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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Chicago Tribune Editorial: Falwell, Imus and words

Chicago Tribune Editorial: Falwell, Imus and words
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published May 19, 2007

How strange it is to describe someone in the context of the controversial things they have said, as though all of their lives were spent babbling nonsense or offensive gibberish or inflammatory flapdoodle. It may well be the one characteristic that links the disgraced radio icon Don Imus to the late media preacher who was behind the Moral Majority, Rev. Jerry Falwell.

For each man, the use of words accepted in one place caused trouble in another.

It is not our place to cast judgment on Falwell or his life beyond the role he played in politics, which made him fair game along with anyone else who leaps into the arena of public debate. No one can really know a man's relationship with God, because one part of that equation is unknowable and the other is very difficult to pin down with any certainty.

Falwell's followers found in him a great preacher and leader, sure enough, just as Imus' audience believed him witty, provocative and acceptable, up to a point. ("Nappy headed ho's" would be the point at which Imus became unacceptable).

But outside of the world of the converted, the choir to which Falwell preached, he became notorious for comments that would be applauded by the flock but widely questioned, criticized, even condemned, by those outside of it. The same phenomenon happens when people scrutinize the words of rap music or analyze the kinds of songs that were played in New Orleans brothels at the turn of the last century.

It might have been great to dance to at the club (or brothel) on Friday night, but it sure sounds like brutal misogyny in the cold glare of a Monday morning. Those who are not part of the closed audience may be grievously offended when the words reach them, no matter the messenger.

Thus, we had a Falwell beloved in his own circle but defiled outside of it for suggesting the terror attacks of Sept. 11 were God's punishment for America's tolerance of pagans, abortionists, homosexuality and feminism. AIDS, he suggested, is the wrath of a just God against homosexuals. Everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. to Billy Graham found themselves splattered at one point or another with the righteous pie of Falwell's rhetoric.

Frequently, he found himself apologizing.

A lesson presents itself in the wake of his death: In the world of words, good and bad can be as much in the ear of the listener as in the heart of the speaker.

Immigration plan attacked on all fronts

Immigration plan attacked on all fronts
By Karoun Demirjian
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published May 19, 2007

WASHINGTON -- This week's bipartisan agreement on an immigration reform bill may have been a substantial achievement, but lawmakers and advocates from the left and right attacked it Friday and vowed to change or scuttle it.

If the compromise plan is to become law, the senators who drafted it -- along with President Bush -- will have to address complaints from a spectrum of critics, from immigrant advocates hoping to relax provisions of the guest-worker program to conservatives who hope to defeat the bill because they see it as an amnesty for the 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. But support for the measure could dwindle if key provisions are substantially altered.

The campaign to sell the comprehensive reform legislation officially begins Monday afternoon when the bipartisan group, led by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and others, offer their 380-page measure. They are expecting a favorable reception and eventual passage in the Senate.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called the proposal the "last, best chance we'll have as a Congress" to enact immigration reform.

Optimism in check

Advocates for immigrants have shown more measured optimism, pledging to seek key changes but lauding the effort overall as an important first step. But some warned against assuming that an agreement among senators as diverse as Kennedy and Kyl was a harbinger of easy passage in the Senate.

"To say there will be overwhelming support is unrealistic and a bit idealistic," said Marshall Fitz, advocacy director for the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "It's not at all certain that as a final package this could garner the 60 votes" needed to block a filibuster. "I think that's an open question."

The bill would establish a merit-based, temporary guest-worker visa program for new immigrants, while eliminating the backlog of legal immigrant applications and legalizing the status of undocumented workers currently in the country.

These and other components of the bipartisan bill are controversial enough that those who drafted it will have to work to secure the support of their fellow party members.

Dissent proved to be enough of a problem earlier this week when the bipartisan Senate working group lost Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the main negotiators from either side of the aisle.

Cornyn said he is withholding judgment until the Senate process is under way, but that he is considering voting against a motion to proceed with the immigration debate on Monday.

Menendez said he couldn't support the bill because of the stringent restrictions it would put on temporary workers and their families.

Since the bill was unveiled, other lawmakers, including Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.), have said they would not support it unless key changes are made to the guest-worker program.

If the measure does get past the Senate, even bigger challenges likely await in the House, where critics of the Senate bill have been more vocal, and political camps are more sharply divided.

House leaders quiet

So far, House leaders have remained quiet on the issue, voicing support for various principles of immigration reform but not for the Senate bill or any other specific immigration proposals.

"We intend to take action. But I cannot say at this point what the vehicle will be," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), chairwoman of a key House immigration subcommittee.

Despite a strong Democratic majority in the House, passage of a comprehensive bill is not guaranteed. Several first-term Democrats from conservative constituencies have indicated their unwillingness to vote for a bill that appears to offer amnesty to immigrants who entered the country illegally, the same objection numerous House Republicans have voiced.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has already told Bush he would need to deliver 70 Republican votes before she can bring a measure to the floor. White House spokesman Tony Snow said Friday the president -- along with Cabinet members Michael Chertoff and Carlos Gutierrez -- would be personally involved in lobbying lawmakers to support comprehensive immigration reform.

Immigrant advocates are hoping the active support for compromise legislation from such notably conservative senators as Kyl, along with legislative emphasis on border security, strict rules on employment and specialized programs for agricultural workers and military personnel will be enough to convince moderate lawmakers to support it.

"The ones who think this is just amnesty ... we're not terribly concerned about those guys; we weren't expecting their votes," said Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, an immigrant advocacy group. "Once this process gets started, House Democrats and Republicans are going to want to get it done. It will be very difficult, excruciating, like crawling over broken glass ... but it's never been more likely that we could get a bill done than this year."


Financial Times Editorial: The World Bank after Wolfowitz

Financial Times Editorial: The World Bank after Wolfowitz
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 18 2007 21:56 | Last updated: May 18 2007 21:56

The departure of Paul Wolfowitz is a sad moment. It was necessary, indeed inevitable, once revelations about his role in securing a generous settlement for his girlfriend emerged. But it is sad both personally and for the institution. It is now necessary to learn lessons and look forward. The World Bank will never be the same again. Indeed, it must not be the same again.

Perhaps the most important lesson is that foisting a boss on the bank who has the backing of just one person, even if the latter is the most powerful in the world, does not give him enough legitimacy to run the institution effectively. That was evident even before the scandal showed that the incumbent held no credit in the bank of global support.

It is evident to almost everybody that the old stitch-up, which gave the World Bank to an American and the International Monetary Fund to a European, is no longer workable. Ideally, the heads of both organisations would be selected by the respective boards (themselves, ideally, much reformed) from a global pool of qualified candidates. There are many such people with the requisite expertise and competence. It should be remembered, too, that the pressing need is for a leader who can always find a manager.

If, in the aftermath of this emergency, such a shift proves impossible, the least that can be asked is that the US puts up several candidates, not all of whom need (indeed should) be Americans. That would give the board the possibility of selecting a new president after examining their credentials and their proposals for the future.

This brings us to the second big lesson of the affair. The turmoil has rightly raised big questions about the future of this huge public sector bureaucracy in a world so different from that of a decade ago, let alone of six decades ago when it was founded. The bank’s role as a financial intermediary is much less relevant and its role as a unique source of knowledge far less compelling than ever before.

The right question to ask is what public goods should such institutions – including the regional development banks – provide in today’s world. Finance and technical assistance to the world’s poorest countries are a part of the answer. So are finance of cross-border infrastructure and research, support for public-private partnerships, provision of information and analysis and a push for better governance.

The bank needs a more legitimate boss and a new sense of purpose. The challenge is large. But if the institution is to survive this sad episode, it must be met. Business as usual is not a tolerable alternative.

Petrol prices cast shadow on US holidays

Petrol prices cast shadow on US holidays
By Bernard Simon in Toronto
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 18 2007 17:36 | Last updated: May 18 2007 17:36

The Memorial Day holiday next weekend marks the start of the peak US driving season as Americans’ thoughts turn to summer holidays. This year however, record petrol prices are casting a shadow over not only their holiday plans, but a wide swathe of the US economy.

The average price of regular gasoline climbed to $3.12 a gallon on Friday, surpassing the previous high of $3.06 set in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in September 2005, according to the AAA motoring organisation. Prices averaged $2.43 in the first quarter of this year.

“The magnitude of the run-up does effectively drain spending from the consumer,” says Nigel Gault, economist at Global Insight. He adds: “It’s bad for anybody who ships anything anywhere”.

Global Insight estimates that each 10 cent-per-gallon rise in the petrol price costs Americans an annualised $10bn, lopping about one-tenth of 1 per cent off total disposable income.

The motor industry is already feeling the impact, reinforcing the housing slump. US light-vehicle sales fell by 7.6 per cent in April from a year earlier.

IRN, a Michigan-based consultancy, forecasts that “the weakness that we are seeing in the first four months of 2007 will continue to soften as the year progresses”.

The pressure is most intense on the three Detroit-based carmakers – General Motors, Ford Motor and Chrysler – that depend most heavily on sport-utility vehicles and pick-up trucks.

According to JD Power, a research group, sales of small vehicles have grown from 26.3 per cent of new-vehicle retail sales in early 2004 to 31.8 per cent in the first three months of this year. The proportion of vehicles fitted with four-cylinder engines has climbed from 27.5 per cent to almost 36 per cent.

General Motors offered interest-free financing this week on its 2007 Chevrolet Silverado pick-ups, an unusually generous perk for a new model.

Orders for big freight trucks slumped by two-thirds in April compared with a year earlier.

Some of the slowdown is due to heavy orders last year ahead of new anti-pollution rules for diesel engines, but the trucking industry has also been hit by higher fuel costs and an unexpected slide in volumes.

Apart from oil producers and refiners, there are few winners from the surge in petrol prices. Mr Gault singles out railway operators, “to the extent they can handle it”.

The soaring gasoline prices could encourage many families to take their summer holidays closer to home, hitting resorts in isolated areas.

Apart from that, the soaring gasoline price is unlikely, at least for now, to prompt big changes in Americans’ driving habits.

World Bank affair ‘sign of US impunity’

World Bank affair ‘sign of US impunity’
By Guy Dinmore in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 18 2007 19:38 | Last updated: May 18 2007 19:38

The controversial nature of Paul Wolfowitz‘s tenure at the World Bank can be traced to a culture of impunity and US exceptionalism that has characterised the Bush administration and dominated the direction of its foreign policy, according to academics and former officials.

Critics agreed with the verdict of the World Bank special panel - set up to investigate the circumstances surrounding the pay rise and secondment to the State Department of Mr Wolfowitz’s girlfriend at the bank - that he had “from the outset

While a minor affair in itself, they said the violations of ethics rules at the bank reflected the willingness of leading Bush administration figures to set aside established rules and procedures – ranging from the Geneva conventions in dealing with prisoners, to carrying out extraordinary renditions and tolerating torture, to electronic eavesdropping.

“They came into office with an assurance that they were right. Their style was not one of listening to alternative arguments,” commented Joseph Nye, Harvard University professor.

Mr Wolfowitz was known for ignoring the advice of those around him while deputy defence secretary in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“Wolfowitz was always dogmatic, sure of his own position,” Mr Nye said, recalling Mr Wolfowitz’s dismissal of General Eric Shinseki’s estimate that several hundred thousand troops would be required to secure Iraq as “wildly off the mark”.

Mr Wolfowitz also told Congress, contrary to the advice of oil industry experts, that Iraq would “relatively soon” finance its own reconstruction.

“That style of dogmatic self-assurance typified the administration and hurt them in foreign affairs and in terms of the domestic management of government,” Nr Nye said, noting that this led to an absence of “early warning systems that got them into trouble”.

Janine Wedel, a professor at George Mason University’s school of public policy, says the Bush administration fast earned the reputation of trampling over the rules.

“Wolfowitz, with the neoconservative ethos that American power can reshape the world, is part of this culture. The idea is that our values and our needs and our demands trump everyone else’s, that we can do what we want because we are Americans,” she said.

“Wolfowitz is part of the neoconservative core, with a long record of trying to privatise US foreign policy to carry through its agenda,” commented Ms Wedel, who is writing a book on the “shadow elite” of the networked neoconservatives. “This group often runs rough-shod over established standards and practices.”

The perception of eroding US legitimacy in the world is becoming a key campaign issue for Democrats in the build-up to the 2008 presidential election.

Wesley Clark, retired general and former Nato commander who ran unsuccessfully for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, has called for accountability and justice over abuses carried out in the Iraq war, noting that only low-level soldiers had been found guilty.

He said President George W. Bush had not been the first to “trim around the edges of international law”. But in his conduct of the invasion of Iraq and the treatment of detainees “this time we have gone too far”.

“We violated virtually every principle of just war doctrine,” Mr Clark said in a speech to John Hopkins University this week in which he called for a full inquiry into the abuse of detainees and how the Geneva conventions were rejected as an “anachronism”.

A World Bank insider, who asked not to be identified, agreed that the “climate of fear”, which he said the US had cultivated in the World Bank reflected the way it conducted its foreign relations. “These people think purely in terms of power,” he said.

However, he also argued that part of the problem was Europe’s weakness in asserting itself. The US was still in a position to impose its candidate on the World Bank and this was likely not to change with Mr Wolfowitz’s departure, he said.

John Brown, a former US diplomat who resigned in protest at the Iraq war and now teaches public diplomacy, thought the Wolfowitz affair was “more about manners than morality”.

“He just behaved so badly and so rudely,” Mr Brown said. “A pattern of this administration’s diplomacy has been a lack of manners in official settings…. They pride themselves on their rudeness. It’s making this administration a laughing-stock overseas.”

Another Bush hawk is brought down

Another Bush hawk is brought down
By Edward Luce
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 18 2007 22:12 | Last updated: May 18 2007 22:12

Few missed the coincidence of Paul Wolfowitz resigning from the World Bank on the same day Tony Blair was bidding farewell to Washington. Nor did the travails of Alberto Gonzales, the US attorney-general, who faces a vote of no confidence in the Senate next week, and who is closely associated with the alleged US excesses in the “war on terror”, escape parallel.

Seven Republican senators have joined the Democrats in calling for Mr Gonzales to go over the alleged politically motivated firing of eight federal prosecutors late last year. One way or another most of the hardliners who dominated the first Bush administration have fallen by the wayside in the past 20 months – although for largely unrelated reasons.

The first was Douglas Feith, the undersecretary for defence, who attained notoriety for predicting that Iraqis would greet US soldiers with flowers but who will also be remembered “as the stupidest [expletive] guy I ever met”, in the unfortunate words of Tommy Franks, the general in charge of the invasion.

Mr Feith now works in the same Georgetown University building as George Tenet, the former director of the CIA, who in his recent memoirs attempted – with limited success – to refute the charge that he informed the White House Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction programme was a “slam dunk”.

Then came Scooter Libby, the chief of staff to Dick Cheney, who resigned last year when he was indicted by a grand jury for perjury over the leaking of the name of a serving CIA officer in an attempt to discredit her husband’s finding that Iraq had not been seeking nuclear weapons.

The trial, which led to Mr Libby’s conviction in March and which he is appealing, arguably found its genesis in 10 Downing Street, which supplied the notorious “sixteen words” about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons programme that were included in George W. Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address.

Next to go was Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defence, who was abruptly ejected from the Pentagon by Mr Bush last November the day after the Republican party’s heavy defeat in mid-term congressional elections. Mr Rumsfeld will be remembered for many phrases. But his “stuff happens” description of the incipient Iraqi insurgency may linger for a while.

Like Mr Rumsfeld, who had resisted a crescendo of resignation calls, John Bolton appeared to draw energy from the increasingly strident clamour of his detractors. But the Democratic victory in November removed any prospect Mr Bolton would be confirmed as US ambassador to the United Nations, a body from which he did little to conceal his disdain. He resigned in January.

Others, including J.D. Crouch, the neoconservative deputy national security adviser, who announced last month that he would be stepping down, are quitting the Bush administration for uncontroversial reasons, such as fatigue or the desire to earn a decent salary. The roll call of departures includes moderates, such as Meghan O’Sullivan, Mr Crouch’s colleague, and Tim Adams, the number three at the US Treasury.

Nor do the departures of so many hardliners mean the Bush administration has none left. Health permitting, Dick Cheney will stay with Mr Bush until he leaves on 20 January 2009. And few expect Elliot Abrams, Mr Bush’s hawkish Middle East adviser, to move to an investment bank.

Meanwhile, Zalmay Khalilzad, the new US ambassador to the UN, was a former protégé of Mr Wolfowitz at the Pentagon in the early 1990s.

But there is little disguising the neoconservative despondency over the fate of Mr Wolfowitz whom friends see as a victim of a European plot in revenge for his role as the “architect” of the Iraq war. In spite of copious documentation, they reject as bogus the World Bank executive board’s reasons for requesting his resignation.

But, arguably the real thread linking Mr Wolfowitz’s ejection to those of his peers is not ideology but managerial incompetence, says a former White House official. Many Republicans also level that charge at Alberto Gonzales, whose recent stonewalling at separate hearings on Capitol Hill outdid anything Mr Wolfowitz or Mr Rumsfeld had to offer in terms of sang-froid.

In one hearing, Mr Gonzales said “I don’t recall” 64 times. On Tuesday Jim Comey, the former acting attorney-general, testified that in 2004 Mr Gonzales visited John Ashcroft, the former attorney-general, on his sick bed in hospital in a fruitless effort to get him to sign an order to permit the continuation of warrantless wiretapping.

Whether Mr Comey’s dramatic revelation proves to be the final nail in the attorney-general’s coffin, Mr Gonzales has very few defenders left in Washington.

“Alberto Gonzales should go, not because he’s an ideologue but because he is incapable of running a department,” said the former official. “That is what ultimately caused Paul Wolfowitz’s downfall.”

The City of Chicago Commission on Human Relations supports HB 1826, The Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act

The City of Chicago Commission on Human Relations' Advisory Council on
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues delivered the following
letter to State Rep. Greg Harris in support of HB 1826, The Illinois
Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act, and sent a followup
copy to his office today.

The Council hopes you will consider printing this as a letter to the
editor or news item.

Copies of the letter in Word format and PDF format are attached.

April 18, 2007

State Rep. Gregory S. Harris
Illinois House of Representatives
1967 W. Montrose Ave.
Chicago, IL 60613-1022

Dear Rep. Harris:

As members of the City of Chicago Commission on Human Relations'
Advisory Council on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues, we support
HB1826, The Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act.
This legislation would grant both opposite- and same-sex couples in
Illinois most of the rights currently afforded by marriage and we are
proud to support it.

The mission of the Advisory Council on LGBT Issues is to address
discrimination faced by Chicago's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender
communities and to offer remedies to such discrimination. HB1826 helps
address inequities under Illinois law that have a negative impact on
same-sex couples in Chicago and throughout the state of Illinois.

Passage of HB1826 would be an important first step towards securing
access to full equality for same-sex couples in Illinois. Please add our
Council to the growing list of organizations, agencies and individuals
who have endorsed HB1826.

If we can be of further assistance in efforts to secure passage of
HB1826, please do not hesitate to contact our director, Bill Greaves, at


Katherine Ast
Robert Castillo
Gary Chichester
William B. Kelley
Elizabeth A. Kelly
Damon K. Marquis
Deborah Mell
John Pennycuff
Laura Rissover
Lourdes Rodriguez
Cathy Sikora
Adrian Williams

members, City of Chicago Commission on Human Relations' Advisory
Council on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Issues

International Herald Tribune Editorial: How to do nothing about global warming

International Herald Tribune Editorial: How to do nothing about global warming
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: May 18, 2007

Confronted with soaring gasoline prices, a Congress growing more restless by the day about oil dependency and a Supreme Court demanding executive action on global-warming emissions, President George W. Bush stepped before the cameras in the Rose Garden the other day and said, essentially, nothing.

He announced that he had ordered four federal agencies to "work together" to devise regulations reducing greenhouse gases. He also renewed his call for greater investments in alternative fuels. But neither he nor the cadre of designated briefers who followed him provided any detail, so nobody knows whether he will in fact end up asking for more efficient cars or what sort of alternative fuels he has in mind or, more broadly, what sort of reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions he hopes to achieve.

What we did learn was that he has chosen to make the process as cumbersome and time-consuming as possible. We also learned that nothing concrete will happen until the regulatory process is completed at the end of 2008 - a mere three weeks before Bush walks out the White House door. As Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, aptly noted, this "will leave motor-vehicle fuel economy stuck in neutral until Bush's successor takes office."

This is, in short, yet another of Bush's faith-based energy strategies, in which the operative words are "trust me." The White House says that good regulations need time to develop. That is true, but we would be more inclined to cut Bush some slack if not for the fact that speedier routes are readily available.

For one thing, he could have simplified matters by letting the Environmental Protection Agency run the whole regulatory show, which is what the Supreme Court had in mind. He could also have ordered the EPA to grant California the permission it has been seeking for more than two years to impose its own emissions standards on cars and light trucks, which it can do under the Clean Air Act once it gets a federal waiver. But the automakers desperately do not want California or the 11 other states that plan to imitate California to get that authority, and Bush is obviously in no hurry to grant it.

What we are seeing is the obligatory response of a president who finds himself boxed into a corner by Congress and the court and forced to appear to be doing something.

At bottom, his administration doubts the urgency of the climate change issue and remains deeply averse to mandates and regulatory timetables.

Nowhere has this been more clear than in Germany, where administration officials have spent the last few weeks trying to water down commitments for next month's Group of 8 meeting.

Specifically, it has objected to any treatment of global warming as an urgent problem and rejected long-term emissions targets backed by other nations and, increasingly, by many of Bush's natural allies in the business community. For a clear view of administration policy, one must turn not to the Rose Garden but to Europe.

International Herald Tribune Editorial: Rudeness, Realism and Russia

International Herald Tribune Editorial: Rudeness, Realism and Russia
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: May 18, 2007

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, held back-to-back meetings with Vladimir Putin on Wednesday to try to calm overheated East-West tensions. The Russians obliged with soothing pronouncements, including an agreement that mutual recriminations should be toned down.

That is good to hear after Putin's latest rude outburst, an implied comparison of the United States to Nazi Germany. But if the rhetoric has been lowered a notch, all the conflicts remain intact.

There was no visible bridging of sharp differences on volatile strategic issues like independence for Kosovo, sanctions on Iran, or new American missiles in Europe. Nor was there any resolution of the multiple economic disputes hanging over this week's two-day European-Russian summit meeting on the Volga River, ranging from Moscow's exclusion of Polish meat to Lithuania's complaints about unreliable Russian oil deliveries.

The problem for the West is that it is dependent on Russian energy yet must deal with a country that subjects its customers to mercurial policy changes and is enormously sensitive to anything it perceives as an insult to its dignity, particularly if it involves countries it once dominated.

One result is that the debate about how to deal with Russia is often couched as a choice between humoring it or confronting it. It does not have to be.

Western leaders must work with Russia to differentiate between the issues on which cooperation is of mutual importance and benefit - energy, Iran, Kosovo, terrorism - and irritants more suitable to quiet diplomacy.

For the European Union, part of the challenge is to convince former Soviet satellites like Poland that their dislike of Russia, however justified, cannot become a permanent veto on dealings with Moscow. For Washington, it means learning to treat Moscow as a partner on matters where Russia really does have interests and clout. The greatest challenge is for the Russians - to get over their debilitating rancor and responsibly engage the world they are so keen to join.

Friday, May 18, 2007

A missile defense we just don't need (yet)

A missile defense we just don't need (yet)
By Michael O'Hanlon
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: May 17, 2007

As we all know, there is such a thing as a good idea whose time has not yet come. This adage can hold even for presidents of the United States. A case in point is the U.S. proposal to establish a new ballistic missile defense site in Poland and the Czech Republic. The system - which would complement the one established in recent years in California and Alaska - is intended primarily to protect Europe and America from a missile launched from the Middle East. It is in principle a worthy idea, but the benefits in the short term are not worth the worsening of relations with Russia that it has already engendered.

Rather than push the idea now, when the threat of long-range missiles from the Middle East is hardly acute, it would be better to allow a new American president and a new Russian president - Vladimir Putin is barred by his country's Constitution from running again next year - to reconsider the subject in 2009 or 2010.

As planned, the system would consist of a single radar on Czech soil and just 10 interceptor missiles in Poland. Despite its modest size, the proposal is quickly becoming the European security debate of the day. The United States is trying to convince Russia that it does not seek to rekindle the Cold War, offering to give the Russian intelligence services detailed briefings on the system's capabilities and to share with Moscow any early warning data we received from it.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tried to make the sale in Moscow on Tuesday, but Russia remains resistant. Putin has even threatened to suspend compliance with the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty if Washington goes ahead with its plans.

Many NATO states support the general idea of a missile defense system. Yet they have wondered why Washington has decided to pursue this plan primarily as a two-track process with only Poland and the Czech Republic given its broader significance for NATO as a whole. A bigger question may be why the United States is in such a hurry to get this system going, especially given its inherent limitations. The 10 interceptor missiles could in theory intercept only 10 warheads, and in all probability would do well to destroy a couple.

Given the short amount of time available to destroy a missile launched from the Middle East - likely no more than 20 minutes - we would probably have to fire several missiles at once to destroy a single warhead, as there would be no time to wait and see if an initial interceptor hit its mark.

In addition, we all know the problems the military has had in testing missiles for the Pacific missile shield, and the interceptors to be used in Central Europe are going to operate in part on a different, even less-proven technology.

True, the flip side of the weaknesses of the anti-missile system is that Russia's objections to it are without serious strategic merit. Russia has several thousand ballistic missiles; thus in the unthinkable event of a nuclear war between it and the West, the Central European defense system would be like using a fly swatter against a bazooka. (Not to mention that Russia could do what a rogue regime might not have the technology to accomplish, deploying countermeasures that could make the small system entirely useless.)

But the fact of the matter is that Russia does object to the plan, many European allies are nervous, and the whole idea could reinforce the global image of the United States as a hypermilitarized, go-it-alone superpower. Any major decision to build a new defense system needs to recognize this perception and factor it into the strategic and diplomatic calculus.

Common sense dictates that there is no need to rush ahead. If George W. Bush wants to make creating a third missile defense site part of his legacy, he can still contribute - by setting up a formal NATO process to study the idea and give our allies a greater voice in the debate. Not only would this calm their concerns, it would give the Pentagon more time to design and test the interceptors.

We should also involve Russia in the discussion. No, Moscow should not have a veto. But its perspective does matter, especially as good diplomacy might be able to turn it into a supporter rather than an opponent of the plan. Just because Putin has been unswayable doesn't mean his successor will also be unreasonable.

The next president, Republican or Democrat, will carry far less baggage than Bush, and may have an easier time making the final sale on missile defense to the Europeans. This is clearly a matter where haste makes waste. Most important, we must bear in mind that, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reminded Putin this winter, "One Cold War was quite enough."

Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, is the co-author of "Hard Power: The New Politics of National Security."
Striking a new realism
By Dimitri K. Simes
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: May 17, 2007

Neither the Democratic takeover of Congress nor the beginning of the presidential campaign has yet started a meaningful foreign policy debate in the United States. In fact, setting aside Iraq, neither presidential candidates, Congress, nor the media have shown much interest in a serious conversation about the direction of U.S. foreign policy. And a majority of legislators and opinion leaders act as if Iraq were an isolated mistake resulting from the peculiar incompetence of the Bush administration rather than a logical consequence of the country's flawed post-Cold War foreign policy approach.

The problem is not new. When the United States became the only superpower, quite a few in the foreign policy elite could not withstand the temptation of triumphalism and a sense of unlimited possibilities. Near unanimity emerged between liberal interventionist Democrats and neoconservative Republicans, who together were able to dominate discourse on world affairs.

The American media's propensity to cover international relations through the prism of domestic politics helped to create the false sense of "Washington consensus." Those who have roles in previous administrations, connections to the current one, or a good chance to join the next one, enjoy the best access to op-ed pages and television.

The trouble is that while many of these people have impeccable academic credentials, few are analysts first and foremost. Many are members of a government-in-exile aspiring to return to power or work in businesses that depend on political connections. Such individuals naturally and understandably tend to be very careful to avoid defying the conventional wisdom; they are especially careful to avoid saying anything that could make them vulnerable to criticism.

Thus, in 2007, America has not yet had a serious debate about its role in the world in the 21st century. This is quite a contrast to the vigorous discussion of America's global mission at the end of World War II, which included lively exchanges on confronting the Soviet challenge, rebuilding Europe, moving Japan away from militarism, and creating a new structure of international organizations and regional alliances.

Today, beyond acknowledging that the United States is the only superpower with a unique mission and responsibilities, there is little assessment of the profound difference between America trying to play a global hegemon pressing mankind to take the direction it wants and, conversely, acting as a leader who genuinely strives to develop consensus positions reflecting not only its priorities, but also the interests and preferences of others.

While the choice is clearly not black and white, there is a choice. But do not expect to see much outside foreign policy journals.

Considerable evidence, for example, suggests that more even-handed U.S. management of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is essential to marginalize Islamic extremists. Yet presidential candidates are reluctant to offend Israel's supporters, and most members of Congress - from both parties - are running away from this explosive issue.

The conversation on Iran also has not gone beyond clichés like "no option should be off the table" and "dialogue might be a good idea." Most politicians, with the notable exceptions of Senators Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, fail even to acknowledge that the U.S. policy of regime change gives Tehran less incentive to accommodate American preferences.

There is also little public dialogue on the rise of China. On this the Bush administration is more pragmatic than many Democrats in Congress, who engage in populist, protectionist posturing. But no American leader is asking how the U.S. insistence on overwhelming military predominance - as important as it is - will affect China's views of its security requirements.

Finally, while there is bipartisan frustration with Russia's undemocratic trends at home and growing assertiveness abroad, most see a need to obtain its cooperation on matters like nuclear nonproliferation, counterterrorism, and support of Western positions in the UN Security Council. But many in the American political class still find it offensive to suggest that Washington may occasionally have to accommodate the Kremlin to secure this help.

For almost 20 years, it has been fashionable in the United States to assume that America could guide the world toward market democracy, that this would advance U.S. interests and the wishes of mankind alike, and that it would be cheap. A whole generation of politicians, opinion-makers and specialists has been brought up to believe that foreign policy realism is unnecessary and even immoral.

But this self-serving naïveté increasingly clashes with the pragmatic requirements of protecting U.S. security and enhancing American influence. Behind the facade of artificial consensus, more and more people in both parties are raising questions about the direction of U.S. foreign policy. The question is whether their voices will become sufficiently loud and powerful before a new international crisis strikes.

Dimitri K. Simes, the president of The Nixon Center, is publisher of The National Interest. This article was adapted from an essay that appeared in that publication.

House backs Guantánamo exit strategy

House backs Guantánamo exit strategy
By Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 18 2007 15:15 | Last updated: May 18 2007 15:15

The House of Representatives on Thursday approved a $646bn defence budget that would force the Pentagon to prepare a plan to transfer prisoners out of Guantánamo Bay.

The huge 2008 defence budget also includes a controversial “Buy America” provision that would restrict the ability of the Pentagon to buy defence items from foreign suppliers.

The White House has threatened to veto any bill that includes the procurement restrictions, which it says would “jeopardise” US military readiness.

“Guantánamo is a stain on our reputation as a nation,” said James Moran, the Democrat congressman who introduced the measure.

“By keeping Gitmo open, we are providing a recruiting tool for extremists bent on doing us harm. Our values and ideals are what will win the global war on terror, not military might.”

Under the proposed legislation, the Pentagon would have 60 days to provide Congress with a report on plans for dealing with each of the just under 400 detainees at the Cuba-based detention facility.

Inside the Bush administration, Robert Gates, US defence secretary, has been advocating a move to try the prisoners on US soil.

Human rights groups have criticised the US for holding many detainees at Guantánamo without charge for several years.

The White House opposes the Guantánamo move, which it says would be an effort to “micromanage the detention of enemy combatants”.

The House bill, which was approved in a 397-27 vote, also reduces funding for a missile interceptor site in Poland, which would form part of the US ballistic missile defence shield.

The US has run into strong criticism from Russia over the proposal. The House bill, however, would restore the funding if the Pentagon reached agreement with Poland over hosting the missiles by October 2008.

The House bill also includes $142bn to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the fiscal year starting this October.

But that funding is separate from the emergency war spending bill that the Senate is currently debating.

President George W. Bush recently vetoed a funding bill approved by the Democratically-controlled Congress that imposed a deadline on withdrawing troops from Iraq.

The Senate yesterday voted to start negotiating with the House of Representatives over the emergency war funding bill.

Mr Gates recently warned Congress that failure to quickly approve the funds could force him to close parts of the Pentagon over the summer.

In addition to the Pentagon budget, Congress on Thursday approved a $2.9bn budget to fund the government in 2008.

Democrats seek Gonzales confidence vote

Democrats seek Gonzales confidence vote
By Brooke Masters in New York
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 17 2007 23:09 | Last updated: May 17 2007 23:09

Democratic senators will seek a no-confidence vote on Alberto Gonzales, attorney-general, as early as next week, two prominent senators said on Thursday.

Mr Gonzales has been under fire since February for the mass sackings of at least eight US attorneys and the heat got turned up this week with the additional revelation that, as White House counsel, Mr Gonzales had gone to the hospital room of John Ashcroft – his predecessor, who was then gravely ill – to press him about approving a controversial domestic spying programme.

“His credibility is shot. Any faith that he can manage or run the department is gone. And the very justice system which is at the core of our democratic values is held in disrepute every day that he holds office,” said Chuck Schumer, the New York senator who has led the charge for the Democrats on this issue with Dianne Feinstein of California.

Democrats hold only a slim majority in the Senate, but at least six Republicans have said Mr Gonzales ought to resign, including three who announced their positions in the last few days.

Several other top Republicans, including Arlen Specter, the ranking GOP member on the judiciary committee, have made clear they would prefer Mr Gonzales to go.

“I believe that the Department of Justice is close to being dysfunctional now, with an attorney general who is unable to perform the duties of that position,” Mr Specter said yesterday.

Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, said as recently as Wednesday that President George W. Bush “still has full confidence” in Mr Gonzales.

Wolfowitz steps down as World Bank president

Wolfowitz steps down as World Bank president
By Krishna Guha and Eoin Callan in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 17 2007 23:12 | Last updated: May 18 2007 08:14

Paul Wolfowitz announced his resignation as president of the World Bank on Thursday night, ending a turbulent two-year tenure as chief of the world’s leading development institution.

In a statement, Mr Wolfowitz said: “It is in the best interests of those whom this institution serves for that mission to be carried forward under new leadership.” His resignation will be effective June 30.

Mr Wolfowitz’s departure in good health is unprecedented in the history of the World Bank and marks what may be an enduring shift in the balance of power at the institution, which has hitherto been dominated by the US and the president it nominates.

His resignation followed the publication on Monday of a devastating report into his handling of a secondment package for Shaha Riza, a bank official with whom he was romantically involved.

After a last-ditch diplomatic effort to save Mr Wolfowitz’s job, the US administration yielded to pressure from European and other shareholder governments that insisted he could not continue in his post. But the US insisted that the board exonerate him of the ethics charges first.

After several days of haggling, in which the UK acted as an intermediary, board representatives reluctantly agreed to accept Mr Wolfowitz’s assurance that he acted “ethically and in good faith in what he thought were the best interests of the institution.”

The board said “at the same time it is clear from this material a number of mistakes were made by a number of individuals in handling the matter under consideration, and that the bank’s systems did not prove robust to the strain.”

It endorsed the report’s call for a review of the governance framework of the bank.

The board paid tribute to Mr Wolfwitz’s service at the bank, noting “much has been achieved in the last two years.” It added: “It is regrettable that these achievements have been overshadowed by recent events.”

Mr Wolfowitz said: “I am pleased that after reviewing all the evidence the executive directors of the World Bank group have accepted my assurance that I acted ethically and in good faith.”

He promised that the next head of the World Bank would have his full support.

One person close to the board said: “It was obvious what the deal was. He would go but we had to accept his assurance that he acted in good faith.”

“Read what we said carefully,” the board insider added.

Some members of the bank’s staff were outraged by what they saw as a “whitewash” of Mr Wolfowitz. One bank insider said: “It is terrible – but I guess that was the price to pay to get him out.”

Tony Fratto, White House spokesman, said Mr Wolfowitz was a “good man who is passionate about the plight of poor people.”

He said: “We would have preferred that he stay at the bank.” Mr Fratto said President George W Bush will nominate a successor to Mr Wolfowitz “soon”.

Staff members – some of whom have agitated for Mr Wolfowitz’s removal – expressed alarm at the prospect of him remaining in post until June 30. They said it would be a recipe for continued internal strife at the bank.

The board is set to reconvene on Friday to discuss arrangements for the period to June 30, with many directors determined to ensure that responsibility for the operations of the bank is effectively transferred to another bank official during the period that Mr Wolfowitz remains formally in office.

China widens renminbi band and lifts rates

China widens renminbi band and lifts rates
By Mure Dickie in Beijing
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 18 2007 12:09 | Last updated: May 18 2007 12:48

China’s central bank on Friday widened its daily trading band against the dollar for the renminbi to 0.5 per cent from 0.3 per cent, while raising interest rates and banks’ reserve requirements.

The widening of the trading band is sure to fuel expectations that China will allow the renminbi to rise at a faster rate as its politically sensitive trade surplus soars.

However, People’s Bank of China insisted the move was just a further step in its gradual reform of its currency exchange regime and that it should not be seen as prelude to a revaluation.

”(The widening) is a constructive institutional step, and certainly does not signify that there will be great volatility in the renminbi exchange rate, even less does it signify that there will be a large appreciation,” the central bank said.

The move comes shortly ahead of a meeting of the Sino-US Strategic Economic Dialogue established last year by Hank Paulson, US Treasury secretary, who recently called on Beijing to accelerate moves toward a market-determined exchange rate. China’s critics have long accused it of deliberately keeping the currency undervalued in order to support exports.

US critics have noted that the appreciation of the renminbi against the dollar has slowed in recent months, to an annual rate of about 2 per cent.

The People’s Bank separately announced that it would raise both interest rates and banks’ required reserves from Saturday. The one-year lending rate would rise by 0.18 of a percentage point to 6.57 per cent, and the one-year deposit rate by 0.27 of a percentage point to 3.06 per cent.

The rate rise was the latest in a series amid concerns that sectors of China’s rapidly growing economy are over-heating and that a bubble is forming in domestic stock markets.

Sigh of relief over Falwell death

Sigh of relief over Falwell death
IN MEMORIAM | Reverend brought others to God, but he also was a bully
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
May 18, 2007

When doctors pronounced the Rev. Jerry Laymon Falwell Sr. dead at 12:40 p.m. EST Tuesday, I was sitting in the departures lounge of the Key West airport in Florida with a dozen other journalists who had just attended a three-day conference on religion and politics.

As word spread -- a producer for National Public Radio got the first call -- my colleagues scrambled to their cell phones, BlackBerrys and laptops in preparation to write stories and, as was the case with a few, give live radio interviews about the impact of the Rev. Falwell's death.

Knowing I didn't have a deadline to meet that day, my first thoughts were not of what to say or write.

In fact, my very first thought upon hearing of the Rev. Falwell's passing was: Good.

And I didn't mean "good" in a oh-good-he's-gone-home-to-be-with-the-Lord kind of way. I meant "good" as in "Ding-dong, the witch is dead."

Not unlike Tony Soprano
But that thought -- good riddance, I suppose -- was not meant to be cruel or malicious. After all, the faith that the Rev. Falwell and I share teaches us that he was, at that moment, in a far better place, with Jesus in heaven, and not roasting on a spit in Hell's kitchen.

By shrugging off his mortal coil, the Rev. Falwell had ceased to suffer the pain of humanity.

Still, I'm not particularly proud of my knee-jerk reaction. But there it is.

My first thought was not sympathy for his grieving family and friends, or for the students at Liberty University who surely were shocked by the sudden passing of the school's founder in his office on campus. I didn't think of the Rev. Falwell's best intentions, nor about what good he might have contributed to the world during his nearly 74 years on this Earth. That came much later.

My initial reaction to the Rev. Falwell's death was, and remains, relief -- not unlike the ease I felt when a particularly nasty bully who used to spit at me on the playground and threaten to beat me up after school moved to another town.

The Rev. Falwell was a spiritual bully. He was the Tony Soprano to Pat Robertson's Paulie Walnuts.

People who know both of us have told me over the years that we'd probably have liked each other, the Rev. Falwell and I, that he was an affable, almost jolly man, not nearly as smug and awful as his public persona made him out to be.

I'm sure, were he real, Tony Soprano also would make a charming dinner companion, sharing his lasagna and an expensive bottle of Orvieto while telling great stories and asking how your grandmother's doing in the home. And then he'd have you whacked and thrown over the side of his deep-sea fishing boat. But he'd send flowers to the funeral.

After all, as another famous Christian leader once told me by way of explaining how some evangelicals turn on each other (never mind their perceived enemies): "We shoot our own."

Judge not
I will not miss the Rev. Falwell, though the faith he and I share assures me we'll have plenty of time to catch up as we spend eternity together in God's house of many mansions.

Who knows whether, at this moment, the Rev. Falwell is polishing one of the many crowns he's stored up in heaven from his good work for the kingdom on Earth, or is on day three of his seminar with Jesus about what the Gospel really meant and how the reverend had royally screwed up the message? Only God is privy to that kind of insight.

And if there's one thing I learned from the Rev. Falwell's example, it was to heed Jesus' warning to "judge not."

I won't miss having to apologize for the insensitive, mean-spirited, sometimes downright hateful things the Rev. Falwell said in the name of Christ. I won't miss having to explain that not all evangelicals are like the Rev. Falwell, that not all of us are that self-righteous, judgmental and holier than thou.

The Rev. Falwell's absence from this realm will mean one less voice telling my gay and lesbian friends that they are somehow less loved by God, that AIDS is God's wrath, that they are to blame for calamities such as 9/11 or Katrina. I really won't miss the pain in my friends' eyes when they ask me how the Rev. Falwell and I could both be Christians but be so different from each other.

I will not miss seeing him on CNN, pontificating about what God's intention was in allowing and/or causing the latest natural disaster, massacre, plague, famine or terrorist attack.

Joy and pain
I will not miss the Rev. Falwell's voice or point of view.

But at the same time, I cannot dismiss the good he somehow managed to accomplish, despite the pain he inflicted. Lives were changed for the better by his ministry, his college, and the flip side of the endeavors he made in Jesus' name.

There is no denying that some people came to know a loving God through the efforts of the Rev. Falwell. I'm not arrogant enough to presume that God can't work through any means available.

Surely the Rev. Falwell was a cracked vessel for the spirit of God, but aren't we all.

Now he is enjoying his eternal reward.

May he rest in peace.

And may grace fill his absence.

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial: Seize the opportunity to reform immigration

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial: Seize the opportunity to reform immigration
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
May 18, 2007

Senators from both parties announced Thursday they had reached a deal on a sweeping overhaul of the nation's immigration laws. The plan, which would bolster border security, enhance enforcement and offer a route to citizenship to 12 million illegal immigrants, also has the support of President Bush. At first glance the deal appears to represent a reasonable and pragmatic approach to solving the immigration issue -- or at least a good starting point for further refinements.

We've been here before, of course. The president and Senate last year agreed to a similar bill, only to see it shot down by Republican hard-liners in the House. But there are differences -- in the bill as well as in the House, where Democrats are now in charge -- that could make this effort succeed where it failed last year.

Under the deal, immigrants who were here illegally before Jan. 1 would have a chance to legalize their status if they meet certain conditions and jump through some bureaucratic hoops, including paying a $5,000 fine, passing criminal background checks and, for heads of households, returning to their home country first. The deal also would permit 400,000 guest workers to stay here for up to two years. But to satisfy Republicans, the path to citizenship and the guest worker program would be blocked until border security improvements are made and a high-tech worker identification program is completed. Even so, the tougher enforcement provisions probably won't be enough to woo many hardliners, who are opposed to any change that appears to reward those who illegally crossed our borders. We're not happy about it either, but those immigrants are here and simply can't be deported without swamping our court system.

Another change may strike many Democrats as unpalatable. In a major philosophical switch long sought by Republicans, the negotiators proposed to use a point system that would give skills and education levels more weight than family connections in deciding whether immigrants should get legal status. This recognizes that labor market needs should influence immigration policy. Only spouses and minor children would qualify for automatic family unification, while other relatives would likely need to meet the skills and education qualifications.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


May 17, 2007

WASHINGTON, DC -- U.S. Senator Barack Obama released the following statement on the immigration deal announced today:

"Over the past two years, I have worked hard for a comprehensive immigration bill that would provide strong border security, create a new employment verification system, rationalize our immigration quotas, and bring the 12 million undocumented immigrants out of hiding and put them on an earned path to citizenship. We need this reform now."

"I applaud the Senate leadership, as well as the bipartisan group of Senators who negotiated this deal, for moving the legislative process forward. Over the past few months, much hard work has been done behind closed doors to reach agreement on how to fix our immigration system while staying true to our values. But I believe more work needs to be done."

"Without modifications, the proposed bill could devalue the importance of family reunification, replace the current group of undocumented immigrants with a new undocumented population consisting of guestworkers who will overstay their visas, and potentially drive down wages of American workers. We may need a new worker visa to bring in people at all levels of our economy, but these workers should not be forced out of our country or into hiding after two or three years if they prove themselves worthy of an opportunity to stay and join the American family. These and other problems with the proposed deal should be substantially modified."

"We need to fix our immigration system, but we should not replace one dysfunctional, broken system with another equally troubled system. So, I will work to improve any bill that comes to the floor of the Senate, and I hope to be able to support a final bill at the end of the legislative process."

Who to contact to show your support:

The office of Senator Barack Obama
Daniel Sepulveda:
Michael Alvarez:


About Latinos Progresando

Latinos Progresando, a nonprofit organization based in Pilsen and Little Village, serves immigrants through the highest-quality, low-cost legal immigration services, community education and engagement, and advocacy/organizing around just immigration policy.

When an ultrasound becomes political

When an ultrasound becomes political
By Sigrid Fry-Revere
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published May 17, 2007

One of the thorniest questions Republican presidential candidates face in preparation for primary season is whether a woman should have to view an ultrasound of her fetus before consenting to an abortion. The question is more complicated than it seems -- it's not simply a pro- or anti-abortion test -- but the proposal is an extraordinary abuse of medical freedom.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee have all shown support for state-mandated ultrasound requirements. Whatever their stances on abortion, they should recognize that every American has a right to make his or her own medical decisions without political interference.

In Texas the legislature is about to take its intervention in the physician-patient relationship to a lamentable extreme. By a vote of 22-8 earlier this month, the state Senate passed a bill that requires the physician performing an abortion to "review the image of the unborn child with the woman."

At least six other states -- Connecticut, Missouri, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia -- are considering similar laws. The sponsor of the South Carolina bill, Rep. Greg Delleney, said, "I'm just trying to save lives and protect people from regret and inform women with the most accurate nonjudgmental information that can be provided."

The practice of informed consent is crucial to modern medicine. It enables patients to make their own decisions, including those regarding what tests and procedures to undergo. No one in the context of any other voluntary medical procedure is legally required to have or to view X-rays, ultrasounds, PET scans, MRIs, CT scans or any other diagnostic imaging results before an operation.

Forcing a woman to have and watch a medically unnecessary ultrasound is an unsettling distortion of the informed consent process, eerily reminiscent of that haunting scene in "A Clockwork Orange," in which the protagonist's eyes are forcibly propped open as he is shown images intended to recondition his behavior.

Whatever their specific intentions in doing so -- and they invariably seek to scare women into changing their minds about having abortions -- the candidates must recognize that it is a perversion of the concept of informed consent, let alone an unconscionable intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship, to impose medically unnecessary procedures.

In its ruling on Gonzales vs. Carhart last month, the U.S. Supreme Court provided new ammunition for those in favor of mandatory ultrasound viewings prior to abortion. The court held that the government could prohibit medical procedures, in this particular case partial-birth abortion procedures, "in furtherance of its legitimate interests in regulating the medical profession in order to promote respect for life, including life of the unborn."

In fact, the court maintained, the government could undertake such action even if it might not, from the patient's own perspective or that of her physician, be in her best interest. What medical expertise do the justices have on which to render such a judgment?

The court also wrote that "the State has an interest in ensuring so grave a choice is well informed." There is no question that decisions about abortion are difficult, but that doesn't mean women aren't fit to make them, or that women should be forced -- "for their own good" -- to undergo procedures and view images they don't wish to see. ---------- Sigrid Fry-Revere is director of bioethics studies at the Cato Institute.

Free expression gets smoked

Free expression gets smoked
By Steve Chapman
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published May 17, 2007

The 1st Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press, takes the view that the people should dictate to the government, not the other way around. But no one told a group of 32 state attorneys general, who have taken it upon themselves to instruct the film industry on the appropriate content of movies.

This time, the cause is not raunchy sex, foul language or blood-spattering violence. It's cigarettes. Many experts think that when actors puff away, they cause teenagers to do likewise. One study went so far as to say that 38 percent of all kids who acquire the habit do so because of the influence of films. So all these state government officials want filmmakers to stop depicting tobacco use.

They evidently have had an effect. Not long after the attorneys general sent a letter requesting action, the Motion Picture Association of America agreed to use smoking in determining each film's rating. "Depictions that glamorize smoking or movies that feature pervasive smoking outside of a historic or other mitigating context" would run afoul of the ratings board. Apparently it would be OK to show an unwashed lowlife taking a drag just before he drops dead of a heart attack.

The MPAA didn't go as far as demanded by some anti-tobacco groups that want to slap an R rating on just about every film in which actors light up. But it accepted the basic principle that public health lobbyists and politicians should have a big role in deciding what people will see, instead of letting the industry merely cater to its audience.

It's hard to fully credit the notion that kids start smoking just because they see Scarlett Johansson doing it. Steven Milloy, who is the publisher of the Web site, points out that adolescent smoking has declined even as onscreen smoking has increased. If movies exert such a mammoth influence on impressionable youngsters, shouldn't teen tobacco use have risen?

The studies themselves are not as damning as they purport to be. They indicate that kids who watch more movies with smoking are more likely to smoke. But a correlation does not necessarily show a cause: Just because there is lots of beer drinking at baseball games doesn't mean beer drinking causes baseball.

It may be that kids see a star light up and rush out to imitate him. Or it may be that teens who are inclined to smoke anyway are also inclined to see the sort of movies that feature smoking.

Michael Siegel, a physician and professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, believes the studies greatly exaggerate the impact of tobacco in films. "It is simply one of a large number of ways in which youths are exposed to positive images of smoking (which includes advertisements, television movies, television shows, DVDs, Internet, music videos and a variety of other sources)," he told me in an e-mail interview. "To single out smoking in movies as the cause of youth smoking initiation for a large percentage of kids is ridiculous."

Putting an R rating on smoky movies probably wouldn't do much to reduce teenagers' exposure. Some 75 percent of new releases that feature smoking are rated R -- and a lot of them are accessible even to preteens. In one survey of kids in grades 5 through 8, only 16 percent said their parents never let them see R-rated films.

Siegel points out that applying R ratings to films just because they feature full-frontal shots of cigarettes may backfire. Parents anxious about sex and violence may stop paying attention to the rating system once it factors in smoking. So you could end up with more kids seeing films with smoking.

If the MPAA were responding to the clear preferences of parents, this change might be merely dubious. In this case, though, it acted only after getting overt pressure from state governments -- which have no more business determining what appears on movie screens than they do in deciding what goes into Judy Blume's next novel. In the minds of safety zealots, censorship in the name of public health is no vice.

The MPAA's response validates the politicians in their intrusions and beckons them to find new ways to regulate art and other matters that are supposed to be exempt from their control. A shame it didn't give the attorneys general a simpler, better response: Snuff this. ---------- Steve Chapman is on the Tribune's editorial board. E-mail: schapman@

Trash-talking 'Springer' sings at Bailiwick Theatre

Trash-talking 'Springer' sings at Bailiwick Theatre
By Chris Jones
Tribune theater critic
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published May 17, 2007

"We eat, excrete and watch TV," warbles the Chicago chorus of vox populi in "Jerry Springer -- The Opera," a shrewd parody opera and a deft European attack on the puerile American tabloid mentality. "And you are there for us, Jerr-rey."

This trash-talking crowd performs clever music designed to ape something by Offenbach or Verdi. And just as Handel heralded the Messiah, so the studio audience at the "Jerry Springer Show" knows what they crave.

"Bring on the losers," they sing, like a bunch of hyper-up Midwestern gladiators.

And, boy, a crowd of spotlight-seeking losers does indeed show up, singing arias.

When I first saw "Springer" in London about four years ago, it was already a big deal. The show, with music by Richard Thomas and lyrics by Thomas and Stewart Lee, was the recipient of a major National Theatre premiere, followed by a successful commercial run in the West End. Thomas' score, an impressive mix of melodic insight and satirical smarts, was justly lauded. But stateside, no Broadway producer wanted the high-camp show -- in part because the tiresome second act is weaker than the first, but more because the show was thought too crude for those who would appreciate the musical satire, and too scornful to appeal to Springer's actual crowd. What was left was urban hipsters. And so the rights fell to the Bailiwick Repertory. And on Monday night, this progressive, non-Equity company on Chicago's North Side staged the "opera's" American premiere.

Bailiwick pulled it off in grand fashion.

Regular attendees of this typically low-budget theater will be blown away by the size and quality of the cast, the presence of a full band and the production values. Better yet, they'll be impressed by Gary Powell's musical direction and director David Zak's staging, which manages to surround the audience with a musical attack on all that Springer represents. Thus we are indicted for his popularity, which surely is what the authors would have wanted for a production in Springer's hometown.

It's crucial that the material be played straight -- the main gag here relies on the contrast between formative excellence and profane subject matter -- and that most assuredly is achieved.

Zak cast a large number of young performers with opera and classical voice backgrounds. And while you won't mistake the collective sound for an evening at the Lyric Opera, the singing is good enough to carry off the premise quite deliciously. And in a couple of cases, such as the fabulous Jeremy Rill as Jerry's Warm-Up Man (and Satan) and Jennifer T. Grubb's sweet-voiced Baby Jane, the performances are as good as I've ever seen at this theater.

As the host himself, Brian Simmons deftly captures Springer's ironic detachment. Thomas and Lee nail the central Springer paradox: The real Springer regards his cast of characters as members of a harmless freak show, and thus removes himself -- even as he knows he can't entirely remove himself, lest his income stream dry up. Simmons hits that mark. But he's also far too introspective. Springer is an ebullient personality, whereas Thomas' underscaled performance is dominated by his warm-up man, a power imbalance the real Springer never would let happen.

By the third act, which finds Springer in hell, you'll likely be ready for the final curtain. That was also true in London and, in fact, Zak's production does a better job of making the show's weaker last hour work. To a point. It would still have been smarter to lop off a good chunk.

In London, this show also smacked of smug anti-Americanism (ironic, in a city that publishes so many pay-for-trash tabloids). But in Chicago, the piece functions as a kind of campy self-meditation. Given the pleasures of the score and the audacity of the concept and execution, Bailiwick surely deserves to have a summer hit with its spunky Jerry Elesion. ----------

- - -

"Jerry Springer -- The Opera"

When: Through July 8

Where: Bailiwick Repertory Theatre, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Tickets: $25-$40 at 773-883-1090

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Critics: Pope errs on conquest, conversion

Critics: Pope errs on conquest, conversion
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published May 16, 2007

SAO PAULO, BRAZIN -- Indian-rights groups are criticizing Pope Benedict XVI for saying Latin American Indians wanted to become Christian before European conquerors arrived.

The pope said Sunday that pre-Columbian people of the region were seeking Christ without realizing it. "Christ is the savior for whom they were silently longing," Benedict told bishops at a conference.

Paulo Suess, an adviser to Brazil's Indian Missionary Council, said the comments ignored that Indians were enslaved and killed by Portuguese and Spanish settlers who made them become Catholic.

Benedict "missed some history classes," said Suess.

The pope had said teaching the Gospel was not "the imposition of a foreign culture."


Items compiled from Tribune news services.

Teens face hate-crime charge for anti-gay flier

Teens face hate-crime charge for anti-gay flier
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published May 16, 2007

CRYSTAL LAKE -- Two Crystal Lake girls were charged with a felony hate crime for making a flier with derogatory statements about homosexuality and distributing them at a school, authorities said Tuesday

The 16-year-olds were arrested by Crystal Lake police about 1:45 p.m. Friday after they distributed about 40 fliers in the student parking lot at Crystal Lake South High School, 1200 S. McHenry Ave., Crystal Lake.

The fliers had a photograph of two males kissing and included "words of an inflammatory nature," said Police Chief Dave Linder. One male in the photo was identified, Linder said.

The girls were charged with a hate crime because the fliers "were not written for informational purposes but rather were to incite a breach of peace or cause injury to the person or persons the message was directed against," said Thomas Carroll, McHenry County first assistant state's attorney.

They were also charged with disorderly conduct and obstructing a police officer, and one teen faces an additional charge of resisting a police officer.

International Herald Tribune Editorial - In divided New Orleans

International Herald Tribune Editorial - In divided New Orleans
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: May 15, 2007

When President George W. Bush spoke to the nation soon after Hurricane Katrina, he was resolute that the city would be rebuilt. "We will do what it takes," he said.

We - the federal, state and city governments; elected officials and the citizens who hire them - have failed spectacularly.

Homes and schools remain empty or imaginary; evacuees and survivors wait in cramped trailers, unable to return. A huge silence still hangs over the Lower Ninth Ward, a place where truckloads of promises have filled New Orleans' vast devastation with nothing.

That the Lower Ninth is overwhelmingly black is not irrelevant. African-Americans were the predominant and poorest members of this city before the storm, they bore the worst of it and have the farthest journey back to stability. A study issued last week by the Kaiser Family Foundation, based on interviews last fall with residents of Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes, maps the outlines of a sharp racial divide.

In Orleans Parish, twice as many African-Americans as whites said their lives were still "very" or "somewhat" disrupted. Seventy-two percent of blacks said they had problems getting health care, compared with 32 percent of whites. Blacks were more likely to say that their financial status, health and job security had worsened since the storm. And they expressed considerably more anxiety than whites about the sturdiness of the rebuilt levees, the danger from future Katrinas and the prospect of living without enough money or health care, or a decent home.

There was a consensus about broad categories of the recovery: Solid majorities thought there had been at least some progress in restoring basic services, reopening schools and business and fixing levees. But in three vital areas - rebuilding neighborhoods, controlling crime and increasing the supply of affordable housing - most agreed that there had been no progress or "not too much."

Even with the constant trickle of bad news, you can find minimal improvements. Thousands of building permits have been issued. A crisis was recently averted when the Bush administration extended temporary housing assistance for tens of thousands of displaced families. Some government housing subsidies that were to expire at the end of August will continue until March 2009.

Other positive signs include the halting progress toward a workable redevelopment plan, and a recent finding that the city's population had grown to above half of its level before the storm.

The survey even found signs of hope when it tested for resilience. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said they were optimistic about New Orleans' future. And only 11 percent said they planned to leave. Their faith must not be betrayed.

Residents in the survey were keenly aware that their city's fitful recovery would be devastated if the levees failed again. They put strong levees above all other priorities, including fighting crime and even basic services like electricity and water.

And yet National Geographic has reported that an engineer has found signs that levees were poorly rebuilt and are already eroding. There is no room for error here.

Moscow agrees to soften anti-U.S. rhetoric, but many issues remain

Moscow agrees to soften anti-U.S. rhetoric, but many issues remain
By C.J. Chivers
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: May 15, 2007

MOSCOW: Russia agreed on Tuesday to tone down the harsh rhetoric its senior officials have used against the United States in recent months, but the two countries remained at an impasse on several issues that have strained relations between Washington and the Kremlin.

The agreement to soften the public language was announced by the Kremlin after a meeting outside the capital between President Vladimir Putin and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Rice's visit followed remarks by Putin on Red Square on May 9 that appeared to compare the United States to the Third Reich - the most severe of several criticisms he has made against the United States during his second term.

After the meeting, Rice told reporters that while she had not discussed the Third Reich comment directly with Putin, she had raised the issue of tone and pointed out that President George W. Bush has refrained from any pointed public criticism against Russia.

"I have said while I am here that the rhetoric is not helpful," she said. "It is disturbing to Americans who are trying to do our best to maintain an even relationship."

The Russian Foreign Ministry had previously backed away from the Third Reich comparison, saying that Putin had not meant it as a reference to the United States. But as Rice was meeting reporters on Tuesday, Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister, said that the Kremlin had agreed that more moderate language is needed.

"The president supported the American side's understanding that it's necessary to tone down the rhetoric in public statements and concentrate on concrete business," Lavrov said, according to Russian news service reports.

On matters of pressing business, however, there was little sign of progress.

Relations between the two countries have suffered in part from disagreements over a U.S. plan to install a missile defense system in Europe, and over Russia's resistance to a U.S.-backed plan that would give effective independence to Kosovo.

On both issues the two sides remained apart. "Russia confirmed its position on the antimissile shield," Lavrov said, signaling that the Kremlin remained entrenched in its distrust of the proposal, which would put missile interceptors in Poland and a supporting radar network in the Czech Republic.

The Bush administration insists that the system is necessary to keep pace with evolving missile threats from Iran and North Korea. Rice reiterated U.S. plans to install the system in spite of Russian objections.

"The United States needs to be able to move forward to use technology to defend itself, and we're going to do that," she said, and added that the United States would not allow a foreign country a "veto" on its national security interests.

The two sides also reported little progress on the question of the status of Kosovo, the Serbian province under United Nations administration.

Russia opposes a plan that would grant Kosovo a form of independence under European Union supervision, and has suggested that it might veto it at the United Nations. Russia insists that the plan be accepted by both Kosovo and Serbia. Kosovo's government has overwhelmingly endorsed the plan, but Serbia's leaders have opposed it.

Rice also said she had raised anew the United States' concerns about Russia's domestic politics, in particular the crackdowns on political opponents and independent electronic media, as she has in previous visits. Russia has bristled over the criticism in the past.

But Rice emphasized areas where the two countries have been cooperating effectively, which she said included not only the longstanding efforts on nonproliferation but also intelligence sharing.

She also told reporters that the United States was open to criticism about elements of its foreign policy, including on the war in Iraq.

Recent use of American military power has been a potent theme in Russia, and Putin gave a searing speech in Munich in February in which he excoriated the United States for its handling of the Iraq war, for backing NATO expansion to Russia's border and for what he called risking a new arms race with its missile defense plans.

Rice struck a conciliatory tone, saying the United States was willing to consult with Russia on its foreign policy matters to minimize misunderstandings. "If there are concerns about how the United States has and is continuing to exercise power, we can have that conversation," she said. "And we're not offended by it."

But she remained inflexible on American efforts to expand relations with countries that have gained independence from the former Soviet Union, saying that the United States is a global power and it is normal for it to seek relations in any region.

Although Bush has said he prefers not to criticize Russia in public, both Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney have strongly criticized Russia for its near absence of political pluralism and for what the West perceives as the use of its energy resources to punish countries that fall from the Kremlin's favor.

The meeting between Putin and Rice came as Russia is also preparing for a summit on Friday with the European Union, which both the union and Russia have been trying to salvage in the face of increasing tensions.

The two sides disagree on several issues, including missile defense, a Russian ban on meat imports from Poland and Russian anger of Estonia's relocation of a memorial commemorating Soviet soldiers, which Estonians regard as occupiers.

Tragic story: 'It's like kidnapping somebody'

Tragic story: 'It's like kidnapping somebody'
Copyright by The chicago Sun-Times
May 16, 2007

Working for the Bush administration, I guess, means never having to say you're sorry.

This week, the Homeland Security Department needlessly, senselessly, deported a 40-year-old Michigan man named Huseyin Parlak, not even letting him grab a toothbrush or bid farewell to his family, before loading him on a plane to Istanbul, Turkey, where he risks persecution for being a Kurd.

If that last name, Parlak, seems familiar to you, it may be because I've written so often about Huseyin's brother, Ibrahim. Now comes the latest chapter in a tragic story of the administration's war on terror gone haywire, even vengeful at times.

Ibrahim Parlak runs a small restaurant in the resort area of Harbert, Mich. A pillar of the community and a gentle man, Ibrahim Parlak came to this country in 1991 after being persecuted and imprisoned in his native Turkey. A member of the Kurdish independence movement, he was tortured in prison. Upon his release, he fled to the United States and in 1992, was granted asylum by our government. He began to build a new and quiet life, opening Cafe Gulistan, a popular Middle Eastern restaurant near the shores of Lake Michigan.

Then came 9/11.

Turkey, whose human rights abuses the United States had condemned, became more and more valuable to us as an ally. And our definition of terrorism began to take some unexpected twists and turns.

Ibrahim Parlak, who had himself been terrorized, was suddenly recategorized by the Bush administration's newly created Homeland Security Department as a "terrorist." The Kurdish independence movement to which he belonged was now viewed through a more menacing lens. And before long, he was carted off to jail, threatened with deportation, even though there was not a shred of evidence that he had done anything other than make some great hummus and be a credit to his community.

Ibrahim Parlak's friends were devastated and shocked. They mobilized. They fought back. A former Republican U.S. attorney from Western Michigan, John Smietanka, is among those defending him. Smietanka's law partner, Ann Buckleitner, who once was assistant general counsel for national security for the FBI in Washington, D.C., joined his defense too. Hardly bleeding hearts.

Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Fred Upton and Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, both of Michigan, co-sponsored a bill to keep Ibrahim Parlak in the country. Talk about a powerful, bipartisan alliance.

Though the bill remains in committee and Ibrahim Parlak's case has yet to be decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals, prior federal rulings in his case and in other immigration cases have not gone particularly well for the Bush administration. The immigration courts, which are separately operated by the Justice Department under the embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, have been eviscerated by a number of distinguished federal judges for incompetence, negligence, even outright rudeness.

So far, the Bush administration hasn't gotten its way in the case of Ibrahim Parlak, the non-terrorist it seeks to deport. That's why, I figure, they've gone after Huseyin Parlak.

Huseyin Parlak, Ibrahim's younger brother, worked as a manager-bartender at the restaurant. He was in the United States on a student visa, the expiration of which he was appealing as he, too, sought a grant of asylum. Not political in Turkey as Ibrahim had been, Huseyin Parlak nonetheless is a Kurd with a now-notorious brother. Going home could be hazardous to his health.

Huseyin Parlak's attorney, Robert Carpenter, cites a number of Kurdish immigration cases in which asylum was granted because of exactly that, what he called, "a well-founded fear of persecution," adding, "Why that doesn't apply to Huseyin is a mystery to me."

"Draconian" is what Buckleitner, the former FBI national security counsel, Tuesday called Huseyin Parlak's sudden deportation. "This," she said, "is a message to the community: Don't try, these are our policies, these are our plans."

This is also a message to Ibrahim Parlak. A warning that he better watch out, the Homeland Security Department isn't done with him and isn't a bit sorry about it.

Now the brothers' cases are in the federal court of appeals. But that won't bring Huseyin Parlak back anytime soon, if ever. "It's like kidnapping somebody," Ibrahim Parlak said sadly by phone Tuesday.

Three years ago, when this nightmare first began, neighbors put signs in their Michigan yards that read "Free Ibrahim."

Time for a new one.

Free Huseyin.

Housing Slump Continues in April

Housing Slump Continues in April
Copyright © 2007, The Associated Press
Published May 16, 2007, 8:21 AM CDT

WASHINGTON -- Construction of new homes posted a small gain in April but applications for building permits plunged by the largest amount in 17 years, a dramatic sign that the nation's housing industry is still in a steep slump.

The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that construction of new homes and apartments rose by 2.5 percent in April compared to March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.528 million units.

Even with the improvement, housing construction is 25.9 percent lower than a year ago. And in a worrisome sign for the future, builders cut their requests for new construction permits by 8.9 percent in April. That was the sharpest drop since a 24 percent fall in February 1990, another period when housing was going through a significant downturn.

In other economic news, the Federal Reserve reported that industrial output rose by 0.7 percent in April, a stronger-than-expected showing that reflected a continued rebound in manufacturing and a big jump in output by the nation's utilities. Output had fallen by 0.3 percent in March.

Manufacturing increased 0.5 percent in April following a 0.6 percent rise in March, with production of autos, computers and electronic equipment showing big gains. Output at utilities surged by 3.5 percent as electric power generation during a colder-than-normal April boosted demand for energy to heat homes.

The 0.7 percent rise in overall production was more than double the 0.3 percent gain that had been expected. While analysts said the figure was heavily influenced by the big jump in utility output, they were encouraged by the broadbased gains in manufacturing, which had been struggling in previous months with the overall economic slowdown.

Housing, which had enjoyed record sales in both new and existing homes for five straight years, saw the boom end dramatically in 2006 with many formerly red-hot sales areas suffering big declines in sales and prices.

The slump in housing has been a drag on the overall economy, pushing business growth down to a lackluster 1.3 percent in the first three months of this year, the weakest performance in four years.

A survey by the National Association of Home Builders released on Tuesday indicated that there are more troubles to come as builder sentiment fell to a reading of just 30, matching the lowpoint in the current downturn set last September.

David Seiders, chief economist for the home builders, said the survey found that the rising defaults in the subprime mortgage market were adding to concerns about the ability to reduce a huge inventory of unsold new homes and causing builders to cut back on their plans.

"We're now projecting that home sales and housing production will not begin improving until late this year and we're expecting the early stages of the subsequent recovery to be quite sluggish," Seiders said.

The 2.5 percent rise in construction starts in April reflected a 1.6 percent increase in single-family homes and a 6.3 percent jump in construction of multi-family units.

By region of the country, the increase was led by a 31.3 percent surge in the Northeast and a 7.8 percent increase in the West. Construction activity was down 14.2 percent in the Midwest and 0.1 percent in the South.

Amazon to start selling digital music

Amazon to start selling digital music
By Aline van Duyn in New York
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 16 2007 16:08 | Last updated: May 16 2007 16:08 said on Wednesday it would start selling digital music later this year, planning to offer millions of songs that could be played on any digital music player or computer.

The move comes as more companies seek to move into the growing digital music market, which is dominated by Apple’s iTunes. Most of the music sold on iTunes can only be played on Apple’s iPod digital music player.

Other efforts to rival iTunes, such as Microsoft’s Zune music store, have so far failed to have much of an impact.

EMI Group, the British music group, said it would offer its music catalogue on the Amazon site free of copyright protection, known as digital rights management (DRM). EMI had already agreed to such a deal with Apple. Other music companies have resisted dropping DRM, arguing it could further increase piracy in digital music and cut revenues from sales of songs played on mobile phones and other digital devices.

Aline van Duyn discusses Amazon’s plans to begin selling digital music - and the music industry’s reaction
”All the music that customers buy on Amazon is always DRM-free and plays on any device,’’ said Jeff Bezos, chief executive. Amazon did not say how much it would charge for the songs.

Music companies - Universal Music, Warner Music, Sony BMG and EMI - are struggling to increase digital revenues amid a continued drop in sales of physical albums. For every song paid for on iTunes, by far the biggest online store for music, there are many more versions of the songs copied illegally.

Data suggest US housing slump may continue

Data suggest US housing slump may continue
By Daniel Pimlott in New York
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 16 2007 14:27 | Last updated: May 16 2007 14:27

Builders broke ground on more homes last month, but permits issued for future homes plunged to their lowest level in a decade, in a sign that the housing slump may not yet be over.

Housing starts reached a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.53m in April, rising 2.5 per cent from the previous month, which was revised down, and beating economists’ expectations for this month.

Building permits, seen as an indication of the housing sector’s future prospects, fell 8.9 per cent to 1.43m, missing expectations of 1.52m and down from a revised level of 1.57m in March. This was the greatest monthly drops in building permits in 17 years.

Builders have been cutting construction in an effort to shrink swollen backlogs of homes. The cut backs in turn could lead to cutbacks in housing related employment.

Economists said the housing data suggested that new building of homes was likely to decline following a period of slight recovery in recent months.

“We expect the fall in permits to be reflected in starts in due course,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief US economist at High Frequency Economics. “The rate of decline is slowing but the bottom is not yet in sight.”

Some of the current weakness was down to the effects of the implosion in the market for subprime mortgages.

”The takeaway is that there is still some contraction going on in the housing market,” said Gus Faucher of Moody’s “You are certainly seeing fallout from the subprime mortgage market. Some lenders have gone bankrupt, others aren’t making loans. Homebuilders’ inventories are way up. You’ve got problems on both the supply and demand side.”

The data comes after a survey on Tuesday showed that US homebuilder confidence sank to a 15-year low this month as lenders raised the barrier for people to qualify for mortgages and cancellations of orders grew. Mortgage providers have grown increasingly wary of lending to borrowers with weaker credit histories in the wake of rising defaults by people with ‘subprime’ mortgages.

But there are some signs that the weakness in housing may be slowing.

“Its a serious issue and a weight on growth,” said Mr Foucher. “But its going to fade. The slowdown is going to bottom out, affordablity is already rising and homebuilders are cutting back.”

In other data, industrial production increased 0.7 per cent last month after a fall of 0.3 per cent in March, thanks to improved output in the auto industry, high tech goods and in utilities. Economists had expected Output in the manufacturing sector rose 0.5 per cent in April. The rate of capacity utilisation, which measures how close to full capacity industry is running, is at 81.6 per cent, above the average level between 1972 and last year.

Industrial production has been mixed in recent months. March output dropped 0.3 per cent and production has only increased three times in the last eight months.