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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Doctors blast Guantanamo treatment as unethical

Doctors blast Guantanamo treatment as unethical
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.
July 31, 2007

CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) -- Military doctors violate medical ethics when they approve the force-feeding of hunger strikers at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, according to a commentary in a prestigious medical journal.

The doctors should attempt to prevent force-feeding by refusing to participate, the commentary's three authors write in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

"In medicine, you can't force treatment on a person who doesn't give their voluntary informed consent," said Dr. Sondra Crosby of Boston University, one of the authors. "A military physician needs to be a physician first and a military officer second, in my opinion."

As of Tuesday, 20 of 23 fasting detainees at Guantanamo were being fed liquid meals through flexible tubes inserted through their noses and throats, said Guantanamo spokesman Navy Cmdr. Rick Haupt. The strikers are protesting conditions at the camp and their open-ended confinement.

A few physicians have declined to participate in force-feeding, although the specific number has not been tracked, Haupt said. The military does not punish doctors who won't participate in force-feeding, Haupt wrote Friday in an e-mail response to questions from The Associated Press.

A mass hunger strike began at Guantanamo in August 2005 and reached a peak of 131 detainees. Last year, the military started strapping detainees in restraint chairs during tube feedings to prevent the prisoners from resisting or making themselves vomit.

The restraint chairs constitute excessive force and coercion, Crosby said.

Department of Defense spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said force-feeding is done "in a humane and compassionate manner," using a method that is consistent with procedures used in U.S. federal prisons.

"No patient receives any medical treatment unless medically necessary," Smith said.

Last year, Crosby and another co-author reviewed the medical records of two detainees who were force-fed and wrote affidavits filed in federal court. They were not paid for that work, which they did at the request of the prisoners' attorneys.

Reviewing those medical records prompted the commentary, Crosby said.

"We were and still are disturbed by the practices," she said.

The medical records contained no evidence that the hunger strikers received ongoing psychiatric evaluations or had been adequately told about the risks of fasting or tube feeding, Crosby said. If they understand the consequences, the ethical approach is to let them fast without force-feeding, Crosby said. She said it's also unclear whether the strikers have access to independent medical consultation.

Haupt, the Navy spokesman, said strikers are seen once each week by mental health professionals. The strikers' physical and mental health is closely monitored, he said. However, they aren't allowed to consult with independent doctors, Haupt said.

The commentary calls on professional organizations to back doctors who refuse to participate in force-feeding. Commentaries are the opinions of the authors, not of the journal's editors or of the American Medical Association, but the AMA has endorsed the World Medical Association's policy against force-feeding.

About 360 men are still held at Guantanamo on suspicion of terrorism or links to al Qaeda or the Taliban. E-mail to a friend

Military fears political inertia in Iraq

Military fears political inertia in Iraq
By Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: July 31 2007 23:06 | Last updated: July 31 2007 23:06

The White House nominee for top military adviser to George W. Bush warned on Tuesday that a lack of political reconciliation in Iraq could jeopardise the US being able to stabilise the country.

Admiral Michael Mullen, the current chief of naval operations who was nominated to replace General Peter Pace as chairman of the joint chiefs, said the US military “surge” was showing progress. But he warned that the Iraqi government had not taken the opportunity to implement political reconciliation.

“Based on the lack of political reconciliation at the government level...I would be concerned about whether we’d be winning or not,” Adm Mullen said during a hearing of the Senate armed services committee.

He avoided making any final judgment on whether the surge would prove successful, saying he wanted to wait for the September report by General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador to Baghdad.

But he said: “The surge is giving our operational commanders the forces they needed to execute more effective tactics and improve security...That is happening. Security is better. Not great, but better.”

At his confirmation hearing, senators held mixed views over the additional 30,000 troops. Most expressed concern about the lack of progress made by the government of Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, which went into summer recess this week without passing any of the laws considered key to achieving stability.

“The Maliki government is sliding backwards and is failing in the partnership that was established as the predicate, the foundation for the surge concept of January 10,” said John Warner, one of the first Republican senators to raise concerns last year that the situation in Iraq was “moving sideways”.

While US military daily casualties increased significantly in the first few months of the surge, they have subsided since May. The US had lost 74 troops in July up to yesterday, the lowest monthly level since November last year.

US consumer spending slows

US consumer spending slows
By Eoin Callan in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: July 31 2007 14:39 | Last updated: July 31 2007 14:39

US consumer spending rose at the slowest pace in nine months in June in a sign of cooling household demand.

Spending rose 0.1 per cent after a gain of 0.6 per cent the previous month, according to the Commerce Department.

The slowdown is likely to be a source of concern for policymakers, although many economists expect consumer spending to hold up amid strong hiring and rising incomes.

Incomes rose 0.4 percent in June for the second month, according to the report, slightly less than economists were expecting.

Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the economy but has been replaced as the main driver of growth in recent months as business activity picks up.

The Federal Reserve’s preferred gauge of inflation rose less than forecast, increasing 0.1 per cent for the fourth straight month.

The core personal consumption expenditure index - excluding volatile food and energy prices - was up 1.9 per cent from a year ago, the smallest increase in three years.

Home foreclosure activity up 58% in first six months of 2007

Home foreclosure activity up 58% in first six months of 2007
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune and The Associated Press
July 31, 2007

The number of U.S. homes facing foreclosure surged 58 percent in the first six months of the year, the latest sign of mounting problems in the mortgage industry, a data firm said Monday.

In all, 573,397 properties across the nation reported some sort of foreclosure activity in the first half of this year, including receiving notices of default, auction sale notices or being repossessed by lenders, Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac Inc. said.

"We could easily surpass 2 million foreclosure filings by the end of the year, which would represent a year-over-year increase of over 65 percent," said RealtyTrac Chief Executive James Saccacio.

California led the nation in foreclosure filings and the number of homes receiving notices. Some 104,572 properties in the state received notices of default or other foreclosure notices, more than double the year-ago total.

Florida, Ohio, Texas and Michigan ranked second through fifth, respectively, in the highest number of homes receiving foreclosure-related notices, RealtyTrac said.

Notices of default, the first step in the foreclosure process, accounted for the largest slice of filings, a total of 416,937.

The national foreclosure rate through the end of June was one filing for every 134 U.S. households, the company said.

Chicago Tribune Editorial - Lazarus on Harrison Street

Chicago Tribune Editorial - Lazarus on Harrison Street
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
July 31, 2007

When we last looked in on the old Cook County Hospital, the patient was bruised and neglected but still bobbing and weaving well enough to avoid demolition by then-County Board President John Stroger. Now comes word that Stroger's son and successor, Todd, proposes a potentially excellent plan to preserve and rehab the stately building in ways that respect Chicago's history, taxpayers' dollars -- and common sense.

This is a triumph-in-the-making not only for preservationists, but also for the Chicagoans whose families got almost a century of good medical care at the legendary hospital on West Harrison Street. This also is a victory for Larry Suffredin and other county commissioners who've invested years of work in demonstrating how the old hospital can be reused.

John Stroger never advanced a compelling reason for razing a structure of such Beaux-Arts richness, structural strength and future promise. He spoke unconvincingly -- and, we concluded, disingenuously -- of trashing an important piece of Chicago's architectural heritage as the only way to create more green space on the county's Near West Side medical campus.

Several members of the County Board, including a few of John Stroger's allies, figured he wanted to swing the wrecking ball so drivers on the Eisenhower Expressway would have an unobstructed view of the county's new hospital. That's the institution named for ... John Stroger.

On Tuesday, county commissioners will discuss -- and probably send to their Construction Committee -- Todd Stroger's plan to move medical and administrative offices to the old hospital from current quarters in a dilapidated former nursing dormitory. The rehabbed hospital also would house medical libraries, a day-care center and other tenants.

How to pay the $140 million cost of redevelopment? The county could hand the project to a private developer and lease back space in the refurbished hospital. Suffredin says it may be more desirable -- and economical -- for the county to fund the project itself, using money set aside for medical campus redevelopment when the new hospital opened in 2002.

One strong argument for the rehab: It creates office space the county probably would have to construct from scratch to absorb the facilities now in the dilapidated nurses dormitory. Thus the hospital project should give county taxpayers a stunning gateway building to the city's large Medical District and a solution to a pressing office space problem -- all at a price lower than demolishing the old hospital and erecting a new building to house the medical offices.

We'll reserve final judgment on this project until we see the final plans (and until we learn which politically connected contractors get fat slices of the work). But Todd Stroger merits enthusiastic congrats for pursuing his own solution to a conundrum his father bollixed: What should become of Cook County Hospital?

One more thing: Under Todd Stroger's proposal, the nursing dorm would come down. That land, Suffredin says, would become green space. We hope John Stroger would approve.

How Much Jail Time? - Quindlen: How Much Jail Time for Women Who Have Abortions?

How Much Jail Time? - Quindlen: How Much Jail Time for Women Who Have Abortions?
By Anna Quindlen
© 2007 Newsweek, Inc.

Aug. 6, 2007 issue - Buried among prairie dogs and amateur animation shorts on YouTube is a curious little mini-documentary shot in front of an abortion clinic in Libertyville, Ill. The man behind the camera is asking demonstrators who want abortion criminalized what the penalty should be for a woman who has one nonetheless. You have rarely seen people look more gobsmacked. It's as though the guy has asked them to solve quadratic equations. Here are a range of responses: "I've never really thought about it." "I don't have an answer for that." "I don't know." "Just pray for them."

You have to hand it to the questioner; he struggles manfully. "Usually when things are illegal there's a penalty attached," he explains patiently. But he can't get a single person to be decisive about the crux of a matter they have been approaching with absolute certainty.

A new public-policy group called the National Institute for Reproductive Health wants to take this contradiction and make it the centerpiece of a national conversation, along with a slogan that stops people in their tracks: how much time should she do? If the Supreme Court decides abortion is not protected by a constitutional guarantee of privacy, the issue will revert to the states. If it goes to the states, some, perhaps many, will ban abortion. If abortion is made a crime, then surely the woman who has one is a criminal. But, boy, do the doctrinaire suddenly turn squirrelly at the prospect of throwing women in jail.

"They never connect the dots," says Jill June, president of Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa. But her organization urged voters to do just that in the last gubernatorial election, in which the Republican contender believed abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape and incest. "We wanted him to tell the women of Iowa exactly how much time he expected them to serve in jail if they had an abortion," June recalled. Chet Culver, the Democrat who unabashedly favors legal abortion, won that race, proving that choice can be a winning issue if you force people to stop evading the hard facts. "How have we come this far in the debate and been oblivious to the logical ramifications of making abortion illegal?" June says.

Perhaps by ignoring or infantilizing women, turning them into "victims" of their own free will. State statutes that propose punishing only a physician suggest the woman was merely some addled bystander who happened to find herself in the wrong stirrups at the wrong time. Such a view seemed to be a vestige of the past until the Supreme Court handed down its most recent abortion decision upholding a federal prohibition on a specific procedure. Justice Anthony Kennedy, obviously feeling excessively paternal, argued that the ban protected women from themselves. "While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon," he wrote, "it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained."

Even with "no reliable data," he went on to conclude that "severe depression and loss of esteem can follow." (Apparently, no one has told Justice Kennedy about the severe depression and loss of esteem that can follow bearing and raising a baby you can't afford and didn't want.) Luckily, there still remains one justice on the court who has actually been pregnant, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg roared back with a dissent that called Kennedy's caveat about regret an "anti-abortion shibboleth" and his opinion a reflection of "ancient notions about women's place in the family and under the Constitution—ideas that have long since been discredited."

Those ancient notions undergird the refusal to confront the logical endpoint of criminalization. Lawmakers in a number of states have already passed or are considering statutes designed to outlaw abortion if Roe is overturned. But almost none hold the woman, the person who set the so-called crime in motion, accountable. Is the message that women are not to be held responsible for their actions? Or is it merely that those writing the laws understand that if women were going to jail, the vast majority of Americans would violently object? Watch the demonstrators in Libertyville try to worm their way out of the hypocrisy: It's murder, but she'll get her punishment from God. It's murder, but it depends on her state of mind. It's murder, but the penalty should be ... counseling?

The great thing about video is that you can see the mental wheels turning as these people realize that they somehow have overlooked something central while they were slinging certainties. Nearly 20 years ago, in a presidential debate, George Bush the elder was asked this very question, whether in making abortion illegal he would punish the woman who had one. "I haven't sorted out the penalties," he said lamely. Neither, it turns out, has anyone else. But there are only two logical choices: hold women accountable for a criminal act by sending them to prison, or refuse to criminalize the act in the first place. If you can't countenance the first, you have to accept the second. You can't have it both ways.

Boston Globe Editorial - New Americans

Boston Globe Editorial - New Americans
Copyright by The Boston Globe
Published: July 30, 2007

A sensible immigration reform bill failed in Congress this year, at least in part because the immigrants with firsthand experience of America's dysfunctional system lack enough political clout to press for improvements. Fortunately, recent developments have spurred many immigrants to apply for citizenship and register to vote.

It's a far slower road to reform. But new citizens could help change immigration policy if they exercise their right to vote - and if government officials protect this right against fraud and intimidation.

On Monday, the fee to apply for citizenship was set to jump from $400 to $675. In response to the increase, applications have been surging, according to federal immigration officials, jumping from some 74,600 in May of last year to 115,000 in May of this year. A citizenship drive in Boston last week drew 200 people. And similar events in New Hampshire and Rhode Island drew another 300. This was part of a national effort to help 1 million immigrants become voting citizens.

And earlier this month, federal immigration officials announced that 421 members of the United States military who are serving abroad became citizens, including 160 service members who were sworn in on July 4 in Iraq.

Voter registration drives are already held at swearing-in ceremonies for new citizens, but Ali Noorani, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, says this effort will be expanded.

As their numbers and visibility rise, new citizen voters may face more efforts to manipulate them or keep them away from the polls. Such abuses occurred across the United States during the 2006 election. In Virginia, voters received fraudulent calls wrongfully informing them that they were ineligible to vote. In Maryland, deceptive flyers listed the names of Republican candidates as is if they were Democrats. The flyers were handed out in minority communities on election day. And in California, registered voters got letters stating that it was a crime for immigrants to vote.

Last month, the House passed a bill that would make intentionally misleading voters a federal crime. Sponsored by Rahm Emanuel, an Illinois Democrat, the bill would also increase the penalty for voter intimidation, which is already a crime. The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Promoting the voting rights of new citizens is vital. Every vote has to count. Otherwise a damning message is sent: The democratic system is rigged, and shrewd players should use whatever means possible to get their turn at doing the rigging.

As slow as voting may be in producing new laws, it remains a fundamental way to enact lasting change. As new citizens claim that right, it must be scrupulously defended.

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Signs of contagion in the U.S. housing downturn

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Signs of contagion in the U.S. housing downturn
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: July 30, 2007

By the end of last week, any lingering hope that the housing downturn in the United States would be contained had vanished. As this week begins, signs of contagion seem to be everywhere.

Unnerved by mounting losses in mortgage-related investments, investors have started to shun tens of billions of dollars in corporate debt offers as well - and seem likely to go on doing so for months to come. That would stanch the flow of easy money that has fueled the leveraged buyout boom, which would, in turn, expose the extent to which stocks have also come to depend on cheap credit.

Stocks took a dive last week because debt-driven buyouts had long boosted the share prices of targeted companies. Stocks have also benefited directly from easy money because public companies have borrowed heavily to buy back their own stock, a ploy to drive up earnings per share.

The fallout of housing-related turmoil is also likely to extend beyond financial markets. Among the deals that faltered last week were the $7.4 billion buyout of the Chrysler Group and the $5.6 billion purchase of the Allison Transmission unit of General Motors. Unless investor capital is forthcoming, it could become increasingly difficult for the automakers to avoid bankruptcy. At the same time, the housing slump has also driven down analysts' monthly forecasts for car and truck sales to levels not seen in nearly a decade.

The double whammy of weakness in housing and in autos has already hit the chemical maker DuPont. Last Tuesday, the company was the Dow's biggest loser, in part because of lackluster demand for a pigment used in house paint and lower paint sales to automakers.

There is also growing evidence that housing woes are curtailing consumer spending, the mainstay of the economy. As home prices fall, home equity borrowing is drying up as a source of disposable income, while wages and salaries are hardly enough to cover many households' consumer and mortgage debt, along with the rising costs of food, energy and other essentials. As a result, consumption ebbs.

Officials at the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department cannot manage these problems on their own. If the Fed wanted to reduce interest rates, for example - which financial markets are expecting in the wake of last week's plunge - it would need cooperation from other central banks to ensure that lower American rates would not dangerously weaken the dollar, provoking inflation.

Similarly, assurances that the economy will be fine, such as the one delivered Friday by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr., ring hollow in the absence of an international reporting framework to monitor the positions taken by globally active hedge funds. Otherwise, there's little reason to believe that government officials have all of the information they need to assess the risks to the financial system and the economy. To date, however, Treasury officials have played down the need for more monitoring.

Throughout the Bush years, international cooperation has been neglected. Last week's gyrations are another signal that the need to work with others cannot be safely ignored.

Oxfam report calls for more Iraq aid

Oxfam report calls for more Iraq aid
By Damien Cave
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: July 30, 2007

AMMAN: Poverty, hunger and public health continue to worsen in Iraq, according to a report issued Monday from Oxfam International, which demands more humanitarian aid from abroad and calls on the Iraqi government to immediately decentralize the distribution of food and medical supplies.

The report, a compendium of research from the United Nations, the Iraqi government and nonprofit organizations that Oxfam works with or funds, offers little original data but provides one of the most comprehensive pictures to date of the humanitarian crisis within Iraq, and what it describes as a slow-motion response from the Iraqi government, the United States, United Nations and the European Union.

The report states that as many as four million Iraqis are in dire need of assistance with food, many of them children; that 70 percent of the country now lacks access to adequate water supplies, up from 50 percent in 2003, and that 90 percent of the country's hospitals lack basic medical and surgical supplies.

One survey cited in the report, completed in May by the Iraqi Ministry of Planning, found that 43 percent of Iraqis live in "absolute poverty," on less than $1 a day.

Unemployment and hunger are particularly acute among the estimated two million people displaced internally from their homes by violence - those who "have no incomes and are running out of coping mechanisms," the report says.

The solutions proposed by Oxfam, an international aid organization that opposed the 2003 American invasion and supports groups in Iraq from an office in Amman, focus on both Iraqi policy and international funding.

Specifically, the report calls on Iraq to expand and decentralize its distribution of food rations and emergency cash payments to widows. Medical and other aid supplies, currently kept in seven Baghdad warehouses, should be pushed out to the provinces and managed by the local authorities rather than the inefficient central government, the report says.

Citing policies of nongovernmental organizations that restrict the acceptance of money from countries involved in Iraq's conflict, Oxfam also called on countries without troops in Iraq to send more money for aid. According to the report, funding cuts and the challenges of providing assistance in an insecure environment have limited what the United Nations and its partners can do for Iraqis. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, for example, used to work with 20 partners in Iraq; it now has only 11, the report says.

"The government of Iraq, international donors, and the United Nations system have been focused on reconstruction, development, and building political institutions and have overlooked the harsh daily struggle for survival now faced by many," the report says.

The Oxfam analysis offers no suggestions on how to root out the corruption that has hobbled the Iraqi government and international aid efforts in the past, nor does it address the links between criminal militias and Iraqi government agencies, like the Ministry of Health, which is run by the political party loyal to Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr. It focuses almost exclusively on the need for more money and better-distributed aid.

Joost Hiltermann, deputy program director for the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, an organization of experts on conflicts, said that at this point in Iraq, the focus is justified. Corruption, he said, is beyond the purview of groups like Oxfam and the lack of organized aid needs to be immediately addressed. "The priority," he said, "is to get aid going regardless of such problems."

Body of 2nd slain hostage found in Afghanistan

Body of 2nd slain hostage found in Afghanistan
Copyright by The Associated Press
July 31, 2007

GHAZNI, Afghanistan---- Police discovered the body of a second South Korean hostage in central Afghanistan, and the Taliban threatened Tuesday to kill more captives if their demands were not met by a new deadline.

South Korea pleaded with the international community to set aside the normal practice of refusing to cave into hostage-takers' demands, urging a peaceful resolution to the standoff. Relatives of some of the 21 remaining hostages appealed for U.S. help in freeing their loved ones.

South Korea ''is well aware of how the international community deals with these kinds of abduction cases,'' said a statement from the president's office. ''But it also believes that it would be worthwhile to use flexibility in the cause of saving the precious lives of those still in captivity and is appealing (to) the international community to do so.''

The comments came after Afghan officials found the body of Shim Sung-min, 29, a former information technology worker who was volunteering with the South Korean church group on an aid mission to Afghanistan.

He was killed Monday after two deadlines given by the Taliban demanding the release of insurgent prisoners passed with no action. Last week, the church group's leader, Pastor Bae Hyung-kyu, was fatally shot in unclear circumstances.

A purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, said senior Taliban leaders decided to kill Shim because the government had not met Taliban demands to trade prisoners for the Christian volunteers, who were in their 13th day of captivity Tuesday.

''The Kabul and Korean governments are lying and cheating. They did not meet their promise of releasing Taliban prisoners,'' Ahmadi, who claims to speak for the Taliban, said by phone from an undisclosed location.

The Taliban commanders set a new deadline of noon on Wednesday.

''If the Kabul government does not release the Taliban prisoners, then we will kill after 12 o'clock -- we are going to kill the Korean hostages,'' Ahmadi said. ''It might be a man or a woman ... It might be one. It might be two, four. It might be all of them.''

The Afghan government said it does not support the release of militant prisoners.

''We are not going to discuss the details, releasing or not releasing of criminals in exchange for the hostages,'' said Humayun Hamidzada, spokesman for President Hamid Karzai. ''We are doing everything we can to secure their release.''

Shim's body was found on the side of the road at daybreak Tuesday in the village of Arizo Kalley in Andar District, about 5 miles west of Ghazni city, said Abdul Rahim Deciwal, the chief administrator in the area.

An Associated Press reporter at the scene said the man appeared to have a gunshot wound to the right temple.

Shim, who had recently left his job to prepare for graduate school, had previously visited the Philippines for five days as a volunteer worker and also had served as an army officer.

His father, Shim Jin-pyo, told reporters earlier Tuesday that he wondered how the Taliban ''could perpetrate this horrible thing.''

''I think they act like they are not human beings,'' he said.

Family members of other hostages appealed for support from the United States and other countries to resolve the crisis.

''Especially, the families want the United States to disregard political interests and give more active support to save the 21 innocent lives,'' said Kim Jung-ja, mother of captive Lee Sun-young.

The Al-Jazeera television network, meanwhile, showed shaky footage of what it said were several South Korean hostages. It did not say how it obtained the video. The authenticity of the video could not immediately be verified.

Some seven female hostages, heads veiled in accordance with the Islamic law enforced by the Taliban, were seen crouching in the dark, eyes closed or staring at the ground, expressionless.

The hostages did not speak as they were filmed by the hand-held camera.

The Taliban kidnapped the 23 South Koreans, who were riding on a bus through Ghazni province on the Kabul-Kandahar highway on July 19, the largest group of foreign hostages taken in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

Seoul noted it did not have the power to comply with the Taliban demands ''because it doesn't have any effective means to influence decisions of the Afghan government.''

In March, Karzai approved a deal that saw five captive Taliban fighters freed for the release of Italian reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo. Karzai, who was criticized by the United States and European capitals over the exchange, called the trade a one-time deal.

On Sunday, Karzai and other Afghan officials tried to shame the Taliban into releasing the female captives by appealing to a tradition of cultural hospitality and chivalry. They called the kidnapping of women ''un-Islamic.''

Separately, the government said a German man who was kidnapped on July 18 was in ''satisfactory'' health. Interior Ministry spokesman Zemerai Bashary said Afghan officials were ''hopeful that he will be released'' but provided no other details.

Another German man captured with him was found shot dead on July 21.

Contributing: AP writers Noor Khan in Kandahar, Afghanistan and Burt Herman and Jae-soon Chang in Seoul, South Korea

Chief Justice Suffers Seizure, Falls

Chief Justice Suffers Seizure, Falls
Copyright © 2007, The Associated Press
7:13 AM CDT, July 31, 2007

WASHINGTON - Doctors who examined Chief Justice John Roberts after he had a seizure at his Maine vacation home said they found no tumor, stroke or any other explanation for the episode.

Roberts, 52, had a similar, unexplained attack in 1993.

The seizure Monday caused the chief justice to fall on a dock, where he sustained minor scrapes, Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said. She said he was kept overnight at the Penobscot Bay Medical Center in Rockport for observation.

Hospital officials said Tuesday they would not comment further on Roberts' situation and they referred all calls to the Supreme Court, where there was no early update on his condition.

By definition, someone who has had more than one seizure without any other cause is determined to have epilepsy, said Dr. Marc Schlosberg, a Washington Hospital Center neurologist who is not involved in the Roberts case.

Whether Roberts will need anti-seizure medications to prevent another is something he and his doctor will have to decide. But after two seizures, the likelihood of another at some point is greater than 60 percent.

Epilepsy is merely a term for a seizure disorder, but it is a loaded term because it makes people think of lots of seizures, cautioned Dr. Edward Mkrdichian, a neurosurgeon at the Chicago Institute of Neurosurgery and Neuroresearch.

Still, Mkrdichian said anyone who has had two otherwise unexplained seizures is at high risk for a third, and that he puts such patients on anti-seizure medications.

"Having two seizures so many years apart without any known culprit is going to be very difficult to figure out," agreed Dr. Max Lee of the Milwaukee Neurological Institute.

The incident occurred around 2 p.m. on a dock near Roberts' summer home in Port Clyde on Maine's Hupper Island. He had just gotten off a boat and was returning home after running errands, Arberg said. Port Clyde, which is part of the town of St. George, is about 90 miles by car northeast of Portland, midway up the coast of Maine.

Roberts was taken by private boat to the mainland and then transferred to an ambulance, St. George Fire Chief Tim Polky said.

"He was conscious and alert when they put him in the rescue (vehicle)," Polky said.

Once at the hospital, he underwent a "thorough neurological evaluation, which revealed no cause for concern," Arberg said.

Named to the court by President Bush in 2005, Roberts is the youngest justice on a court in which the senior member, John Paul Stevens, is 87. Bush was informed of the hospitalization by his chief of staff, Josh Bolten, the White House said.

Roberts is the father of two young children.

Larry Robbins, a Washington attorney who worked with Roberts at the Justice Department in 1993, said he drove Roberts to work for several months after Roberts' seizure that year. Robbins said Roberts never mentioned what the problem was and he never heard of it happening again.

In 2001, Roberts described his health as "excellent," according to Senate Judiciary Committee records.

Roberts became chief justice after the death of William Rehnquist in September 2005, although Bush had first chosen him to take Sandra Day O'Connor's seat when she announced her retirement earlier that year.

Roberts has led the Supreme Court to a more conservative stance. Helped by Justice Samuel Alito, who won confirmation in early 2006, conservatives have won twice as often as they lost on the Roberts-led court. The 2006-07 term brought limits on abortion rights, restrictions on school integration programs and greater freedom for political advertising.

Roberts earlier served as an appellate judge in Washington and spent more than a decade before that as a lawyer at the Hogan and Hartson law firm, where he specialized in arguing cases before the Supreme Court.

Roberts also served in the Reagan and Bush administrations in the 1980s and 1990s. He was a clerk for Rehnquist after graduating from Harvard Law School.

Roberts spent a couple of weeks in Europe in July, teaching a course in Vienna and attending a conference in Paris. He was at the court in Washington late last week.

* __

Associated Press writers David Sharp in Portland, Maine, Glenn Adams in Rockport and Lauran Neergaard in Washington contributed to this story.

Paulson says China needs broader reforms

Paulson says China needs broader reforms
By Richard McGregor in Beijing
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: July 30 2007 17:55 | Last updated: July 31 2007 03:48

Currency policy is just one part of broader economic reforms that Beijing must undertake to maintain growth and competitiveness, Hank Paulson, US Treasury secretary, said on Monday ahead of talks in the Chinese capital.

Mr Paulson said the currency had become a “proxy for reform” but that it had to be addressed alongside other structural problems in China – such as underdeveloped open capital markets.

“It is only by having capital markets that are efficient and function well that we are going to able to get to a market-determined currency,” Mr Paulson told the Financial Times.

Over the next two days Mr Paulson will be meeting Hu Jintao, China’s president, and Wu Yi, a vice-premier and his direct counterpart, in the twice-yearly strategic dialogue between Washington and Beijing established in 2006.

The former head of Goldman Sachs is under pressure from the US Congress to deliver concrete results from the dialogue, especially on the currency, which China’s critics in the US say is unfairly manipulated to benefit exporters.

“Although they have moved the currency, it clearly should move more,” Mr Paulson said.

The renminbi has appreciated by about 9.4 per cent against the US dollar since Beijing broke its peg to the greenback in mid-2005, but it has weakened against other currencies, notably the euro.

He said the strategic dialogue was “forward looking”, to manage an increasingly complex relationship, but could also handle sensitive issues when they emerged.

“I think many people in the world are focused on the wrong thing and are worried that China is going to keep doing as well as it has, and overtake and out-compete other countries,” he said.

“Frankly, China doing well economically is good for China – and the rest of the world.”

The next dialogue is due to be held in Beijing in December, just after the Communist party congress, which will choose China’s top leadership for the next five years.

Mr Paulson began his trip on Monday in Qinghai, in western China, allowing him to highlight Washington’s desire to increase co-operation on issues such as the environment and energy before the more contentious discussions in Beijing.

Mr Paulson’s efforts to solidify the relationship must combat tensions caused by the rising bilateral trade imbalance, which was a record $233bn in 2005, on US figures.

A senior Commerce Ministry official, Jin Xu, in a recent speech just published in a Chinese magazine, said the deficit “will probably continue to grow for the foreseeable future”.

He added: “As for what the root of the problem is and how to address it, I don’t think we have an answer.”

Credit insurance costs soar to record

Credit insurance costs soar to record
By Stacy-Marie Ishmael and Gillian Tett in London, and Saskia Scholtes in New York
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: July 30 2007 20:28 | Last updated: July 31 2007 01:57

The cost of insurance against credit defaults hit record levels on both sides of the Atlantic on Monday amid concerns that some investors were being forced to sell assets to cover losses on subprime mortgages.

In spite of the heightened risk aversion in credit derivatives markets US stocks rose. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 0.7 per cent, the S&P 500 rose 1 per cent and the Nasdaq Composite gained 0.8 per cent.

The FTSE Eurofirst 300 traded in positive territory for much of the session but surrendered its tentative gains by the close. The index fell 2.3 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 1,517.74, extending last week’s sharp fall which dragged the index to its lowest level for four months.

The iTraxx crossover index, which tracks the cost of protecting a basket of risky European companies against default, rose more than 60bp on Monday to trade above 500bp for the first time.

That means it now costs €500,000 ($685,000) to insure against the default of €10m of bonds. Last week it would have cost less than €400,000. This was the largest one-day move yet seen, leaving the index at more than double its level in June.

Similar dramatic swings occurred in US credit derivatives, where the CDX index of investment-grade bonds was quoted 20bp higher to cross 100bp for the first time on Monday, before settling at 87bp.

Analysts warned that the financial markets could stay jittery in coming days, since the credit turmoil could force more financial institutions to offload troubled assets.

“At a minimum, credit travails are apt to create a higher volatility environment across all asset classes for much of this year,” said Alan Ruskin, global strategist at RBS Greenwich Capital. “Credit derivatives liquidity and risk management characteristics are finally being tested in a crisis and are performing poorly.”

The speed of the swing in the credit derivatives markets has shocked many investors, particularly since it has not come amid a sharp deterioration in the macroeconomic background. Some traders consequently blame price swings on hedge funds that may have been rejigging their portfolios before the end of the month.

However, there are also mounting concerns that some investors are being forced into liquidations because prime brokers are trimming credit lines to groups with heavy exposure to subprime mortgages.

Iraqi parliament misses key deadline

Iraqi parliament misses key deadline
By Steve Negus, Iraq Correspondent
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: July 30 2007 18:44 | Last updated: July 30 2007 20:49

Iraq’s government has missed its deadline to compile a list of people eligible to vote in a December referendum that will determine the fate of a large, oil-rich and bitterly disputed swathe of the country, officials of northern Iraq’s Kurdistan autonomous region said on Monday.

Politicians from the Shia-led bloc that dominates the government and the Kurdish parties that are its main allies had agreed before the formation of the national unity government in June 2006 that on Tuesday would be the deadline for a “census” of the inhabitants of Kirkuk and other “disputed territories” of northern Iraq.


About 8m Iraqis need immediate aid because of the humanitarian crisis caused by the war, relief agencies said on Monday. A report by Oxfam and the NGO Co-ordination Committee network in Iraq said 15 per cent of Iraqis could not regularly afford to eat; 70 per cent were without adequate water supplies (up from 50 per cent in 2003); and 28 per cent of children were malnourished

However, the deadline appears to have passed without a census being completed, raising doubts as to whether the government is willing to follow through on its commitments.

The failure to meet the deadline “shows a lack of seriousness from all parties to implement...articles that were in the constitution that people had agreed and voted upon,” said Falah Mustafa Bakir, head of the the Kurdistan regional government’s department of foreign relations.

For many Kurds, the referendum is a chance to reclaim Kirkuk, which Jalal Talabani, Iraq’s Kurdish president, has called the “Jerusalem of Kurdistan” – a historic capital purged of much of its non-Arab population by the regime of Saddam Hussein, the deposed leader.

But although Iraq’s constitution calls for the referendum – which would ask people whether they wished to be part of the Kurdistan autonomous region – to be held no later than December 31, many Sunni and Shia Arabs strongly oppose Kirkuk ever becoming part of Kurdistan.

The Article 140 process – designed to undo the “Arabisation” policies pursued by Saddam aimed at solidifying Arab control of northern oil fields – has also drawn criticism from others who fear it will feed instability.

The former regime pushed Kurds and other non-Arabs out by denying them government jobs or in some cases confiscating properties. Arab settlers were brought in from other parts of the country, particularly the Shia south.

In addition, it shuffled the borders of the region’s provinces, handing away slices of Kirkuk to its neighbours in what Kurdish officials claim was an attempt at gerrymandering, ensuring the north’s main oilfields were in an Arab-majority province.

To reverse this demographic engineering, Arab settlers are to be offered nearly $16,000 in compensation and land in their home provinces to leave.

Some Arab politicians have accused the Kurdistan government of using harsher measures, driving the newcomers out by force. But while Kurdish officials admit that local commanders may have expelled settlers in the immediate aftermath of the 2003 ”liberation” of the region, they deny any sustained campaign of ethnic cleansing. Kurdish officials claim 16,000 families have voluntarily signed up to receive the cash and land but that the money has yet to be disbursed.

Iraq’s presidency council – comprised of Mr Talabani and a Sunni and Shia vice-president – was supposed to have addressed the border issue by restoring the north’s pre-Arabisation administrative boundaries. But that requires the approval of parliament and in Iraq’s slow-moving legislature, any contentious issue is delayed and delayed again, suggesting that the border change might be still be some time away.

The final and most contentious stage of the Article 140 process, the census and referendum, are equally elusive.

The compilation of the voter rolls, while technically dubbed a ”census”, will mostly involve the cross-checking of documents. Only descendants of the region’s pre-Arabisation inhabitants now living in the region are eligible to vote.

Mohammed Ihsan, a Kurdish member of the Article 140 committee, says that the voter registration rolls will be run through a series of ”filters” - censuses in 1957 and 1971, government contract lists, food ration rolls, and others - to determine who is an original inhabitant of the region and who is a ”settler.”

Given the depth of opposition to the process, some outsiders -- such as the Brussels-based International Crisis Group - have advocated the delay or even the cancellation of the referendum.

But Kurdish officials are emphatic that a process outlined in the constitution should not be shelved in the name of political expediency.

The Kurdistan government has probably calculated that this opportunity to regain Kirkuk, with a set timetable and a government in Baghdad that is at least nominally willing to implement it, may not come again.

But if their allies in Baghdad do not take the administrative steps needed to organise the referendum, a delay might be difficult to avoid.

■ Iraq’s parliament went into summer recess for a month on Monday after political leaders failed to agree on a series of laws that Washington sees as crucial to stabilising the country, Reuters reports.

The parliament is due to reconvene on September 4, just two weeks before the top US general in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and Washington’s envoy to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, are due to report to Congress on the success of President George W. Bush’s new Iraq strategy and make recommendations.

Brown to delay Iraq troops decision

Brown to delay Iraq troops decision
By Jean Eaglesham at Camp David and Edward Luce in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: July 30 2007 20:47 | Last updated: July 30 2007 20:47

Gordon Brown put President George W Bush on two months’ notice that all British troops could be pulled from combat duties in Iraq. But the prime minister agreed to delay the decision until after the crucial General David Petreus report on US military strategy in September.

At his first prime ministerial summit with Mr Bush, Mr Brown announced that he would make a statement to MPs in October on troop deployment in Iraq. Aides said later the Petraeus report would be a factor in this decision, as well as the views of commanders on the ground. The UK wants to move troops back to barracks in Basra – the only Iraqi province where British forces are still in a combat role – as soon as possible.

Transatlantic tensions over Iraq were evident at the two leaders’ first joint press conference, although both tried to stress unity. Mr Brown, who is fully aware that Iraq was a political disaster for his predecessor, emphasised the “progress” being made in the British-controlled provinces. He described Afghanistan, not Iraq, as the “frontline against terrorism”.

Mr Bush, by contrast, told reporters: “There is no doubt in my mind that Gordon Brown understands that failure in Iraq would be a disaster for both our countries.”

The president admitted that critics had questioned, in the wake of his close relationship with Tony Blair, whether he would be able to “get along” with the new prime minister. “The answer is absolutely,” he said.

He portrayed Mr Brown in glowing terms that may play better in the US than the UK. The prime minister is a “glass half full man, not a glass half empty kind of guy”, a “humorous Scotsman” who “gets it”, in terms of the battle against terrorism. Mr Brown did not reciprocate with any praise for the president.

The contrast between Mr Blair and Mr Brown was readily apparent to observers in the US. Many commented on Mr Brown’s gravity.

“They looked like they had both just come out of church and listened to a sermon with which they’d particularly agreed,” said Reginald Dale, a senior fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “But most Americans will have appreciated Brown’s seriousness of tone and the fact that he clearly has a moral streak.”

Both leaders were set on denying any impression their relationship would not be as close and harmonious as the Bush-Blair partnership. Mr Bush even said the US-UK relationship was “our most important bilateral relationship”. The usual formula is to say “there is no more important relationship” than that between the US and Britain – a form of words that can include other partners.

Monday, July 30, 2007

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Saudis going south on Iraq

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Saudis going south on Iraq
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: July 29, 2007

The Bush administration and Saudi Arabia's ruling family have a lot in common, including oil, shared rivals like Iran and a penchant for denial that has allowed both to overlook the Saudis' enabling role in the Sept. 11 attacks. But their recent wrangling over Iraq cannot be denied or papered over with proposals for a big new arms sale. And if these differences are not tackled, there is an increased likelihood that the war's chaos will spread far beyond Iraq's borders.

While Washington hasn't protested publicly, Riyadh is pouring money into Sunni opposition groups and letting Saudis cross the border to join Sunni insurgents fighting the U.S.-backed, Shiite-led government. Washington estimates that nearly half of the 60 to 80 foreign fighters entering Iraq each month come from Saudi Arabia.

So far, neither Washington nor Riyadh is spending any time thinking about containing the chaos that will follow the inevitable U.S. withdrawal. The only good news is that President Bush is sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Saudi Arabia for what we hope will be a frank discussion.

A failed Iraqi state with Saudi Islamists holed up in Qaeda sanctuaries in its western deserts is clearly not in the interests of the Saudi monarchy. But for Rice and Gates to have any chance of changing Saudi policies, they will have to go beyond the administration's usual mix of bullying and denial and address legitimate Saudi concerns.

One such concern is Iran, which is bankrolling and training Shiite militias, building a power base in Shiite areas of Iraq and drawing the prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, into its orbit. Iran's expanding influence poses a major threat to Saudi Arabia.

After years of mistaken U.S. policy in Iraq, that threat cannot simply be conjured away. Washington needs to face up to these issues, sit down with Tehran and work out mutually acceptable solutions to these issues that the Saudis can live with as well.

Another concern is the plight of Iraq's Sunni minority under a sectarian Shiite government in league with vindictive Shiite militias. Saudi Arabia and Iraqi Sunnis have to get used to the idea of Shiite majority power. But the Saudis cannot be expected to sit still while the Iraqi Sunnis are driven from their homes, denied decent jobs and treated as second-class citizens by the Iraqi government.

If Washington wants Saudi backing for the Maliki government, Maliki must earn it by ending sectarianism in the security forces, reforming discriminatory anti-Baathist restrictions and pushing through an equitable oil revenue law.

It is past time for Bush to acknowledge that the U.S. has no realistic chance of winning a military victory in Iraq, and that it needs to be urgently preparing to manage the consequences of U.S. withdrawal. That will require working cooperatively with all of Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria. Compared with those, Saudi Arabia should be easy.

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Gonzales' never-ending story

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Gonzales' never-ending story
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: July 29, 2007

President Bush often insists he has to be the decider - ignoring Congress and the American public when it comes to the tough matters on war, terrorism and torture. Apparently that burden does not apply to the functioning of the Justice Department.

Americans have been waiting months for Bush to fire Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Bush refused to fire him after it was clear Gonzales lied about his role in the political purge of nine federal prosecutors. And he is still refusing to do so - even after testimony by the FBI director, Robert Mueller, that suggests that Gonzales either lied to Congress about Bush's warrantless wiretapping or at the very least twisted the truth so badly that it amounts to the same thing.

Gonzales has now told Congress twice that there was no dissent in the government about Bush's decision to authorize the National Security Agency to spy on Americans' international calls and e-mails without obtaining the legally required warrant. Mueller and James Comey, a former deputy attorney general, say that is not true. Not only was there disagreement, but they also say that they almost resigned over the dispute.

Both men say that in March 2004 - when Gonzales was still the White House counsel - the Justice Department refused to endorse a continuation of the wiretapping program because it was illegal. (Comey was running the department temporarily because Attorney General John Ashcroft had emergency surgery.) Unwilling to accept that conclusion, Vice President Dick Cheney sent Gonzales and another official to Ashcroft's hospital room to get him to approve the wiretapping.

Comey and Mueller intercepted the White House team, and they say they watched as a groggy Ashcroft refused to sign off on the wiretapping. Comey said the White House later modified the eavesdropping program enough for the Justice Department to sign off.

Last week, Gonzales denied that account. He told the Senate committee the dispute was not about the wiretapping operation but was over "other intelligence activities."

Lawmakers who have been briefed on the administration's activities said the dispute was about the one eavesdropping program that has been disclosed. So did Comey. And so did Mueller, most recently on Thursday in a House hearing. He said he had kept notes.

That was plain enough. It confirmed that Gonzales is more concerned about doing political-damage control for Bush than in doing his duty.

As far as we can tell, there are three possible explanations for Gonzales' talk about a dispute over other - unspecified - intelligence activities. One, he lied to Congress. Two, he used a dodge to mislead lawmakers and the public: The spying program was modified after Ashcroft refused to endorse it, which made it "different" from the one Bush has acknowledged. The third is that there was more wiretapping than has been disclosed, perhaps even purely domestic wiretapping, and Gonzales is helping Bush cover it up.

Democratic lawmakers are asking for a special prosecutor to look into Gonzales' words and deeds. Solicitor General Paul Clement has a last chance to show that the Justice Department is still minimally functional by fulfilling that request. If that does not happen, Congress should impeach Gonzales.

My GI brother can't say it: Get troops out now

My GI brother can't say it: Get troops out now
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
July 30, 2007

People are always asking me how my younger brother is doing.

Thanks for asking, I say. Drew is fine. For now.

Army Sgt. Andrew Washington went to Afghanistan in 2002. A career enlistee, he was sent to Jordan in 2003 to help launch the Iraq war. After that, it was South Korea.

Now the word coming down from the Army brass: His unit may be headed to Iraq by the new year. That's a terrifying scenario, and not just for Drew.

He can't tell you that, of course. Our military heroes are asked to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect our democracy, yet they don't enjoy the opportunity to engage in the honest, freewheeling debate that our democracy is supposed to ensure.

Remember when the Pentagon forbade soldiers from posting on YouTube? You know why. The big boys with the medals were petrified of what they might say. Imagine if last week's You Tube/CNN debate had included a question from a soldier in Iraq. I can hear it now: The pitch to the Democratic presidential contenders: "Can you please get me the hell out of this hellhole?"

They can't say it. That's what I am here for. I am here to tell you that the thousands of singular men and women who signed up for duty deserve better than what this craven administration has offered them. They certainly don't deserve to die for the blatant lies and moronic mistakes that put us in the middle of a hellish civil war thousands of miles away from our soil. The Bush administration is asking the country which we invaded under false pretenses to remake itself into a place where American troops and commercial interests are welcome.

This whack-job of a policy was imposed on a political structure that has been turned topsy-turvy. Where Sunnis once ruled, now the Shiite hold sway. The Sunni leaders are expected to grin and be obsequious. Shiite leaders who look to Iran for inspiration are coddled and told to govern more effectively, and by the way, just ignore your centuries-long ally. These policies sound like something formulated while under the influence of some seriously mind-altering drugs.

More than 3,600 American soldiers have been killed in the Iraq War since March 2003. Thousands more -- 26,000 -- have been wounded and maimed. Since the government obviously didn't plan for such an extended conflict, preparations for wounded soldiers were given short shrift. Witness the scandalous incompetence and neglect at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

It gets pretty basic. They were sent into this desert conflagration without properly working equipment. We all know the stories about the shortage of body armor and the lightly-armored Humvees. The scandals involving commercial contracting are legendary. Halliburton, the Republican-connected oil services giant, was so craven that it changed its corporate address to Dubai and spun off a subsidiary, KBR, into a separate, stand-alone company to avoid the legal stench.

I'm sure Dick Cheney is exceedingly proud of his former employer.

This administration won't admit that the jig is up. Instead, they just drone on and on, saying that those of us who are anguished by the waste of this war should stand aside and wait. Wait until September, wait until October, wait even until next spring -- and things are sure to turn around.

Our soldiers can't say it, but I will. It's time to get our people out of that hopeless quagmire. And don't dare send any more in. Now more than ever, I am petrified for Drew and all the other good soldiers who are next up to go. They will go to fight in a war that is long lost.

Is anyone in Washington listening?

Gonzales risks perjury investigation, Leahy says

Gonzales risks perjury investigation, Leahy says
By Hope Yen
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune and The Associated Press
July 30, 2007

WASHINGTON - Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales must quickly clarify seeming contradictions in his testimony about warrantless surveillance or risk a possible perjury investigation, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Sunday.

"This is going to have a devastating effect on law enforcement throughout the country if it's not cleared up," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

"If he doesn't correct it, then I think that there are so many errors in there that the pressure will lead very, very heavily to whether it's a special prosecutor, a special counsel, efforts within the Congress."

Leahy also said he was ready to work with the Bush administration to modernize a law that governs how intelligence agencies monitor the communications of suspected terrorists.

President Bush used his weekly radio address Saturday to urge Congress to update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 so the law can better keep pace with the latest technology used by terrorists.

Last week, four Democrats on Leahy's committee asked Solicitor General Paul Clement for a special probe of Gonzales. The request came after FBI Director Robert Mueller appeared to contradict Gonzales' statements to Congress about internal administration dissent over the president's secretive wiretapping program.

Gonzales told that committee the program was not at issue when then-White House counsel Gonzales made a dramatic visit to Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft's hospital room in 2004. Mueller, before the House Judiciary Committee, said it was.

On Sunday, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on Leahy's committee, said it would be premature to begin a perjury investigation until the committee could find out the facts.

Leahy and Specter appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Obama hones youthful image - Strategy is to show himself as voice for change

Obama hones youthful image - Strategy is to show himself as voice for change
By Mike Dorning
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
July 30, 2007

COLUMBIA, S.C. - From the tieless look he's adopted on the campaign trail to his Facebook-style Web page, Barack Obama, the fresh-faced first-term senator from Illinois, has cultivated the aura of youth that naturally surrounds the youngest major candidate in the presidential race. So it was hardly surprising that the 46-year-old would be the first presidential candidate onstage when College Democrats met for their national convention last week.

"In this election, it's our turn. It's your generation's turn," Obama told a cheering crowd of college political activists that filled a ballroom at the University of South Carolina student union and overflowed into a nearby theater. "Let's bring a new generation of leadership to America."

For Obama's campaign, which runs camps for young volunteers, the pitch to college students carries far greater strategic importance than simply obtaining votes from a group not known for Election Day turnout. Rather, the sense of support from the young helps Obama promote himself, even to older voters, as reflecting change and a new generation.

Just as his mixed-race heritage and relative newness on the national political scene signal voters that his candidacy represents change, so does his youth, and that perception is strengthened by a broader following among the young. Enthusiasm from a generation that is just coming of age fits with the message of optimism that Obama seeks to convey.

The Illinois senator whose bid for the White House followed the launch of his book, "The Audacity of Hope," is striving to be the first Democratic president since Bill Clinton, the self-styled "man from Hope."

"He has this message of hopefulness and change, and the attachment of youth to that is very important in signaling, 'The new generation is with me, and it's time for a new generation of political leadership,'" said Ann Crigler, a political science professor at the University of Southern California who has studied the use of emotion in political campaigns.

Other candidates are also courting younger voters. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) offered a hip Web video spoofing the finale of the HBO series "The Sopranos," as well as a Web contest to pick her campaign song that was geared toward younger, tech-savvy voters. John Edwards' crusade against poverty appeals to idealism, and his One Corps community service operation is oriented toward the young.

300,000 friends

But Obama, with his 300,000 Facebook friends and the purported crush of the hit Internet performer "Obama Girl," has generated more buzz. And his early opposition to the war in Iraq links him to a political cause that is motivating many young people, particularly those who lean Democratic.

"All of the candidates are trying for younger voters and want to have them with them," said Steve McMahon, a Democratic media strategist who advised Howard Dean's youth-oriented 2004 campaign. "He's more visibly succeeding."

A poll of voters age 18 through 24 by Harvard's Institute of Politics in March indicated that Obama was supported by 35 percent of Democratic-leaning voters, versus 29 percent for Clinton. In a June poll of 17- to 29-year-olds from both parties for MTV/New York Times/CBS News, 18 percent of respondents were "enthusiastic" about Obama and 17 percent about Clinton. Other candidates from both parties trailed.

The last Republican presidential candidate to receive much stronger support from young voters than from the overall public was Ronald Reagan in his 1984 "Morning Again in America" re-election campaign, though his bid did not have a theme of generational change, according to Curtis Gans, director of the non-partisan Committee for the Study of the American Electorate.

Of course, a strong following among youth doesn't necessarily translate into victory. Dean excited young voters in 2004 but was unable to broaden that support, and he lost the Democratic nomination to John Kerry.

Still, the connection between youth and an appeal for generational change is well-established in presidential politics.

John Kennedy, the youngest elected president at age 43, presented his campaign as a political coming-of-age for a new generation.

Contrasting himself with his elderly predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower, Kennedy projected an image of youthful vigor, with images of him sailing on the ocean or playing touch football and frequent references to his young family. He inaugurated his presidency by announcing that "the torch has been passed to a new generation."

MTV president

Bill Clinton was the first Baby Boomer president. He reached out to younger voters by appearing on MTV and donning shades to play saxophone on late-night television.

Now Obama is campaigning as the candidate who will take leadership of the country from the Vietnam generation. That contrasts with Hillary Clinton, who came of age during the struggle over Vietnam.

Obama regularly sounds the theme of generational change in campaign appearances. The word "generation" popped up 13 times during his campaign announcement speech in Springfield on a bitter-cold morning.

In the Democratic Party in particular, a youth following evokes romantic political movements of the recent past, particularly anti-Vietnam War candidacies that have a new resonance given the fervor in the party against the Iraq war. Waves of college students played a prominent role in the anti-war Democratic primary campaigns of Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy in 1968 and George McGovern in 1972.

Today's youth are not galvanized in quite the same way, said Gans, a sociologist who studies voter behavior and had first-hand experience as staff director for McCarthy's New Hampshire and Wisconsin primary campaigns.

College students today lack the direct personal motivation that was created by the Vietnam-era draft. The major Democratic candidates now are united in supporting a withdrawal from Iraq, in contrast to the deep divisions within the party in the late '60s surrounding Vietnam, said Gans.

Younger voters tilted heavily toward Kerry over Bush in 2004, and youth turnout was the highest since 1972, Gans said.

Even so, turnout among the young remained relatively low. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 47 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds turned out to vote in 2004, versus 64 percent turnout among the overall voting-age population.


American Home shares plunge 45%

American Home shares plunge 45%
By Paul Taylor in New York and agencies
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: July 29 2007 22:57 | Last updated: July 30 2007 15:41

Trading in shares in American Home Mortgage Investment was halted after they fell by almost half following the lender’s revelation that it is delaying paying dividends and may delay payments on its preferred shares because banks demanded it put up more cash.

American Home’s announcement came late on Friday, as the Melville, New York-based mortgage lender revealed it had written down the value of its loan and security portfolios significantly.

The move by the lender represents one of the first indications that the crisis facing sub-prime mortgage lenders in the US is expanding to affect lenders like American Home whose borrowers tend to have higher ‘prime’ ore ‘near prime’ credit ratings. American Home specialises in ‘Alt-A’ mortgages for home buyers who can’t satisfy all the conditions for prime borrowing.

Shares in American Home fell more than 45 percent to $5.74 in electronic composite trading, but trading was stopped to allow news to disseminate.

The company said its moves were necessary “in order to preserve liquidity until it obtains a better understanding of the impact that current market conditions in the mortgage industry and the broader credit market will have on the Company’s balance sheet and overall liquidity.”

American Home Mortgage, described the disruption in the credit markets over the past few weeks as “unprecedented,” and said this had caused “major write-downs of its loan and security portfolios and consequently has caused significant margin calls with respect to its credit facilities.”

The margin calls pose a significant problem for American Home Mortgage because it relies on short-term bank financing to temporarily fund the home loans it makes before the home loans are rebundled and sold to investors. If it does not have cash on hand to meet its banks’ demands, it may have to sell assets, find new financing, or restructure its debt.

It had $4.01bn of borrowings outstanding under its warehouse lines of credit as of March 31, and total liabilities of $19.3bn, according to its regular first-quarter filing with regulators. Its assets had a total book value of $20.6bn.

Rising mortgage rates and defaults this year have hurt mortgage lenders in the US, particularly sub prime lenders that lend to borrowers with less than perfect credit scores. So far, more than 50 lenders have filed for bankruptcy or sold themselves.

Earlier this month rumors that a bank had withdrawn one of American Home Mortgage’s credit facilities pushed the company’s shares 20 percent lower. American Home Mortgage told analysts that rumor was false.

The company said in late June that it would likely post a second-quarter loss after suffering credit losses from a type of loan it stopped making. It withdrew its earnings outlook for 2007, but said it expected losses to be contained. American Home Mortgage’s shares closed on Friday at $10.47, their lowest level since April 2003.

HSBC hurt by exposure to US subprime market

HSBC hurt by exposure to US subprime market
By Maggie Urry
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: July 30 2007 10:37 | Last updated: July 30 2007 10:37

Half-year profits at HSBC were hit by the bank’s exposure to the US subprime mortgage market and a $236m (£116.5m) charge for fee refunds in its UK retail banking operations.

UK Daily View

Video: Jane Croft on US sub-prime effect on HSBC profits
The loan impairment charge jumped 63 per cent, or $2.46bn, to $6.35bn in the half-year to the end of June. That followed a sharp rise in the charge in the second half of 2006, which in February forced HSBC to issue a profits warning. This was one of the first signs of problems in the US subprime market.

HSBC shares have been weak in recent months and responded to the news with a rise of 2.5 per cent, or 22p, to 902½p. Keith Bowman, analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said “the stock appears to be enjoying something of a relief rally – relief that bad debts were not even worse”.

Group pre-tax profits rose 13 per cent to $14.16bn, driven by good performances in Asia, and in corporate and commercial banking. But Stephen Green, chairman, said profits were boosted by a $1bn post-tax gain from the dilution of HSBC’s holdings in its mainland China associates. Excluding that, he said, underlying pre-tax profits rose 5 per cent.

Analysts at Keefe Bruyette & Woods pointed out that the income statement also included a $874m gain from fair value adjustments to financial instruments. The gain in the comparable period was $260m. Further, they said, the rise in trading income from $4.26bn to $5.51bn “may give rise to quality questions”.

Mr Green said that while the world economy remained buoyant, and global economic growth was forecast at 3.8 per cent, there were risks ahead, notably from nervousness about credit markets.

Reviewing the results he said, “pre-tax profits in personal financial services as a whole declined 20 per cent”. That was in spite of “very strong” results from Asia. Mr Green said conditions in the UK personal banking market were “challenging” but the main problem was in the US.

He said “the actions taken to restructure and manage down our exposure in this business are progressing well. The charge for impairments was lower than in the second half of last year and was in line with our expectations”.

Michael Geoghegan, chief executive, said that in personal financial services, Asia increased pre-tax profits by 38 per cent. However, the division’s profits fell by a fifth to $4.73bn.

In North America, profits fell 43 per cent compared with the first half of 2006, although they showed a strong recovery on the second half of last year. First-half profits were $1.8bn, a $1.5bn improvement on the previous six months.

In the half-year impairment charges on mortgages were $760m, and loans of $715m were written off against existing allowances, leaving the total allowance broadly unchanged at $2.1bn. Mr Geoghegan said the group had managed down its exposure to the mortgage business by $8bn to $41.4bn.

“We have stopped underwriting subprime mortgages and made management changes,” he said.

The group is calling customers facing interest rate resets, and has so far contacted 19,000 of them, modifying the loans of 5,000 on them.

In Europe, the personal finance business was down 34 per cent, hit by a decision to cut credit exposure where pricing did not adequately reflect risk. Refunding unauthorised overdraft fees in the UK cost the bank $236m. Mr Geoghegan said the group welcomed the Office of Fair Trading’s move last week to take a number of banks including HSBC to court to “achieve legal clarity”.

Offsetting the weakness in personal financial services, other divisions increased profits. The group’s investment banking arm, which has suffered from a series of personnel losses including last year the departure of John Studzinski, co-head of the division, increased pre-tax profits nearly a third to $4.16bn. It was aided by a good performance on its private equity investments.

Stuart Gulliver, now sole head of the division, said the division had refined its strategy away from the perception that HSBC was “trying to be a global bulge bracket firm”. He said the division would focus on emerging markets and financings rather than on M&A and equities. “What we have got works for HSBC because it works for our clients,” he said.

Mr Green said that the group had “one or two” leveraged buy-out positions that it was planning to distribute among other lenders. However, he said that if the recent turmoil in the credit markets prevented HSBC doing that “we would be comfortable” in taking the positions onto the balance sheet.

Pre-tax profits from North America as a whole fell from $3.74bn to $2.44bn, a 35 per cent decline. Profits from all other territories were up, with Hong Kong increasing pre-tax profits by 25.5 per cent to $3.33bn and the rest of the Asia-Pacific region more than doubling profits to $3.34bn.

A second interim dividend of 17 cents, added to the first interim dividend of the same amount, puts the pay-out so far in the year up 13 per cent.

The group said its Tier 1 capital and total capital ratios remained strong at 9.3 per cent and 13.2 per cent respectively.

Operating expenses rose 15 per cent to $18.6bn and the cost efficiency ratio was 48.3 per cent compared with 50.1 per cent in the first half of 2006.

Credit worries fail to halt Wall St bounce

Credit worries fail to halt Wall St bounce
By Michael Mackenzie in New York
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: July 30 2007 13:58 | Last updated: July 30 2007 15:47

Wall Street stocks were trading modestly firmer at midmorning on Monday, and while solid earnings from several companies had boosted sentiment, investors were scrutinising weakness in the credit market.

Last week, fears that markets face a credit crunch sparked a sharp slide in US stocks. The S&P 500 index experienced its worst performance since September 2002.

“Last week’s stock market swoon came just as crude prices retested the highs, housing prices continued their fall and business investment spending showed weakness heading into the second half of 2007,” said William O’Donnell, strategist at UBS. “This toxic mix of headwinds for the consumer bodes ill for the US economy.”

In overnight trading action Asian equities were mainly higher, while European stocks were firmer after Wall Street’s open.

Less than an hour after the opening bell, the S&P 500 was 0.4 per cent higher at 1,465. Volatility as measured by the Chicago Board Options Exchange’s Vix was down 6.2 per cent at a reading of 22.67. Vix has nearly doubled in value this year.

The Nasdaq Composite was up 0.2 per cent at 2,567.75.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was 0.25 per cent higher at 13,298.96.

Small cap stocks were also firmer with the Russell 2000 index up 0.3 per cent. The Russell remains 1 per cent lower for the year to date, and the sharp rise in volatility and concerns over future deal activity has hit smaller companies hard.

The yield on the 10-year bond was a touch lower at 4.78 per cent. US Crude oil prices were weaker, and had reversed a brief rise above $77 a barrel earlier in the day.

Equity investors remain focused on the credit market. Anxiety over a pending flood of new debt issues, in the region of $300bn that are linked to this year’s record pace of mergers and buyout deals, and worries about further losses from mortgage-related investments has cast a pall over sentiment for credit. Premiums for credit derivative indices that track US and European investment grade and high yield bonds have more than doubled in cost since mid-June and continued to move higher on Monday.

In early trade, the CDX investment grade index widened above 100 basis points from a close of 77bp on Friday. In Europe the iTraxx crossover index that tracks corporate debt rated between high grade and junk, rose above 500bp for the first time.

“While the repricing of credit wider may yet lead to a significant bounce back on short covering, we think it is still too early to step in front of this moving train,” said analysts at Banc of America Securities.

The recent rise in volatility and in credit risk premiums has weighed on stock prices for many pending deals and also on the banks that could potentially be left holding bridge loans. This led analysts at Goldman Sachs to note on Monday that 22 pending leveraged buyouts deals currently offer investors an annualised return of 36 per cent if they are completed.

“It is impossible even for a wizard like Harry Potter to reconcile two facts: Stocks cannot both melt down because the market fears financial institutions will have to fund and hold levered loan commitments while at the same time shares of target companies sell off on the belief the same transactions will not close,” said Goldman. “This inconsistency presents an attractive entry point for investors.”

Shares in TXU, the Texas utilty, are currently trading at $65.92, below the $32bn or $69.25 a share buyout price offered by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and Texas Pacific Group. The financing for the TXU deal includes an $11bn bridge loan and the banks behind the buyout include Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse and Lehman Brothers.

While the S&P Investment bank index had rebounded 0.6 per cent higher on Monday, it remains 9.7 per cent lower for the year to date.

Among other pending buyout deals, First Data was trading at $31.90, below KKR’s $29bn buyout of $34 a share.

Penn National, the racetrack and casino operator which Fortress Group has offered to buyout for $67 a share was trading at $58.14 on Monday.

Hilton Hotels, which recently received a $47.50 a share buyout from Blackstone was trading at $44.10.

While the credit market was under pressure on Monday, some good news on the earnings front had helped stabilise sentiment in stocks.

Verizon, the second largest U.S. phone company reported a 4.5 per cent rise in second quarter. The Dow stock was down 2 per cent at $41.16. Verizon Wireless said it had agreed to buy Rural Cellular for $2.67bn in cash and debt. Rural was 34.4 per cent higher at $42.75.

Shares in Archer Daniels Midland were 0.5 per cent higher at $34.21. The grain processor’s fiscal fourth-quarter profit more than doubled to $954.8m.

Humana, the health insurer said its second quarter profit more than doubled to $216.8m and the stock was up 1.5 per cent at $65.78.

Wrigley, posted a 20 per cent rise in quarterly results and the stock was down 0.1 per cent at $57.04.

Meanwhile, Virgin Media was up 1.8 per cent at $25.15 on talk that John Malone’s Liberty Global is weighing a $23bn bid for the UK cable operator.

In other deal news, attention will focus on whether the $5bn bid for Dow Jones by News Corp will meet the approval of the Bancroft family, which control a majority of the company’s voting stock. A decision is expected late on Monday. Dow Jones was trading at $53.88, below the $60 a share offer made by News Corp.

Economic data was sparse on Monday, but the rest of the week is replete with reports capped by the July employment report and a manufacturing survey from the Institute for Supply Management on Friday. Economists expect a gain of 135,000 jobs last month after 132,000 were created in June. The unemployment rate is seen steady at 4.5 per cent for the fourth consecutive month.

At the close of trading in New York last week, the S&P 500 index was down 4.9 per cent for the week at 1,458.95 while the Nasdaq Composite Index was 4.7 per cent lower at 2,562.24. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was 4.2 per cent lower at 13,265.47.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Clinton or Obama? Many backing both - Urban League debate shows it's tough decision for blacks

Clinton or Obama? Many backing both - Urban League debate shows it's tough decision for blacks
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
July 29, 2007

ST. LOUIS -- More than any other debate thus far, the National Urban League's presidential forum illustrated how sharply the Democratic primary is dividing the African-American community's political allegiances.

Although the National Urban League doesn't endorse political candidates, the presidential forum gave the front-runners -- Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and his closest rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) -- their best chance yet to compete head-up for the urban black vote. There were a lot of signs that many of the Urban Leaguers -- who tend to be solidly middle-class entrepreneurs and professionals -- haven't made up their minds about whom they will support in 2008.

Four days after a bruising dust-up between Obama and Clinton over foreign policy, many of them wore Hillary buttons on one side of their tops and Barack's stickers on the other.

Similar to past debates, Rep. Dennis Kucinich -- who trails badly in the polls -- scored the most applause for his remarks, while former Sen. John Edwards stumbled into a round of audible "boos" when he criticized Obama and Clinton for their ongoing war of words over foreign policy.

The four Democratic candidates were warmly received (none of the Republican primary candidates appeared), and the audience rose to its feet at the end of each presentation.

Clinton continues to be a dominating presence in the debate arena. Although Obama has gotten better at delivering snappy sound bites, Hillary's oratory -- as one observer remarked -- had many in the audience on the "edge of their seats."

All of the candidates pledged to support the National Urban League's ambitious "Opportunity Compact" that lays out a blueprint for moving black America closer to parity in education, housing, entrepreneurship and employment. Of course, it isn't likely any of these candidates would disagree with an urban agenda presented by one of the nation's premier civil rights groups.

But in the end, black voters will have to decide which candidate will be their best advocate in the White House on issues closest to home.

That's why the spat between Clinton and Obama about the proper way to conduct diplomacy with hostile nations can only elevate Obama's standing among black voters. Like most African Americans, Obama vigorously opposed the Iraq war, even though those who disagreed with the Bush administration were labeled "unpatriotic." Also, black leaders have long argued that America's foreign policy toward Cuba is outmoded and unjust.

Except for Edwards, the presidential candidates stayed away from foreign policy, concentrating instead on trying to convince the audience that each is committed to fixing the long-neglected urban centers in America.

Obama trumpeted his experience as a community organizer, civil rights lawyer and state legislator who helped Illinois become the first state to require videotaped confessions in homicide cases.

"I have continued to fight to make sure those neighborhoods are paid attention to. That is how we reformed the death penalty in Illinois and passed racial-profiling legislation to bring some fairness to the criminal justice system. When I talk about hope and change, this is not just the rhetoric of a campaign, it is the cause of my life, the cause I will work for every single day of my life," he said.

The Urban League forum also gave Obama an opportunity to directly address the thorny issue of racial polarization when he was asked how he would improve race relations.

"The day a minority becomes president, the country looks at itself differently," Obama said, raising his right hand as if taking the oath of office.

Clinton, who spoke first, opened her remarks with an issue that pierces the hearts of many African Americans.

"I have never met a child without potential, and these 1.4 million [incarcerated] young men are no different. When we write them off and leave them behind, we squander their potential. We squander America's potential," she said.

While many gave Clinton points for her presentation, they still appeared to be leaning toward Obama.

"He not only has charisma, but he's a leader," said John Anderson of Brooklyn, N.Y. "The point is, he knows how to bring people together."

Highlighting the difficulty of the Clinton/Obama decision for the African-American community were the comments of National Urban League President and CEO Marc H. Morial at a post-debate press conference.

Morial wouldn't even declare a clear winner: "I'm staying away from that question," he said.

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial - It's time for Bush to deliver for vets

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial - It's time for Bush to deliver for vets
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
July 29, 2007

President Bush says he wants to change the way wounded soldiers are treated when they return from war and last week ordered Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson to follow the advice of the president's "wounded warriors commission."

The commission offered great advice: Streamline the bureaucracies that deal with returning wounded military, cut the paperwork, expand treatment of brain injuries and give disabled veterans more advocates to file for their benefits. Carrying out these far-reaching changes, though, shouldn't be left to someone who has one toe in retirement, as Nicholson has. (He announced July 17 that he will be leaving office after a two-year stint but may not vacate until October.)

The president needs to appoint a new secretary immediately and someone who will interpret the commission's broad recommendations in the best possible light for those who have already paid a high price for our freedom.

It was on Nicholson's watch, after all, that several embarrassing news reports -- including an investigation by this newspaper -- revealed substandard care in the VA hospital system and disparity in its disability payouts. Here in Illinois, wounded veterans have received among the lowest disability payouts in the country for nearly 80 years.

The estimated price tag for the commission's suggested improvements --$500 million for the first year and $1 billion annually in the years to come -- is not steep in the larger context of the money being spent in Iraq.

"The money is there," said Tammy Duckworth, the disabled Iraq war veteran who now heads the state's veterans affairs office. "This is part of the cost of the war. When we agreed to go to war, this is the cost we brought on ourselves. I think these recommendations can be effectively implemented. But there has to be a continued focus on this issue by veterans groups and the public and the media."

Duckworth, who ran unsuccessfully as a Democratic candidate for Rep. Henry Hyde's seat last fall, also agrees that the best way to convince veterans that Bush is serious about giving the wounded "the best possible care and treatment that this government can offer" is to quickly name a replacement for Nicholson.

"We can't let that office sit empty or with a lame duck in it," Duckworth said. "This is the man who wanted so little money for the VA that a bipartisan group in Congress had to push for more."

Among the commission's other recommendations was a push to adapt to a new kind of war that produces new kinds of injuries. With more advanced medical technology, more soldiers with grave injuries are surviving this war than in previous wars, and they are coming home with far more serious injuries and many more traumatic brain injuries.

Rep. Mark Kirk (R- Ill.), a commander with the U.S. Naval Reserve, called the commission's demand for improved treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder as finally laying "to rest any stigma attached to what used to be called shell shock." Kirk would know; he is a veteran who dealt with PTSD himself after serving in Iraq and Kosovo.

The commission study was a bipartisan effort, co-chaired by former Republican Senate leader Robert Dole and former Clinton Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala. Clearly, caring for wounded warriors is neither a Republican nor a Democratic issue. It's simply a matter of extending the same humane commitment to soldiers who have risked their lives for us.

Water rights ... and wrongs - How to know what your plants and trees really need

Water rights ... and wrongs - How to know what your plants and trees really need
By Beth Botts
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
July 29, 2007

The gardening season means watering. But it shouldn't mean wasting water.

In fact, watering the wrong way can actually hurt plants. It also can waste money and exacerbate pollution.

But many people don't know how to water right or have never thought about it. Here are some tips for putting water only where it will do good. The Basics

Rule 1 for plants in the ground -- including lawns -- is this: Slow, deep watering at long intervals is better than watering often but lightly. A daily ritual of sprinkling flower beds with the hose in your hand makes plants grow short, weak, vulnerable roots right at the surface. A deep soak once a week encourages them to send those roots long and strong down into the soil. That makes plants more drought -- tolerant and more able to take up nutrients and support more leaves and flowers.

Overwatering can fill up the air space in soil and actually drown plants or cause roots to rot.

A rule of thumb is that most plants need the equivalent of 1 inch of rain a week (about .6 gallon per square foot). But many factors can affect this: Desert plants such as cacti obviously need much less. Established prairie plants, with deep root systems, need less watering than shallow-rooted, thirsty annuals such as impatiens. Get to know your plants and their needs.

Soil type makes a difference too. Water soaks right into sandy loam but easily runs off dense, clay soil. So observe how water behaves on your soil.

To measure rain or the output of sprinklers, buy a rain gauge (starting at about $3 at the hardware store). In fact, get two: One for the lawn and one to place under trees, where much less rain reaches the ground.

But the real criterion should be how much water is in the soil. Stick your finger in and feel for moisture (or dig down with a trowel). If it's dry 2 to 3 inches down, water.


Soil dries out quickly in pots. Check them every morning; for much of the summer you may have to water them once or even twice a day. Plastic or glazed containers lose water more slowly than unglazed terra cotta or moss baskets; small containers dry out fast. Self-watering containers, with hidden reservoirs, can help. Pots in sunny locations will need more watering.


* Buy heavy-duty metal nozzles with adjustable spray.

* Get a hose wand extension to water containers and hanging baskets.


Sprinklers have drawbacks. They water foliage, not soil; much of the water they fling through the air or dribble on leaves evaporates uselessly; and they can rain water on sidewalks, patios and driveways, where it is wasted. However, sprinklers are the best way to distribute water over a large area.

Here are some tips:

* Water in the morning, so leaves dry in the sun. Wet foliage at night encourages fungus diseases.

* Have more than one sprinkler, so you can fit the watering pattern to different areas of your yard. A good assortment is an oscillating sprinkler, which waves back and forth over a rectangular area, such as a lawn; an impulse sprinkler, which flings water in a wide circle or part of one; and a pattern sprinkler, which can deliver a steady stream in several arrangements in tight spots.

* If a sprinkler does not have one, add a shut-off valve between it and the hose so you easily can reduce the water pressure to the area you need to water.

* In-ground sprinkler systems: Get a moisture sensor that only turns on the sprinklers when the ground is dry. Otherwise, learn to adjust the timer and turn it on and off as needed. Don't just leave it at the installed settings regardless of conditions; that's a huge water-waster.


In summer, you can save water by letting the lawn go dormant. (Many leaves will dry and turn brown but each plant's crown and roots remain alive, waiting for cooler weather.) But decide to either let it go dormant or not. Don't try to revive it with heavy watering when it goes brown. A long soak every two weeks, or a good rain, will keep the roots alive.

* To keep grass green, water deeply once a week, no more often. Too much watering, or watering at night, can lead to lawn diseases and grubs.

* Mow the lawn high -- a good 3 inches -- to conserve water and encourage long roots.

* Don't fertilize in summer. Overfertilizing makes lawns weak and thirsty.

* Aerate the lawn every spring to help it absorb water.

Trees and shrubs

* New trees and shrubs, with struggling root systems, need watering for a year after they are planted. Turn the sprinkler on to just a dribble and set it on the root zone for several hours once a week. The following week, move it to a different spot.

* Established trees and shrubs rarely need supplemental watering except in drought, when they are sick or stressed or if they have a restricted root zone -- for example, hemmed in by house, path and driveway.

Water just the soil

* It's the roots that need the water, so the most efficient watering goes right to the soil.

* Soaker hoses are easy to set up; just lay them around in beds. But they must be taken indoors in winter.

* Drip irrigation is more finicky to set up, but can be left out in the winter. Start with a kit to get used to the parts and procedures.


Several devices make watering much easier.

* A two-way valve: Screw onto the faucet to give you two taps.

* Quick connectors: These allow you to quickly and easily swap sprinklers, nozzles and timers.

* Timers make it possible to water when you are not home.

Shut-off timers run the water for a certain time and then turn it off. (A flow meter is similar but measures gallons, not time.)

Electronic timers need batteries, but can be set to turn water on and off any time.