Friday, June 30, 2006

What to do when your lawn goes to the dogs

What to do when your lawn goes to the dogs
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
By Jennifer Gish
New York Times News Service
Published June 30, 2006

They sit there with wide doggie grins, their long, pink tongues unspooling from their mouths. Sasha is a four-legged cartoon, a Dr. Seuss character with a small, narrow head and oversize ears that stick straight out like wings. With one glance Charlie often softens the blow of finding a dismembered leather sandal. His face remains puppy-like, even though he could have grandfathered puppies by now.

But they're killers. Grass killers.

The section of my lawn that they use as their bathroom looks like yellow shag carpet circa 1973. And that's the good section. The worst areas are amoeba-shaped patches of bare dirt, the grass seemingly dissolving instantly under a waterfall of pee.

By answering nature's call, my beagle-mixes destroy all that is natural.

Clearly, this is just part of life. We've all got to go. But these dogs seem to have the extraordinary capacity to actually put out more than they take in. It's as if they have some reserve tank of No. 1--larger somehow than the total volume of the dog--that can be called upon when they need to mark the 27th utility pole they trot by on walks.

Now my husband and I aren't the kind of people who typically fuss over our yard. When, shortly after we moved in, the mailman told my husband we should probably take care of that crabgrass problem before it got out of control, my husband had two questions: 1) What is crabgrass? 2) Isn't it all green?

But our "dog lawn" borders the entrance we use every day. We're forced to notice. And looking across the street at our neighbors' well-manicured span of grass, we started to feel inferior.

So we headed to the aisle of the pet store that seems to have an endless stretch of pooper-scoopers, training pads, wipes, cleaners that erase Fido's accidents, litters and, of interest to us, lawn-repair solutions.

A whole bunch of products offer help to those with jaundiced lawns, including tablets dogs can take that neutralize the cause of the lawn burns: excessive amounts of nitrogen.

The tablet companies say they use all-natural ingredients to accomplish this. And though my dogs have no trouble gobbling up anything, I was a little uncomfortable at the thought of toying with their body chemistry.

So, instead, I chose a bottle of Simple Solution's Lawn Spot Away!, which offers instant lawn repair from pet urine burns. At $10.99 and packaged in a spray container like one used to hold Windex, it looked like the best "do no harm" solution.

The label said it's safe for use around pets, speeds up the breakdown process of pet urine with natural enzymes and instantly colors burn spots with a "natural green color."

The product contains propylene glycol, which is found in foods, cosmetics and household products. I learned it's been deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration, and the Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction also said everyday exposures to the substance are of "negligible concern."

So my job was to keep the dogs off the grass until the solution dried completely, and that seemed reasonable enough to me.

On a dry and sunny day, I took the bottle to the wasteland that was my yard and started spraying. A green liquid shot out, coating my grass in the color of Astroturf. So much for "natural green."

But as Simple Solution's money-back guarantee insured, it greened the grass. Unfortunately, the more I sprayed, the more I noticed the rest of my lawn (even the spots the dogs didn't use for their business) paled in comparison to the new Crayola green. So I sprayed. And sprayed. And sprayed. I sprayed until my trigger finger tired, until I'd canvassed a 4-by-6-foot spread of my lawn, until I'd dispensed every last green drop.

It dried within hours, and days later, the Lawn Spot Away! section still looked lush, even after rain. The product is a good solution for those whose dogs have taken over a small lawn, as long as you understand that the rest of your grass will be not-as-green with envy.

Although life in the yard flows along as usual, the treated areas appear to be handling the repeat use of my little lawn monsters, friends to us if not to the grass.

The verdict: A hit. Revives grass that your lovable canine may have visited one too many times.

Where to get it: Available at PetSmart and PetCo. For more information and additional retailers, visit

Court rejects ban on gay foster parents

Court rejects ban on gay foster parents
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Associated Press
Published June 30, 2006

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Arkansas cannot ban homosexuals from becoming foster parents because there is no link between their sexual orientation and a child's well-being, the state's high court ruled Thursday.

The court agreed with a lower-court judge that the state's child welfare board had improperly tried to regulate public morality. The ban also violated the separation-of-powers doctrine, the justices said.

The board instituted the ban in 1999, saying children should be in traditional two-parent heterosexual homes because they would be more likely to thrive.

Four residents sued, claiming discrimination and privacy violations against homosexuals who otherwise qualified as foster parents.

The justices agreed Thursday, saying the ban was "an attempt to legislate for the General Assembly with respect to public morality."

"There is no correlation between the health, welfare and safety of foster children and the blanket exclusion of any individual who is a homosexual or who resides in a household with a homosexual," Associate Justice Donald Corbin wrote.

In addition, the court said, the testimony of a Child Welfare Agency Review Board member demonstrated that "the driving force behind adoption of the regulations was not to promote the health, safety and welfare of foster children but rather based upon the board's views of morality and its bias against homosexuals."

The ban had not been used since the lower-court ruling in 2004, state Health and Human Services spokeswoman Julie Munsell said. She said the plaintiffs have not sought foster-parent status since then.

A Governing Philosophy Rebuffed

A Governing Philosophy Rebuffed
Ruling Emphasizes Constitutional Boundaries
By Peter Baker and Michael Abramowitz
Copyright by The Washington Post
Friday, June 30, 2006; Page A01

For five years, President Bush waged war as he saw fit. If intelligence officers needed to eavesdrop on overseas telephone calls without warrants, he authorized it. If the military wanted to hold terrorism suspects without trial, he let it.

Now the Supreme Court has struck at the core of his presidency and dismissed the notion that the president alone can determine how to defend the country. In rejecting Bush's military tribunals for terrorism suspects, the high court ruled that even a wartime commander in chief must govern within constitutional confines significantly tighter than this president has believed appropriate.

For many in Washington, the decision echoed not simply as a matter of law but as a rebuke of a governing philosophy of a leader who at repeated turns has operated on the principle that it is better to act than to ask permission. This ethos is why many supporters find Bush an inspiring leader, and why many critics in this country and abroad react so viscerally against him.

At a political level, the decision carries immediate ramifications. It provides fodder to critics who turned Guantanamo Bay into a metaphor for an administration run amok. Now lawmakers may have to figure out how much due process is enough for suspected terrorists, hardly the sort of issue many would be eager to engage in during the months before an election.

That sort of back-and-forth process is just what Bush has usually tried to avoid as he set about to prosecute an unconventional war against an elusive enemy after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He asserted that in this new era, a president's inherent constitutional authority was all that was needed. Lawmakers and judges largely deferred to him, with occasional exceptions, such as the Supreme Court two years ago when it limited the administration's ability to detain suspects indefinitely.

"There is a strain of legal reasoning in this administration that believes in a time of war the other two branches have a diminished role or no role," Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who has resisted the administration's philosophy, said in an interview. "It's sincere, it's heartfelt, but after today, it's wrong."

Bruce Fein, an official in the Reagan administration, said the ruling restores balance in government. "What this decision says is, 'No, Mr. President, you can be bound by treaties and statutes,' " he said. " 'If you need to have these changed, you can go to Congress.' This idea of a coronated president instead of an inaugurated president has been dealt a sharp rebuke."

The administration's allies, however, were disturbed that Bush's hands now may be tied by the ruling, written by Justice John Paul Stevens. "Stevens's opinion was quite shocking in its lack of discussion of the president's independent authority," said Andrew McBride, a former Justice Department official who wrote a brief supporting the administration on behalf of former attorneys general and military lawyers.

Bush made no such protest himself yesterday, caught by surprise at the decision. He was meeting with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in the Oval Office and was about to head out for a news conference when counselor Dan Bartlett and press secretary Tony Snow informed him of the ruling. White House counsel Harriet Miers then arrived and gave Bush what he called a "drive-by briefing," but he gave little reaction when he met with reporters.

Snow later disagreed that the ruling undercut Bush's authority. "I don't think it weakens the president's hand, and it certainly doesn't change the way in which we move as aggressively as possible to try to cut off terrorists before they can strike again," he said.

Bush came to office intent on expanding executive power even before Sept. 11, 2001, encouraged in particular by Vice President Cheney, who has long been convinced that presidential authority was improperly diminished after Watergate.

The decision to create military commissions to try terrorism suspects, instead of using civilian courts or courts-martial, represented one of the first steps by the administration after the al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington to create a new legal architecture for handling terrorism cases.

As described by the New Yorker this week, the executive order establishing military commissions was issued without consultations with then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell or then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice after a concerted push by Cheney's legal adviser, David S. Addington, now his chief of staff.

"Rather than push so many extreme arguments about the president's commander-in-chief powers, the Bush administration would have been better served to work something out with Congress sooner rather than later -- I mean 2002, rather than 2006," said A. John Radsan, a former CIA lawyer who now teaches at William Mitchell College of Law.

The administration relied on the same expansive view of its power in detaining U.S. citizens indefinitely as enemy combatants, denying prisoners access to lawyers or courts, rejecting the applicability of the Geneva Conventions in some instances, employing harsh interrogation techniques and establishing secret CIA prisons for terrorism suspects in foreign countries. Only its telephone and e-mail surveillance program, which is operated by the National Security Agency, stirred much protest in Congress.

The administration often fended off criticism by arguing that the commander in chief should not be second-guessed. "The Bush administration has been very successful in defining the debate as one of patriotism or cowardice," said Andrew Rudalevige, author of "The New Imperial Presidency" and a Dickinson College professor. "And this is not about that. This is about whether in fighting the war we're true to our constitutional values."

In some ways, the ruling replicates a pattern in American history where presidents have acted aggressively in wartime, only to be reined in by courts or Congress. Even some Bush supporters said yesterday that it may be appropriate now to revisit decisions made ad hoc in a crisis atmosphere, when a president's natural instinct is to do whatever he thinks necessary to guard the nation against attack.

"That's what presidents do, and I say thank goodness for that," said George J. Terwilliger III, deputy attorney general under President George H.W. Bush. "But once you get past that point . . . both as a matter of law and a matter of culture, a more systemic approach to the use of authority is appropriate."

Chicago Tribune Editorial - The Voting Rights Act, Why Wait?

Chicago Tribune Editorial - The Voting Rights Act, why wait?
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published June 30, 2006

The Voting Rights Act was passed by Congress in the hot and heady summer of 1965, shortly after television viewers were horrified by the sight of Alabama police brutally pummeling protesters in Selma who had the temerity to demand a voice in this democratic nation.

These are calmer times, and for a while it appeared that the reauthorization of the act would be a calm affair. Some provisions of the law expire next year.

Leaders of both parties in the House and Senate gathered on the Capitol steps on May 2 to express confidence that the act would be renewed. But Congress still has the ability to surprise. A revolt in House Republican ranks last week derailed what appeared to be an easy trip for reauthorization. House leaders withdrew the bill from consideration a week before a Senate committee was scheduled to hold hearings on a similar measure.

The revolt was staged by Southern lawmakers who have said for years that the law unfairly singles out their states for federal oversight. They are riled over the section of the law that requires Justice Department approval for any changes in the voting laws or procedures in eight states--Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas--and parts of eight other states. The opponents argue that the federal oversight is based on discriminatory practices from long ago and should be revised to reflect new realities.

There's no question times have changed--hundreds of black mayors, congressmen and other officeholders have been elected in the South since the Voting Rights Act was passed. But there have also been some 1,000 cases of alleged irregularities in voting and ballot access since 1982 that have prompted the Justice Department to intervene.

Political leaders who bristle at the idea that their communities are still targeted by the Voting Rights Act have a course of action they can take. States and municipalities that can demonstrate an improved record on voting rights can apply to be removed from the scrutiny of the law.

Some lawmakers also don't like the law's requirements that bilingual ballots and voter assistance be provided in polling places where many voters are not fluent in English. But we are talking about U.S. citizens exercising their rights. It is in the nation's interest to reduce barriers to voting, not erect them.

Yes, there is time to debate all this. The provisions of the law that are in question don't expire until 2007. But it's a disappointment that Congress has pulled back, just when it seemed ready to show bipartisan support for a law that has served the nation well. The Voting Rights Act should be renewed, without delay.

Chicago Tribune Editorial - So many salaries, so little work

Chicago Tribune Editorial - So many salaries, so little work
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published June 30, 2006

If you live in Cook County, you're paying the salaries of 17 County Board members. You're paying for their benefits, their offices, their staffs, the time they spend playing politics.

If you live inside Chicago, you're also paying for the employment of 50 aldermen and, yes, all those other perks as well.

So how's that working? Does anyone think it takes 67 people to do what these folks are doing?

Consider: Your County Board is at a standstill, which has been difficult to confirm, given how little it budges on its active days. John Stroger, the board's president, is sidelined for health reasons. That leaves many of the remaining 16 commissioners without anyone to tell them what to do. So they do nothing. They address no county needs, they solve no county problems. Think of teenagers struggling to be up by the crack of noon and you pretty much have the picture.

In the City Council, meanwhile, Ald. Ed Burke has his 49 colleagues discerning whether Chicago should be the first city in the nation to prohibit restaurants from preparing food using trans fat oils. This now that all the busybody aldermen have recovered from ... banning the sale of foie gras last month. So:

See the County Board hibernate.

See the City Council desperately search for a reason to be.

Now ask yourself: How many of these people do we taxpayers really need on the public dole? Is there any reason we shouldn't send half of them--OK, two-thirds of them--packing?

Everyone knows county government needs a downsizing, so why not start at the top? The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has five members, which sounds about right. As is, a handful of Cook County Board members--Gregg Goslin, Liz Gorman, Mike Quigley and Larry Suffredin, to name four--work hard for the money. They research vexing policy questions. That's good. Because as Quigley is forever repeating, if only the County Board made better policies--to streamline its lumpen bureaucracy, to efficiently deploy your tax dollars--then citizens would get better services. But try having a serious talk like that with board members who see county government as an employment agency for all their relatives and friends.

And those 50 aldermen? This page noted last year that Chicago's council is the size of the governing bodies of L.A., Houston, Detroit and Philadelphia combined. For this we get the nanny state incarnate, pondering whether to insert itself again in how restaurants conduct business.

Ah, the mind drifts. Back in 1986, the council demanded that the U.S. government pull every last one of its nuclear weapons out of Chicago. If the government didn't comply, Chicago would fine it $1,000 and send it to jail for 30 days. Twenty years later, council members are still occupied with the minutiae of social engineering.

It's enough to make you cheer for more trans fats and fewer aldermen.

The case for 50 aldermen holds that each is a little mayor, graciously overseeing city services in his or her ward. But there has to be a cheaper way to pass out garbage cans.

Short view By Philip Coggan - Financial Times

Short view By Philip Coggan
Published: June 30 2006 03:00 | Last updated: June 30 2006 03:00
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

A first half that promised so much for investors has turned out to be disappointing. The MSCI World Index is up just1 per cent, the S&P 500 and emerging market indices are flat and the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo has lost 6 per cent. Nor have bonds been of much comfort, with the US Treasury bond yield moving up from4.4 per cent to 5.25 per cent over the course of the half.

Clearly investors became too confident in the first quarter. "We realised our targets for equity market performance within the first three months," says Michala Marcussen, chief economist at Société Générale Asset Management.

One problem for the markets was the move into "alternative" asset classes. The enthusiasm for commodities was part of a general desire for risky assets, which also included equities (particularly emerging markets).

According to Société Générale, the correlation between equities and commodities has risen to its highest level in decades. Whether the sell-off in May started in the equity market or in commodities, this high correlation has prompted hedge funds to sell both asset classes.

Reports that the metal components of US and UK coins had become worth more than the coins' monetary value may have triggered the fall, but whatever the reason it was rapid and widespread; if gold is a hedge against inflation and geopolitical risk, it certainly has not behaved like one over the past couple of months.

In spite of the recent commodity sell-off, metals and mining stocks have been the best performing sectors of the first half, while technology and general retailers have suffered most.

Investors have moved from belief in the "Goldilocks" combination of strong growth and low inflation in the first quarter to being worried about the "wicked stepsisters" of inflationary pressures and a growth slowdown as central banks repeatedly raise rates.

David Bowers of Absolute Strategy Research says the risk of a further leg down in markets in the second half stems from the fear that central banks will have to keep growth below trend for a couple of quarters to see off the inflationary threat.

Financial Times Editorial - Guantánamo rebuke

Financial Times Editorial - Guantánamo rebuke
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: June 30 2006 03:00 | Last updated: June 30 2006 03:00

The US Supreme Court yesterday gave the world a reminder that America remains a nation of laws. By ruling in favour of Osama bin Laden's driver and against America's secretary for defence (Hamdan versus Rumsfeld), it gave a resounding display of America's independent system of justice. The 5-3 ruling was also a stinging rebuke to president George W. Bush's expansive view of presidential authority.

The symbolism of yesterday's ruling should not be underestimated at a time when the US is losing ground in the battle for hearts and minds in the Muslim world and elsewhere. Whether it is in the revelations over the "rendition" of suspects to countries that practice torture, the ghastly pictures of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, or the indefinite detention of suspects at Guantánamo, the Bush administration has consistently damaged America's moral authority in its prosecution of the war on terror. That, in turn, has undermined its ability to defeat an enemy that has drawn sustenance from America's perceived lack of legitimacy in the eyes of much of the Muslim world.

The ruling also contained two important substantive implications. First, it sharply curtails Mr Bush's interpretation of his wartime authority. By saying that Salim Ahmed Hamdan cannot be tried in one of the administration's specially appointed military tribunals, it forcefully reasserts America's separation of powers. It means that Mr Hamdan - and potentially all of the remaining 450 Guantánamo prisoners - should be tried by normal methods, including the courts martial process to which US soldiers are subject, or not at all.

Second, the court upheld the legitimacy of international law, including the Geneva conventions, which the Bush administration has consistently sought to circumvent. The conventions specify that detainees of any description be given access to minimum standards of justice. This robs purpose from the Bush administration's decision to brand its Guantánamo prisoners as "unlawful enemy combatants".

So what happens now? The Bush administration has argued that the detainees are a danger to society. But it lacks evidence to convict them in civil courts. It created the tribunals precisely to avoid the burden of proof required in normal courts (and in courts martial). One solution would be to declare them prisoners of war, which would enable their indefinite incarceration. But this would be a monumental symbolic climb-down in the administration's war on terror. Another would be to pass the baton to the detainees' home countries, such as Afghanistan. But transferring prisoners to places that lack fair process would undermine the spirit of yesterday's judgment. In short, the US administration is caught in a dilemma of its own making. In resolving this, it should pay belated attention to common sense ideas of justice. Locking people up indefinitely without trial does not qualify.

A little help for the fledgling Stroger dynasty BY NEIL STEINBERG SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST

A little help for the fledgling Stroger dynasty BY NEIL STEINBERG SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST
Copyright by THe Chicago Sun Times
June 30, 2006

Opening shot

OK, I give up.

If the serfs tilling the fields and tending to the vineyards of Cook County are expected to automatically transfer their allegiance from board president John H. Stroger to his son and heir, Todd, and perhaps to any Stroger progeny yet unborn who may demand fealty onward into perpetuity, who am I to object?

Still, it seems a shame that the ascendant Stroger dynasty does not have the traditional heraldic crest.

The official seal of Cook County -- a bland affair with a map and a ship and buildings -- will not do. Too outdated, too high-school civics circa 1952, compared to our fascinating world of family fiefdoms.

So after a brief study of the icons of heraldry, I have designed a Stroger coat-of-arms, which our own graphics whiz Tom Frisbie was good enough to produce.

The crenelated line across the Stroger shield represents embattlement, while its running from lower left to upper right -- the "bar sinister" -- denotes the illegitimacy of the power grab.

In the upper left of the shield, a goat symbolizes victory through politics, as opposed to valor. In the lower right, the bear, denotes ferocity in protecting one's children. In the center, a portcullis -- or castle gate -- symbolizes defense in an emergency.

The left half is blue -- for the all-important loyalty -- the right half, a brownish-orange hue referred to as "tenne," which signifies fierce ambition.

A good coat-of-arms needs a family motto, and while I considered "Pour Dieu et Argent" or "For God and Money," I decided that "L'etat, C'est Nous" or, "We are the State," seems more apt.

Now that the coat-of-arms is decided upon, there is the matter of a crown. Gold is very popular . . .

Am I like all the others yet?

Gee, maybe Barack Obama is running for president in 2008 after all.

He certainly acts like it. Cutting ribbon, trimming doilies -- closely following Hillary Clinton -- to construct a big lacy valentine for the religious right.

"We make a mistake when we fail to acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people, and join a serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy," he told a group of evangelicals.

There's one problem.

The faithful are not stupid. They might believe in a cosmology that includes winged angels and horned demons and cling to a world view that a savvy 6-year-old could poke holes in all day long.

But they're not dumb. They aren't looking for acknowledgement, or serious debate, or any of the lofty imagery of welcoming religion in the public square that Obama conjured up in his speech.

They want to ban abortion. They want to start the day in public school with prayer -- their prayer. They want to shove gays back in the closet and lock the door. They want to slap the novels out of your 17-year-old's hands because page 156 describes some sexual act that everybody in the English class knows about and half of them have performed.

They want to harness law and government and then snap the whip, putting them to work imposing their religious practices on others who do not share their beliefs. No amount of wishful political happy talk is going to obscure that.

Reality is not a poll

Perhaps the most disingenuous thing Obama said was this:

"Substantially more people believe in angels than ... believe in evolution."

And what does that prove? No matter how many people are convinced the moon hangs only a mile or two above us in the sky, the lunar surface never actually draws closer. Millions of children believe in the Tooth Fairy but that does not will her into being.

Faith is wonderful, or can be -- Obama is correct here -- but has been shanghaied by the intolerant to gild their biases in a veneer of acceptability. We don't hate you; God does.

It is the role of government to create a realm where people of complete faith, moderate faith and no faith at all can interact. Certain religious-inspired actions -- providing charity for the downtrodden -- are welcome. While others -- stoning your sister as a whore -- are not.

The bottom line is: It's bad enough the Republicans feel compelled to do a fan dance for their core religious supporters. Let's not have the Democrats start, too.

Harry gets it

News that J.K. Rowling intends to kill two characters in the final Harry Potter book caused a stir in our household, where the six published volumes have been read and reread to the point of disintegration.

My 10-year-old offered up a theory that I thought worthy of distribution: Harry is one of those who dies, because he is one of the missing horcruxes -- or receptacles Lord Voldemort uses to store his splintered soul.

It has a certain epic grimness, to let Harry and he-who-must-not-be-named go out together, and would keep Rowling from being pestered to check up on Harry in years hence, after he marries Ginny Weasly and settles down on Privet Drive.

Why couldn't Harry Potter die? I said. "After all, Sherlock Holmes dies . . ."

My son's expression of shock stopped me cold.

"He does?" the boy said, his eyes widening, and I realized he hadn't read the tale where Holmes and Moriarty go over Reichenbach Falls.

Whoops, Dad spills the beans.

"It's OK," I said hastily. "Conan Doyle got so many complaints, he found a way to bring Holmes back to life."

A reminder that however Rowling winds things up, there's always a way to wiggle out of it later.

Man of many hats

While African Americans have assumed their rightful place in most sports, horse-racing is not one of them. So it should not come as a complete shock to read -- in the Daily Racing Form, no less -- that the Rev. Jesse Jackson has been hired by the Jockeys' Guild as its co-manager. Rainbow/PUSH confirmed their union, and one can only assume that whatever protests racetracks may have once been facing they are facing no longer.

Today's chuckle

Just so you know that this column is read by a tony clientele, the following joke is submitted by John O'Neill, who is not only a teacher of journalism and an alumnus of Northwestern's Medill School, but resides in the desirable urban oasis of Oak Park:

Man walks into his usual London pub. Looks a little down. Bartender recognizes him, begins to pull a pint of his usual ale.

"Bitter?" the bartender says, with a nod.

"No,'' the man replies. "Just very, very sad."
Walling out Cook voters is a risky strategy
Copyright by The Chicago Sun Times
June 30, 2006

Todd Stroger is about to be anointed to succeed his father as Cook County Board president. He is so weak that Ald. William Beavers is being sent over to the County Board to "watch his back." Meanwhile, John Stroger, who is suffering from a stroke, is supposed to continue to serve as the president of the Cook County Board because anyone chosen to do so might come to like the job too much. Apparently, Cook County is a monarchy or no better than a third-rate banana republic despite being the 19th-largest government in the United States.

This political jockeying behind the scenes is exactly the same as when Mayor Richard J. Daley died in 1976 and Mayor Harold Washington died in 1987. There is no formal succession plan in the county. Moreover, there is no definition in state law or in county statutes to define "incapacitated" despite the fact that John Stroger's not being able to do the job for four months would seem to be an adequate definition of "incapacitated."

I have an easy solution to propose to this comic opera. Since we are supposed to be a democracy, why don't we accept the will of the voters in the last election?

In March, voters gave John Stroger, despite his stroke, 299,000 votes and his opponent Forrest Claypool 277,000. That is, 48 percent of the voters in the county voted for Claypool; 61 percent of the voters in suburban Cook County did so. President Stroger can no longer serve. Logically, his opponent, Claypool, should be appointed as acting County Board president and be placed on the ballot in the November election, when the voters would decide between him and Republican Commissioner Anthony Peraica. If Todd Stroger had been on the ballot in March, he would have lost to Claypool.

If this is so simple, straightforward and logical, why isn't that happening? Because backroom, old-style, slatemaking, Machine and racial politics will determine both the acting president and the nominee on the ballot. Voters are not allowed a say. Those 277,000 people who wanted Claypool as president of the Cook County Board in the last election can just be ignored. They have no clout in the backrooms of Machine politics.

Maybe there isn't really a smoke-filled room anymore, but deals for power are still made in private by the county commissioners and the ward committeemen, many of whom are the same people.

Despite revelations of the Hired Truck scandal and the patronage trial about Machine politics being alive and well, those folks at City Hall look like saints in comparison with the county. The county is all patronage jobs all the time, with contractors with clout getting all the contracts.

Witness the Better Government Association study of Stroger's campaign contributions over the last six years. It concluded: "More than 51 percent of [Stroger's] itemized 1999-2005 campaign contributions came from government contractors and county employees . . . many of these contributions are in direct violation of the 1993 Cook County Ethics Ordinance." In short, about one-fourth came from county employees and about one-fourth from county contractors. I assume that the other half came from people wanting to be employees and contractors who hadn't gotten their payoffs yet.

Claypool ran for County Board president on a good-government platform of no new taxes, eliminating waste in the county patronage offices, performance-based budgeting, accountability, transparency and banning corrupt contractors for at least five years. The fear of the commissioners and the Democratic ward committeemen who control access to the November ballot is that he might actually do these things. Then they would lose clout, jobs and contracts for their family members and contributors.

So don't expect much but Machine machinations when the commissioners decide whether to have an acting County Board president despite a $100 million debt looming like an iceberg on the horizon. Don't count on the old Machine bosses in the backroom getting religion and discovering democracy as they rig the November ballot.

Still, the ultimate authority ought not be party Machine bosses, but the voters. The voters spoke last March, but bosses don't care. They may be surprised in November when voters not only vote against Todd Stroger but against the entire Democratic slate. Not only Commissioner Tony Peraica in his County Board president campaign, but Judy Baar Topinka just got a big boost in her campaign for governor.

Suddenly, the key isn't security

Suddenly, the key isn't security
Copyright by The Chicago Sun Times
June 30, 2006

''Homeland security'' was the slogan for the election four years ago. This time around there are two cliches: ''Global War on Terror'' and ''Freedom and Democracy for Iraq.'' Yet, the commission that reported on some of the 9/11 mistakes is back, now as a private group, to report on whether the country is any more secure than it was. No one is listening. We are preoccupied with the killing of a terrorist leader who had lost some of his power, a dubious Iraqi Cabinet and another grandstand presidential flight -- this time to mark corners turned rather than a mission accomplished.

''Homeland security" isn't mentioned anymore, not after the Hurricane Katrina debacle. Is there any reason to expect that the collection of clowns in that ramshackle, jerry-built, Rube Goldberg department can protect the nation from terrorists? The 9/11 Commission reports that there is no adequate list of terrorists to compare against airplane passenger lists, that the Transportation Safety Administration is poorly managed and that the FBI after years of trying and billions of dollars spent still does not have a functioning computer system.

The CIA has a revolving door for its directors and spends much of its energies in a struggle to protect its turf from another all-encompassing superstructure, the National Intelligence Agency. We read in the papers that al-Qaida canceled its plan to spread nerve gas in the New York subway because it wasn't big enough. If terrorists feel the need to top their World Trade Center victory, what must they be planning? Is there any reason to think that our disorganized, stumblebum, muscle-bound gumshoes will be able to figure out what they're up to? What might they try on Sept. 11, 2006?

I see by the papers that the CTA has a lovable golden lab named Ryan who wanders through mass transit locales charming customers as she politely sniffs them. After the attacks on Madrid, why are there not hundreds of her sisters and brothers prowling around? Costs too much, I guess.

Might terrorists be scheming to plant ''dirty bombs'' on container ships in several American ports that will go off at the same time? Despite the warnings about the inadequacy of port protection, five years later they remain a dangerous weakness in our cockamamie security system. Stay away from them this Sept.11.

Or what about simultaneous attacks on jumbo jets as they're taking off from five major airports? Stinger anti-aircraft missiles are readily available on the international arms black markets. The military possesses weapon systems that will deflect attacks from its planes flying out of Baghdad, but, we are told, it would be too costly to mount such defenses on commercial jets. So the American fleet of jets are an inviting target. It would require only 10 or 15 men to launch a Stinger attack from side roads a short distance from five airports. Maybe, just maybe, a couple of the missile teams would be discovered and destroyed. Maybe, just maybe, some of the missiles might misfire. All right, only two or three 747s blow up. What does that do to the American economy?

No one seems ready to ask why some of the money diverted to rich Americans as tax reductions is not used to protect jets. Or why a few of the billions that are poured into the Big Muddy of Iraq are not available to prevent such a disaster.

Last week we heard much about the pathetic wannabe Haitian terrorists who weren't Muslim, had no guns and no money and pledged their allegiance to al-Qaida as administered by a government informant. Doubtless such folk shouldn't be permitted to play their games, but as evidence that the country is cracking down on terror, it is pretty thin.

The president plays fast and loose with the truth when he says that the war in Iraq is a crucial front in the war on global terrorism. In fact, Iraq was not a base for terrorism before the World Trade Center attack, and the war itself has created more terrorists than there were five years ago. Victory in Iraq, should it ever happen -- which seems unlikely -- would do nothing to divert al-Qaida and its imitators from their goals of punishing the United States. Instead of increasing our national security, we put our bet on the wrong enemy: the fictional weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Chicago Sun Times Editorial - Dems can't afford to cede religion to Republicans

Chicago Sun Times Editorial - Dems can't afford to cede religion to Republicans
Copyright by The Chicago Sun Times
June 30, 2006

The profile of religion in the Democratic Party has gotten considerably smaller since the days when Jimmy Carter was confessing to having lust in his heart. Having rallied around Bill Clinton's transgressions in the White House, conservative Republicans have made religion a dividing stick in holding out their party as the one that reflects the faith-based values by which most Americans live and the Democrats as the party of loose morals and shifting priorities.

In calling for the Democrats to aggressively redefine that image by acknowledging "the power of faith in the lives of the American people" and letting believers know they have a place in the party, Sen. Barack Obama may have been reflecting his political savvy as much as his personal belief. As filtered through issues such as abortion, gay marriage and the right to die, religion is playing a major role at the polls.

In chiding his fellow party members for shying away from discussions and debates over religious issues for fear of giving offense or appearing insensitive to those with opposing views, Obama made a timely, considered statement that would carry weight whether Democrats look to him as a savior or not -- and clearly a lot of them do, given the ceaseless speculation about his prospects as a presidential candidate.

Addressing an evangelical group at a conference in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, he said, "When we ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew; when we discuss religion only in the negative sense of where or how it should not be practiced, rather than in the positive sense of what it tells us about our obligations toward one another; when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome, others will fill the vacuum, those with the most insular views of faith, or those who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends." That latter reference no doubt is to those like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson who help spread the notion among evangelicals, as Obama put it, that "Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their church."

There will always be those who regard any public expression of religion as invasive. Witness the man who sued to have "God" taken out of the Pledge of Allegiance and the legal challenges to public displays of the Ten Commandments. But in a democracy founded on Judeo-Christian principles, religion is a primary source of moral and ethical understanding. In tilting toward a secular identity and away from a religious one, or making no effort to address how one engages the other, Democrats risk excluding a large number of people who want to be included.

"Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation -- context matters," said Obama. In the context of politics, injecting a real moral dimension matters, too.

New York Times Editorial - Talking with Iraqi insurgents

New York Times Editorial - Talking with Iraqi insurgents
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: June 29, 2006

It is a measure of how far Washington has scaled down its expectations on Iraq that this week's most encouraging news consisted of some highly tentative feelers for direct talks between the armed Shiite parties that dominate Iraq's government and some of the armed Sunni insurgent groups that have been fighting it.

Don't get us wrong. We, too, are encouraged that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has announced a promising, though not fully spelled out, national reconciliation program aimed at attracting wider support from the restive Sunni Arab minority. We are even more encouraged that several Sunni insurgent groups have reportedly approached the government with the idea of beginning negotiations.

If these approaches lead to successful talks with important elements of the insurgency, it would be a crucial breakthrough. Productive negotiations could help transform the newly formed Maliki cabinet into a true government of national unity, not just a symbolic parceling out of cabinet jobs among Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni politicians.

An agreement with major insurgent groups would also be an important step toward eventually enabling the Iraqi government to stand on its own, without having to rely indefinitely on tens of thousands of American troops to hold down the Sunni western provinces. Such an agreement could stabilize some areas enough to allow the kind of infrastructure repair and economic reconstruction that could generate genuine support from ordinary Iraqis.

Nobody should underestimate the obstacles. But if Maliki is prepared to be a strong national leader, rather than a captive of the Shiite parties that put him in power, there is a chance that they can be overcome.

One big issue is amnesty. Insurgent groups are unlikely to agree to lay down their arms without some assurances of amnesty for their fighters. Yet the Iraqi government talks about denying amnesty to insurgents who have killed other Iraqis, and Washington has insisted on excluding those who have killed Americans. That is understandable on both counts, but it would seem to leave few, if any, real insurgents eligible for any amnesty.

There is also the question of dropping employment restrictions and other penalties against all but the highest echelons of former Baath Party members - those with direct responsibility for the major crimes of the Saddam Hussein era. For most of the rest, party membership was often a condition for employment, promotion and, in some cases, survival. But many Shiites and Kurds, who suffered systematic discrimination under Baath rule, want to penalize even lower-level Baathists.

Any reconciliation broad enough to matter will require embracing unsavory people and forgiving unsavory deeds. That won't be pretty or popular. But it is Iraq's best remaining hope for peace, reconstruction and national survival.
Panel backs anti-cancer shots for girls
Copyright by The Associated Press
Published: June 29, 2006

ATLANTA Taking up a potentially explosive issue among religious conservatives, an influential government advisory panel on Thursday recommended that 11- and 12-year-old girls be routinely vaccinated against the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices also said the shots can be started for girls as young as 9, at the discretion of their doctors.

The committee's recommendations usually are accepted by federal health officials, and influence insurance coverage for vaccinations.

Gardasil, made by Merck, is the first vaccine specifically designed to prevent cancer. Approved earlier this month by the Food and Drug Administration for girls and women aged 9 to 26, it protects against strains of the human papilloma virus, or HPV, which causes cervical, vulvar and vaginal cancers and genital warts.

Health officials estimate that more than 50 percent of sexually active women and men will be infected with one or more types of HPV in their lifetimes. Proponents of the vaccine say it could dramatically reduce the nearly 4,000 cervical cancer deaths that occur each year in the United States alone.

Scientists say the vaccine is most effective when given to girls before they become sexually active.

About 7 percent of children have had sexual intercourse before age 13, and about a quarter of boys and girls have had sex by age 15, according to government surveys.

Some health officials had girded themselves for arguments from religious conservatives and others that vaccinating youngsters against the sexually transmitted virus might make them more likely to have sex. But the controversy never materialized in the panel's public meetings.

Earlier this year, the Family Research Council, a conservative group, did not speak out against administering the vaccine to young girls. The organization mainly opposes making it one of the vaccines required before youngsters can enroll in school, said the group's policy analyst, Moira Gaul.

The committee's vote was unanimous, 2 of the 15 members abstaining because they had worked on studies financed by Merck.

The committee also voted to add the HPV vaccine to the coverage list for the federal Vaccines for Children program, which pays for immunizations for uninsured and underinsured children.

The vaccine comes as a $360 series of three shots, and in tests has been highly effective against HPV. The vaccine is formulated to address the subtypes of HPV responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancer cases and 90 percent of genital warts.

In a public comment session at Thursday's meeting, all nine speakers supported recommending the vaccine to females 9 to 26, the broadest possible group under license from, the agency. The speakers included a state senator from Maryland and the chief medical officer of AmeriChoice, a company that manages state Medicaid programs.
Fed raises U.S. rates but lowers inflation alarms
By Edmund L. Andrews
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: June 29, 2006

WASHINGTON: The Federal Reserve raised its benchmark U.S. interest rate for the 17th time in a row Thursday, but kicked off a powerful celebration in the stock market by lowering its alarms about inflation.

Even though the central bank raised the federal funds rate, the interest on overnight loans between banks, another quarter-point, to 5.25 percent, and suggested that it would raise rates at least one more time, investors reacted with relief that the Fed's language was gentler than many had been fearing.

The Dow Jones industrial average surged more than 100 points within five minutes of the Fed announcement, and continued to climb through the afternoon. Bond prices climbed, and interest rates on long-term bonds edged down. The dollar fell against major currencies as foreign investors changed their calibrations for interest rates in the United States. (Page 19)
In its statement on the rate increase, the Federal Reserve said that inflation had been elevated in recent months and that some risks of inflation remained.

But it also acknowledged that the economy was slowing down, that the housing market had cooled and that strong growth in productivity had prevented a significant rise in labor costs.

Most important, the Fed talked about the need for additional rate increases in the most tentative language it has used since it began raising rates two years ago.

"The extent and timing of any additional firming that may be needed to address risks will depend on the evolution of the outlook for inflation and economic growth," the central bank said. In May, by contrast, when the Fed last raised rates, it declared that "some additional firming may yet be needed."

The differences in the two statements were subtle but significant enough to cause economists and investors to speculate that an August increase was not a certainty.

"They're not saying we're done, they're just saying, 'Maybe we're done,'" said Ethan Harris, chief United States economist for Lehman Brothers.

Richard Berner, a senior economist at Morgan Stanley, said, "People were expecting something very consistent with the hawkish rhetoric we had heard earlier." He added, "People were pricing in a more hawkish statement."

The Fed's decision had been anxiously awaited, both because of uncertainty about its new chairman, Ben Bernanke, and about the often contradictory signals emanating from the economy itself.

Inflation has crept up noticeably in the past six months, in part because of the recent spike in energy prices but also because of increases in prices for housing. At the same time, the economy seems to have slowed significantly from the torrid growth rate during the first three months of this year.

On Thursday, the government released its final estimate of growth in the first quarter and elevated its growth estimate from an annual pace of 5.3 percent to 5.6 percent - far above the pace that most economists consider sustainable without inflation.

But analysts dismissed the higher growth number as old news. Job creation has slowed sharply in the past three months, to an average of about 125,000 jobs a month, and sank to only 75,000 additional jobs in May.

Although housing starts have bumped up and down in recent months, the inventories of unsold homes have grown much larger in the past year and sales prices are climbing far more slowly. Construction employment fell sharply last month, and there are signs that consumer spending has slowed as a result of high gasoline prices and fewer cash-out home refinancings.
"The central bank is caught in the middle," said Allen Sinai, chief economist at Decision Economics. "This statement is a cautious tip-toeing between a moderating economy and elevated core inflation."

Jeremy W. Peters contributed reporting from New York.
News Analysis: Loss for Bush on presidential power
By David E. Sanger and Scott Shane
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: June 29, 2006

WASHINGTON The Supreme Court ruling on Thursday marked the most significant setback yet for the administration's contention that the Sept. 11 attacks, and the "different kind of war" that has followed, justified one of the broadest expansions of presidential power in American history.

For President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, who spent much of their first term bypassing Congress, the decision will probably force yet another negotiation over the extent of his powers, this time in the midst of a midterm election in which Bush's wartime strategies and their consequences have emerged as the prime issue of contention.

The ruling bolsters those in Congress who for months have been trying to force the White House into a reluctant retreat from its claims of unilateral authority to determine not only how terrorism suspects are tried, but also to set rules for domestic wiretapping, to interrogate prisoners and to pursue other wartime powers.

What the Court's 5-to-3 decision declared, in essence, was that Bush and Cheney overreached, and must now either use the established rules of courts-martial or go back to Congress - this time with vastly diminished leverage - to win approval for military commissions that Bush contends are the way to keep the nation safe.

For Bush, this is not the first such setback: The court ruled two years ago that the giant prison at Guantánamo Bay was not beyond the reach of American courts and that prisoners there have some minimal rights.

Then, last year, came the overwhelming 90-to-9 vote in the Senate, over Cheney's vociferous objections, to bar "cruel, inhumane and degrading" treatment of prisoners.

That forced Bush, grudgingly, to reach an accord with Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, on principles for interrogation that are still being turned into rules.

To Bush's critics, the court has finally reined in an executive who used the 9/11 attacks as a justification - or an excuse - to tilt the balance-of-power decidedly toward the White House.

"This is a great triumph for the rule of law and the separation of powers," said Bruce Ackerman, a professor of law and political science at Yale University. "The administration will have to go back to Congress and talk in a much more discriminating fashion about what we need to do."

Some allies of Bush reacted with bitterness on Thursday, suggesting that it was the court, rather than Bush, that had overreached.

"Nothing about the administration's solution was radical or even particularly aggressive," said Bradford Berenson, who served from 2001 to 2003 as associate White House counsel. "What is truly radical is the Supreme Court's willingness to bend to world opinion and undermine some of the most important foundations of American national security law in the middle of a war."

Just 10 days ago, speaking in Washington, Cheney cited the responses to Watergate and the war in Vietnam as examples of where he believed Congress had "begun to encroach upon the power and responsibilities of the president," adding that it was "important to go back and try to restore that balance."

Since taking office, Bush and Cheney have largely attempted to do so by fiat, sometimes with public declarations, sometimes with highly classified directives governing how suspects would be plucked from the battlefield or, in the case decided on Thursday, how they would be tried.

The president's tone on Thursday, during a news conference with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan just after he received what he called a "drive-by briefing" on the ruling, suggested that he recognized that he may have to give ground again.

He started off tentatively, saying he would be taking "the findings" of the Supreme Court - he never used the word "ruling" - "very seriously."

"One thing I'm not going to do, though, is I'm not going to jeopardize the safety of the American people."
But then he backtracked a bit, saying that he would "work with Congress" to give legal foundation to the system he has already put in place.
High Court blocks Guantánamo trials
By John O'Neil and Scott Shane
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: June 29, 2006

Delivering a sweeping rebuke to the Bush administration, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the military tribunals it created to try terrorism suspects violated both American military law and the Geneva Conventions.

In the 5-to-3 ruling, the justices also rejected an effort by Congress to strip the court of jurisdiction over habeas corpus appeals by detainees at the prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

And the court found that the plaintiff in the case, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden, could not be tried on the conspiracy charge lodged against him because international military law requires that prosecutions focus on specific acts, not broad conspiracy charges.

In the majority opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens declared flatly that "the military commission at issue lacks the power to proceed because its structure and procedure violate" both the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which governs the U.S. military's legal system, and the Geneva Conventions.

Stevens rejected the administration's claims that the tribunals were justified both by President George W. Bush's inherent powers as commander in chief and by the resolution passed by Congress authorizing the use of force after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. There is nothing in the resolution's legislative history "even hinting" that such an expansion of the president's powers was considered, he wrote.

The Supreme Court's ruling represented a decisive rejection of the administration's approach to the handling of suspects captured in the campaign against terrorism, legal experts said.

But they also said it might open the way out of a legal morass created by contradictory court rulings and inconsistent policies.

Bush, in preliminary remarks after what he called a "drive-by briefing" on the ruling, hinted at such an outcome, saying "the Hamdan decision was the way forward" as the administration worked with Congress to revise its policies.

But he stressed his determination not to release terrorism suspects merely because the administration's tribunals had been rejected.

"The ruling won't cause killers to be put out on the streets," he said. "I'm not going to jeopardize the safety of the American people."

Legal experts agreed that the court's decision had no bearing on the administration's right to hold prisoners at Guantánamo, but focused instead on the conditions under which they might be tried.

The majority ruling was written by Stevens, who was joined in parts of it by Justices David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion.

Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito Jr. dissented. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. did not take part in the case because he had ruled in favor of the government as an appeals court justice last year.

Thomas took the unusual step of reading his dissent from the bench, the first time he has done so in his 15 years on the court. He said that the ruling would "sorely hamper the president's ability to confront and defeat a new and deadly enemy."
Hamdan, who was captured by Afghan troops in November 2001 and turned over to U.S. military custody, has been held at Guantánamo Bay since 2002.

His case has been seen as crucial to deciding the future of the several hundred prisoners held at the camp, which has come under steady and increasing criticism from countries around the world.

In a ruling two years ago written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the court said that powers given to the administration by Congress for the fight against Al Qaeda did not amount to a "blank check," and said that prisoners were entitled to a judicial process that met minimum legal standards.

But it did not spell out what those standards entailed, and the military tribunals have essentially been frozen as appeals by prisoners worked their way through the legal system.

Bush has said that he would like to close the camp, but needed to wait for the Hamdan ruling to see whether the military could proceed with its tribunals or if another form of trial would have to be found for those detainees the administration wishes to keep in custody.

Commander Charles Swift, the Navy lawyer assigned by the military to represent Hamdan, said at a televised news conference outside the Supreme Court that the logical next step would be for Hamdan to be tried either by a traditional military court-martial, as provided for under the Geneva Conventions, or by a federal court.

He called Thursday's ruling "a return to our fundamental values."

"That return marks a high-water point," Swift said. "It shows that we can't be scared out of who we are, and that's a victory, folks."

Richard Stamp, a lawyer with the Washington Legal Foundation, which filed briefs supporting the government in the case, called the ruling a "disappointment" and an example of judges "clearly making it up as they go along."

Stamp said the court had ignored its own precedents justifying the use of tribunals instead of courts-martial and was substituting its own judgment for the president's in his role of commander in chief.

Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, which represents more than 200 Guantánamo inmates, said he was "thrilled" by the ruling, which he said fully vindicated the views of administration critics.

"What this says to the administration is that you can no longer decide arbitrarily what you want to do with people," Ratner said in a telephone briefing for reporters. "It upheld the rule of law in this country and determined that the executive has gone beyond the constitution and international law."

Michael Greenberger, who teaches the law of counterterrorism at the University of Maryland School of Law, said the court could easily have found technical reasons to avoid so sweeping a ruling.

"Obviously they felt strongly not only about the legal issues involved but about what this meant for the United States' position as the pre-eminent supporter of the rule of law worldwide," Greenberger said.

He said the ruling showed that "it's not enough to repeat the mantra that we're fighting a war on terror and therefore all power resides in the executive branch."

Despite the rebuke to administration policies, Greenberger said, the ruling may clear the way to a resolution of the murky status of prisoners at Guantánamo. It might also clarify the status of those held in Afghanistan and in secret detention centers run by the Central Intelligence Agency.
The Myth of Al Qaeda
Before 9/11, Osama bin Laden’s group was small and fractious. How Washington helped to build it into a global threat.
By Michael Hirsh
© 2006 Newsweek, Inc.
Updated: 4:55 p.m. CT June 28, 2006

June 28, 2006 - The capture of Ibn Al-Shaykhal-Libi was said to be one of the first big breakthroughs in the war against Al Qaeda. It was also the start of the post-9/11 mythologizing of the terror group. According to the official history of the Bush administration, al-Libi (a nom de guerre meaning "the Libyan") was the most senior Al Qaeda leader captured during the war in Afghanistan after running a training camp there for Osama bin Laden. Al-Libi was sent on to Egypt, where under interrogation he was said to have given up crucial information linking Saddam Hussein to the training of Al Qaeda operatives in chemical and biological warfare. His story was later used publicly by Secretary of State Colin Powell to justify the war in Iraq to the world.

The reality, as we have learned since—far too late, of course, to avert the war in Iraq—is that al-Libi made up that story of Iraq connections, probably because he was tortured by the Egyptians (or possibly Libyan intelligence officers who worked with them). But there's even more to this strange tale that hasn't been revealed. According to Numan bin-Uthman, a former fellow jihadi of al-Libi's who has left the movement and is based in London, al-Libi was never a member of Al Qaeda at all. Moreover, Uthman says, he's "90 percent sure" that al-Libi, who he says is dying of tuberculosis, has been released by the United States to Libya. (A CIA spokesman said he could not comment.) According to Uthman, al-Libi was a small-time member of a broader movement of jihadists who—inspired by Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian killed during the CIA-backed mujahedin fight against the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan—came to fight the Soviets in the 1980s and later, trained, to redirect jihad back to their home regimes. The so-called Khaldin camp that al-Libi helped run dated from this movement. "I know him personally. He's not a member of Al Qaeda," Uthman, an anti-Kaddafi political activist who is considered credible by other Libyan exiles, told NEWSWEEK by phone from London.

It seems very likely that the Khaldin camp hosted Al Qaeda figures to whom al-Libi was linked but perhaps in the loose way that Uthman describes. (Others who trained at Khaldin, like Abdurahman Khadr, a 20-year-old Canadian released from Guantánamo in 2003, have given testimony backing up Uthman's description of the camp.) Certainly al-Libi is looking less and less like the fearsome "bin Laden lieutenant" he was made out to be. And we find this sort of debunking has occurred with many Al Qaeda "lieutenants" whose gauzy reputations are reduced to pill-sized smallness once the culprits themselves fall into our hands.

Another one of these key figures was said to be Abu Zubaydah, who was captured in Pakistan in March 2002. As NEWSWEEK first reported in “The Debate Over Torture” more than 18 months ago, the CIA's difficult interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, who was resisting standard questioning methods, set in motion a long train of Justice Department and White House legal memos justifying harsh treatment of terror suspects. This legal discussion ultimately contributed to the tougher interrogation standards applied at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. Was all this effort at extracting information worth the blight to America's honor and reputation? Probably not when it comes to Abu Zubaydah. As former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind writes in his new book, "The One Percent Doctrine," the person whom George W. Bush characterized as a "top operative plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States" was discovered to be more of a low-level messenger man, and a slightly daft one as well. "It was like calling someone who runs a company's in-house travel department the COO," one CIA official said, according to Suskind.

Some U.S. officials are disputing Suskind's account. But it is true that the more we learn about Al Qaeda, the more we have to conclude that the group contained a lot more Abu Zubaydah types than it did Muhammad Attas. In contrast to the truly terrifying Atta, the lead 9/11 hijacker, and 9/11 master strategist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—both of whom took terrorism to new levels of competence—most Al Qaeda operatives look more like life's losers, the kind who in a Western culture would join street gangs or become a petty criminals but who in the jihadi world could lose themselves in a "great cause," making some sense of their pinched, useless lives. Like Richard Reid, who tried to set his shoelace on fire. Or Ahmed Ressam, who bolted in a panic from his car at the U.S. border during an alleged mission to bomb the L.A. airport. Or Iyman Faris, who comically believed he could bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch. Or the crazed Zacarias Moussaoui, who was disowned even by bin Laden. Then you've got the hapless Lackawanna Six, and, more recently, the Toronto 17, who were thinking about pulling off an Oklahoma City-style attack with ammonium nitrate—or perhaps just beheading the prime minister—but hadn't quite gotten around to it.

Were these people potentially lethal? Yes. One doesn't have to graduate at the top of one's class to set off explosives in a satchel on a subway. Were most of them capable of hatching a minutely timed scheme to obtain and detonate a nuclear bomb in a city, or launch a biowarfare attack? No. "In an open system like a network, the bumbler level is always going to be high because of the ease of entry," says John Arquilla, an intelligence expert at the Naval Postgraduate School. "That's how someone like [American Taliban supporter] John Walker Lindh can walk into the high councils of Al Qaeda and meet bin Laden. And recently the bumbler factor has gone up considerably." Ironically the most competent "Al Qaeda" leader in recent years, at least since the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in 2003, was Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, who came close to subverting the American project and creating a sectarian war in Iraq. But he did that largely on his own, facilitated by the fortuitous conjoining of Iraq with the war on terror. Before the Iraq war Zarqawi was a nobody, hiding out in northern Iraq, largely unconnected to Saddam's regime even though Colin Powell, in his infamous Feb. 5, 2003, United Nations Security Council speech, claimed that Saddam had given Zarqawi "harbor." And he was not part of bin Laden's group. Would he have attacked U.S. interests at some point, somewhere? Almost certainly. But the Iraq invasion gave Zarqawi a chance to blossom on his own as a jihadi.

Another figure named by Powell in that U.N. speech, Abu Atiya, was said to be the Zarqawi and Al Qaeda link to terror networks in Europe. But according to a French investigation documented in Le Figaro newspaper, he turned out to be a minor figure. "If he was so important, then why was he returned to his home country, Jordan, and released at one point?" says John Sifton of Human Rights Watch, who has closely tracked the fate of high-level "ghost" detainees. "He does not fit the profile of high-level Al Qaeda terrorists. Neither do any of these supposed Al Qaeda operatives that were trumped up by administration officials in 2002 and 2003. Every single one of these stories, when subjected to the harsh light of public scrutiny, has collapsed." Those of us who have been on the war-on-terror beat since 9/11 have been reluctant to write about Al Qaeda this way, although some of us have suspected for a long time the group was never all that it was cracked up to be. Especially in the immediate wake of the horrific but brilliantly coordinated attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, it seemed absurdly risky—if not downright unpatriotic—to suggest that perhaps Muhammad Atta was the best bin Laden had, his Hail Mary pass, so to speak.

But there was substantial evidence showing that, up to 9/11, Al Qaeda could barely hold its act together, that it was a failing group, hounded from every country it tried to roost in (except for the equally lunatic Taliban-run Afghanistan). That it didn't represent the mainstream view even in the jihadi community, much less the rest of the Muslim world. This is the reality of the group that the Bush administration has said would engage us in a "long war" not unlike the cold war—the group that has led to the transformation of U.S. foreign policy and America's image in the world. The intelligence community generally agrees that the number of true A-list Al Qaeda operatives out there around the time of 9/11 was no more than about 1,000, perhaps as few as 500, most in and around Afghanistan. It is also fairly well established that bin Laden and his No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, were engaged in a fierce pre-9/11 struggle with their own meager band of followers over whether it was wise to take on the "far enemy"—the United States—when many jihadis really wanted to engage the "near enemy," their national regimes, like Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

The ultimate tragedy of the Iraq war was not only that it diverted the U.S. from the knockout blow against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan—the deaths of bin Laden and Zawahiri would likely have persuaded most jihadis it was wiser to focus on the near enemy—but that Iraq also altered the outcome of Al Qaeda's internal debate, tipping it in bin Laden's favor. "Iraq ended that debate because it fused the near and the far enemy," as Arquilla puts it succinctly. America ventured into the lands of jihad and willingly offered itself as a target in place of the local regimes. And as a new cause that revived the flagging Al Qaeda movement. It is, no doubt, bin Laden's greatest victory.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Illinois Family Institute's Reaction to Equality Illinois Challenge of their Amendment Petition

Leftist Coalition Hurls Unfounded Charges at IFI's LaBarbera, Smith; Help Us Defend Marriage Vote!

6/29/2006 11:03:00 AM
By Peter LaBarbera,
Illinois Family Institute

The ACLU is serious--are we?
The ACLU, Gay Liberation Network and other leftist groups are dead serious in pursuing their evil agenda of redefining God's design for marriage. Are we as serious in defending truth? Please make a gift today to help cover IFI's legal defense of the Marriage Protection Referendum.

A Special Appeal from the IFI Executive Director:

The leftist coalition group Fair Illinois--which includes ACLU-Illinois, the church-protesting extremists at Gay Liberation Network, People for the American Way, and the "gay" pressure group Equality Illinois--filed its official objection Monday against the Protect Marriage Illinois referendum. Their complaint specifically names myself (except "Peter "LaBarbara" is misspelled twice) and IFI Senior Policy Analyst David Smith, who has worked harder and put in more hours than anyone else to get this referendum on the ballot.

The ACLU and friends are claiming that there is evidence "indicative of fraud" in the signatures that Dave and I and others filed--another false allegation in their desperate campaign to keep you and all Illinois voters from being able to cast a "Yes" vote for marriage in November.

TAKE ACTION: Please do what you can to help our expensive legal effort to keep the Marriage Protection Referendum on the ballot in November:
1) Make a tax-deductible gift to IFI one of three easy ways:

calling IFI at 630-790-8370 and making a credit card gift over the phone; or
mailing in a donation to:
Illinois Family Institute
799 Roosevelt Rd., Suite 3-208
Glen Ellyn, IL 60137

2) Please keep us and this effort in your prayers. God continues to bless our efforts -- let's keep asking Him for His divine protection and assistance. ("If God be for us, who can be against us?" Romans 8:31)

Background: 13 boxes of challenges
Yesterday we picked up a copy of Fair Illinois' filings with the State Board of Elections-- a total of 13 boxes objecting to around 100,000 of our 347,000 signatures. Of course, the ACLU, Gay Liberation Network et al have the right to challenge our signatures, and the Board of Elections will disallow signatures for people who are not registered to vote.

However, the leftist coalition goes well beyond just targeting unregistered voters. They falsely allege "fraud"--specifically naming myself and Smith --and then go on to hurl the same spurious, throw-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink charges as the ACLU and pro-homosexual groups make in every state where they seek to deny voters the opportunity to defend marriage.

Just look at Point 30 of Fair Illinois' legal objection to our filing--demonstrating that their campaign is more about thwarting democracy than "fairness":
"The Petitions are invalid in their entirety because the advisory question of public policy is biased and argumentative in violation of Article 111, Section 3 of the Illinois Constitution. 111.Const. 1970, Art. 111, 5 3."

Biased and argumentative? Our marriage referendum simply asks Illinois citizens to vote "Yes" or "No" on the following:
"Shall the General Assembly submit an amendment to Article IX of the Illinois State Constitution to the voters of the State of Illinois at large at the next General Election stating as follows:
'To secure and preserve the benefits of marriage for our society and for future generations of children, a marriage between a man and a woman is the only legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State'?"

Of course, the ACLU-led coalition's claim is hogwash and only shows the level to which they will sink to discredit our efforts to preserve God's design for marriage.
Point 29 of the leftist coalition's objection reads:
29. The Petitions are invalid in their entirety because the advisory question of public policy is vague and ambiguous in violation of Article 111, Section 3 of the Illinois Constitution. 111.Const.1970, Art. 111, 5 3."

You get the idea. The Left in this country hates the movement to defend traditional (that is, real) marriage and family, and they will use any subterfuge they can think of to stop us.
It's that simple. Just ask the Boy Scouts of America, who have been brought to their knees and slandered endlessly by the ACLU and well-funded homosexual legal groups such as the Lambda Legal Defense Fund--all because they wanted to live by their own creed of guiding boys to be "morally straight" and believe in God.

Are we serious?
The other side is dead serious in pursuing its evil agenda. Are we as serious in defending truth?

Please stand by as we awaite a ruling from the State Board of Elections , which will be holding a hearing in Chicago on Wednesday, July 5th and possibly reveal the results of its official "sampling" of our marriage petitions. If we pass the sample, we are one step closer to getting on the ballot. We will send daily updates on the situation if necessary.

IFI will also provide further analysis of the "Fair Illinois" coalition's objection filing in another e-mail. Please call IFI at 630-790-8370 if you have any problems with Paypal or need assistance in any way. Thanks for your sacrificial gifts and heartfelt prayers to support our efforts to preserve marriage in Illinois!


Peter LaBarbera
Executive Director
Illinois Family Institute

P.S. A special note of thanks goes to our good friends at Alliance Defense Fund for their generous help in financing IFI's legal defense of the PMI referendum. ADF has shown true servant leadership, assisting our defense-of-marriage campaign every step of the way. We are grateful for their fine work in defending the marriage here in Illinois and across the nation.

Chicago Tribune Editorial - This is John Stroger's legacy?

Chicago Tribune Editorial - This is John Stroger's legacy?
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published June 29, 2006

Chicago politics is often a family business. So it's believable that John Stroger, who isn't healthy enough to run for re-election in November--but who allegedly is healthy enough to run a $3 billion government until then--wants his son to succeed him as president of the Cook County Board.

But that is no excuse for the way that Democratic politicos and aides closest to Stroger have dawdled and schemed to cut a deal that protects their vested interests.

They have milked and manipulated the Stroger family's desire for privacy during the 15-plus weeks since Stroger suffered his stroke. And now they have cut a succession deal. It's a deal these insiders no doubt hope assures them continued influence over Cook County patronage and contracting.

But by what right have the politicos and the aides allowed the county's grave budget shortfall to worsen while they plot Todd Stroger's inheritance of his father's job?

By what right has their refusal to encourage the choice of an interim replacement for John Stroger left county government leaderless as its number of other pressing problems grows?

By what right do they ordain as Stroger's successor in this crucial post--the second most important job in local government--a son who has shown no leadership whatsoever in the Illinois legislature or the Chicago City Council?

After John Stroger's decades of public service, those closest to him want this to be his legacy?

This is a debacle that doesn't have to be.

Not every resident of Cook County buys the notion that only another African-American can succeed Stroger. But if the realities of Democratic politics make that the case, the county's 80 Democratic committeemen can choose one of several potential candidates who have much, much stronger records of achievement than Todd Stroger.

The committeemen could choose Terry Peterson, the former alderman who is leading the Chicago Housing Authority's transformation of public housing.

They could choose Michael Scott, who in early June announced his resignation as president of the Chicago Board of Education.

They could choose Tim Evans, a former City Hall powerhouse and now chief judge of the county's court system.

Each of those three respected and highly talented African-Americans has more administrative and budget experience in his pinky finger than Todd Stroger has in his dreams.

So here's a question for voters to consider: If Todd Stroger winds up trying to fill his father's chair, who'll really be making decisions?

The Stroger insiders, and any committeemen who play along with this deal, are betting that voters don't really care. It's just Cook County.

Short view By Philip Coggan - Financial Times

Short view By Philip Coggan
Published: June 29 2006 03:00 | Last updated: June 29 2006 03:00
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

If the Federal Reserve raises interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point today, it will be the 17th successive meeting where it has made such a move and the 17th successive time markets have anticipated it.

The build-up to this announcement has been rather different than for most of the others. Just three months ago, markets were hoping the Fed would have stopped tightening by this stage. So investors have greeted the run-up to this announcement with rather less equanimity than they have for the 16 previous decisions.

Furthermore, the bond market "conundrum", noted by former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan early last year, seems to have disappeared. For a long period when the Fed first raised rates, bond yields actually fell. In the run-up to this announcement, bond yields have been driven remorselessly upwards, rising in nine successive sessions.

Ten-year US Treasury yields briefly hit 5.25 per cent, their highest in four years, on Monday, up from 4.4 per cent at the start of 2006. Two-year yields have also risen to 5.25 per cent.

Although the yield curve is inverted slightly (short rates higher than long rates), as it has been on various occasions this year, there has been no sign of the massive inversion that often presages recession or a sudden shift in Fed policy.

JPMorgan estimates the chance of a US recession next year at 1-in-3, implying there is a 2-in-3 chance that the economy will keep growing.

So there is a chance the markets could still be vulnerable to bad economic news. "It is interesting to note that set against all this hawkishness on rates, both equities and commodity markets have been content to range trade," says Charles Diebel of Nomura. "This begs the question of whether the liquidity removal process has done all the damage it is going to do or whether there is another down-leg to come.

"The latter is our preferred scenario," Mr Diebel adds, "if only because the unravelling of positions thus far has been too orderly and if the central banks are really serious in their intent to squash inflation, they are likely to have serious effects on equities and commodities as a result."

Chicago Sun Times Editorial - Voters should be very angry at Cook County machinations

Chicago Sun Times Editorial - Voters should be very angry at Cook County machinations
Copyright by The Chicago Sun Times
June 29, 2006

We have to admit we are not aware of widespread anger over the utter disregard the John Stroger camp has shown the voting public since the Cook County Board president was sidelined by a stroke in March. But we hope people are finally getting mad as heck over the concerted efforts to keep Stroger's health a secret, to resist interim measures that would actually put someone in charge of county government and to pass on the presidency as a hereditary title.

Just when you thought the story couldn't get any more troubling or embarrassing, we were apprised Tuesday of a multi-pronged plan to install Stroger's son, Ald. Todd Stroger (8th) as his successor and reward Ald. William Beavers (7th) and his family. Give Stroger's family and political allies credit for punctuality: Having promised they would make an announcement in July about John Stroger's future plans, they beat that deadline with four days to spare. But here's the outrageously self-serving scheme they cooked up:

John Stroger, who hasn't been seen in public or heard from since his stroke, will remain in office until the election but drop out of the race, to be replaced on the ticket by his son, contingent on approval of the ward bosses. Beavers, chairman of the City Council's Budget Committee, would replace John Stroger in the separate post of county commissioner -- and resign as alderman on condition that Mayor Daley appoint Beavers' daughter (and chief of staff), Darcel, to replace him.

So the plan is for Todd Stroger, who has accomplished next to nothing as alderman, being schooled by Beavers in overseeing one of the largest governmental bodies in the country, with a $3 billion budget. Beavers, who is 71 and doesn't want to be board president, would be eased into a cushy retirement, and his unproven daughter would be installed in a ward with serious gang and economic troubles.

"So why can't John Stroger anoint his son?" asks Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), when white politicians including Mike Madigan and Bill Lipinski got to anoint their offspring? First off, the Lipinski handoff was flagrantly wrong and assailed as such. But there's a difference between anointing and appointing: Lisa Madigan may have gotten her father's blessing, but had to win a primary and November election to become attorney general. In Chicago, Democrats aren't elected so much as confirmed.

Commissioner Tony Peraica, the outspoken Republican candidate for Stroger's seat as president, hopes to upset that historical trend. Stroger supporters no doubt expect voters to forget all about the backroom maneuvering by November. But even by influence-peddling standards, the Stroger camp's political puppeteering is outrageous. If that isn't lost on voters, Democrats may be in for a rude awakening.

War in Iraq - Insurgents offer cease-fire deal

War in Iraq - Insurgents offer cease-fire deal
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
June 29, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Eleven Sunni insurgent groups have offered an immediate halt to all attacks -- including those on American troops -- if the United States agrees to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq in two years, insurgent and government officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Withdrawal is the centerpiece of a set of demands from the groups, which operate north of Baghdad in the heavily Sunni Arab provinces of Salahuddin and Diyala. Although much of the fighting has been to the west, those provinces are increasingly violent and attacks there have crippled oil and commerce routes.

The groups who've made contact have largely shunned attacks on Iraqi civilians, focusing instead on the U.S.-led coalition forces. Their offer coincides with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's decision to reach out to the Sunni insurgency with a reconciliation plan that includes an amnesty for fighters.

The Islamic Army in Iraq, Muhammad Army and the Mujahedeen Shura Council -- the umbrella group that covers eight militant groups including al-Qaida in Iraq -- were not party to any offers to the government.

Naseer al-Ani, a Sunni Arab politician and official with the largest Sunni political group, the Iraqi Islamic Party, said that al-Maliki should encourage the process by guaranteeing security for those making the offer and not immediately reject their demands.

''The government should prove its goodwill and not establish red lines,'' al-Ani said. ''If the initiative is implemented in a good way, 70 percent of the insurgent groups will respond positively.''

Al-Maliki, in televised remarks Wednesday, did not issue an outright rejection of the timetable demand. But he said it was unrealistic, because he could not be certain when the Iraqi army and police would be strong enough to make a foreign presence unnecessary for Iraq's security.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that President Bush's ''view has been and remains that a timetable is not something that is useful. It is a signal to the enemies that all you have to do is just wait and it's yours.

No amnesty for killers of troops

''The goal is not to trade something off for something else to make somebody happy, the goal is to succeed,'' he said.

Bush has said U.S. troops will remain in Iraq for years to guarantee the success of the new Iraqi government. However, American military officials have said substantial reductions of the current force of 127,000 U.S. troops could be made before the end of 2007.

Eight of the 11 insurgent groups banded together to approach al-Maliki's government under The 1920 Revolution Brigade, which has claimed credit for killing U.S. troops in the past. All 11, working through intermediaries, have issued identical demands, according to insurgent spokesmen and government officials.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information and for fear of retribution.

The total number of insurgents is not known, nor how many men belong to each group. But there are believed to be about two dozen insurgent organizations in Iraq, so the 11 contacting the government could represent a substantial part of the Sunni-led insurgency.

Al-Maliki's offer of amnesty for insurgents would not absolve those who have killed Iraqis or American coalition troops. But proving which individuals have carried out fatal attacks would, in many -- if not most -- cases, be a difficult task.

In addition to the withdrawal timetable, the Iraqi insurgents have demanded:

*An end to U.S. and Iraqi military operations against insurgent forces.

*Compensation for Iraqis killed by U.S. and government forces and reimbursement for property damage.

*The release of insurgent detainees.

New York Times Editorial - Secrecy, patriotism and the press

New York Times Editorial - Secrecy, patriotism and the press
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: June 28, 2006

Over the last year, The New York Times has twice published reports about secret antiterrorism programs being run by the Bush administration. Both times, critics have claimed that the paper was being unpatriotic or even aiding the terrorists. Some have even suggested that it should be indicted under the Espionage Act. There have been a handful of times in American history when the government has indeed tried to prosecute journalists for publishing things it preferred to keep quiet. None of them turned out well - from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the time when the government tried to enjoin The Times and The Washington Post from publishing the Pentagon Papers.

As most of our readers know, there is a large wall between the news and opinion operations of The New York Times, and we on the opinion side were not part of the debates about whether to publish the latest story under contention - a report about how the government tracks international financial transfers through a banking consortium known as Swift in an effort to pinpoint terrorists. Our own judgments about the uproar that has ensued would be no different if the other papers that published the story, including The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal, had acted alone.

The Swift story bears no resemblance to security breaches, like disclosure of troop locations, that would clearly compromise the immediate safety of specific individuals. Terrorist groups would have had to be fairly credulous not to suspect that they would be subject to scrutiny if they moved money around through international wire transfers. In fact, a UN group set up to monitor Al Qaeda and the Taliban after Sept. 11 recommended in 2002 that other countries should follow the United States' lead in monitoring suspicious transactions handled by Swift. The report is public and available on the UN's Web site.

But any argument by the government that a story is too dangerous to publish has to be taken seriously. There have been times in the history of The New York Times when editors have decided not to print something they knew. In some cases, like the Kennedy administration's plans for the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, it seems in hindsight that the editors were too cautious (certainly President John F. Kennedy thought so.) Most recently, The Times held its reporting about the government's secret antiterror wiretapping program for more than a year while it weighed administration objections.

Our news colleagues work under the assumption that they should let the people know anything important that the reporters learn, unless there is some grave and overriding reason for withholding the information. They try hard not to base those decisions on political calculations, like whether a story would help or hurt the administration. It is certainly unlikely that anyone who wanted to hurt the Bush administration politically would try to do it by writing about its extensive efforts to make it difficult for terrorists to wire large sums of money.

To us, the Swift story looks like part of an alarming pattern. Ever since Sept. 11, the Bush administration has taken the necessity of heightened vigilance against terrorism and turned it into a rationale for an extraordinarily powerful executive branch, exempt from the normal checks and balances of our system of government. It has created powerful new tools of surveillance and refused, almost as a matter of principle, to use normal procedures that would acknowledge that either Congress or the courts have an oversight role.

The Swift program, like the wiretapping program, has been under way for years with no restrictions except those that the executive branch chooses to impose on itself - or, in the case of Swift, that the banks themselves are able to demand. This seems to us very much the sort of thing the other branches of government, and the public, should be nervously aware of.
The United States will soon be marking the fifth anniversary of the war on terror. The country is in this for the long haul, and the fight has to be coupled with a commitment to individual liberties that define America's side in the battle. A half-century ago, America endured a long period of amorphous, global vigilance against an enemy who was suspected of boring from within, and history suggests that under those conditions, it is easy to err on the side of security and secrecy. The free press has a central place in the Constitution because it can provide information the public needs to make things right again. Even if it runs the risk of being labeled unpatriotic in the process.

Financial Times Editorial - America's Looming Fiscal Nightmare

Financial Times Editorial - America's Looming Fiscal Nightmare
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: June 29 2006 03:00 | Last updated: June 29 2006 03:00

Whenever a US president wants to signal fiscal resolve, he proposes a budget "line item veto". George W. Bush is no exception, having this week called on the senate to give him such powers. But even assuming it got past the Supreme Court, which in 1998 struck it down as unconstitutional, the measure would have a negligible impact on America's troubling fiscal outlook.

Against a projected deficit of at least $300bn (£165bn) this year on a total US federal budget of almost $2,800bn, the total cost of congressional "pork barrel" items, or earmarks, is unlikely to exceed $50bn. Even if Mr Bush vetoed every single earmark, a strategy that would alienate most of his Republican allies on the Hill, there would only be peanuts to show for it. It seems likelier the White House is resuscitating the veto as a way to appear fiscally responsible to those alienated by Mr Bush's budgetary indiscipline.

On the face of it, that record looks to be gradually improving of its own accord, as Hank Paulson, the new treasury secretary, said in his confirmation hearings this week. According to the administration's estimates, the US deficit is on track to achieve what would appear to be a manageable 2 per cent of gross domestic product by the end of Mr Bush's term. But these improvements stem chiefly from the recent surge in tax revenues after several years of galloping US growth. They amount to a cyclical spike in revenues that flatter only to deceive.

As Mr Paulson knows, the US ought to be in surplus after five years of above-trend GDP growth. That should be normal at this stage of the cycle. But if you add in America's structural problems, then today's deficits are inexcusable. Midway through the first term of Mr Bush's successor, America's social security surplus will switch to deficit as the baby boom generation begins to retire. By recalibrating benefits or raising the retirement age, much of it can be eliminated. In contrast, there is no easy solution for America's mounting Medicare and Medicaid bills over the next generation.

Overall entitlement spending is set to rise from 8.7 per cent of GDP in 2006 to 20 per cent by 2030 - roughly the share taken up by all spending today. To underline the consequences of inaction, Standard and Poor's recently said US treasury bonds would be downgraded to BBB by 2020. Forestalling what would be a disaster for the US and the world should be Mr Bush's priority in the remainder of his term. Establishing a bipartisan commission to look into both entitlement reform and taxes - as moderate Democrats and Republicans have urged - would be a good start. Given Washington's charged atmosphere nowadays, that might be difficult. But the new treasury secretary is respected on all sides. He should use that goodwill to start laying the groundwork for America's long-term fiscal sanity. Against that challenge, Mr Bush's line item veto is pure trivia.