Saturday, April 29, 2006

Committee formed to erect George W Monument

Dear Friends and Relatives:

I have the distinguished honor of being on the committee to raise $5,000,000 for a monument of George W. Bush. We originally wanted to put him on Mt. Rushmore until we discovered there was not enough room for two more faces.

We then decided to erect a statue of George in the Washington, D. C. Hall Of Fame. We were in a quandary as to where the statue should be placed. It was not proper to place it beside the statue of George Washington, who never told a lie, or beside Richard Nixon, who never told the truth, since George could never tell the difference.

We finally decided to place it beside Christopher Columbus, the greatest Republican of them all. He left not knowing where he was going, and when he got there he did not know where he was. He returned not knowing where he had been, and did it all on someone else's money.

Thank you.
George W. Bush Monument. Committee

P. S. The Committee has raised $1.35 so far.

May 1st - It won't just be Latinos marching

It won't just be Latinos marching

Copyright by The Chicago Sun Times
April 29, 2006

MUSLIMS: More than 5,000 people from Chicago's diverse Muslim community will be marching, said Janaan Hashim, spokeswoman for the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago. Sixty different ethnic groups are represented in the Chicago area's Muslim population of 400,000, including Bosnians, Hispanics, Arabs, African Americans and South Asians. Muslims and Arabs feel that their civil rights are slowly eroding with legislation such as the Patriot Act, but when they march on Monday, they are mostly doing it in support of their Muslims and non-Muslim Latino friends, Hashim said. "We know what it feels like to be singled out."

FILIPINOS: There are 120,000 Filipinos in the Chicago area. About 150 to 200 are expected to attend the rally, according to Alliance of Filipinos for Immigration Rights member Arnold Devilla. "Among the Asian ethnic minorities, Filipinos are most suffering from a backlog of petitioning and sponsoring family members to come over to the United States," he said. There are about 250,000 Filipinos in the United States who have "overstayed" their visit by not extending their visas, Devilla said.

IRISH: There are 5,000 to 7,000 undocumented immigrants from Ireland, said Clodagh Murphy, secretary of Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform. Murphy said 70 percent to 80 percent of Irish illegal immigrants pay taxes and medical expenses. Murphy was able to take her older brother's body back home to her parents in Ireland after he was killed in a car accident last year, but her other brother, who is undocumented, couldn't go back. "All we want is a right to live here," she said.

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POLISH: One million people in the Chicago area are first-, second- or third-generation Polish, according to Frank Spula, president of the Polish American Congress. About half of the estimated 70,000 undocumented Polish workers in the United States live in Chicago, he said. The Polish National Alliance, an organization in the Polish American Congress that has 190,000 members nationally, is pushing its members to attend the march, reaching out through Polish newspapers and radio stations. Immigration helped build the United States, Spula said, but he does not support blanket amnesty for illegal immigrants. "We should have general rules that are observed by all," he said.

Rummana Hussain

First silver ETF listing gets the go-ahead

First silver ETF listing gets the go-ahead
By Chris Flood and Kevin Morrison
Published: April 27 2006 19:42 | Last updated: April 27 2006 19:42. Copyright by The Financial Times

The long-awaited go-ahead for the listing of the world’s first silver-backed exchange-traded fund came on Thursday after the Securities and Exchange Commission, the US regulator, approved plans by Barclays Global Investors to list its iShares silver trust on the American Stock Exchange.

Barclays said it would list the new tracker fund on Friday. The iShares silver trust is designed to attract more investors to the silver market, without them having to worry about buying the physical metal or buying silver mining shares.

The market has been anticipating the launch of the Barclays Global Investors silver ETF ever since the bank made an application last autumn to the SEC for approval of the new investment product. It has been the biggest single factor behind the strong rally in silver prices over the last eight months. Barclays placed 1.5m ounces of silver with a custodian recently to back up the ETF.

Since September, investors have pushed silver prices up more than 120 per cent to reach a 23-year record high of $14.68 a troy ounce last week.

Thursday’s decision by the SEC removes any further regulatory hurdles, and investors responded by pushing the silver price up to an intra-day peak of $13.08 before trading at $12.86 in late London trade on Thursday, or six cents higher on the day.

Gold-backed ETFs have proved popular with some investors, but analysts are concerned that the silver market is not as large as gold. If there was strong investor demand for the silver ETF, it could put a squeeze on the availability of silver inventories, pushing up prices further

Dollar slides despite buoyant data

Dollar slides despite buoyant data
By Steve Johnson
Published: April 28 2006 11:23 | Last updated: April 28 2006 17:41. Copyright by The Financial Times

The US dollar suffered a second week of sharp losses, despite the release of a tranche of broadly upbeat data releases, adding weight to the view that regime change is afoot in the currency market.

Yield differentials have been the prime driver of currencies since the start of 2005. Thus with US rates high and rising fast, at least in comparison with Japan and the eurozone, the dollar was able to break its three-year losing streak.

This week’s US numbers, from strong durable goods orders, consumer confidence and housing sales, to yesterday’s GDP data, which showed annualised growth of 4.8 per cent in the first quarter, attested to the fact that economic prospects are still brighter in the US than other industralised nations.

Yet the dollar extended its April sell-off, falling 2.1 per cent to an 11-month low of $1.2622 to the euro, 2 per cent to $1.8218 against sterling and 2.4 per cent to SFr1.2408 versus the Swiss franc, both seven-month lows, 1.6 per cent to a three-month low of Y113.80 against the yen and 1.4 per cent to C$1.1201 against the Canadian dollar, a 28-year low.

“The dollar is benefiting progressively less from rate hikes as other countries lift rates,” concluded Jeffrey Young at Citigroup. “Better growth prospects outside of the United States are attracting the attention of investors who shipped capital into the US at record rates last year.”

In truth there were other plenty of other dollar bearish factors in evidence. Alongside yesterday’s GDP data it emerged that the core personal consumption expenditures index, the Federal Reserve’s preferred measure of inflation fell from 2.4 to 2 per cent. On Thursday Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, had hinted that the Fed might pause after one more rate rise in May.

Fears over rising tension between the US and Iran also hit the dollar yesterday.

Furthermore, the final communique from last weekend’s G7 meeting, which called for greater currency flexibility in emerging Asia to help reduce global imbalances, namely the US current account deficit, also led to expectations that the dollar might finally weaken against Asian currencies.

Indeed this happened - for an entire 24 hours - before Japan started complaining about the speed of the move and South Korea backed up its own complaints with a wall of intervention to stop the won from strengthening.

The issue of central bank reserve diversification away from the dollar also re-emerged yesterday when Finland said it had sold Swedish kronor and Danish kroner and bought euros.

A week earlier Sweden said it too had bought euros (and sold dollars), and there is increasing speculation that banks with far greater reserves could follow suit.

“There could be more of this stuff going on, which is basically pro-euro,” said Tony Norfield, global head of FX strategy at ABN Amro. “Two of the smaller guys have done something and there are plenty more to go.”

The Swiss franc was the strongest major currency, rallying 0.8 per cent to SFr1.5666 to the euro yesterday, on upbeat data and rate talk and the Swissie’s traditional “safe haven” status amid the US-Iran stand-off.

Silver surges on demand for metal-based fund

Silver surges on demand for metal-based fund
By Jennifer Hughes in New York
Published: April 28 2006 23:35 | Last updated: April 28 2006 23:35. Copyright by The Financial Times

Silver recorded its biggest one-day gain in 11 years on Friday, as surging demand for the first-ever exchange-traded fund based on the metal sparked speculation that the fund’s managers would have to buy more of the metal to meet demand.

Silver futures contracts rose more than a dollar, or 9.3 per cent, to $13.63 an ounce.

Demand for silver also helped gold reach a new 25-year high at $654.50. The precious metal is up 12 per cent this month - its biggest monthly increase in six years. Metals traders also cited more traditional gold drivers including concerns about inflation and fears of a sharp dollar depreciation.

The iShares Silver Trust is the latest commodity fund to try to tap into US investors’ seemingly insatiable demand for alternative investments. The last few months have also seen the launch of ETFs covering gold, and fuel and oil futures, as the investment industry scrambles to give retail investors an easy way to hold commodities.

ETFs were originally designed to track indices such as the S&P 500, adjusting their holdings to reflect the index. With funds based on individual assets such as silver, the more shares outstanding, the more of the underlying asset the fund’s managers need to buy.

”Some people are wondering whether iShares actually has the silver to cover all the shares or will it have to buy more,” said George Gero of RBC Capital Markets Global Futures and a long-time member of Comex, the metals division of the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Shares in the ETF closed 7.1 per cent higher at $138.12. The American Stock Exchange said 2.342m shares were traded in the fund, making it one of the most successful debuts ever for any ETF.

IShares is a unit of Barclays, which recently placed 1.5m ounces of silver with a custodian to back up the ETF.

“People are also looking around and saying ‘you know what? the entire metals complex should be bought’,” said Mr Gero. “Are we hitting the top? I couldn’t say.”

UBS on Friday raised its average price target for gold this year to $630 and $750 in 2007. The bank also raised its silver average to $13.42 this year and $15 next.

Silver has risen by about 55 per cent so far this year, while gold is up by about a quarter.

David Rinehimer, director of futures research at Citigroup in New York, said: “Prevailing sentiment is very bullish and there’s a significant increase in investor interest. These markets are relatively small so the impact has been pretty dynamic.”

But he questioned how much further the rallies could run.

”Right now prices are going to be significantly affecting fabrication [industrial] demand and supply and that’s going to have to be offset by even stronger investor participation to support prices at still higher levels,” he added.

Film makers such as Kodak and Agfa have already increased their prices because of rising silver costs.

Resist the songs of the sirens in churning seas

Resist the songs of the sirens in churning seas
By Philip Coggan
Published: April 29 2006 03:00 | Last updated: April 29 2006 03:00. Copyright by The Financial Times

Thrift is back in fashion. UK savers gave the fund management industry the best Isa (individual savings account) season for four years while also putting more money into building societies than at any time since 2001.

Perhaps all the warnings about the coming pensions crisis have finally hit home. Perhaps rising unemployment has made Britons more cautious. Perhaps the slowing housing market has made investors realise they need some other repository for their nest eggs.

Of course, whenever sales of investment funds perk up, contrarians should start to worry. Net retail sales of open-ended funds were £2.08bn in March, a fourfold increase on the £506m recorded in March 2005. In terms of Isas, net sales in the season (including the first five days of April) were just shy of £900m, up from £772m last year.

It is worth comparing those figures with the heady days of the dotcom boom. In March 2000, net retail sales of open-ended funds were £2.8bn while the Isa season raised a staggering £3.3bn.

So we have not quite reclaimed the heights of six years ago. In part, this is because Isas were new in 2000; there were few redemptions, while investors are nowadays cashing in some old plans. And the Investment Management Association says Isa sales were hit by the withdrawal of the dividend tax credit (one of Gordon Brown's little tinkerings) in 2004.

A similar picture can be seen in the US. Sales of mutual funds are up but are not at 2000 levels. According to the Investment Company Institute, US equity funds had an inflow of $27bn in February; monthly sales peaked at more than $50bn in early 2000.

In short, we are not in the kind of bubble territory seen six years ago. Nevertheless, it is disappointing to see that it is much easier to persuade UK investors to buy equities now, with the FTSE 100 index at more than 6,000, than it was in March 2003 (net retail sales £740m, Isa season £658m) when the index was at 3,200.

Twas ever thus. Market bottoms are only reached when no-one wants to buy. But investors still fail to regard equities as a good like any other, where a fall in price represents a buying opportunity. It is as if the January sales caused the department stores to empty.

Michael Mauboussin, the chief investment strategist of Legg Mason, this week cited some figures which showed how this kind of attitude damages investors' returns. Between 1983 and 2003, the average return of an S&P 500 index fund was 12.8 per cent a year. Thanks to charges, the average US equity mutual fund returned 10 per cent a year. But thanks to bad timing, the average mutual fund investor earned just 6.3 per cent a year.

Given that US Treasury bond yields averaged 7.3 per cent over this period, this means that bad timing negated the entire benefit of US investors taking the risks of investing in equities.

It is this kind of experience, of course, that makes so many people disillusioned with the financial services industry and causes them to rely on property instead. The illiquidity of property is in this case an advantage; investors are much less inclined to trade. And when the housing market is depressed, it is very difficult to sell your home, which makes it far less likely that you will exit at the bottom.

Excessive trading is a deadweight on investor returns. A study by academics Brad Barber and Terrance Odean found that active online traders underperformed the market by 3.5 percentage points a year.

And professional investors are also prey to this fault. Mauboussin says that mutual fund managers turned over just 20 per cent of their portfolios in the 1950s compared with more than 100 per cent today. And yet the most successful managers are those who trade just 20-50 per cent of their portfolios a year.

Professional fund managers are subject to institutional pressures with brokers and advisers analysing their performance over three-month periods. They may feel simply unable to take a long view.

But retail investors ought to be free of such pressures. Part of the problem may be that the kind of people who become very interested in investment tend to be gamblers by nature; if it wasn't equities, it would be horses. Another difficulty is that people are far too confident about their ability to make decisions. The availability of so much information these days (via the internet, business TV and newspapers) seems to have increased that confidence.

To be fair to investors, buying and holding has become more difficult, at least at the individual stock level. Mauboussin says the average tenure of a company within the S&P 500 index has gone from 25 to

35 years in the 1950s to 10 to 15 years today. It is harder to find the kind of stocks you can put in a drawer and forget about.

Nevertheless, that does not really explain why the average holding period for a mutual fund has fallen from 15 to four years. Investors have simply become more impatient.

The answer, I believe, is for investors to tie themselves to the masts, rather like Odysseus escaping the temptation of the sirens' song.

If investment strategies are based on asset allocation (a set percentage in equities, bonds, cash etc) and the use of trackers or exchange traded funds, costs and the temptation to fiddle, will be reduced. And annual rebalancing should help investors buy more at the bottom and less at the top of the market. Take advantage of others' impatience; do not fall prey to it.

Worst two months in two years for bond market

Worst two months in two years for bond markets
By Jennifer Hughesin New York
Published: April 29 2006 03:00 | Last updated: April 29 2006 03:00. Copyright by The Financial Times

Government bond markets have suffered their worst two-month period in two years as investors struggle to divine the timing and extent of future interest rate moves.

Preliminary data from Lehman Brothers indicates March and April produced the worst absolute returns since April and May 2004, when the markets were readying for the US Federal Reserve to begin raising rates. After a 0.9 per cent drop in March, global bond markets are on course for a loss of about 0.7 per cent this month.

This fed into wider gloom. Lehman's US Aggregate Bond Index is off 1.2 per cent this year, while the Pan-Europe index is down 2.7 per cent and Asia-Pacific indices have lost 1.3 per cent.

This week, Treasuries led world markets. Benchmark 10-year yields posted a series of four-year highs as strong data fuelled market speculation that, in addition toan already expected quarter-point rate rise in May, the Fed could continue with another rise to 5.25 per cent at its June meeting.

But that turned round on Thursday when Ben Bernanke, Fed chairman, wrong-footed the market and hinted at an impending pause in rate rises by the central bank's Federal Open Market Committee.

Whether a pause means just that or in fact an end was hotly debated in the market. Investors expecting an end, and betting on a resulting steepening of the yield curve, won the day.

Traders positioning for steepeners are betting that rate-sensitive, short-dated yields will fall faster than longer-dated ones because they believe it will become clearer that the next move in rates will be down.

Yesterday, the 10-year yielded 5.097 per cent, up from 5.025 per cent as the week began, but off a peak of 5.145 per cent.

In Germany, Bund yields pushed above 4 per cent for the first time in 18 months, helped by a combination of hawkish comments from central bankers and strong data.

New numbers yesterday added to the general mood, showing an unexpectedly sharp jump in inflation, while separate money supply data stoked rate rise expectations. The EuropeanCentral Bank meets next week, and investors are nervous.

The Bund yesterday yielded 3.966 per cent, up from 3.938 per cent onMonday but off a high of 4.033 per cent on Thursday.

UK markets tracked the eurozone, and the 10-year gilt yield hit a year-high at 4.72 per cent on Thursday, but was back at 4.645 per cent yesterday.

Japanese government bond investors initially tried to resist the rise in yields elsewhere as they waited for the Bank of Japan's semi-annual economic outlook yesterday to gauge the timing of the first interest rate rises in years.

But the market gave into the selling mood aheadof the report, helping10-year yields touch 2 per cent from 1.885 per cent on Monday.

The yield was back at1.930 per cent yesterday.

Star-Spangled Banner in Spanish brings discord

Star-Spangled Banner in Spanish brings discord
By Holly Yeager
Published: April 28 2006 23:43 | Last updated: April 28 2006 23:56. Copyright by The Financial Times

In case there was any doubt, President George W. Bush made one thing perfectly clear on Friday: he thinks the US national anthem should be sung in English.

The presidential declaration may seem an odd one. But an intense debate on immigration – and the release on Friday of Nuestro Himno, a Spanish-language version of The Star-Spangled Banner – have prompted sudden discord over the song.

Organisers of the effort said they hoped the tune would become a rallying cry for immigrants across the country, who have planned a national boycott and marches on Monday.

But some advocates of immigrants’ rights fear that the effort may instead lead to a backlash. Michelle Malkin, a conservative columnist, dubbed the song The Illegal Alien Anthem. And the president said he did not think the song would hold the same value if sung in Spanish.

“The national anthem ought to be sung in English,” Mr Bush told reporters gathered in the Rose Garden to hear the president discuss the US economy.

“And I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English, and they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English.”

The original was written by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812, fought between the US and Britain, mainly along the Canadian border. It was set to the tune of To Anacreon in Heaven, an 18th-century English drinking song. Hundreds of other versions have been recorded, most famous among them Jimi Hendrix’s Vietnam war-inspired rendition.

The Spanish-language version was recorded over the past week by several Latin pop starts, including Gloria Trevi, Ivy Queen and Wyclef Jean, the Haitian-American musician, and copies were sent to Hispanic radio stations and other media. It begins as a close translation of the original but strays in parts, with phrases such as “We are brothers, that’s our anthem.”

The House of Representatives has approved an immigration bill that would make it a crime for anyone to be in the US illegally. A version under discussion in the Senate would create a guest worker programme and a path to legal citizenship for the estimated 11m who are already in the US illegally.

That plan has divided Republicans, with conservatives insisting that those who have entered the US illegally should not be rewarded with citizenship. Mr Bush has pressed Congress to pass a bill this year.

Chicago Tribune Editorial - Punishing leaks

Chicago Tribune Editorial - Punishing leaks

Published April 29, 2006
Copyright © 2006 by The Chicago Tribune

It's the job of the news media to find out things the government may not want people to know that shed crucial light on how the government is doing its job. Dana Priest of The Washington Post recently won a Pulitzer Prize, partly for a story on secret CIA-run prisons for terrorist suspects in other countries. That was a valuable effort to inform the public about a highly questionable program with a huge potential for mistreatment of prisoners, possibly including innocent ones.

It's the job of the national security agencies to keep secrets. Many documents are classified because they contain vital information that could jeopardize national security. When a CIA employee leaks such material and gets caught, she shouldn't be surprised to lose her job.

The agency says that is what happened to Mary McCarthy, an intelligence analyst who worked for the CIA's inspector general and reportedly was a source for Priest. Without naming her, it alleged that she "knowingly and willfully shared classified intelligence" with reporters, though it did not claim she revealed the prisons to Priest. Her lawyer says she didn't leak classified data or tell Priest about the prisons.

Discipline like this is rare at the CIA. It's hypocritical to punish leakers who oppose administration policy while tolerating leaks that put the president and his aides in a flattering light.

It's also true, though, that there is no point in classifying secrets if anyone in the government can reveal them at his discretion. Even onetime colleagues who praise McCarthy's record agree that disclosures of the sort alleged to have occurred here should be punished. Otherwise, the agency would lose control over life-and-death secrets.

So, how do you protect secrets, and protect the public's right to know information that shouldn't be secret? There ought to be some safeguards for government employees who learn of misconduct in their agencies and take steps to alert Congress or the public. Whistle-blowers should have a way to pursue internal avenues for correcting such abuses. But when higher-ups are complicit in wrongdoing, their subordinates need other options beyond letting the misconduct continue.

A bill sponsored by Reps. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) would protect national security employees who report suspected abuses to members of Congress who oversee intelligence. That sort of measure would deter executive branch overreaching and improve Congress' ability to address it.

Similar protection is in order for employees who leak classified information to the press, at least when the public value of the leak outweighs any actual harm. The government classifies far more material than it needs to. Before an employee can be fired or jailed for disclosing classified material, the government should have to prove that the leak damaged national security and that the public interest in disclosure was comparatively small.

The government and the public have a stake in keeping truly sensitive information secret. But the law shouldn't let secrecy become the enemy of democracy and law-abiding government.

The Bush Push for an Imperial Presidency

The Bush Push for an Imperial Presidency
By Jim Hightower
Copyright by The The Hightower Lowdown

A fellow from a town just outside of Austin wrote a 4-sentence letter to the editor of our local daily that astonished me:
"I want the government to please, please, listen in on my phone calls. I have nothing to hide. It is also welcome to check my emails and give me a national identification card, which I will be proud to show when asked by people in authority. What's with all you people who need so much privacy?"

Well, gee…where to start? How about with the founders? Many of the colonists who rose in support of the rebellion of '76 did so because their government kept snooping on them and invading their privacy. Especially offensive was the widespread use of "writs of assistance," which were sweeping warrants authorizing government agents to enter and search people's homes and businesses—including those of people who had nothing to hide.

The founders had a strong sense of the old English maxim, "A man's house is his castle." They hated the government's "knock at the door," the forced intrusion into their private spheres, the arrogant abrogation of their personal liberty. So they fought a war to stop it. Once free of that government, they created a new one based on laws to protect liberty—and this time they were determined to put a short, tight leash on government's inherently abusive search powers.

Hence, the Fourth Amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Periodically in American history, presidents have tried to annul our basic right to be left alone. John Adams imposed the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. Woodrow Wilson conducted the Palmer Raids. FDR interred Japanese-Americans and others. And LBJ and Nixon used the COINTEL program to spy on war protestors and civil rights activists, including Martin Luther King, Jr.

In each case, however, the abuses were temporary. Americans rebelled and gradually brought the government back into line with our country's belief that privacy, a basic human right, is a cornerstone of democracy.

Bush's push

Now comes the BushCheney regime, pushing the most massive and rapid expansion of presidential might America has ever known. "I believe in a strong, robust executive authority," growled Dick "Buckshot" Cheney, architect of the power grab. He adds, "The president of the United States needs to have his constitutional powers unimpaired, if you will." I wouldn't, but they're nonetheless asserting an imperious view of unlimited executive power that is foreign to our Constitution, demolishes the founders' ingenious system of checks and balances (key to the functioning of our democratic republic), and transforms America's government into a de facto presidential autocracy.

Their push includes a White House program of domestic spying so sweeping that it would make Nixon blush; an audacious claim of a unilateral executive right to suspend treaties and ignore U.S. laws; an insistence that a president can seize U.S. citizens with no due process of law and imprison them in CIA "black sites" or send them to foreign regimes to be tortured; a series of new plans for military spying on the American people; the repression of both internal dissenters and outside protestors; an all-out assault on the public's right to know; and…well, way too much more.

The rise of a supreme executive is such a fundamental threat to our constitutional form of government— and to who we are as a people— that the Lowdown will devote both this issue and next month's to it. The media barons have covered this rise only sporadically and disjointedly, but it's important for We The People to see the frightening whole of it… and launch the rebellion of '06.

NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY. Richard Nixon is the godfather of the BushCheney philosophy of executive supremacy. "Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal," Tricky Dick explained to us some 30 years ago. This plenipotentiary view of the American presidency (which would send shivers through the founders) is behind the unilateral, secret, and illegal directive issued by Bush in 2001, ordering the NSA to spy on ordinary Americans. It's now conceded that untold thousands of citizens who have no connection at all to terrorism have had their phone conversations and emails swept up and monitored during the past four years by NSA agents.

This is against the law. First, Bush's directive blatantly violates the Fourth Amendment, for it sends his agents stealing into our lives to search our private communications without probable cause and without a warrant. Second, it goes against the very law creating NSA, which prohibited the agency from domestic spying without court supervision. Third, it bypasses 1978's Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which set up a special FISA court specifically to issue secret warrants so a president could snoop on Americans suspected of being connected to terrorists. Going around this law is a felony, punishable by five years in prison. Yes: George W. Bush broke the law. He's a criminal.

When this sweeping program of presidential eavesdropping was revealed last December by a leak to the New York Times, Bush first tried lying, scoffing that the news report was mere media "speculation." Didn't work. So then he turned defiant, belligerently declaring that damned ...

Accused citizens might also be secretly turned over to repressive foreign governments for interrogation -- an unpleasant, illegal and morally bankrupt practice known as "extraordinaryrendition." Consider Maher Arar's case. Returning home from a family vacation in 2002, this Canadian software engineer was "detained" by the feds at Kennedy Airport, thrown into solitary confinement in Brooklyn, denied proper legal counsel, grilled and then "rendered" by the Bushites to a Syrian prison. He was held there for 10 months in a rat-infested dungeon and brutally tortured. Finally, finding that he had no connection to terrorism, the Syrians released him.

Arar sued the U.S. government for knowingly sending him to a torture chamber. In February, a federal judge blocked Arar's case without even hearing it. Caving in to Bush's claim of supreme executive power, the judge ruled that extraordinary rendition is a foreign-policy matter that the courts cannot review.

TORTURE. "We do not torture," says George W. in yet another bald-faced lie. Actually, he and his henchmen have bent themselves into contortions trying to assert that the commander-in-chiefdoes, indeed, have the inherent right to torture suspects in U.S. custody. In 2002, when he learned that Afghan detainees were being abused in violation of the Geneva Conventions and our own War Crimes Act, Bush did not order the mistreatment to stop. Instead, he signed an order stating, "I have the authority under the Constitution to suspend Geneva." He might as well have shouted, "I am the king!"

A year later, a White House memo tried to redefine torture, imperiously declaring that only gross brutality that causes "organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death" can be called torture. John Yoo, the lawyer who has crafted many of Bush's claims of expansive executive authority, even argues that it would not be unlawful torture for a president to order that the testicles of a detainee's child be crushed. "I think it depends on why the president thinks he needs to do that," says Yoo.

Human-rights groups report that more than 100 captives have died while being tortured by executive-branch interrogators. "We do not torture?" Then why did Bush and Cheney fight so ferociously last year to kill Sen. John McCain's bill that would ban our government from using torture? The White House pleaded, threatened, cajoled and demanded that Congress at least exempt the CIA. Only when the ban passed both houses by veto-proof margins did Bush appear to give in, even publicly hugging McCain in a gesture of concession.

But when he signed the bill on Dec. 30, with Congress and the media out of town on holiday, Bush quietly added a "signing statement," augustly proclaiming that he retains the right to ignore the ban whenever he thinks it conflicts with his inherent authority as commander-in-chief. The Constitution clearly says that Congress -- and only Congress -- is empowered "to make all laws." Yet this president, who whines that "liberal" judges keep stretching the Constitution beyond the strict words of the founders, says that he can rewrite America's laws by interpreting them to mean what he wants them to mean.

If Bush can spy illegally, arrest citizens and throw away the key, sanction torture, lie, make his own laws and not be held accountable, then what can't he do?

New York Times Editorial - An un-American pastime

New York Times Editorial - An un-American pastime

Copyright by The New York Times

FRIDAY, APRIL 28, 2006

The partisan divide afflicting Capitol politics has spilled out onto the Washington Mall, where Congressional staff members' springtime frolic of softball games after work is degenerating into ideological hardball. Complaints that easygoing Democratic players prefer "softball welfare" and that hard-sliding Republicans are into "class warfare" precipitated a schism. More than 100 teams have broken away to form a league of their own led by a Republican commissioner, abandoning 80 other teams to fend for themselves on the greensward.

The sticking point, according to The Wall Street Journal, is the championship playoff system long run by a Democratic commissioner - a bleeding heart approach, in the view of Republican batters. It forces the teams with the strongest records to risk playing one another in the opening challenges, rather than letting them feast first on the weaker teams, as in the great American way of professional sports.

For decades, anyone wandering the Mall could appreciate the staff members' innocent games as agenda-free gambols. As a kind of get-acquainted farm system for the future corps of incumbents, spinmeisters and anonymous sources. But these days, no lark is to be spared in the ideological war.

Perhaps Congress should take time out from mangling the budget to contemplate what its tooth-and- claw behavior has wrought in skewing one of the few bits of innocent fun in Washington.

New York Times Editorial - Gas madness in Congress

New York Times Editorial - Gas madness in Congress

Copyright by The New York Times

FRIDAY, APRIL 28, 2006

The battle to see which U.S. political party can out- pander the other on the subject of gasoline prices is embarrassing. If American consumers are having sticker shock at the pumps, it's because of a series of policy failures that stretch back decades. The last thing the United States needs now is another irresponsible quick fix.

Senate Republicans have proposed to assuage the pain of high gas prices by sending many taxpayers $100 apiece - enough for about two tanks of gas. Meanwhile, a cadre of Senate Democrats is carrying on about a temporary suspension of the federal gas tax, which is 18.4 cents per gallon, the same level it was in 1993. At best, the suspension would temporarily reduce prices, causing car owners to drive a little more. That rise in demand would send prices back up again.

Lawmakers from both houses and parties are calling for investigations into any price gouging or other rip- offs by oil companies and filling stations. It's perfectly all right to look into these things, but no one imagines that the result will be much more than a series of photo-ops.

Suspending environmental safeguards - as President George W. Bush proposed in his energy speech this week - might send prices down a bit, at the price of dirtier air. It's appalling that a generation after the first oil shock, in 1973, politicians are still reacting with such hysteria.

The main problem is not environmental regulations or even rapacious oil companies. Americans' outsized demand for oil and gasoline pushes up prices, and now that the economies of huge countries like China and India have taken off, there will continue to be more competition for the world's available oil. There are policy solutions for the problem of excess demand, chief among them higher fuel economy standards. But more than five years into the Bush administration, there has been only a minuscule increase in mileage standards for SUVs and no increase for cars.

The oil companies' mind-boggling profits have brought calls for a windfall profits tax. It would not be too difficult to set up a system that would capture a percentage of the companies' extraordinary profits, and the money could be used for long-term solutions, like research into alternate fuels and mass transit. That would be fair. Oil companies are indeed profiting from events that have little to do with their efforts. If some of those profits were taxed and flowed into the public treasury, the money could go toward public purposes.

But critics who say such a tax discourages investment in exploration and drilling have a point. Though they invariably overstate their case, their opposition would make a windfall tax a heavy lift politically, thereby draining effort from other, more direct, solutions, like better mileage standards and ultimately - the hardest sell of all - a bolstered federal gas tax to encourage conservation.

The frantic gestures by Congress this week are, at bottom, an attempt to divert attention from its past failures to act, and its resulting inability to shield Americans from the burden of high prices at the pump. But the pain of high gas prices will only get worse unless Congress changes its priorities, now.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Queer Latinos rally against racism

Copyright by The Bay Area Reporter

Queer Latinos rally against racism
By by Rob Akers

City leaders supported LGBT Latinos voicing renewed opposition to
racist attitudes during a rally held Friday, April 21, at Harvey Milk

As reported in last week's Bay Area Reporter , some instances of racial

verbal attacks within the gay community have occurred since recent
immigration issues have spawned rallies and protests, according to
Bustos. Bustos and other members of Queer Latino/as Against Ignorance
and Discrimination organized the event, called an "Evening of Protest

"We are bringing up something that is taboo to talk about in many
communities," Bustos told the sign-toting crowd of about 100.

"There are many in the LGBT community that look down on Latinos and it
is time we stand up and say enough is enough," he said.

Supervisor Tom Ammiano told the crowd that solidarity against issues
such as racism was "very important" in defense of the current
administration that often divides communities.

"With George Bush in the White House we cannot take anything for
granted ... they like to divide communities such as ours. We are
standing up
to say that the queer community is against racism in all forms," he

Last week, John Mendoza told the B.A.R. of an incident that occurred
the night of March 25 when he was in front of a Castro restaurant
to order some food.

"A young white gay male around 25 years old stepped in front of me and
insisted he was going in first. When I disagreed, he stood in front of
me anyway. I told him he was not going to get in before me," Mendoza

He said the man turned to him and told him "go back to Mexico, you
fucking wetback, where you belong."

At Friday's rally, Ammiano, a former schoolteacher, recalled the time
when those in the educational system would not permit notes to teachers

written in Spanish, even though over 90 percent of the school children
in the Mission District were of Latino descent.

"They called our children developmentally disabled. They said it was
their way or the highway. We have come a long way in San Francisco
then, but we cannot take anything for granted," Ammiano said.

Robert Ortega, the mayor's representative to District 9, said he was
there to let people know Gavin Newsom had their support in the fight
against racism and efforts to take away immigrant rights.

"I want you to know that the mayor has re-signed the asylum policy for
immigrants, is against HR4437, and that no one will be denied health
care, social services or welfare" in San Francisco, Ortega said,
referring to the bill passed by the House of Representatives last year
criminalizes undocumented people.

Members of the House and Senate reconvened this week and are expected
to again take up immigration legislation. Additionally, immigrant
have called for a one-day boycott and rallies on Monday, May 1.

City Treasurer Jose Cisneros was also on hand to echo city support.
"Being an immigrant does not mean being illegal," he said.

Cecilia Chung, a member of the city Human Rights Commission, told the
crowd, "A lot of people in governmental seats are immigrants. I am one
myself. We are all here for the same fight. It is about humanity,
dignity, and freedom."

Valerie Tullier, field representative for state Senator Carole Migden
(D-San Francisco), said, "Let's just clear the term 'illegal alien' out

of our vocabulary. We need to build bridges in the LGBT community for
marriage rights and for civil rights or no one is going to have any
rights at all."

David Compos, city police commissioner, said, "We know firsthand what
discrimination is all about. We vow to do whatever is possible ... we
will not enforce any law that targets people's immigration status."

Tommi Avicolli Mecca, director of counseling at the Housing Rights
Committee, got the biggest response from the crowd. "I am from Italian
descent. I have been called whop, guinea ... let's get real about this
thing, they stole this country from the Native Americans. They don't
have a
right to call anyone an illegal immigrant."

Antonio Perales del Hierro, a longtime activist who has been involved
with farm worker's issues, handed out a five-page report detailing
a few" instances of racism that had affected him throughout his life.

"Racism is a disease. I am not sure this country's health system wants
to look at it that way," he told the gathering. He said he had been
segregated during his early school years and battled racism throughout
high school and during his stint in the U.S. Army.

"The United States was founded on racism, violence, theft of land, and
on lies and broken treaties. We can see how farm workers and Latino
immigrants are treated. Stereotypes and warping of our history help to
keep us as cheap labor," he said.

Ray Ferrer, son of Cuban immigrants, said he attended the rally to show

his support. "Equal treatment of people is very important to me," he

Something to think about: A day without Mexicans in Chicago

Something to think about: A day without Mexicans in Chicago

Copyright by The Chicago Tribune

By John P. Koval and Rob Paral
Published April 27, 2006

How will Chicago, and the country, answer the Mexican question? Will Mexican immigrants ever learn English and become "real" Americans? As two third-generation Eastern Europeans we know the same question was asked about our grandparents. Now we are hearing some immigrant-descended parents asking the same things about current immigrants.

One of us is the grandson of an immigrant Slovak who worked as a butcher in Chicago's stockyards; the other's grandfather was an immigrant Bohemian carpenter. We are especially sensitive, therefore, to the historical fact that the major impetus for the Immigration Restriction Act of 1924 was the eugenics movement of that time. Eugenicists, characterized by one historian as fearing that "the American gene pool was being polluted by a rising tide of intellectually and morally defective immigrants--primarily from Eastern and Southern Europe," played a significant role in ending the greatest era of immigration in U.S. history. Evolution performs miracles, apparently. Through some highly improbable genetic mutation--possibly a recessive or airborne gene--the Slovak grandson is now teaching college classes to another group of questionable immigrants, Mexicans; the Bohemian grandson is a researcher of Latino immigration. Fitting careers for Slovak and Czech descendants since, after all, Eastern Europeans were the Mexicans of their day.

So, what would a day without Mexicans be like for Chicago--and, more to the point, what does such a day tell us about what life would be like if there were no Mexicans in Chicago at all?

- When you wake up in the morning think twice about indulging in the luxury of someone else making your coffee and cooking your breakfast at a neighborhood cafe or restaurant. Almost all kitchen help, food-prep workers and cooks in Chicago are Mexican.

- If any of you reading this are business travelers staying in Chicago for a couple of days, you had better get used to the idea of making your own bed Thursday morning; the hotel housekeeping staff is almost entirely immigrant and largely Mexican.

- You'll have a slow day if you sell meat or poultry; close to 100 percent of Chicago's packing-house cutters and meat packers are Mexican.

- On construction crews the "Mexican work" will have to be done by other guys, since there will be a severe shortage of drywallers and roofers.

- City landscaping crews engaged in the ongoing beautification of Chicago parks, parkways and public spaces will need to pull a few weeds today; no trees or shrubbery will be on hand since the suburban nursery workers who dig, burlap-wrap and load trees and shrubbery for planting are, yes, you've guessed it, Mexican.

- And if you think you deserve a break tonight to think over your position on "the Mexican issue" and eat Japanese, you may experience a bit of a wait for your food since nearly a third of all Chicago sushi chefs are Mexican.

The inconveniences experienced by Chicagoans as the result of only one day without Mexicans carry a simple but powerful message. Think of the inconvenience to the owners of the businesses who cannot find enough workers, or to the consumers who must pay much higher prices for services (if they can find them), or to the citizens whose states must make do with fewer congressional seats because their populations have fallen. Who would keep Chicago's housing market afloat if Mexicans were no longer buying houses of whites who have been leaving the region? Or ... you fill in the rest.

It is because of events that occurred in Chicago 120 years ago that the rest of the world adopted May 1 as International Workers' Day, which is still celebrated almost everywhere--except in the United States. Chicago (and the country) blew it on May 1, 1886, when it could have been a national and international leader in recognizing workers' rights. Instead, Chicago's participation in the May 1 national strike to promote an eight-hour workday culminated in such violence that organized labor was cowed by the public and political repercussions and the eight-hour workday movement became inextricably linked with riots and brutal conflict in the minds of the city and the nation. It wasn't until the passage of the Adamson Act in 1916, 30 years later, that the eight-hour day was federally mandated. Not until nearly half a century later did workers gain the legally recognized right to organize and engage in collective bargaining.

Let's not make the same mistake twice. This time around these workers are asking for no more than our immigrant grandparents did; that is, they want the rest of us to recognize the dignity and importance of their work and, perhaps, embrace them as the living embodiment of our own forefathers--coming to America to make a better life for themselves and for their families.


John Koval and Rob Paral are visiting fellows at the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Koval is also an associate professor of sociology at DePaul University.

New York Times Editorial - Executive compensation

New York Times Editorial - Executive compensation

Copyright by The New York times


To fix something, first you have to understand what went wrong. That's especially true for a problem as complex yet pervasive as sky-high executive compensation.

The New York Times recently reported that in 2004, the average top executive at a big company earned 170 times the average worker's pay. These executives receive a dizzying combination of salaries, bonuses and stock grants. To make the decisions on executive pay, many companies create compensation committees drawn from the board of directors. That committee in turn is advised by outside consultants, experts in how much others in the field are getting paid.

It looks quite logical at first glance. It is in the details that the value of closer scrutiny becomes clear. Here, for example, is how one company, Verizon Communications, decided what to reward its chief executive, Ivan Seidenberg. The outside consultants who advise Verizon, Hewitt Associates, do loads of other business for the company. The company has racked up more than half a billion dollars in revenue from Verizon and its predecessors since 1997.

Though the company says it has strict policies to maintain objectivity, Hewitt has a strong incentive not to rock the boat by offending Verizon executives. The end result is predictable. Seidenberg received a package worth $19.4 million last year, as his shareholders felt the pinch of a stock that fell 26 percent.

Runaway pay matters because top executives are snatching more than their fair share of corporate proceeds. More important, it also means that the board of directors is not performing its function as internal guardian of the company's health.
To fix something, first you have to understand what went wrong. That's especially true for a problem as complex yet pervasive as sky-high executive compensation.

New York Times Editorial - Emergency spending spree

New York Times Editorial - Emergency spending spree

Copyright by The New York Times


President George W. Bush is threatening to veto this year's emergency budget supplement for the Iraq war and hurricane recovery efforts - he's suddenly shocked, shocked that his own Republican-led Senate has steadily inflated it with $14 billion in unrelated goodies.

As if this sort of fiscal mayhem is not the now-familiar fallout from the administration's own signature fecklessness in adding to the record debt and deficit for future generations to handle.

This year's $92 billion "must pass" measure, while supposedly restricted to the pressing costs of the war and the post-Katrina Gulf Coast repairs, has been turned into a fiscal Christmas tree. Billions have been added for extra farm subsidies, highway repairs, higher education, veterans' health care and forest maintenance, and even a $15 million bauble for something that's called a "seafood promotion strategy."

Taxpayers interested in fiscal sanity should first wonder why, three years into the war, its costs are still being rushed through Congress by administration planners who are obviously wary of detailed accountability. No less irresponsible is the growing penchant of members of Congress to bypass the regular budget process in favor of giving their pet projects a ride aboard the White House's annual "emergency" express.

What's at the heart of the veto threat is an intramural Republican war over a feared mutiny by voters this November. House Republicans running as fiscal "hawks" (after years of cheerleading for the costly Bush tax cuts for the affluent) back the president's budget request; the Senate Republicans who are more concerned about popular spending programs opt for the add-ons. No one mentions the responsibility to find revenues to someday pay for all this, plus debt costs.

Tony Snow, the new White House press secretary, made that point last month in his previous role as a conservative polemicist: "A Republican president and a Republican Congress have lost control of the federal budget."

New York Times Editorial - The Iraq pipeline fiasco

New York Times Editorial - The Iraq pipeline fiasco

Copyright by The New York Times


The Bush administration's promise that Iraq's reconstruction could be paid for with the country's own oil revenues was one of the many false assertions and assurances that ushered in the invasion. But unlike the predictions of weapons of mass destruction and streets filled with cheering Iraqis, this claim might have been at least partly true - if the administration had more carefully supervised the lucrative no-bid oil industry repair contract it awarded to a subsidiary of Halliburton, the firm formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney.

Part of that contract involved repairing a crucial pipeline link that U.S. bombing had severed in the course of the invasion. Had the repair been done right the first time, Iraq would have been able to export much more oil from its northern oil fields in the past few years, making it far less dependent on U.S. reconstruction aid, which has amounted to about $30 billion so far.

How this costly and unnecessary failure came about was spelled out by James Glanz in a compelling investigative report in Tuesday's New York Times. He described the easily avoidable engineering errors that delayed the reopening of the crucial pipeline link while the contracted funds ran out and the security situation for reconstruction workers deteriorated drastically.
It is instructive to recall the circumstances in which Halliburton was awarded this contract: just prior to the Iraq invasion, with no competitive bidding. Later, when Democrats in the U.S. Congress began raising questions, the Pentagon pointed to Halliburton's special expertise in oil-field management and its long experience working under Army Corps of Engineers' supervision.

But neither the expertise nor the supervision were much in evidence on the Fatah repair job. The Halliburton subsidiary managing the project ignored the clear warnings of its own consultants and let the drilling begin without any rigorous testing of the ground it needed to work in, which turned out to be a geological fault zone. As a result, drill bits repeatedly snapped and drill holes kept collapsing. It took an unconscionably long time for the corps to find out about the problems. By then, months had passed and almost all of the roughly $75 million allocated for the project had been spent.

There are crucial lessons to be learned here about the rarely justified practice of awarding no-bid contracts based on presumed special expertise. There are lessons as well for the Corps of Engineers, which is also supervising much of the Katrina rebuilding effort - some of the reconstruction work there is also being done by Halliburton.

The Fatah pipeline crossing project was a particularly raw deal. The repair work they originally paid for wasn't done. The government agency that was supposed to supervise the work did not do an effective job. And the oil exports that could have helped pay Iraq's reconstruction bills never made it through the pipeline.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Anti-gay issue could shake up the fall election

Anti-gay issue could shake up the fall election

Eric Zorn
Published April 27, 2006
Copyright by The Chicago Tribune

Buoyed by signs of deep trouble among its foes, Chicago's Gay Liberation Network held a little party in a North Side bar last week.

"Join us as we celebrate the failure of far-right forces in Illinois to get an anti-gay referendum on the November ballot," their invitation said.

For several months, the Illinois Family Institute has been circulating petitions calling for an advisory referendum item opposing gay marriage that reads: "Should the Illinois Constitution be amended to say, `To secure and preserve the benefits of marriage for our society and for future generations of children, a marriage between a man and a woman is the only legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State'?"

Voters have said yes to this idea in 19 out of 19 states in the last eight years. The biggest margin of electoral victory was 72 points (86 percent to 14 percent) in Alabama; the narrowest, 14 points (57 to 43) in Oregon.

But the Illinois Family Institute appeared to be having difficulty getting the 283,000 voter signatures it will need to put it on the ballot in November. The Glen Ellyn-based organization originally set an April 20 deadline for volunteers to send in petitions (they must be filed with the State Board of Elections by May 8), but recently pushed that deadline back 10 days; it also canceled a large rally against gay marriage in Broadview.

"Their campaign of hate didn't take off," said Liberation Network spokesman Bob Schwartz.

Not so fast, said the institute's project director, Dave Smith. Calling the gays' celebration "premature, at best," Smith said the petition drive was extended simply to accommodate thousands of people who want to participate, and his group canceled the Broadview rally simply because "it wasn't the best use of our time."

Smith declined to say how many signatures have been collected but said he has "no doubt" they will get enough.

If so, the referendum question could be a significant electoral wild-card and provide a big boost to independent state Rep. James Meeks, a prospective gubernatorial candidate and Baptist minister who would be the only candidate supporting the referendum item.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Judy Baar Topinka and Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich are opposed to gay marriage, but both also are against amending the state constitution, campaign officials said. An amendment is unnecessary, officials said, because a 10-year-old state law already declares that "a marriage between two individuals of the same sex is contrary to the policy of this state."

But social conservatives are eager to create a constitutional bulwark against "what happened in Massachusetts," Smith said, alluding to the approval of gay marriage by the commonwealth's high court. And they are alarmed by the enactment in January of sweeping laws in Illinois prohibiting discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgendered people.

They are also no doubt alarmed by a recent poll showing a sharp drop in opposition to gay marriage--from 63 percent in 2004 to 51 percent today.

And many polls show public approval for "civil unions," marriagelike legal contracts between homosexual partners--contracts endorsed by both Topinka and Blagojevich that would be forbidden if the Illinois Family Institute's amendment were ever enacted.

In short, the vote on this issue could be very close, and therefore very hard-fought. If it's on the ballot, core voters in both parties are likely to turn out in big numbers.

Social conservatives will be desperate to drop a constitutional anchor against the tide of history, while social liberals will be eager to drill a big hole into the anti-gay-marriage boat.

"I'm anticipating three to four months of outrageous, disgusting anti-gay rhetoric and harassment," said Rick Garcia, head of the gay rights group Equality Illinois that is planning to challenge the institute's petitions and the state's leading gay activist. "As we've seen in other states, these campaigns can be brutal."

Smith said: "The people are simply going to tell the legislature that marriage is for one man and one woman only. This amendment is necessary. They want it."

On one thing, Smith and Garcia agree: The real celebrations will come later.

Judge Embeds a Puzzle in 'Da Vinci Code' Ruling

Judge Embeds a Puzzle in 'Da Vinci Code' Ruling

By SARAH LYALL. Copyrioght by The New York Tiomes
Published: April 27, 2006
LONDON, April 26 — Justice Peter Smith's 71-page ruling in the recent "Da Vinci Code" copyright case here is notable for many things: the judge's occasional forays into literary criticism, his snippy remarks about witnesses on both sides, and his fluent knowledge not only of copyright law but also of more esoteric topics like the history of the Knights Templar.

"The key to solving the conundrum posed by this judgment is in reading HBHG and DVC," the judge writes in the 52nd paragraph of the ruling, alluding to his code and referring to the two works at issue in the case —"The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" and "The Da Vinci Code" — by their initials. (In the United States, the book is called "Holy Blood, Holy Grail.")

On April 7 Justice Smith ruled that Random House, publisher of the megaselling "Da Vinci Code," did not violate the copyright of "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail," a nonfiction work published in 1982 that spins an elaborate theory about how Jesus married Mary Magdalene and how their descendants still live in southern France. Two of the book's authors contended that Dan Brown, who wrote "The Da Vinci Code," lifted the central "architecture" of their book and had thus violated their copyright. (The third author of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail," Henry Lincoln, did not participate.)

The decision was a resounding slap in the face to the two plaintiffs, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. But it was also an opportunity for Justice Smith to indulge in a flight of judicial and cryptological fancy.

The first clue that a puzzle exists lies in the typeface of the ruling. Most of the document is printed in regular roman letters, the way one would expect. But some letters in the first 13½ pages appear in boldface italics, jarringly, in the midst of all the normal words. Thus, in the first paragraph of the decision, which refers to Mr. Leigh and Mr. Baigent, the "s" in the word "claimants" is italicized and boldfaced.

If you pluck all the italicized letters out of the text, you find that the first 10 spell "Smithy Code," an apparent play on "Da Vinci Code." But the next series of letters, some 30 or so, are a jumble, and this is the mystery that needs to be solved to break the code.

In a brief telephone interview on Wednesday, Justice Smith declined to provide a solution for a puzzled reporter. Nor would he explain how he had put the code in his ruling, or how long it took him to figure out how to do it.

"I can't discuss the judgment until after I retire," he said.

But in a series of brief and ultimately frustrating e-mail messages during the last couple of days, the judge provided a series of intriguing clues. First he said that the different ways codes are broken in "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" and "The Da Vinci Code" should be considered. The idea for the italicized letters, he suggested, came from "Holy Blood, Holy Grail."

He then suggested moving on to "The Da Vinci Code" and applying one of the code-breaking methods used by its protagonists to solve the mystery of the jumbled letters. "Think mathematics," he wrote at one point. He drew attention to his own entry in Who's Who — in which he lists an interest in the history of Jackie Fisher, an admiral who modernized the British Navy, a possible reason that his e-mail address contains the word "pescator," implying fisherman — and said that the date 2006 was significant.

He even mentioned a page number in "The Da Vinci Code" by way of trying to help. But he declined to go further, saying that "anything else gives it on a plate."

It has been nearly three weeks since he handed down the ruling. Probably disappointingly for Justice Smith, nobody seemed to notice anything unusual about it when it was first released. But he alluded to the possibility that there was something more soon afterward as a throwaway line in an e-mail exchange with a reporter for The New York Times, saying, "Did you find the coded message in the judgment?"

On vacation in Florida, the judge then declined via e-mail to elaborate much further, other than to refer to anomalies in the typeface. "Start with 's' and keep looking up to Page 18 approximately when the fonts stop," he wrote.

Meanwhile, back in London, Daniel Tench, a partner at the law firm Olswang, was reading the ruling and noticed something odd about the type. "At first I thought it was a mistake," he said on Wednesday. "It's not usual practice for a High Court judge to issue a ruling in which he has hidden an encrypted message."

Not knowing if there was anything there, though, Mr. Tench mentioned it to a reporter who compiles a column about legal affairs for The Times of London. After that paper printed a small item quoting him discussing the typeface, Mr. Tench was nonplussed to receive an e-mail message from Justice Smith confirming that yes, there was indeed a code, but that Mr. Tench had missed the first letter "s."

"It is always best to start at paragraph 1!" the judge wrote.

Speaking to the Bloomberg news service late on Wednesday, Justice Smith once again declined to provide any answers. Explaining why he made up his own code, he said it was "a bit of fun."

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Chicago Tribune Editorial - The GOP suicide gene

Chicago Tribune Editorial - The GOP suicide gene
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Published April 26, 2006

Given their party's devastating experiences with cronyism and insider politics, you'd think the Illinois Republicans in Congress would be careful about even the appearance of favoritism in choosing new federal prosecutors to enforce our public corruption laws.

But if you do think that, you're wrong. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, with an assist from several of this state's clueless GOP congressmen, has given President Bush the names of three candidates for the vacant U.S. attorney's post in central Illinois. One of the three is Darin LaHood, the son of, that's right, Ray LaHood, the distinguished GOP congressman from Peoria.

What is Hastert thinking? Cronyism is an equal-opportunity source of scandal for both Republicans and Democrats in Illinois. But with a federal judge about to frog-march former Gov. George Ryan to prison after his conviction for public corruption, Republican officials in particular need to avoid any whiff of favoritism for insiders.

That's particularly crucial in selecting federal prosecutors. Senior members of Congress, who get to propose to the White House candidates for the state's three U.S. attorney's jobs, have never wanted to choose aggressive outsiders with the moxie to reform the state's culture of political sleaze.

The recent exception, of course, was former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald. It was Peter Fitzgerald who urged President Bush to appoint New York native Patrick Fitzgerald as U.S. attorney for northern Illinois. Patrick Fitzgerald had no connections to Illinois pols and their pals. The result: an unprecedented, and still expanding, attack on thievery in high offices.

Hastert didn't even publicly disclose that a GOP colleague's son was on his short list for the central Illinois prosecutor post. Instead, the Peoria Journal Star dug up the scoop last week. That lack of transparency has Hastert looking tone-deaf, secretive and conniving.

Paradoxically, the victim in this debacle is Darin LaHood, now a Peoria lawyer. He's a former narcotics prosecutor in Cook County and a former felony prosecutor in Tazewell County. He also served as the Justice Department's lead anti-terrorism prosecutor in Las Vegas. His strong public record and solid-gold personal reputation suggest that he has never let politics influence his decisions as a prosecutor.

The Peoria paper quoted U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson of Urbana as saying, "I think it would be a form of reverse discrimination to take [Darin LaHood] out of the running simply because his father is a congressman."

Sorry, Congressman Johnson, but that kind of rationalization--trust me, trust my guy--has earned both major parties the scorn of Illinois citizens by the millions. Darin LaHood would make an excellent U.S. attorney--in any of 49 states. In Illinois, he's stuck paying for the egregious sins of all the insiders who've put a thumb on the scale to help other Illinois insiders.

Washington whispers suggested Tuesday that the White House will nominate another of Hastert's candidates to be U.S. attorney for central Illinois, subject to Senate confirmation. Those candidates are interim U.S. Atty. Rodger Heaton, who grew up in McLean County, and John Michelich, who was raised in Sangamon County and works for the Justice Department in Washington.

No matter how this plays out, we trust that Darin LaHood has the character and talent to survive the awkward role in which his father's pals in Congress have cast him. As for Hastert and the rest of those clueless pals, it's time they tamed their party's suicide gene. What part of the George Ryan verdict--a total repudiation of Illinois cronyism--do they not understand?

Star-studded. Star-Spangled. In Spanish

Star-studded. Star-Spangled. In Spanish.

By Oscar Avila
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published April 25, 2006, 8:41 PM CDT

A plan to enlist Mexican pop diva Gloria Trevi, reggaeton star Tito El Bambino and other Latin musicians to record a Spanish-language pop version of "The Star Spangled Banner" is being touted by organizers as a way immigrants can show their devotion to their new country.

But like most every aspect of the immigration debate, the symbolism is in the ear of the beholder. The idea of the nation's anthem in a foreign tongue is beginning to elicit a chorus of dissonant voices.

In coming days, producers plan to send the single to Spanish-language radio stations in Chicago and nationwide. The proceeds from "Nuestro Himno," or "Our Anthem," will benefit groups organizing massive marches nationwide in support of legalizing illegal immigrants.

By embracing a song that symbolizes American values, immigrants hope to reinforce the message that their desire is to be part of this country, regardless of legal status. In that vein, some organizers have urged participants in a next Monday's march in the Loop to bring only American flags and leave Mexican banners at home.

"In our countries, national anthems are a beautiful expression of who we are," said Juan Carlos Ruiz, general coordinator of the Washington-based National Capital Immigration Coalition. "Our immigrant communities want to be a part of this country. We want the American dream."

But conservative columnists and groups that oppose illegal immigration say the song is a symbolic false note. For them, the project symbolizes a frightening prospect: that Hispanic immigrants do not want to assimilate but want to remake America on their terms.

Executives with Urban Box Office, a New York-based record label and marketing company, came up with the idea for the recording earlier this month. The project snowballed, and about 20 artists now will record their parts in studios from Madrid to Mexico, CEO Adam Kidron said.

The song is a rough translation of the anthem, supplemented by an English-language chant by preteen rapper P-Star. She chants: "See this can't happen, not only about the Latins/Asians, blacks, and whites and all they do is adding/more and more let's not start a war/with all these hard workers/they can't help where they were born."

The single will be part of an album called "Somos Americanos," or "We Are Americans." The album likely won't be released until next month, but the backlash over the song has already started.

Syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin, in decrying the project, wrote: "Whose anthem, whose flag, whose country is it anyway?" Listeners of conservative radio shows and groups that oppose illegal immigration have seized on the issue, too, and let the studio know.

On the popular Free Republic conservative blog, one reader lamented: "Welcome to the United States of Mexico." Another added: "That makes me sick. Real Americans speak English." A reader of the Immigration Watchdog blog wondered: "'Our Anthem'? My freaking head is about to explode!"

"I've had more hate mail in the last 24 hours than I've experienced in my whole life," the recording company's Kidron said.

The back and forth over the anthem mirrors an ongoing subplot over flags that emerged in dozens of marches that have drawn millions nationwide. Protesters are urging Congress to pass a bill to legalize most of the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants in addition to backing away from workplace immigration raids.

From the start, organizers of a massive March 10 march in Chicago urged participants not to antagonize opponents by carrying the Mexican flag. The result was that the American flag dominated, with some marchers bringing posters of Martin Luther King Jr. and George Washington. Young children led the crowd at Federal Plaza in the Pledge of Allegiance—in English.

But as marches moved to the border states in late March, the tone changed. Protesters were more defiant. The crowds in Los Angeles and other cities featured a sea of Mexican flags.

U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Va.) fumed to the Richmond Times-Dispatch: "If you are here illegally, and you want to fly the Mexican flag, go to Mexico to fly the Mexican flag!" In Arizona, Apache Junction High School students burned the Mexican flag after classmates raised it above their school.

After the rebukes, a follow-up series of marches April 10 primarily featured American flags.

But critics of illegal immigration say the American flags are merely a distraction to the in-your-face rhetoric of illegal immigrants who insist that the U.S. is their land.

"It's one thing to wave a Mexican flag at a restaurant or at your house. It's another thing when you bring it into the public discourse," said Joseph Turner, executive director of Save Our State, a California nonprofit group that opposes illegal immigration. "When you come to our country, you'd better adopt our values, our culture, our customs and our language. Period."

Still, immigration experts and the marchers themselves say that, if the symbols appear muddled, it is likely because national loyalties are often a complicated notion.

Julie Santos, secretary of a Chicago group called United Latino Family, said her members are families in which some members are U.S. citizens and others are illegal immigrants threatened with deportation. In a mixture of fear and pride, families that normally carry the Mexican flag and the Virgin of Guadalupe at group events brandished American flags at the March rally, Santos said.

"I carried an American flag because I am proud of this country. But your descent is something that you can't take away from anyone, whether you're Polish, Irish or whatever," she said. "No one should be put down because they are carrying their home country's flag. We can express ourselves in any way. That's the wonderful part of being in America."

Maria de los Angeles Torres, director of Latin American and Latino studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said technology and proximity have allowed Mexican immigrants to retain their cultural identities more closely than many previous immigrant waves.

But Torres said Chicagoans have always retained a "hyphenated" cultural identity, no matter their background. Americans, she said, should look at the desire of marchers to work and participate politically as consistent with American values.

"I worry that people feel that they are so vulnerable that they can't express both identities," she said. "The conception that you have to leave behind your culture to become an American is a most un-American conception of political citizenship."

Nuestro Himno

Published April 26, 2006

Verse 1

Oh say can you see, a la luz de la aurora/Lo que tanto aclamamos la noche al caer? Sus estrellas, sus franjas flotaban ayer/En el fiero combate en senal de victoria,/Fulgor de lucha, al paso de la libertada,/Por la noche decian: "Se va defendiendo!"

Coro: Oh, decid! Despliega aun su hermosura estrellada,/Sobre tierra de libres, la bandera sagrada?


It's time to make a difference the kids, men and the women/Let's stand for our beliefs, let's stand for our vision/What about the children los ninos como P-Star

These kids have no parents, cause all of these mean laws.

See this can't happen, not only about the Latins.

Asians, blacks and whites and all they do is adding

more and more, let's not start a war

with all these hard workers,

they can't help where they were born.

Verse 2

Sus estrellas, sus franjas, la libertad, somos iguales

Somos hermanos, es nuestro himno.

En el fiero combate en senal de victoria,/Fulgor de lucha, al paso de la libertada,/Por la noche decian: "Se va defendiendo!"

Coro: Oh, decid! Despliega aun su hermosura estrellada,/Sobre tierra de libres, la bandera sagrada?

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Red eye’s coverage of gays is misleading

Red eye’s coverage of gays is misleading

Copyright by Joey McDonald and The Chicago Free Press

(The following letter was sent to Red Eye)

I was appalled by a request in a recent article that appeared in Red Eye (“Take Your Best Shots,” April 27) recruiting people to take photos of the various events during Chicago’s summer festival season, in particular the Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade.

While I am in no way ashamed of my gay family and friends, nor of how they should chose to present themselves in the parade, you do our community a grave disservice by requesting people take pictures of, as your writer put it, ‘”The most outrageous parade entry” at the Pride Parade. What about the most inspiring (gay student groups) or the most heartwarming or affirming (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays or various religious institutions)? Why does the media continue to try to titillate the population at large with what is “outrageous” in our community?

Would you ask your readers to capture a picture of the drunkest contingent at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade—because everyone knows the Irish drink too much? How about the most Mafia-like group during at Italian event, because all Italians are in the mob? Or how about capturing the most Afro-centric group at the Bud Biliken Day Parade?

No, you don’t, because you know it’s just not right.

The request makes you no better than any of the right-wing groups that continue to say that we do not deserve to be treated equally under the law. They say we have an agenda, but it looks like it’s the “straight media” that truly has an agenda—to show that the gay and lesbian community is a fringe element of society, full of outlandish and outrageous freaks. Try being a bit more fair in your coverage, whether you agree with us or not, and stop treating us like a carnival side show.

Joey McDonald

(Following is Red Eye’s response)

Thanks for your comments. I’m concerned that you perceive Metromix as the “straight” media and I’d like to assure you that our photo suggestions were not meant to offend you, your family or any group or individuals. Our playful Metromix tone is meant to embrace all of our readers, regardless of orientation, race, ethnicity, etc. While I stand by our festival story that ran in the Metromix print edition, I also take your comments to heart and will discuss your note with other Metromix producers.

Rebecca Palmore events producer

Chicago Free Press Editorial - Immigration reform is a gay issue

Immigration reform is a gay issue

Copyright by The Chicago Free Press

Is immigration reform a gay issue? You bet it is.

Many GLBT community leaders point out that immigration rights is an issue of social justice that parallels our struggle for equality. But there are also more direct ties connecting the two movements.

For one thing, GLBT Americans share a common enemy with U.S. immigrants. The political forces that seek to criminalize undocumented workers are the same bigots who work against tolerance of GLBT citizens. Apparently, xenophobia and homophobia are born in the same dark recesses of the human psyche.

GLBT people have both a moral obligation and strategic imperative to stand in unity with other victims of the far right’s hateful agenda.

But there’s an even stronger tie between the two movements. Every year, untold thousands of GLBT people come here from more oppressive nations seeking to live openly and honestly in relative freedom. While U.S. law provides asylum to GLBT people who are persecuted in their nations of origin, many of them are unaware of that provision or too unsophisticated or frightened to take advantage of it. Many more GLBT people around the world suffer from unbearable forms of discrimination that do not qualify them for asylum but prompt them to seek a better life here.

It’s impossible to know how many GLBT refugees of hatred and intolerance wind up here as undocumented workers. But it’s certain that those who seek to seal our borders would deny them their freedom and safety.

Sadly missing from the current debate over immigration reform is the issue of same-sex partners. The Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 prohibits federal recognition of same-sex couples in the U.S., and therefore non-citizen partners of gays and lesbians are not eligible for immigration on the basis of their relationships. Non-citizen heterosexual spouses, on the other hand, can immigrate here legally.

According to the 2000 U.S. census, 6 percent of the nation’s 594,391 same-sex “unmarried partners” are comprised of one citizen and one non-citizen. It’s unclear how many of the more than 18,000 non-citizen partners are undocumented, but those who are face deportation. This can cause grievous suffering and financial hardship, especially for couples with children.

Currently, only 16 countries have policies granting immigration rights to the same-sex non-national partners of their citizens. Those include Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

In response to America’s lag in gay immigration rights, a bipartisan bill pending in Congress would allow U.S. citizens and legal residents to sponsor their same-sex partners for residence. The bill, known as the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), formerly called the Permanent Partners Immigration Act, was defeated by the 108th Congress.

It’s vital for GLBT people to join the current struggle for fair immigration reform and to use the media spotlight that’s currently on this issue to build support for the UAFA.

For more information, go to

Black, Latino GLBT couples face heightened discrimination

Black, Latino GLBT couples face heightened discrimination

By Gary Barlow

Staff writer. Copyright by The Chicago Free Press

A national leader in moving people living with HIV/AIDS back into the workforce praised a new employment program at Chicago House April 19 and offered suggestions to area service providers on how to help clients achieve their employment goals.

Karen Escovitz, of theMatrix Center at Philadelphia’s Horizon House, spoke at a West Side discussion about the Increase Independence and Income Initiative (I Four), a program developed by Chicago House in conjunction with the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.

“Work is the single most normative adult experience,” Escovitz said. “Anyone who’s excluded from work activity will always be marginalized.”

Escovitz praised the I Four program, which began last fall, for “taking on service-level change and cultural change,” and for embracing a collaborative approach and incorporating long-term data collection.

Similar job development programs by social service providers, Escovitz said, while well meaning, often take a simplistic approach that leads to failure.

“What the programs often look like is, ‘Well, we’ll help people write resumes and then they’ll get jobs,’” Escovitz said. “That’s just a small piece of this.”

Escovitz said the I Four program, to be successful, must “work with clients where they are.” Some clients, she said, may need more preparation for searching for jobs and becoming part of the workforce. Others, Escovitz said, may need minimal preparation and should be encouraged to move more rapidly toward employment.

“It’s not about our outcomes,” she said. “It’s about their lives. ÉFocus on what’s in it for them. Eliminate any non-essential steps and unnecessary delays.”

Escovitz also said programs should take a long-term approach to clients’ success.

“Prepare people to do jobs, not just to find them,” she said. “Job-seeking skills are different than job-keeping skills. ÉIncorporate content that focuses on managing one’s HIV in the workplace.”

People living with HIV/AIDS are going to have varying goals, Escovitz said—some people may want to work full-time, while others may elect to maintain some healthcare benefits by only working part-time.

Nonetheless, she said, HIV/AIDS service providers should help clients adapt to the changing reality of the disease—people with HIV/AIDS are living longer, healthier lives.

“The system is overloaded,” Escovitz said. “There’s infinite growth of need, but there’s not infinite growth of resources. ÉWe need to prepare people for independence in the work arena.”

The Rev. Stan Sloan, Chicago House CEO, urged HIV/AIDS service providers who attended the forum to take advantage of I Four.

“Any of you who have clients for job referral, please start sending them our way,” Sloan said. “What’s needed in this program right now is going to be exponentially needed in the years to come.”

Equality Riders get mixed reactions at Wheaton College

Equality Riders get mixed reactions at Wheaton College

By Louis Weisberg

Staff writer. Copyright by The Chicago Free Press

During his sophomore year at Wheaton College, the Rev. Jay Johnson was outed by his roommate. In the weeks that followed, he found himself increasingly ostracized by other students. Some even threatened to boycott a college-sponsored European trip because they didn’t want to travel with him.

But on the strength of “the stellar liberal arts education” Johnson said he received at the conservative Christian college from 1979-1983, he went on to obtain a Ph.D. in divinity. Today he’s an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church and a faculty member of Pacific College of Religion in Berkeley, Calif.

Johnson returned to the Wheaton College campus April 20 to welcome Equality Ride 2006, a seven-week nationwide bus tour taking 33 young GLBT people to 19 colleges that “equate homosexuality with sickness and sin,” according to Jacob Reitan, 24, who organized the event for the organization Soulforce. The ride’s goal is to promote tolerance by fostering a dialogue about homosexuality and spirituality among fundamentalist Christian institutions of higher learning.

Wheaton was a special stop for Equality Ride: The idea for the tour came from a conversation Reitan had on April 20, 2003, with a student there who was struggling with his sexuality. The student, now a senior, remains closeted.

Reitan said he promised the student that he would show up some day at Wheaton with GLBT young people carrying the message that “Christ loves and affirms GLBT people exactly as they are, without reservation.”

Equality riders have met with mixed reactions from the colleges along their route. Five of them, including the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, have had them arrested for trespassing. In Minneapolis, the stop before Wheaton, they were roughed up by security guards and locked out of school buildings at North Central University, which is owned and operated by the Assemblies of God.

After sitting in front of North Central’s doors for most of the afternoon, the Soulforce riders and 300 supporters rallied at a park across the street. Among those who showed up for the event was George Takei, the “Star Trek” actor who came out last year. He said the “equality trek” shares themes with those of the starship Enterprise.

“(The riders) have shown courage and character in showing that most people of faith are not extreme reactionaries who oppose equal rights,” Takei told the media.

Most of the colleges have been more polite than North Central or Liberty. Some, including Wheaton, organized special events and programming in conjunction with the visit, including dinners and speeches. (None of the events, however, were listed at Wheaton’s website.)

“(Wheaton) is categorically different from some of the institutions we’ve visited,” Reitan said.

Equality Ride spokesman Richard Lindsay said Wheaton “students were very open and curious to hear what we had to say.”

“It’s never the students who have a problem with talking about LGBT issues, it’s always the faculty and administration that struggle with them,” Lindsay added.

A conversation Reitan had with Wheaton’s provost underscored that perception. The provost told Reitan that any student who “stood with Soulforce and expressed the belief that God affirms GLBT sexuality” would jeopardize his or her enrollment at the college, Reitan said.

Still, Johnson said the group’s visit was vital for GLBT students.

“It would have been enormously helpful to me just to have the conversation—you know, it’s not necessarily so that you have to be Christian or gay,” Johsnson said. “My hope is this is not going to be a one-time event. I hope the school will come to see it’s operating with a blind spot. I’m confident that over time there will be significant movement on this issue. Whether it happens during my lifetime is another question.”

Duke rape suspect involved in anti-gay attack

Duke rape suspect involved in anti-gay attack

By Louis Weisberg

Staff writer, Copyright by The Chicago Free Press

A member of the Duke University lacrosse team who was charged last week with rape and kidnapping also faces assault charges in Washington, D.C., stemming from an anti-gay assault there last November.

Jeff Bloxsom, who is reportedly not gay, was walking with a friend in Georgetown early on the morning of Nov. 5 when he suddenly found himself being taunted by three young men across the street yelling anti-gay slurs. One of those men was Duke University sophomore Collin Finnerty, 20.

According to police and media reports, Bloxsom shouted back. Finnerty and his friends crossed the street and attacked them, leaving Bloxsom with a busted lip and bruised chin.

Finnerty was ordered to perform community service, pay Bloxsom’s medical bills and stay out of trouble for at least six months. The new charges against him in the Duke rape case raise the “expectation that everything is back on the table in terms of how the district attorney in Washington will deal with the accused,” Bloxsom’s attorney Chip Royer told the New York Daily News.

Finnerty and Reade Seligmann were arrested April 18 on charges brought by a stripper hired to perform at an off-campus party held March 13 by Duke’s lacrosse team. The alleged victim, a 27-year-old black woman and mother of two, said she was attacked by three white men. The district attorney handling the case said he hopes to charge a third person soon.

DNA tests failed to connect any of the 46 team members to the alleged victim, but a medical examination found injuries consistent with the rape charges.

The case has galvanized national attention and sparked numerous protests. Duke University officials canceled the highly ranked team’s season and accepted the resignation of coach Mike Pressler after the release of a vulgar email sent by a team member soon after the assault is said to have taken place.

The school said Pressler was warned last year that his players had too many violations of the campus judicial code and he needed to “get them in line.”

Short view By Philip Coggan - Financial Times

Short view
By Philip Coggan
Published: April 26 2006 03:00 | Last updated: April 26 2006 03:00. Copyright by The Financial Times

The pressures for a further dollar decline are mounting. The latest piece of evidence came in the form of a second consecutive 15-year high in the Ifo survey of German business sentiment. Together with some stronger-than-expected German inflation numbers, the survey will keep up the pressure for higher eurozone interest rates.

There have been false dawns in the Ifo before. But Fathom Consulting points to the surge in the survey's current conditions element as opposed to expectations. The current conditions number is above the expectations figure for the first time since 2001. Past Ifo improvements have petered out as optimistic expectations have proved to be unfulfilled.

With the Fed having signalled the near-end of monetary tightening, the likelihood is that eurozone rates will rise more often than US rates. And that will narrow the yield differential that has been supporting the dollar.

The G7 finance ministers' statement has also helped to push the dollar lower. They seemed to agree that the dollar should fall, but there was more limited agreement about which currency it should fall against. Everyone wants the renminbi to rise, except the Chinese who are determined to take their own sweet time. In the meantime, neither the Europeans nor the Japanese want their currencies to take the bulk of the strain.

Another factor that should concern the dollar bulls is the absence of any safe haven support. Middle East tensions have in the past prompted investors to rally to the dollar and to Treasury bonds, even when the US has been an integral part of those tensions; this time round, gold and the Swiss franc seem to be the beneficiary. With President George Bush's poll ratings at lows for his administration, and some tricky mid-term elections ahead in November, perhaps the US does not seem an oasis of calm.

Meanwhile, the US current account deficit is not going away. While events may be moving in the right directions to reduce this imbalance (European and Japanese growth is picking up, US growth may slow later this year), it is unlikely that a growth gap will make much of a dent in the deficit. The dollar will have to take some of the strain.

The Short View: Stock markets remain buoyant

The Short View: Stock markets remain buoyant
By Philip Coggan, Investment Editor
Published: April 26 2006 18:04 | Last updated: April 26 2006 18:04. Copyright by The Financial Times

Global stock markets seem remarkably resilient. Investors have shrugged off a combination of rising bond yields, higher precious metals prices, geopolitical worries pushing up the oil price and the prospect of tighter monetary policy (in the eurozone and Japan at least).

In the past, this kind of climate has normally caused problems for equities. “Since the 1960s, when the 10-year Treasury yield, the 3-month Treasury bill yield, and the consumer confidence index have all been rising, the S&P 500 index has followed by under-performing risk-free Treasury bill yields by 5.13 per cent annualised, on average,” says John Hussman, president of the Hussman Investment Trust.

“But it gets worse,” Mr Hussman adds. “If we look at periods since 1975 when the Philadelphia Gold & Silver Index was also above its level of 6 months earlier, it turns out that the S&P 500 has followed with annualised losses of 12.37 per cent on an absolute basis (nearly a 20 percentage point shortfall versus risk-free Treasury bill yields). All four conditions are true today.”

Why is the stock market holding up so well? The previous cycles described by Mr Hussman have seen rising inflationary pressures (signalled by higher bond yields and metals prices) lead to higher interest rates, and thus an eventual economic slowdown. This time round, the US Federal Reserve is indicating that US interest rates are close to their peak and core inflation numbers seem to suggest that higher commodity prices are not working their way through the economy.

At least, that is the story equity investors seem to believe. Bond investors seem to be less sure that inflation is not a threat, with US 10-year Treasury bond yields hitting a four-year peak of 5.13 per cent on Wednesday while the yield on the 10-year German bund passed 4 per cent on Tuesday for the first time in 18 months.

Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Wells Capital Management, says rising Treasury bond yields have historically not been a problem for the US stock market until yields have reached 6 per cent. He argues that until yields reach that tipping point, equity investors can afford to be relaxed about the bond market.