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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Financial Times Editorial - Torture breeds terror

Financial Times Editorial - Torture breeds terror
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: September 30 2006 03:00 | Last updated: September 30 2006 03:00

For decades, America was the moral leader of the world on the laws of war. But now President George W. Bush has traded that moral high ground for a few paltry votes - maybe not even enough to save the Republicans from losing the House of Representatives in the coming elections.

Earlier this week, he strong-armed his own party and terrified the Democrats into passing a new military tribunals law that gives him the power to detain indefinitely anyone who meets a shockingly broad new definition of an "unlawful enemy combatant"; strips detainees in US military prisons of the sacred right of "habeas corpus", or the right to challenge their detention in federal court; and immunises US officials from prosecution for the worst of what they did at Abu Graib, or in the secret prisons where the most valuable captives were held.

Of course, in America's divided system of government, neither the president nor even the Congress has the last word: the new law will certainly be challenged in court, perhaps all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Ironically, one of the first detainees to challenge it could be Salem Ahmed Hamdan, the man who made history in June by persuading the Supreme Court to declare Mr Bush's military tribunals illegal in the first place.

The Supreme Court told Mr Bush to go away and get congressional authorisation for the tribunals, which he had tried to set up on his own. But the court did not give him or the Congress carte blanche to write whatever rules they wanted - and many, perhaps a majority of the justices, will not like what he came up with.

They are likely to be particularly concerned by the provisions stripping detainees of the right to go to court. That part of the law could face an almost immediate test, as Mr Hamdan - whose case is now back in a federal district court - will almost certainly claim that it violates the US constitution. His case could end up back before the Supreme Court, some time in the next couple of years.

But if, as seems likely, a protracted court battle still lies ahead before any of the detainees can actually be tried under the new military tribunals law, one can be forgiven for wondering what all this haste has achieved. Even if it saves a few Republican seats - which is far from certain - it will surely do little to help bring terrorists to justice.

Indeed, it could do quite the opposite. Intelligence assessments leaked in the US and Britain, just as Congress was putting the final touches to the new bill, should have forced legislators to think about the unintended consequences of their actions.

Those assessments argued persuasively that America's war on terrorism has so far done little more than radicalise an entire generation of Muslims around the world. The new bill may accentuate that trend: how else can young Muslims be expected to react to a bill that legalises the torture of their compatriots?

Mr Bush seems genuinely to think he needs these measures to protect Americans from terrorism. But he is wrong. Ordinary Americans will be paying for decades to come for the short-sighted strategies of their president and his party, and the failure of the Democrats to stand fast against a law that is certainly immoral and possibly unconstitutional.

The courts may strike down big parts of the new law, but the damage has already been done.

White House ‘ignored’ Iraq warning

White House ‘ignored’ Iraq warning
By Caroline Daniel in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: September 29 2006 23:38 | Last updated: September 30 2006 01:09

The Bush administration was shaken on Friday by revelations from a new book by Bob Woodward, the veteran investigative reporter, which said Andrew Card, the former White House chief of staff, had twice tried to force the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld, defence secretary, over his handling of the Iraq war.

State of Denial by the Washington Post reporter who uncovered the Watergate scandal, paints a picture of an administration riven by personal rivalries, with Mr Rumsfeld at one point refusing to take calls from Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser. It claims that even Laura Bush, President George W. Bush’s wife, had misgivings about the defence secretary.

It also suggests Ms Rice “brushed off” a July 2001 briefing from the CIA director and former head of counterterrorism, about an imminent terrorist threat. That contrasts with claims from Ms Rice that the administration had in its first eight months been “at least as aggressive” as the Clinton administration.

Critics could use the account to question the White House’s credibility on its handling of the Iraq war and the “war on terror”. It comes at a time when Mr Bush has forcefully made the case that his actions since 9/11 have made the US safer.

Tony Snow, White House spokesman, dismissed the book as “like cotton candy. It kind of melts on contact”, and said it was driven by those on the “losing side of the argument...The average Washington memoir ought to be subtitled: ‘If only they had listened to me’. ”

He rejected some of the book’s central allegations, denying the White House played down the threats from the insurgency in Iraq and ignored urgent calls for more troops. Mr Bush has consistently defended Mr Rumsfeld.

The New York Times was the first to report on the book, an embarrassment to the Washington Post, which is due to publish extracts on Sunday. It is the second blow to the newspaper, which was also scooped on the outing of Deep Throat, Mr Woodward’s source during Watergate.

In a claim that could fuel conspiracy theories about the recent oil price decline – in an interview to be broadcast on CBS on Sunday – Mr Woodward described a conversation between Prince Bandar bin Sultan and Mr Bush in which the former Saudi ambassador said he could ease oil prices ahead of the elections.

“They could go down very quickly. That’s the Saudi pledge. Certainly over the summer, or as we get closer to the election, they could increase production several million barrels a day,” Mr Woodward said.

• Six-term Republican congressman Mark Foley of Florida resigned from Congress on Friday following reports he sent sexually inappropriate e-mails to underage male congressional interns, reports Reuters.

Mr Foley, chairman of the House caucus on missing and exploited children, said he would resign after ABC News reported he sent messages to current and former congressional pages with references to sexual organs and acts.

“Today I have delivered a letter to the Speaker of the House informing him of my decision to resign from the US House of Representatives, effective today,” said Mr Foley, who is single, in a statement.

“I am deeply sorry and I apologise for letting down my family and the people of Florida I have had the privilege to represent.”

Mr Foley’s decision to resign just five weeks before the November 7 midterm election complicated Republican efforts to retain control of the House and offered a new target for Democrats, who must gain 15 seats to reclaim a majority.

Mr Foley won re-election in 2004 with 68 per cent of the vote and was favoured in November over Democrat Tim Mahoney, a local business owner.

His name will remain on the ballot, which has already been certified, said Susan Smith, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of State. But Republicans have seven days to notify election officials of a replacement nominee who would take Rep Foley’s spot if he wins, she said.

President George W. Bush carried the district with 54 per cent of the vote in 2004. Democrats said the congressman had been polling at under 50 per cent and they would contest the seat, but Republicans said they remained confident.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert said Mr Foley had “done the right thing” by resigning. He said he had asked officials to look into the incident and make sure all congressional pages were safe. “None of us are very happy about it,” he said.

Mr Foley was the author of the key sexual predator provisions of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, which Mr Bush signed in July.

Mexico to Bush: Do not sign border fence

Mexico to Bush: Do not sign border fence
Copyright by The Associated Press
September 30, 2006

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico said Friday it will try to persuade President Bush not to sign a bill that would extend a wall along the border in an effort to stop illegal immigrants.

Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez said if the legislation is approved, Mexico will send a letter strongly condemning the measure. Asked by a reporter if that meant the government would try to ''dissuade'' Bush from signing the bill into law, he replied, ''Without a doubt.''

''We have pointed out in a clear and unequivocal way that it seems unnecessary to us and seems wrong,'' Derbez added. ''We think it is a gesture that doesn't reflect the friendship between nations of Latin America and the Caribbean and the United States.''

Derbez's remarks came a day after his office issued a statement saying the border fence would harm relations between Mexico and the United States.

The House of Representatives and Senate are maneuvering to speed construction of a 700-mile fence along the border aimed at keeping migrants and criminals from entering the country illegally.

A House-Senate homeland security funding bill containing $1.2 billion to begin building the fence could be passed and sent to Bush before lawmakers depart Washington this weekend.

Mexico's Foreign Relations Department said that only comprehensive immigration reform would stop millions of Mexicans from sneaking across the border into the U.S.

''A partial measure that is exclusively focused on security does not deal with reality and represents a political answer rather than a viable solution,'' it said in the statement.

There are an estimated 11 million Mexicans in the United States, about half of whom are illegal. Last year, Mexican migrants sent home more than $20 billion in remittances, providing Mexico with its second biggest source of foreign income after oil.

'Cut and run' remark undercuts Roskam

'Cut and run' remark undercuts Roskam
September 29, 2006
Copyright by The chicago Sun Times

Ronald Reagan was right. Washington, D.C., is the problem.

Where else but in D.C. could well-educated, intelligent people argue ferociously for a solid year about whether or not to call the horrific bloodbath in Iraq a "civil war," while never once bothering to come together on any actual solutions to the problem?

In what other civilized democracy would otherwise reasonable human beings constantly question whether their political opponents are on the side of terrorists? And instead of unifying behind solutions to the real terrorist threat and its underlying causes, they ban little old ladies from bringing bottled water onto airplanes?

And on what bizarre planet does an official National Intelligence Estimate, which reports that the Iraq war is a major reason for the spread of jihadist movements, become yet another indecent political football, with both sides parsing every word to prove that they're right and everyone who disagrees with them is somehow evil?

What in the hell is wrong with that place?

Since the ruling party doesn't have a new plan for what to do about a terribly unpopular war, the Republicans have retreated into empty sloganeering. So, we get lines like "We need to finish well," which replaced "stay the course" as a widely used slogan several months ago because even though that's exactly what we're doing in Iraq, the party in power doesn't want to admit it. The strange birds that inhabit our nation's capital are far more interested in devising ingenious new ways of fighting semantics wars than figuring out practical solutions to real ones.

Some Democrats would impose a timetable for troop withdrawal, but since wars never operate on strict timetables, their promises look suspiciously hollow. Also, the Democrats who want withdrawal don't want to talk about the bloody aftermath such a move could cause. "You break it, you buy it," warned Colin Powell, but some Democrats would just like to return the damaged goods to the store for a full refund.

Still, at least someone is proposing something other than more of the same. The Republicans, in "response," have not come up with any new alternatives, but they have accused the entire Democratic Party of wanting to "cut and run" from Iraq. This schoolyard taunt has spawned a whole new linguistics debate in D.C. and even right here in Illinois.

Tammy Duckworth is a genuine war hero who lost both her legs when she was shot while piloting a helicopter over Iraq. She's now a Democratic nominee for Congress in Illinois' 6th District, and her campaign staff has been waiting patiently for her Republican opponent to question her patriotism so that they could pounce like tigers.

It happened right on cue this week, when Republican state Sen. Peter Roskam mentioned the dreadful "cut and run" line during a radio debate with Duckworth.

As Scott Fornek reported in the Sun-Times, Roskam didn't specifically say that Duckworth wanted to cut and run. But by then, other news outlets and pundits were claiming he did. Duckworth, the commentators all pointed out, can't "run" because her legs were "cut" off in "Iraq."

Roskam took plenty of heat for the remark, and his campaign quickly claimed that he didn't mean to imply that Duckworth was a cut and runner. At a subsequent meeting with a newspaper editorial board, Roskam said that he did not believe Duckworth subscribed to the Democratic Party's cut and run philosophy.

I have little pity for Roskam, even though he was almost universally misquoted. Injecting that D.C. rhetoric into the debate was the clearest indication yet that he sympathizes with those farcical D.C. semioticians instead of the practical, sane Midwesterners in the district he seeks to represent.

Maybe he'll learn a lesson from this. Midwesterners generally prize solutions born in the spirit of compromise, not inaction caked in empty, divisive sloganeering.

Rich Miller greatly prefers covering state politics.

Congressman resigns amid questions about e-mails

Congressman resigns amid questions about e-mails
September 30, 2006
Copyright by The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., abruptly resigned from Congress on Friday in the wake of questions about e-mails he wrote a former teenage male page.

''I am deeply sorry and I apologize for letting down my family and the people of Florida I have had the privilege to represent,'' he said in a statement issued by his office.

Six hours after Foley's resignation letter was read to the House by a clerk, the chairman of a panel that oversees the page program issued a one-page written statement that deflected any blame from House leaders.

The statement from Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., said the House Page Board he chairs investigated the allegations late last year, but Foley ''was not honest'' when he denied any improper conduct with the teenager.

His departure sent Republicans scrambling for a replacement candidate less than six weeks before midterm elections in which Democrats are making a strong bid to gain control of the House.

Foley's two-sentence statement gave no reason for Foley's decision to abandon a flourishing career in Congress. But several officials said the resignation had been prompted by the e-mails, and he took his action as fresh details emerged about electronic messages he had sent.

Foley, 52, had been a shoo-in for a new term until the e-mail correspondence surfaced in recent days.

Bush ignored advice on insurgency in Iraq, book says

Bush ignored advice on insurgency in Iraq, book says
By David E. Sanger
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: September 29, 2006

WASHINGTON The White House ignored an urgent warning in September 2003 from a top Iraq adviser who said that thousands of additional American troops were desperately needed to quell the insurgency there, according to a new book by Bob Woodward, The Washington Post reporter and author. The book describes a White House riven by dysfunction and division over the war.

The warning is described in "State of Denial," scheduled for publication Monday by Simon & Schuster. The book says President George W. Bush's top advisers were often at odds, and sometimes were barely on speaking terms, but shared a tendency to dismiss as too pessimistic assessments from U.S. commanders and others about the situation in Iraq.

As late as November 2003, Bush is quoted as saying of the situation in Iraq: "I don't want anyone in the cabinet to say it is an insurgency. I don't think we are there yet."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is described as disengaged from the nuts and bolts of occupying and reconstructing Iraq - a task that was initially supposed to be under the direction of the Pentagon - and so hostile toward Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, that Bush had to tell him to return her phone calls.

The senior U.S. commander for the Middle East, General John Abizaid, is reported to have told visitors to his headquarters in Qatar in the autumn of 2005 that "Rumsfeld doesn't have any credibility anymore" to make a public case for the U.S. strategy in Iraq.

The book, bought by a reporter for The New York Times at retail price in advance of its official release, is the third that Woodward has written chronicling the inner debates in the White House after the Sept. 11 attacks, the invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent decision to invade Iraq. Like Woodward's previous works, the book includes lengthy quotations from conversations and describes what senior officials are thinking at various times, without identifying the sources.

Woodward writes that his book is based on "interviews with President Bush's national security team, their deputies, and other senior and key players in the administration responsible for the military, the diplomacy, and the intelligence on Iraq." Neither Bush nor Vice President Dick Cheney agreed to be interviewed, the book says.

Robert Blackwill, then the top Iraq adviser on the National Security Council, is said to have issued his warning about the need for more troops in a lengthy memorandum sent to Rice. The book says Blackwill's memorandum concluded that more ground troops, perhaps as many as 40,000, were desperately needed.

It says that Blackwill and Paul Bremer, then the top American official in Iraq, later briefed Rice and Stephen Hadley, her deputy, about the pressing need for more troops. It says the White House did nothing in response.

The book describes a deep fissure between Colin Powell, Bush's first secretary of state, and Rumsfeld: When Powell was eased out after the 2004 elections, he told Andrew Card, then the White House chief of staff, that "if I go, Don should go," referring to Rumsfeld.

Card then made a concerted effort to oust Rumsfeld at the end of 2005, according to the book, but was overruled by Bush, who feared that it would disrupt the coming elections in Iraq and operations at the Pentagon.

Cheney is described as a man so determined to find proof that his claim about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was accurate that, in the summer of 2003, his aides were calling the chief weapons inspector, David Kay, with specific satellite coordinates as the sites of possible caches. None resulted in any finds.

Two members of Bush's inner circle, Powell and a former director of central intelligence, George Tenet, are described as ambivalent about the decision to invade Iraq. When Powell assented, reluctantly, in January 2003, Bush told him in an Oval Office meeting that it was "time to put your war uniform on," a reference to his many years in the army.

Tenet apparently did not share his qualms about invading Iraq directly with Bush, according to Woodward's account.

Woodward's first two books about the Bush administration, "Bush at War" and "Plan of Attack," portrayed a president firmly in command and a loyal, well-run team responding to a surprise attack and the retaliation that followed. As its title indicates, "State of Denial" follows a very different story line, of an administration that seemed to have only a foggy notion that early military success in Iraq had given way to resentment of the occupiers.

The 537-page book describes tensions among senior officials from the very beginning of the administration. Woodward writes that in the weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks, Tenet believed that Rumsfeld was impeding the effort to develop a coherent strategy to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. Rumsfeld questioned the electronic signals from terrorism suspects that the National Security Agency had been intercepting, wondering whether they might be part of an elaborate deception plan by Al Qaeda.

The book details an exchange in early 2003 between Lieutenant General Jay Garner, the retired officer Bush appointed to administer postwar Iraq, and Bush and others in the White House situation room. It describes senior war planners as having been thoroughly uninterested in the details of the postwar mission.

After Garner finished his PowerPoint presentation - which included his plan to use up to 300,000 troops of the Iraqi Army to help secure postwar Iraq, the book says - there were no questions from anyone in the situation room, and the president gave him a rousing sendoff.

But it was Garner who was soon removed, in favor of Bremer, whose actions in dismantling the Iraqi Army and removing Baathists from office were later disparaged within the government.

Mark Mazzetti and David Johnston contributed reporting from Washington, and Julie Bosman from New York.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Iraq’s Kurds threaten secession over oil rights

Iraq’s Kurds threaten secession over oil rights
By Steve Negus, Iraq Correspondent
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: September 28 2006 17:57 | Last updated: September 28 2006 17:57

The war of words between Iraq’s central government and authorities of the autonomous Kurdistan region over the control of oil resources took a sharp upturn this week, with Kurdish officials threatening secession over Baghdad’s failure to recognise its right to sign exploration contracts.

In a statement released late on Wednesday, Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of the autonomous Kurdistan region, attacked remarks by oil minister Hussein al-Shahristani that appeared in the Iraqi press on Sunday. In the interview, Mr Shahristani said that the central government was not bound by contracts signed between international companies and the Kurdistan government.

“I resent Dr Shahristani’s efforts to sabotage foreign investment in Kurdistan’s oil sector,” Mr Barzani said, in an unusually pointed address which also accused Baghdad’s oil ministry of having “done nothing to encourage foreign investment in other parts of Iraq”.

“The people of Kurdistan chose to be in a voluntary union with Iraq on the basis of the constitution.

“If Baghdad ministers refuse to abide by that constitution, the people of Kurdistan reserve the right to reconsider our choice,” the statement said.

The dispute lies in the deliberately vague wording of the Iraqi constitution adopted in October, which states that the central government should be allowed to control existing oil fields but does not spell out who should control newly developed ones.

Kurdish officials say that other parts of the constitution give regional governments all powers not explicitly granted to the federal government. Baghdad claims the issue has yet to be resolved.

Until this week, however, both have kept the conflict relatively low profile and said they hoped the dispute could be resolved through negotiation.

Mr Shahristani’s statement, however, has apparently sparked fears among Kurds that the central government will try to force the issue by pressuring international companies not to invest in the Kurdistan region.

According to Mr Barzani’s statement, foreign companies have invested more than $100m in oil exploration activities in the Kurdistan region since 2003. The central government has little power on the ground in the Kurdistan region, and for now oil companies operating there seem to be shrugging off Baghdad’s challenge to the validity of their contracts.

One of those companies, the Norwegian DNO, on Monday said it had received reassurances from the Kurdish government that the central government “had no authority” to make statements like Mr Shahristani’s.

Goldilocks and the Bears by Carlos T Mock, MD

Goldilocks and the Bears
By Carlos T. Mock, MD

Note: The Chicago Tribune, in an effort to keep Republicans in power this November, published an editorial today called: Goldilocks and the Dow. They claimed: The next time you hear someone complain about the state of the U.S. economy, you might point out that the Dow Jones industrial average is right on the edge of setting an all-time high. I'm trying to set the record straight.

At first glance, the economy's role in this year's midterm elections is a puzzle. Economic growth and unemployment are at levels that in past years would have been a clear political asset for the party in power.

While the DOW Jones average is almost at an all time high, it only measures the health of 30 US companies.

“The run-up to this point has been driven by an expectation that the Fed will stop raising rates and get the cooling in the economy they’re looking for,” said Joseph Battipaglia, chief market strategist at Ryan Beck.

“The price you’re paying for that is uncertainty about how much softening there will be in the economy. A soft landing is something that the Fed cannot engineer. It’s out of their hands.”

Fears of a slowdown in manufacturing affected Caterpillar, which sank 4.1 per cent to $62.77 – the week’s worst performance in the Dow. United Technologies also suffered, losing 3.6 per cent to $62.30. Executives at Lowes and Home Depot are also worried.

And they have reason to be worried: A cooling housing market helped slow U.S. economic growth more steeply than expected in the second quarter, the government reported on Thursday, while corporate profits grew feebly. Analysts said a slowdown in the pace of expansion could extend into 2007 and Federal Reserve policy-makers caution they expect economic growth in the second half to drop below long-term trend rates. 
 Gross domestic product or GDP that gauges total economic activity within U.S. borders advanced at a revised 2.6 percent annual rate in the second quarter, down from the 2.9 percent estimated a month ago. 

 That was less than half the first quarter’s 5.6 percent rate. 

 Wall Street economists surveyed by Reuters had expected second-quarter GDP to be unchanged at 2.9 percent. But the Commerce Department said inventory building was weaker than first thought and imports of services - which detract from domestic output -- were higher.

Yesterday, the Commerce Department said durable goods orders unexpectedly fell in August, signaling companies might be scaling back investment plans as the economy slows. 

 The 0.5 percent drop followed a 2.7 percent drop in July, the first back-to-back decreases since April-May 2004.

The Commerce Department also said sales of new homes were down 17.4 percent compared with August 2005, and the median price of $237,000 last month fell below the median of $240,100 in the same month last year.

 About 44 percent of home builders have reduced prices, says Gopal Ahluwalia, director of research at the National Association of Home Builders, citing a survey he conducted this month. More than half of builders are offering free upgrades, up from 37 percent a year earlier, he said. The average house sold in the US last month for less than it had a year earlier. The 1.7 per cent fall in median house prices was the first fall in a decade and the worst annual fall in housing prices since November 1990, in the wake of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.

What about the fact that average income is growing? That's true enough, but misleading. Average income increased overall solely because incomes at the very top exploded. For 80 percent of workers, incomes actually declined on an inflation-adjusted basis since November 2001. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes this is the only time income for most workers declined during any four-year-long economic recovery, going back 40 years.

Go one layer down in the statistics, the answer is even clearer. Flat wages and rising debt nationally have converged to leave millions of middle-class households feeling acutely vulnerable to bumps in their financial planning. The most visible of these are rising energy prices and a softening housing market.

Just like the federal government has overspent since the Bush administration took office, going from a 200 billion surplus to a 300 billion deficit, Americans have been tempted by cheap credit and have overextended themselves. As a result, the National Debt has continued to increase an average of $1.93 billion per day since September 30, 2005.

Another powerful variable is the interest paid by people carrying credit card debt or mortgages whose monthly payments vary with interest rates. During the low interest years of the Bush Administration, most people took all their equity out of their homes, taking second mortgages and maxing out on their credit cards. Some even used the newly created interest only mortgages that pay no principal.

During the same period, the country went from a positive savings rate to a negative savings rate.

Now that the housing market bubble is deflating, Americans are left with mortgage payments they can't afford, no equity in their homes to stay afloat, and no savings to make ends meet.

Finally, companies and institutional investors around the globe are holding record amounts of cash – an indication that they are growing more pessimistic over the outlook for future economic and profits growth.

According to the latest data from Thomson Financial, the cash on the balance sheets of the world's largest 100 companies has now reached $1,100bn and shows little sign of falling.

Cash holdings have been rising steadily since 1999, first breaking the $1,000bn mark in 2004 and they have remained unusually high since then.

Institutional investors are also holding on to more cash, according to recent surveys.

Last week Merrill Lynch said that a net 33 percent of asset allocators were overweight in cash – an all-time high. "You have to go back to the Iraq invasion of March 2003 to see levels of risk appetite this low," said David Bowers, an independent consultant to Merrill Lynch.

If you add this to the fact that we have had inverted yield curves on the treasuries, my conclusion is that the country is heading for a Bear Market. Goldilocks has left the building.

Uruguay to pass gay union law

Uruguay to pass gay union law
From correspondents in Montevideo
September 14, 2006 10:08am
Copyright by Reuters

URUGUAY'S Congress will pass a law to legalise gay and heterosexual civil unions, granting those couples the same rights as married ones, a ruling party Senator said today.

The Senate already passed the Bill, and Senator Margarita Percovich told Reuters the lower house is expected to approve it easily given the governing leftist coalition's majority.

The legislation will allow gay and straight couples to form civil unions after living together for at least five years.

"With this initiative, we are recognizing rights that were unclear under the law and which judges did not know how to resolve," said Senator Percovich, one of the Bill's backers.

"If there is recognition (of the partnership), it's as though it were a marriage," she said.

The law would ensure inheritance rights for couples in civil unions and offer other advantages such as shared parental rights and pension benefits.

Gay marriage is still illegal in Uruguay, a tiny South American country squeezed between Argentina and Brazil which is known for its secular streak in a predominantly Roman Catholic continent.

The Argentine capital of Buenos Aires legalised same-sex unions in 2002, in a move hailed as a first in Latin America.

New York Times Editorial - A tyrannical antiterror law

New York Times Editorial - A tyrannical antiterror law
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: September 28, 2006

Here's what happens when this irresponsible U.S. Congress railroads a profoundly important bill to serve the mindless politics of a midterm election: The Bush administration uses Republicans' fear of losing their majority to push through ghastly ideas about antiterrorism that will make U.S. troops less safe and do lasting damage to Americans' 217-year-old nation of laws - while doing nothing to protect America from terrorists.

Republicans say Congress must act right now to create procedures for charging and trying terrorists - because the men accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks are available for trial. That's pure propaganda. Those men could have been tried and convicted long ago, but President George W. Bush chose not to. He held them in illegal detention, had them questioned in ways that will make real trials very hard, and invented a transparently illegal system of kangaroo courts to convict them.

It was only after the Supreme Court issued the inevitable ruling striking down Bush's shadow penal system that he adopted his tone of urgency. It serves a cynical goal: Republican strategists think they can win this autumn, not by passing a good law but by forcing Democrats to vote against a bad one so they could be made to look soft on terrorism.

Last week, the White House and three Republican senators announced a terrible deal on this legislation that gave Bush most of what he wanted, including a blanket waiver for crimes Americans may have committed in the service of his antiterrorism policies. Then Vice President Dick Cheney and his willing lawmakers rewrote the rest of the measure so that it would give Bush the power to jail pretty much anyone he wants for as long as he wants without charging them, to unilaterally reinterpret the Geneva Conventions, to authorize what normal people consider torture, and to deny justice to hundreds of men captured in error.

These are some of the bill's biggest flaws:

Enemy combatants: A dangerously broad definition of "illegal enemy combatant" in the bill could subject legal U.S. residents, as well as foreign citizens living in their own countries, to arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of appeal. The president could give the power to apply this label to anyone he wanted.

The Geneva Conventions: The bill would repudiate a half-century of international precedent by allowing Bush to decide on his own what abusive interrogation methods he considered permissible. And his decision could stay secret - there's no requirement that this list be published.

Habeas corpus: Detainees in U.S. military prisons would lose the right to challenge their imprisonment. These cases do not clog the courts, nor coddle terrorists. They simply give wrongly imprisoned people a chance to prove their innocence.

Judicial review: The courts would have no power to review any aspect of this new system, except verdicts by military tribunals. The bill would limit appeals and bar legal actions based on the Geneva Conventions. All Bush would have to do to lock anyone up forever is to declare him an illegal combatant and not have a trial.

Coerced evidence: Coerced evidence would be permissible if a judge considered it reliable - already a contradiction in terms - and relevant. Coercion is defined in a way that exempts anything done before the passage of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, and anything else Bush chooses.

Secret evidence: U.S. standards of justice prohibit evidence and testimony that is kept secret from the defendant. But the bill as redrafted by Cheney seems to weaken protections against such evidence.

Offenses: The definition of torture is unacceptably narrow, a virtual reprise of the deeply cynical memos the administration produced after Sept. 11. Rape and sexual assault are defined in a retrograde way that covers only forced or coerced activity, and not other forms of nonconsensual sex. The bill would effectively eliminate the idea of rape as torture.

The Republicans have made it clear that they'll use any opportunity to brand anyone who votes against this bill as a terrorist enabler. But Americans of the future won't remember the pragmatic arguments for caving in to the administration. They'll know that in 2006, Congress passed a tyrannical law that will be ranked with the low points in American democracy.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Misreading Iranian threat

Misreading Iranian threat
By Steve Chapman
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published September 28, 2006

Iran is now led by an outspoken Islamic radical who arms terrorists in Lebanon, dreams of erasing the state of Israel and spurns demands to stop his nuclear program. The Bush administration says it's intolerable to let Iran proceed toward the acquisition of the bomb. More and more, it looks as though the only way to prevent that is for the U.S. to go to war.

But we are in danger of repeating the same mistakes that have mired us in Iraq. Back in 2003, we assumed we understood what Saddam Hussein was up to on weapons of mass destruction. We assumed that if he had them, he would be impossible to contain. And we assumed that we could solve the problem with a quick, neat application of military power.

On all counts, we were fatally wrong. So before Americans are talked into another war, we should consider the possibility that our assumptions about Iran may also be erroneous.

In the first place, it's not clear exactly what Iran wants or is willing to settle for. Though it has been enriching uranium, which could provide the fuel for nuclear weapons, it accepted a stringent international inspections program until earlier this year, and it has indicated it would accept such monitoring again, under the right conditions.

We may not be able to get what we want if we enter serious negotiations with the Iranians. But if we refuse to barter, we're sure to get nothing.

The world would certainly be better off without a nuclear Iran--just as it would be better off without a nuclear North Korea. But the example provided by Kim Jong Il is somewhat reassuring. Like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kim has been known to sound belligerent and fanatical. But once he acquired the bomb, he found it didn't get him much.

The one value of a nuclear arsenal is relevant to the other surviving member of the Axis of Evil: It can prevent enemies, such as the United States, from invading your country. Having seen the fate of Saddam Hussein, the Tehran regime has sensible grounds to worry.

But nukes are useful only if they are not used. If Iran gets them, it will quickly learn--if it doesn't know already--what Kim, Mao Tse-tung, Nikita Khrushchev and Josef Stalin came to understand: Launching a nuclear attack guarantees your destruction. It violates the first mission of every government, which is self-preservation.

Alarmists say this logic doesn't apply to Iran, because Islamic zealots would be willing to accept the mass incineration of Muslims to advance their dark fantasies. But people thought similar things about Mao, who said he didn't care if half of humanity had to die to usher in socialism for the remaining half. Once he had nukes, though, he came to appreciate the appeal of personal and national survival.

We went to war against Hussein for fear he could not be deterred from using any weapons of mass destruction he might have. But he had already shown he could be deterred--when he sat on his chemical weapons in the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

Iran's rulers are not a different species from these other dictators. And they have not held on to power in a dangerous neighborhood for decades by blindly pursuing martyrdom. They know that using nukes, or giving them to terrorists, would amount to assisted suicide.

If we could easily eliminate Iran's nuclear program, it might be worth doing.

But the risks of that course are enormous. An air campaign may not get all the essential facilities, because we can't be sure we have located them all.

Iran's response might force us to mount a ground invasion, with a military that is already grossly overextended. And that war would be far more formidable than the Iraq occupation.

The administration, however, may once again let wishful thinking be its downfall. Time magazine reports that some U.S. officials think a bombing campaign might cause Iranians to reject nuclear weapons or even overthrow their government. Anyone who believes that is probably still expecting grateful Iraqis to shower us with tulips.

President Bush ought to be using every means short of war to dissuade Iran from building a bomb. But if he can't, there are worse things than having to coexist with a nuclear-armed enemy. As we may find out.


Steve Chapman is a member of the Tribune editorial board. E-mail:

New-home sales rise on price cuts; mortgage applications fall

New-home sales rise on price cuts; mortgage applications fall
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune and Bloomberg News
Published September 28, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Pricing cuts by builders spurred an unexpected increase in new-home sales last month, but mortgage applications last week recorded their largest drop since July, according to two reports released Wednesday.

The Commerce Department said new-home sales rose in August from a three-year low, though the median price fell for the first time since 2003. Purchases of new homes increased 4.1 percent, the biggest rise since March, to an annual pace of 1.05 million. Economists expected a 3 percent drop.

But sales of new homes were down 17.4 percent compared with August 2005, and the median price of $237,000 last month fell below the median of $240,100 in the same month last year.

About 44 percent of home builders have reduced prices, says Gopal Ahluwalia, director of research at the National Association of Home Builders, citing a survey he conducted this month. More than half of builders are offering free upgrades, up from 37 percent a year earlier, he said.

"The housing market is still in correction mode, but home sales aren't plummeting and it's an orderly correction," said Mike Moran, chief economist at Daiwa Securities America Inc. "We're starting to see inventories stabilize, but they're still at elevated levels, and builders will need to work those off for a while."

Inventories slipped 0.3 percent. There were 568,000 new homes for sale at the end of August, down from 570,000 in July. The number of unsold homes fell to a 6.6-month supply, the first drop since March, from a 7-month supply in July.

The increase in new-home purchases followed a report Monday that showed sales of existing homes fell last month to the lowest annual pace since January 2004.

Some economists consider new-home sales a better leading indicator of the state of the market than resales. New-home sales are recorded when a contract is signed; purchases of existing homes are calculated when the sale is closed, usually a month or two later.

Purchases rose 21.7 percent in the Northeast, 12.2 percent in the Midwest and 11.1 percent in the South. They fell 17.7 percent in the West.

Also Wednesday, the Mortgage Bankers Association said mortgage applications fell 4.9 percent last week. The group's gauge of purchases slumped 5.5 percent. Both are the biggest drops since the week ended July 14. The refinancing index slid 4.1 percent.

"It is not clear that the home-building downturn has yet found a floor," said Stuart Miller, chief executive of Lennar Corp., the nation's third-biggest builder by market value.

Durable goods orders down - 2nd straight month of decline reported

Durable goods orders down - 2nd straight month of decline reported
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune and Bloomberg News
Published September 28, 2006

WASHINGTON -- The Commerce Department said Wednesday that durable goods orders unexpectedly fell in August, signaling companies might be scaling back investment plans as the economy slows.

The 0.5 percent drop followed a 2.7 percent drop in July, the first back-to-back decreases since April-May 2004.

Economists expected a 0.5 percent increase last month. Excluding transportation equipment, orders slumped 2 percent, the largest decline since July 2005.

Concerns that consumer spending will falter as the housing market sags could be making companies reluctant to buy new equipment or boost inventories. The figures suggest the real estate slump is spreading to other areas of the economy.

"The run of reports showing sluggish growth in the economy continues," said Michael Gregory, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto.

Bookings for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft, a proxy for future business investment, fell 0.3 percent last month. Computers and electronics bookings slid 4.7 percent, and orders for machinery declined 2.1 percent. Orders for electrical equipment and appliances slumped 9.2 percent, the biggest decrease since 2002.

Automobile bookings rose 4.4 percent in August, but that might not be repeated in coming months.

Ford Motor Co. is cutting North American production by 16 percent in the second half of the year, while General Motors Corp. plans to trim fourth-quarter production 12 percent. DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler unit will cut second-half production as much as 17 percent.

"The auto sector is the weak link in American manufacturing," Gregory said. "Lower production at automakers is a drag on the overall factory sector."

Orders for commercial aircraft tumbled 22 percent last month, after dropping 13 percent in July. Chicago-based Boeing Co. said it received 30 aircraft orders in August, down from the 38 placed the previous month.

Reports this month on manufacturing have sent conflicting signals.

Manufacturing in New York state expanded at a faster pace this month, but a separate report showed manufacturing in the Philadelphia area unexpectedly contracted this month for the first time since April 2003.

The disparity might be due to differences in the mix of industries, said Haseeb Ahmed, an economist at JPMorgan Chase Bank in New York.

The Philadelphia area has more construction-related industries that could be suffering from the downturn in housing, while New York has more producers of the goods businesses are buying to improve efficiency, he said in a report.

The war that dare not speak its name

The war that dare not speak its name
By Jacob Weisberg
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: September 28 2006 03:00 | Last updated: September 28 2006 03:00

The biggest problem that the US faces is the war it is losing in Iraq. The most shocking aspect of the national election it is holding in six weeks is that the candidates are not discussing what to do about it.

The reasons for ignoring the elephant in the room are apparent. Republicans in tight races cannot easily disown President George W. Bush's policies, but they may be able to change the subject. Focusing on what to do now highlights the catastrophe Mr Bush has created and his lack of any plausible strategy for fixing it. Republican politicians would rather frame the campaign around local issues or the larger question of security, under which Mr Bush hopes to subsume Iraq.

Democratic candidates avoid talking about the future in Iraq based on a different calculation. For them, Mr Bush's past deceptions and mistakes are winning issues. But they share a problem with Republicans, which is that they do not have a clue what to do next either. Some bandy aboutthe term "redeployment", the favoured euphemism for withdrawal. Butfor Democrats, any explicit talk about a pull-out raises the old spectre that they are defeatists, weaklings and generally squishy on terrorism.

Outside the confines of the campaign - and inside various think-tanks, magazines and foreign policy circles - one finds an assortment of provocative ideas about Iraq policy. Somewhere to the right of Mr Bush, William Kristol and his fellow neo-cons argue that we can still win, but only if we send more troops to secure the country. Their plan has the advantage of honesty about how little the Iraqi military forces that America has been trying to train are able to accomplish without us. It has the disadvantage of being utterly unrealistic about America's remaining military, financial and political capabilities.

Others who still imagine that some sort of American victory is possible include Andrew Krepinevich, Jr, a promoter of the so-called oil-spot approach to counter-insurgency. This theory, which envisages creating secure enclaves for Iraqi civilians instead of playing "whack-a-mole" with terrorists, is what the Pentagon has theoretically been trying to do in Iraq for at least the past year. It forms the basis for the "clear, hold and build" concept at the core of the National Security Council's November 2005 National Strategy for Victory in Iraq. Mr Krepinevich's plan is supposed to allow for a gradual drawdown in troops by relying on Iraq forces to do the "hold" part of the job. It also anticipates taking more than a decade to succeed and runs up the challenge of maintaining political support for a long war of attrition.

Closer to the centre we find a variety of interesting, complicated, lesser-evil solutions. The most compelling of these is the case for a decentralised, federalised Iraq advanced by Leslie Gelb and Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware. Mr Gelb, the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, proposes that we put our weight behind a more radical version of decentralisation than the one embodied in the current Iraqi constitution. This would mean an Iraq divided into three parts: autonomous Kurdish, Shia and Sunni regions, with a weak central government to divvy up oil revenues and serve common interests. Mr Gelb's plan envisages withdrawing most of our troops by the end of 2008, while leaving a "small but effective residual force" in Iraq indefinitely. In a recent book entitled The End of Iraq, Peter Galbraith, a former ambassador to Croatia and advocate for the Kurds, puts forth a more drastic version of this. Mr Galbraith calls for the partition of Iraq into three separate countries, a democratic Kurdistan, a Shia theocracy in the south and a God-only-knows regime in the Sunni triangle. But Mr Galbraith trips over the same insoluble problem Mr Gelb does: Iraq's populations are mixed up, especially in Mosul, Kirkuk and Baghdad. Any form of ethnic division would mean an exchange of populations, large-scale communal violence and the endless tensions that followed partition in India and Israel.

Moving toward the liberal side, Lawrence Korb, a former Pentagon official, has been arguing for a "strategic redeployment", or staged withdrawal of nearly all US forces by the end of 2007. Mr Korb wants to get out of Iraq in large part to save the beleaguered volunteer army. He calls his withdrawal scheme "the best among bad options" and argues that the Bush administration "has left us no better choice".

Further to the left is the 1972 presidential candidate George McGovern, who wants America and Britain to withdraw all their troops by June, 2007 and begin making reparation payments. Mr McGovern's plan does not begin to come to grips with what might happen after a precipitous departure - civil war, genocide and a wider regional conflict. But it does have the advantage of candour. As with Vietnam, Mr McGovern wants us to admit we have lost and come home.

Reviewing these proposed strategies suggests another, less partisan reason why House and Senate candidates seem so disengaged from the question of what to do in Iraq. The best that America's leading foreign policy thinkers have been able to come up with is a grim choice among forms of failure. In a country of optimists, no politician wants to deliver that message.

The writer is editor of

Moderate Republican wing fears extinction at the polls

Moderate Republican wing fears extinction at the polls
By Holly Yeager in Avon, Connecticut
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: September 28 2006 03:00 | Last updated: September 28 2006 03:00

Like many people in north-western Connecticut, Irene Loretto just says "Nancy" when she is talking about Nancy Johnson, the moderate Republican first elected to Congress in 1982.

"I voted for her all these years," the pensioner said - and she was not alone. Mrs Johnson won her last election by a 60 per cent to 38 per cent margin; in 2002, she won by 11 percentage points.

But Ms Loretto, angry that two of the three medicines she takes are not covered by her insurance under the prescription drug programme Mrs Johnson helped craft, is not voting for her in the midterm elections on November 7. And, again, she does not appear to be alone.

Mrs Johnson is locked in an unexpectedly tough contest with Chris Murphy, a Democratic state senator. More worrying for Republicans, she is just one of three moderate Republicans in the state who are struggling to hold on to their seats in the House of Representatives.

President George W. Bush was in Greenwich, a wealthy enclave just north of New York City, on Monday for a private fundraiser that generated more than $500,000 (€393,000, £263,400) for Republican candidates in the state, including Mrs Johnson and two colleagues, Chris Shays and Rob Simmons.

The outcome of their races - among the most competitive this year - will help determine whether Republicans are able to hold on to their majority in the House. These and a handful of other contests in the north-eastern US could also mark the end of the moderate wing of the Republican party, an ideological shift akin to the decline of the Democratic party in the south.

Democrats in the area say their races are so close because voters have finally come to see that while these "Rockefeller Republicans" - fiscally conservative but less interested in social issues - may talk like moderates at home, when they get to Washington they vote with the Republican majority.

"There are moments when people realise that they just aren't who they say they are," said Mr Murphy. "The issues are so big this year, they can't disguise it." At a campaign talk at the gated community where Ms Loretto lives, Mr Murphy hammered away at Mrs Johnson's support for tax cuts for the wealthy, and a Republican budget that cut spending on children's health and student loans.

In the district to the south, which Mr Shays has represented for 19 years, the top issue is Iraq. Despite the advice of party leaders, who fear deepening disapproval of the war could hurt Republicans at the polls, Mr Shays has been an outspoken supporter of Mr Bush's policy.

He appeared to shift his stance on the war in August, after his 14th visit to Iraq, when he said it was time to warn the Iraqi government that US forces would be forced to withdraw if it did not make progress on unifying the country.

Diane Farrell, his Democratic opponent, said Mr Shays made the change after Ned Lamont, an opponent of the war, defeated Joseph Lieberman, the state's three-term senator, in a Democratic primary that was largely seen as a referendum on the war. Mr Shays has since tried to clarify his position, insisting that he continues to believe the war is a "noble mission".

Speaking to students and faculty members at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield last week, Mrs Farrell acknowledged that she had voted for Mr Shays in the past. She ran against him two years ago and, this time around, has wasted no time going after his record, offering a critique of the war, the absence of an exit strategy and the "blank cheque" she said Congress gave Mr Bush to fight the war.

But, like Mr Murphy, she also underscored the broader role Mr Shays has played in supporting Mr Bush and the Republican leadership in Congress. "Chris has been entirely too supportive of the president's agenda."

Gary Rose, a politics professor at the university who attended Mrs Farrell's talk, said she and other Democrats faced an uphill battle to convince people in Connecticut that the independent-minded Republicans they had supported in the past were closely allied with party leaders in Washington.

Mrs Johnson broke with her party and voted to expand federal funding of stem cell research, while Mr Shays has backed bipartisan legislation on campaign finance reform and the environment. "Voters in Connec-ticut still see many of these Republicans as not in line with the Republican maj-ority on a range of issues."

But the Democrats are still trying to make their case. "If you send Chris Shays back to Washington, you've just cast your vote for the same leadership who have brought us to where we are today," said Mrs Farrell. "If you send me to Washington, we have the opportunity for new leadership and, for the first time in six years, you have checks and balances between the White House and at least one house of Congress."

US economic growth revised downward

US economic growth revised downward
© Reuters Limited

A cooling housing market helped slow U.S. economic growth more steeply than expected in the second quarter, the government reported on Thursday, while corporate profits grew feebly.

Analysts said a slowdown in the pace of expansion could extend into 2007 and Federal Reserve policy-makers caution they expect economic growth in the second half to drop below long-term trend rates.

Gross domestic product or GDP that gauges total economic activity within U.S. borders advanced at a revised 2.6 percent annual rate in the second quarter, down from the 2.9 percent estimated a month ago.

That was less than half the first quarter’s 5.6 percent rate.

Wall Street economists surveyed by Reuters had expected second-quarter GDP to be unchanged at 2.9 percent. But the Commerce Department said inventory building was weaker than first thought and imports of services - which detract from domestic output -- were higher.

The dollar’s value softened briefly after the GDP data were published while prices for Treasury securities edged up but then turned modestly lower. Stock prices eased.

David Sloan, senior economist with 4Cast Ltd. in New York, described the GDP report as “marginally weaker” and said most of the revisions were minor. “It is consistent with the direction we are generally seeing from other data, of further slowing in the third quarter,” he added.

While growth is losing some steam, its deceleration is not yet rapid enough to raise recession fears.

Separately, the Labor Department said new claims for jobless benefits fell by 6,000 in the week ended Sept. 23 to a seasonally adjusted 316,000, a sign of a relatively healthy hiring environment.

2001 memo to Rice contradicts statements about Clinton, Pakistan

2001 memo to Rice contradicts statements about Clinton, Pakistan
By Larry Womack
Published: Tuesday September 26, 2006
Copyright by The raw Story

A memo received by United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice shortly after becoming National Security Advisor in 2001 directly contradicts statements she made to reporters yesterday, RAW STORY has learned.

"We were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al Qaeda," Rice told a reporter for the New York Post on Monday. "Big pieces were missing," Rice added, "like an approach to Pakistan that might work, because without Pakistan you weren't going to get Afghanistan."

Rice made the comments in response to claims made Sunday by former President Bill Clinton, who argued that his administration had done more than the current one to address the al Qaeda problem before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. She stopped short of calling the former president a liar.

However, RAW STORY has found that just five days after President George W. Bush was sworn into office, a memo from counter-terrorism expert Richard A. Clarke to Rice included the 2000 document, "Strategy for Eliminating the Threat from the Jihadist Networks of al-Qida: Status and Prospects." This document devotes over 2 of its 13 pages of material to specifically addressing strategies for securing Pakistan's cooperation in airstrikes against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Pakistan obstacle

The strategy document includes "three levers" that the United States had started applying to Pakistan as far back as 1990. Sanctions, political and economic methods of persuasion are all offered as having been somewhat successful.

Other portions of the passages relating to Pakistan – marked as "operational details" – have been redacted from the declassified memo at the CIA's request.

The document also explores broader strategic approaches, such as a "need to keep in mind that Pakistan has been most willing to cooperate with us on terrorism when its role is invisible or at least plausibly deniable to the powerful Islamist right wing."

But Clarke also made it clear that the Clinton Administration recognized the problem that Pakistan posed in mounting a more sweeping campaign against bin Laden: "Overt action against bin Laden, who is a hero especially in the Pushtun-ethnic border areas near Afghanistan," Clarke speculated in late 2000, "would be so unpopular as to threaten Musharraf's government." The plan notes that, after the attack on the USS Cole, Pakistan had forbidden the United States from again violating its airspace to attack bin Laden in Afghanistan.

The memo sent by Clarke to Rice, to which the Clinton-era document was attached, also urges action on Pakistan relating to al Qaeda. "First [to be addressed,]" wrote Clarke in a list of pending issues relating to al Qaeda, is "what the administration says to the Taliban and Pakistan about ending al Qida sanctuary in Afghanistan. We are separately proposing early, strong messages on both."

A disputed history

The documents have been a source of controversy before. Rice contended in a March 22, 2004 Washington Post piece that "no al Qaeda plan was turned over to the new administration."

Two days later, Clarke insisted to the 9/11 Commission that the plan had in fact been turned over. "There's a lot of debate about whether it's a plan or a strategy or a series of options, but all of the things we recommended back in January," he told the commission, "were done after September 11th."

The memo was declassified on April 7, 2004, one day before Rice herself testified before the 9/11 Commission.

Go to: to see the actual memos.

New York Times Editorial - A retreat on carry-on liquids

New York Times Editorial - A retreat on carry-on liquids
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: September 27, 2006

The U.S. government's relaxation of the rules for carrying liquids and gels aboard airplanes is being greeted with sighs of relief by many American passengers, airlines, airports and businesses. But we wish we could be confident that the Transportation Security Administration was not simply trying to placate airlines and other businesses concerned about possible loss of revenues.

The new rules that went into effect Tuesday allow passengers to carry liquids in 3-ounce containers provided they all fit in a single quart- sized, clear plastic, zip-top bag. The rules also permit passengers to carry aboard beverages and other items purchased in the secure area of the airport.

The head of the TSA said the near total ban was no longer needed because extensive testing by the FBI and others had found that small containers don't pose a real threat and because items bought in the airport's secure area have already been screened on the way in.

But it would seem relatively easy for a small group of terrorists to combine their liquids after all have passed through security checkpoints. And one has to wonder whether a corrupt worker or terrorist might find a way to sneak a liquid bomb into the secure area despite enhanced surveillance and background checks.

It is disquieting that a former inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security declared himself "skeptical" that such a determination had been made. A safer course of action would retain the near total ban on liquids and let the airlines supply passengers with ample beverages.

New York Times Editorial - It's no secret, Mr. President

New York Times Editorial - It's no secret, Mr. President
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: September 27, 2006

It's hard to think of a president and an administration more devoted to secrecy than President George W. Bush and his team. Except, that is, when it suits Bush politically to give the public a glimpse of the secrets. And so, Tuesday, he ordered the declassification of a fraction of a report by U.S. intelligence agencies on the terrorist threat.

Bush said he wanted to release the document so voters would not be confused about terrorism or the war when they voted for congressional candidates in November. But the three declassified pages from what is certainly a voluminous report told us what anyone with a newspaper, television or Internet connection should already know. The invasion of Iraq was a cataclysmic disaster. The current situation will get worse if American forces leave. Unfortunately, neither the report nor the president provide even a glimmer of a suggestion about how to avoid that inevitable disaster.

Despite what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, have tried to make everyone believe, one of the key findings of the National Intelligence Estimate, which represents the consensus of the 16 intelligence agencies, was indeed that the war in Iraq has greatly increased the threat from terrorism by "shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives."

It said Iraq has become "the cause célèbre for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement." It listed the war in Iraq as the second most important factor in the spread of terrorism - after "entrenched grievances such as corruption, injustice and fear of Western domination." And that was before April, when the report was completed. Since then, things have got much worse. ( The report was written before the killing in June of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. The authors thought such an event would diminish the danger in Iraq. It has not.)

Bush decided to release this small, selected chunk of the report in reaction to an article on the intelligence assessment that appeared in The New York Times over the weekend. As a defense of his policies, it serves only to highlight the maddening circular logic that passes for a White House rationale. It goes like this: The invasion of Iraq has created an entire new army of terrorists who will be emboldened by an American withdrawal. Therefore, the United States has to stay indefinitely and keep fighting those terrorists.

By that logic, the more the United States fights, the longer the war stretches on.

It's obvious why Bush did not want this report out, and why it is taking so long for the intelligence agencies to complete another report, solely on Iraq, that was requested by Congress in late July. It's not credible that more time is needed to do the job. In 2002, the intelligence agencies completed a report on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in less time. Bush also made selected passages of that report public to buttress his arguments for war with Iraq, most of which proved to be based on fairy tales.

Then, Bush wanted Americans to focus on how dangerous Saddam Hussein was, and not on the obvious consequences of starting a war in the Middle East. Now, he wants voters to focus on how dangerous the world is, and not on his utter lack of ideas for what to do about it.

Let Me See If I've Got This 'RIGHT' ...

Let Me See If I've Got This 'RIGHT' ...
By Nancy Greggs
Sat Aug 26th 2006, 08:43 PM
Copyright by Democratic

I’m supposed to believe that the man who sat in a classroom reading a kids’ book for seven minutes AFTER he was told the country was under attack, who was warned repeatedly about imminent threats against the country and chose to ignore them, who has traipsed off on vacation every time there is a domestic or international disaster, is a decisive man-of-action with the fortitude to run a nation.

I am supposed to believe that God himself chooses my nation’s leaders and that, in His infinite wisdom, he chose a lying, thieving, self-absorbed, pro-torture, pro-war, lazy frat-boy jerk like George W. Bush.

I am supposed to believe that the same man who used family money and influence to duck military duty, who has failed at every business venture he ever tried, who never did an honest day’s work or accomplished anything of value in his entire life, is fit to be Commander-in-Chief.

I am supposed to believe that a man who ignores the Constitution he swore to uphold, breaks the law with abandon, repeatedly lied about the reasons for going to war, its cost, its duration, and even its goals, is honest and trustworthy.

I am supposed to believe that the escalating violence, chaos and deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan are a sign of progress.

I am supposed to believe that a man who, by his own admission, does not read newspapers, who only meets with and listens to ‘yes’ men, who refuses to speak before any group that is not hand-picked from his staunchest supporters, is in touch with the realities of the world.

I am supposed to believe that sending US soldiers into combat without proper equipment or a viable military strategy, while decreasing their pensions and their benefits, is a patriotic display of supporting the troops.

I am supposed to believe that gutting the funding of social programs aimed at assisting the poor, the sick, the hungry and the homeless is the outcome of good Christians being in office, and that torturing, maiming and killing innocent civilians is “doing the Lord’s work”.

Oh, don’t go anywhere, because I haven’t even gotten started yet …

I am supposed to believe that a president who acts like an ill-mannered, oafish, mindless buffoon in public, both at home and in international settings, and a vice president who tells a colleague to go f*ck himself in the course of conducting the country’s business, are both deserving of respect.

I am supposed to believe that spying on US citizens, quashing free speech, and suspending laws that govern detention and confinement without just cause is preserving the tenets of democracy.

I am supposed to believe that alienating our allies, isolating ourselves from the world, refusing to use diplomacy instead of aggression, and causing people around the globe to hate us is the best way to protect my country from violent attack.

I am supposed to believe that no-bid contracts awarded to companies owned by members of this Administration, its families and its cronies is pure coincidence, and that secret meetings resulting in policies that enrich their supporters to the detriment of hard-working Americans is good and honest government.

Hold on, because there’s MORE of this crap ...

I am supposed to believe that outsourcing American jobs, under-funding our educational system, and plunging the country deeper into debt with every passing day will lead to a stronger, more competitive nation in the years to come.

I am supposed to believe that the same people who left NOLA to drown, who refuse to secure our borders, who refuse to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, and who initiate policies that incite anger and violence the world over are protecting my country from harm.

I am supposed to believe that an Administration whose policies make basic medical care and life-saving drugs unaffordable for millions of Americans is pro-life.

I am supposed to believe that elected representatives who voted for the Bankruptcy Bill, tax breaks for wealthy individuals, and tax subsidies for multi-billion dollar corporations are looking out for their constituents.

Along with all of the above, I am also supposed to believe that selling authority over our ports to foreign nations, selling our national lands to private interests, and selling our children’s future by burdening them with debt for decades to come is in the best interests of our country.

Drum roll, please -- here's the BIG FINALE ...

I am supposed to believe it is safe to board an airplane with a hold full of uninspected cargo as long as no passengers are in possession of baby formula, that a group of men in Britain were about to take down ten airliners without tickets or passports, that seven men in Miami were going to blow up buildings in cities they didn’t have the money to get to, that one lone guy in New York was going to take down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blow-torch, that if we leave Iraq every terrorist in the world is going to come to the US and fight us in the malls and the supermarkets, that the ‘Liberal media’ simply forgets to cover the lies, cover-ups and corruption of this Administration and its party members, that voting for a Democrat in Connecticut sends shockwaves of unbridled encouragement throughout the Muslim world, that a bunch of PNAC members whose predictions have been proven totally wrong in every instance should be dictating policy to my government, that our military isn’t stretched too thin and they are just recalling those who have already fulfilled their duty because they’ve got too much time on their hands, and that George W. Bush spends his summers reading CAMUS and SHAKESPEARE.

Oh, if only I were GULLIBLE, ILL-INFORMED, EASILY LED and TOTALLY STUPID – what a FINE Bush supporter I would have made!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Gay Man to Run Against Ald. Shiller

Gay Man to Run Against Ald. Shiller
by Amy Wooten
Copyright by The Windy City Times

Openly gay James Cappleman announced his candidacy for 46th Ward alderman at a community rally across from Uptown’s Wilson Yard on Sept. 24.

About 50 residents gathered to hear Cappleman, a 53-year-old clinical social worker and community activist, announce that he will be running against 20-year incumbent Ald. Helen Shiller. Elections will be held Feb. 27.

“We are long overdue for a change in leadership,” Cappleman said.

The candidate chose to rally in front of the Wilson Yard—a vacant strip of commercial property since a 1996 fire—to exemplify the need for new leadership in the Uptown neighborhood.

“It marks broken promises to revitalize this community area, which is the heart of the 46th Ward,” Cappleman said.

If chosen as the next alderman, Cappleman promised to community members that he will make informed, forward-thinking decisions to develop and improve the area. In addition, he will hold frequent community forums in order to keep constituents informed and to get their input—something Cappleman says Shiller has failed to do.

“She has failed to listen to the community [ at ] every turn,” he said. “I pledge to keep you informed.”

Both Cappleman and his longtime partner, Richard Thale, are involved in the 46th Ward, where Cappleman has been a resident for seven years. Cappleman was president of the Uptown Chicago Commission until mid-2006, where Thale is currently vice-president. Cappleman is also a member and former president of Dignity/Chicago, and is a family advocate at University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital.

During his career, Cappleman has been involved in serving people living with HIV. He was also recently awarded the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award for his activism.

The candidate also revealed his plans to bring neighborhood groups and city services together in order to help solve problems and address quality of life issues. “I want to make the ward work for you,” Cappleman said. “We all could come together to make Uptown cleaner and safer.”

“We have two choices,” Cappleman told the crowd. “We can stand here and wring our hands, or we can roll up our sleeves and say it is time for a change.”

Shiller has faced strong opposition is almost all of her re-election efforts, including several years ago against Vince Samar. The races are usually hard-fought and close, despite Shiller’s pro-gay record that includes two decades of fighting for increased AIDS funding and the city’s gay-rights laws. The controversial issues tend to be more about gentrification and the speed of development, not gay rights.


White House refuses to release full terror report

White House refuses to release full terror report
POSTED: 12:53 p.m. EDT, September 27, 2006
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House refused Wednesday to release the rest of a secret intelligence assessment that depicts a growing terrorist threat as the Bush administration tried to quell election-season criticism that its anti-terror policies are seriously off track.

Press secretary Tony Snow said releasing the full report, portions of which President Bush declassified on Tuesday, would jeopardize the lives of agents who gathered the information.

It would also risk the nation's ability to work with foreign governments and to keep secret its U.S. intelligence-gathering methods, Snow said, and "compromise the independence of people doing intelligence analysis."

"If they think their work is constantly going to be released to the public they are going to pull their punches," Snow said.

In the bleak National Intelligence Estimate, the government's top analysts concluded Iraq has become a "cause celebre" for jihadists, who are growing in number and geographic reach. If the trend continues, the analysts found, the risks to the U.S. interests at home and abroad will grow.

Snow said the report confirms the importance of the war in Iraq as a bulwark against terrorists. "Iraq has become, for them, the battleground," he said. "If they lose, they lose their bragging rights. They lose their ability to recruit."

The document has given both political parties new ammunition leading up to November's midterm elections.

For Republicans, the report provides more evidence that Iraq is central to the war on terrorism and can't be abandoned without giving jihadists a crucial victory.

For Democrats, the report furthers their argument that the 2003 Iraq invasion has inflamed anti-U.S. sentiments in the Muslim world and left the U.S. less safe. Democrats continued their push Wednesday for release of the rest of the report.

"The American people deserve the full story, not those parts of it that the Bush administration selects," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Massachusetts.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Michigan, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, warned, however, that releasing more of the intelligence assessment could aid terrorists. "We are very cautious and very restrained about the kind of information we want to give al Qaeda," Hoekstra said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in Tirana, Albania for a meeting of defense ministers, said Bush had declassified the report's key judgments, after parts of it were leaked to the news media, so that "the American people and the world will be able to see the truth and precisely what that document says."

The NIE report, compiled by leading analysts across 16 U.S. spy agencies, says the "global jihadist movement -- which includes al Qaeda, affiliated and independent terrorist groups, and emerging networks and cells -- is spreading and adapting to counterterrorism efforts."

A separate high-level assessment focused solely on Iraq may be coming soon. At least two House Democrats -- Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Rep. Jane Harman of California -- have questioned whether that report has been stamped "draft" and shelved until after the Nov. 7 elections.

An intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the process, said National Intelligence Director John Negroponte told lawmakers in writing only one month ago that he ordered a new Iraq estimate to be assembled. The estimate on terrorism released Tuesday took about a year to produce.

The broad assessment on global terror trends, completed in April, escalated an election-year battle over which party is the best steward of national security.

At a news conference Tuesday, Bush said critics who believe the Iraq war has worsened terrorism are naive and mistaken, noting that al Qaeda and other groups have found inspiration to attack for more than a decade. "My judgment is, if we weren't in Iraq, they'd find some other excuse, because they have ambitions," the president said.

But Sen. Joe Biden, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Wednesday that Bush has allowed Iraq to fester as a training ground for terrorists, and U.S. voters are worried about it.

"On Election Day, that morning, if there's still the carnage in the streets of Iraq, then it will be clear that they have concluded that this administration's policy has failed and there will be a political price for it," Biden, D-Delaware, predicted on CBS' "The Early Show."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the intelligence committee's top Democrat, said the decision to invade Iraq shifted focus away from U.S. counterterrorism efforts.

"There is no question that many of our policies have inflamed our enemies' hatred toward the U.S. and allowed violence to flourish," he said. "But it is the mistakes we made in Iraq -- the lack of planning, the mismanagement and the complete incompetence of our leadership -- that has done the most damage to our security."

New York Times Editorial - Immigration reform in pieces

New York Times Editorial - Immigration reform in pieces
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: September 26, 2006

This can't be what President George W. Bush had in mind when he gave a prime-time speech about immigration in May. "An immigration reform bill needs to be comprehensive," he told America, "because all elements of this problem must be addressed together, or none of them will be solved at all."

That was then. Now we have the Republican-controlled House passing a pre-election lineup of narrow enforcement measures packaged to give voters a false impression of resolve. Bush has even given up talking a good game on immigration: He says he will sign the Republican legislation as a "first step" toward the real reform he has said he wants but has done depressingly little to achieve.

Republican leaders want Americans to think they are hard at work overhauling the broken immigration system in the last days before going home. But these are piecemeal rehashes of legislation the House passed last December. They include a border fence that would cost more than $2 billion and would not work, and tough-sounding but profoundly undemocratic bills that would allow the indefinite detention of some illegal immigrants seeking asylum, make it easier to deport people without judicial review, and require voters to prove citizenship before participating in federal elections. The latter measure attacks an imaginary problem - voting fraud by illegal immigrants - and would disenfranchise countless Americans who are old and poor.

Among the most poisonous provisions is one that would give state and local police agencies authority to enforce federal immigration laws. Police departments big and small have bristled at the idea, saying they lack the expertise and the resources to enforce immigration law. But for every police chief who sees this as a foolish attack on law enforcement, there is a sheriff or local politician just itching to seize control of his or her own little corner of the immigration battlefield. It's an every-mayor- for-himself approach that would only worsen the ad hoc incoherence of the national immigration system.

Once again it's up to the Senate to resist the restrictionist free-for-all. Republicans have been trying to make this difficult by seeking to slip their toxic measures into must-pass bills for the Homeland Security and Defense Departments. The senators who have held out for comprehensive reform, which includes giving immigrants a realistic way to work and get right with the law, must stick together to defeat the House campaign.

Anti-immigrant fervor is a flame that spreads easily. But leadership can help people look beyond resentment and fear. Once upon a time, Bush was a sense-talking governor from a border state who understood this. Now he has joined the leaders of his party in calling on America to cower behind electric fences and searchlights. It's painful to see what he has turned into, and frustrating, in these days of immigration panic, to keep waiting for a real leader to emerge.

Chicago Tribune Editorial - Border bashing

Chicago Tribune Editorial - Border bashing
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published September 27, 2006

Determined to show that, yes, they can get something done about immigration reform, House Republicans spit out a series of border enforcement bills last week and dared the Senate to kill them.

The measures range from the merely inoffensive (making it illegal to tunnel into the country) to the truly ineffective (erecting a 700-mile fence along the 2,000-mile Mexican border). Most of them were quickly swatted down, but they served their purpose: When Congress adjourns on Friday, House members can go back to their districts boasting about how hard they're working to fix the immigration system.

But they're not fixing the immigration system. House Republicans decided in June that they're better off if the system stays broken, at least until after the election.

Exploiting the problem gets them a lot more points than solving it. So they spent the summer conducting "field hearings" instead of tackling the much harder job of reconciling their own get-tough bill with the more holistic measure passed by the Senate and favored by President Bush.

The hearings, held mostly in swing congressional districts, were blatant campaign events with comical titles including "Whether Attempted Implementation of the Senate Immigration Bill Will Result in an Administrative and National Security Nightmare" and "Should We Embrace the Senate's Grant of Amnesty to Millions of Illegal Aliens and Repeat the Mistakes of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986?"

House members returned to Washington even less inclined toward compromise. They have plucked apart their original bill and tried to force-feed it to the Senate in pieces.

Many of the bits and pieces are already included in the Senate's bill, but they need to be balanced by measures that address the country's dependence on immigrant labor. Take that $2 billion border fence. Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano has no confidence it would stop immigrants from crossing into her state illegally in search of jobs. "Show me a 50-foot wall, and I'll show you a 51-foot ladder," she has said.

The Senate's comprehensive plan is rooted in reality. It would open channels through which enough workers could arrive legally, and it would offer a way for many of the 12 million who are already here to stay.

The House is having none of that, at least until after the election. Immigrant bashing is so much easier than immigration reform.

Bear market has begun'

'Bear market has begun'
By Paul J Davies
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: September 27 2006 03:00 | Last updated: September 27 2006 03:00

Investor views on whether the credit cycle has turned differ widely between the cash and derivative markets, according to strategists at Deutsche Bank.

Gary Jenkins and Jim Reid, heads of credit strategy at Deutsche, said yesterday there was mounting evidence that a bear market was beginning.

The last bull run began towards the end of 2002 with spreads on Baa-rated long-dated bonds over Treasuries peaking at about 300 basis points. That spread had more than halved by March 2005 and has since widened again by more than 40bp.

However, the views of investors are likely to differ widely depending on whether they are exposed to the cash bond market, or the market for credit default swaps, which offer insurance against non-payment of corporate debt.

"Cash investors are more likely to say that the peak has passed," said Mr Jenkins. "The low default rate of recent years has been kinder to the CDS market."

This is because the market for CDS trades and structured products built on the back of them instrinsically places more importance on default rates than on the value of returns from being invested in bonds.

This has helped the main European CDS index outperform the main cash bond index since June. But once defaults begin to rise, cash investments are likely to outperform again, they said.

The coming bear market could be protracted following on from the longer up and down cycles witnessed since the start of the 1990s, they said.

Credit and other asset cycles depend on the economy and Mr Reid and Mr Jenkins pointed to two pieces of evidence that auger ill for the US particularly.

First is the coming contraction of the population aged 35-54, who are the main drivers of investment in assets.

The growth of this group has arguably driven the sustained asset boom of the past 25 years, they said.

Second is the sharp fall in sentiment among housebuilders, which is at its lowest level since the early 1990s and shows strong correlation with consumer expenditure.

Mr Reid said figures on Monday were the first to show negative annual house price growth in the US since the depression era.

While they expect bond spreads to remain in a narrow trading range in the coming few quarters, real returns on investment grade and high yield bonds are likely to be disappointing over the next five years if markets revert to historic averages.

Gold sales fall well below limit set in central banks' pact

Gold sales fall well below limit set in central banks' pact
By Kevin Morrison
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: September 27 2006 03:00 | Last updated: September 27 2006 03:00

European central banks have been big sellers of gold over the past six years, but this year they appear to have lost their desire to sell the metal, even though gold prices have been much higher.

Signatories to the Central Bank Gold Agreement, mainly European central banks, are estimated to have sold 400-420 tonnes of the 500 tonnes they are permitted to sell each year under the latest five-year pact.

Yesterday was the end of the second year of the second five-year pact and was the first year that official sales have fallen below 500 tonnes since the first pact - introduced to steady the price of gold - started in September 1999.

Philip Klapwijk, executive chairman of GFMS, the metals consulting group, said the shortfall was likely to be repeated over the next three years of the current agreement.

"When you look at the signatory countries it is hard to see who is going to step in and take the sales up to 500 tonnes," he added.

France accounted for about30 per cent of CBGA sales, up until the end of July, followed by Switzerland (15 per cent), the Netherlands (14 per cent), the European Central Bank (12 per cent) and Portugal (9 per cent). Other sellers included Spain, Belgium and Austria.

France is forecast to sell a maximum of 344 tonnes by September 2009 while the Netherlands is expected to sell another 43 tonnes over the next three years. Switzerland has no plans to sell more gold.

No other signatories are likely to step in either. With the exception of about nine tonnes of gold coin sales in the past two years, Germany, the biggest holder of gold among the signatories, has not sold any of its 3,423.5 tonnes of gold, after a dispute between the Bundesbank and the German finance ministry. Likewise, Italy has given no indication that it plans to dispose of any of its 2,451 tonnes. GFMS forecasts that the shortfall from the gold sales pact could be as much as 855 tonnes over the five years of the current pact.

"I can't see the renewal of a new agreement, because what is the point? Most of the signatories would have sold what they wanted to," Mr Klapwijk said.

Even though European central banks are reducing their gold sales, there has still been no sign of other central banks purchasing, with Mongolia's purchase of nine tonnes of gold this year being the largest central bank buy order.

Mr Klapwijk said European central banks, which account for about 43 per cent of world central bank gold holdings, will be in a different situation in 2009 compared to today. "In 1999, they [European central banks] had too much gold and the price was looking wobbly. In three years' time, they would have sold what they wanted to, and prices should still be reasonably firm," he said.

However, CBGA signatories have made a late rush in offloading gold in the past two months, contributing to the7 per cent decline in gold prices over that period. Until the end of July, signatories to the CBGA had sold only 331 tonnes, according to GFMS.

Gold was trading at $591.10 a troy ounce yesterday. Bullion prices have dropped about20 per cent since reaching a26-year peak of $730 in mid-May.

David Holmes, director of precious metals at Dresdner Kleinwort, said the decline in gold prices from their peak was a reflection of speculative investors exiting commodities markets.

He said the shortfall of central bank gold sales would normally have been positive for gold prices, as central bank gold sales have traditionally helped fill the gap between gold mine output and fabrication demand.

He said high gold prices this year had triggered a slump in global gold jewellery demand. GFMS has forecast that gold mine output this year will drop below jewellery demand for the first time since the early 1980s.

GFMS is forecasting gold jewellery demand to fall 18.6 per cent to 2,205 tonnes this year, less than projected gold mine production of 2,524 tonnes.

"The impact of lower central bank gold sales has been neutralised by the drop in jewellery demand, and lower gold sales in the future are unlikely to have an effect on prices until there are signs of a pick-up in jewellery demand," said Mr Holmes.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Routine testing for AIDS

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Routine testing for AIDS
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: September 25, 2006

U.S. health officials took the right step last week when they recommended that all teenagers and adults up to the age of 64 be tested for the AIDS virus when they receive routine medical care. This welcome effort to remove barriers in the way of widespread testing offers the best hope to reduce the stubborn persistence of HIV in the American population.

It is a public health scandal that about 40,000 Americans are still newly infected each year; that a quarter of those with the disease, or 250,000 Americans, do not even know they are infected; and that more than 40 percent of those who find out they are infected are tested only because they are already seriously ill. Surely it would be better for every infected individual to learn of his status as early as possible so as to plan the best course of treatment and avoid spreading the infection. And surely it would be better if hidden chains of transmission could be detected and interrupted to slow the spread of infection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which issued the new recommendations, urged that testing remain voluntary. Its most controversial proposal was that patients no longer be counseled extensively in advance about the pros and cons of testing and asked to sign a separate consent form. A similar policy has greatly reduced the infection rate in newborn children. It is time to apply that approach more broadly.

New York Times Editorial - Punishing refugees twice

New York Times Editorial - Punishing refugees twice
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: September 25, 2006

America's excellent record of giving refuge to the persecuted is flagging - and one of the biggest barriers seems to have arisen inadvertently.

In their haste, congressional authors of the Patriot Act and its sister Real ID provision tucked a clause into the immigration laws barring entry to anyone who has provided "material support" to a terrorist organization. Who could argue with barring people who have aided terrorists?

But the Bush administration has chosen to interpret "material support" to include people who act under duress - someone pressed at gunpoint to supply a glass of water, or forced to dig graves or pay ransom for a kidnapped child, or held hostage in her home (and thus provided shelter to terrorists). The result is to victimize these people twice.

The law's definition of a terrorist group - two or more people who take up arms against a state - also makes no allowance for motive. Members of the Vietnamese Montagnards and Cuban Alzados - groups created by the United States that remain staunch supporters - are now blocked from entry.

As a result of the material-support clause, more than 11,000 refugees are being kept out of the United States for allegedly supporting terror. Religious conservatives have urged that this problem be fixed, but the departments of Homeland Security and Justice have rebuffed efforts by the State Department to narrow the law. The administration did grant waivers to groups of Karen refugees who oppose the Myanmar government, and administration officials argue that waivers are the solution. They are not: They are too slow and cumbersome, and there are many groups that waivers legally cannot help - the duress cases, for example.

The law needs reform, and not just to make more groups eligible for waivers. Representative Joe Pitts, a conservative Republican, is sensibly proposing to shut out only members and supporters of groups that the secretary of state determines are terrorists. Pitts would also let in those coerced into helping terror groups.

The bill has bipartisan backing, but many lawmakers are frightened of being labeled soft on terrorism. To have a real chance of passage, it will need the administration's support.