traffic build-ups.

The confusion appears to confirm the view of critics that the project had been completed with undue haste to help the presidential ambitions of the city's mayor, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. But there may be advantages. One is that the city has now moved on to a more promising pilot project for a "metro-bus" - which will operate in its own bus lanes in the main avenues. The other is the view for stationary motorists is much better from the second level, even with the smog.

Last man

Afghanistan's Jewish community has been dwindling for decades. Now it has been cut in half with the death of Ishaq Levin, the octogenarian caretaker of Kabul's only synagogue. His demise leaves Zebulon Simentov, a 45-year-old carpet seller, to inherit the title of Afghanistan's sole remaining Jew.

One would expect Simentov to be distraught at the loss of Levin, with whom he shared the decrepit synagogue in central Kabul.

On the contrary, Levin's demise seems to have come as a relief to Simentov, who smiled as he recounted Levin's death last week from diabetes. The men were arch enemies, who squabbled viciously over whom was responsible for the loss of the country's last Torah to rapacious Taliban officials. For years, they lived in stony silence at different ends of the shabby synagogue building in central Kabul, even refusing to celebrate Jewish festivals together.

Simentov, who claims Levin tried to get him killed, told AP: "Now I am the Jew here, I am the boss."

Chicken feed

An animal park in northeast China is attracting tourists in what can only be described as a live Discovery Channel experience.

At the Siberia Tiger Park just outside of Harbin, tiger enthusiasts can pay Rmb40 ($4.80) to watch the hungry cats tear a live chicken to shreds in a matter of seconds. When Observer toured the grounds, a crew of visitors decided to purchase several chickens, which were strewn atop a dilapidated truck and pounced on by the tigers.

If that doesn't sound exciting enough, you can pay Rmb1,500 ($181) to watch those hungry beasts devour an entire cow à la Jurassic Park.

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