Saturday, June 02, 2007

New Hampshire Approves Same-Sex Unions

New Hampshire Approves Same-Sex Unions
From The Associated Press
Copyright by The Associated Press

May 31, 2007 · New Hampshire became the latest state to allow civil unions Thursday, giving gay couples access to the rights and responsibilities of marriage.

Gov. John Lynch signed the legislation that also recognizes legal same-sex unions from other states.

"We in New Hampshire have had a long and proud tradition taking the lead in opposing discrimination," Lynch said. "Today that tradition continues."

Legislators who gathered for the bill signing packed the governor's chambers and overflowed into an adjoining sitting room. Attendees snapped photos and burst into applause as Lynch signed his name.

"I've listened and I've heard all the arguments," said Lynch, a Democrat. "I do not believe that this bill threatens marriage. I believe that this is a matter of conscience and fairness."

Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson was among those attending. Although his consecration in 2003 as the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church divided the worldwide Anglican Communion to which it belongs, Robinson and his longtime partner plan to take advantage of civil unions.

"This is not a radical departure," Robinson said of the bill. "This is a real confirmation of what New Hampshire has always been about: the freedom of its own citizens and fairness for everyone."

Robinson said he will not direct Episcopal priests in the state to bless same-sex unions but will let priests decide that individually. Such blessings have been another divisive issue for Episcopalians and the Anglican union.

Among the U.S. states, Massachusetts alone recognizes gay marriage. Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, Maine, California and Washington state allow either civil unions or domestic partnerships, and Oregon will join the list with New Hampshire in January. Hawaii extends certain spousal rights to same-sex couples and cohabiting heterosexual pairs.

Rice plays down talk of U.S. war with Iran - IAEA chief rips alleged remarks by Cheney aides

Rice plays down talk of U.S. war with Iran - IAEA chief rips alleged remarks by Cheney aides
By Helene Cooper
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune and The New York Times
Published June 2, 2007

MADRID -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought Friday to minimize any sense of division within the Bush administration over Iran after the head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency delivered a pointed warning against what he called the "new crazies" pushing for military action against Tehran.

"The president of the United States has made it clear that we are on a course that is a diplomatic course," Rice said here. "That policy is supported by all of the members of the Cabinet and by the vice president of the United States."

Rice's assurance came as senior officials at the State Department were expressing fury over reports that members of Vice President Dick Cheney's staff have told others that Cheney believes the diplomatic track with Iran is pointless and is looking for ways to persuade Bush to confront Iran militarily.

In a news conference Friday, Rice maintained that Cheney supports her strategy of trying to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions through diplomacy. A senior Bush administration official separately denied that there was a deep divide between Rice and Cheney on Iran.

But, the official said, "The vice president is not necessarily responsible for every single thing that comes out of the mouth of every single member of his staff." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about any divide within the administration.

The reports about hawkish statements by members of Cheney's staff first surfaced last week in The Washington Note, an influential blog put out by Steve Clemons of the left-leaning New America Foundation. The reports have alarmed European diplomats, some of whom fear that the struggle over Iran's nuclear program may evolve into a decision by the Bush administration to resort to force against Iran.

In interviews, people who have spoken with Cheney's staff have confirmed the broad outlines of the reports and said that some of the hawkish statements to outsiders had been made by David Wurmser, a former Pentagon official who is now the principal deputy assistant to Cheney for national security affairs. The accounts were provided by people who expressed alarm about the statements but refused to be quoted by name.

During an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. Radio broadcast Friday, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he did not want to see another war like the one still raging in Iraq more than four years after the American-led invasion there.

"You do not want to give additional argument to new crazies who say, 'Let's go and bomb Iran,' " ElBaradei said, in his strongest warning yet against the use of force in Iran. "I wake up every morning and see 100 Iraqis, innocent civilians, are dying."

ElBaradei, who has urged Western powers to consider allowing Iran limited uranium enrichment on its own territory, is already facing criticism from Bush administration officials who say he should stick to monitoring Iran's nuclear program and leave diplomatic policy to the six countries that have banded to confront Tehran's ambitions.

But several West European officials echoed his concern and said privately that they were worried that Cheney's "red line" -- the point at which he believed Iran was on the brink of acquiring a nuclear weapon and a military strike was necessary -- may be coming soon.

"We fully believe that Foggy Bottom is committed to the diplomatic track," one European official said Wednesday, referring to the State Department. "But there's some concern about the vice president's office."

TB case prompts questions - Patient sidestepped federal safeguards

TB case prompts questions - Patient sidestepped federal safeguards
By Jeremy Manier and Judith Graham, Tribune staff reporters. Jeremy Manier reported from Chicago and Judith Graham, from Denver
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published June 2, 2007

In a time of widespread worry over pandemic flu and bioterrorism, the case of Andrew Speaker offered a prime chance for international health agencies to show how they would prevent the spread of a potentially deadly disease.

Speaker carried a virulent form of tuberculosis by airplane to Europe, where U.S. and European officials tried to isolate him and ensure that he could not endanger others. He was stubborn and afraid, but he was just one patient -- as opposed to the thousands or millions of people a flu pandemic could drive to panic.

Yet the global health network failed to keep Speaker from boarding a plane last week and flying from the Czech Republic to Canada. A U.S. Border Patrol agent let him cross into New York even though he saw Speaker on a public health watch list, later explaining that the man did not look sick.

Such lapses have shown the need for more effective prevention measures to experts within and outside the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Director Julie Gerberding said Friday that at one crucial juncture last week, agency leaders did not know if they had the proper jurisdiction to send an agency jet to bring Speaker back from Europe.

Gerberding said the CDC needs better procedures for dealing with international travel, and perhaps stronger laws to handle uncooperative infected patients.

"In this case I think we've learned a number of things within the travel system that need to be improved," Gerberding said at a news conference. "You can believe me when I tell you we will aggressively approve any changes in statutory authority that will help us clarify what, if anything, can be done in the future to minimize this kind of problem."

Fellow passengers to be tested

The lessons for future preparedness may be more significant than the risk from Speaker's strain of tuberculosis, which is difficult to treat but still rare in the U.S. His infection does not appear highly contagious, but passengers who shared his flights likely will be tested for up to 10 weeks.

Speaker's case can be compared to a drill in which a law enforcement officer tries to sneak a plastic gun through an airport checkpoint, said Dr. James L. Cook, chief of infectious diseases at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"One guy tested the system, and it failed," Cook said. "That's not a good sign."

Federal authorities flew Speaker this week from New York to Atlanta and finally to Denver's National Jewish Medical and Research Center, widely considered the nation's top center for treatment of tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases.

Its reputation was one reason Speaker was so desperate to return to the U.S. against the CDC's instructions, he said in an interview from the Denver hospital Friday morning on ABC's "Good Morning America." An apologetic Speaker, a 31-year-old lawyer from Atlanta, said he feared that if he stayed in Europe, "it's very real that I could have died there."

Speaker had traveled to Europe to get married in Greece, and news reports had indicated the couple had wed. But the mayor of the island of Santorini told the Associated Press on Friday that Speaker and his fiance had not brought the necessary papers. The woman's father is a tuberculosis researcher at the CDC, but officials there say Speaker's strain did not come from the agency's labs.

Gerberding said CDC officials had not known how serious Speaker's infection was until May 22, and they reached him in Italy the next day.

Military transport considered

The CDC could not surmount unexpected legal and bureaucratic hurdles fast enough to ensure that Speaker either stayed in Italy or returned home on a government jet where he would not infect other passengers, Gerberding said. She said the agency had looked into using a Department of Defense air ambulance or even a boat, but Speaker left Italy before plans could be finalized.

"It wasn't even clear to us ... whatever transportation ability we had, whether or not the Italian [health] ministry was in a position to say, 'Fine, come and get your patient, do what you need to do,'" she said.

Asked how the CDC would respond to a true pandemic given its difficulty with a single patient, Gerberding defended her agency's performance.

"One thing that you don't realize is this is one case, but there are actually many, many, many cases where we have been successful," Gerberding said.

It's possible to treat and cure even the highly drug-resistant form of tuberculosis, though the success rate with drugs alone is about 33 percent, experts said. Doctors at National Jewish said that by the end of the week Speaker will be on at least five medications and taking at least 12 pills a day or more. It appears he'll stay at the facility for at least two months. If he fails to respond to drugs, doctors may consider removing a portion of his infected lung.

Although Speaker is under a federal isolation order -- the first issued since 1963 -- there is no security guard outside his hospital room door.


Kevorkian freed from prison - His views haven't changed, aide says

Kevorkian freed from prison - His views haven't changed, aide says
By Kathy Barks Hoffman
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune and The Associated Press
Published June 2, 2007

COLDWATER, Mich. -- Jack Kevorkian had few words but a broad smile as he walked out of prison Friday, ending eight years behind bars for helping end the life of a man suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease.

The retired pathologist known as "Dr. Death" said his release felt "wonderful -- one of the high points in life" as he paused near a van waiting to drive him to the home of friends in suburban Detroit.

Outside a gift shop across from the 25-acre prison grounds, about a dozen people stood in a show of support. The group held signs bearing such phrases as "Jack, we're glad you're out of the box" and "Dr. K is on his way!"

The attention focused on a man who claimed participation in at least 130 assisted suicides brought a rebuke from the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit.

"For 10 years, Jack Kevorkian's actions resembled those of a pathological serial killer. It will be truly regrettable if he's now treated as a celebrity parolee instead of the convicted murderer he is," archdiocese spokesman Ned McGrath said in a statement.

Kevorkian, 79, spoke only a few words to reporters after leaving the prison with his lawyers and legal assistants.

As he got ready for the ride home, "60 Minutes" correspondent Mike Wallace, 89, got out of the van and embraced him, asking, "What do you say, young man?" Kevorkian is to appear in a "60 Minutes" segment Sunday.

Inmates at the Lakeland Correctional Facility, about 100 miles southwest of Detroit, had been waiting for a glimpse of Kevorkian, while reporters greeted him on the outside with questions.

Attorney Mayer Morganroth said his client planned a news conference on Tuesday.

"He thanks everybody for coming. He thanks the thousands who have supported him, have written to him," Morganroth said. "He just wants a little privacy for the next few days."

Throughout the 1990s, Kevorkian challenged authorities to make his actions legal -- or try to stop him. He burned state orders against him and showed up at court in costume.

"You think I'm going to obey the law? You're crazy," he said in 1998 shortly before he was accused -- then convicted -- of murder after injecting lethal drugs into Thomas Youk, 52, a suburban Detroit man suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease.

Kevorkian videotaped that death and sent the footage to "60 Minutes," which aired it. He challenged prosecutors to charge him.

He was convicted and given a 10- to 25-year sentence for second-degree murder. He earned time off his sentence for good behavior.

Kevorkian is expected to move to Bloomfield Hills, just outside Detroit, where he will live with friends and resume the artistic and musical hobbies he missed while in prison. His lawyer and friends have said he plans to live on a small pension and Social Security while doing some writing and speaking.

Kevorkian has promised never to help in another assisted suicide. But Ruth Holmes, who has worked as his legal assistant and handled his correspondence while he was in prison, said his views on the subject have not changed.

"This should be a matter that is handled as a fundamental human right that is between the patient, the doctor, his family and his God," Holmes said of Kevorkian's beliefs.

One of the conditions of his parole is that Kevorkian cannot help anyone else die. He's also forbidden to provide care for anyone who is older than 62 or disabled. He could go back to prison if he violates his parole.

Kevorkian must report regularly to a parole officer and cannot leave the state without permission. He can speak about assisted suicide, but can't put out anything that shows how to make a device like the machine he devised to give lethal drugs, according to his parole order.

Kevorkian has a variety of ailments including diabetes, hepatitis C, high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries in his brain.

What Merkel can win in the coming battle with Bush

What Merkel can win in the coming battle with Bush
By Bertrand Benoit
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: June 2 2007 03:00 | Last updated: June 2 2007 03:00

The consensus among Berlin's foreign-policy pundits today is that Angela Merkel has finally met her nemesis. Come next week, George W. Bush, the man she tried to make into a friend, will topple the German chancellor from her pedestal. She will be queen of Europe no more.

By rejecting Berlin's climate proposals at the Group of Eight summit, which Ms Merkel is hosting at Heiligendamm, the US president will end the chancellor's long string of foreign policy successes, they say.

Bizarrely, she is being compared both to Tony Blair, who embracedMr Bush and got scorn in return, and to Gerhard Schröder, her predecessor, who pledged "unlimited solidarity" with the US after 9/11 only to take the lead in Europe's opposition to the Iraq war.

Some of the praise that has greeted Ms Merkel's skilful steps on the world stage over the past six months was hyperbolic, if not patronising. But conversely, it seems she is now being buried too hastily, for in some significant respects she may return strengthened from Heiligendamm.

There are sizeable caveats: if the yardstick of Germany's diplomatic success is its ability, as current president of the G8, to rally others to its views, then the summit is shaping up as a flop.

In the past few weeks, American negotiators have rejected all of Berlin's suggestions for the G8's climate communiqué. There is to be no recognition that global warming should be limited to 2°C and no commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 50 per cent of their 1990 level by 2050. In fact, there are to be no quantifiable targets for temperature, emissions or anything else.

Worse, Mr Bush's apparent U-turn on climate this week landed onMs Merkel like a slap in the face. By calling on the world's biggest polluters to discuss emission targets, Mr Bush not only crossed the German chancellor's only red line on the matter - her insistence that all such international initiatives should remain embedded in the United Nations-led Kyoto process, not compete with it - but he did so knowingly, since US negotiators had already floated his idea in Berlin and met with a German rebuke last week.

Although the summit looks likely to deliver a fudged communiqué on climate, Ms Merkel may in fact emerge reinforced because of the coincidence of timing that put her in the chair of both the G8 and the European Union this year - the EU six-month presidency ends next month.

At the next quarterly EU summit, starting on June 21, she will seek to craft an agreement among the EU's 27 member states on reviving the union's constitutional treaty. Reconciling their contradictory views will require feats of diplomatic acrobatics and great authority, and this is where Mr Bush can help.

Consider the EU-Russia summit of two weeks ago. On paper, it was a pathetic failure. Negotiations about renewing a partnership agreement between the two could not even begin and Ms Merkel and Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, ended up curtly swapping accusations and counter-accusations on camera over human rights.

As a result, however, Germanysaw its credit with the Baltic states, Poland and the Czech Republicsoar. This was a big change froma week earlier - when the Lithuanian and German ambassadors to theEU swapped angry words overRussia - and one achieved without sacrificing the fundamentals of Germany's Russia policy.

Do not expect a similar exchange with Mr Bush at Heiligendamm.Ms Merkel will bend over backwards not to humiliate the US president. But she will stick to her climate proposals as agreed at the last European summit in March. She will not get her original communiqué, but she will use the chair's conclusions, a separate document, to restate her, and the EU's, original goals. Like the EU-Russia summit, the G8 summit, though a failure, would thus have boosted Ms Merkel's credibility vis-a-vis her EU counterparts as a loyal, reliable partner. This does not make the constitution a done deal, but it is hard to imagine how it could damage her: something similar is bound to take place in Germany itself.

The ultimate goal of any elected ruler is to be re-elected. This is particularly true of Ms Merkel, who heads an unwieldy grand coalition with her rival Social Democrats, which she never wanted and is hoping to ditch for a more natural alliance with the free-market FDP after the next general election.

In Germany, as nearly everywhere in the world, nothing can boost a politician's ratings like a dispute with Mr Bush. Ms Merkel will not return from Heiligendamm a victor, but she will have expanded her territory. The economic reformer, the champion of climate protection, the advocate of globalisation with a human face, and now the courageous leader who will neither kowtow to Mr Putin nor bend before Mr Bush, she is quietly pushing the Social Democrats towards the edge of the political terrain.

By September 2009, at the very latest, Ms Merkel will run for re-election. She can hardly expect to maintain her personal ratings - well into the 70s, a figure unheard of for a chancellor - that long, but hers is no bad position to start from. And by the time she runs, a new American president will have taken his - or her - oath. And there will be just enough time left to clinch a deal on a post-Kyoto protocol.

The writer is the FT's Berlin bureau chief

Democrats show similarities with Bush

Democrats show similarities with Bush
By Edward Luce
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: June 2 2007 03:00 | Last updated: June 2 2007 03:00

Tomorrow the eight Democratic hopefuls for 2008 hold their second debate in the tiny state of New Hampshire. But if their first outing last month was anything to go by, critics of the way the George W. Bush's administration has handled the post-September 11 world may come away feeling short-changed.

With the notable exception of Iraq, on which all the candidates favour a withdrawal of US combat troops within a year or so, few have directly challenged the parameters of Mr Bush's "global war on terror". Among the leading candidates only John Edwards has proposed an overhaul in how to frame it.

Advisers acknowledge that some of this caution, particularly from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, stems from the continuing suspicion of Democratic instincts on national security.

Since protests against the Vietnam war, Democrats have had the reputation of being the "blame America first" party. There is also a desire to demonstrate that calling for a withdrawal from Iraq does not imply a reluctance to go to war.

"The Democratic candidates are bending over backwards to show that they would have no hesitation in firing that missile or in authorising this or that war," says Steve Clemons at the New America Foundation, a centrist think-tank. "In many respects they are running on a Bush-lite foreign policy platform."

Perhaps the most notable similarity with the Bush administration is on Israel. As recently as 1999 and 2000, it was acceptable for Bill Clinton, a Democratic president, to talk about "Israel's occupation of the West Bank" as an obstacle to peace. Mr Clinton frequently referred to Israeli settlements in the occupied territories in the same vein. That is no longer mainstream.

The section in Mrs Clinton's website dealing with foreign policy summarises her record on defending Israel and says she has "spoken out against the problem of anti-semitism in Palestinian textbooks". Nowhere does it mention her support for a renewed peace process.

In an article in Foreign Affairs published yesterday, Mr Obama calls for a renewed focus on an Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He adds that "our starting point must always be a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel". Mr Obama was criticised after the first debate for having forgotten Israel when asked to list the US's key allies.

"The plain fact is there is no upside for candidates to challenge the prevailing assumptions about Israel," said one of their advisers, who asked not to be named. "The best strategy is to win the White House and then change the debate."

On Iran, most recommend unconditional talks, in contrast to Mr Bush who says Tehran must first suspend its enrichment of uranium. But all the contenders have come close to repeating the formula put forward by John McCain, the leading Republican candidate, who said the only thing worse than war with Iran was a nuclear-armed Iran.

"In dealing with this threat no option can be taken off the table," said Mrs Clinton earlier this year. Mr Obama also says the military option can not be taken off the table.

"Iran provides an opportunity for the Democrats to show they are realistic and tough on foreign policy because it poses a genuine threat to Israel and broader regional stability," says Ivo Daalder, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who advises Mr Obama's campaign.

Similarly, the leading candidates agree on the need to restore trust in America around the world - in part by closing Guantánamo and providing legal rights to terrorist suspects. But all three echo Mr Bush's call for an expansion of the US army and marines by between 80,000 and 92,000 soldiers.

None, says Mr Clemons, questions the underlying logic of relying so heavily on projection of force in foreign policy. "America is at a stage when we need someone to say: 'We're stuck, let's revisit the fundamentals,' " says Mr Clemons. "But so far they are too timid to risk it."

US and Spain clash over Cuba

US and Spain clash over Cuba
By Leslie Crawford in Madrid
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: June 2 2007 03:00 | Last updated: June 2 2007 03:00

The US and Spain yesterday clashed over how to promote a democratic transition in Cuba, during the first official visit to Madrid by Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state.

Spain has never broken relations with its former colony, even during General Francisco Franco's strongly anti-Communist dictatorship, and favours constructive engagement with Fidel Castro's regime. Spanish companies have big investments in the island's tourism and tobacco industries.

After meeting Miguel Angel Moratinos, the Spanish foreign minister, in Madrid, Ms Rice said: "I have real doubts about the value of engagement with a regime that is anti-democratic and that is trying to secure the transition of one regime to the next anti-democratic regime."

Mr Moratinos said: "I hope that, over time, we will convince Ms Rice that our tactics can deliver results." Earlier this week, Spanish diplomats were allowed to visit Cuban jails for the first time. Cuba and Spain agreed to establish a dialogue on human rights following a visit by Mr Moratinos to Havana in April.

Ms Rice said Cuba needed "structural change," not a dynastic succession, and implied that Spain should be more sympathetic to the plight of Mr Castro's political opponents.

Mr Moratinos was criticised by human rights groups for not meeting dissidents during his visit in April, but yesterday he bristled at the implication that Spain was not doing enough to promote human rights on the Caribbean island.

"We have no difficulty talking to dissidents," he said. "The Spanish embassy in Havana is in contact with them. Our diplomats visit Cuba and talk to dissidents. We worry about them and we have even secured the release of some of them. Who has talked more to them? Who?" he asked.

Mr Moratinos said he and Ms Rice had had "frank" discussions and that they had agreed to better align tactics on the shared goal of bringing democracy to Cuba. "We will work more closely to ensure our efforts are complementary and not contradictory," he said.

There was some agreement on Venezuela. Both Ms Rice and Mr Moratinos expressed concern at the closure of a television station in Caracas that was critical of Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan president. The two called on Mr Chávez to cease his attacks on the free press. Ms Rice's visit came in the wake of a meeting in Madrid between Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, and Ali Larijani, Iran's top security official, over Tehran's nuclear programme, writes Daniel Dombey in London. Diplomats said the meeting failed to produce a breakthrough.

The US, together with other members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, has backed the talks, but unity has been strained in recent weeks, as Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog, has called for a more flexible stance.

"You do not want to give additional argument to new crazies who say: 'Let's go and bomb Iran'," Mr ElBaradei told the BBC in comments released yesterday.

A difficult war for Democrats

A difficult war for Democrats
By Christopher Caldwell
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: June 1 2007 19:37 | Last updated: June 1 2007 19:37

Two seemingly contradictory things are happening in the US. At the very moment when anti-war sentiment has triumphed, the anti-war movement appears to have stalled. Those who call the Iraq war an epochal catastrophe have won the battle for public opinion – decisively and irreversibly. A New York Times poll in late July showed that 76 per cent of Americans thought the war was going badly or very badly, and 61 per cent rued the decision to invade.

You would never guess this by looking at the mood of American politics. A month ago, George W. Bush vetoed a supplemental defence spending bill that contained a deadline for removing troops from Iraq. Democrats were sharply divided on whether they should offer the president a new bill with the deadline taken out or stake everything on ending the war through an apocalyptic budget confrontation. They chose the former route. In late May, the new deadline-less version passed 280-142 in the House and 80-14 in the Senate, with mostly Republican votes.

To the Democrats’ committed militants, it appeared that the new majority, elected in a spirit of disgust over Iraq, was voting for the programme of the discredited minority. A few days after the vote, Cindy Sheehan, an impassioned and erratic war protester whose son was killed in action in Iraq in 2004, announced in a letter to a partisan website that she was abandoning the anti-war movement. Letter writers to The New York Times have professed themselves “dismayed, disappointed and frustrated”, “disgusted” and “utterly baffled” by Democratic wishy-washiness., the partisan activist group, said it might support challenges to Democrats who voted for the bill. John Edwards, the populist presidential candidate, said: “Bush will not listen. Congress will not fight. There’s no one left to lead the country now but we the people.”

Such responses are unreasonable and unrealistic. Democrats are now steering the war towards its close. The inclination of Republicans is to follow them and they have hinted they will do so once General David Petraeus, commander of US forces in Iraq, testifies before Congress in September. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, said last week: “I think that the handwriting is on the wall that we are going in a different direction in the fall and I expect the president to lead it.”

The problem for Democrats is that, in a democracy, ending a war that one’s country is losing is a delicate matter. The anti-war position can be the correct – and even the patriotic – one, but it presents a number of traps. Expressing a legislative sense against the war emboldens the enemy and weakens troops in the field. Any anti-war coalition will have a hard time striking before the iron is very, very hot.

As the US public sees it, setting a date to bring America’s fighting men back to their lawn-mowers and bowling alleys and television sets is all right. Depriving them of the means to defend themselves on the battlefield is not. That is why the Democrats’ position is complicated by their past opposition. In the early days of the Iraq fighting, anti-war Democrats honed oratorical points that, they hoped, would turn the American public against the war. One of the most effective concerned “body armour”. America’s brave soldiers, Democrats said, were endangered because they were under-equipped. Donald Rumsfeld, then defence secretary, was forcing them to fight on the cheap.

Battles over funding can bring nasty surprises to politicians who think they have the will of the people behind them. In 1995, broad support for Newt Gingrich’s new Republican majority evaporated when a stalemate with beleaguered Bill Clinton threatened to shut down the federal government. Today, fairly or not, it is congressional Democrats who will be blamed in the event of a funding cut-off in Iraq. According to the poll in The New York Times, only 13 per cent of Americans want to stop funding for the war outright. But 69 per cent favour setting benchmarks – the approach followed in the bill that Democrats passed and Mr Bush signed.

Hardline Democrats have accused their representatives of cynicism and questioned whether they are as opposed to the war as they profess. A majority of Democrats in the Senate, after all, voted to grant Mr Bush authority to use force against Saddam Hussein in late 2002. The circle of foreign-policy intellectuals around Mr Clinton were instrumental in rallying the American public to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. A pair of new books published this week recount Hillary Clinton’s equivocation on the Iraq issue.

There is, however, a solid piece of evidence that Democrats’ vote on the Iraq bill was a principled one. It is that they linked it to an increase in the minimum wage – a centrepiece of their domestic platform. This made it possible to get Mr Bush’s signature, but it also deprived the Democrats of a campaign issue for 2008, since the wage rise passed with mostly Republican votes. If Democrats are not milking the minimum wage for partisan gain, they are unlikely to play politics with Iraq.

For now, Democrats have got all they can out of the Iraq issue. That the American public is sick of Mr Bush and tired of Iraq does not mean that it yet trusts Democrats in power. Activists in all walks of political life often have the mistaken impression that without their hectoring, no consensus would ever form. But today, the best case against the war is being made by the war itself. The anti-war cause has broadened to include many who supported the war early on. Hardline partisans who embraced protest reflexively in the run-up to the war half a decade ago are still the most vocal part of the anti-war movement. They are no longer the most representative.

The writer is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard

Wal-Mart scales back ‘Supercenter’ stores

Wal-Mart scales back ‘Supercenter’ stores
By Jonathan Birchall in Fayetteville
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: June 1 2007 18:56 | Last updated: June 1 2007 18:56

Wal-Mart, the largest US retailer, said on Friday it was cutting around one third of the new “Supercenter” stores it planned to open this year, in response to growing investor concerns over diminishing returns on its store expansion programme.

Tom Schoewe, chief financial officer, announced at Wal-Mart’s annual meeting that the company had cut the number of “Supercenters” — stores with more than 200,000 square feet — that it hoped to open in its current fiscal year to 190-200, down from its previous target of 265-270. In the future, Wal-Mart will aim to open just 170 “Supercenters” annually.

The move marks a significant strategic shift in the history of Wal-Mart, which has pursued aggressive growth in the US since it emerged on the national scene in the 1980s.

However, the increasing saturation of Wal-Mart’s presence in some areas has led to new stores taking away sales from existing stores, leading to reduced returns on investment even as sales continued to grow, reaching more than $340bn globally last year.

The company has also faced persistent local campaigns against new store openings, led by the UFCW grocery workers’ union which objects to the retail giant’s anti-union stance.

Lee Scott, chief executive, said on Friday “the attacks from our opponents are not working and they are not going to work”.

Wal-Mart is also to increase its share buy-backs by an additional $5bn to $15bn.

Rob Walton, chairman of Wal-Mart and the son of its founder Sam Walton, on Friday reaffirmed the family’s confidence in Mr Scott, who has been blamed for sluggish sales growth and a lagging share price.

Mr Walton told 20,000 Wal-Mart employees and shareholders that “the board and our Walton family have absolute confidence in your leadership”, saying that “few people are as passionate about our company and our mission”.

The Walton family controls almost 40 per cent of the retailer’s shares.

The meeting, which combines formal shareholders’ business with entertainment and pep talks from top executives, is a unique part of Wal-Mart’s corporate culture. This year’s event included an appearance by Jennifer Lopez, as well as tributes to acts of bravery by store employees and the election to its board of Allen Questrom, a veteran US retail executive.

White House inner circle loses key aide

White House inner circle loses key aide
By Andrew Ward in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: June 1 2007 21:15 | Last updated: June 2 2007 00:40

President George W. Bush lost one of his closest advisers on Friday when Dan Bartlett, the White House counsellor, announced his resignation.

As the president’s longest-serving aide, Mr Bartlett was one of the few remaining members of the close-knit group of Texan advisers that once formed the heart of the Bush administration. He is the latest in a series of high-level departures from the administration over the past 14 months as Mr Bush’s second-term agenda has slowed to a crawl amid turmoil in Iraq and the Democratic takeover of Capitol Hill.

The 36-year-old, who has served Mr Bush since his first run for governor of Texas in 1994, said he was leaving to spend more time with his family. “I’ve had competing families,” he said. “And, unfortunately, the Bush family has prevailed too many times and it’s high time for the Bartlett family to finally prevail.”

Mr Bush said he would miss Mr Bartlett “very much” and described his contribution to the administration as “immeasurable.”

Of the so-called ‘Texas mafia” that accompanied Mr Bush to the White House in 2001, only Karl Rove, his chief political adviser, and Alberto Gonzales, attorney-general, will remain after Mr Bartlett’s exit next month.

Mr Gonzales, who was Mr Bush’s general counsel as Texas governor, is at the centre of a political storm over the firing of several US prosecutors, throwing his future into doubt. Other Texan allies that left the administration include Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel and failed Supreme Court nominee, and Scott McClellan, the former press secretary.

Mr Bartlett is the most senior member of Mr Bush’s inner circle to leave since Andrew Card, the former chief of staff, stepped down last year as part of a White House reshuffle intended to inject fresh energy.

Instead, Mr Bush’s app roval rating has continued to slide and policy achievements have been few.

Donald Rumsfeld, the def ence secretary, resigned following the midterm election defeat in November and several junior officials have left in recent weeks, including J.D. Crouch, deputy head of the National Security Council. Mr Bush has had difficulty filling vacancies, stren g thening the impression he is becoming a lame duck 18 months before leaving office.

Americans turn away from SUVs

Americans turn away from SUVs
By Bernard Simon in Toronto
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: June 1 2007 22:32 | Last updated: June 1 2007 22:32

Americans are turning away from gas-guzzling sport-utility vehicles, luxury cars and pick-up trucks in favour of smaller, more fuel-efficient models, judging by May sales figures.

The trend has given a boost to Toyota, which reported record sales last month, up 14 per cent from a year earlier.

General Motors’ light vehicle sales rose by almost 10 per cent. But Ford Motor reported a 7 per cent decline, due mainly to a sharp cutback in low-margin sales to car-rental companies. Ford’s retail sales were 3 per cent lower, with demand weakening in the final week of the month.

Chrysler gained 4.3 per cent, reflecting strong demand for its Jeep brand, which has introduced several new models. There was one more selling day last month than in May 2006.

GM cut its estimate of total 2007 car and light truck sales from 16.7m to 16.5m. In addition, said Paul Ballew, GM’s sales analyst, the industry is “wrestling with the mix shift that goes along with the run-up in gas prices”. Mr Ballew projected improved sales in 2008.

Last month’s sales were helped by an increase in discounts and other incentives, especially by Japanese manufacturers.

According to, an online car-buying service, Honda’s incentives reached a record of $1,399 per vehicle last month, up 52 per cent from a year earlier. Honda’s sales grew 2.5 per cent last month from May 2006.

“Some of their vehicles are a bit long in the tooth, and a handful compete in segments where generous incentives are essentially demanded,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst.

The shift to smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles resulted in cars and crossovers making up 52 per cent of Ford’s retail sales in May, compared with 30 per cent three years ago. Crossovers look like SUVs but are built like cars, giving them better fuel consumption., a car-shopping website, reported that three hybrid models – the Toyota Camry hybrid, Ford Escape hybrid and Toyota Prius – recorded big increases in searches last month, with jumps of 52-60 per cent. Prius sales almost trebled in May to a new record.

Mr Ballew said that the housing slump was hurting luxury vehicle sales in California and Florida. Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand, saw a 1.7 per cent decline in SUVs, while Cadillac was 6.1 per cent lower.

Strong job creation lifts US economy

Strong job creation lifts US economy
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: June 1 2007 15:30 | Last updated: June 1 2007 21:40
The US economy appeared to be pulling out of a stall on Friday as figures showing surprisingly strong job creation and factory expansion pushed stocks into record territory.

With inflation also slightly softer, there is little immediate pressure on the Federal Reserve to change interests rates in either direction.

Alan Ruskin, a currency strategist at RBS, said the figures “should send another dagger in the heart” of those investors betting that the Fed would cut rates.

Employers added 157,000 staff to their payrolls last month following an increase of 80,000 the previous month, while the unemployment rate held steady, near to five-year lows at 4.5 per cent, the government said.

Surprisingly, there was no net loss of construction jobs reported, in spite of the severe weakness in the housing market.

The strong demand for new staff was seen as a sign that the economy is snapping back from its anaemic performance in the first quarter of this year and sparked a rally in the dollar.

Labour income also grew at a healthy rate, offering support for consumer spending in spite of the higher gasoline price drag.

Bond prices fell as the yield on the benchmark 10-year treasury note rose 5.3 basis points to 4.945 per cent.

The dollar rose to its highest level against the yen in nearly four months and to a seven-week high against the euro. It was 0.1 per cent higher against the euro at $1.3430 and 0.3 per cent up against the yen at Y122.09.

Reporting by Eoin Callan and Krishna Guha in Washington, Neil Dennis in London and Richard Beales in New York

Europe furious at US climate call

Europe furious at US climate call
By Fiona Harvey in London, Hugh Williamson in Berlin and George Parker in Brussels
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: June 1 2007 19:52 | Last updated: June 1 2007 19:52

Germany and the European Commission reacted angrily to President George W. Bush’s apparent change of heart on climate change on Friday, setting the stage for a stormy G8 summit of rich industrialised countries next week.

A spokesman for Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor and current G8 president, said Germany’s stance that climate talks should take place within the United Nations was “non-negotiable”. Stavros Dimas, the EU environment commissioner, dismissed the proposals for climate talks as vague and “the classic US line”.
Mr Bush on Thursday appeared to suggest a parallel process to the UN, by which the world’s 15 biggest emitters of greenhouse gases would within 18 months “establish a new framework on greenhouse gases when the Kyoto protocol expires in 2012” and “set a long-term global goal on reducing emissions”.

His proposal marked a reversal of the US policy of refusing to discuss emissions cuts and rejecting a global framework such as Kyoto.

Fiona Harvey , environment correspondent, analyses whether Bush’s reversal on climate change offers any hope
But the plans are starkly different from the proposal tabled by Germany for next week’s G8 summit, which would require leaders to agree to prevent global temperatures rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius and require stringent emissions cuts.

Attitudes within Europe hardened on Friday as some politicians and activists accused Mr Bush of trying to wreck next week’s summit, and UN negotiations on climate change, set to take place this December.

José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, told the Financial Times Mr Bush should be “more ambitious” and said the UN must “remain the basis for setting – and achieving – binding, measurable and enforceable targets”.

Sigmar Gabriel, the German environment minister, said Mr Bush’s speech could mark a “change in the US position or a manoeuvre aimed at causing confusion”.

A comment by Mr Bush to German media that Ms Merkel “will be pleased” with his proposals, which run counter to her own, was seen as provocative.

There were signs on Friday night that Mr Bush’s proposals would split the G8, which some sceptics argue is his intention. Stephen Harper, Canada’s prime minister, welcomed the plans, as did Tony Blair, Britain’s outgoing prime minister, and Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister.

“It’s absolutely intended to split the G8,” said John Sauven, director of Greenpeace.

Mr Abe said: “I believe the United States too is finally getting serious in dealing with global warming.” Tokyo’s position is that binding targets have failed because they leave out the world’s biggest emitters, especially the US, China and India. It is championing a vaguer approach, in which the world’s biggest emitters pledge to use technology to tackle emissions.

Yasuhisa Shiozaki, the chief cabinet secretary, said: “We believe Prime Minister Abe and President Bush share the same perspective and look forward to achieving significant progress [next week].”

Additional reporting by David Pilling in Tokyo

Friday, June 01, 2007

International Herald Tribune Editorial - The World Bank's fresh start

International Herald Tribune Editorial - The World Bank's fresh start
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: May 31, 2007

Think how much better it would have been if President George W. Bush had simply named Robert Zoellick to lead the World Bank two years ago instead of putting the bank through the embarrassing Paul Wolfowitz ordeal.

Now that Zoellick - far more qualified both in experience and temperament - has been nominated for the job, we hope that he will be quickly confirmed so that the bank's staff can refocus its attention on the urgent jobs of combating poverty, promoting development and encouraging good governance.

We also hope that Zoellick will not shy away from the important challenge of fighting corruption, a campaign that Wolfowitz embraced but then undermined through his own ethical obtuseness, in arranging a transfer and extraordinary pay raise for his companion. Good causes should not fall victim to bad appointments.

Zoellick is just about everything Wolfowitz was not. He is an able diplomat; experienced and interested in the details of development, trade and governance; and respected in the many countries he has dealt with in his long career as a top State Department official and as America's top trade negotiator.

Clientitis and outright corruption have historically been real problems at the bank - too many loans have been approved for no better reason than to keep the borrowing government happy and too few questions asked about how the bank's money has actually been used. The bank lends some $23 billion a year to poor countries, and is currently trying to raise $30 billion to finance new loans to the poorest among them. It cannot go on asking taxpayers in the developed world to underwrite its activities without demanding accountability for how its money is used.

Billions of the world's neediest people live in countries too poor and too undeveloped to have access to commercial lending at market rates. Globalization cannot succeed if these countries continue to be left behind. Other countries that have managed to raise average incomes need the technical and managerial expertise the bank can provide. Two precious years have been largely wasted. Zoellick cannot get to work soon enough.

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Chasing an evasive TB patient

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Chasing an evasive TB patient
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: May 31, 2007

It has been more than 40 years since the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordered anyone into quarantine or isolation, but the agency was amply justified in taking that extreme action in recent days. It was dealing with a patient infected with a very hard-to-treat form of tuberculosis who had put his own convenience ahead of the safety of others. The only question is whether health officials should have acted sooner.

The patient, who lives in the Atlanta area, has shown no overt symptoms. But laboratory tests have confirmed that he is infected with "extensively drug resistant" bacteria, a form of TB that kills a high percentage of those infected.

The patient does not appear to be highly infectious, but he has the potential to threaten the lives of those who come into prolonged contact with him. The chief concern at the moment is people who sat near him on two trans-Atlantic flights. County health officials in Georgia say that they told the patient that he should not travel abroad. In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the patient, who has not been named, says he thought they were only expressing a preference and that they did not flat-out order him to cancel a planned wedding and honeymoon in Europe. He left before a written directive against travel could be delivered.

Only after the man was already in Europe did laboratory tests discover that his case was the most serious kind. Officials contacted him in Rome and told him not to fly commercial airlines and to await possible isolation and treatment in Italy. Instead, he booked a flight into Canada and drove down to New York, where the CDC transferred him by government plane back to Georgia.

Health officials have long preferred to rely on infected people to behave responsibly than resort to compulsory orders. But in this case, that trust was clearly abused. Congressional oversight committees ought to examine what steps can be taken to ensure that patients infected with deadly contagious diseases protect others from infection.

The cost of not talking to your enemy

The cost of not talking to your enemy
By Lee Hamilton
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 31 2007 18:56 | Last updated: May 31 2007 18:56

Haleh Esfandiari has been imprisoned in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison for more than 25 days. She has been refused exit from Iran for over five months. Haleh is the director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, which I head. She is a noted scholar, a cherished colleague and a beloved wife and grandmother. The Iranian government has alleged that she is an agent of “soft revolution” in Iran.

There is not a scintilla of truth to these allegations. Haleh is a scholar. She has never been a spy. The work she does at the Wilson Center is open and non-partisan, and includes a broad range of views. Her programme receives zero funding from the US government’s fund to promote democracy in Iran. She was visiting Iran – as she does twice a year – to see her frail and ailing 93-year-old mother. Her detention is an affront to the rule of law and common decency. The Wilson Centre’s message to the Iranian government is simple: let Haleh go. Let her return to her husband, her family and her work.

We have no idea why Iran is detaining Haleh, nor can we speculate about the detention of several other Iranian-Americans. Any speculation about Iran’s motives is exactly that: speculation. What we do know is that the US has no point of contact in Tehran, and knows little about what is going on within that country. We have no embassy there. We have no diplomats there. We have nobody who can negotiate on Haleh’s behalf. If we want to send a message, or if we want to inquire about Haleh’s health, the Swiss have to do it for us.

The Iraq Study Group, which I co-chaired, recommended that the US initiate a dialogue with Iran. We did not do so because we are starry-eyed about diplomacy. We have a long list of grievances with the Iranians, and surely the Iranians have their own grievances with America. We do not like their nuclear programme. We do not like their support for terrorism. We do not like it when they provide weapons and support for violent groups in Iraq. We certainly do not like it when they detain innocent Americans.

Some look at those grievances and say that we should not talk to the Iranians. Yet we have tried not talking to Iran since the end of the hostage crisis in 1981. Can anybody argue that the policy of isolation is working? While we have refused to talk, Iran has enhanced its nuclear programme, its regional power and its ties to terrorism. Iran, more than any country in the world, has been strengthened by the war in Iraq.

The Bush administration’s recent decision to initiate a dialogue with Iran, including a May 28 meeting, is a positive step forward. These talks must be sustained over a period of time, and should not be subject to preconditions. The contacts have to be at a high level. The agenda must be broadened beyond simply Iraq. We are not going to settle all of our problems with Iran in one meeting. But we are certainly not going to solve our problems with Iran by refusing to talk.

I reject the notion that simply talking to a country is some kind of reward, just as I reject the notion that not talking to a country is some kind of punishment that will make it change its behaviour. Denouncing countries and refusing to talk to them may make us feel better in the short run but it makes little sense in the long run. When we have problems with a country, we cannot just pull our diplomats out. That is when you need diplomats. To quote Yitzhak Rabin: “You don’t make peace with friends. You make it with very unsavoury enemies.”

Even if we do not achieve any agreement with Iran in the near future, there are many reasons to sustain a dialogue. When you talk, you can explain your policies, try to build trust, dispel misunderstandings, prevent inadvertent military escalation and deter certain actions by the other side. When you talk to a country such as Iran, which is having an internal struggle over the meaning and legacy of the Islamic revolution, you also collect intelligence and develop contacts – the very intelligence and contacts that we lack in Iran today, and that we lacked in Iraq before the start of the war.

When did the US become afraid to negotiate? For decades, we negotiated with the Soviets. It was through those contacts that President John F. Kennedy helped avert nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis, while still standing strong for America’s security and American values. It was through those contacts that President Ronald Reagan secured the release of dissidents and detainees, while making landmark progress on arms control. Indeed, just as he demanded, “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Mr Reagan was sending an arms negotiator to Moscow. It was those contacts that helped end the cold war without a shot being fired between Americans and Soviets.

Diplomacy is one powerful tool in America’s arsenal, and must be integrated with other tools. But we cannot solve our problems in the world through brute force, or a belief that countries will change simply because we say they should. That is precisely the logic of not talking, and it is a logic that leads to confrontation – perhaps to war. Not talking will not make Iran change its behaviour. And not talking is certainly not the optimal way to secure the release of Ms Esfandiari.

The writer is director of the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, was co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group and is a former Democratic congressman from Indiana

Financial Times Editorial Comment: Leading from the rear on emissions

Financial Times Editorial Comment: Leading from the rear on emissions
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: June 1 2007 03:00 | Last updated: June 1 2007 03:00

George W. Bush is justly famous for his tendency cheerily to dismiss uncomfortable realities, but even by his standards, his comments yesterday on climate change showed astonishing chutzpah. The Bush administration has consistently obstructed progress in fighting climate change: first withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol; then attempting to argue that the science was too dubious a basis for action; finally arguing for a voluntary approach that was bound to prove inadequate. Yet listening to Mr Bush now, one would have thought that the US had long led the charge against climate change. It is hard to know whether to laugh or cry.

Mr Bush's only firm proposal was to get the key players to sit around the table within the next 18 months, with the aim of agreeing a global emissions target. By US standards this is radical. The rest of the industrialised world already has such a target, of course, and has had it for over a decade. It is set out in the 1996 Kyoto agreement, which Mr Bush himself has done everything in his power to destroy.

Mr Bush has at last accepted the idea that tackling climate change requires a global framework. As such, this is important and welcome. Yet his conversion after a 10-year delay hardly demonstrates US leadership.

Mr Bush is right to insist that China and India eventually play their part in reducing emissions. Both remain poor countries, however, and will not act any time soon. That will not change until the US takes the lead rather than asserting that it is already a leader.

Mr Bush is also correct in identifying technological progress as the key to reducing emissions. Yet he should have acknowledged that innovations large and small respond to incentives. Mr Bush had few of those to offer. His proposed pow-wow between industrial leaders is harmless enough, but will hardly spur risky and costly technological breakthroughs. His mix of government spending and regulation showed a strange faith in the power of the command economy.

The key incentive for innovation should be a credible price on carbon, whether through emissions permits or, more practically, a carbon tax. Mr Bush showed no sign of grasping this.

The US government's attitude towards climate change has been so irresponsible that it is tempting to embrace any progress. It is indeed welcome that the US seems to be engaged in the discussion of what comes after Kyoto. But at next week's Group of Eight meeting, Mr Bush should not be praised too much for taking his first baby steps.

Bush plays for time as the planet begins to burn

Bush plays for time as the planet begins to burn
By Philip Stephens
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 31 2007 19:13 | Last updated: May 31 2007 19:13

Watching George W. Bush’s administration duck, dodge and dive to avoid doing anything serious about climate change has reminded me of the adage of a 19th century British prime minister. Change? Why change, Lord Salisbury would protest when it was suggested he alter course. Things are bad enough as they are.

Well, things are bad. Recent months have seen a slew of reports from the experts at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They put the science of global warming beyond any reasonable doubt. Before long even US vice-president Dick Cheney and his oil industry friends will have to admit that the earth is round.

Climate change is accelerating: witness higher temperatures, melting ice formations and rising sea levels. The culprits are the greenhouse gases we are pumping out in ever larger quantities. The damage – felt soonest in the poorest parts of the world – will escalate unless we stabilise the atmospheric concentrations.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor and current chair of the Group of Eight industrial nations, wants her fellow leaders to take some modest steps in that direction at their summit next week in the German resort of Heiligendamm. The G8, she believes, should lead an effort to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2°C. Much higher than that, the science tells us, and the effects of climate change tip from the merely dangerous to the catastrophic.

The Germans suggest a target of a 50 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and a 20 per cent improvement in energy efficiency by 2020. The Europeans, incidentally, have already signed up.

There is pragmatism as well as necessity here. The IPCC studies confirm that the economic costs of curbs on carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas, are relatively small when weighed against the danger of inaction. The answer is to fix a realistic international price for carbon through a cap-and-trade system.

Time and pressure have at last persuaded Mr Bush to admit the problem. On Thursday, the White House finally agreed that the US could no longer sit on the sidelines. Mr Bush proposed that the countries that discharge the most greenhouse gases – about 15 in all – should agree a global target for emissions by late 2008.

This Damascene conversion should be welcomed. The US president, though, will have to forgive those who greet it with more than a touch of scepticism. Many will consider that it is as much spin as substance – calculated as much to avoid US isolation at the summit as to secure a credible international agreement.

After all, the US administration has been unremittingly hostile to Ms Merkel’s plan. We caught a glimpse of that in the annotations of a senior US official on a leaked draft of the G8 communiqué. Writing in red ink (on another subject it might have been green), the official splutters with indignation at the idea of anything resembling measurable commitments on the part of the US. The proposals for targets and a carbon market are deemed “fundamentally incompatible” with the president’s approach. On that, Mr Bush has not changed his mind – the new plan specifically rules out a global cap-and-trade system.

So there you have it. The administration is prepared to admit the problem. It will also talk about a target, as long as nothing is agreed until the eve of Mr Bush’s departure from the White House. The US will promote energy efficiency and alternative fuel technologies. But firm international targets in an updated Kyoto agreement? Or an international carbon market modelled on, say, California’s experiment? Forget it.

As it happens, Mr Bush is right to say that technology is a vital component in combating global warming. A serious reduction in emissions from electricity generation, for example, depends on the ability to capture the carbon from coal-fired plants. But none of this will happen without a realistic carbon price.

Faced with Mr Bush’s plan for an entirely new, parallel, negotiation, the temptation for Ms Merkel will be to accept a fudge – a watering down of the summit communiqué to something acceptable to the White House. The perverse psychology of these G8 gatherings has it that anything less than a consensus is marked as a failure on the part of the host.

The time, though, has come to stop pretending. Mr Bush has moved. But the White House continues to deny the inconvenient truths of global warming. Ms Merkel and her European and Japanese colleagues should say so. The failure lies not with those willing to act but with the Bush administration’s refusal.

America pumps more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any other nation. China will catch up this year but, on a per capita basis, the US contribution will remain at five or six times that of China and twice that of Europe. The attempt to exempt the US from binding targets speaks to the hubristic exceptionalism that took Mr Bush to war in Iraq.

Most of America’s state governments and much of its business community are ahead of Mr Bush. That said, we should not imagine the next US president will find it easy to impose the required limits on national emissions. At a meeting in Venice of the Council for the United States and Italy at the weekend, I was struck by the caution even of those Americans who are appalled by the White House’s complacency. The US, I heard one remark, is still living with Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America” – a societal mood that says it can consume infinite natural resources. The idea that China and India must bear their share of the burden is also embedded deeply in Washington’s political consciousness.

So they must. But there is no prospect that the emerging powers will do so unless the west accepts its responsibility for the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and for much higher per capita emissions. Nothing serious can happen until the US, Europe and Japan offer credible commitments.

The costs of failure are too high to contemplate. As a new report from a group of experts assembled by Oxford university* concludes, they extend well beyond the environment. Global warming threatens economic prosperity and physical security as well as global development.

For all his innate conservatism, Lord Salisbury did allow himself occasional flashes of insight. Those with the power and knowledge to forestall “lamentable events”, he observed, must take responsibility for their inaction. Mr Bush, sadly, still seems to think otherwise.

*Energy, Politics and Poverty, High-level taskforce, Oxford university

US military seeks ceasefires in Iraq

US military seeks ceasefires in Iraq
By Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington and Steve Negus, Iraq,correspondent
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: June 1 2007 03:00 | Last updated: June 1 2007 03:00

US military officers in Iraq are attempting to negotiate ceasefires with some insurgent groups that have been responsible for the violence in the country.

Lt General Raymond Odierno, commander of ground forces in Iraq, said yesterday the US was responding to insurgent groups that have signalled an interest in reconciliation.

"We're talking about ceasefires and maybe signing some things that say they won't conduct operations against the government of Iraq or against coalition forces," he said.

But Gen Odierno cautioned that he did not want to be "too optimistic" about the prospects for success.

In Washington, Republicans are increasingly warning President George W. Bush that he must demonstrate progress in Iraq by September, when military commanders and officials will present their first major assessment of the military "surge".

Gen Odierno told the Washington Post earlier this month that it would be difficult to assess the impact of the surge until next spring. But yesterday he suggested that commanders could conclude as early as August that it was not working.

"The assessment might be 'I need a little more time'," he said. "The assessment might be 'I've seen enough and it's effective' or 'I've seen enough, and it's not going to be effective'," he said.

The US is facing increased attacks in Iraq. The death toll for May reached 122, making May the deadliest month for the US since the insurgency took hold in late 2004. Gen Odierno said the recent spike appeared in part aimed at influencing the debate in Washington.

"[The enemy in Iraq] understand that if things aren't going well, a recommendation might be made to reduce our force presence here in Iraq," he said.

The nascent negotiations with insurgents about ceasefires also appeared designed to help boost progress in Iraq before the September milestone. The US has admitted for some time to contacts with insurgent groups, and in some cases has reportedly reached informal understandings whereby certain groups curtail attacks on US troops. However, the insurgency is highly decentralized and it is very difficult to tell whether self-declared insurgent interlocutors actually have the power to stop attacks in any given area, or whetheran agreement is beinghonoured.

A clear, public ceasefire in which a major insurgent group suspends attacks on US and Iraqi government forces would be major indicator that a political solution is possible. US and Iraqi officials have been increasingly confident that such a deal could be achieved with the more nationalist branches of the insurgency, isolating the more radical al-Qaeda-affiliated branches.

They have been encouraged by an increasingly public rift between al-Qaeda and more mainstream Sunni groups such as the Islamic army of Iraq.

US growth weakest in four years

US growth weakest in four years
By Eoin Callan in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 31 2007 14:50 | Last updated: May 31 2007 14:50

The US economy slowed last month to its sluggish pace in four years, figures published yesterday showed.

US economic growth slowed to 0.6 per cent last quarter in the worst performance for the economy in four years, according to the latest government estimates.

The pace of expansion slowed dramatically from a rate of 2.5 per cent the previous quarter as the Commerce Department on Thursday cut its initial estimate of 1.3 per cent growth in the first quarter by more than half.

The anaemic performance was worse than economists expected but is likely to be viewed by the Federal Reserve as a prelude to a broad-based recovery.

The Fed said in minutes published on Wednesday that it expected a moderate pickup in growth in coming quarters.

However, the central bank warned that the 18-month long housing slump could drag out.

There were some positive signs for the economy in the latest report, as consumer spending remained strong with estimates of personal consumption upgraded to 4.4 per cent growth rate.

Business investment was also revised up modestly with an overall a 2.9 per cent rate, lifted by increased spending on computer equipment and software.

Key factors behind the cut in the growth estimate were the widening trade deficit and a reduction in business inventories.

The trade gap widened as imports increased more strongly than initially estimated, with a gain of 5.7 per cent, up from 2.3 per cent, while exports fell by 0.6 per cent.

Businesses cut their stock levels by an equivalent of $4.5bn a year, reversing the initial estimate that inventories had risen by $14.8bn.

The reduction dragged growth lower last quarter but was seen by many economists as leaving room for companies to ramp up production and stockpile goods this quarter.

There were also signs of stubborn inflation pressures as a key measure of core prices – the personal consumption expenditure - rose at a rate of 2.2 per cent, excluding volatile food and energy costs.

Dell to cut 10% of workforce

Dell to cut 10% of workforce
By Kevin Allison in San Francisco
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 31 2007 23:11 | Last updated: May 31 2007 23:11

Dell, the world’s second-biggest personal computer maker, on Thursday announced plans to cut nearly 10 per cent of its workforce as part of a cost-cutting drive.

The move marked the latest step in a turnround designed to revive the company’s fortunes. Dell’s stock price has fallen sharply over the past two years as it has struggled against slumping sales and falling margins.

News of the cull, which will affect about 8,800 jobs over the next 12 months, came as Dell reported better-than-expected first-quarter sales and profits.

“While reductions in headcount are always difficult for a company, we know these actions are critical to our ability to deliver unprecedented value to out customers now and in the future,” said Michael Dell, the company’s founder and chief executive.

Shares of Dell shot up more than 6 per cent in after-hours trading as investors reacted to the news. The shares ended the day up 2.6 per cent to $26.91.

Dell said the improved quarterly performance was “encouraging” and a sign of “good early progress” in its turnround effort.

The company reported preliminary first-quarter net profits ahead of most estimates at $759m, or 34 cents a share, on sales of $14.6bn. Dell made a net profit of $762m on sales of $14.2bn in the same period last year.

Mr Dell has taken a series of steps to jump-start growth at the company since he replaced Kevin Rollins as chief executive this year, including reshuffling the company’s top management team. However, he has warned the company faces a long struggle to regain its lost momentum.

Last week Dell announced that it would begin selling desktop computers in Wal-Mart stores, ending years of exclusive reliance on direct sales of computer equipment through the telephone and internet. It said it would also begin working more closely with third-party resellers.

Looking ahead, Dell said margins could come under pressure in the seasonally slow second quarter.

Dell said falling component costs and an increase in the average selling price of computer equipment had contributed to higher revenues in the quarter. But profits were dragged down by a $46m charge related to an investigation of the company’s accounts by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The group said on Thursday that the investigation, which has uncovered “evidence of misconduct” and accounting errors, was in its final phase and it had not yet been determined whether it would be required to make any earnings restatement.

The last time Dell made big staff cuts was in 2001, when it cut 5,000 jobs following the collapse of the dot com bubble.

Funds attack banks’ aid for subprime borrowers

Funds attack banks’ aid for subprime borrowers
By Saskia Scholtes in New York
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 31 2007 22:10 | Last updated: May 31 2007 22:10

Hedge funds are attacking bank decisions that help delinquent US mortgage borrowers remain in their homes in a move that pits some of the country’s richest people against its least well-off.

The dispute centres on derivatives contracts that pay money to investors when bonds backed by subprime mortgage loans – extended to people with past credit problems – run into trouble. The $1,200bn (€890bn) US subprime mortgage bond market has been hit recently by rapidly growing defaults, and hedge funds have profited from the crisis by buying such derivatives.

Some hedge funds say they are concerned that banks that both sell the derivatives contracts and handle mortgage payments could be involved in a form of market manipulation. The funds fear that banks are making concessions on the underlying mortgages to avoid making good on derivatives contracts that pay off in cases of default.

The controversy pits hedge fund interests against those of stretched US mortgage borrowers and politicians who want to help them keep their homes, underscoring the political dilemmas created by the growth of the mortgage bond market

A group of more than 25 funds has asked the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, the derivatives industry body, to act on their concerns, according to a letter seen by the Financial Times.

“ISDA should actively promote an industry solution that assures market participants that no one can engage in practices that are manipulative and prohibited by existing securities laws,” the funds said. ISDA declined to comment.

The hedge funds’ concerns centre on loan modifications that are often used to help overextended borrowers keep up with payments. In such cases, 40 per cent of the modified loans fall back into arrears within a year, credit analysts say.

Yet, these changes do not automatically trigger write-downs on the bonds, which would result in a payment to purchasers of the credit-insurance derivatives.

One member of the group that wrote to ISDA said the hedge funds were not trying to force subprime borrowers from their homes – just to make sure that banks were keeping the interests of their trading desks and their mortgage arms separate.

Bush in U-turn on global warming

Bush in U-turn on global warming
By Andrew Ward and Edward Luce in Washington and Fiona Harvey in London
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 31 2007 16:06 | Last updated: May 31 2007 19:25

George W. Bush on Thursday unveiled a striking about-face on global warming, calling on the world’s leading economies to join the US in agreeing a global target to reduce carbon dioxide emissions before the end of his term in office.

Fiona Harvey , environment correspondent, analyses whether Bush’s reversal on climate change offers any hope
The US president was speaking just ahead of a G8 summit at which climate change was expected to be high on the agenda of European governments. He explained that his apparent conversion – which follows almost seven years of having rejected precisely the road he outlined – was prompted by new scientific findings.

But Mr Bush made no pledge on the size of emissions cuts that the US would be prepared to sign up to and gave no indication of a timeframe. The White House also ruled out carbon trading as the way to cutting emissions.

Environmental campaigners accused the president of cynically seeking to circumvent the Kyoto process, which the United Nations is seeking to renew at talks in December. Others accused him of a ploy to derail tougher European proposals.

Mr Bush said: “Science has deepened our understanding of climate change and opened new possibilities for confronting it.

“By the end of next year, America and other nations will set a long-term global goal for reducing greenhouse gases.”

He said the US would convene a series of multilateral meetings involving the biggest polluters – including China and India – to seek agreement on a reduction target and how to achieve it.

Mr Bush added that the process was aimed at preparing the ground for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol – which Washington never ratified – when it expires in 2012. The administration had resisted global emissions regulation.

A senior administration official said G8 members would also be involved in the process, along with Brazil, Mexico, Australia and South Korea. The first meeting was likely to take place this autumn, he said.

Germany, the host of next week’s G8 summit, said it was positive that Mr Bush had “recognised the urgency and need to act on the issue of climate change”. But in a sign that Berlin remained firmly at odds with Washington, a senior official stressed that “all initiatives should be included”.

Tony Blair, British prime minister, described the US move as a “huge step forward”.

The European Union has argued for calculating emissions limits by agreeing to a goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius. But Mr Bush made no mention of tying emissions curbs to a specific temperature goal.

Robin Oakley, of Greenpeace, said Mr Bush’s gambit was “a classic spoiler” ahead of the G8, “designed to kick this issue into the long grass until he leaves office”.

US job creation stronger than expected

US job creation stronger than expected
By Eoin Callan
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: June 1 2007 15:30 | Last updated: June 1 2007 15:30

The US economy created more jobs than expected last month as the unemployment rate stayed close to a five-year low.

US employers added 157,000 staff to their payrolls following an increase of 80,000 posts the previous month, the department of labour said.

The surprisingly strong job creation is likely to be viewed by the Federal Reserve as welcome support for consumer spending at a time when the housing market is languishing and fuel prices are rising.

The central bank is expecting the economy to gain momentum in the coming months after figures this week showed growth slowed to an anaemic 0.6 per cent.

A separate government report showed personal spending rose in April by 0.5 per cent and that spending also rose more than initially thought the previous month, when there was a gain of 0.4 per cent.

The jobless rate held steady at 4.5 per cent, suggesting a tight labour market and underlining Fed concerns about continued inflation pressures.

A measure of prices watched closely by the central bank increased less than forecast, with a gain of 0.1 per cent.

Economists said the figures would make Fed members less inclined to lower interest rates in the coming months.

Jobs in construction held steady as employment on commercial buildings offset cuts in house-building.

The service industries continued to account for the overwhelming share of job creation, with sectors such as restaurants and banking adding 176,000 staff.

Manufacturers shed 19,000 jobs despite recent signs of a recovery for US factories while the manufacturing working week fell to 41 hours from 41.1 hours and overtime fell slightly.

Workers’ average hourly earnings rose 6 cents, or 0.3 per cent, to bring average weekly earnings to $586 last month from $583 in April.

Hatred of immigrants is sinful

Hatred of immigrants is sinful
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
June 1, 2007

Bigotry never goes away. When it becomes unfashionable, it goes underground and waits until a new hate group appears into which it can project its twisted sickness. Racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism and anti-immigrant nativism are chronic infections in the American body politic. Rush Limbaugh singing the obscene tune ''Barack the Magic Negro'' is inviting prejudice and violence. However, for pure irrational rage, the current crop of nativists are some of the worst to come along since the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s or those God-fearing Protestants who burned convents in Boston in the 19th century.

I wonder why the right-thinking people, the establishment columnists and editorial writers and commentators and religious leaders and anchor persons remain silent in the face of this bigotry.

The poll reports last week, especially the one done by the New York Times and CBS, leave little doubt that large majorities of Americans approve of the immigrant reform bill pending in the Senate. These data send the nativists into paroxysms of rage. However, their rage is so violent that senators and members of Congress may well be frightened away from the legislation. How many American clergy, I wonder, are willing to denounce such rage from the altar as seriously sinful. If hating African Americans was a sin 40 years ago (and it was and still is), then hating ''illegals'' is a sin today.

The hate mail I receive because of my opposition to the war is mild in comparison to the hate mail on immigration. One woman, a self-professed ''devout Catholic,'' says it's a shame that some of the immigrants die trying to enter America. But, she tells me, it's their own fault because they have broken the laws of the United States. So death is an appropriate punishment for what is legally only a misdemeanor? I judge no person's conscience; I leave that task to God. But in the objective order of right and wrong, that thought is surely a very grave sin.

I am told by another correspondent that when the ''illegals'' march in protests, they wave the Mexican flag, which shows where their loyalty is. Yet, every other American ethnic group waves the flag of its origins -- Poland, Greece, Italy, Sweden, Ireland, Denmark. Why deny that custom only to one group?

Another hate mail affirms the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness belong only to American citizens. To exclude some men and women from those basic rights is to deny their fundamental humanity, which is how Hitler started against Jews and Gypsies and the handicapped. Am I saying that hatred for immigrants is a Nazi attitude? You bet!

What do these people fear? What terrible threat to their well-being do these poor peons represent? Hordes of infidel invaders perhaps -- just as my ancestors frightened the good citizens of Boston?

Are not the immigrants themselves guilty of sin for entering a country that does not want them? The moral theology I learned said that someone who was desperate for food could steal from the rich without sinning. Cardinal Josef Frings of Cologne told his people in 1945 when they were starving that it was not wrong to steal from the British occupiers. With all the abundance north of the border and all the poverty south of the border, I doubt very much that a generous God would find anything more than bravery in the souls of those who strive to improve the lives of their families.

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial - TB case shows flaw in nation's security

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial - TB case shows flaw in nation's security
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
June 1, 2007

We'd like to think, in light of the fact there have been no acts of terror on domestic soil since 9/11, that our homeland security systems are mostly doing what they're supposed to be doing. And maybe they are. But any sense of safety we feel is eroded by the knowledge that all it takes is one human or technological slip, one distracted baggage checker, one un-tapped database, for someone intent on causing mass harm to Americans to get that opportunity. Until those systems are upgraded and improved, there can be no lasting security in our security network.

Our latest wakeup call came in the form of a Georgia lawyer known to have a serious form of tuberculosis who was able to take commercial flights to and around Europe, and back across the Atlantic, then drive across the border from Montreal, eluding authorities much of the way. What makes this case so unsettling is that health officials had no trouble determining his whereabouts and tracking him down, but still couldn't prevent him from acting irresponsibly and potentially exposing scores of passengers and crew members to TB.

There is some question over whether health department officials in Atlanta explicitly told Andrew Speaker not to fly abroad after he was diagnosed. They say they did, two days before he left for Paris with his wife on their honeymoon. He said they told him they "preferred" he not go, without recommending he take any special precautions. But there is no doubt that after determining he had XDR TB, a much more dangerous form of the disease than was originally diagnosed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reached him on his cell phone in Rome and instructed him not to fly on a commercial plane. He did just that, leaving his hotel before he could be taken out of circulation and plans could be made to transport him to a treatment facility in the United States. By the time the agency got around to putting his name on a no-fly list, he had landed in Montreal. No one is saying how he was able to get through customs, without his name popping up on a computer screen, and drive into this country.

A big "What If?" pops out at us like a menacing jack-in-the-box. What if the man in question was not a traveler with a bad attitude but a terrorist on a mission to spread disease or start a SARS-like scare? How easy or difficult would it be for him, or her, to evade authorities?

Though officials set out to track down everyone who was aboard the same flights as the infected man, a task made difficult by the time it took to retrieve passenger manifests from airlines, they say the risk of infection was low. The man's wife was not infected. It will be a while, though, before the risk posed by faulty security can be downplayed. Six years after 9/11, there's still an alarming amount of work to do.

Civil unions not on agenda

Civil unions not on agenda
By Amber Ellis
Copyright by The Daily Herald
Friday, June 01, 2007

SPRINGFIELD — A proposal to give same-sex civil unions the same protections as civil marriages will likely be put on hold.

With other more pressing issues undecided as the legislative session drew toward a close Thursday night, state Rep. Greg Harris says he doesn’t want to risk killing his plan by setting it up for a vote without enough support.

“It’s not the first thing on people’s minds right now. They want to talk about the budget, taxes, and it’s understandable that this is sort of taking a backseat…,” said Harris, a Chicago Democrat and the legislature’s only openly gay member.

The best bet would be to get at least 65 state representatives — five more than needed — to commit before calling the plan for a House vote, supporters say. Otherwise, they could risk having it voted down altogether.

Right now, gay rights activists don’t have those numbers. They won’t say how close they are, but it’s clear they’re not confident in all of their “yes” votes.

The plan would have thrust Illinois into the national debate over whether gay and lesbian partners should have the same rights as heterosexual spouses. The plan would extend a number of benefits to same-sex couples, including the ability to make decisions about children, health care, end-of-life treatment and survivor benefits.

Massachusetts is the only state that recognizes same-sex marriages. Connecticut, Vermont, California, Washington and New Jersey offer civil unions or domestic partnerships to gay couples. Oregon and New Hampshire will join the list next year. In Illinois, Cook County, Oak Park and Urbana allow couples to sign partnership registries, but their signatures don’t guarantee benefits.

Earlier this year, Harris proposed legalizing gay marriage but ditched the effort amid a backlash from people who did not want to redefine marriage.

Critics say their beliefs will be compromised if churches are forced to recognize civil unions and faith-based adoption agencies have to place children with same-sex couples.

“Lawmakers realize that their constituency is not going to accept this,” said David Smith, director of the Illinois Family Institute.

In Illinois, a handful of gay rights measures have become law. But each proposal has taken patience and education from advocates, said Rick Garcia, public policy director for Equality Illinois.

“The question is no longer if same-sex relationships will be recognized in Illinois. The question is when,” he said.