Saturday, May 27, 2006

Meeks Abandons Third-Party Governor Run by Mike Flannery

Meeks Abandons Third-Party Governor Run by Mike Flannery
Copyright by CBS

(CBS) CHICAGO Illinois State Sen. James Meeks says he is abandoning his plans to run against Gov. Rod Blagojevich as an independent because the governor has promised to pour major funding into schools.

"I'm saying I'm off the ballot. Forget it," Meeks said.

As CBS 2 Political Editor Mike Flannery reports, Democrats are hailing the news, and Republican gubernatorial challenger Judy Baar Topinka is blasting the deal.

Meeks said that in secret talks, Blagojevich had promised him more money for local schools in a four year plan. Funding sources reportedly include “natural revenue growth” without new taxes, and unspecified “creative” financing.

Springfield insiders told CBS 2 News that the sale or lease of the Illinois Toll Highway authority had no part in the school funding plan. But the same insiders did not rule out the sale or lease of other state assets.

Blagojevich, for example, tried unsuccessfully several years ago to do a similar privatization deal involving the James R. Thompson Center in the Loop.

While Meeks denied it, many others believed his candidacy would drain votes away from Blagojevich and assist Topinka’s candidacy. Topinka denounced the deal.

“You're buying off a guy to keep him from running against you, and you're using taxpayer funds,” Topinka said. “I think that's kind of a new low. I've never heard that one.”

The Blagojevich campaign isn't giving out many specifics of the education plan.

“On Tuesday, the governor will announce an ambitious plan that builds on the progress of the last four years, that focuses on accountability, performance, and funding,” governor’s office spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said.

The governor is expected to make the plan a major production when he announces it. Among those Meeks said took part in his private meetings with Blagojevich was Chicago Public Schools chief executive officer Arne Duncan, who is desperate for more state cash.

When Meeks first discussed running for governor, it prompted speculation that he was using it as a way to leverage concessions from Blagojevich, a Democrat who could lose black voters to Meeks.

Meeks is black and leads a megachurch on Chicago's South Side that boasts a 22,000-member congregation.

But Meeks has said a poll he commissioned showed him taking voters away from the Republican candidate, state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka.

Meeks opposes abortion, and he voted against a state law barring discrimination against gay people. Blagojevich and Topinka support that law and abortion rights, although Topinka favors some abortion restrictions.

News of a possible Meeks run surfaced after he criticized Blagojevich for renewing a no-tax pledge in seeking a second term. Meeks has called that pledge the "death knell" for education funding.

To fix the state's education funding system, Meeks has said he favors a tax swap whereby income taxes would be raised and property taxes lowered to undo the funding inequities between rich and poor school districts.

Meeks has said he has asked Blagojevich for two things: a four-year comprehensive plan for school funding and a plan for how underserved communities are going to be served.

He said earlier this month that he had not gotten those plans and that's why he was moving forward with a third-party bid.

Last week, Meeks said he would announce a slate of candidates for statewide office Saturday and begin collecting the 25,000 signatures of registered voters he needed to get on the November ballot.

Still, Meeks, who was elected to the Illinois Senate as an Independent but filed re-election papers to run for his seat as a Democrat, never committed to being a candidate for governor, always stopping short of saying he would run.

A Meeks candidacy would have hurt Blagojevich more than Topinka because he would have cut into Blagojevich's support among black voters, a reliable base for the Democratic Party, University of Illinois at Springfield political science professor Kent Redfield said recently.

Because of that possibility, some speculated that a run for governor could negatively impact Meeks' political future.

"I don't see him being welcomed back into the bosom of the Democratic Party" if he were to run, Cindi Canary, executive director of the Campaign for Political Reform, said recently.

Letters to the Editor - The gay version of ‘The Body Snatchers’

Letters to the Editor - The gay version of ‘The Body Snatchers’
Copyright by The Chicago Free Press

A reader was “appalled” that Red Eye requested “outrageous” photographs of summer events in Chicago, and in particular “The Gay Pride Parade.” His argument is that the paper is searching for stereotypical proof to “show that the gayÉcommunity is a fringe element of society.” Then the reader recommends that pictures of gay student groups, family and religious participants be the focus. Not to exclude the pictorial options of the two hours of waving politicians, smiling local celebrities and music-blaring business floats too. Egad.

At one time I would have agreed with the writer, but today I am not so certain. During recent years I have seen the heterofication of the gay community. It’s not complete yet, but “the hood” has begun to melt into nondescript normalcy. “Vanilla” is the street term. Hell, even Boystown is really a straight neighborhood with gay bars. I know that was the goal: sexual orientation to be as controversial as being either right-handed or left-handed, but did we have to be totally straight- like?

It was the historic “outrageousness” of the community that gave it its “in your face” uniqueness, unity of purpose, independence and strength. Symbols of defiance—dancing penises, open bottom leather chaps, “dykes on bikes,” guys as nuns and your elegant drag queens, shirtless bears and boys—made up a group of loving people that were considered, by those that currently clog the parade, as somewhere between the criminally perverted and the eternally damned.

That rejection was also used by family, friends and his/her god, and was felt at an early age. As a result, the gay community took care of its own. Why? Because those groups that now wrestle to be in front of the parade were not there when the “gay cancer” was killing or “gay liberation” was met with police batons and not thrown glittered ones. The gay bar was the meeting place, the community center, with its blacked windows and basement locations. A tour around the place would reveal what the “Dream” of a civil rights leader fulfilled: old and young, both genders, the rainbow of races, all religions, rich and poor together, discussing fear, politics, family, equality, AIDS. Here too was friendly bantering and maybe a stolen kiss or a hand held.

The reader is afraid that the photos would reveal “outlandish and outrageous freaks.” At one time that would have been a compliment. But the reader may have forgotten his history, and we old civil rights activists sit disenchanted with the success earned. The heterofication is at a point where a reader wants the gay parade to be represented by pictures of religious groups. Egad, again.

The gay version of the Invasion of “The Body Snatchers” is just about complete:

1) There is a Cubs game on the TV, instead of Broadway or movie scenes;

2) Guys are drinking beerÉfrom a bottle;

3) Suits are worn by the young on Friday night;

4) Bars seem to be more de facto segregated by place or time for the young, Lesbians, older, cultural, etc;

5) Politicians.

Ah, maybe you (the gay community) have just grown up, but I miss the kid—the “freaks.” I say post every photo proudly, and don’t worry what “other people” may think.

Bill “Bilbo” Borah

Letters to the Editor - Make no mistake: Cardinal George is homophobic

Letters to the Editor - Make no mistake: Cardinal George is homophobic
Copyright by The Chicago Free Press

I am responding to the recent letter in the Chicago Free Press concerning Cardinal Francis George. I don’t know if Dennis Swenson has ever had an opportunity to meet with Cardinal George, but I have. I can assure him the Cardinal is quite homophobic. The Rainbow Sash Movement and other Catholic organizations across the country have called for cardinal George’s resignation not because he is pro-gay or anti-gay. We called for his resignation because he enabled sexual abuse of innocent children.

It is interesting to me that Dennis seems to be of the opinion that the Gay and Lesbian Outreach Ministry is a blessing to the GLBT community. We have different opinions on that matter. Any organization that supports Cardinal George’s effort to deny GLBT people their civil rights is in my opinion out of touch with the very community it is supposed to be serving.

Pitting the sacred liturgy above the welfare of the GLBT community is a sacrilege to that liturgy. If justice does not flow from the liturgy that is held at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church I question the validity of that liturgy. I think it is also curious that Dennis does not mention the many welcoming parishes in Chicago that do as much if not more than AGLO does for the spiritual welfare of the Catholic GLBT Community. That will continue regardless who is the cardinal/archbishop of Chicago.

Just to set the record straight, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin set up the Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach. I personally knew Cardinal Bernardin and had a great deal of respect for him; I cannot say the same of Cardinal George. Both men supported the church’s teaching on the homosexual person—one was very pastoral and the other is not.

It is not my intent to attack the Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Ministry or Dennis; however, we must exercise some integrity when using the word “ministry,” and understand what that word means. It does not mean experiencing our sacred liturgy in isolation from our community; it does mean experiencing our sacred liturgy as vehicle for social justice within the GLBT community and the broader community.

Joe Murray
Rainbow Sash Movement

Secretary of State’s Office to offer Same-Sex domestic partnership benefits

Secretary of State’s Office to offer Same-Sex domestic partnership benefits
Copyright bhy The Chicago Free Press

=The office of Secretary of State Jesse White announced May 15 that beginning July 1 same-sex domestic partners of Secretary of State employees would be eligible for health, dental and vision insurance plans.

The announcement followed a recent statement by Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich (D) extending benefits to same sex partners of his employees. At the same time he offered other constitutional officers the ability to extend the same benefits to their own employees.

Jessica Halem to leave LCCP

Jessica Halem to leave LCCP
By Gary Barlow
Copyright by The Chicago Free Press

Jessica Halem, who has served as executive director of the Lesbian Community Cancer Project for five years, is stepping down in August to pursue her comedy career.

“I started my comedy career 10 years ago,” Halem said. “I’m 34 years old and I need to take some time to focus on it. I really feel the world needs more comedy.”

Halem led LCCP through a tough financial crisis several years ago and helped revamp the organization’s programs. More recently she guided LCCP into a partnership with Howard Brown Health Center that included moving LCCP into HBHC’s Sheridan Road facility.

A statement from the LCCP board praised Halem, saying her “dynamic leadership has grown the organization to become one of the leading lesbian health organizations in the nation.” The board credited her for developing a governance structure, increasing fundraising and implementing programmatic changes that included measurable results and professional standards.

Most recently, the board said, Halem “spearheaded LCCP out of a severe economic crisis and into a bold and brave new relationship with Howard Brown Health Center.”

Halem said she’s satisfied that she’s leaving LCCP in good shape for her successor.

“LCCP is strong, and I know that someone else can come in and make it stronger,” Halem said.

She added that she and the board would be working to make the transition to new leadership go smoothly.

“We’re very cognizant that as an organization we’ve always been very upfront and very transparent,” Halem said. “The board and staff and I are really going to participate in a very healthy transition.”

Halem said in focusing more time on her career as a stand-up comic, she would still be involved in Chicago’s GLBT community, both as an entertainer and as a Chicagoan.

“Activism and politics and not-for-profit work is one tool, and comedy is also one, and I want to give that some time,” Halem said. “The movement keeps going forward.”

LCCP has launched a search for Halem’s successor. Qualified applicants may submit their resumes and collateral materials to: Michael Godnick at or 4555 N. Hermitage Ave., Chicago, IL 60640. All inquires will be kept strictly confidential.

Supreme Court lets stand lesbian co-parent’s rights

Supreme Court lets stand lesbian co-parent’s rights
By Louis Weisberg
Copyright by The Chicago Free Press

The U.S. Supreme Court dealt an important victory to gay and lesbian parents last week in letting stand a Washington state ruling permitting a lesbian to seek parental rights to a child she helped raise with her longtime partner.

The justices declined to review a decision by Washington’s highest court that recognized Sue Ellen “Mian” Carvin as a “de facto parent” of the 11-year-old biological daughter of her former partner Page Britain.

The couple had lived together for five years before deciding to become parents. Britain gave birth to the child in 1995 after being artificially inseminated. The girl called Carvin “Mama” and Britain “Mommy.”

The couple broke up in 2001 and the following year Britan barred Carvin from seeing the girl, prompting her to file a lawsuit.

The case had been closely watched because the Washington Supreme Court decision applied common-law parenting rights to same-sex couples. More and more state courts are using this approach to resolve parenting disputes between same-sex couples, and the High Court’s refusal to intervene gives it greater standing.

“This is an important victory,” said Jenny Pizer, senior counsel with the western regional office of Lambda Legal, which filed an amicus brief in the Washington case.

“For a long time, biological parents had full parental rights and nonbiological parents were seen as strangers under the law,” Pizer said. “There has been good forward progress over the past 10 years with state courts realizing that they should apply longstanding common law rules (regarding parenting) to same-sex couples.”

The High Court seldom intervenes in family law matters, which fall under state jurisdiction. In 2004, the justices declined to review a California Supreme Court ruling upholding second-parent adoption rights. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to a New Jersey ruling that gave legal standing to a non-biological mother who broke up with the biological mother of twins they were raising together.

But same-sex family advocates were concerned about this case due to a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a Washington state law that gave grandparents court-protected access to children, even if their parents objected.

Child welfare advocates support the rights of de-facto parents, because studies show that “children suffer terribly when they lose a relationship with one of their parents through divorce or death,” Pizer said.

Ryan White bill offers mixed bag for AIDS advocates

Ryan White bill offers mixed bag for AIDS advocates
By Louis Weisberg
Copyright by The Chicago Free Press

Illinois AIDS advocates say there’s both good and bad news in the revised Ryan White CARE Act, the primary federal funding program for Americans living with HIV/AIDS.

The revisions—the first since 2000—were approved last week on a 19-1 vote by the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Only Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) opposed the measure, objecting to changes in the legislation that would shift the distribution of dollars from major urban centers such as New York and Chicago to areas where the impact of HIV is now growing.

The new distribution formulas were a response to complaints by lawmakers in some Southern and rural states that they have not received their fair share of federal AIDS money in the past. But Clinton said the changes, combined with an inadequate $30-million funding increase that’s included in the measure, could cost her state up to $20 million in funding.

Local AIDS advocates say Chicago also stands to lose money under the new Ryan White CARE Act. According to estimates by the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC), the city could lose $2.3 million or more next year, which would force the city to cut spending for essential HIV/AIDS care and support services by at least 10 percent.

But AFC expressed relief that the impending losses for Chicago and for Illinois were significantly lower than they would have been under preliminary versions of the bill, including one introduced in February by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). And they were especially pleased about a compromise agreement averting draconian cuts that would have caused a “devastating decline in available services,” according to AFC policy director Jim Pickett.

Those cuts could have resulted from a new Ryan White provision that calculates funding for locations based on their number of reported HIV cases rather than AIDS cases, which formed the basis for funding in the past. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only recognizes HIV cases that are reported by name, and until recently new diagnoses in Illinois were reported not by name but by unique identifier codes, in order to maintain patient anonymity.

Chicago AIDS advocates feared the names-reporting requirement would strip the state of most of its federal funding eligibility. But the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) helped to negotiate a compromise arrangement with the CDC that would base funding on an estimated number of HIV cases until 2009, when the state’s name-based HIV-surveillance system becomes fully operational.

AFC says there are about 42,000 people in Illinois living with HIV/AIDS.

“Allowing Illinois to approximate the number of its HIV cases is fair and a critically important provision of this bill,” said AFC associate director David Munar. “While lawmakers will continue to entertain changes, we implore members of Congress, especially those from Illinois, to safeguard this provision, which will put states like ours on equal footing with states that have established name-based HIV reporting systems.”

Pickett said that while AFC is concerned about the strain that funding cuts will put on HIV/AIDS-care providers in Illinois, “we remain thankful that the cuts are not deeper.”

The Ryan White CARE Act, first enacted in 1990, sends about $2 billion a year to state and local programs for AIDS drugs and care for the neediest patients. The revised legislation is expected to easily pass both the House and Senate in June and remain in effect until 2011.

‘By the numbers
Number of Americans living with HIV/AIDS:
1.1 million

Number of Illinoisans living with HIV/AIDS: 42,000

Current federal AIDS funding for Chicago:
$23 million

Federal funding that Chicago will lose under the new Ryan White CARE Act: $2.3 million

Washington State's marriage decision drags on

Washington State's marriage decision drags on
Copyright by The Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash.—Washington’s closely watched same-sex marriage case was argued before the state Supreme Court in March 2005, and still the long, long wait for a decision continues. Some court-watchers are now speculating that this hot potato could stay under wraps until after the November election.

Gay issues were on the front-burner in the Washington Legislature this year. After 30 years of hotly contentious debate, state lawmakers finally passed a gay anti-discrimination bill. Legislators were under the impression that the high court would hand down its marriage opinion while they were in session last winter, possibly forcing a huge election-year debate on the touchiest social issue of the day.

But the court didn’t do the expected, and gay rights issues here are fading into the background of the public’s consciousness. Anti-gay activist Tim Eyman says he might not be able to gather enough signatures to put a referendum on the ballot this fall repealing the state’s new anti-discrimination law. Water-cooler discussions in Washington are more focused on gas prices or immigration than gay rights or gay marriage.

Still, for those most invested in the pending high court ruling, it’s nail-biting time.

“It’s a combination of dread and anticipation,” says Rep. Jim Moeller (D), one of four openly gay members of the Legislature. “I always get anxious on Wednesday afternoons,” when the court website lists the cases that will come down on Thursday.

“We had obviously hoped we’d have a decision by now. The whole country is watching,” says Jeff Kingsbury, the Olympia city councilman who is anxious to wed his partner of 14 years. With a laugh, he adds “After all, if you plan a traditional summer marriage, it takes time.”

The court, per custom, is mum. Chief Justice Gerry Alexander, who once said he hoped the court could produce an opinion during the legislative session, now says, “I can safely tell you that the court is aware of the intense public interest in this case. Beyond that, we will rule and then you will know what each and every one of us thinks.”


On March 8, 2005, the 38 plaintiffs in the same-sex marriage case—19 gay and lesbian couples seeking to marry—asked the high court to throw out the state’s 1998 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which limits marriage to heterosexual couples. So far two judges, in King and Thurston counties, have concluded that the state’s ban on gay marriage violates the state constitutional requirement that all citizens be treated equally.

Same-sex marriage advocates are using three constitutional theories, all with the common thread that equality demands open access to marriage, regardless of gender. The state’s position is that there is no fundamental right to same-sex marriage and that lawmakers had a rational and compelling basis for limiting marriage to one man and one woman.

The decision ultimately will hinge on how the justices interpret the constitution and its unusually strong “privileges and immunities clause”—the state’s version of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. Washington’s Equal Rights Amendment and state and federal privacy protections also are invoked.

Scholars say both sides have strong arguments and that it’s no slam-dunk for either position, despite the conventional wisdom that has the court deciding for gay marriage.

Most of the nine justices peppered the lawyers with questions during the oral arguments, but gave few clues about their personal views. Most court-watchers presume it’s a narrowly divided court, 5-4 or possibly 6-3.

“I’m not going to win it 9-0 or lose it 9-0,” says Assistant Attorney General Bill Collins, who argued the state’s case.

Justice Barbara Madsen, a strong presence in the center of the court, could be the swing vote—and she seemed to dismiss one of the underpinnings of the gays’ case while supporting another of their legal theories, says Jamie Pedersen, a Seattle attorney active in national gay legal circles.

Both sides agree that gay marriage still doesn’t enjoy majority public support, but the proponents of same-sex marriage remain guardedly optimistic—and the foes have generally conceded to the gathering view that the court is prepared to throw out DOMA.

“I personally believe that’s what they’ll do,’’ says Gary Randall of the evangelical group Faith and Freedom Network. “I think the court may be more politicized than any of us realize.”

“It’s a liberal court,’’ says Eyman. “The majority of this court is going to impose same-sex marriage.”

Chicago Tribune Editorial - Beyond border enforcement

Chicago Tribune Editorial - Beyond border enforcement
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published May 27, 2006

Back in December, the U.S. House of Representatives launched an assault on illegal immigration with a hard-line "enforcement only" bill. This week, the Senate countered with a much broader measure that nonetheless places enforcement first. Heading into negotiations aimed at fixing our dysfunctional immigration system, lawmakers agree on at least one thing: Without better enforcement, our next law will be no better than our last.

Despite all the talk about protecting our border with Mexico, it looks like the politicians have figured out something else, too. Both bills call for greater accountability in the workplace, where illegal immigrants and the people who hire them have made a mockery of the system while the government has looked the other way.

Major immigration overhauls in 1986 and 1996 failed to slow illegal immigration because the workplace was and still is virtually unpoliced. The first law, which extended amnesty to nearly 3 million illegal workers, included a short-lived promise to crack down on employers who hired undocumented workers. The second focused on beefing up border security and speeding deportations. Yet millions of immigrants have managed to enter the country illegally since those laws were passed.

They keep coming because the promise of good jobs far outweighs the risk of being caught.

The 1986 immigration law specified a number of paper documents, including passports, Social Security cards or green cards, that employers could accept as proof that a worker was legal. But those documents proved easy to counterfeit. Employers weren't responsible for ensuring the documents were valid, and the feds had neither the will nor the resources to check for violators. Employers were off the hook.

Both Senate and House bills would address that problem by requiring employers to check applicants' immigration status against an electronic screening system administered by the Department of Homeland Security. Employers would be notified within three days if an applicant wasn't authorized to work here.

Both houses also favor substantially higher fines and even jail time for employers who hire illegal immigrants.

Targeting the border at the expense of the workplace was never a good trade-off. Though about half of undocumented immigrants arrived here by crossing the border illegally, most of the rest entered the country on temporary visas and didn't leave when they were supposed to.

A million Border Patrol agents, standing shoulder to shoulder along the entire length of the 2,000-mile border, will not solve our immigration problem as long as there are jobs waiting for anyone who can flash a fake ID.

Enforcement might begin at the border, but it can't end there.

The Bush Push for an Imperial Presidency By Jim Hightower

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

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 damned right he was tapping phones. "If you're talking to a member of al-Qaida," he announced, "we want to know why."

Of course, George, if you have reason to believe that a particular American is talking to al-Qaida, you should scoot over to FISA pronto and get a spy warrant. We don't have time to wait for no stinking court order, he shouts, we gotta jump on these traitors quicker than a gator on a poodle. The FISA system is "too cumbersome" -- we need "agility."

Yeah, well, democracy is supposedto be a little cumbersome, so guys like you don't run amok. Fact is, FISA judges can act PDQ and are hardly restrictive. Of the 5,645 times Bush has requested surveillance warrants, how many did the court reject or defer? Only six! Besides, FISA lets presidents go a-snooping all they want, the instant they want, then come back to court three days later to get the warrant. How cumbersome is that? Even GOP lawmakers didn't buy the agility line, so Bush next tried claiming that Congress had actually given him the go-ahead to bypass the law. On Sept. 14, 2001, he said Congress passed the "authorization for use of military force," empowering him to use all necessary force against the 9/11 terrorists. Yet none of the 518 lawmakers who voted for this say that it included permission for Bush to spy illegally on our people. In fact, George W. specifically asked congressional leaders to give him this permission but was turned down. Finally, Bush has resorted to spouting Nixon's maxim that a president's official actions are inherentlylegal. Even though he broke the law knowingly and repeatedly, the Bushites assert that it's OK, citing a dangerous and thoroughly un-Americandefense that, as commander-in-chief, he has the constitutional right to break any law in the interest of national security. In matters of war and foreign policy, he, Cheney, and Alberto "See No Evil" Gonzales claim that the president's authority cannot be checked by Congress or the judiciary -- indeed, they don't even have to be informed.

Nonsense.He's commander-in-chief of the military -- not of the country. He's president,not king. And as president, he's the head of only one of the three co-equal branches. Yet bizarrely and pathetically, Congress has rolled over and even cheered this gross usurpation of its clear constitutional responsibilities -- including its power to declare war, control the public purse, regulate the military, ratify treaties, make laws "necessary and proper" for the conduct of all government, provide oversight of executive actions and generally serve the public as a check and balance against presidential abuses. As Sen. Russ Feingold, the truly fine defender of our rights and liberties, wrote in a February blog: "I cannot describe the feeling I had, sitting on the House floor during Tuesday's State of the Union speech, listening to the presidentassert that his executive power is, basically, absolute, and watching several members of Congress stand up and cheer him on. It was surreal and disrespectfulto our system of government and to the oath that as elected officials we have all sworn to uphold. Cheering? Clapping? Applause? All for violating the law?" The breathtaking notion that Bush can, on his own say-so, thumb his nose at the due process of law and even be a serial lawbreaker has astounded not only Feingold but also a slew of leading right-wing thinkers:
·          PaulWeyerich of Free CongressFoundation: "My criteria for judging this stuff is, what would a President Hillary do with these same powers?"
·          GeorgeWill, columnist:"[Executive] powers do not include deciding that a law -- FISA, forexample -- is somehow exempted from the presidential duty to 'take care that the laws be faithfully executed.'"
·          DavidKeene of the AmericanConservative Union: "The American system was set up on the assumption that you can't rely on the good will of people with power."

Ironically, this Bush push to place himself above the law is centered on a failed program. The agents who are having to sift through piles of our calls and emails say that nearly all of the sifting is worthless, finding fewer than 10 citizens a year who even warrant further checking. In fact, the Bushites can point to only two "successes." They brag that the spying uncovered a plot to detonatefertilizer bombs in London -- but British officials deny that NSA spying helped uncover the plot. Their other "success" is ludicrous -- they claim to have found a guy who was going to cut down the Brooklyn Bridge. His weapon? A blowtorch. In response to Bush's illegal spying, Congress has been almost comical. After huffing and puffing about doing a deep investigation into the criminality of the program, Senate Republicans abruptly cancelled their plans for public hearings and ran to the White House waving surrender hankies. Last month, they announced that they had negotiated with Cheney, who graciously gave the Senate a grand oversight role. What did they get, specifically? A new subcommittee. TAH-DAH! Now seven senators will be allowed an occasional peek at whatever documents the White House is willing to send to them. In turn, Congresswill sanction Bush's secret spying on Americans, letting him snoop on someonefor 45 days without having to bother getting a warrant from that pesky FISA court. You can just hear Cheney guffawing back in his cave. Bush's assertion of extraordinary authority has nothing to do with terrorism and everything to do with his and Cheney's mad intent to enthrone the American presidency with "plenary" power -- i.e., unqualified, absolute power.

March of autocracy

It would be distressing enough if the Bush-Cheney NSA power play was their only assertion of authoritariangovernment, but it is just one item on an astoundingly long list. Here are two particularly brash examples:

IMPRISONMENT. Bush maintains that, as "a war president," he has the inherent power (never claimed by any predecessor)to seize and imprison any American citizen suspected by his administration of having even the vaguest connection to terrorists. He declares that he can throw citizens in federal jails in perpetuity on his own authority, without consultinga judge or getting an arrest warrant. The hapless innocent suspects who wail that a nightmarish mistake is being made are out of luck. Bush says that his executive prisoners can be taken in secret (without even notifying their families), do not have to be told of any specific charges against them, have no right to lawyers and can be held without trial.

They might be shipped to secret CIA prisons around the world, which were authorized not by Congress, but by a classified executive order signed by Bush on Sept. 17, 2001. Yes, the order creating the secret prisons was itself secret. These CIA "black sites," as they are called in Bush's bureaucratic netherworld, are not subject to congressional oversight. Last December, after members of Congresslearned about these facilities, both chambers voted to get reports on where the CIA's prisons are and what goes on inside them. But at the behest of the White House, GOP leaders quietly took this provision behind closed doors and killed it -- the majority vote be 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-chief does, 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'schild 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 interpretingthem 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 - And justice for all

New York Times Editorial - And justice for all
Copyright by The New York Times
FRIDAY, MAY 26, 2006

Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, the former chief executives of Enron, had their day in court. Both had high- priced legal talent to defend them and the chance to take the stand and tell their side of the story to the jury. On Thursday, that jury found both guilty of criminal conduct for their part in the spectacular collapse of Enron, the first in a series of corporate scandals that shook America's faith in its business leaders.

Lay was convicted on six counts of fraud and conspiracy and four counts of bank fraud. The jury, which acquitted Skilling on nine counts of insider trading, convicted him on 18 counts of fraud and conspiracy and one count of insider trading. These one-time corporate superstars could very well end up dying behind bars. The thought of aging men withering away in jail cells is a sad one, but no sadder in this case than in any other.

We as a society have a destructive tendency to think of crimes like holding up a convenience store or selling drugs as very serious and destructive to the social fabric, while looking more tolerantly at corporate malfeasance as simply businessmen being a little overzealous.

Just because there isn't a gun doesn't mean there isn't a crime.

It is easy to see Enron as a symbol of an era of corporate lying, cheating and stealing. From the company's implausible rise to its cozy political connections to its crooked E logo, the energy giant and its cast of colorful characters always appeared to be the stuff of theater. But this was no morality play. This was about the real costs for normal people who suffered because of the machinations in the executive suites at Enron.

For one example, think of the employees at Portland General Electric, an Oregon utility company acquired by Enron four years before it went bankrupt. Many long-standing employees there lost huge chunks of their retirement funds and still face an uncertain old age. All because their business was snatched up by a company with a rotten core.

We hope the jury's verdict deters other corporate kingpins from breaking the rules. As Paul McNulty, deputy attorney general, put it in a news conference shortly after the verdict was announced, "No one, including the heads of Fortune 500 companies, is above the law." At the same time, white-collar criminal cases can be difficult, paper intensive and hard to explain to juries. We expect the verdict in the Enron case to encourage prosecutors to pursue them.

News Analysis: Bush and Blair admit mistakes, but defend war in Iraq

News Analysis: Bush and Blair admit mistakes, but defend war in Iraq
By David E. Sanger and Jim Rutenberg. Copyright by The New York Times
FRIDAY, MAY 26, 2006

WASHINGTON President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, two leaders badly weakened by the continuing violence in Iraq, have acknowledged major misjudgments in the execution of the war even while insisting that the election of a constitutional government in Baghdad justified their decision to invade three years ago.
Speaking in subdued, almost chastened, tones at a joint news conference at the White House late Thursday, the two leaders steadfastly refused to talk about a schedule for pulling troops out of Iraq - a pressure both men are feeling intently. They stuck to a common formulation that they would withdraw troops only as properly trained Iraqi soldiers took control over more and more territory.

But in an unusual admission of personal mistakes, Bush said he regretted challenging insurgents in Iraq to "bring it on" in 2003 and his statement that he wanted Osama bin Laden "dead or alive." Those two statements quickly came to reinforce his image around the world as a cowboy commander-in-chief.

"Kind of tough talk, you know, that sent the wrong signal to people," Bush said. "I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner."

He went on to say that the U.S. military's biggest mistake was the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, where photographs showed them being degraded and abused. "We've been paying for that for a long period of time," Bush said.
Blair, whose approval levels have sunk even lower than Bush's, said he particularly regretted the decision in 2003 to strip most members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party of their positions in government and civic life, leaving most institutions shorn of expertise and leadership.

The news conference was notable for the contrite tone of both leaders. Bush acknowledged "a sense of consternation" among the American people, driven by the steady drumbeat of U.S. casualties.

Their meeting came at a low moment in Bush's presidency and Blair's leadership: The decisions they made to invade Iraq, which they have defended ever since, have proved a political albatross for both. Just as they joined in the drive to war in 2003, the two leaders Thursday seemed joined by a common interest in contending that things had finally turned around in Iraq.

Blair, who went to Iraq this week, ventured the closest to a prediction about a timetable for disengagement, and said he thought it was possible that the new prime minister, Nuri Kamal al- Maliki, was accurate in his prediction that his forces could secure the country within 18 months.

But Bush quickly fell back to his familiar insistence that he would not begin to reduce troop levels until field commanders said it was possible, and he noted that troops were recently deployed from Kuwait to help stabilize Baghdad.

Bush added that in the end he would insist on victory over both insurgents and terrorists linked to Al Qaeda, and he dismissed as "press speculation" reports of tentative Pentagon plans to reduce troop levels to about 100,000 by the end of this year. "A loss in Iraq would make this world an incredibly dangerous place," he said.

Bush said he and Blair had spent "a great deal of time" discussing their next challenge: how to formulate the right mix of penalties and incentives to force Iran to suspend the production of uranium and give up a program that both men have said clearly points to a desire to build a nuclear bomb.

The overwhelming sense from the news conference was of two battered leaders who, once confident in their judgments on Iraq, now understood that misjudgments had not only affected their approval ratings, but perhaps their legacies. On a recent cover, The Economist pictured the two under the headline "Axis of Feeble."

Bush acknowledged that the war in Iraq had taken a significant toll in public opinion. "I mean, when you turn on your TV screen and see innocent people die day in and day out, it affects the mentality of our country," he said.

Blair tried to focus on the moment, saying that he had heard the complaint that "you went in with this Western concept of democracy, and you didn't understand that their whole culture was different." With a weak smile, he suggested to Bush that those who voted in Iraq had amounted to "a higher turnout, I have to say - I'm afraid to say, I think - than either your election or mine."

For those who trace Bush's own reluctance to acknowledge errors in Iraq, his statements seemed to mark a crossing of a major threshold. In an interview with The New York Times in August 2004, Bush said that his biggest mistake in Iraq had been underestimating the speed of initial victory over Saddam's forces, which allowed Iraqi troops to melt back into the cities and towns. When pressed, he said he could think of no other errors, something he repeated during later news conferences.
But this past winter, as public support for the war eroded, Bush acknowledged other mistakes, including failing to plan sufficiently for the occupation and rebuilding of the country or to execute the plans that had been made. But he described those as tactical mistakes that had been corrected.

While he had apologized before for the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, his statement Thursday was his starkest admission to date of the damage the incident caused to the image of the United States around the world.

"An Affront to the Constitution"

"An Affront to the Constitution"
BY John Nichols
Copyright by The Nation
It's an election year, so, quick, let's amend the Constitution.
Absurd as it sounds, that is the thinking of the Senate Republican leadership, which is rushing to draft, debate and endorse a whole new section of the Constitution by the week of June 5.
Why the hurry to tinker with the 219-year-old document?
Poll numbers for Congressional Republicans are in a bad place, so bad that there is serious talk about the prospect that the party could lose the House or Senate, or perhaps both chambers, in November. And the approval ratings for President Bush, the party's campaigner-in-chief, are trolling in Nixon-during-Watergate depths that suggest he may not be able to rally the conservative base as he did so effectively in 2002 and 2004.
Hence the hurry to dig up the next big-bang issue for the GOP.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, thinks he has struck political paydirt. He wants to amend the Constitution to declare that, along with freedom of speech, assembly and worship, Americans also have the right to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Frist wants the Constitution to declare not just that "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman" but that "Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman."

So much for state's rights. And you can forget about that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness business.
The Grand Old Party's in trouble, so someone is going to have to pay, and in this case it's same-sex couples who dare to fall in love and then seek the same basic protections for their relationships that everyone else expects.

The rush to amend the Constitution in time to bring the marriage debate front and center for the fall campaign – now that the immigration issue has blown up on the party – had Senate Republicans so preoccupied Thursday that they bent the rules to the breaking point.

Senate Judiciary Committee chair Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, scheduled the session where the committee voted 10-8 to approve the amendment in a room where access by the press and the general public was restricted. When Senator Russ Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat who ardently opposes the amendment, suggested that perhaps the work of amending the Constitution ought to be conducted in a more open manner, Specter growled, I don't need to be lectured by you. You are no more a protector of the Constitution than am I."

For good measure, the chairman added, "If you want to leave, good riddance."

Feingold thanked the senior Republican for the lecture and departed, explaining that, "Today's markup of the constitutional amendment concerning marriage, in a small room off the Senate floor with only a handful of people other than Senators and their staffs present, was an affront to the Constitution. I objected to its consideration in such an inappropriate setting and refused to help make a quorum. I am deeply disappointed that the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee went forward with the markup over my objection.Unfortunately, the Majority Leader has set a politically motivated schedule for floor
consideration of this measure that the Chairman felt compelled to follow, even though he says he opposes the amendment."
Feingold added, "Constitutional amendments deserve the most careful and deliberate consideration of any matter that comes before the Senate. In addition to hearings and a subcommittee markup, such a measure should be considered by the Judiciary Committee in the light of day, open to the press and the public, with cameras present so that the whole country can see what is done. Open and deliberate debate on such an important matter cannot take place in a setting such as the one chosen by the Chairman of the Committee today.

"The Constitution of the United States is an historic guarantee of individual freedom. It has served as a beacon of hope, an example to people around the world who yearn to be free and to live their lives without government interference in their most basic human decisions. I took an oath when I joined this body to support and defend the Constitution. I will continue to fight this mean-spirited, divisive, poorly drafted, and misguided amendment when it comes to the Senate floor."

Friday, May 26, 2006


Ken Lay Will Get Away with His Real Crimes

Copyright by The Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Wednesday, May 24, 2006 -- Al Capone cut throats, machine-gunned people to build his gang and went to jail -- for not filing his taxes properly. Likewise, Ken Lay, buccaneer of the power industry, will go down -- if the jury doesn't buy his alibi -- for not filing his SEC forms properly.

And just as Capone went up the river leaving us a permanent legacy of organized crime, so Lay, whether or not he's sent to the slammer, has left us, with the connivance of a few well-placed politicos, an electricity system that is little more than a playground for power-industry predators.

We've been here before. In the 1930s, a character named Samuel Insull created the first giant power holding companies. Insull played fast and loose with his account books, fast and loose with cash for politicians and pocketed millions by gouging electricity customers. Insull was indicted, like Lay, for crimes against his stockholders.

In 1933, President Roosevelt made Insull's power piracy a crime. FDR signed the Public Utility Holding Company Act and laws that capped the profit of electricity monopolies. The act required them to keep lights on by accounting for all maintenance expenses, barred "trading" electricity and, most important, banned donations by the power giants to politicians.

Fast-forward to January 2001. The George W. Bush administration, within 72 hours of his inauguration, issued an executive order lifting the Clinton Energy Department's effective ban on speculative trading in the California power market. The state was still in crisis, facing blackouts and 300 percent increases in power bills, the result of "deregulating" its electric system, as first suggested by Lay.

Instead of a "free" market, California's electricity bidding system became a fixed casino where Lay's operatives and a tight-knit cabal of corporate cronies jacked up prices through such tricks as "death star," "ricochet" and "kilowatt laundering."

In one instance, Enron "sold" the state 500 megawatts of electricity to go over a 15-megawatt line. Enron knew that sending that much power through those wires would have burned them to a crisp. To prevent this Enron-designed blackout, the state scrambled for other sources of electricity, which Enron and friends sold them at a big mark-up.

California's Independent System Operator put the cost to consumers of this "gaming" at $6.3 billion in a six-month period. Under the Roosevelt rules, when utilities were regulated to a fare-thee-well, the gaming rooms would have been busted.

Instead, the games have been institutionalized. For example, TXU, the corporate alias of Texas Utilities, has seen earnings per share rise 500 percent in five years. The reason: So-called deregulation allows the company to sell electricity at a price based on the sky-high cost of oil although much of its power is produced from cheaper coal or uranium. In effect, deregulation has become de-criminalization of price gouging.

Even more sinister than Bush's hasty executive order allowing Enron to resume speculation in the California power market was his appointment of Pat Wood as chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the government's electricity cops. The choice of Wood was suggested, in secret, by Enron.

This put Lay one step ahead of Al Capone who had to buy the cops. Lay just had them appointed.

Wood may have been as honest as the day is long, but on his watch, Enron and the industry treaded through the power market like Godzilla through a kindergarten. And it continues under a new chairman, also suggested by Enron.

What about the $6.3 billion filched from the wallets of California consumers, let alone the larger sums taken in by power profiteers nationwide? The Lay-blessed federal regulators barely batted an eye.

Lay's brainchild of deregulation was coupled with his other grand idea: a massive increase in industry largesse to politicians. By unsubtle, but perfectly legal, means around FDR's prohibition on political donations, Enron PACs and its executives became the top Bush funders.

Capone never lived to see armed robbery made legal. But Lay, even if convicted, can leave the courthouse for the Big House knowing power profiteering is now as legal as prayer. On July 14, 2005, Roosevelt's Public Utility Holding Company Act, bulwark of consumer protection, was repealed by a Congress fattened with utility industry cash.

Lifting the veil off `Latinophobia' - Immigration debate covers for an assault on a culture

Lifting the veil off `Latinophobia' - Immigration debate covers for an assault on a culture
Ruben Navarrette Jr., a syndicated columnist based in San Diego: Washington Post Writers Group
Published May 26, 2006
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

SAN DIEGO -- In declaring English the national language of the United States, the Senate finally did something useful.

Oh, I don't mean the result. It was dreadful. What I mean is that the Senate did the country a service by lifting the veil and revealing what (much of) the immigration debate is really about. Here's a hint: It ain't immigration policy. And it ain't pretty.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid wasn't far off the mark when he called the English language amendment racist and said it was "directed basically to people who speak Spanish."

People don't like to hear it, but now that much of the country has come down with a touch of "Latinophobia," racism, nativism, ethnocentrism and other unpleasant "isms" are back in style.

I don't have a problem with declaring English--as in a related amendment also approved by the Senate--merely a "common and unifying language." But calling English "the national language" is more absolute, as if no other languages should be spoken. It is also unnecessary, divisive and insulting to any U.S. citizen or legal immigrant who, in addition to English, also speaks Spanish, Russian, Chinese or any other foreign language and doesn't feel any less American because of it.

Of course, as I've said before, anyone who lives in the United States should learn English. But here's the key: They should do so for their own good and for the good of their children, and not to stay in the good graces of fellow Americans desperate to remain culturally relevant amid changing demographics.

Don't confuse this with requiring that illegal immigrants learn English if they want a path to legal status. These people shouldn't even be here in the first place, and so the United States has every right to set the conditions under which they can stay.

But what about the Puerto Rican in Connecticut who was a U.S. citizen at birth because Puerto Rico is a U.S. commonwealth, or the Cuban-American in Florida who came to the United States legally in accordance with the Cuban Adjustment Act, or the Mexican-American whose family has lived in Arizona for six generations? These people and their children have worked hard, paid taxes, gone to war and defended this country against enemies foreign and domestic. These people may speak both English and Spanish, but why should they be made to feel as if the only way to be authentically American is to speak only English and drop the Spanish?

Besides, what's the point? The Senate vote was entirely symbolic. While declaring that government should "preserve and enhance" the role of English, the Senate did not do away with bilingual education or bilingual ballots. And the vote won't have any effect on what really drives many Americans loco (if I can still say that)--namely, efforts by companies to advertise and otherwise communicate in Spanish in hope of getting their slice of more than $700 billion in annual spending power rattling around in the pockets of the nation's 40 million Latinos. The vote was also cravenly political. It was red meat tossed to the radical fringe of the Republican Party to help make more palatable what the administration really wants: a comprehensive reform plan that combines enforcement with guest workers, with the possibility of legalization for at least some of the 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants.

And yet, the Senate vote--and the public support for it--did serve a purpose. It proved once and for all that, despite the insistence by many Americans that their only concern is with illegal immigration, the truth is more complicated. We'd be more honest to admit that if there is one toxin that this country has never gotten out of its bloodstream, it's a resentment of immigrants and foreigners regardless of their status.

The vote made clear that what worries many Americans is not just the fact that people are coming illegally, but the impact they're having on the culture and the rest of society once they get here. After all, if the only issue is that people enter the country legally, what difference does it make what language they speak once they get here?

And last, senators confirmed the suspicions of many U.S.-born Latinos that they're in the cultural crosshairs, that many of those who claim to only be anti-illegal immigrant are really anti-Latino and anti-Mexican, and that the immigration debate has become a proxy for an assault on the language and culture of a minority that is, in parts of the country, on its way to becoming a majority.

Like I said, the real motive behind all this is not pretty. But at least now it's out in the open.



Chicago Tribune Editorial - Flag desecration, again

Chicago Tribune Editorial - Flag desecration, again
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published May 26, 2006

You know it's an election year when Congress, faced with an array of major problems, decides to focus on a major non-problem: desecration of the American flag. A Senate subcommittee recently approved a constitutional amendment giving Congress the power to outlaw flag-burning. The measure has already passed the House, which means the Senate once again bears responsibility for turning back this gratuitous assault on constitutional liberties.

The recurring controversy dates back to 1989, when the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a man for burning a flag at the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas. The law he broke, said the court, violated the 1st Amendment's protection of freedom of expression. Why? Because while it was permissible to burn a dirty flag to dispose it in a respectful way, it was forbidden to burn it as a show of disrespect. "The government," said the court, "may not prohibit expression simply because it disagrees with its message."

The succeeding 17 years did not bring an epidemic of flag-burning. But that hasn't quelled the sentiment in Congress for amending the Constitution to carve out an exception to the 1st Amendment.

It's true that there are occasional incidents of flag desecration, but rather than demonstrate the need for a new law, they prove just the opposite. The Citizens Flag Alliance, which keeps track of these incidents, gives a list of only a dozen in 2005. But with one possible exception, all of them involved the sort of behavior that can be punished without running afoul of the Constitution--since it's already illegal to swipe an American flag (or anything else) hanging from a public building or a private home and destroy it. It's only legal to burn a flag that belongs to you. And incidents like that hardly ever happen.

When they do, they are contemptible. But nothing in our national tradition suggests that we should forbid any type of speech or expression merely because it offends people.

The amendment has repeatedly failed to muster the required two-thirds support in the Senate. That may foster a false sense that it will never pass. In fact, the American Civil Liberties Union says the amendment is just one vote short of the two-thirds majority it needs. If so, all it would take for it to pass is for one senator now opposed to change sides. In that case, the measure would go to the states for ratification--and the legislatures in all 50 have adopted resolutions in support.

It would be a sad day for freedom if, for the first time in American history, an exception were granted to the Bill of Rights. It would be no favor to Old Glory to "protect" it by damaging the liberties for which it stands.

Chicago Tribune Editorial - The Senate's better vision

Chicago Tribune Editorial - The Senate's better vision
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published May 26, 2006

Tapping into Americans' frustration and disgust with our failed immigration system, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in December aimed at stopping illegal immigrants, both at the border and in the workplace. The 12 million undocumented immigrants already in this country would have to go. It's not clear whether the House wants to deport them all or simply make their lives so difficult that they deport themselves. Let's hope we don't find out.

The Senate on a 62-36 vote Thursday approved a far better plan.

It is chock-full of enforcement. Like the House bill, it calls for increased security at the Mexican border, including hundreds of miles of fence and thousands of new guards. Also like the House bill, it calls for more accountability in the workplace, including a reliable electronic system through which employers would be required to verify the immigration status of job applicants.

But it wisely goes beyond the House measure by attempting to resolve the status of those 12 million immigrants. In doing so, the Senate bill recognizes the country's dependence on immigrant labor as well as the utter futility of trying to send home all illegal immigrants.

The Senate proposes a guest-worker program to ensure a supply of immigrant workers and a path to earned citizenship for most of those who have been working here illegally for some time.

In crafting its bill, a divided Senate confronted obstacles that loom even larger in coming negotiations with the House. Conservatives insist that any provision that leads to legalization for undocumented workers is amnesty, the ugliest of words in the immigration glossary. Congress extended amnesty to 3 million illegal workers in 1986 as part of an immigration overhaul, but the government's failure to police workplace violators after that only encouraged more illegal immigration.

Senators tinkered with the offending provisions but left them in, despite constant background static emanating from the House. Soon to be ex-Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), for example, continues to call earned citizenship "a non-starter," and Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) insists that it "will not fly."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert has threatened to demonstrate his disregard for bipartisan compromise by blocking any bill from a floor vote unless it is supported by a majority of Republican House members.

This issue is too important for such heavy-handed partisanship. If the House fails to compromise to get an immigration law, it will reinforce the broad public impression that this GOP-led Congress can't get anything done.

Against long odds, the Senate has produced a comprehensive immigration bill that looks beyond the House's one-dimensional solution. It deserves to be considered in good faith in conference committee. Building on the lessons of 20 years of failed immigration policy, the Senate bill represents our best chance yet to finally set things right. It's time for negotiation, not noise.

New York Times Editorial - Walls came tumbling down

New York Times Editorial - Walls came tumbling down
Copyright by The New York Times
THURSDAY, MAY 25, 2006

New Orleans had a false sense of security. A new report by an independent review panel found that flaws in the manmade levee system were largely responsible for the breaches that caused deadly flooding in and around New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Three dozen engineers and disaster experts studied the region's hurricane protection system and found that the storm system had not been up to the task of protecting the city.

In Katrina's immediate aftermath, the suffering of the victims trapped in New Orleans received national attention and generated significant - and well-justified - outrage. The mishandled evacuation of residents and the government's failure to mount effective rescue and relief operations received the most opprobrium.

More quietly, a debate began over whether it was worth rebuilding a city that lay in the path of such unstoppable storms. The rationale against the city's rebirth hinged upon the notion that such damage could not have been prevented and would not be preventable in the future. But this report says clearly that much of the death and destruction in New Orleans was a result of human failings, not nature's fury.

It also means that the government has a responsibility to help those whose homes stood behind poorly built walls. The start of the next hurricane season is barely a week away, and another above-average storm season is predicted. While efforts to shore up the battered levee system continue, large parts of it are still vulnerable. America owes it to New Orleans to get it right because there will be a next time.

Boston Globe Editorial - An anti-Bush alliance

Boston Globe Editorial - An anti-Bush alliance
Copyright by The Boston Globe
THURSDAY, MAY 25, 2006

Countries large and small are rejecting President George W. Bush's foreign policy by intimidation and are banding together to counter the U.S. superpower. The next example may come from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional grouping that is considering adding Iran to its membership.

The Bush administration pretended to ignore last year's organization summit meeting, at which the members - China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan - called for the United States to withdraw the troops it had stationed in Central Asia for the war in Afghanistan. But the organization's foreign ministers' meeting in Shanghai last week discussed a plan to accept four new members: India, Pakistan, Mongolia and Iran. After that meeting, Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, announced that Iran's belligerent president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, would be attending a summit meeting of the group on June 15 in Shanghai. That should get the Bush administration's attention.

Acceptance of Iran by the organization at the very moment when the Islamic Republic is defying the International Atomic Energy Agency portends a dramatic new stage of strategic coordination between Russia and China. The purpose is to give form to a common policy of resisting what the governments in Beijing and Moscow have come to see as an aggressive, overbearing America.

Ironically, this is precisely what President George W. Bush has pledged to prevent. The national security doctrine that Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have proclaimed was meant to discourage any combination of countries from mounting a challenge to the United States. But instead of inciting awe and submission, the policies associated with administration hawks are motivating countries in Eurasia, the Middle East and Latin America to seek cooperation against U.S. hegemony.

Enlargement of the Shanghai grouping would be the most telling collective response yet. The new members envisaged by the organization would not only bring together major exporters of oil and gas, Russia and Iran, with the fast-growing energy consumers China and India. Having Iran inside an expanded Shanghai Cooperation Organization would only make Tehran more impervious to U.S. and European efforts to deflect Iran from its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

It did not have to be this way. After Sept. 11, China and Russia were eager to cooperate with Washington in deposing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and mounting a world- wide struggle against Al Qaeda and affiliated groups. But Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have repeatedly acted as though they could ignore the interests and sensitivities of their counterterrorist partners without eventually provoking a negative reaction.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Investors unsettled by price swings

Investors unsettled by price swings
By John Authers and Jennifer Hughes in New York and Steve,Johnson in London
Published: May 25 2006 03:00 | Last updated: May 25 2006 03:00. Copyright by The Financial Times

Global equity markets continued to suffer extreme volatility yesterday, with investor sentiment remaining unsettled by price swings across asset classes.

Wall Street oscillated widely throughout the day, as US economic data suggested growth was hot enough to support corporate profitability but not so strong as to warrant significant further monetary policy tightening. Its gains soon eroded, before a partial recovery in the afternoon.

The sharpest sell-offs of the day were seen in Latin America. Currencies were hard hit, and the Brazilian real fell to its lowest since August 2005 at 2.403 to the dollar. The Mexican peso slipped to 11.369 to the dollar, its weakest since January last year.

The Brazilian and Mexican stock markets are down14 and 15 per cent respectively over the past two weeks.

All the main US indices were down substantially at one point before recovering. By the close, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.2 per cent at 11,117.32. The S&P 500 was up 0.2 per cent, or 1.99 points, at 1,258.57, while the Nasdaq Composite was up 0.5 per cent.

European equity markets finished off their intra-day lows, but still in the red.

The FTSE Eurofirst 300 fell 1.4 per cent to 1,284.27 and London's FTSE 100 closed down 1.6 per cent at 5,587.1, with the pair having hit lows of 1,277.05 and 5,563.5 earlier in the session. Resource and banking stocks were once again prominent among the fallers.

In Tokyo, shares rallied sharply on bargain hunting, with the Nikkei 225 Average rising by 2 per cent. However, other Asian markets were mixed.

The mixed performance on Wall Street came as it emerged that new home sales were higher than expected in April, while sales of durable goods were weaker than forecast.

Commodities generally softened, succumbing to profit- taking after Tuesday's strong gains.

Copper was the worst performer, off 7.5 per cent at $7,825 a tonne, a day after jumping 12.7 per cent.

Treasury prices were little changed but the dollar rose 0.3 per cent to $1.2780 against the euro and 0.7 per cent to Y112.67 versus the yen. An earlier attempt to send the dollar lower met heavy resistance.

A number of emerging market currencies weakened, with the Turkish lira falling 3.5 per cent to a two-year low of TL1.545 to the dollar.

Short view By Philip Coggan - Financial Times

Short view By Philip Coggan
Published: May 25 2006 03:00 | Last updated: May 25 2006 03:00. Copyright by The Financial Times

If one wanted proof of continuing investor nervousness, it was provided by events in early European trading yesterday. The appearance of a cluster of bird flu cases in Indonesia caused a brief sell-off in equities and a move into government bonds.

Bird flu has dropped off investors' radar in recent months and scientists say the new cluster displays no signs the virus is mutating, a crucial development if a human pandemic is to occur. But when investors are on edge, they will take any excuse to sell.

Some of the biggest hits in the past two weeks have been suffered in emerging markets which have suffered from a shift in risk aversion and the fear that tighter monetary policy might slow global economic growth. Investors have been tempted to take profits after seeing emerging markets treble in the past three years.

"We continue to believe that emerging markets may still have some room to sell off before the worst is over, as the complementary excesses of too much foreign hot money and too much domestic monetary growth must still be drained from the system," says Credit Sights, an independent credit research group.

It says a number of countries - including Hungary, Brazil, Colombia, Russia, Venezuela, Turkey and South Africa - "have experienced a significant degree of excess domestic liquidity growth since the end of 2003". Many of those countries have had the most severe currency declines in recent weeks. The excess liquidity created in recent years may be searching for a home outside the domestic market.

Tim Lee of Pi Economics has long seen emerging markets such as Turkey and Hungary as crisis points for the global markets. "We are still in the same bubble that central banks created in the late 1990s," he believes. "The underlying state of the economy and financial markets is pretty weak."

He believes there is a 70 per cent chance the recent sell-off will turn into something substantial while there is a30 per cent probability the crunch will come later in the year. But whatever the prospects for global markets, he believes the Turkish lira is still extremely overvalued.

Stroger 'well enough to function'?

Stroger 'well enough to function'?
Copyright by The Chicago Sun Times
May 25, 2006
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter

Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica on Wednesday demanded a photograph or tape recording to prove that County Board President John Stroger is "alive and well enough to function" after the stroke that has sidelined him for 2-1/2 months.

"With 165 days to go before the election, with the county budget looming on the horizon, with over 40 union contracts to be negotiated, numerous executive appointments to be made, we can't wait until the end of October when Clerk David Orr has set the deadline to decide whether or not he's going to be the candidate," said Peraica, Stroger's Republican challenger.

"Cook County taxpayers and voters need an answer now. We deserve that answer right now.

Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica, Republican nominee for County Board president, leaves City Hall on Wednesday after demanding proof board President John Stroger is able to function. (AL PODGORSKI/SUN-TIMES)

"What I'm demanding is some verifiable objective message from President Stroger -- whether it's in the form of a photograph [or] a recorded voice message discussing something that's not a top secret with his chief of staff -- something that would be a confirmation that he's alive and well enough to function."

And what if Stroger is not well enough to function?

Chews out sergeant at arms

"He should take whatever time he needs to recover, and we should have the ability as the county board of commissioners to get together and replace him with someone else who can carry on the responsibility of a chief executive officer of a $3 billion-a-year corporation," Peraica said.

Peraica's demand infuriated Mayor Daley because it was made in the anteroom behind the City Council chambers with the full Council in session.

Daley is a lifelong Stroger ally; his brother John chairs the County Board's Finance Committee. The mayor was so angry about Peraica's attack, he lit into the City Council's sergeant at arms for allowing the intrusion. The tirade reportedly reduced the sergeant at arms to tears.

"We can't have all candidates coming in from all political parties into that room. They can go to your office. They can go to their own county commissioners' office. Once you set it up, then it's a stage for everyone. It's just common sense," the mayor said.

'Double standard' slammed

Daley cautioned reporters not to engage in a feeding frenzy over Stroger's health.

"I hate to see any one of you get sick because we'll be writing your obituary, I guess," Daley said.

"Everybody has illnesses in their family. Let's not already dig their graves. I know you want to dig people's graves. But I hope you would never do that to your own family."

Ald. William Beavers (7th) is the elder statesman among black aldermen and one of Stroger's most powerful political allies. Beavers characterized constant speculation about Stroger's health and possible replacements as racist.

"There's always a double standard when it comes to black folks and white folks. Old man [Richard J.] Daley had a stroke and was off for a year. Nobody said one word. They were even afraid to whisper that he was sick around here," Beavers said.

"President Stroger is alive and well. Until he decides that he don't want to run again -- it's up to him. And whoever he decides that he wants to replace him -- that's what's going to happen. ... White folks can do it. Black folks can do it -- easily. We got control of the [weighted] votes in the city and the county, so we do what we want to do. Remember that."

Stroger suffered what his doctors described as a "serious" stroke the week before the March 21 primary and hasn't been seen or heard from since. He was released from the Rehabilitation Institute last week just in time to celebrate his 77th birthday. He's now staying at a friend's downtown condo.

Rep. Danny Davis continues to lobby ward bosses behind the scenes in the event that Stroger decides to retire. Davis is supported by Ald. Richard Mell (33rd) and possible mayoral challengers Jesse Jackson Jr. and Luis Gutierrez. They are determined to stop Stroger's son, Ald. Todd Stroger (8th), from replacing his father.

Todd Stroger could not be reached for comment on Peraica's broadside.

Before the attack, the younger Stroger cautioned reporters that his father's decision to put his Pill Hill home up for sale does not mean he's about to retire. It simply means John Stroger needs a residence without stairs where it's easier to get around.

Todd Stroger insisted there's no pressure on his father to make a definitive statement about his health or his political intentions.

"The voters aren't going to be making up their minds until a long time [from now]. And John Stroger has been in county government for what -- 31 years or something. If they don't know who he is now, they'll never know."

Asked why the media have not been allowed to see or talk to his father, Todd Stroger said, "The less stress the better for a person who's trying to recover from a stroke. You don't put someone who's just had a major physical trauma out with the lions. And if you don't think you're lions, I can tell you you are."

Immigrants vital part of city's history, future

Immigrants vital part of city's history, future
By Ron Grossman
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published May 21, 2006

Every afternoon between 2 and 3, a bus pulls into Autobuses Latinos on South California Avenue with passengers who have bet $108 on the American dream. That's the price of a one-way ticket from Laredo, Texas, a jumping-off point for the latest wave of immigrants to Chicago. They arrive with a piece or two of luggage--and hopes of a better future.

A century ago, the languages and ticket prices were different, but the human drama and emotional conflicts were essentially the same. European immigrants from ships recently docked at Ellis Island debarked by the trainload at Chicago's railroad stations.

Chicago has always been a city of immigrants, dependent on recruiting much of its labor force from afar, but never quite sure what to make of that economic reality. Without a steady stream of newcomers, the city's factories and other businesses would come to a halt. Yet it hasn't known whether to rejoice or bemoan a sociological side-effect: Neighborhoods where English is a foreign language.

The Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry half bragged, half complained in 1909 that the city's "confusion of tongues is the worst since Babel."

Monday evening, President Bush expressed similar feelings in a nationally televised speech.

While noting the U.S. is a nation of immigrants, he proposed posting 6,000 National Guard troops on the southern border. It wouldn't be the first time a politician has thought to solve the problem of America's newcomers at the point of a gun.

Know-Nothing mayor

In 1855, Levi Boone was elected mayor of Chicago as the candidate of the Know-Nothing Party, the political wing of an anti-immigrant movement. In his inaugural address he argued that political office should be reserved for native-born Americans. He took a swipe at the Catholic Church, and its many Irish and German immigrants, as a "powerful political-religious organization" aiming to dominate the U.S.

Boone also ordered taverns closed on Sunday, enforcing the regulation strictly for beer gardens patronized by German immigrants but winking at the infractions of saloons where the native-born drank. When Germans marched in protest, they were met by armed constables, and in a bloody melee, many were wounded and at least one killed.Boone's supporters were Yankees who had come to Chicago from the eastern seaboard. Their ancestry went back to England, making them immigrant stock, too. But the miracle--and curse--of America has been that one after another newcomer group quickly loses sight of that chapter in its history, thus failing to see a link to the experience of those who come after them.

Sometimes that amnesia occurs within an ethnic community, noted Hector Sanchez, who runs a hardware store on South Kedzie Avenue.

"We just don't remember how we used to have it," he said in hisold-fashioned shop, crammed with bolts and plumbing parts. His neighborhood, which is predominantly populated by Mexicans, is called Little Village, which was formerly inhabited largely by Eastern Europeans.

Sanchez's father, Antonio, bought the business from two Czech brothers. Antonio Sanchez came from Mexico and worked in factories for 20 years. In that time he bought buildings and fixed them up; now he lives comfortably on the rents."People warned my father: `Don't buy property around here,'" Hector Sanchez said. "They said: There are too many immigrants moving in."

Some Chicagoan or another has been saying that since the city was born. America was sparsely populated in the 19th Century, when George Pullman invented the sleeping car and Cyrus McCormick the reaper that made their and their city's fortunes. But with virtually free farmland available on the western frontier, they and other entrepreneurs found it tough to get the native-born to work in their factories.

So agents were sent to Eastern and Southern Europe, advertising Chicago as a place where anyone willing to work need never be out of a job. The success of that campaign was described by a Hungarian visitor to Chicago in 1908.

"It would seem as if all the millions of human beings disembarking year by year upon the shores of the United States were unconsciously drawn to make this place their headquarters," observed Count Vay de Vaya and Luskod in a memoir of his trip.

Already by 1890, almost 80 percent of the city's inhabitants were immigrants or their children. Eventually, Chicago became the second-largest Polish-speaking community in the world. There were more Czech and Slovak speakers here than anywhere but Prague. It was the third-largest Irish, Swedish and Jewish city on Earth.

But that ethnic diversity was an irritant to older-stock residents of the hinterlands who thought the foreign-born a threat to the nation's identity. Responding to those fears, Congress enacted severe immigration restrictions after World War I.

In the middle of the 19th Century, the Chicago Tribune made a connection between immigration and the city's fortunes, urging the federal government to help foreigners get here. But a century later, its longtime publisher and editor Col. Robert McCormick remade the newspaper into a sounding board for xenophobia. He worried aloud about the loyalties of "the newly arrived immigrants" if war should come with their homelands. "In event of invasion, thousands and thousands of them will ... join the invaders," McCormick predicted in a magazine article.

Bound by English

There were faint echoes of such worries in President Bush's address. Americans are bound together by a common identity, he said, whose hallmarks include "an ability to speak and write the English language."

Yet despite the insults and restrictions on getting here, and proposals for still higher hurdles, the immigrants keep coming. Just as in Pullman's and McCormick's days, immigrants are the city's basic workforce. That determines the position taken by businessman Nour Salman in an increasingly heated debate.

Salman owns a Dollar Store on 26th Street, the shopping mecca of the Mexican community. He and his customers don't share a common language. A Palestinian immigrant, he doesn't speak Spanish, though his Peruvian wife does.

"I love these people. Why?" he said, while ringing up purchases of household gadgets and phone cards. "Because I need them. We all do. Take a look at a restaurant or factory. Who's doing the work?"

Our national laboratory for bad government by Molly Ivins

Our national laboratory for bad government by Molly Ivins
Copyright by Creators Syndicate
Published May 25, 2006

AUSTIN, Texas -- Last week, President Bush visited Yuma, Ariz., to tour a portion of the U.S.-Mexico Border by Border Patrol buggy. Maybe Jorge was doing a little measuring for the $3.2 million-a-mile fence the Senate approved, which I guarantee will be really helpful. Are they insane? As Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano observes, "Show me a 50-foot wall, and I'll show you a 51-foot ladder."

Meanwhile, Republicans in the Senate have constructively declared English the national language. That'll fix everything. Every foreigner at our borders will stop and say: "Good thing to know. I'll begin speaking it immediately."

Yes sir, you want a solution, call a Republican.

Of course, I am enchanted to discover that the entire project will be turned over to Raytheon, General Dynamics and other military contractors--think Halliburton with non-competitive bids, anyone? Because this outsourcing stuff is just working like a charm. Another Republican solution.

Ted Koppel suggests in the New York Times that we outsource war: "Blackwater and other leading security companies are seriously proposing to officials at very high levels of the government that their private forces could relieve a number of the burdens now being shouldered [or not] by American troops. ... The Pentagon ... is nonetheless struggling to come to terms with what it now calls `the long war.' There is every expectation that the fight against global terrorism and the most extreme forms of Islamic fundamentalism will last for many years. This is a war that will not necessarily require aircraft carriers, strategic bombers, fighter jets or heavily armored tanks. It will certainly not enable the United States to exploit its advantages in nuclear weapons. It is a war, indeed, that favors the highly mobile and adaptive fighting skills of the former Special Forces soldiers and other ex-commandos ..."

"Will"? Hell! Did and does. This is a war that is being fought with the wrong tools--and, in Iraq, at the wrong time, in the wrong place and against the wrong enemy.

It never did call for tanks, jets or carriers--just a combination of good detectives and good intelligence. In other words, smart, clever people with language skills. All of which we have fully available to us because of ... immigration. Lebanese, Iraqis, Iranians, Syrians, Pakistanis and Indonesians have all become Americans, and in so many cases we got the bravest of the brave--those who saw their country torn apart by religious factions. These are Americans who know the culture and language of the Middle East and other Islamic countries and who care deeply about how it all comes out.

By all means, reform immigration with this deep obeisance to the Republican right-wing nut faction and their open contempt for "foreigners." But do not pretend for one minute that it is not a craven political bow to racism (Yes, racism--I am actually calling them racists, although they pretend it hurts their feelings. Try reading their Web sites and see for yourself), and to nativism, to xenophobia and to Know-Nothingism. Just don't forget what you are throwing away in the process.


Molly Ivins is a syndicated columnist based in Austin, Texas. E-mail:

New York Times Editorial - Abortion in Colombia

New York Times Editorial - Abortion in Colombia
Copyright by The New York Times

Colombia, which until May 10 had completely banned abortion, has legalized it in cases when the pregnancy endangers the life or health of the mother, or results from rape or incest, or if the fetus is unlikely to survive.

Along with El Salvador and Chile, Colombia had been one of three countries in Latin America where abortion was completely prohibited. The decision adds to a string of legal rulings relaxing abortion rules in Latin America, and will encourage abortion-rights advocates elsewhere.

Almost as important as the ruling itself, however, are the reasons behind it. In Colombia, as in most of Latin America, abortion is a huge public health problem. It is shockingly common, ending one in four pregnancies in Colombia. Women there average more than one abortion over their fertile years. By the government's rough estimate, unsafe abortion is the third leading cause of maternal mortality.

Catholic Church leaders have threatened to excommunicate the judges, along with women who undergo abortions and doctors who perform them. But most of Colombia's politicians who have spoken out, including the conservative president, Álvaro Uribe, say they respect the court ruling. Colombia must now ensure that abortion is truly available to poor women in public hospitals. It should also address the lack of sex education and high rates of rape that have made abortion so tragically common.