Saturday, April 21, 2007

Hampshire declares English official language with a response by Carlos T Mock, MD

Hampshire declares English official language
By Ray Quintanilla
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published April 20, 2007, 9:26 PM CDT
The tiny village of Hampshire has declared English its official language, prompting concerns from Hispanic groups.

"We don't want our tax dollars to be used to hire someone to translate," said Jeff Magnussen, village president of the Kane County community. Approved unanimously Thursday by the Village Board, the ordinance covers only local government correspondence, what is spoken during board meetings, and the village's Web site.

The measure, Magnussen said, is largely symbolic because it's filled with exceptions. These include providing information in Spanish and other languages in case of a health crisis, for public safety or to comply with federal or state laws, he said.

Although other communities in the state have discussed such ordinances, few, if any, have actually approved one, said Virginia Martinez, a staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. A similar measure has been discussed by several board members in Carpentersville.

Martinez said the move in Hampshire was prompted by a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment across the nation. "It's pretty clear this is about making life more difficult for one particular immigrant group," she said.

Magnussen said Hampshire has about 4,400 residents; only about 70 are Hispanic, according to the 2005 U.S. Census.

So far, 29 states, including Illinois, have adopted English as their official language, said Rob Toonkel, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. English, Inc., which promotes the language. Similar measures are pending in 13 other states.

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights called the Hampshire action misguided. What is needed, officials said, are more opportunities for immigrants to enroll in classes where English is taught.

"There is this misconception out there that Hispanics don't want to learn English," said group spokeswoman Catherine Salgado. "They do, there are just not enough places for them to get access to a class."

Martinez called the ordinance bad policy, especially if it limits the village's ability to communicate with segments of its community.

"What if there is a Spanish speaker who wants to report some public emergency and there's no one on the other end who can understand them," she said. "How does that help the community?"

Wall St advances to new highs

Wall St advances to new highs
By Alex Barker
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 20 2007 14:02 | Last updated: April 20 2007 14:02

Solid earnings and speculation about buy-outs of financial groups pushed US stocks into record territory this week as the leading indices recouped all the losses from the slump that began in late February.

Boosted by bullish earnings updates from Caterpillar and Honeywell on Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at a record level for a third successive day, climbing 1.2 per cent to 12,961.98.

The S&P 500 index broke through its high for the year reached before the plunge in equities two months ago, rising 0.9 per cent to 1,484.35 on Friday to stand 2.2 per cent up this week.

The technology-led Nasdaq Composite rose 1.3 per cent this week to 2,526.39.

While the advance gathered pace on Friday, the rally earlier in the week was driven by a relatively narrow base of stocks. Blue chips had the best of the gains: the Dow Jones advanced 2.8 per cent this week while the Russell 2000 index of small companies rose just 1.2 per cent.

“It is a ‘Chicken Little’ recovery – the market rises yet never seems able to generate confidence.”

Google led the way up after beating analysts’ expectations with a sharp rise in profits on the back of strong search engine revenues. Its shares rose 2.3 per cent to $482.48.

This rise was in stark contrast to Yahoo, which slid 12.6 per cent to $27.46 this week after the introduction of Panama, its new online advertising system, failed to stem the deterioration in profits and sales. Caterpillar, a Dow component, surged 4.7 per cent to $71.82 on Friday after the heavy machinery maker reported profits in excess of analysts’ estimates and raised its earnings forecasts.

Shares in Honeywell International rose 4.8 per cent to $51.40 on Friday after the industrial conglomerate raised its earnings forecasts for the year and beat Wall Street profit estimates.

The financial sector came in from the cold this week, with the S&P Financial index up 3.9 per cent to break past its 50-day moving average and stand in positive territory for the year.

The rise came amid a burst of takeover speculation after a $25bn agreed buy-out of Sallie Mae, the student loan group, by a JC Flowers-led consortium that sent shares in Sallie Mae up 15.5 per cent to $54 this week.

The groundbreaking deal, which is structured to make it unnecessary for Sallie Mae to hold its own capital, turned attention to financial groups that were previously considered improbable buy-out targets. Foremost among those was Countrywide Financial, the biggest home lender, which jumped 11.1 per cent to $37.36.

Speculation about the identity of a potential buyer has centred on Merrill Lynch, which has made bullish comments about the subprime mortgage market.

Merrill rose 6.7 per cent to $92.02 this week after reporting a four-fold rise in profits.

In the latest example of the growing appetite for financial deals, H&R Block agreed to sell Option One Mortgage, its subprime mortgage unit, to a company affiliated with Cerberus Capital Management, the private equity group. Shares in H&R Block rose 3.3 per cent to $22.56 on Friday.

Intel made big gains this week, rising 8.3 per cent to $21.16, as the chipmaker raised its revenue forecasts after a successful overhaul of its product line.

Rival AMD fared less well, easing 0.8 per cent to $14.16 on Friday after what Robert Rivet, chief executive, described as a “disappointing and unacceptable” first quarter, with lower sales and deteriorating margins.

The rally in railway stocks gathered steam as TCI, the activist hedge fund, built a stake in CSX, highlighting the potential for takeovers and asset sales in this cash-generative sector.

Shares in CSX jumped 6.1 per cent to $4504.

Atticus, a hedge fund that has worked with TCI in the past, already holds big stakes in railway groups, including Union Pacific, which rose 6.8 per cent this week to $117.21.

Homebuilders bounced off their lows for the year as fears eased about the severity of the housing market downturn. The S&P Homebuilders index jumped 8.6 per cent while DR Horton rose 8.9 per cent to $23.39.

Suburb's Hispanics feeling unwelcome after election

Suburb's Hispanics feeling unwelcome after election
By Ray Quintanilla and Carolyn Starks
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published April 21, 2007

Some Latinos said they were afraid of being deported. Others wondered about being treated fairly in Carpentersville, a suburban community where they found jobs, bought homes and sent their kids to school.

These concerns -- always lingering in the back of their minds -- have been heightened for many Hispanics, who say they feel threatened following the election of three village trustees who campaigned to crack down on illegal immigration in a suburb that is 40 percent Latino.

"This was pretty bad," Hilario Savedra, 62, said of Tuesday's vote, pausing amid a flow of pedestrian traffic at a popular grocery store in the Meadowdale Shopping Center.

"I've been in this community for more than 20 years, and I hate to think someone will tell me I'm no longer wanted here. This is my community, too."

Within minutes of claiming victory, Paul Humpfer, Judy Sigwalt and first-time candidate Keith Hinz promised to bring a proposed ordinance called the Illegal Alien Immigration Relief Act back to the forefront. The proposal, which has divided this community for months, calls for fining landlords who rent to undocumented residents.

The measure also would suspend the licenses of businesses employing them. It's modeled after a controversial ordinance in Hazelton, Pa., currently tied up in the courts.

"We're going to wait until the outcome of Hazelton but we can discuss this while Hazelton is going on," Sigwalt said, vowing to push the measure forward. "If it passes, we're good to go. If it doesn't pass, we're that much smarter."

With the help of trustee Kay Teeter, who has supported efforts to crack down on undocumented residents, Sigwalt and the two others say they now have four votes on Carpentersville's seven-member board, enough to bring the issue back for public debate.

But even if the measure never gets approved, talk about illegal immigrants here has sharpened the community's focus on its burgeoning Hispanic population. At least two trustees have talked about making English the official language at Village Hall.

City officials declined to even hazard a guess as to how many undocumented people live in the community. Precise numbers aren't available.

Long before Latinos began arriving here in the 1970s in search of manufacturing jobs, Carpentersville was struggling for an identity.

Despite a population of 37,000 residents, it has no downtown.

The Fox River cuts the community in half, with acres of small ranch-style homes on the east side and sprawling new subdivisions with homes costing more than $1 million on the other.

By the 1990s, Hispanics were populating neighborhoods once built for GIs returning from World War II and the Korean War. In the post-war boom, Carpentersville quickly became known as a place where a vet could buy a house with little or no money down.

Today, one can see Mexican flags hanging from the windows of these houses or the names of Mexican hometowns scrawled on the rear windows of cars.

The current crisis, some say, began to percolate over allegations of crowded housing and questions about unpaid ambulance bills that two trustees blamed on illegal immigrants. Concerns about funding morphed into a debate about undocumented residents.

A spokesman for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said Carpentersville has been warned against advancing its anti-immigrant ordinance. Local governments lack the legal authority to check a person's immigration status, he said.

"We have told them this is unconstitutional because immigration is within the purview of the federal government," said Ricardo Meza, the legal fund's Midwest regional counsel.

The Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center estimates that about 35.7 million foreign-born people were living in the U.S. in 2004. Of that total, about 10 million are undocumented and about 80 percent are from Mexico and across Latin America.

Some of those who oppose the Carpentersville measure were particularly critical of a flier distributed to 2,000 homes the day before the election. It asked: "Are you tired of sending lunch money with your children while illegal aliens get a free breakfast and lunch?"

"Every item on that list is true," said Jerry Christopherson, who helped lead the pro-ordinance campaign. "I've lived in Carpentersville for 60 years, and, yes, it is a huge problem," he said of illegal immigration.

Some longtime residents such as Mike Connolly search for middle ground. Carpentersville has plenty of legal Hispanics, and it would be unfair to lump them with the undocumented, he said.

Maria Zavala, an immigrant from El Salvador, said she's more confused about the future than at any time since arriving nine years ago and landing a job with a meat processing company. Her residency status, she said, isn't anyone's business.

"I've heard talk some of the leaders in Carpentersville want to knock on the doors and tell Hispanics, 'you're not welcome here,'" she said. "That's wrong."


Subprime assault on southern California

Subprime assault on southern California
By Matthew Garrahan
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 20 2007 22:52 | Last updated: April 20 2007 22:52

Far away from the sun-kissed beaches and palm trees that make up southern California’s idyllic coastline, trouble is brewing in the Inland Empire.

Two years ago the sprawling arid region that lies to the east of Los Angeles was one of California’s property hot spots.

House buyers priced out of expensive Orange County and the more affluent neighbourhoods of Los Angeles poured into towns such as Riverside, Moreno Valley and Perris. Limited housing stock and a relatively benign regulatory environment attracted developers, who built scores of new homes.

For a while, the Inland Empire rode the coat-tails of the California housing bubble as buyers, many of whom had limited financial means, took out subprime mortgages with low “teaser” rates.

But with the subprime sector collapsing, the area is facing a looming crisis, with an increasing number of homeowners delinquent, or failing to make payments on their loans. Delinquency often leads to mortgage foreclosure, or the repossession of the house by the lender.

“It used to be that we would get one call a month from someone needing help [about mortgage foreclosure],” says Vilma Mercado, home ownership centres manager with the Neighbourhood Housing Service of the Inland Empire, which promotes home ownership. “Now we’re getting close to 50.”

It is easy to see why towns in the region appeal to property buyers. In Moreno Valley, in the heart of Riverside County, residential streets are laid out in a grid system of predominantly low-rise homes, well maintained with large gardens and quiet, safe streets.

Riverside County appears to have been most badly hit by the subprime collapse, with mortgage defaults in the first three months of the year up 168 per cent on the same period of 2006, according to DataQuick.

Several factors have contributed to the region’s problems. “There’s a lot of predatory lending going on,” says Gary Aguilar, vice-president of counselling services at Springboard, a national service for people struggling with debt, which is based in Riverside. “I heard of one homeowner going through a divorce who ended up with a $115,000 [£57,410] mortgage on a $45,000 home.”

When property prices were rising, buyers did not want to miss out, he says. “Everyone was jumping on board to buy a home. The majority of people did whatever they could do to have the American Dream and purchased homes they just couldn’t afford.”

Ms Mercado says many buyers were not adequately prepared. “A lot of people moved into these areas thinking they were more affordable, but didn’t understand what they were getting into.” The increase in foreclosures in the region, she adds, is “absolutely overwhelming”.

Almost two years ago Sonya Mcphearson and her husband moved from Los Angeles to San Bernadino, where they bought a six-bedroom house for $480,000. Ms Mcphearson works in a hospital in Los Angeles 70 miles away. She commutes by train but stays with her sister during the week to save money. Her husband is a truck driver.

Ms Mcphearson says that the couple were unaware they had taken out an adjustable rate mortgage. “Our payments went up and we couldn’t afford to pay. Now we’re three months behind and we’ve been told we have to leave. I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Refinancing the mortgage is not an option. The Inland Empire was one of the last parts of California to experience dramatic house price inflation, with the price of property in some towns doubling in five years.

But last year the number of newly built houses coming on to the market reached its highest level in two decades. Prices fell and many of the buyers who had taken out subprime mortgages found themselves trapped. They could no longer rely on the equity in their homes to refinance their loans.

“Anything can turn that has doubled in five years,” says Dr Christopher Cagan, director of research and analytics at First American Real Estate Solutions, which tracks real estate sales. Meanwhile, the Inland Empire “ran out of new buyers” which exacerbated the problem.

“What we have [in the Inland Empire] is an explosion of building and an explosion of generous lending. There was no single villain: this was a market phenomenon characterised by 30 years of [house price] growth with very few defaults. There is no one person or company to point to,” he adds.

This has not stopped the California Department of Justice from pressing on with an investigation into predatory lending. It is unlikely that action will be taken imminently, though, as the state has been examining the issue for almost five years.

Further, the US Supreme Court appears to have curtailed California’s ambitions with a ruling this week that limits the power of individual states to regulate lending practices.

However, any action that California or the federal government takes to resolve the subprime collapse is likely to come too late for the people currently facing foreclosure in the Inland Empire.

The increase in foreclosures has “come on strongly and quickly and none of us anticipated it”, says Ms Mercado. “And it is nowhere near ending.”

Space Center gunman kills himself and hostage

Space Center gunman kills himself and hostage
© Reuters Limited
April 20, 2007

An armed man killed a hostage, then himself, at Nasa’s Johnson Space Center on Friday, the latest incident to rattle the United States after the shooting massacre this week at Virginia Tech university.

Another hostage, a woman who was gagged and bound, was not harmed, police said.

No motive was known for the incident, which began about 1:40 p.m. CDT when the gunman went into a building brandishing a gun and was heard to fire at least two shots. The man, who had not yet been identified, barricaded himself into a room.

Workers quickly evacuated and heavily armed police moved in. As they drew closer, they heard a shot and went in to find the gunman and his male hostage dead, said Houston Police Department spokesman Dwayne Ready.

”As our SWAT members made entry, they did indeed determine that the suspect shot himself one time to the head,” Ready said.

”Also, on the same floor there was one other hostage that was shot. We believe that may have occurred in the early minutes of this whole ordeal.”

The other hostage, a woman, was found nearby, alive and unharmed.

Ready also said he did not know the man’s identity, but said he was a white male in his 50s. A spokesman for Pasadena, California-based Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. said police had told the company the gunman was their employee. Jacobs provides engineering work for the space agency.

The incident added to jitters across the United States after a student gunman killed 32 people at Virginia Tech university on Monday, in the worst shooting rampage in modern U.S. history.

Building 44, where the shooting took place, is slightly separated from most of the space center, which is a sprawling 1,600-acre campus, home to NASA’s Mission Control and the center of training for the space agency’s astronaut corps.

NASA officials said the incident was not affecting operations, which include flight control for the International Space Station.

Dollar comes to rescue of Corporate America

Dollar comes to rescue of Corporate America
By Francesco Guerrera and Christopher Bowe in New York
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 20 2007 23:19 | Last updated: April 20 2007 23:19

The weak dollar and strong overseas markets came to corporate America’s rescue on Friday with blue-chip companies such as industrial giants Honeywell and Caterpillar and the drugmaker Pfizer reaping the benefits of international exposure.

Several companies, including the fast food chain McDonald’s and the recruitment agency Manpower, beat Wall Street analysts expectations as the strength of foreign markets more than offset the weakness of the US economy.

Jim Owens, chief executive of the heavy construction equipment maker Caterpillar, summed up the past few months for many US companies when he said: “Exceptional growth outside North America helped us deliver good results in a tough quarter.”

The string of strong earnings and positive predictions helped the stock market to move higher. The Dow Jones Industrial index, which hit a record high twice already this week, closed in on the landmark 13,000 level, ending the day at a record level for a third successive day, climbing 1.2 per cent to 12,961.98.

The first quarter results highlighted US companies’ need to drive growth to counter the slowdown in the domestic economy.

That task has been made easier by a sharp slide in the dollar over the past few months, which benefits US groups with earnings in foreign currencies but penalises companies, especially smaller ones, that rely on imports.

The threat posed by a weak dollar, which this week briefly touched a 26-year low against the British pound, to America’s small- and medium-sized companies could fuel calls from protectionist measures by some of the 2008 presidential hopefuls.

By contrast, Pfizer, the world’s largest drugmaker, said it expected international sales to come in higher by nearly $1bn over the next two years due to ”primarily a strengthening of the euro relative to the dollar since our previous forecast in January.”

The company predicted that the stronger euro would boost this year’s sales by $450m more than expected.

Although the increase is small compared with Pfizer’s $47bn-$48bn forecast annual revenues, it will help offset the sudden loss of $1.2bn due to generic competition after a key patent expiry on a blockbuster hypertension drug.

Meanwhile, Honeywell raised its sales forecast for the year by $700m to $33.5bn. David Anderson, chief financial officer, told the Financial Times some $300m of the improved sales would come from favourable currency movements. He said $150m of that had already been achieved in the first quarter of the year, helping Honeywell to beat analysts’ expectations. The company reported a 21 per cent rise in net income to $526m in the three months to March.

At Caterpillar, a downturn in North America was partly countered by strong sales in Europe, Asia and Latin America. Overall, first quarter profits quarter fell $24m to $816m.

Al-Qaeda seeks to expand its operations

Al-Qaeda seeks to expand its operations
By Stephen Fidler and Roula Khalaf in London
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 20 2007 22:02 | Last updated: April 20 2007 22:02

Al-Qaeda is reaching out from its base in Pakistan to turn militant Islamist groups in the Middle East and Africa into franchises charged with intensifying attacks on western targets, according to European officials and terrorism specialists.

The development could see radical groups use al-Qaeda expertise to switch their attention from local targets to western interests in their countries and abroad. “For al-Qaeda, this is a force multiplier,” said a British official who follows terrorism.

One of the first signs of the development was an announcement on September 11 last year by Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s number two, of a “merger” between al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and Algeria’s Salafist Group for Call and Combat, known by its French initials, GSPC.

Western officials expect to see a similar merger be tween al-Qaeda and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a mainly exiled organisation devoted until now to the overthrow of Muammer Gadaffi, the Libyan leader.

They say there are signs that similar moves are under way in Lebanon, Syria and East Africa and that there is an effort to unite militant groups across north Africa.

The Algerian “merger” was followed by a series of attacks, culminating in two suicide bombings last week that killed 33 and wounded 220. It is too early to say whether last week’s attacks were influenced by al-Qaeda central, officials said. The targeting – including of the prime minister’s residence – was ambitious but traditional for the GSPC, analysts said. However, before these latest attacks, Algeria had suffered only one suicide bomb.

The effort by al-Qaeda to reach out to radical Islamist groups, which is still at an early stage, follows the rebuilding of al-Qaeda’s core in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan, near the Afghan border. Al-Qaeda was severely disrupted by US-led military action after its 2001 attacks on the US. But the central organisation appears to have reconstituted around about 20 senior figures in farms and compounds that also act as training camps, western officials say.

“AQ Central” has sophisticated target planners and expertise in poisons and explosives probably unavailable to local groups, officials say.

The Algerian group operates small training camps in northern Mali, attracting fighters from Algeria, Mauritania, Niger, Mali and Nigeria. UK officials say there is concern about the prospect of trained Nigerian jihadis entering the country among thousands of Nigerians who travel weekly to and from the UK.

According to Andrew Black, of the US Jamestown Institute, the training would equip jihadis for Iraq, from which they would return to the Maghreb with operational experience.


1. Go to

2. Click on "maps"

3. Click on "get directions"

4. Type "New York" in the first box (the "from" box)

5. Type "London" in the second box (the "to" box)

6. Hit "get directions"

7. Scroll down to steps #23 & #24

Friday, April 20, 2007

Valle To Be New Executive Director of Center on Halsted

Valle To Be New Executive Director of Center on Halsted

CHICAGO – April 19, 2007 – Center on Halsted’s Board of Directors announced today that Modesto Tico Valle will be promoted to executive director effective July 1, 2007. Valle has served as deputy executive director of Center on Halsted since June of 2004.

Valle has been a leader of nonprofit organizations and an LGBT activist in Chicago since 1986. He has served on the boards of Equality Illinois and Horizons Community Services (now Center on Halsted), and on the national board of the NAMES Project Foundation. Valle also founded NAMES Project Chicago and served as its board chairman.

“Tico has a long history of leadership in the LGBT community and is widely respected throughout the city and state,” said Robert Kohl, Center on Halsted Board Chairman. “Tico’s intimate familiarity with Center on Halsted’s programs and his longstanding relationships with our partners and supporters will ensure our continued success and growth following the opening of the new community center in June.”

Valle was appointed acting executive director of Horizons/Center on Halsted in 2002 and served in that capacity until 2004 when Center on Halsted hired Robbin Burr. Burr and Valle shared a successful partnership as director and deputy, working together to grow Center on Halsted programs, to develop collaborations with partner organizations and to complete the Center’s $20 million capital campaign and the community center building.

“Tico’s expertise and experience were invaluable to me when I arrived from the corporate sector,” commented Burr. “I was able to place complete faith in Tico’s ability to manage staff and programs, enabling me to go out and successfully increase our fundraising and expand constituencies.” Added Valle, “I have learned a lot from Robbin over the past three years. I am honored by the board’s confidence in me and I am prepared to continue the vision that will lead the Center to an exciting future.”

Valle’s leadership in the community has been frequently recognized. He received the National NAMES Project Foundation Award in 1995 and was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1998. Test Positive Aware Network gave Valle its Founder’s award in 2003 and NAMES Project Chicago named Valle Individual of the Year in 2004. Valle has also received the State of Illinois Lending Your Voice Award in 2006 and the Partner in Mission Award from Sisters of the Living Word in 2007.

Today’s announcement culminates a selection process that began in January after Burr’s decision to leave her post following the Center’s opening in June. A search committee, chaired by COH board member Denise Foy, was convened to conduct an extensive locally focused search.

“We were pleased by the number of impressive candidates from the corporate and nonprofit sectors,” said Foy. “That level of interest in the position certainly spoke to the excitement that has been building for Center on Halsted and the important role that the Center will play in Chicago’s LGBT community.”

Construction of the community center, located at Halsted and Waveland, is nearing completion and Center on Halsted staff and resident partners will take occupancy of the new building within the next few weeks. A public dedication ceremony is planned for the first week in June, to be followed by a gala opening celebration, Out & Open, on Friday, June 8. The Center’s new community and cultural programming, including performances, seminars and film screenings, will also commence during June. Its present programs for youth, families and elders, and social services including psychotherapy, the Anti-Violence Project and the statewide HIV/AIDS & STD hotline, will continue. Whole Foods, the Center’s retail tenant, is presently targeting a late July opening, according to store officials.

Center on Halsted will be home to numerous LGBT community organizations, including ALMA, Amigas Latinas, 4+1 Productions, the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, Gayco Productions, Hubris Productions, Names Project Chicago, PFLAG, Windy City Athletic Association, Windy City Performing Arts and Windy City Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf. The three-story Center on Halsted, the city’s oldest and largest LGBT social service provider, is seeking its LEED Silver certification as a green building and includes meeting and office space, performance space, a multipurpose gymnasium, and a rooftop garden.


Chicago's historic Center on Halsted is the nation’s largest comprehensive community center for LGBT persons. As a resource and gathering place for youth and adults in a safe, inviting atmosphere, the Center offers support networks and programming to meet the cultural, emotional, social, educational and recreational needs of all LGBT and non-LGBT persons. For more information, visit

New Hampshire Governor backs same-sex unions

Governor backs same-sex unions
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published April 20, 2007

CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- CONCORD -- Gov. John Lynch said Thursday he will sign legislation establishing civil unions for gay couples in New Hampshire.

"I believe it is a matter of conscience, fairness and preventing discrimination," Lynch said.

New Hampshire would become the fourth state to adopt civil unions, following Connecticut, Vermont and New Jersey. Massachusetts established gay marriage.

Lynch had previously declined to take a public position on civil unions, though he has supported expanding health benefits to same-sex partners of state workers.

He came under fire from both sides for not weighing in, especially after a delay last week of the Senate vote on the House-passed bill.

The Senate is to vote next week, and Lynch said he is confident the legislation will pass. It would authorize civil unions beginning next year.


Items compiled from Tribune news services.

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Gonzales v. Gonzales

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Gonzales v. Gonzales
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: April 20, 2007

If Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had gone to the Senate on Thursday to convince the world that he ought to be fired, it's hard to imagine how he could have done a better job, short of admitting the obvious: that the firing of eight U.S. attorneys was a partisan purge.

Gonzales came across as a dull-witted apparatchik incapable of running one of the most important departments in the executive branch. He had no trouble remembering complaints from his bosses and Republican lawmakers about federal prosecutors who were not playing ball with the Republican Party's efforts to drum up election fraud charges against Democratic politicians. But he had no idea whether any of the 93 U.S. attorneys working for him were doing a good job prosecuting real crimes, let alone the ones he fired.

He delegated responsibility for purging their ranks to an inexperienced and incompetent assistant. Gonzales failed to create the most rudimentary standards for judging the prosecutors' work, except for political fealty. And when it came time to explain his inept decision-making to the public, he gave a false account that was instantly and repeatedly contradicted by sworn testimony.

Even the most loyal Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee found it impossible to throw Gonzales a lifeline. The best Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah could do was to mutter that "I think that you'll agree that this was poorly handled" and to suggest that Gonzales should just be forgiven. Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, led Gonzales through the names of the fired attorneys, evidently hoping he would offer cogent reasons for their dismissal.

Some of his answers were merely laughable. Gonzales said one prosecutor deserved to be fired because he wrote a letter that annoyed the deputy attorney general. Another prosecutor had the gall to ask Gonzales to reconsider a decision to seek the death penalty.

Gonzales criticized other fired prosecutors for "poor management," and for "not having total control of the office." With those criticisms, Gonzales was really describing his own record - a poor manager who has had no control over his department and has lost the confidence of his professional staff and all Americans.

Gonzales was even unable to say who compiled the list of federal attorneys slated for firing. The man he appointed to conduct the purge, Kyle Sampson, said he had not created the list. The former head of the office that supervises the federal prosecutors, Michael Battle, said he didn't do it, as did William Mercer, the acting associate attorney general.

Gonzales said he did not know why the eight had been on the list when it was given to him, that it was not accompanied by any written analysis and that he had just assumed it reflected a consensus of the senior leaders of his department. At one point, Gonzales even claimed that he could not remember how the Justice Department came to submit an amendment to the Patriot Act that allowed him to fire U.S. attorneys and replace them without Senate confirmation. The Senate voted to revoke that power after the current scandal broke.

At the end of the day, we were left wondering why America's chief law-enforcement officer would paint himself as a bumbling fool.

Perhaps it's because the alternative is that he is not telling the truth. There is strong evidence that this purge was directed from the White House, and that Karl Rove, Bush's top political adviser, and Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel, were deeply involved.

We don't yet know whether Gonzales is merely so incompetent that he should be fired immediately, or whether he is covering something up.

But if we believe the testimony that neither he nor any other senior Justice Department official was calling the shots on the purge, then the public needs to know who was. That is why the Judiciary Committee must stick to its insistence that Rove, Miers and other White House officials testify in public and under oath and that all documents be turned over to Congress, including e-mail messages by Rove that the Republican Party has yet to produce.

America’s dismal debate brings little hope of peace in Iraq

America’s dismal debate brings little hope of peace in Iraq
By Philip Stephens
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 19 2007 17:50 | Last updated: April 19 2007 17:50

The Washington debate about Iraq is as dismal as it is synthetic. The military, George W. Bush insists for the umpteenth thousandth time, must be allowed to “finish the job”. No, retorts a Democratic Congress: America must end the war by fixing a date to bring the troops home. Everyone knows, but the politicians dare not say, that there is no such neat binary choice. A graceful exit from Iraq is just about as likely as the president’s still-promised victory.

Every once in a while shards of candour penetrate the political fray. Retired generals warn that for all the clamour about timetables among Democratic contenders for the presidency, America’s eventual withdrawal will be a protracted and, most probably, ugly affair. Even if the war is deemed lost, sizeable numbers of US troops will have to remain in Iraq for some years yet.

That is not the message you hear from leading Democrats in their struggle with the White House over funding for the war. Resolutions passed by the Senate and the House have set deadlines of March 2008 and September 2008 respectively for the departure from Iraq of all combat troops. Mr Bush, trapped in his inexplicable belief that the war can still be won, has promised to veto any bills that link funding to withdrawal.

One side, or perhaps both, will have to make concessions in coming weeks if the troops are to be kept fed and supplied. But the stand-off speaks to the political point-scoring that takes the place of cold strategic analysis in almost all discussions of Iraq.

The Democrats can claim, of course, to have the country on their side. The backlash against the war that saw voters turn out the Republicans in last November’s mid-term congressional elections has strengthened further in the intervening months. Mr Bush’s so-called military “surge” has convinced no one that the US can reclaim control of events. Middle America has had enough of this war.

Nor is it possible to detect much confidence within the administration that the change in military tactics in Baghdad will bring more than short-lived relief. David Petraeus, the general in charge of the surge, is lauded as the most brilliant soldier of his generation. Yet the problem remains as it has been since the invasion: military force can work only as an adjunct to a political strategy.

The administration has set benchmarks for political progress. But the government of Nouri al-Maliki has made little effort to reach out to the Sunnis. The US is propping up an essentially Shia administration that is unwilling to make the concessions to the Sunni population that might nurture political dialogue. Violent factionalism within both communities adds fuel to the civil war.

The White House, of course, still declines to use that description, preferring to talk of insurgents and terrorists. Elsewhere in Washington there is no such compunction. In his recent evidence to Congress, Michael McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, volunteered that the term civil war accurately describes crucial elements of the conflict.

Mr Bush is in denial. He sees the conflict as a fight between good and evil. Since the US has right, as well as might, on its side, it is destined to prevail. Resolve is what matters. This is not a stance that allows for careful strategic deliberation.

The point was made this week by John Sheehan, a retired Marine Corps general. Explaining why he had declined an offer from the president to oversee from the White House the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, General Sheehan lamented the absence of coherent purpose. “What I found in discussions with current and former members of this administration,” he wrote in The Washington Post, “is that there is no agreed-upon strategic view of the Iraq problem or the region.” Above all, there was no consensus on how Iraq fitted into the larger regional context, where US interests would continue to demand a significant presence. It is hard to think of a harsher indictment of Mr Bush’s faith-based war from an expert without any axes to grind.

For Democrats, such critiques harden the case for an early exit.
The mantra of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and the rest is that for as long as he can rely on the US military, Mr al-Maliki has few incentives to make concessions to the Sunni political leadership. To withdraw is thus to end the war by forcing the hands of both sides.

No one really believes that. Yet if Mr Bush has no strategy to win, the Democrats lack a credible plan to disengage. A precipitous exit would most likely be followed by a rapid escalation of violence. Not an easy message to sell.

Read the small print of the proposals tabled by leading Democrats and they suggest that some troops would have to be left behind, whether to secure the country’s borders or to continue to train Iraqi forces. Missing is an honest recognition of America’s enduring interests in Iraq.

The Center for a New American Security, a new Washington think-tank, describes these succinctly as the “The Three Nos”: no regional war, no al-Qaeda safe havens and no genocide. Preventing neighbouring states being drawn into a wider conflagration, denying al-Qaeda a base and forestalling genocidal killing, the think-tank concludes, will require a significant military presence for the foreseeable future.

Anthony Zinni, a retired US general with extensive experience in the Middle East, makes much the same point. General Zinni has been a trenchant critic of the invasion and of the conduct of the war. His credentials, in other words, are impeccable. This week he addressed himself to those calling for speedy withdrawal.

Iraq was not Somalia, he said. Nor was it Vietnam. America’s interests in the Middle East were too great to allow Iraq to plunge into an unrestrained civil war. Instead of talking about timetables, the general told NBC’s Meet the Press, Democrats should be discussing how to pursue a diplomacy that could create new security arrangements for the region. As for the troops coming home, General Zinni doubted that anything more than a modest drawdown would be possible before the US had a new president in the White House.

That judgment meets a broader, if unspoken, consensus within the foreign policy establishment that it will be for the next occupant of the White House to extricate the US from the sectarian fighting. For now, just as the president refuses to admit that the war is lost, so his political opponents decline to contemplate the consequences of admitting defeat.

McCain turns to music as funds falter

McCain turns to music as funds falter
By Andrew Ward in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 19 2007 20:02 | Last updated: April 19 2007 20:02

John McCain’s faltering bid to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 struck another off-key note this week, when he jokingly sang about bombing Iran at a campaign event in South Carolina.

Mr McCain responded to a question about how the US should tackle Iran’s nuclear programme by repeating a parody of the 1960s surf-rock classic, “Barbara Ann”.

“That old Beach Boys song, Bomb Iran,” he said, chuckling with his audience of military veterans in the small fishing community of Murrells Inlet.

He briefly entered into the chorus – “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” – before breaking off to talk more seriously about the issue.

A video of Mr McCain’s attempt at the song parody – first heard in the US during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis – was posted on YouTube, the video-sharing website.

Mr McCain was responding to an audience member who asked: “How many times do we have to prove that these people are blowing up people now, never mind if they get a nuclear weapon, when do we send them an airmail message to Tehran?”

After his musical joke, the Arizona senator said he agreed with President George W. Bush that Iran must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons.

“Iran is dedicated to the destruction of Israel,” he said, according to accounts of the event. “That alone should concern us, but they are trying for nuclear capabilities. I totally support the president when he says we will not allow Iran to destroy Israel.”

Mr McCain, once considered the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, has recently fallen behind the former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani in opinion polls and fundraising.

His strong support for Mr Bush and the war in Iraq has stripped him of the maverick reputation that brought him near the Republican nomination in 2000.

Fundraising results disclosed last week showed that Mr McCain’s campaign had less than half the cash on hand in the first quarter of this year that his two main rivals, Mr Giuliani and Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, managed to raise. A recent Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll put Mr McCain in third place among Republican hopefuls behind Mr Giuliani and Fred Thompson, an actor and former senator who has not officially entered the race.

The poll also indicated that Mr McCain would lose to either of the two leading Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, in a presidential election.

US has lost war in Iraq, says top Democra

US has lost war in Iraq, says top Democrat
By Andrew Ward in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 20 2007 02:44 | Last updated: April 20 2007 02:44

The US has “lost” the war in Iraq and President George W. Bush’s efforts to stabilise the country through increased military force are futile, according to Harry Reid, leader of the Democratic majority in the US Senate.

The comments are among the starkest admissions of defeat in Iraq yet made by a senior US politician and highlight the increasingly wide and bitter division between Congress and the White House over the war.

Mr Reid said he believed that Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, and Robert Gates, defence secretary, already knew “that this war is lost, and this surge is not accomplishing anything”.

The Nevada senator pointed to the car bombings that killed more than 200 people in Baghdad on Wednesday and last week’s suicide bombing of the Iraqi parliament building as evidence that increased US troop numbers were failing to quell the violence.

Mr Reid’s bleak assessment comes as the Democrat-controlled Congress prepares to pass war-funding legislation that will set a timetable for the end of combat operations in Iraq.

Mr Bush has promised to veto any bill including a withdrawal date, creating an impasse that threatens to delay billions of dollars of urgently-needed military funding.

Speaking during a visit to Ohio yesterday, Mr Bush said the proposed legislation would undermine the military.

“If you’re a young commander on the ground, or an Iraqi soldier, and you’ve been tasked with a mission to help provide security for a city, and an enemy hears that you’re leaving soon, it affects your capacity to do your job,” he said.

Mr Reid said he delivered his blunt assessment of US prospects in Iraq directly to Mr Bush during a meeting about the war-funding bill at the White House on Wednesday.

“I told him . . . what he needed to hear,” said Mr Reid. “I believe the war at this stage can only be won diplomatically, politically and economically.”

Mr Reid drew a parallel between Mr Bush and former US president Lyndon Johnson, who sought to avoid defeat in Vietnam 40 years ago by increasing troop numbers at a time when 24,000 US troops had already died.

“Johnson did not want a war loss on his watch, so he surged in Vietnam. After the surge was over, we added 34,000 to the 24,000 who died in Vietnam,” Mr Reid said.

Before the setbacks of recent days, Bush administration officials had been voicing cautious optimism that its deployment of an additional 30,000 troops to Iraq was starting to deliver results.

But General David Petraeus, chief of coalition forces in Iraq, admitted yesterday that Wednesday’s car bombings had dented confidence.

“A day like that can have a real psychological impact, and it came where, frankly, [we] felt like we were getting a bit of traction,” he said.

Gonzales faces tough questions on Hill

Gonzales faces tough questions on Hill
By Edward Luce in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 19 2007 21:21 | Last updated: April 20 2007 01:40

Alberto Gonzales, America’s embattled attorney-general, on Thursday resisted growing calls for his resignation but took a series of potentially fatal blows from hostile lawmakers in a much-awaited Capitol Hill hearing.

Mr Gonzales, who, along with Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s chief strategist, is one of the few remaining Texan loyalists in the administration, admitted making mistakes in the process that led to the allegedly politically motivated dismissal of eight federal attorneys last year. But he insisted that the firings were not based on “improper” motives.

Democrats allege that Mr Gonzales drew up the list of which of America’s 93 federal attorneys to fire partly on the basis of whether they were “loyal Bushies” – a term used in one of the administration e-mails that was released last month.

They also allege that some of the firings took place for partisan reasons at the behest of Mr Rove, who has refused to testify under oath and in public on Capitol Hill.

“Those eight attorneys deserved better – they deserved better from me and from the Department of Justice which they served selflessly for many years,” Mr Gonzales said on Thursday in his opening testimony to the Senate judiciary committee. “[But] while the process that led to the resignations was flawed, I firmly believe that nothing improper occurred.”

Mr Gonzales’ testimony failed to assuage senators, many of whom reiterated their calls for him to step down. “The best way to put this behind us is with your resignation,” said Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma.

Patrick Leahy, chairman of the committee, said: “The Department of Justice must not be reduced to another political arm of the White House...Today it is experiencing a crisis of leadership perhaps unrivalled in its 137-year history.”

In a testimony that many senators, including some minority Republican lawmakers, described as “less than candid”, Mr Gonzales began sentences on several dozen occasions with the phrase “I do not recall”.

During one particularly heated exchange, Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican member of the committee, referred scathingly to the attorney-general’s tendency to change his story about the extent of his involvement in the firings. Mr Gonzales, who has lost three aides to resignations in the past few weeks, told the committee that he prepared in detail for all Capitol Hill hearings.

“Do you prepare for all your press conferences?” asked Mr Specter in reference to a press conference last month in which Mr Gonzales said he had not been involved in the “deliberations” over the firings. “Senator I’ve already said that I misspoke [on that occasion], it was my mistake,” Mr Gonzales replied.

Mr Specter then said: “The reality of your characterisation of your participation is significantly, if not totally, at variance with the fact...We have to evaluate whether you are really being forthright.” Other Republicans, including Jeff Sessions from Alabama, were also critical. “Your ability to lead the Department of Justice is in question,” he said.

On Thursday there were widespread rumours about the possibility that Michael Chertoff, who heads the Department of Homeland Security, might replace Mr Gonzales if he were forced to resign.

However, a spokesman for the White House, which assigns a high value to loyalty, on Thursday reiterated that Mr Bush had full confidence in the attorney-general. Opinion polls say more than half of Americans want Mr Gonzales to resign.

Emergency meeting ups heat on Wolfowitz

Emergency meeting ups heat on Wolfowitz
By Krishna Guha and Eoin Callan in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 19 2007 19:27 | Last updated: April 19 2007 19:27

The World Bank’s board was poised for another emergency meeting on Thursday after one of Paul Wolfowitz’s two deputies urged him to resign as its head.

Graeme Wheeler, managing director, made his call on Wednesday, in front of all the bank’s senior officials, at an extraordinary session of their regular weekly meeting.

It is understood that other managers of vice-president rank also suggested Mr Wolfowitz should go. But the bank president – who has been under pressure after revelations that he was personally involved in securing a big pay rise as part of a secondment package to the US state department for Shaha Riza, his girlfriend – told the meeting he had no intention of quitting.

Within hours of Mr Wheeler’s call for Mr Wolfowitz to go the bank’s regional teams of managers were taking sides. Those from its Latin America region expressed strong support for Mr Wheeler’s position and agreed to threaten to resign en masse if Mr Wolfowitz stayed. The East Asia and South Asia management teams also appeared to side with Mr Wheeler. The Africa and Middle East managers looked to be siding with Mr Wolfowitz.

There is a divide throughout the bank between Wolfowitz loyalists and the majority of officials who were there under Jim Wolfensohn, his predecessor. The regions leaning in favour of Mr Wolfowitz are headed by officials appointed to vice-president rank by him; those regions against him are headed by Wolfensohn era vice-presidents.

Asked if he denied that Mr Wheeler told Mr Wolfowitz to resign, Marwan Muasher, vice-president for external affairs, said: “I do not comment on private meetings inside the bank.”

Tribune posts loss; cash flow tumbles 12%

Tribune posts loss; cash flow tumbles 12%
By Michael Oneal
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published April 20, 2007

Tribune Co. reported dismal first-quarter results Thursday, colored by a 12 percent slide in operating cash flow as the newspaper industry continued to suffer erosion in advertising revenue and circulation.

The company's results lagged behind its peers, turning up the heat on the Chicago-based media conglomerate, which early this month announced plans to take itself private in partnership with billionaire Sam Zell.

Faced with declining revenue and pressure to cut costs, the company is planning to offer employee buyouts to eliminate jobs, said sources familiar with the situation.

These sources didn't know how many jobs are targeted companywide but said the Chicago Tribune Co. is expected to issue a request for buyouts on Monday, with a goal of eliminating 100 positions. If the offers don't generate enough savings, one source said, the company may resort to layoffs.

A spokesman wouldn't comment on the cuts and didn't make executives available to discuss the quarterly results.

Tribune, which also owns the Los Angeles Times, WGN-Ch. 9 and other media properties, has been cutting jobs at its various properties for several years. One source said the current effort is part of Tribune Co.'s previously announced push to shave $200 million in expenses over the next two years, a target that is built in to the assumptions of the bankers financing the Zell buyout plan.

That deal has increased pressure on Tribune to improve results, or at least maintain last year's level of cash flow, amid a slump in advertising and circulation revenue as readers defect to the Internet.

But Thursday's numbers showed that Tribune's financial results continued to erode in the first quarter, and analysts said there was no evidence the company has hit bottom.

Tribune reported a net loss of $15.6 million in the first quarter, compared with a gain of $102.8 million a year earlier. But those results included a slew of one-time factors, and analysts paid more attention to the decline in operating cash flow to $238 million from $271 million. Cash flow is what companies use to pay down debt.

Several other big newspaper publishers, including Gannett Co. and the New York Times Co., also reported declines in advertising and circulation revenues this week. But Tribune's results were "on the weaker side," said John Puchalla, an analyst at Moody's Investors Service.

He pointed out that Tribune's newspaper revenue fell 5.5 percent versus an average decline of 2.3 percent for other companies reporting results.

The most alarming aspect of the Tribune report was the drop in cash flow. Despite a 4 percent decline in overall revenue, to $1.2 billion, and a 2 percent drop in expenses, Tribune's operating cash flow fell much more precipitously.

The reason is that Tribune is fast losing revenue in high-margin businesses such as real estate and help-wanted classified ads. The costs associated with classified ads are low, so as volume increases, profit climbs. But when volume declines, it comes straight out of earnings.

Mike Simonton, an analyst for Fitch Ratings in Chicago, said that real estate classifieds in particular propped up Tribune earnings in 2005 and for much of 2006. But when the boom turned to bust, especially in Florida, "a disproportionate amount of profit came off the table," he said.

Tribune has insulated itself to some degree by building online classified businesses like and But even though online revenue grew a promising 17 percent during the quarter, to $60 million, that is only 5 percent of the company's total.

Zell, who is leading an effort to take Tribune private in a complex deal that will involve taking on $8.4 billion in new debt, wasn't fazed by the results. The first-quarter results were "well within our expectations," Zell said, pointing out that the falloff in real estate classifieds was exaggerated by bad comparisons.

"Florida is going through one of its every-five-year periods of oversupply," he said. "The numbers a year ago were off the charts."

Since he emerged as the winner in the Tribune bidding in early April, however, Zell has said he doesn't believe that cost-cutting will solve the company's problems. He and Tribune Chief Executive Dennis FitzSimons have said the company will be able to pay down its heavy debt load if it can simply maintain last year's cash-flow level of $1.4 billion. But to do that, they will have to find ways to wring better performance out of the company's old-media assets.

One source close to the company said the covenants on the debt agreements financing the deal give Tribune some wiggle room this year. But the banks likely expect better results as the year moves forward.

That helps explain why FitzSimons invited Harvard Business School professor John Kotter, a noted expert on leading change, to come address his top managers on Wednesday. Kotter talked about creating a sense of urgency and removing the barriers that get in the way of doing new things, sources said. They added that FitzSimons told the assembled executives that the company is adopting Kotter's eight-step program for guiding change, and that their only choice was to get on board.

Some attendees said that it wasn't clear what their marching orders were, but one said, "It was a good start."

"There was an urgency to move forward," he said. "We have to transform."


Thursday, April 19, 2007

April 18 2007 - The Short View: Dollar weakness By John Authers, Investment Editor

The Short View: Dollar weakness By John Authers, Investment Editor
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 18 2007 18:19 | Last updated: April 18 2007 18:19

Dollar weakness has deep roots. It peaked against the euro in October 2000 and has fallen steadily since, dropping by 39 per cent. Such a weak dollar can skew perceptions far beyond the currency markets.

As Tony Tassell pointed out in this column last week, it makes the rest of the world look like a bonanza for Americans while the US looks terrible for European investors. Since the dollar’s 2000 peak, the MSCI World ex-USA index has gained 32 per cent in dollar terms. It has lost 19.2 per cent in euro terms. MSCI’s US index is up 7 per cent in dollars and down 35 per cent in euros.

There are elements of a virtuous (or vicious) circle.

Dollar weakness has spurred Americans’ new-found ardour for foreign stocks and it has deterred Europeans from investing in the US. Even in local currency terms, the return on Germany’s DAX index has been more than triple that of the S&P 500 so far this year.

The vicious circle can also be seen in the markets’ animal spirits. With the dollar falling below levels long regarded as floors for it, markets now need to find a new level. In this climate, the dollar does not get the benefit of the doubt.

Marc Chandler, currency strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman in New York, points out that this week’s falls have come despite strong US data on housing starts and manufacturing output, arguably the two areas of most concern for the US economy. “What could have easily been seen as positive news for the dollar was used as an excuse to sell, reflecting an importance of the negative sentiment,” he says.

But one side-effect that might have been expected has been notable by its absence. A strong currency is supposed to be bad news for exporters. But the strong euro and pound are yet to have any significant effect on large UK and eurozone stocks.

This is because companies can hedge out currency exposures better than they once could – both by using new financial instruments designed for the purpose and more practically by moving production facilities so that revenues and costs in different currencies are more closely matched. Exchange rate moves still matter but not in the way they did in the past.

Financial Times Editorial Comment: Iraq's refugees must be saved from disaster

Financial Times Editorial Comment: Iraq's refugees must be saved from disaster
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 19 2007 03:00 | Last updated: April 19 2007 03:00

Hard on the heels of the disaster that has befallen Iraq as a result of the US-led invasion four years ago comes the worst refugee crisis in the Middle East since the mass exodus of Palestinians that resulted from the violent birth of the state of Israel in 1948.

As yesterday's huge car-bombings bloodily highlighted, Iraqis are prey to anarchy and sectarian warfare that still claim thousands of lives every month. Despite the occupation's attempts to turn the tide of violence and hand responsibility for security to Iraqis, ethno-sectarian cleansing carried out by Sunni and Shia Muslim insurgents and militias is accelerating. Around 50,000 Iraqis are now fleeing their homes every month, forced out by gunmen or caught in the crossfire, unable to work or send their children to school, or cut off from the most basic amenities such as water and electricity.

Instead of bringing democracy to Iraq and the Arab world, the 2003 invasion has scattered Iraqis throughout the Middle East. Nearly 4m Iraqis have been uprooted by the upheaval - close to one in seven but, on current trends, likely to be one in five by the end of this year. The international response to this catastrophe has been a disgrace.

To begin with, the countries most responsible for this mess - the US and the UK - have done next to nothing to alleviate it. While Iraq's neighbours have been overwhelmed with refugees - in particular Jordan and Syria with a million or more in each case - the US has taken in precisely 466 Iraqis since 2003. Britain's record is no better.

For the second time this year, Antonio Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has sounded the alarm, this time after Iraq's neighbours have slammed their doors shut to any further influx, leaving about 1.9m internally displaced -Iraqis at the mercy of sectarian slaughter - unless they have a militia to protect them. At a global meeting on the crisis in Geneva this week, he called for "genuine solidarity and unstinting aid" to head off disaster.

That will not be possible if the US and UK continue to behave as though addressing this problem amounts to admitting failure. American and British officials act as though Iraqis should be grateful for the democracy they have been granted and get on with building their country.

There is no room for debate about this. The occupying countries have the duty to protect the refugees their misguided foreign policies are responsible for creating. They should help Iraq's neighbours cope with their refugees, provide protection as a matter of urgency for displaced Iraqis trapped inside Iraq's borders, and open their own borders until this crisis is over.

All that would cost nothing in comparison to the roughly $280m a day spent on the occupation. The cost to, and moral corrosion of, America's and Britain's reputation if they do not act is not measurable.

Guns and America’s sacred rights

Guns and America’s sacred rights
By Jacob Weisberg
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 18 2007 18:33 | Last updated: April 18 2007 18:33

Why is it so easy to get guns in America? Cho Seung Hui purchased one of the pistols he used to shoot 50 of his classmates at a shop after showing an identity card and passing an instant background check. He appears to have got the other handgun he used legally as well. In Virginia, where his killing spree took place, guns are about as difficult to come by as Mexican food in Mexico.

School shootings are a regular occurrence in the US. Every one of them underscores the obvious point that guns should be harder to obtain. So does America’s death rate from firearm suicides, homicides and accidents, which is double or treble that of other developed countries. But, at least until this week, gun control simply had fallen off the national agenda. The assault weapons ban that Bill Clinton signed in 1994 expired in 2004. Even most Democrats have avoided the question of renewing it. Only in big cities have politicians not quite given up on the issue.

The most common explanation for this retreat is the clout of the National Rifle Association. Like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the American Association of Retired Persons, the NRA’s acronym is a synonym for Washington power. But the NRA is an expression of the strength of gun owners, not the reason for it. The gun lobby’s success in derailing regulation illustrates how American conservatives win on a range of social and cultural issues where they actually represent a minority viewpoint.

This point becomes clearer when you compare the politics of gun control with the politics of abortion. On both issues, the public opposes a blanket ban by a 2:1 margin, but supports restrictions. Thirty-seven per cent of those polled by Gallup agree that abortion laws should be stricter, as against 23 per cent who want them less strict. On guns, 49 per cent say the laws should be stricter, while only 14 per cent say less so.

Given those numbers, it should in theory be easier for liberals to require handgun registration than for conservatives to constrain abortion. In practice the opposite is true. Conservatives have been remarkably successful in promulgating parental notification laws, waiting periods and bans on specific procedures. Gun control advocates have tried to borrow from the right’s playbook, promoting minor restrictions that sound reasonable and poll well, such as waiting periods, background checks, and banning semi-automatic weapons. But they have accomplished very little. The only meaningful federal restriction on handgun purchases, the Brady bill, was considered a huge accomplishment when it passed in 1993. But thanks to a loophole, some 40 per cent of sales remain invisible to law enforcement.

What explains the success of Republicans in regulating abortion, where only a small majority of the country agrees with them, while preventing the regulation of guns, where a much larger majority disagrees? To begin with, the conservative movement is more disciplined and better skilled than the liberal side at framing political debates. It has cast both issues in terms of absolute principle: the right to life on abortion, personal liberty in the case of guns. The call to conscience tends to be more compelling than the call to practicality, and the contradiction between these two positions, the one libertarian, the other anti-libertarian, bothers very few people.

Republicans also have a leg up on both abortion and guns because rural America, where their positions are most popular, has disproportionate power under the constitution. Thinly populated western states, where guns are loved, have the same two votes in the Senate as big northern states, where guns are feared. Within states, cities are similarly disadvantaged in bicameral legislatures. The anti-majoritarian features of our republican system give conservatives strength beyond their numbers and insulate them from the long-standing decline in both rural population and gun ownership.

Advocates of the second amendment, which protects the right to bear arms, also benefit from an institutional supremacy that does not extend to their pro-life allies. Everyone knows the NRA, but few could name its liberal counterpart, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. In 2006, pro-gun groups donated 33 times as much money to candidates as their opponents did. This discrepancy stems in part from a social advantage. Hunting and shooting clubs bring together people who share not just a political cause, but a consuming hobby. There are no lodges for gun control advocates.

The final point is about passion. Gun-owning in America is a way of life whereas gun control is just a political opinion. This accounts for an enormous disparity in zeal. There are single-issue voters on both sides of the abortion divide for whom the issue trumps everything else. But when it comes to guns, the issue is a litmus test only for those militant about preventing any restrictions. A huge constituency considers this right sacred, cares about it exclusively and needs little prompting to disgorge torrents of letters and e-mail messages to congressmen and editors. Gun controllers, by contrast, tend to be less excitable, see the issue as one of many and struggle to motivate those inclined to agree with them.

The massacre in Blacksburg could change all that, but I doubt it.

The writer is editor of

Europe sure of growth as dollar weakens

Europe sure of growth as dollar weakens
By Neil Dennis in London and Krishna Guha in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 18 2007 21:48 | Last updated: April 19 2007 13:01

European policymakers remained confident about the prospects for growth on Wednesday, while US officials were quiet as sterling hit a 26-year high and the euro neared a record peak against the US currency.

Sterling, which went above $2 for the first time in 15 years on Tuesday, rose as high as $2.0133 before falling back to $2.0045.

The euro climbed to $1.3616, only half a cent shy of its $1.367 record in December 2004, before weakening in later trading.

Hank Paulson, the US Treasury secretary, has not made any new remarks about the currency and other US officials have remained quiet about the latest dollar weakness. The US formally has a “strong dollar” policy but Mr Paulson, like his predecessors, emphasises that its external value is market-determined.

US officials recognise that a weaker dollar should boost exports and, in the long run, help reduce the US trade deficit, though it may also add to inflationary pressures in the US.

In spite of the euro’s strength, European policymakers were confident about the prospects for eurozone growth.

ECB governing council member Axel Weber said the German economy was strong and annual growth should exceed 2 per cent. His council colleague Yves Mersch added that the risk of slowing domestic demand in Europe had eased. ”There’s still strong demand from good export performance which is heading higher,” he said.

The euro is being bolstered by the belief that eurozone interest rates have further to rise, while US rates are unlikely to rise further and may start falling later in the year. Strong eurozone economic data and an hawkish ECB have suggested eurozone rates – which were held at 3.75 per cent this month – will be raised by 25 basis points to 4 per cent in June.

Hans Redeker, global head of strategy at BNP Paribas, contrasted the dollar’s latest moves to those of December 2004 when the euro quickly retreated after hitting a record high.

He said: ”This dollar weakness is going to last for some time as euro strength is based on strong growth and interest rates, not wild speculative moves.”

Mr Redeker added that investors seemed to be taking the view that the euro’s strength was being absorbed by the eurozone economy, while the US slowdown was a self-contained event that would have little spill-over.

Sterling’s climb to its highest level against the dollar since June 1981 was boosted by heightened expectations of an interest rate increase next month, after minutes from this month’s Bank of England meeting showed two MPC members had voted for a 25 bp rise.

Iraq may hold twice as much oil

Iraq may hold twice as much oil
By Ed Crooks in London
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 18 2007 20:24 | Last updated: April 19 2007 09:08

Iraq could hold almost twice as much oil in its reserves as had been thought, according to the most comprehensive independent study of its resources since the US-led invasion in 2003.

The potential presence of a further 100bn barrels in the western desert highlights the opportunity for Iraq to be one of the world’s biggest oil suppliers, and its attractions for international oil companies – if the conflict in the country can be resolved.

If confirmed, it would raise Iraq from the world’s third largest source of oil reserves with 116bn barrels to second place, behind Saudi Arabia and overtaking Iran.

The study from IHS, a consultancy, also estimates that Iraq’s production could be increased from its current rate of less than 2m barrels a day to 4m b/d within five years, if international investment begins to flow.

That would put Iraq in the top five oil-producing countries in the world, at current rates.

The IHS study is based on data collected in Iraq both before and after the invasion, showing the oilfields’ reserves and production history.

Its estimate is based on analysis of geological surveys.

Production costs in Iraq are low, particularly compared to the more complex offshore developments.

IHS estimates that they are less than $2 a barrel.

But the development of the industry depends on an improvement in the security environment, which remains very difficult.

At least 170 people were killed on Wednesday in five co-ordinated car bomb attacks in Shia districts of Baghdad, the deadliest attacks the city has seen since US and Iraqi forces launched a joint security crackdown in February. The attacks came hours after Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister, claimed that Iraqi forces would be in a position to take over primary responsibility for security in all of Iraq’s 18 provinces by the end of the year.

Ron Mobed of IHS said: “Obviously the security situation is very bad, but when you look at the sub-surface opportunity, there isn’t anywhere else like this. Geologically, it’s right up there, a gold star opportunity.”

Of Iraq’s 78 oilfields identified as commercial by the government, only 27 are currently producing. A further 25 are not yet developed but close to production, and 26 are not yet developed and far from production.

Iraq’s government has estimated that it would need $20bn-$25bn of investment from foreign companies to get production up to its full potential.

Production methods have advanced greatly in the past two decades, and methods such as horizontal drilling have yet to be deployed in Iraq. The introduction of modern technology by foreign companies has the potential to deliver steep increases in oil recovery.

Almost all the leading international oil companies and many smaller ones have expressed an interest in working in Iraq.

So far the only new contracts for developments by foreign companies are the five signed by the Kurdistan regional government in the relatively peaceful north of Iraq.

Iraq’s cabinet plans to present its proposed oil law to parliament next week, following a meeting Wednesday of political leaders and experts in Dubai. But many of the key details have yet to be resolved.

Oil production in parts of the western desert region that are attached to Sunni Arab-majority provinces could help resolve some of the differences between Iraq’s sectarian political blocs.

The Sunni have until now been strongly hostile to the federalism espoused by most Kurds and some Shia, arguing that it would deprive their less well-resourced heartland in the centre of the country of resources.

Additional reporting Steve Negus, Iraq correspondent

Wolfowitz deputy urges him to quit

Wolfowitz deputy urges him to quit
By Krishna Guha and Eoin Callan in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 19 2007 01:17 | Last updated: April 19 2007 01:17

One of Paul Wolfowitz’s two deputies on Wednesday urged the World Bank president to resign as the civil war inside the institution reached top management.

Graeme Wheeler, managing director, made his call in front of all the bank’s top officials at an extraordinary session of their regular weekly meeting.

It is understood that other top managers of vice-president rank also suggested Mr Wolfowitz should go.

But Mr Wolfowitz – who has been under growing pressure following revelations that he was personally involved in securing a big pay rise as part of a secondment package to the US state department for his girlfriend Shaha Riza – told the meeting he had no intention of quitting.

Asked whether he denied that Mr Wheeler had told Mr Wolfowitz to resign, Marwan Muasher, vice-president for external affairs, said: “I do not comment on private meetings inside the bank.”

Within hours of Mr Wheeler’s call for Mr Wolfowitz to go in the interests of the bank, its regional teams of managers were taking sides.

Those from the bank’s Latin America region expressed strong support for Mr Wheeler’s position and agreed to threaten to resign en mass if Mr Wolfowitz stayed.

The East Asia and South Asia management teams also appeared to side with Mr Wheeler and against Mr Wolfowitz.

Meanwhile, the Africa and Middle East managers looked to be siding with Mr Wolfowitz.

The fissure that has opened at the top of the bank mirrors a gaping divide throughout the institution between Wolfowitz loyalists and the majority of officials who were there under his predecessor, Jim Wolfensohn.

The regions leaning in favour of Mr Wolfowitz are headed by officials appointed to vice-president rank by him; the regions leaning against him are headed by vice-presidents from the Wolfensohn bank.

At the vice-president level, the number of Wolfowitz appointees and Wolfensohn era executives is roughly equal. At all other levels of management and staff, officials from the Wolfensohn bank greatly outnumber the Wolfowitz appointees.

The bank staff association has already called on Mr Wolfowitz to quit following news of Ms Riza’s secondment package.

The danger that internal strife could cripple the bank will weigh heavily on its board - made up of representatives of shareholder governments - which meets again on Thursday.

On Sunday, ministers representing these governments, including the US, issued a statement that said: “We have to ensure that the bank can effectively carry out its mandate and maintain its credibility and reputation as well as the motivation of its staff.”

Speaking before the latest news, a White House spokesman said: “The President has full confidence in president Wolfowitz.”

Iraq : The risks of staying and the risks of leaving

Iraq : The risks of staying and the risks of leaving
By Barry R. Posen
Copyright by The The Boston Globe
Published: April 19, 2007


Supporters of the war in Iraq, including most recently Senator John McCain, tell us that a series of awful consequences will certainly result if U.S. forces disengage. This argument is offered with great confidence. Yet the costs of disengagement are less certain than is often argued, and the United States can reduce the risks that these costs will arise - and limit their consequences if they do.

Supporters of the war predict six major disasters if U.S. forces withdraw:

Al Qaeda will take over the country. This risk is nonexistent. Al Qaeda's support is strongest among Sunnis, whom the Shiites outnumber by three to one. The Shiites control the military, the police, and numerous militias. The United States has ramped up its operations in Baghdad in part to stop the Shiites from cleansing the Sunnis. There will be no caliphate in Baghdad, whether Americans stay or leave.

Iraq will become a new Afghanistan, to Al Qaeda's benefit. The most extreme among the Sunni insurgents may indeed be committed to international jihad, and they may continue to work clandestinely out of Iraq, as they do today. But these jihadis will not be comfortable. Iraqi Shiites despise them, and even many Sunnis oppose them. U.S. intelligence will indeed have to keep an eye on them, and special operations forces may occasionally need to sneak back into Iraq to strike at them. These are capabilities the United States has spent billions building up since Sept. 11.

The current civil war (or wars) will escalate. Fighting may indeed intensify after a U.S. disengagement. To come to an understanding of how wealth and power in Iraq will be shared, the political forces there must measure their relative capacity and will. The United States now stands in the way of such a measurement, and the U.S. presence de-legitimizes any outcome. The promise of a certain withdrawal date may clear the heads of some Iraqi politicians; a negotiated settlement could start to look better to them than an escalation of fighting.

Genocide. The humanitarian consequences of this intensified fighting could be grave. But genocide happens against unarmed populations; all groups in Iraq are heavily armed. Still, the violent ejection of minorities from particular areas is likely. Instead of convincing minorities to stay in neighborhoods where they are vulnerable, the United States can help people resettle in parts of Iraq that are safer.

If the civil war intensifies, regional powers will rush in. This too is already under way, but escalation into a giant civil war is not in anyone's interest. Syria, Iran, and Turkey have Kurdish minorities which may become restive during such a war. The Saudis would likely prefer that their Sunni Arab friends make a deal, rather than wage a fight that they might lose. Even Iran, whose Shiite co-religionists stand to win such a war, faces risks. The Arab Shiites are not one big happy family; they kill one another in Iraq today. Most Iraqi Shiites think of themselves as Arabs; heavy-handed Iranian intervention may energize their nationalist opposition.

The United States can engage diplomatically to remind the regional players of their interest in stabilizing Iraq. If the United States leaves Iraq deliberately, and under its own power, it still has cards to play.

The worst case. The civil war escalates; outsiders back their friends; their friends begin to lose, so the war escalates to become a regional conflagration. Could happen, but one should not exaggerate the military capabilities of any of the local players. They are all heavily armed, but conventional warfare is not the strong suit of any of the regional actors, with perhaps the exception of Turkey. The Saudi forces are almost surely helpless without help from Western contractors. Iran's air forces are obsolete. Moreover, Saudi Arabia and Iran are one-crop countries; each depends on oil facilities that are vulnerable to attack by the other. A kind of Mutual Assured Destruction should deter both from risking general war.

Four years of experience strongly suggests that the costs to the United States of persisting in Iraq will be significant. Whatever success is achieved, the end result will not be the stable liberal democratic vision of the war's supporters. Rather, after lots more killing, exhaustion may set in, deals may be struck, and factions may retreat to tend their own battered gardens.

Call this what you will, but it cannot justify the costs incurred. And this outcome will not differ significantly from what will occur if the United States begins to disengage now.

arry R. Posen is director of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This article first appeared in The Boston Globe.

International Herald Tribune Editorial - The silence of politicians

International Herald Tribune Editorial - The silence of politicians
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: April 19, 2007

There are myriad questions from the evolving tragedy at Virginia Tech. One of the most pertinent is how the purchase of such lethal weaponry by such a troubled individual can somehow be pronounced entirely legal under the laws of a civilized nation.

The guns wielded by Cho Seung Hui were traced through the laissez-faire weapons marts of Virginia and found to be legitimately obtained. So, case closed. At least according to most of America's political leadership, so studiously ducking the morning-after question of whether anything serious can be done about such an appalling situation. The victims at Virginia Tech represent a mere tenth of 1 percent of the 30,000 gunshot deaths each year.

Yet the implicit lesson is that beyond the usual calls for prayers and closure, there's no sense these days for a politician, particularly one running for president, to get into the risky business of even talking about the gun problem.

Politicians should at least have the guts to tell the nation that retrogression is the state of gun control in America. But Congress' new Democratic majority is a study in caginess, its leaders obviously mindful of the warning - issued by Terry McAuliffe, the former party chairman who is now a principal in Senator Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign - to avoid the subject as a third-rail loser. The question in the '08 campaign is whether major candidates will dare to speak of Virginia Tech as anything more than an occasion to express grief.

Chicago Tribune Editorial - The court takes on abortion

Chicago Tribune Editorial - The court takes on abortion
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published April 19, 2007

The battle over a medical procedure that critics refer to as partial-birth abortion has been long and bitter, and it is a long way from being over. Seven years ago, the Supreme Court struck down a Nebraska law banning the operation -- and that court might have also struck down a federal version passed in 2003. But two justices have been replaced since then, and the balance of views on abortion rights has shifted a bit. On Wednesday, the court upheld the law by the narrowest of margins, 5 to 4.

The decision validated efforts to eliminate an abortion method that is exceptionally gruesome and disturbing. It deferred to public sentiment on a matter of intense controversy where the Constitution provides scant guidance -- exactly the sort of issue where the judiciary should be least eager to intrude. And it approved the law only because Congress gave doctors clear notice what they may and may not do, which the Nebraska law left unclear.

But it required the court to retreat somewhat from its past emphasis on safeguarding the health of pregnant women above all else. And it underscored the mistake Congress made in not providing a narrow exception to permit this option when needed to avoid serious harm. (It does have an exception to preserve the life of the mother.)

The procedure, whose medical name is "intact dilation and evacuation," is used in some second-trimester abortions. It involves extracting the entire fetus, except the head, from the mother's body, and then puncturing the skull to remove the brains. Even some abortion-rights supporters in Congress, seeing it as intolerably close to infanticide, voted for the ban.

Many physicians, however, think that in some instances, it is the safest technique. Groups like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists argued that depriving physicians of this option would create real dangers. Congress could have accommodated the legitimate interests of both sides had it specified that this method should be used only when it is essential to prevent serious harm to the mother. The absence of such a provision, after all, was one reason the justices invalidated the Nebraska law in 2000.

This time, the court reiterated the ban would be unconstitutional if it would clearly endanger the health of women. But as Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion, there are accepted alternatives, and "there is documented medical disagreement whether the act's prohibition would ever impose significant health risks." Where there is uncertainty, the court said, Congress has the authority to regulate according to its best judgment.

The majority gave no signal that the court is prepared to overturn the 1973 decision finding that the Constitution protects the right to abortion.

And this is likely not the final word on partial-birth abortion. The opponents of the law, which has been blocked from taking effect, had the heavy burden of proving that it was unconstitutional without any evidence of how it would be applied. The majority justices stipulated that they are open to a different decision if its alleged dangers prove real.

Congress and the court have taken the view that a ban on partial-birth abortion won't make women less safe. Even critics of this decision will be hoping they're right.

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial - Unsettling decision on abortion procedure

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial - Unsettling decision on abortion procedure
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
April 19, 2007

The Supreme Court's regrettable decision to uphold the constitutionality of the so-called partial birth abortion ban, which President Bush signed into law four years ago, won't affect a large majority of women seeking an abortion. The second-trimester procedure, which doctors prefer to call an ''intact dilation and evacuation," is rarely performed. Nearly 90 percent of abortions are performed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

But in overturning several federal courts, the high court's majority not only endorsed a wrongheaded law, it lent credence to the unsettling notion that Congress should have a say in the most private and personal decisions of citizens and has the right to dictate which medical procedures are acceptable. "This ruling tells women that politicians, not doctors, will make their health care decisions for them," said Eve Gartner of Planned Parenthood. Even politicians who are doctors aren't always the most reliable judges of medical needs, as Bill Frist demonstrated with his long-distance, video-screen assessment of Terri Schiavo.

In pushing the act through Congress, conservative lawmakers played up the admittedly unsettling aspect of partial-birth abortions, which involves crushing or cutting the skull of the fetus. But the alternative methods the court pointed to in saying the ban doesn't compromise a woman's constitutional right to an abortion -- and it is method the court is concerned with here, not morality -- are no less "gruesome." Any kind of abortion procedure can be grim. The most important factor to be considered is the health of the woman. Doctors say the "D&E" procedure, which will continue to be allowed in cases where the woman's life is endangered, is, in fact, safer than alternative methods. No woman should be denied the right to make the best choice for her health, whether or not her life is at risk.

Where the Supreme Court's decision will lead is difficult to predict. Dissenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the only woman on the bench, said the ruling was an effort to "chip away a right declared again and again by this court . . . with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women's lives." But we think a court decision reversing Roe vs. Wade is highly unlikely considering the political backlash it would generate. Still, Wednesday's decision certainly gives abortion opponents a major boost, encouraging their efforts to push for more restrictions on abortion. At the very least, with the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate unlikely to go back and rewrite the partial-birth law, it appears women will have to live with it -- and do all they can to make sure it is applied as narrowly as the government has said.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Shepard Act Introduced in Congress

Shepard Act Introduced in Congress
by Bob Roehr
Copyright by The Windy City Times

The Senate version of hate crimes legislation will be called the “Matthew Shepard Act” in honor of the young man whose death in Laramie Wyoming gripped the nation eight years ago. It was introduced on April 12 by U.S. Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Gordon Smith, R-Ore.

The bill would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of categories already covered by federal hate crimes protections. It would allow training and funding in these areas and give federal authorities the power to intervene if state and local authorities do not act appropriately.

The measure uses the same language as the House version, which is known as the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. It was introduced last month.

“Dennis and I are deeply honored…This is a beautiful tribute to our son and his memory,” said Judy Shepard, executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation and the mother of Matthew Shepard.

“After eight and a half years since Matthew’s death, his memory continues to be a ringing reminder, even at the highest levels of our government, about the need for this legislation,” said Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese.

“The National Center for Transgender Equality and our allies have been working for years to get ‘gender identity’ into federal hate crimes legislation,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of that organization. “Finally, we have bills in both the House and Senate that clearly articulate the need for hate crime protections for transgender people.”

“It’s a disgrace that bigotry and ignorance have prevented Congress from taking real action to address hate crimes for nearly 20 years,” said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “We urge swift passage of this much-needed and long-overdue legislation.”

The Early Treatment for HIV Act ( ETHA ) was supposed to have been included in the Senate version of the budget resolution passed before the Easter recess, but was inadvertently left off the list of accepted amendments. AIDS advocates are hoping that the matter will be resolved in a pending conference with the House.

Advocates are continuing to line up sponsors for a stand-alone version of ETHA in the Senate. There is as yet no version introduced in the House and they are pressing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to introduce the bill, so far to no avail.

“The community needs to increase pressure on Pelosi to introduce the bill. A list of past ETHA supports is attached with assignments. Please ask these offices to call Pelosi’s office and ask her to introduce ETHA,” a leader of the coalition working on the legislation wrote in an email to fellow members.

Sens. Smith; Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.; and John Kerry, D-Mass., have introduced a technical amendment that would allow an expanded group of services to be counted toward the annual out-of-pocket threshold under Medicare Part D drug prescription plan.

The measure would resolve the so called “donut hole” that currently does not allow certain expenses to be counted toward that threshold. It is particularly relevant for copayments and assistance in purchasing HIV drug

Aldermanic Runoffs Full of Upsets

Aldermanic Runoffs Full of Upsets
Copyright by The Windy City Times

The labor unions have spoken—and, in the process, have ended the careers of some long-term aldermen.

Labor support contributed to the victories of at least four aldermanic candidates in the April 17 elections in Chicago—with probably the biggest upset involving Alderman Dorothy Tillman of the 3rd Ward, who, like some of the other upset victims, were backed by Mayor Richard Daley. However, Howard Brookins ( 21st Ward ) and Bernie Stone ( 50th Ward ) fought off challenges to reclaim their seats.

Another victor in the elections was Jesse Jackson, Jr., who actually supported Tillman’s opponent, University of Chicago employee Pat Dowell. Jackson, who is married to newly-elected Alderman Sandi Jackson, also supported Bob Fioretti, who easily defeated long-term incumbent Madeline Haithcock in the 2nd Ward runoff election.

Labor unions decided to target all aldermen who supported Daley’s veto of the so-called “big-box” ordinance that would have increased wages and benefits at such retail stores as Wal-Mart and Target. In setting about to unseat said supporters, unions sent massive amounts of campaign workers and spent huge amounts of money for their chosen candidates.

Here’s a rundown of how the runoffs went. Material is based on unofficial results from the Associated Press:

—2nd Ward: Civil rights attorney Bob Fioretti fought off incumbent Alderman Madeline Haithcock to secure 66 percent of the vote. Haithcock had held the 2nd Ward seat since 1993.

—3rd Ward: It seems that 23-year incumbent Alderman Dorothy Tillman—and her famed hats—will not frequent City Council chambers ( at least for the next four years ) after results showed that challenger Pat Dowell garnered 54 percent of the vote in the ward, which contains such neighborhoods as Englewood and Bronzeville. On the night of April 17, Dowell declared victory—although Tillman would not concede.

—15th Ward: Toni Foulkes, a union activist and Jewel bakery employee, won the seat with 60 percent of the vote over attorney Felicia Simmons-Stovall. Incumbent alderman Ted Thomas, citing health-related concerns, did not seek re-election.

—16th Ward: Incumbent Alderman Shirley Coleman, an ordained minister who focuses on crime and poverty issues, lost to Cook County correctional officer Joann Thompson, who supported the big-box ordinance and had the backing of organized labor. Thompson prevailed, 57 percent to 43 percent.

—18th Ward: In a race that was unusual in the sense that the incumbent won easily, Lona Lane ( who was appointed to replace Tom Murphy by Mayor Daley in December ) bested challenger Paul Stewart, 67 percent to 33 percent. At late as last month, though, Stewart had considered dropping out of the race.

—21st Ward: Incumbent Alderman Howard Brookins, Jr., defeated union-backed Leroy Jones, Jr., 61 percent to 39 percent. Brookins pushed to have a Wal-Mart in his South Side ward and failed; therefore, unions supported Jones.

—24th Ward: With about 95 percent of the votes counted ( as of early April 18 ) , community activist Sharon Dixon had a 52 percent-48 percent edge of incumbent Alderman Michael Chandler.

—32nd Ward: In a contentious race that featured reportedly featured name-calling and allegations of a candidate investigation ( see the April 11 online “32nd Ward Race Gets Ugly” article in Windy City Times ) , challenger Scott Waguespack held a 51 percent-49 percent edge, according to unofficial results. Among the neighborhoods in the ward are Bucktown, Lakeview and Wicker Park. Daley and several aldermen contributed to Matlak’s campaign.

—35th Ward: Incumbent Alderman Rey Colón easily defeated former alderman Vilma Colom, securing 62 percent of the vote. Colón had been criticized for many things, including contributions he reportedly received from real estate developers. However, things turned particularly acrimonious when material alleging that Colón had a past criminal record—claiming that he had arrested for everything from drunk driving to drug possession—was mailed out.

—43rd Ward: On the North Side ( in the Lincoln Park area ) , Alderman Vi Daley ( who is not related to the mayor ) defeated former federal prosecutor Michele Smith 53 percent to 47 percent. Smith is a former prosecutor and businesswoman. Vi Daley has accused Smith of exchanging beer for votes by holding a party that featured drink specials for early voters with receipts. Smith contended that she stopped those trades from happening.

—49th Ward: In an extremely close race, incumbent Alderman Joe Moore received 51 percent of the vote while challenger Don Gordon got 49 percent, with about 98 percent of the vote counted as of early April 18. Moore, an activist who supports the big-box ordinance and who has even taken on foie gras, faced Gordon, who charged that Moore was not paying enough attention to issues such as crime and development.

—50th Ward: Incumbent Alderman Bernie Stone, who has served the area for more than three decades, turned back challenger Naisy Dolar 53 percent to 47 percent. Like some of the other races, the battle between Stone and Dolar became contentious; according to a press release, Dolar stormed out of a recent live radio debate with Stone.