Saturday, February 24, 2007

As a group, voters pick popularity over principle

As a group, voters pick popularity over principle
By Jonah Goldberg, an editor of National Review Online: Tribune Media Services
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published February 23, 2007

What is it Tommy Lee Jones says in "Men in Black"? "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it."

Similarly, the American electorate is an odd beast, distinct from the American voter. Political scientists, the large-animal vets of this already strained metaphor, find all sorts of odd explanations for the electorate's behavior.

For example, sometimes the critter's stall is too damp, or not damp enough. In 2004, Princeton political scientists estimated that some "2.8 million people voted against Al Gore in 2000 because their states were too dry or too wet," costing Gore seven states, any of which would have cinched the election for him.

I can't judge the political scientists' math, but the point is that virtually no individual voter says, "You know, it didn't rain much this year; I'm voting Republican." That's something only voters do in a group.

I bring this up by way of introducing a topic that I guarantee will consume pundits and talking heads about a year from now: Who is the more likable presidential candidate? I can spare you several weeks' worth of a college course on modern politics by telling you that John F. Kennedy won his televised debate with Richard Nixon (while Nixon won among radio listeners) because the scruffy and angry-looking Nixon seemed like he should be cruising schoolyards in a trench coat.

At least one of the myriad reasons for Michael Dukakis' loss in 1988 was that he seemed like the kind of guy for whom the best time of his life was when as vice president of his high school chess club, he ascended to the top spot when the president got mono.

In 1996, the fact that Bob Dole seemed like he would be more comfortable wearing the Grim Reaper's cloak and pointing the bony finger of damnation probably didn't help compared with Bill Clinton's affable nightclub-host personality.

This is not an iron rule, of course. In 2000, Gore won the popular vote, and the received wisdom was that Bush was the more likable guy.

The 2004 election was more revealing. Bush's handling of the war and the economy was unpopular, yet Bush crushed John Kerry in the all-important category of likability. A typical Zogby poll found that 57.3 percent of swingable voters would have preferred to have a beer with Bush. Sixty-seven percent of undecideds liked Bush, while 52 percent disliked Kerry. Hey, what's not to dislike?

But here's the trick: The primary system doesn't necessarily produce charmers. Perhaps primary voters like anger. (Remember Howard Dean?) Or, better, maybe they actually care more about issues. But even when they focus on electability, they use the wrong criteria. Many Democratic primary voters opted for Kerry because they believed his military record made him "electable" (translation: I don't like him, but hopefully somebody else will). They would have been smarter to ignore the military stuff and nominate someone who wouldn't prompt John Belushi to smash a guitar against the wall of Delta House.

So the million-dollar question for strategic primary voters is, which candidate will swing voters like? It's a tougher question than it seems because your personal feelings are irrelevant. John Edwards' saccharine populism grates on me to no end, but I doubt average voters will see him as the angry honey-dipped marshmallow I take him for. Interestingly, the GOP has a significant likability advantage (and disadvantages almost everywhere else). John McCain may be unpopular with much of the Republican base, but Americans would love to go to the pub with him. Rudy Giuliani, too, seems like a good guy with whom to watch a baseball game at the bar. The superpolished Mitt Romney's a tougher call, and Duncan Hunter would be a pain because he'd keep asking the immigration status of the busboys. But the GOP front-runners (save perhaps Newt Gingrich) all have the advantage over Hillary Rodham Clinton. She may have star power, but you get the sense that most Americans would like to have their picture taken with her and then drink alone. With the exception of Sen. Christopher Dodd, I'd guess all of the Democratic wannabes are more likable than Clinton too. Sexism probably is part of the equation, but not as much as Clinton's defenders will claim. There's room for perceptions to change as we get to know the candidates (though we already know Clinton pretty well). Please don't be scandalized by all of this. It's just something to think about. For the record, I think everyone should vote based on principle. But principles are for a person; they're less helpful when it comes to predicting people.


Jonah Goldberg is an editor at National Review Online. E-mail:

Chicago Tribune Editorial - Truth and medical marijuana

Chicago Tribune Editorial - Truth and medical marijuana
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published February 24, 2007

Medical marijuana has had a lot of successes. Eleven states have legalized the therapeutic use of cannabis for people whose doctors think they can benefit from it. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the right of physicians to recommend pot to their patients. A 1999 report by the federal government's Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded, "Scientific data indicate the potential therapeutic value of cannabinoid drugs, primarily THC, for pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation."

But elsewhere, medical marijuana has stalled. Most states still don't allow it, and even in those that do, federal laws still ban the possession of cannabis. That means sick people who need marijuana for symptoms that don't respond to approved drugs must either do without or risk going to jail. Despite the IOM's call for more research, studies have been few and far between. As a result, the therapeutic value of cannabis remains largely unknown and untapped.

Recently, there were a couple of advances that may help to erode the federal government's stubborn resistance. The first was a study in the journal Neurology that found smoking pot can relieve pain--including a condition found in AIDS victims that is often impervious to other pain drugs, even powerful opiates. Said Donald Abrams, a physician and professor at the University of California, San Francisco, "There is a measurable medical benefit to smoking cannabis for these patients."

But such research is hard to come by. That's because the federal government is the only legal source of marijuana for clinical studies, and its monopoly presents some serious problems.

One is that it often rejects applications by scientists seeking supplies for their research. Another is that those who do get the stuff find its quality to be unreliable. By contrast, the government allows licensed private laboratories to supply such drugs as heroin and cocaine for scientific investigations.

An administrative law judge for the Drug Enforcement Administration recently ruled that a professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst should be allowed to grow marijuana in a licensed facility. Judge Mary Ellen Bittner found that some reputable scientists have been denied access to the government's supply and that providing an alternative source "would be in the public interest."

Whether that decision will actually change anything remains to be seen, since the DEA has the option of rejecting her recommendation. That would be a shame. If the government is so sure that marijuana has no medical value, it should welcome this sort of research. If it refuses to facilitate such studies, it must fear knowing the truth.

Israel Wants to Fly Over Iraq to carry out strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities

Israel Wants to Fly Over Iraq
Copyright © 2007, The Associated Press
Published February 24, 2007, 5:56 AM CST

LONDON -- Israel opened negotiations to fly through U.S. controlled airspace in Iraq to carry out strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities, a British newspaper reported Saturday. Israel's deputy defense minister denied the claim.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper quoted an unnamed Israeli defense official as saying the talks were aimed at planning for all scenarios, including any future decision to target Iran's nuclear program.

Israeli bombers would need a corridor through U.S.-administered airspace in Iraq to carry out any strikes, the official was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

Ephraim Sneh, Israel's Deputy Defense Minister, told The Associated Press on Saturday that the report was incorrect. "This is baseless information," Sneh said. "Maybe people like to divert (attention from) the need for immediate economic sanctions (with) stories about imminent Israeli action, which is not on the agenda."

The international community's focus should be on imposing economic sanctions on Iran for defying U.N. Security Council resolutions, he said.

Senior officials of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- Britain, the U.S., France, China and Russia -- and Germany are meeting Monday for an emergency summit in London to discuss measures against Tehran.

The U.S. and its Western allies insist Iran must suspend uranium enrichment before any negotiations over its nuclear program take place and accused Tehran of using a civilian program as a cover to develop weapons.

Iran, has rejected the condition to suspend enrichment and insists that its nuclear program is peaceful.

* __

Associated Press Writer Amy Tiebel in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

The ‘black’ president’s wife v the Democrats’ Tiger Woods

The ‘black’ president’s wife v the Democrats’ Tiger Woods
By Edward Luce
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: February 23 2007 19:40 | Last updated: February 23 2007 19:40

It has become commonplace to say that America’s Hispanic population will increasingly hold the whip hand in US politics. But in the increasingly volatile race for the 2008 Democratic nomination, African-Americans could prove the decisive arbiters.

As the wife of “America’s first black president” – in the words of Toni Morrison, the celebrated writer – Hillary Clinton can draw upon a deep well of African-American loyalty. According to polls that loyalty is holding up in spite of the meteoric rise of Barack Obama – only the third black person to be elected to the US Senate and the first with any serious shot at the White House.

A recent ABC/Washington Post poll found that 60 per cent of African-Americans supported Mrs Clinton – three times the level of support for Mr Obama. Furthermore, to many in the African-American community, particularly among the older generation that cut its teeth in the civil rights movement, Mr Obama’s identity remains in question.

In their view, to be an African-American you must be a descendent of slaves who were brought from west Africa to the United States. That would rule out Mr Obama, who was born to a Kenyan father and a white mother from Kansas. As the child of Jamaican immigrants, it would also rule out Colin Powell, the former secretary of state, who briefly toyed with the idea of running for the White House in the mid-1990s.

Added to that is a deep – and perfectly understandable – level of scepticism among African-Americans that a black candidate could ever successfully cross the national finishing line. Last weekend, Robert Ford, an African-American Democrat in the state of South Carolina, which will stage a critical early primary that could help decide the nominee, said that if Mr Obama were endorsed then all the other Democratic candidates running in other elections would be “doomed”.

Mr Ford, who had just endorsed Hillary Clinton, was forced to apologise. But that does not mean his opinions are not widely held. This month, Joe Biden, the senator from Delaware, who has also thrown his hat into the cluttered Democratic ring, further complicated the debate over Mr Obama when he made a spectacularly inept comment about his 45-year-old colleague from Illinois.

In a remark Mr Biden rapidly retracted, he described Mr Obama as the first “clean” and “articulate” black candidate the party had produced. Former black contenders, such as the reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, had a lot of fun talking about how often they took baths and which deodorants they used.

But Mr Biden’s comments also reminded people of the fact that whites do see Mr Obama differently – as a kind of Tiger Woods American who, unlike other black candidates, does not prompt feelings of guilt about being white because he does not remind them of what is most shameful about America’s history.

Tellingly, Mr Obama replaced his initially tepid statement about not taking Mr Biden’s remarks personally with something a lot stronger later in the day – doubtless having thought through how offensive Mr Biden’s remarks would have been to most African-Americans. All of which leaves the impression that Mr Obama, who has led a relatively charmed life until now, should prepare for harsher scrutiny in the months ahead.

Nor should it be forgotten that Mrs Clinton, too, has her own identity hurdle to clear as the first woman in American history with a serious prospect of becoming president. Last week Mr Obama, who opposed the Iraq war in 2002 at the same time as Mrs Clinton was voting for the congressional resolution that authorised George W. Bush to use force, said that the more than 3,000 American lives that had been lost in Iraq were “wasted”.

In what is fast becoming a campaign of retractions and refusals to retract, Mr Obama apologised to the families of those who have lost someone in Iraq. And there the matter rested – as a minor news story that lasted less than a day. Imagine, however, if Mrs Clinton had said the same thing. Given her gender and the deep well of hatred that much of middle America harbours towards the former first lady, it is a fair bet that the story would have hit the front pages and still be there.

Then finally, of course, and in their first direct clash of what is going to be a long campaign, Mrs Clinton this week called upon Mr Obama to repudiate the critical remarks that David Geffen, the Hollywood mogul, who hosted an Obama fund-raiser, made to a New York Times columnist about Bill and Hillary. Mr Obama declined to do so.

Whether it was Mr Geffen’s remarks about Mrs Clinton being a polarising figure or hints that her husband still had a wandering eye, they clearly touched a raw nerve. And there that minor incident also rests. Yet it is hard to escape the sense that it could turn out to be the opening salvo of a long and vitriolic clash between America’s first potential woman and first potential black occupant of the White House. What a pity for them, and for America, if they end up cutting each other to pieces.

The writer is the FT’s Washington bureau chief

UK wants US missile defence sites

UK wants US missile defence sites
By Stephen Fidler, Christopher Adams and Daniel Dombey in London
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: February 23 2007 11:38 | Last updated: February 23 2007 22:09

Britain has pressed Washington to site important elements of the US missile defence system in the UK, British officials said on Friday.

The US, which says the system is designed to shoot down missiles from problem states such as Iran and North Korea, is building a multi-layered missile defence system aimed at protecting the US.

Part of the programme is aimed at building a system to shoot down missiles during the middle of their trajectory.

An elementary version of this “mid-course system” has already been set up in the Pacific to protect the US west coast, and the US is now holding talks with Poland and the Czech Republic with a view to protecting the east coast.

Washington is discussing siting missile interceptors in Poland, near the Baltic Sea, and a high definition X-band radar in the Czech Republic.

UK officials say Tony Blair has pressed Washington to place at least some of those interceptors on British soil. The UK prime minister is said to share US concerns about the threat posed by missiles from states of concern.

“In the face of rogue states, this is something that can assist in Britain’s defence,” a UK official said on Friday. The official added: “The fact that the Poles and Czechs were involved prior to us does not diminish our wish for discussions to continue. The prime minister is keen discussions continue to see if we can be part of the outcome. ”The UK position was first reported on Friday by The Economist magazine.

The discussions with Warsaw and Prague have brought protests from Russia, which claims to feel threatened by US expansionism. The US insists that the system is not directed against Moscow, and could not handle in any case the number and sophistication of Russia’s many intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The possibility that the interceptors could be on UK soil will raise questions about whether it will make Britain safer. Some US scientists argue the early warning radar could not pick up Iranian missiles fired at Poland and the Czech Republic, because their trajectory would be hidden by the curvature of the earth.

Philip Coyle, a senior adviser to the US-based Center for Defense Information, said that the missile interceptors were close to the size of an inter-continental ballistic missile and their deployment at short notice could make the Russians nervous. “When they first take off, you can’t be quite sure where they are headed if you’re a Russian.”

Mr Coyle and others also say that, contrary to US official claims, the system has not been shown to work under realistic conditions.

Ian Davis, director of the British American Security Information Council, described the system as a “Maginot Line in the sky”. He said the system “has very low probability of functioning effectively, even lower relevance to contemporary security risks, and a danger of provoking long-term missile escalation with Russia and China”.

Britain agreed in 2003 to an upgrading of the early-warning radar facility at Fylingdales in Yorkshire, which US officials say should be complete later this year. Any UK-based interceptors would not be located near the early warning radar.

In a January 23 letter to Washington’s US Nato allies outlining US intentions for missile defence, Victoria Nuland, US ambassador to Nato, mentions UK offers of assistance for the programme. It also refers to Denmark, which is responsible for a radar facility on Greenland that may be upgraded, and says other nations may be approached for assistance.

Canada government loses terror ruling

Canada government loses terror ruling
By Bernard Simon
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: February 24 2007 02:00 | Last updated: February 24 2007 02:00

Canada's Supreme Court has struck down a law allowing the government to detain terrorism suspects indefinitely without trial.

In a unanimous ruling, the nine judges said yesterday: "The overarching principle of fundamental justice that applies here is this: before the state can detain people for significant periods of time, it must accord them a fair judicial process."

The case revolved around the lengthy detention and potential deportation of three men from Syria, Algeria and Morocco under so-called "security certificates" issued by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Bernard Simon, Toronto

Friday, February 23, 2007

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Misguided missiles

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Misguided missiles
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
February 23, 2007

Fifteen years after the Cold War's end, it would seem that everyone involved should know better. But the Bush administration's tone-deaf plan to station parts of a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic and Moscow's snarling response shows that all sides could use a refresher course in diplomacy and civility.

The administration insists that the 10 interceptors and early warning radar it plans to build are supposed to defend Europe from Iran's missiles — not Russia's. There's little doubt that American officials are telling the truth — the untested system could easily be overwhelmed by Russia's huge nuclear arsenal. At the same time, however, it's unlikely that more military posturing against Iran, is going to persuade Tehran to give up its nuclear ambitions.

Russia's furious reaction to the stationing of even weak missile defenses near its borders (and on the territory of its former satellites) was utterly out of proportion, if totally predictable. A top Russian general,

who sounded like he'd slept through the last 15 years, warned the Poles and the Czechs that Russia's missiles "will be capable of targeting the facilities," while President Vladimir Putin shed crocodile tears against the rise of "one center of authority."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who cut her teeth on Kremlinology, should have known how Moscow would react, and that provoking Moscow this way would be especially counterproductive in her efforts to get Russia to help put pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear efforts. Add to that the fact that the move has annoyed "old European" allies like Germany, who are central to efforts to contain Iran, and it seems another example of diplomatic negligence.

This is a spat that should be quickly reined in. Washington has wisely chosen to respond calmly to the Russian vitriol, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has taken some welcome steps to moderate Moscow's stance. A few interceptors in Europe may or may not work against "rogue states," but they're counterproductive if all they do is to provoke Russia and irk NATO allies.

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Don't close their ears

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Don't close their ears
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: February 23, 2007

A tempest has been brewing in the United States over a children's book that contains a word some find naughty and unsettling. The word is scrotum. It appears only a few times in the book, "The Higher Power of Lucky," by Susan Patron, which is recommended for readers 10 to 12 years of age. The scrotum in question belongs to a dog, who is bitten there by a snake.

The arguments pro and con are bubbling on librarians' message boards. The cons seem vastly outnumbered, though they have gotten a lot of attention. One suggested that teachers reading the book aloud should replace that word with "a loud 'throat-clearing' noise."

All this seems like a lousy way to treat a sweet, funny book whose main character, a smart, curious 10- year-old girl named Lucky Trimble, is already wise to the power and mystery of words: "Scrotum sounded to Lucky like something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much. It sounded medical and secret, but also important."

Librarians all over are flinching at the furor, saying it reinforces their profession's hated archetype: Marian the Librarian, the prig in a wet blanket. (Though Marian Paroo, played in the "Music Man" film by the lovely Shirley Jones, is the musical's only real grown-up, a complicated professional who scandalizes River City ladies with her love of bawdy books. Chaucer! Rabelais! BAL-zac!)

Speaking of Balzac, it seems a good time to remember that discomfort about words isn't the fault of the words or of the authors who use them. Plain old uncynical, workmanlike common nouns lose their naughty aura through unembarrassed use. The alternative — silent ignorance or the baby-talk slang that children acquire as surely as strep and ear infections — seems far less healthy.

With every generation, a new cohort of children begins the journey from ignorance to knowledge. Librarians help those children get there. Some barely make it, and end up toting ignorance as baggage, a sniggering puerility about body parts and functions. Children like the thoughtful, dauntless Lucky Trimble and those lucky enough to have read her book will not be among them.

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Wounded and abandoned

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Wounded and abandoned
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: February 23, 2007

When the U.S. Senate next debates whether to debate the Iraq war, members would do well to visit the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, just five miles to the north. There they can run a stark reality check on how the country is failing the war's wounded despite all those Capitol orations about unstinting support of our fighting troops.

As fine as the surgery wards have been through a five-year torrent of battle casualties, Walter Reed has seen the shameful growth of a parallel village of almost 700 traumatized and maimed outpatients. Far too many of these souls wait lost and wasted, abandoned by the post's and the U.S. Army's shambling bureaucracy.

This outpatient world has become a holding ground for desperation and dysfunction, according to a Washington Post investigative report. Some drift away unnoticed, AWOL, while others huddle in their rooms, depressed and forgotten. The scenes uncovered by The Post range from slumlord conditions in one residential building to drug abuse and suicide among desperate patients caught in a Catch-22, where psychologically damaged veterans are put in charge of fellow sufferers.

A staff sergeant who had his eye and skull shattered in Iraq stumbled about after his release from a surgical recovery room. He was handed a map and ordered to find his way across the sprawling post to the outpatient unit. After he found his room he sat for weeks like some accidental tourist, with no doctor appointments nor official concern.

The Army is promising to rush repairs and extra personnel. But the shameful neglect at Walter Reed is more proof of how America's leaders — despite all the rhetoric about unlimited support for the troops — are failing the nation's warriors in this disastrous war.

Candidates take the gloves off for presidential campaigns

Candidates take the gloves off for presidential campaigns
By Patrick Healy and Jim Rutenberg
Copyright by The International Herald tribune
Published: February 22, 2007

The sun was not yet up and members of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign team were confronted with the kind of attack that most infuriates them: one questioning the character of Clinton and her husband.

To make matters worse, it came from David Geffen, the Hollywood producer who was once a big supporter of the Clintons but has since turned on them and is now backing Senator Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination.

What followed Wednesday was a remarkably caustic exchange between the Clinton and Obama campaigns that highlighted the sensitivity in the Clinton camp to Obama's rapid rise as a rival and his positioning as a fresh face unburdened by the baggage borne by Clinton, the junior senator from New York.

The Clinton camp seemed also to be sending a warning to mudslinging critics that they would be dealt with fiercely.

It began with a column in The New York Times by Maureen Dowd (run Thursday in the International Herald Tribune), in which Geffen said that the Clintons lied "with such ease, it's troubling" and that the Clinton political operation was "going to be very unpleasant and unattractive and effective."

Geffen called Bill Clinton a "reckless guy" who had not changed in the past six years, and suggested that Hillary Clinton was too scripted.

In a statement it fired off at 9:46 a.m. on Wednesday, the Clinton campaign called on Obama to sever his ties with Geffen and return the portion of the $1.3 million that Geffen helped raise Tuesday at a reception in Beverly Hills, California.

"While Senator Obama was denouncing slash-and-burn politics yesterday, his campaign's finance chair was viciously and personally attacking Senator Clinton and her husband," Howard Wolfson, the Clinton campaign communications director, said in a statement.

Bill Burton, a spokesman for Obama, responded with a statement less than an hour and a half later, saying it was "ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen" when he was "raising them $18 million and sleeping at their invitation in the Lincoln Bedroom."

The punch and counterpunch went on all day, transfixing the political world and overshadowing a gathering of all the Democratic candidates except Obama, the junior Illinois senator, at a union- sponsored forum in Nevada at which Hillary Clinton faced criticism from some opponents about her Iraq stance.

The Democrats were not the only ones dealing with intramural warfare.

On the Republican side, Vice President Dick Cheney struck back at criticism leveled against him and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by Senator John McCain of Arizona, underscoring the often tense relationship between the White House and McCain.

The presidential campaign has been a relatively polite affair in its early stages, and the day marked an abrupt change of tone that exposed the intensity of the bad feelings bubbling just below the surface in both parties. None of the players showed much inclination to back off.

In an interview with ABC News in which Cheney was asked about McCain's criticism of Rumsfeld, Cheney responded by bringing up other McCain comments critical of the vice president's role in managing the war in Iraq and said McCain had subsequently said he was sorry.

"John said some nasty things about me the other day," Cheney added, "and then the next time he saw me, ran over to me and apologized. Maybe he'll apologize to Rumsfeld."

In response, McCain seemed to go out of his way to re-emphasize his assertion that Rumsfeld would be remembered as one of the worst defense secretaries in history and to criticize the Bush administration more generally when he appeared at a news conference in Los Angeles to discuss initiatives to deal with global warming.

When asked about the administration's environmental record, McCain said, "I would assess this administration's record on global warming as terrible."

Asked by a reporter about his comments about Rumsfeld, McCain said: "The criticism of the conduct of the war I have voiced for more than three years when I saw that this train wreck was taking place."

Minutes later, after the news conference had ended, McCain, unbidden, said to the reporter, "Sir, I stand by my comments about Secretary Rumsfeld, by the way."

Similarly, Geffen affirmed his view of the Clintons, saying that he had been quoted accurately and that Wolfson was wrong in calling him the finance chairman of the Obama campaign. He said he had no formal role in the campaign.

Hillary Clinton, asked Wednesday afternoon if Obama should denounce the Geffen remarks, declined to join in the hand-to-hand combat, but expressed general disapproval with the remarks while also defending her husband, which drew huge cheers from the audience of union members she was addressing.

"I want to run a very positive campaign, and I sure don't want Democrats or the supporters of Democrats to be engaging in the politics of personal destruction," she said at the forum of Democratic presidential candidates in Carson City, Nevada.

When pressed, she said she would leave it up to the Obama campaign to make its decision on Geffen, then noted that she was "excited" to be in Nevada "with the other candidates who came," a comment that drew attention to Obama's skipping of the event.

As he arrived in Iowa late Wednesday afternoon, Obama was met with questions from reporters about the clash.

"It's not clear to me why I would be apologizing for someone else's remarks," Obama said. "My sense is that Mr. Geffen may have differences with the Clintons, but that doesn't really have anything to do with our campaign."

When asked whether he was proud of Geffen's support, the senator declared: "He hosted an event for me yesterday. Absolutely."

Jennifer Steinhauer and Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting.

Prince Harry is set to be deployed in Iraq

Prince Harry is set to be deployed in Iraq
By Alan Cowell
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: February 22, 2007

LONDON: The British government made headlines Wednesday by saying it would withdraw some troops from Iraq. On Thursday, it made even more waves here by saying it would send one soldier in the opposite direction.

His name: Prince Harry, second son of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and third in line to the throne after his father, Prince Charles, and his older brother William.

Apart from being known as something of a playboy, Harry, 22, is a junior officer in the upper-crust Blues and Royals regiment of the Household Cavalry, after graduating from the Sandhust Military Academy last year.

Despite his official handlers' fears that he would be a "bullet magnet" in Iraq, he has long insisted that he would not countenance the idea of the troops under his command in an armored reconnaissance unit going in harm's way without him.

It turns out that he will not have to.

"His Royal Highness Prince Harry will deploy to Iraq later this year," the Defense Ministry and the prince's office said Thursday, in a joint statement that clearly reflected worries that his presence could draw fire on himself and those serving with him. Military planners have also expressed concern that attempts would be made to kidnap him.

In the military, Harry is known by the surname Wales and by his rank in the Blues and Royals — that of cornet, equivalent to a second lieutenant.

"Speculation about precisely where Cornet Wales will serve, or the exact details of his role, is potentially dangerous," the joint statement said.

The Daily Mail reported earlier this week that Harry had told the military brass that he would quit the army if he was left behind when his unit begins its tour in southern Iraq.

The prince is by no means the first royal to head for combat. His grandfather Prince Philip served in the Royal Navy during World War II. And as long ago as the 15th century — according to Shakespeare, at least — English troops were being exhorted to "Cry God for Harry! England and Saint George!" in support for Henry V against the French.

The present Harry's father, Prince Charles, served in the British Air Force and Navy, and his brother, Prince William, is in the Blues and Royals regiment. But Harry will become the first member of the royal family to serve on active duty in a combat zone since Prince Andrew, his uncle, flew helicopters in the Falklands War in 1982.

The right protection for airline passengers

The right protection for airline passengers
By Steve Chapman
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published February 22, 2007

On Valentine's Day, a major storm in Pennsylvania tied up traffic along 50 miles of Interstate 78 and adjoining highways. Many travelers were stranded for as long as two days. One driver needed 12 hours to go 100 miles. So I've got an idea: Enact a federal bill of rights for highway motorists, guaranteeing that they will never again be stuck in a weather-related traffic jam for more than three hours.

Does that sound crazy? No crazier than an idea that is being taken seriously in Washington these days: an airline passengers' bill of rights, which would require planes to return to the gate after three hours. This proposal comes in the aftermath of an appalling episode in which travelers on nine JetBlue flights were stuck on the tarmac at New York's Kennedy International Airport for more than six hours during a horrendous ice storm.

Right now, air travelers have only the same Bill of Rights as everyone else--the one assuring freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right against self-incrimination, and so on. Not mentioned in that document, however, is another inalienable right, namely the freedom to spurn any airline they find unsatisfactory and choose one that will serve them better.

The prerogative of taking their business elsewhere is the best protection consumers have in air travel or any other sector. Not only are politicians unlikely to do a better job managing commercial aviation than the airlines are doing, but their intervention is bound to make things worse for both carriers and their customers.

Incidents like the one at JFK make headlines because they are not only appalling but rare. From 2000 through 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, some 330 aircraft have been held on the tarmac for more than five hours awaiting takeoff. But as the Business Travel Coalition points out, there were 88 million flights during that time. On average, you can fly more than 260,000 times before your luck will run out.

Everyone who flies has gripes about air travel, but there are not many businesses in which customers pay for less than they get. That is not a figure of speech but a financial fact: American carriers have lost money four of the last five years. Over the past two decades, fares have dropped by half after accounting for inflation. That didn't happen because of government mandates but because of relentless, brutal competition for customers.

Many travelers, of course, dream of onboard meals, more legroom and fewer delays. But if those were truly a priority, plenty of companies would raise fares to pay for them. The immovable fact about people who fly, though, is that most will choose the cheapest flight. But saddling carriers with rigid federal rules will mean higher costs and higher fares.

In any market, some basic elements may get neglected once in a while. JetBlue failed to devote sufficient resources to dealing with crises, and the consequences were dismal. But it learned an unforgettable lesson.

The carrier will pay the price in two ways. The first is in compensation paid to customers, since anyone stranded for three hours or more will get a full refund and a free round-trip ticket to anywhere the airline flies. The second is in lost goodwill. After years of getting reviews that Meryl Streep would envy, JetBlue may find that some travelers would rather hitchhike than take another chance of being held captive. That's why the airline doesn't need a government mandate: It's establishing its own bill of rights for customers.

The penalties of the marketplace serve as a keen incentive for air carriers to prevent long delays. But in a world of full planes, congested airports and bad weather, there is no way to guarantee travelers will never have to endure such inconveniences.

A federal law can't banish the events that create snafus. For the government to impose a three-hour limit will have one simple effect: more canceled flights.

Being stranded on the tarmac for four hours is bad. Spending two days sitting on a suitcase in the departure area may be worse.

In the end, we're better off leaving decisions about airline operations to the people who have the most expertise, who know the specifics of each particular situation, and who ultimately have to answer to their customers. If there is a better way to avoid major tie-ups, they'll figure it out sooner than Congress will. Politicians can prosper offering empty solutions. Capitalists, as JetBlue can attest, are not so lucky.


Steve Chapman is a member of the Tribune's editorial board. E-mail:

AIDS risk lower than thought for circumcised

AIDS risk lower than thought for circumcised
By Donald G. McNeil Jr
New York Times News Service
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published February 23, 2007

Circumcision may provide even more protection against AIDS than was realized when two clinical trials in Africa were stopped two months ago because the results were so clear, according to studies being published Friday.

The trials, in Kenya and Uganda, were stopped early by the National Institutes of Health, which was paying for them, because it was apparent that circumcision reduced a man's risk of contracting AIDS from heterosexual sex by about half. It would have been unethical to continue without offering circumcision to all 8,000 men in the trials, federal health officials said.

That decision, announced Dec. 13, made headlines around the world and led the two largest funds for fighting AIDS to say they would consider paying for circumcisions in high-risk countries. But the final data from the trials, to be published Friday in the British medical journal The Lancet, suggest circumcision reduces a man's risk by as much as 65 percent.

Re-evaluating the data, excluding a few men whose HIV status was misdiagnosed during the trial and combining the results of three trials--those in Uganda and Kenya as well as one in South Africa that was stopped in 2005 when the protective effect became apparent--yields an apparent protection rate of about 65 percent.

"This is a one-time, permanent intervention that's safe when done under the appropriate medical conditions," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "If we had an AIDS vaccine that was performing as well as this, it would be the talk of the town."

He said President Bush's $15 billion AIDS initiative and the World Health Organization were considering paying for circumcisions in high-risk countries but must work out what training and equipment circumcisers would have to have.

Alcatel-Lucent wins $1.5bn Microsoft suit

Alcatel-Lucent wins $1.5bn Microsoft suit
By Richard Waters in San Francisco
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: February 23 2007 00:16 | Last updated: February 23 2007 11:17

Microsoft has been hit with a $1.52bn patent infringement award, one of the biggest on record, in a case that it warned would have sweeping implications for many technology companies involved in digital music.

The award was won on Thursday by Alcatel-Lucent after a jury in a US district court in San Diego agreed with its claim that the software giant had infringed two of its patents.

The dispute surrounded Microsoft’s use of MP3 technology, a format for encoding and compressing digital music so that it can be transmitted over the internet.

Tom Burt, Microsoft’s deputy general counsel, rejected the verdict as “completely unsupported by the law or the facts”, and predicted the ruling would have implications for “hundreds of other companies who have licensed MP3 technology”.

An Alcatel-Lucent spokesperson said there were no other lawsuits outstanding over the technology.

Alcatel-Lucent investors in Paris welcomed the ruling, sending the group’s share price 2.5 per cent higher to €10.08 in mid-morning trading on Friday.

The large size of the award highlights the scale of the risk to Microsoft as it faces a series of other wide-ranging legal disputes with Alcatel-Lucent over some of the fundamental technology used in PCs and related devices.

Thursday’s verdict, stemming from the use of audio coding technology in PCs, was the first of five due to be heard by the San Diego court in the coming months. The others relate to speech coding technology in Windows; user interface patents; technology in the Xbox games console; and video coding in other Microsoft software.

Given Microsoft’s dominance of the desktop computing market, the potential losses are considerable. Thursday’s award was calculated based on the number of Windows operating systems sold since May 2003, multiplied by the average selling price of a range of PCs.

Microsoft argued that it had licensed the necessary technology to use the MP3 format in its software from Fraunhofer Society, a German research concern, which was involved in the development of the format.

It paid just $16m for the privilege, but Mr Burt claimed it was “the industry-recognised rightful licensor”.

U.S. keeps making mistakes in Mideast - BY ANDREW GREELEY

U.S. keeps making mistakes in Mideast - BY ANDREW GREELEY
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
February 23, 2007

The collapse of the shah in Iran was the beginning of American troubles in the Middle East. The shah was "our guy," an absolute ruler who was secularizing the country and freeing his people from the shackles of religious superstition and obscurantism. It never occurred to our foreign policy thinkers and experts that the people of Iran wanted their obscurantism and old-fashioned religion. The American leadership did not see the ayatollah coming and was unprepared for the defeat of the shah. Educated as they were in the great secular universities, our foreign policy gurus did not have a clue about the importance of religion in Middle Eastern countries.

The same gurus or their successors have made the same mistake again. They expected the Iraqis to welcome our appearance on the horizon, like the 7th Cavalry riding to the rescue in the old Western movies. They expected the various factions in Iraq to band together in the formation of a stable democracy that would be a beacon of hope to the Middle East. As Paul Wolfowitz, the leader of the neocons, remarked, too much was made of the difference between Sunnis and Shiites.

A few other scholars ominously predicted a civil war between these two largest religious factions. The Shiites were the majority but had been ruled for centuries by the minority Sunnis. Indeed, the avowed followers of Ali (the Prophet's son-in-law) and his grandson never ruled in any Arab country till the arrival of the Americans in 2003, when our leaders in the name of democracy in effect turned the country over to the Shiite majority. The Sunnis, followers of Saddam Hussein, who had kept them in charge, began the insurgency against Shiite rule.

The other Arab nations, with their own internal Shiite minorities, could not help but wonder why the United States was following such a stupid and dangerous policy. The Iranians, who are Persians, not Arabs and right next door to Iraq, rejoiced. It was natural for them to ally themselves secretly with their Shiite brothers across the border. They wondered why the United States was following such a foolish policy, yet were delighted that the Americans had eliminated the two most serious threats to Iranian security: Saddam on their western side and the Taliban on their eastern side.

The great victory for American democracy was in fact a great victory for Iran. Now the president and his babbling secretary of state are shocked that Iranian power has increased, apparently unaware that American foreign policy is responsible for that increase.

The neocons are apparently gone from Washington, but there are still some of them around, still writing memos, and still influencing policy. The memos for the so-called surge came from William Kristol and Robert Kagan, lesser lights than I. Lewis Libby and Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz, but still neocons. Despite all their mistakes in understanding the importance of religion in that part of the world, the president still is apparently willing to listen to them.

Now he is doing all he can to prepare the public for a shooting war with Iran. He certainly has no illusions about the 1st Cavalry riding into Tehran to a flower-tossing welcome while statues of the ayatollah are pulled down for American television. All he needs to build up his reputation for toughness and to restore some of his popularity among the nutmeg segment of the population is to "take out" a couple of Iranian bases. You can't believe he would be dumb enough to try that? He was dumb enough to get us into the Big Muddy in Iraq, wasn't he?

In the meantime, Iran, noting how reasonable the United States has been in its most recent conversations with North Korea, is sending out signals that it might be nice to sit and talk. The babbler-in-chief keeps telling us that the Iranians know what they have to do.

That's what passes for foreign policy in Washington these days. Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent protest against American unilateralism -- albeit a case of the pot calling the kettle black -- seems eminently reasonable.

Illinois gay marriage bill introduced

Illinois gay marriage bill introduced
By Crystal Yednak
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
February 22, 2007, 7:13 PM CST

A state lawmaker fired up the gay marriage debate in Illinois Thursday by introducing a bill that would legalize marriage between same-sex couples.

"Illinois is a heartland state but has always been a leader in civil rights and social justice issues," said the bill's sponsor, state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago). "It's the right thing to do."The proposal would eliminate wording in state law that marriage is between "a man and a woman" and substitute the phrase "two persons."

Massachusetts is the only state that recognizes same-sex marriages. Just this week, New Jersey became the third state to offer gay couples civil unions, joining Connecticut and Vermont.

Last year, opponents of gay marriage tried to head off just this sort of action in Illinois. They tried to put a question on the ballot asking voters whether marriage should be defined as a union between "one man and one woman." But the Illinois State Board of Elections ruled the group hadn't collected enough valid signatures.

David E. Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute, which helped organize the drive, said the group is considering another ballot drive this year.

The proposed legislation could be the thing that mobilizes the group again, Smith said.

"We believe that government doesn't have a responsibility to promote or protect the homosexual lifestyle," he added.

Harris, who is openly gay, said a significant education effort would be necessary to get his bill passed, as was the case in 2005 when a gay rights bill passed in Illinois.

The gay rights bill was first introduced in the mid-1970s but it took decades to build legislative support, said Rick Garcia, director of public policy for Equality Illinois.

Garcia said the gay marriage bill is necessary to protect gay couples and their families so partners can make health decisions, qualify for pensions and benefits and have a say in the disposition of remains, among other things.

Still, advocates know the word "marriage" complicates the issue.

"When we use the word marriage, what people are really thinking of is the sacrament of matrimony. We're talking about civil marriage," Garcia said.

Harris said the title of the bill—the "Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act"—is intended to calm the concerns of religious groups who worry they would be forced to recognize same-sex marriages as well.

"We wanted to reaffirm in this bill that there is no religion, no church, no temple, no mosque that we are trying to compel to consecrate marriages," Harris said.

Harris said supporters talked about the idea of pushing for civil unions instead. Civil unions offer many of the same protections of marriage, but not the title. But it was "decided that marriage is the fully equal term and that's where we want to begin," he said.

Garcia said advocates will have an uphill battle getting it passed.

"I cautioned people—don't start planning a June wedding in Illinois, it's going to take awhile for us to get the support legislatively," he said.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A hero fails the management test

A hero fails the management test
By Jacob Weisberg
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: February 22 2007 02:00 | Last updated: February 22 2007 02:00

As someone who lived through September 11 in New York City, I will always be grateful to Rudy Giuliani. The mayor's quick instincts and judgment that day prevented panic. His calm authority got the city through the worst hours in its history and set it on the path to recovery. This was not a given. President George W. Bush's initial public response to the attacks was shaky, late in coming and far from reassuring.

But the presidential bid Mr Giuliani announced last week is staked on more than that Churchillian moment. It is also based on the notion that he is an effective manager who tamed an out-of-control metropolis and ran it efficiently. Here, the real picture is more clouded. Mr Giuliani was a frustrated and not very popular mayor on September 10 2001. Today, most New Yorkers do regard him as a hero - but also as a self-sabotaging, thin-skinned bully.

The leadership/management dichotomy runs through Mr Giuliani's two terms. When he took office in 1994, New York had become ungovernable and was increasingly unliveable. A bloated public sector soaked up more and more resources to deliver less and less. Like former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher, Mr Giuliani arrived bearing a message of "enough!". With a rare relish for combat, he took on a long list of civic tormenters, including municipal labour leaders, racial demagogues and uncompromising civil libertarians.

Mr Giuliani rounded up the squeegee men, purged Times Square, defunded the education bureaucrats, broke the back of the city's welfare culture and reduced crime dramatically through reformed policing. His toughness and moralising were the perfect antidotes for what ailed New York, even when he occasionally exceeded his job description. At the United Nations 50th anniversary celebrations, he had Yassir Arafat ejected from a party at Lincoln Center. When people complained, Mr Giuliani regretted not throwing the terrorist out himself.

The change Mr Giuliani brought to urban life was large and sudden. One began strolling around the city at two in the morning without glancing behind. Dinner party conversation ceased to revolve around muggings and burglaries and turned to the latest gentrifying neighbourhood.

In a new book, the noted criminologist Franklin Zimring argues that New York's fall in crime in the 1990s was twice the national average because of "three major changes in the city's police department" - more cops, more aggressive policing and management reforms. If this holds, Zimring writes, "it would be by far the biggest crime prevention achievement in the recorded history of metropolitan policing".

Over time, however, Mr Giuliani's personal limitations became increasingly evident. Instead of taking on new challenges after his re-election in 1997, he dedicated his second term to vanquishing his remaining enemies. Fran Reiter, who served as a deputy mayor under Mr Giuliani, describes him as depressed and directionless after being sworn in for the second time. "He can get mired in the petty stuff," Ms Reiter says. "He doesn't suffer political opponents well and there are times when he doesn't compromise well."

In his second term, Mr Giuliani showed himself to be a classic micro-manager, unable to delegate and unwilling to share the spotlight. He had already driven out William Bratton, his triumphant chief of police, in a battle over credit. Mr Bratton's fate was sealed when he appeared on the cover of Time. Nor could Mr Giuliani abide ridicule. He went to court to try to stop New York Magazine from advertising itself on the sides of buses as "possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn't taken credit for".

Mr Giuliani's weaknesses as a manager have become more evident in the light of his successor. Michael Bloomberg has neither a whim of steel nor a populist bone in his body. Arriving in 2002 at a City Hall that had no e-mail system and no computerised payroll, he quietly cleaned up a mess of no-bid contracts without faulting his predecessor. He and Ray Kelly, his police commissioner, have made continued gains against crime without becoming obsessed with press clippings. Above all, Mr Bloomberg has taken on the big problems Mr Giuliani never faced.

Mr Giuliani never wanted responsibility for the city's troubled schools; Mr Bloomberg has taken charge of them and engineered a massive overhaul. Mr Giuliani lost interest in curtailing the growth of city government and left behind a fiscal catastrophe; Mr Bloomberg took the unpopular step of raising taxes and has created a budget surplus.

Mr Bloomberg's style is less theatrical than Mr Giuliani's, but as a negotiator, he is probably tougher. Last winter, Mr Bloomberg took a paralysing transit strike and sent the union's chief to jail, rather than cave in to demands that the city could not afford. Today, the local economy is booming, construction is ubiquitous and, in spite of 9/11, New York has become a more attractive business destination than ever.

Admittedly, New York politics are duller without the constant racial tension, operatic feuds and mass protests. When the police shoot a black man in error, Mr Bloomberg invites the grandstanding Al Sharpton in to talk, instead of provoking him to demonstrate on the steps of City Hall. Post-Giuliani New York is less like a Spike Lee movie, but would make a superior business school case study.

The writer is editor of

Financial Times Editorial - Iraq is no success for UK as pull-out starts

Financial Times Editorial - Iraq is no success for UK as pull-out starts
Published: February 22 2007 02:00 | Last updated: February 22 2007 02:00
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

The announcement by Tony Blair that Britain will shortly withdraw some 1,600 troops from its now 7,100-strong expeditionary force in Iraq starts the beginning of the end to a damaging and discredited enterprise - the result of political misjudgment more than military misadventure.

The official narrative of the government says this first drawdown of British soldiers was made possible by the growing self-reliance of Iraqi forces in southern Iraq. That is misleading.

For a start, the predominantly Shia south was and is easier to manage than central and west Iraq, home to a virulent insurgency by the unreconciled Sunni supremacist minority the US-led invasion dispossessed, and host to the al-Qaeda front it created in Iraq. The Shia majority has largely acquiesced in the occupation as a stage on the road to consolidating its political power. The political geography of Iraq meant British troops were always likely to compare favourably with their American counterparts - even if they did take risks to engage the local population.

Yet, this engagement included co-opting local militias. Four years on, "self-reliance" in large part means leaving swaths of the south under the control of Shia paramilitaries and an assortment of local clans and bandits - even if they are wearing crisp new Iraqi uniforms. The south can not be considered apart from a country mired in sectarian bloodletting. To misrepresent this as success is, at best, disingenuous.

If Mr Blair is trying to rescue his legacy, one way is to take a cold look at the destructive policies in the Middle East of his friend George W. Bush. Who knows? There may still be time to make an impact, a chance to influence Hamas and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and avert conflict with Iran by confronting Tehran with negotiations.

The US insists the new government of national unity being set up by Hamas and Fatah, the party of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, should fully recognise Israel now, rather than merely acknowledge past agreements with the Jewish state. But full recognition and cessation of all violence should only be the final destination of negotiations to secure Israel's security and a Palestinian state - unless the purpose is to ensure there will be no negotiations. Britain's European partners as well as Russia and the United Nations - the other Middle East mediators - are tilting in that direction and Mr Blair should join them as the best way to influence Washington.

Similarly, there is little prospect of changing Iran's nuclear ambitions and behaviour unless Washington is prepared to discuss mutual security with Tehran. Recent progress with another rogue state, North Korea - the result of talks between Pyongyang and Washington with a strong mediator, Beijing, in the middle - offers a model. Britain alone cannot be that mediator on Iran but, by joining with like-minded powers, it might be able to help create one.

Perils that confront US troops as they surge into Baghdad

Perils that confront US troops as they surge into Baghdad
By Steve Negus
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: February 20 2007 19:49 | Last updated: February 20 2007 19:49

Two shots ring out, seconds apart. It is an unusual sound for Baghdad, where gunfire usually comes in long bursts.

A block away, two US soldiers go down. Specialist Anthony Taylor, according to the medic who goes to his assistance, is saved by the quick work of fellow soldiers who apply a chest seal to allow him to keep breathing. His friends see him giving the thumbs-up as he is taken to a helicopter for evacuation. The other, Sergeant Robert Thrasher, dies almost instantly.

Delta company of 2nd battalion, 12th cavalry of the 1st US Cavalry Division has spent four months in the west Baghdad neighbourhood of Ghazaliya – a blighted suburb that may be the single worst zone in Baghdad – and has eight months to go. Its troops have been hit by dozens of booby traps and more small arms fire than they can remember. Normally, the gunfire is so badly aimed that they barely pay attention. This time, both shots strike just above the armour plate that protects the chest. The gunman is either skilled or lucky.

As the “surge” of an additional 21,500 US troops pours into the country on the orders of President George W. Bush, the Americans will push further into neighbourhoods such as Ghazaliya, staying longer. They may discover that their presence pushes the guerrillas out to other areas, allowing the Iraqi government to restore some municipal services. However, some in Delta company say they find it hard to see the point of conducting such operations in the middle of a civil war. What they see as their ultimate objective – establishing a functioning democracy – seems impossibly distant.

Ghazaliya contains operatives of at least three insurgent networks – al-Qaeda, the Omar Brigades and the 1920 Revolution brigades. A number of large villas bespeak the neighbourhood’s origins as a home for many of the elite in the Saddam Hussein era. But the neighbourhood, now almost entirely Sunni, has fallen on hard times.

Sunni expelled by the Mahdi army from Shia areas often huddle together in one room of the sprawling homes, amid bags of rice and the smell of propane from their lamps. An X painted on the wall marks, say interpreters accompanying the patrol, houses where Shia families were given 48 hours to leave or be killed.

Some houses are abandoned, while in others only women and children remain, the fighting-aged males having fled abroad, to Syria or beyond. Rubbish is heaped in the streets – the US soldiers say its collection is discouraged by al-Qaeda, whose forces find the piles good places to hide booby traps.

Virtually all the residents of this zone say the same thing to the soldiers who enter their homes and, after doing a quick search, ask for their occupants’ help routing out insurgents so the area can once again become prosperous and secure. Things are fine already, the Iraqis answer: everything is very calm. Some thank the US troops for protecting them from Shia militia raids; others complain of the risk of kidnapping when they go to work. During another patrol, however, one family does admit that armed men wearing masks come into their house to shoot at the Americans.

Still, the general lack of information being volunteered is an improvement from when the unit first arrived: people approached on the street by a US patrol would simply turn and run. “There are some citizens that I believe are sick and tired of [the violence],” says Sergeant First Class Thomas Revette, senior non-commissioned officer for Delta’s 3rd platoon. “If they feel secure enough that no one is watching, they give us the information . . . But for the most part they don’t even want to be seen talking to us, because they’ll be targeted.”

Just 1km north, according to US officers, the atmosphere is different. The soldiers say they receive useful tips from the populace and assistance from local leaders. Reconstruction projects are in progress and, in at least one incident, some of the more mainstream insurgents have turned their guns on al-Qaeda.

The difference is that the north is on the front line between the two warring Muslim sects and the US troops are an asset in the Sunni fight for survival. South Ghazaliya is one of the last Sunni redoubts in Baghdad, a transit route into Baghdad from their western Iraqi insurgent strongholds such as Abu Ghraib or Ramadi. The guerrillas apparently want to preserve this area as their own.

A nearby vacant lot on the edge of the city partly explains the insurgents’ hold on South Ghazaliya. Nicknamed the “G-spot” by Delta company, it is used as an execution ground. The Americans say they have found 75 bodies there, including those of teenage boys and a 15-year-old girl. Two days before the ambush, they discovered what appeared to be an Iraqi soldier in camouflage pants, his legs bound in tape and his severed head propped on his back. The Americans suspect that many of the victims are brought in from elsewhere to be killed there, so as to send southern Ghazaliya a message.

The patrol does not end with Thrasher’s death. Word comes over the military radio net that another booby trap has been discovered on an overpass. One of Delta’s platoons is expected to provide cover to the demolition teams who will destroy it with a bomb-disposal robot. Blowing up the device is an agonisingly slow business – radios malfunction, a Bradley armoured fighting vehicle blocks the signal from the engineers to the robot.

Probably the least of their problems is the patter of gunfire that the Americans receive from across an open field, which a pair of Apache helicopters circling overhead answer with their chain guns. At last the robot places the demolition charge and a plume of black smoke shoots into the sky, accompanied seconds later by a boom: the booby trap is neutralised.

But the patrol is still not over – another roadside bomb has been discovered and Delta’s 3rd platoon is again expected to stand guard for the engineers. Lieutenant Matthew Holtzendorff, the platoon commander, points out that, thanks to the need to pull out vehicles to evacuate Thrasher and Taylor, his men are “stacked like cordwood” in their armoured vehicles alongside the casualties’ armour and personal effects.

“I got 18 guys packed into two Bradleys, you got guys in there covered in blood,” Lt Holtzendorff shouts when he finally gets an opening on the crowded radio net to an operator who has clearly misunderstood what is going on. The unit returns to base.

That night, the platoon is debriefed on the fatality. “There was nothing that could have prevented it,” says Sgt Revette. “It could have been a lucky shot, could have been a fluke . . . Most of you know by now my philosophy. God has a plan and, if it’s your time, it’s your time.”

“America has never fought a war similar to this,” he tells the Financial Times at another point. “A democracy as we know it, as westerners, I don’t think is going to work here, because of the way their society is designed . . . We can try to secure the population as best as possible, try to give them as much aid as we can, and security. But ultimately it’s going to be hard to do as long as there are still insurgents out there trying to blow up the people who are trying to fix everything.”

Lt Holtzendorff, on the other hand, thinks that America has been here before – 40 years ago, during the Vietnam conflict. This time, he says, the American troops are not demonised back home but the task of trying to reshape a society in the face of an insurgency- cum-civil-conflict is equally daunting.

If the goal were to end violence, “the easiest way would be to give Ghazaliya to the Shia”, he says. “They wouldn’t kill everyone right way – they’d give them a warning to evacuate, 48 hours, then come in . . . The downside of doing it the easy way is that it goes against everything we stand for. We always believe in the underdog, we always believe in helping the helpless: for that reason it makes sense to stay here and help.”

Democrats seize on UK troop cuts

Democrats seize on UK troop cuts
By James Blitz in London, Daniel Dombey in Brussels and Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: February 21 2007 19:54 | Last updated: February 21 2007 21:31

The Bush administration on Wednesday welcomed Tony Blair’s decision to withdraw nearly a quarter of the British troops in Iraq over the next few months, saying the move showed that in parts of the country “things are going pretty well”.

But although the British prime minister told parliament that the withdrawal of 1,600 troops would allow Iraqis to “write the next chapter in their history”, prominent Democrats in Congress said the move was a sign that Britain was now giving up on the US in Iraq and contrasted it with the surge in US troop numbers deployed to contain the violence in Baghdad.

Mr Blair announced to parliament that the 7,100 troops serving in Basra would be cut to 5,500 “over the coming months”, with hopes that 500 more would leave as early as late summer.

Mr Blair said that some soldiers stationed at Basra air base would remain into 2008 to help secure supply routes, the Iran border and to support Iraqi forces.

Downing Street officials said the decision to cut troop numbers to 5,500 was broadly in line with plans drawn up by the Ministry of Defence at the end of last year.

However, there were strong indications earlier this year that the British had initially been looking to announce a deeper cut at this stage – to about 4,500 troops. Some British officials concede that these plans have been disrupted by the continuing violence in Basra.

Mr Blair on Wednesday admitted that “the problems remain formidable” in the south of Iraq.

“What all of this means is not that Basra is how we want it to be but the next chapter in Basra’s history can be written by the Iraqis,” he said.

In Washington, meanwhile, the White House and leading Democrats differed fiercely over the implications of the UK move.

Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, said the British “have done what is really the plan for the country as a whole which is to be able to transfer security responsibilities to the Iraqis as conditions permit”. But Edward Kennedy, a senior Democratic senator, said the British redeployment was a “stunning rejection” of the president’s decision to increase US troop numbers around Baghdad by 21,500.

“No matter how the White House tries to spin it, the British government has decided to split with President Bush and begin to move their troops out of Iraq,” Mr Kennedy said.

Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the UK move “weakens the image of the coalition and further isolates the US”.

“This is a war of perceptions, as well as military power, and the influence of British cuts will be negative,” said Mr Cordesman. “The British cuts will in many ways simply reflect the political reality that the British ‘lost’ the south more than a year ago. The Shia will take over, Iranian influence will probably expand, and more Sunni, Christians, and other minorities will leave.”

US lashes out at Kremlin over missiles

US lashes out at Kremlin over missiles
By Daniel Dombey in Brussels, Hugh Williamson in Berlin and Neil Buckley in Moscow
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: February 21 2007 19:26 | Last updated: February 21 2007 19:26

Tensions intensified on Wednesday over US plans for missile defence bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, as Washington called on Europe to take a tougher stance towards the Kremlin.

The Bush administration’s two top foreign policy officials lashed out at Moscow’s campaign against the bases, which Washington insists are aimed at possible threats from Iran rather than Russia.

Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, said the suggestion this week by Russia’s head of strategic rocket forces that Russia could target the two central European countries if they agreed to host the bases was “very unfortunate”.

She also dismissed comments by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s foreign minister, who said this week Moscow should have been consulted more about the sites, given their proximity to Russia’s borders.

Standing next to Mr Steinmeier at a press conference in Berlin, she said Washington had “10 formal contacts” with Russia on the plan since spring 2006, many at ministerial level.

Mr Steinmeier’s spokesman said the minister was aware that “technical talks” had taken place between Moscow and Washington, but said he had been warning against a return to the type of security stand-offs of the cold war era.

Separately in Brussels, Stephen Hadley, US national security adviser, emphasised Washington’s dismay at a speech this month in which Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, hit out at the missile defence plans and the US’s “unilateral” use of force.

“You heard a set of comments in which quite frankly we were disappointed,” Mr Hadley told the Financial Times and other European newspapers, between meetings with Nato ambassadors and Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief.

“I think a lot of Europeans were disappointed and dismayed. And one of the things that Europeans need to do is they need to make that clear to Russia and they need to make that clear to President Putin.”

The EU has consistently struggled to forge a common line on Russia. Countries such as Poland, which are suspicious of the Kremlin’s intentions, are pitted against big western European states such as Germany and France, which are often keen to deepen ties with Moscow.

General Yuri Baluyevsky, Russia’s army chief of staff, yesterday told Rossiiskaya Gazeta, a government newspaper, the missile defence system “cannot be viewed as anything other than a substantial reconfiguration of the American military presence” in Europe.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Britain must not follow America into war with Iran

Britain must not follow America into war with Iran
By Rodric Braithwaite
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: February 20 2007 14:25 | Last updated: February 20 2007 14:25

You would have thought that, by now, President George W. Bush and his advisers would have learned humility as they contemplate a war in Iraq that they cannot win but cannot afford to lose. Instead they pay not a blind bit of notice either to their remaining friends among the moderate Republican conservatives or to the growing number of Americans who think the Iraq war was a disastrous mistake.

The president is sending more troops to Iraq, in a desperate attempt to snatch something he can call victory from the jaws of defeat. If this does not work, the incompetent and ungrateful Iraqis will be blamed, and the Americans will then leave them to fight their own bloody way to a solution. The talk of bringing democracy to Arabs hungry for western enlightenment has faded entirely.

But that is already yesterday’s story. Now the president is turning his attention towards Iran, his language even more surreal than before the attack on Iraq. The ideologues around him compare him to Winston Churchill in 1938 – the only man with the insight, will and courage to challenge the greatest source of evil today. It is Mr Bush’s historic mission, they say, to strike a decisive blow against Iran before it acquires nuclear weapons and before the wimps and appeasers take over the US government at the next election. Terrifying “intelligence” is once again being trotted out to paint the threat in apocalyptic colours.

We can hear the rumbling of a war machine gearing up for action. Yes, the advocates of decisive action concede, a military strike on Iran would have unpleasant consequences. But these are as nothing compared with the threat that would face us from a nuclear Iran. They brush aside the argument that if we could deter an infinitely more formidable Soviet Union for decades, we should be able to keep the Persians in their place for a little time yet: Iran, they argue, is run by crazy fanatics who would think nothing of seeing their country vanish in a nuclear cloud. For this implausible proposition they produce no serious evidence.

The president has neither the soldiers nor the domestic support for an invasion. So he seems to be considering a “surgical” strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Such an adventure might delay but would not scotch the Iranians’ nuclear programme. There would be heavy civilian casualties. The many Iranians who dislike the regime would rally round it. The Iranian government would be able, and strongly tempted, to disrupt the west’s oil supplies. An anti-American uproar would sweep the Muslim world. There would be a surge in anti-western terrorism. Israel would suffer as any Palestinian settlement was set still further back.

All this is sensibly analysed in a report by Crisis Action, a group of British non-governmental organisations, think-tanks and trade unions. It suggests the UK should help to build confidence between the Americans and Iran by “catalysing the process, mediating between EU member states and the US”. This, alas, is a triumph of hope over experience. The government – if the British can be said to have a government as the prime minister fades like a Cheshire cat in this extraordinary period of twilight interregnum – will no doubt tell us that it is working hard on the US in private and that we should not ask unhelpful questions meanwhile. But we know from bitter experience that British influence on the administration in these matters is non-existent. We must place our main hope elsewhere. The great American democracy is waking up again. That is what, if anything, will make the administration do the sensible thing.

Meanwhile, we must look after ourselves. The Iraq war has done immense damage to British interests in the Muslim world and to relations between communities in our own country. The damage will be much worse if we get mixed up in a US attack on Iran. The government should be saying – in private for now, if it likes – that we will not give such an attack either practical or political support. The White House should be told that, if compelled, we will say the same thing in public.

Some will call this appeasement of Iran – the tawdry weapon of intellectual terrorism trotted out to stifle discussion. But the government’s duty is to identify British interests and then to defend them vigorously. Old-fashioned talk of US leadership is out of place. We are under no obligation to follow a leader marching towards the abyss.

Sir Rodric Braithwaite, UK ambassador to Moscow 1988-92 and then foreign policy adviser to John Major and chairman of the joint intelligence committee, is author of Moscow 1941 (Profile, 2006)

Court blow for Guantánamo prisoners

Court blow for Guantánamo prisoners
By Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: February 20 2007 21:57 | Last updated: February 20 2007 21:57

Prisoners at Guantánamo Bay cannot challenge their imprisonment at the US detention facility, an appeals court said on Tuesday, in delivering a significant legal victory to the White House.

The DC court of appeals ruled 2-1 that recent legislation precluded prisoners at the Cuba-based prison from contesting their detention in US civilian courts. The ruling comes as the Pentagon prepares to bring several detainees before the military commissions.

Congress passed the Military Commissions Act last year after the Supreme Court ruled that the original structure of the military commissions were unconstitutional. But the MCA also stripped detainees of habeas corpus - the right to appeal their detention in the US civil court system.

In dismissing the case brought by inmates at Guantánamo contesting their imprisonment, Judge Randolph Raymond wrote Tuesday that the detainees had provided arguments that were “creative but not cogent”, and that accepting them “would be to defy the will of Congress”.

Human rights groups and lawyers for the detainees have argued that the MCA violates the constitution, which says habeas can only be suspended in cases of “rebellion or invasion”. But Judge Raymond concluded that Congress was not obliged to provide the same standard for non-US citizens.

But Judge Judith Rogers, in a dissenting opinion, wrote that her colleagues had misconstrued the ability of Congress to suspend the right in the case of the Guantánamo detainees. She said Congress was obliged to provide an “dequate alternative remedy” under the constitution, but had not done so.

“The MCA is therefore void and does not deprive this court or the district courts of jurisdiction,” she wrote.

Lawyers for the detainees said Tuesday they would appeal to the Supreme Court. Human rights experts said the ruling underscored the need for Congress to reinstate the right for detainees.

“The ruling highlights the need for Congress to act - and to do so quickly - to restore what is amongst the most important checks on executive overreaching,” said Jennifer Daskal, Washington advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter, the top Democrat and Republican lawmakers on the Senate judiciary committee, have introduced legislation that would restore the right of habeas to detainees at Guantanamo.

“I believe the dissenting opinion will be upheld because the Supreme Court has already ruled that detainees have habeas corpus rights even though they are at Guantanamo Bay,” Mr Specter said yesterday. “While it will take the Supreme Court at least a year to decide the issue, the Congress could resolve it promptly by enacting the Leahy/Specter bill which restores habeas corpus rights.”

Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican senator who was instrumental in the move to strip habeas rights, yesterday welcomed the decision, which he said would prevent “frivolous” lawsuits.

“Never in the history of warfare have enemy prisoners been able to bring lawsuits about their detention,” said Mr Graham. “Thousands of Germans and Japanese soldiers were captured and held by the military during World War II. Not one case was allowed in federal court where they were allowed to sue for their release. Our rules for the War on Terror should be no different.”

Human Rights First said the ruling ran “counter to one of the most important checks on unbridled executive power enshrined in the US Constitution”.

“If allowed to stand, this ruling would permit the government to hold prisoners, potentially indefinitely, without having to show to a court of law why the person has been detained,” said Hina Shamsi of Human Rights First. “US courts are well able to decide detention cases that raise both national security and individual liberties concerns.”

Blair to unveil 1,600 cut in Iraq troop numbers

Blair to unveil 1,600 cut in Iraq troop numbers
By James Blitz, Political Editor
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: February 21 2007 02:00 | Last updated: February 21 2007 02:00

Tony Blair is to announce today that Britain will cut the number of UK troops stationed in Iraq by about 1,600 - the first time the UK's military presence in the country has been cut since the 2003 invasion.

The Financial Times has learnt that Mr Blair will tell MPs that the current UK contingent in Iraq - numbering 7,100 troops - is to come down to 5,500. The reduction in troop numbers will pave the way for Iraqi forces to begin taking control of the city of Basra.

In a statement to the Commons, Mr Blair will present the reduction in troop numbers as an initially modest move that does not undermine the UK's fighting capability.

However, Mr Blair will also say that a large part of the UK military in and around Basra will now start to return to barracks, acting as a potential back-up force for the Iraqi military as it begins to take full control of Basra.

For Mr Blair, in his final months as prime minister, today's announcement is highly symbolic. After being dogged by the debacle in Iraq for nearly four years, today's statement allows him to leave office conveying the impression - albeit a limited one - that the UK intervention has had some success.

However, the announcement will be watched with anxiety by politicians across the political divide in the US. Britain's troop reduction comes as President George W. Bush has started to commit the US to a "surge" of US troop numbers in Iraq, a move contested by the Democrats in Congress.

Mr Blair, who yesterday spoke with Mr Bush about today's announcement, will today insist that there has been no opposition from Washington to the British move.

Mr Blair has told allies that senior White House figures regard today's announcement as good news for the coalition because it underlines that parts of the US-UK invasion have gone well.

Even so, Mr Blair's critics are likely to argue that conditions in the south of the country, where British troops have been in operation, have always been more favourable than they are in Baghdad.

Downing Street will want to convey today's announcement as one of the most significant stages of Mr Blair's final few months in office. Next month, Mr Blair plans to help pull off a big achievement in the Northern Ireland peace process, with hopes that a power-sharing executive will be formed after the assembly elections on March 7. Mr Blair is also focused on helping Angela Merkel, German chancellor, achieve agreement on a post-Kyoto deal on climate change at the G8 summit in June.

Apart from the situation in Iraq, Mr Blair is also likely to place emphasis on a possible climate change deal with Mr Bush - although White House concerns that Washington will only commit to a post-2012 treaty if China and India do the same have been taken into account.

Mr Blair's announcement on Iraq today comes at the end of Operation Sinbad - a four-month security operation conducted by UK forces that has been aimed at gradually putting the Iraqis in front-line control of the city.

The British handed over security responsibility for two of their four provinces to Iraqis last year and abandoned their main base in a third.

The UK force is now concentrated in Basra itself and at a nearby air base.

US builds pressure on Europe over bases

US builds pressure on Europe over bases
By Daniel Dombey in Brussels, Hugh Williamson in Berlin and Neil Buckley in Moscow
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: February 21 2007 19:26 | Last updated: February 21 2007 19:26

Tensions intensified on Wednesday over US plans for missile defence bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, as Washington called on Europe to take a tougher stance towards the Kremlin.

The Bush administration’s two top foreign policy officials lashed out at Moscow’s campaign against the bases, which Washington insists are aimed at possible threats from Iran rather than Russia.

Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, said the suggestion this week by Russia’s head of strategic rocket forces that Russia could target the two central European countries if they agreed to host the bases was “very unfortunate”.

She also dismissed comments by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s foreign minister, who said this week Moscow should have been consulted more about the sites, given their proximity to Russia’s borders.

Standing next to Mr Steinmeier at a press conference in Berlin, she said Washington had “10 formal contacts” with Russia on the plan since spring 2006, many at ministerial level.

Mr Steinmeier’s spokesman said the minister was aware that “technical talks” had taken place between Moscow and Washington, but said he had been warning against a return to the type of security stand-offs of the cold war era.

Separately in Brussels, Stephen Hadley, US national security adviser, emphasised Washington’s dismay at a speech this month in which Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, hit out at the missile defence plans and the US’s “unilateral” use of force.

“You heard a set of comments in which quite frankly we were disappointed,” Mr Hadley told the Financial Times and other European newspapers, between meetings with Nato ambassadors and Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief.

“I think a lot of Europeans were disappointed and dismayed. And one of the things that Europeans need to do is they need to make that clear to Russia and they need to make that clear to President Putin.”

The EU has consistently struggled to forge a common line on Russia. Countries such as Poland, which are suspicious of the Kremlin’s intentions, are pitted against big western European states such as Germany and France, which are often keen to deepen ties with Moscow.

General Yuri Baluyevsky, Russia’s army chief of staff, yesterday told Rossiiskaya Gazeta, a government newspaper, the missile defence system “cannot be viewed as anything other than a substantial reconfiguration of the American military presence” in Europe.

Choosing the right lunch partners by Garrison Keillor

Choosing the right lunch partners by Garrison Keillor
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published February 21, 2007

February is the season of small sorrows, when everyone feels middle-aged even if you are 16, but there are cures for this. One is skating and another is the convivial lunch. You meet three friends at the Chat 'N Chew and order soup and a sandwich and you yak and yak and nobody tries to sell you the aluminum siding and nobody unloads his sorrows or displays his trophies and nobody harangues you about politics. You tell stories. If things drift toward the ponderous or the maudlin, somebody tosses in a joke. If somebody launches into a lecture, you stuff a rag in him and get back to that beautiful contrapuntal conversation that is possible with friends. They are the people with whom you can be at your best, playful, extravagant, sarcastic, self-disparaging, semibrilliant and ever buoyant.

My wife is the perfect lunch partner, being upbeat to start with and a keen social observer, so she can tell about her morning and make a novella out of it. And we know each other too well to orate or opine or waste time lamenting the Current Occupant. Like everyone else, we have a bad case of Bush fatigue. The very sound of the name, that little puff of breath and the shush, is an irritant. He is the not-too-bright brother-in-law who is employed doing something, you're not sure what, and meanwhile he's totaled your car four times. If he waved goodbye tomorrow and got on the bus to Crawford, everybody would feel better. But he got elected because he seemed convivial and Al Gore seemed pedantic and ill at ease.

Conviviality is no small achievement. Back when I was young, most major American writers seemed to be alcoholic or suicidal or both, and we students absorbed the notion that the true sign of brilliance is to be seriously screwed up. The true poet is haunted by livid demons, brave, doomed, terribly wounded, and if one was (as I was) relatively unscratched, you concealed this and tried to impersonate doom.

The prime minister of high culture was T.S. Eliot, who suffered from a lousy marriage and hated his job and so wrote "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," a small, dark mope-fest of a poem in which old Pru worries about whether to eat a peach or roll up his trousers. This poem pretty much killed off the pleasure of poetry for millions of people who got dragged through it in high school. The first line of "Prufrock," as you may recall, was "S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse"--he opened with six lines of a language 99 percent of his readers do not understand! How better to identify yourself as a serious poet than to be incomprehensible?

So the best minds of my generation skipped poetry and became historians or went into business or took up farming. Who would make a career out of pretending to be crippled? And they sensed that, in the poetry biz, there is not much conviviality. (They were right.)

The problem with liberals in our time, even though we'd like to think we're riding high at the moment, is that we're not so much fun to eat lunch with. We carry an air of self-righteous sorrow about hunger, global warming, homelessness, tax inequity, the heartlessness of big corporations, and a list of crises as long as your arm. You eat lunch with a liberal and you are ashamed to order dessert. The basic message of liberalism is simply: The true measure of a society is how it treats the weak and the needy. A simple Christian message ("Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Matthew 25:40), but when you place it alongside the consumer carnival and the raunch and razzmatazz of pop culture, it sounds joyless.

But the Republican Party has a harder row to hoe. It is the captive of people who believe that most of us are destined to spend eternity in hellfire, and when you believe that, you will inevitably find it hard to persuade the damned to vote for you. You take a Republican to lunch and he is obligated to bring out a big black book and open it to Revelations and tell you that the beast with 10 horns is Hillary Rodham Clinton. Who is, I understand, good to have lunch with, and if she can convey this to the electorate at large, we will see much more of her in the future.


Garrison Keillor is an author and host of "A Prairie Home Companion."

Harris to Introduce Marriage Bill

Harris to Introduce Marriage Bill
by Andrew Davis
Copyright by The Windy City Times

State Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, will introduce a same-sex marriage bill Feb. 22 in the Illinois House of Representatives.

“It is the right thing to do,” Harris told Windy City Times. He does not expect the journey to the measure’s possible passage to be “quick and easy.”

Now that the legislative reference bureau has ensured that the draft of the bill is up to standards, the measure will be submitted to Mark Mahoney, the clerk of the House. Then, Harris said, the bill will be assigned to a committee. Subsequently, he will work with advocates from organizations such as Equal Marriage Illinois, Equality Illinois and the American Civil Liberties Union to assess the situation and to determine the best strategy for the measure. Regarding the forward movement of the soon-to-be proposed bill, Harris said that “we are open to all options.”

Harris was quick to stress that actions speak louder than words. “Believing in it isn’t enough,” he said, emphasizing that constituents need to continuously contact their legislators if they want to make the concept of same-sex marriage a reality.

However, marriage has not been the only issue Harris has been involved in. Surrounded by supporters and breast cancer survivors, he recently announced the introduction of a measure that would increase the availability of breast examinations for women in Illinois.

House Bill 147 requires state regulated insurance companies to cover comprehensive clinical breast exams ( CBE ) for all Illinois women 18 and older. Properly trained physicians and nurses would perform the exams.

Quality CBEs are critical in fighting breast cancer. Evidence compiled by the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that the early detection that can only be performed by CBEs is among the best ways of discovering curable cancers. According to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, efforts like HB 147 will help raise awareness about the importance of early detection—particularly in younger women—and help reduce the number of deaths from the disease.

The measure currently awaits action in the House’s Health Care Availability and Access Committee. Among the co-sponsors are State Reps. Annazette Collins, D-Chicago, and Harry Osterman, D-Chicago

Latino, black activists form coalition - Immigrant leaders act to defuse tension as new marches near

Latino, black activists form coalition - Immigrant leaders act to defuse tension as new marches near
By Antonio Olivo
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published February 21, 2007

Nearly a year ago, immigration-rights marchers quoted Martin Luther King Jr. as they hit the streets of Chicago--and drew a backlash from some voices in the African-American community, from churches to talk radio.

As immigrant leaders plan a new wave of action this spring, they hope to bring the city's black leaders into their movement and defuse tension between the communities.

On Tuesday more than a dozen activists announced the creation of the Faith and Justice Leadership Alliance, a coalition of Latino and African-American groups that will try to join immigration reform with issues the two communities have more in common, such as crime, education and housing.

African-Americans were represented at the news conference by several church groups, including Clergy Speaks Interdenominational, which says it has more than 200 member churches. On the Latino side, it was mostly community activists, such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Calling the effort "historic" in a city notorious for racial segregation, coalition leaders said the need for dialogue is critical as crime and high rents increasingly force blacks and Latinos to share neighborhoods.

In areas such as Chicago Lawn, South Chicago and Humboldt Park, where black and Latino families often live doors apart, mutual resentment over perceived competition for jobs or political power--briefly inflamed by last year's marches--can destroy a neighborhood's fabric, the group's leaders said.

"We will not permit a wedge to be drawn between us," said Rev. Michael Eaddy, pastor of the People's Church of the Harvest Church of God in Christ in West Garfield Park. "Being a pastor for 28 years in Chicago, I've come to the understanding that pain and suffering and loss of economic opportunity are not race-specific."

But forming a racial coalition is a lot easier than sustaining one. And while the new alliance includes influential voices in both communities, its formation does not mean there's new harmony on the streets.

"There's a lot of bad feelings out here," said Englewood Rev. Anthony Williams. "There's got to be a healthy dialogue, and it's got to include the average Joe."

Kim Williams, a Harvard University professor who is researching racial dynamics across the country, said some blacks feel their issues have been shoved aside by discussion of immigration reform.

Plus, "the idea of talking about Elvira Arellano as the next Rosa Parks is probably a little bit much," Williams added, referring to the undocumented immigrant who has avoided deportation by taking refuge inside a Chicago church.

The alliance members hope to approach those obstacles with baby steps. For instance, there is a prayer vigil scheduled in two weeks at Eaddy's church that's meant to draw hundreds of Latinos and African-Americans.

But even that level of action can be challenging, said John Ziegler, who is overseeing a DePaul University project on black-Latino relations in three Chicago neighborhoods.

Ziegler said groups are sometimes tripped up by anxiety about venturing into each other's communities, even when they live near one another.

"It's nice to dialogue about these things in theory and have a sort of kumbayaish feel to it, but when it comes to making it a product, that's where the challenges lie," Ziegler said.

Abel Nunez of Uptown's Centro Romero said to succeed, "we have to identify all the elephants in the room and not be afraid to talk about them."

The next few months could be a test for the new group, as immigrant leaders ramp up efforts to win reforms that stalled in Congress last year.

Part of that strategy will be a rally planned for March 10 and a march on May 1 to commemorate the massive gatherings last year that filled downtown.

While some African-American organizations participated in those marches, Mexicans dominated Chicago's immigration-reform movement, estranging some non-Latino groups.

Among the disaffected were some of the 100,000 immigrants from Africa, said Alie Kabba, president of the United African Organization. He recalled the apathy immigrant leaders from Nairobi or Kenya felt after not being included in meetings.

This year, joining the alliance, Kabba sees African immigrants as a potential bridge between African-Americans and Latinos.

In recent months, "we went to several African-American churches to teach them about immigration reform," Kabba said. "They were able to see it isn't just a Mexican issue. An undocumented African is in the same predicament as an undocumented Mexican immigrant."