Saturday, January 27, 2007

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Blinding America in space

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Blinding America in space
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: January 26, 2007

You don't have to be a space or climate expert to recognize that America's ability to track climate and environmental changes from space is heading in the wrong direction. At a time when concerns about global warming are rising, the Bush administration is sharply reducing the number of satellites that can measure the impact of rising temperatures and a host of other environmental trends.

The administration's hypocrisy is stunning. For years, the president and top officials have justified their refusal to grapple seriously with global warming by insisting that more research is needed. Now, after pledging that such research would be the centerpiece of a new climate change strategy, the administration is underfinancing some of the most important efforts to gather data.

A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences projected an alarming decline in vital studies and monitoring. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration currently has a number of Earth-observing satellites in orbit, but since 2000 its budget for earth sciences has decreased over 30 percent.

By 2010, the number of operating sensors and instruments on NASA satellites that observe the Earth is likely to drop by 40 percent as old equipment fails and is not promptly replaced. Meanwhile, at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, huge cost overruns and technical problems have delayed planned launchings of key climate and weather-monitoring satellites and forced the elimination of instruments essential for climate science.

The setbacks are bound to hobble efforts to understand whether hurricanes and heat waves are becoming more frequent and intense, whether ice sheets will collapse and drive sea levels dangerously high, and how fish stocks, deforestation, drinking water supplies and air pollution are affected as populations grow and economies take off.

We clearly need more data in coming years, not less.

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Retreat and cheat

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Retreat and cheat
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: January 26, 2007

President George W. Bush's warrantless wiretapping program was once deemed so vital to national security that it could not be subjected to judicial review. Last week, the White House said it was doing just that.

By now, this is a familiar pattern: First, Bush and his aides say his actions are so vital to national security that to even report on them — let alone question them — lends comfort to the terrorists. Then, usually when his decisions face scrutiny from someone other than a compliant Republican Congress, the president seems to compromise.

Behind this behavior are at least two dynamics, both of them disturbing. The first is that the policies Bush is trying so hard to hide have little, if anything, to do with real national security issues — and everything to do with a campaign, spearheaded by Vice President Dick Cheney, to break the restraints on presidential power imposed after Vietnam and Watergate.

Second, there is much less than meets the eye to Bush's supposed concessions. Generally, they mask the fact that he either got what he wanted from Congress or found a way to add some other veneer of legitimacy to his lawless behavior. The campaign to expand presidential power goes on.

We don't know exactly what agreement the White House made with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court about eavesdropping. But there is evidence that Bush got some broad approval for a wiretapping "program" rather than the individual warrants required by law. Because the court works in secret, the public may never know whether Bush really is complying with the law.

Nor is there likely to be an explanation of why the White House could not have sought the court's approval in the first place. The White House's claim that the process is too cumbersome doesn't ring true. The law already allows the government to wiretap first and then ask for a warrant within three days. The real reason is almost certainly that the president had no desire to share power even with the most secret part of the judiciary. Why else would the president have turned down more than one offer from Congress to amend the 1978 wiretapping law after 9/11 to make getting warrants easier and faster than the three-day rule?

There are signs that the Democrats will be tougher than the Republicans on holding Bush and his presidency to account on such issues. The eavesdropping program and Bush's secret deal with the surveillance court are a very good place to start.
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Friday, January 26, 2007

Existing-home sales down 8.4%

Existing-home sales down 8.4%
Copyright 2007 Associated Press.
January 26, 2007

After a five-year boom, the nation's housing market cooled considerably in 2006 with existing-home sales falling by the largest amount in 17 years.
While the worst might be over, the rebound could be slow in coming, analysts said, given a continuing huge backlog of unsold homes that will keep downward pressure on prices, particularly in former boom areas.

The National Association of Realtors reported Thursday that sales of existing homes totaled 6.48 million units for all of 2006, down 8.4 percent from 2005 when 7.08 million existing homes were sold, the fifth straight year that sales hit an all-time high.

That boom drove prices up at double-digit rates and caused a stampede of investors into the market.

Thursday's housing report contributed to stocks suffering their biggest pullback in two months, with the Dow Jones industrials logging a triple-digit decline.

The Dow fell 119.21, or 0.94 percent, to 12,502.56. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 16.23, or 1.13 percent, to 1,423.90 and the Nasdaq composite index was down 32.04, or 1.30 percent, at 2,434.24.

David Lereah, chief economist for the Realtors, said that 40 percent of home sales in 2005 represented purchases by investors and people buying vacation homes.

''A lot of those people have now left the market,'' Lereah said, predicting that sales have bottomed out and should start a slow rebound in 2007.

Other analysts cautioned that the rebound probably will be extremely slow because it will take time for unsold inventories to be worked down and for speculators to unload homes.

Even with the sales decline in 2006, the median price of a new home managed to rise slightly last year to $222,000, compared with a median of $219,600 in 2005.


'Babel' babble, or towering insight? BY ANDREW GREELEY

'Babel' babble, or towering insight? BY ANDREW GREELEY
Copyright by The Chicago Sun Times
January 26, 2007

The film "Babel" is vehemently anti-American. Directed by the Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, it won the Golden Globe from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and a nomination for the Academy Award. American critics seemed to miss the subtle anti-gringoism of this brilliant ensemble movie, a kind of globalization version of last year's equally brilliant Academy Award-winner, ''Crash.''

Its overt theme, set in the title, is that language diversity (attributed in the Scripture story to the collapse of the tower of Babel) weakens and often destroys communion among different people. The underlying theme, however, is that gringos with their power and wealth are able to escape permanent harm from the confusion of tongues and cultures while poor natives must pay the price for it.

The American tourists ride into the Moroccan hills on a tour bus, behave as arrogant, affluent Americans, call their embassy for help and return home to their children. But Berber peasants either die or go to jail. A Mexican woman who has lived in America for 12 years goes home for her son's wedding -- a marvelously colorful and moving festival. Trying to return with the two children of a couple (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) who were on the bus in Morocco, the uncomprehending and insensitive American immigration officials treat her like the Gestapo would have treated a Jewish woman and ban her permanently from the United States.

One might argue against the film that not all American tourists are like the rich, oafish passengers on the bus (including the character played by Pitt). One might also say that not all immigration officials are like the self-righteous and unfeeling border guards in the film. Yet those of us who have traveled to other countries have experienced the supercilious and pushy ugly Americans, and we have read many stories in the media that depict the immigration officials almost cheerfully breaking up families.

The gringo image is not fair. It is an excuse for Mexicans, especially intellectual and artistic ones like Gonzalez Inarritu, to account for the failures of Mexican society and especially its endemic corruption. The point, however, is that there are enough Americans who do fit the image to rationalize the worldwide envy and hatred of the United States and to confirm the gringo stereotype.

Pitt's character in ''Babel'' is understandably furious that his wife has been shot (accidentally by a small boy with a gun), but acts out his pain and worry in an orgy of screaming frenzy, as if by shouting and pushing he can break the language barrier and obtain the response to which he as a rich and powerful American is entitled. It does not occur to him that any other style would be appropriate. Moreover, since he is Brad Pitt and his wounded wife is Cate Blanchett, most Americans will identify with them, even though the Berbers are sympathetic and try to be helpful. When push comes to shove, the director says to us, you are all gringos.

Americans are resented everywhere (not by everyone, however) because of their wealth and power. They are especially likely to be resented by the English and French, whose chestnuts the United States pulled out of the fire twice in the last 100 years (no good deed goes unpunished). The envy is their problem, but it is also our problem, especially now that our president, whom they think acts and walks like a ''cowboy'' -- and talks just like immigration officers in ''Babel'' -- is responsible for so much of the violence in the Middle East.

Americans have come to oppose the Iraq war because more than 3,000 Americans have died. We are much less concerned about the 34,000 Iraqis who have died. We didn't kill many of them directly. They kill one another, but if we had not occupied their country, they would not be dead.

Yet few Americans seem willing to assign personal responsibility to our leaders for this slaughter. We are, for the most part, indifferent to the Iraqi deaths. They have dark skin, believe in a strange religion and speak an obscure foreign language.

So maybe we're gringos after all.

Brown's arrival in 10 Downing Street could be bad news for those who favor a special Anglo-American security relationship.

Brown hints at a shift in the 'special relationship'
Mark Joyce
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: January 25, 2007

LONDON: On Jan. 12, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain gave his first major speech of 2007 in a Royal Navy amphibious assault ship. Surrounded by armored vehicles and a carefully selected audience of defense-industry grandees, he outlined his priorities for British security policy.

To supporters of Britain's "special relationship" with the United States, the arguments were familiar and reassuring: The British government should resist mounting public demands for cuts in military spending; the international threat environment requires that we maintain the capabilities to fight wars as well as keep the peace; Britain must continue to assume that it will fight side by side with America.

While Blair's speech stole the headlines, Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the Exchequer — who is expected to take over as prime minister this year — was making a quieter but more significant intervention. In an article in The Guardian he called on developed nations to make education the overarching priority of international security policy. Ensuring that all the world's children have access to education within 10 years, he argued, makes not just moral and economic sense but strategic sense, too.

The article signaled that Brown's arrival in 10 Downing Street could be bad news for those who favor a special Anglo-American security relationship.

Brown has until now been reticent on the subject of foreign and security policy, leaving observers few clues from which to infer his likely priorities. His recent intervention is part of a broader campaign to establish his credentials as an international statesman.

Brown's political record indicates that he is an instinctive Atlanticist, preferring close relations with the United States over increasing integration into the European Union. He is critical of EU bureaucracy and was instrumental in postponing a British referendum on entry into the single European currency. He has, meanwhile, established close contacts with key figures within the Democrat establishment.

Although his relations with the Republican establishment are nowhere near as cordial, Brown is unlikely to pick a fight with the Bush administration, however tempting that might be in domestic political terms. The chancellor supported the invasion of Iraq and has several times approved extra funds to pay for the troops stationed there. He believes a British military presence should be retained for as long as it is needed.

Brown must therefore seek ways of stamping his own authority on security policy while honoring burdensome military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. An attempt to use British diplomatic and economic influence to make progress on education, the environment and other "soft" security issues is thought to be the answer.

Against this background, defense chiefs are increasingly concerned that the military will face serious budget cuts under Brown. Ministry of Defense documents leaked in January indicated that plans are in place to withdraw almost half of the Royal Navy's 44 warships from service.

The proposed cuts would leave the navy with a fleet considerably smaller than that of France, a bitter pill to swallow for an institution in which Anglo- French rivalry remains fierce. More important, it would greatly reduce Britain's ability to fight alongside the United States in future campaigns. As one senior military commander put it, the navy would become little more than a "coastal defense force."

Despite the new emphasis on "soft" over "hard" security tools, Brown's rhetoric in front of U.S. audiences is likely to be similar to Blair's: The relationship with the United States is central to British foreign and security policy; Britain can be relied upon to stand shoulder to shoulder with America in the fights against terrorism and extremism.

But the realities of military spending suggest otherwise. As the U.S. defense budget moves inexorably upward, Britain's ability to integrate into the American fighting machine becomes ever more difficult and expensive.

If plans to mothball half the naval fleet are executed, and if international development and education receive significant new injections of funding, Britain will have embarked on a security-policy trajectory much closer to the EU's than to America's — and the façade of the "special relationship" will become ever more difficult to maintain.

Mark Joyce is an associate fellow with the Royal United Services Institute in London.

The Middle East adjusts to America's diminishing power

The Middle East adjusts to America's diminishing power
By Philip Stephens
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: January 26 2007 02:00 | Last updated: January 26 2007 02:00

American envoys travel to the Middle East these days with a simple message. Whatever happens in Iraq - and Washington is not about to admit defeat - the US fully intends to remain the regional superpower. Their hosts listen politely and shrug their shoulders with knowing scepticism.

I saw something of this earlier in the week at the Herzliya conference in Israel. The nominated envoy was Nicholas Burns, a senior official at the US state department. His audience was the Israeli political, security and foreign policy establishment.

Mr Burns, a fluent, astute foreign service official who for the past six months has acted as deputy to Condoleezza Rice, had two messages: one about the resilience of US power, the other about Iran's ambitions for regional primacy. He began with a review of America's global influence.

The US was strong everywhere. A new strategic relationship with India had cemented its position in east Asia. For all the antics of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, Washington was winning the arguments for liberal democracy in Latin America. Elsewhere, bridges had been rebuilt with Europe and the US had never been as engaged as now in Africa.

As for the Middle East, what better proof could there be of Washington's determination to remain the guarantor of regional security than George W. Bush's decision to send more troops to Iraq and another aircraft carrier to the Gulf? America's most vital strategic interests lay in the Middle East. No one should doubt its resolve to defend them.

You could quarrel with each or several of his assessments, but that would be to miss the point. The significance lay in the fact that Mr Burns felt obliged to answer a question that had not been asked. Unprompted assertions of US power speak eloquently to its diminution.

The removal of Saddam Hussein was meant to overturn the prevailing order in the Middle East to US advantage. It achieved the first part of that objective. But the principal beneficiary of the chaos in Iraq has been Iran and its Shia allies. The effect has been to reduce rather than enhance American influence.

Save for the occasional contribution of a visiting American, the Herzliya conference heard nothing about Iraq. Israel has other preoccupations. Why bother discussing Iraq, one senior Israeli official told me, when there is nothing to be done?

Washington's friends in the Middle East neither expect, nor want, a precipitate US withdrawal. Yet they believe that Mr Bush's troop reinforcements can at best delay the inevitable. These allies - Israelis and Sunni Arabs alike - at once fear, and are adjusting to, the consequences of the anticipated defeat.

Richard Haass, the president of the US Council on Foreign Relations, has called this the end of the American era in the Middle East - a moment comparable to the collapse of British and French influence in the region after the second world war. I am not sure it is as complete or as final as that. The US still has a formidable military capacity with which to punish its enemies. What is indisputable is that just as power is visibly draining from Mr Bush, so Washington is losing its capacity to determine outcomes elsewhere.

Iran is the principal beneficiary of America's failure. For Israel, still traumatised by a calamitous war against the Iranian-sponsored Hizbollah in southern Lebanon, the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad is now the only enemy that matters. I gave up counting the times I heard the words "existential threat" to describe Iran's nuclear programme capability.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad's denials of the Holocaust and his threats to destroy Israel are often heard elsewhere as the ill-judged rantings of a demagogue - horrible but ultimately meaningless. In Israel, they are taken at face value.

Herzliya, it should be said, is an event for hawks, a last refuge for Washington's neo-conservatives as well as a natural home for those in Israel who tend to believe that diplomacy is synonymous with weakness. Though Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, was invited to speak, the fêted guest was Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of Likud.

The perception of Iran's nuclear ambitions as an imminent and potentially catastrophic threat, though, runs beyond the Israeli right. So, I suspect, does the worry that a weakened US and an indifferent world will lack the resolve to confront Tehran. The thought left hanging in almost every conversation is that if Washington baulks at the task, Israel will send its own bombers to attack Iran's nuclear installations.

Hence Mr Burns's second purpose - to persuade his audience that coercive diplomacy might yet succeed. The US was tightening the economic screws on Tehran. It was pressurising others to do the same. The Europeans are being asked to cut off export credits, the Russians and Chinese to live up to their responsibilities at the United Nations. The impact, Mr Burns said, was already visible in rising popular discontent with Mr Ahmadi-Nejad within Iran. Israel should keep its warplanes on the runway.

I am not confident they will pay much heed. Mr Olmert's beleaguered coalition has been paralysed by last year's war in Lebanon. Hizbollah's latest efforts to overturn the Beirut government serve as a reminder of the failure. The danger is that Israel's weakness will act as a spur to precipitate action against Iran.

Yet if America's war in Iraq has crystallised some enmities, it is also softening others. One of the phrases I heard often spoke of a new "community of interest" between Israel and its Sunni Arab neighbours. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan feel as threatened as does Israel by Iran.

Those looking for shards of light in the darkness that is now the Middle East may find them here. If Iran is the real enemy, the time may be approaching for Israel to think hard about making peace with the Palestinians and with Syria.

Javier Solana, the European foreign policy chief, was told by Mr Olmert this week that Israel will do all it can to bolster Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, in the power struggle with Hamas. Ms Rice, the US secretary of state, intends to convene talks between Mr Olmert and Mr Abbas. Ms Rice opposes Israeli engagement with Syria, but wants to make headway with the Palestinians.

It is easier, though, to be pessimistic than optimistic. Just as the US has lost much of its leverage, so Mr Olmert lacks the political capital to take risks. Weakness, American and Israeli, is not a propitious foundation for peace.

Red, white and blue carries own meaning in West Town

Red, white and blue carries own meaning in West Town
By Ray Quintanilla
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published January 26, 2007

After years of neglect, and an attempt to cover it up, the oldest and most important mural in Chicago's Puerto Rican community is slated for renovation.

"La Crucifixion de Don Pedro Albizu Campos," which depicts three controversial Puerto Rican nationalists being crucified, was completed in 1971 by three community artists.

Over the years, the red, white and blue mural in the once predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood of West Town has faded. And the neighborhood surrounding it also has changed, as newcomers who know little about the mural's history have flocked to the area, including nearby Humboldt Park.

But the mural at the corner of North and Artesian Avenues has remained an important symbol for Puerto Ricans in the Northwest Side community, where some residents still drape the Puerto Rican flag from their windows and greet each other in Spanish.

Supporters hope that the mural will be restored by the summer, and residents can reflect on its message while sitting in an adjacent garden, thanks to a $595,000 initiative.

The first part of the plan was completed last year when the city acquired the land for the garden, which cost $470,000. The decision prevented the construction of a building that would have obstructed the view of the mural.

The next step, according to the Department of Planning, is turning over the parcel to the Near Northwest Neighborhood Network, which is leading efforts to raise $125,000 to restore the mural.

"I'm pleased to say this mural is going to be a part of this neighborhood for a long time," said Ald. Billy Ocasio (26th), who plans to support the project when it comes before the City Council later this year.

In the 1970s, West Town and Humboldt Park became destinations for Puerto Ricans, many of them young families being displaced by development along the North Side lakefront. In recent years, the growing number of new three-flats has sparked change again, with younger, white affluent couples now moving into the area.

Between 1990 and 2000, U.S. Census data show the Puerto Rican population in West Town and Humboldt Park declined by 33 percent to about 26,000.

Eliud Medina, executive director of the Near Northwest Neighborhood Network, said the mural's message transcends the area's changing demographics.

"We recognize gentrification has arrived," said Medina, 49, adding that home values and rents in the area have been on the upswing in recent years. "But that doesn't mean the mural isn't important to a lot of the Latinos who are still here. Anyone who believes in a cause should find meaning in the mural."

Fundraising is already under way, and Medina said he hopes to have $125,000 in the bank by spring when renovation of the mural is slated to begin.

Zoraida Tanon, who owns La Bruquena Restaurant in the 2700 block of West Division Street, said she recently joined efforts to raise money for the restoration. And she plans to get other nearby businesses involved, she added.

"This artwork means so much in the hearts of Chicago's Puerto Ricans," she explained. "I really believe the community will come forward with the funds to bring this mural back to life."

The mural depicts a controversial scene designed to mark the island's struggle for independence from the United States.

At the painting's center is Campos, a legendary pro-independence figure who died in 1965. He is next to Lolita Lebron and Rafael Cancel Miranda, who wounded five members of U.S. Congress when they opened fired in the gallery of the House of Representatives in 1954.

The fourth character, believed to be former Puerto Rican Gov. Luis Munoz Marin, a supporter of statehood, points a spear at Campos.

Jon Pounds, executive director of the Chicago Public Art Group, a non-profit organization advocating for restoration of the mural and other major works across the city, called the efforts "important to all people of Chicago."

"The mural is an iconic image that represents an important aspect of life as Puerto Rican people try to understand their relationship to the United States," Pounds said.

Puerto Ricans are divided, both here and on the island, between those who want the island to become the 51st state and those who want it to remain a territory. But only 2.5 percent of voters favored the idea of Puerto Rican independence when the issue was last put on the ballot in 1998.

Similarly, there is disagreement in the community about the mural's meaning and significance.

"I don't really know what it means," said Harold Muller, who rents an apartment in the 1400 block of North Artesian Avenue and moved into the neighborhood about a year ago after selling his condominium in the Loop.

"I know it's a political message of some kind. The crosses look kind of creepy to me," said Muller, 30, a financial planner.

Meanwhile, a longtime resident said she panicked about two years ago after someone spray-painted a section of the mural dark brown.

"It hurt because I really believe Americans need to see the suffering of those who fought for Puerto Rico's independence," said Marta Gonzalez, 29, who grew up nearby in the 1500 block of North Rockwell Street.

"The mural is there to give Chicago something to think about," she said.


Bitter race reflects Daley allies' division - 6 challenge Solis, including 2 from once-powerful HDO

Bitter race reflects Daley allies' division - 6 challenge Solis, including 2 from once-powerful HDO
By Dan Mihalopoulos
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published January 26, 2007

Ald. Daniel Solis (25th) would love to parlay his status as Mayor Richard Daley's highest-ranking Hispanic ally on the City Council into a seat in Congress next year.

Solis dreams of serving in a Washington ruled by Hillary Clinton, who counts Solis' sister Patti Solis Doyle among the top advisers to her presidential campaign.

But first, Solis must win re-election in the Feb. 27 election. And despite his strong ties to the mayor, six candidates are running against Solis, including two challengers from the pro-Daley Hispanic Democratic Organization.

The infighting between the mayor's Latino allies is making for one of the most bitterly contested campaigns this year.

For the last decade, Daley's political organization used the HDO to wield great influence in the city's growing Latino community. HDO patronage workers helped elect politicians loyal to the mayor. Solis was one of the aldermen who benefited from the group's vast clout.

Now, HDO's power appears to have diminished in the wake of a federal probe of illegal patronage hiring, and Solis has fallen out with the group's leaders.

HDO members Aaron del Valle and Joe D. Acevedo are trying to unseat Solis. The alderman said he has asked Daley and HDO chairman Victor Reyes, a former top mayoral aide, to encourage them to drop out.

"Are they really the mayor's allies?" Solis asked. "They are making the mayor look bad, and they are going up against one of the mayor's strongest allies in the City Council."

"We don't have any comment on either of [the challengers]," said Michele Jones, a Daley campaign spokeswoman. "The mayor has been supportive and remains supportive of Danny Solis."

That might not be clear to voters in the ward. Del Valle has distributed signs urging them to support Daley for mayor and del Valle for alderman, without giving his first name.

The signs could confuse those who might back Daley's running mate, City Clerk Miguel del Valle. The city clerk is not related to Aaron del Valle and is furious about the signs, which mimic the designs of his own campaign signs.

Solis said HDO members mistrust him because he forged ties with some of their rivals, such as U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.). Solis plans to run for Gutierrez's seat in Washington if the congressman retires next year, as he has indicated.

"They expect you to march in lockstep," Solis said of Reyes and other HDO leaders.

Through his lawyer, Reyes declined to comment. Aaron del Valle and Acevedo could not be reached for comment.

Acevedo is the brother of state Rep. Edward J. Acevedo (D-Chicago), an HDO leader. He has been on disability leave from his $28-an-hour city job as a sewer laborer for the last two years.

Aaron del Valle has worked on campaigns for HDO candidates, including state Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago) and Ald. George Cardenas (12th), records show. He has taken a leave of absence from his job as a city police officer.

Daley appointed Solis to represent the ward in 1996 and promoted him to council president pro tempore five years ago. Solis presides over council meetings when Daley is absent.

He only narrowly avoided a runoff in his last re-election run in 2003, winning 54 percent in a diverse ward that includes the Pilsen, University Village, Heart of Chicago and Chinatown neighborhoods.

New condos and townhouses have transformed many parts of the ward in recent years, causing a particularly strong outcry in the historically working-class precincts of Pilsen. His challengers accuse Solis of selling out to real-estate developers who want to gentrify the neighborhood of immigrants, Mexican businesses and murals portraying revolutionary themes.

Solis also drew the ire of organized labor by reversing his position last year on the council ordinance to increase wages at "big box" stores such as Wal-Mart. The alderman first voted for the proposal. Daley later persuaded him to switch sides and help uphold the mayor's veto of the ordinance.

Former 25th Ward Ald. Ambrosio Medrano, who went to prison in the 1990s on corruption charges, is running again for his old job after finishing second four years ago with 37 percent. Medrano said that he apologized personally to many of his former constituents and that many accepted.

"It's unfortunate, but a lot of people [in the ward] know people who have gone to jail or have relatives in jail," Medrano said. "When you fall down, they help you up, and that's what they did for me."

Another challenger is Cuahutemoc Morfin, a juvenile probation officer who helped organize last year's massive pro-immigrant marches. Morfin said he would have supported the big-box wage ordinance, calling Solis "the mayor's puppet."

Also opposing Solis are former alderman Juan M. Soliz and lawyer Martha Padilla. Padilla has sought to draw attention to her campaign by painting her name on a van and using it as a free legal clinic.

If Daniel Solis wins re-election, he probably would face his council colleague Ricardo Munoz in the 2008 Democratic primary to replace Gutierrez in Congress. Munoz also is facing several challengers to his re-election in the 22nd Ward.

Although Daley appointed Munoz in 1993, Munoz frequently criticizes the mayor and HDO and is one of the few local Hispanic elected officials not endorsing Daley for re-election.

Challengers Joaquin Salamanca, Jose M. Gutierrez and August Sallas say Munoz has failed to bring clean and safe streets to the Little Village neighborhood. The ward includes the bustling 26th Street Mexican business district.

"The ward is infested with garbage, vermin and gangs," said Salamanca, who owns a Web design firm.Gutierrez, a real estate broker, and Sallas, a perennial candidate who is customer service manager in the City Hall lobby, both ripped Munoz for opposing the installation of "blue light" police cameras in the ward. Munoz responded that increased police presence would be more useful than the cameras, a favorite Daley initiative.

Five new elementary schools and a new high school have been built in the ward during his tenure, Munoz said.

The alderman is closely aligned with organized labor and supported the proposed ordinance raising big-box wages.

"I speak my mind on citywide issues because that's what I was elected to do," Munoz said. "I represent a working-class neighborhood that needs better jobs, and if that puts me at odds with the mayor, that's it."


Thursday, January 25, 2007

The state of a deeply divided union

The state of a deeply divided union
Published: January 25 2007 02:00 | Last updated: January 25 2007 02:00
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

Give war a chance: that was the main message of George W. Bush's flat, unambitious State of the Union address on Tuesday. But critics of his plan for sending more troops to Iraq were clearly not placated by his plea for more time to make a policy that has never looked like working pay off.

Mr Bush tried all his old tricks to rally their support, suggesting that those who oppose his barely credible troop "surge" plan are merely cutting the ground from underneath the brave boys already fighting overseas. He tried to terrify the electorate with predictions of a future of more terror if the US is defeated in Iraq. He stuck in a bit of dangerous Iran-bashing - insisting that Tehran is breeding the next al-Qaeda - to justify an Iraq plan that most Americans flatly oppose.

The lukewarm reaction from both sides made clear that it is simply too late for real bipartisanship on this issue: Mr Bush squandered his last chance to unify the nation behind a solution for Iraq when he brushed aside the Baker-Hamilton report. Unless Congress can summon the courage and resolve to cut off funds for the surge plan (which seems highly unlikely, however many angry non-binding resolutions it passes), Mr Bush will probably do what he has always done in the war on terror: go his own way, and damn the opposition.

But Iraq was not the only focus of Tuesday's speech: Mr Bush also tried to distract the nation from talk of war.

Struggling to sound relevant in a world where Democrats hold a majority in Congress, Mr Bush tried to capture the national imagination with domestic initiatives that included reducing petrol consumption and extending healthcare to more uninsured Americans.

But it was a meagre menu, short on substantive new ideas and especially bereft of proposals that have any chance of surviving in the newly Democratic Congress.

Mr Bush called for a 20 per cent cut in petrol use over 10 years, and a huge increase in alternative fuels. But US presidents have been vowing to achieve energy independence since Richard Nixon in the 1970s, and the plan faces many obstacles. It is hard to believe that this politically hamstrung president can make energy his legacy.

His proposal to use taxes to subsidise healthcare for the uninsured is more interesting - but hardly more politically viable. Leading Democrats trashed the plan even before he announced it: many of them are jealously guarding the issue to form the main plank of their presidential campaign in 2008.

That, perhaps, was the real (if unspoken) message of Tuesday's speech. On domestic policy, there is just so much a lame-duck president facing a hostile Congress can do - which may only tempt this particular president to flex his muscles further on foreign policy. And that may not be good news for America - or for anyone else.

A president bound by his own failures

A president bound by his own failures
By Jacob Weisberg
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: January 25 2007 02:00 | Last updated: January 25 2007 02:00

For the past six years, George W. Bush has treated Congress the way he treats the United Nations, the press and most of his own cabinet secretaries - as an unavoidable irritant. In spite of having run for president in 2000 on the strength of his ability to find compromise with the Democratically controlled legislature in Texas when governor, he has for the better part of six years treated the people's representatives with barely veiled contempt.

Once established in the White House, Mr Bush the "uniter" quickly became Mr Bush the "decider". In the Bush Constitution, as opposed to the US Constitution, the executive leads, the legislature accedes and the judiciary defers.

This imperious attitude has characterised Mr Bush's major speeches to Congress. His previous State of the Union addresses have all represented attempts - more successful than not in the first term, more not than successful in the second - to impose his will on Washington. His administration's attitude towards Congressional challenge was perhaps best summed up by Dick Cheney's suggestion on the Senate floor that Pat Leahy of Vermont perform an anatomical impossibility.

It would be foolhardy to think that Mr Bush's true feelings have changed. Until the day he leaves office, he will regard members of Congress as meddlesome Lilliputians trying to tie him down. But the reality is that they have now tied him down.

Faced with an assertive and so far remarkably effective Democratic Congress - and with no supportive public to turn to - Mr Bush must suppress his tendency to arrogance and bullying as best he can. He isno longer in a position to dictate terms.

Mr Bush's grudging recognition of this reality is the key to last night's speech. It explains the elaborate obsequies offered to Nancy Pelosi, the house speaker; the conciliatory tone ("Our citizens don't much care which side of the aisle we sit on - as long as we are willing to cross that aisle"); the absence of Mr Bush's familiar taunting and demagoguery; his offer to include members of Congress in a "special advisory council" on terrorism; and even Mr Bush's plaintive request that they give his new Iraq strategy a chance.

It also explains the curiously moderate policy ideas he offered. The most interesting was a newhealthcare plan. Mr Bush proposed that employer-provided insurance be taxed over the threshold of $7,500 (£3,800) for individuals and $15,000 for families. With the funds raised by this tax increase - and make no mistake, a tax increase is precisely what it is - Mr Bush would make privately purchased insurance deductible as well, up to the same limits.

While this plan falls far short of universal coverage, it is a plausible and progressive step. Capping the deductibility of insurance would help to control healthcare costs, because an unbounded tax subsidy encourages Americans to buy more treatment than they really need. Extending this benefit to those who do not get coverage through their work willhelp the uninsured to afford insurance, especially if the tax deduction evolves into a tax credit. Were the source different, Democrats might embrace this proposal instead of excoriating it.

The same is true of Mr Bush's energy suggestions, which included an explicit target for reducing petrol consumption (20 per cent over 10 years), a push toward alternative fuels and his first-ever endorsement of fuel economy standards for cars.

On immigration, too, Mr Bush gave Democrats cover and angered Republicans, with his support for a robust "guest worker" system and his call to steer a middle path between "amnesty" and "animosity" toward illegal residents.

Mr Bush's new tone comes easily to him because he has taken it before - not only during the 2000 campaign, but in the early months of his presidency, when he struck a deal with Ted Kennedy and the Democrats on education reform. Mr Bush also finds a model for his new stance in a man he despises - Bill Clinton, in the final, post-impeachment phase of his presidency. Mr Bush hopes to emulate the way Mr Clinton avoided becoming a lame duck after many wrote him off by thinking smaller, coming up with creative solutions and selectively seeking compromise with his congressional opponents.

The embarrassment Mr Bush faces is similarly of his own making, but the comparison ends there.

The president lacks Mr Clinton's patience, his policy acumen and his ability to cast a temporary spell over his political enemies. Even if MrBush can sustain his new tone into next week, Democrats are notinclined to respond in kind. In his official response, Senator JamesWebb of Virginia said that if MrBush will not follow them,Democrats can govern without him because they represent the people's will. Mr Cheney put it more succinctly.

However, if only because he is stubborn and wields a veto pen, Mr Bush remains central to the question of what Congress can accomplish over the next two years.

Democrats, no less than Republicans, now face the quandary of how to deal with the problem of a ruined president. Shall they work with Mr Bush in pursuit of legislative accomplishments for which he would share the credit? Or shall they hold out for his utter subjugation and defeat?

The writer is editor of

Bush fails to stem erosion of authority

Bush fails to stem erosion of authority
By Edward Luce in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: January 24 2007 19:41 | Last updated: January 24 2007 19:41

Although it had been billed as one of the most important speeches of his presidency, there were few signs on Wednesday that George W. Bush’s State of the Union address had succeeded in stemming the rapid haemorrhaging of his authority.

A number of leading Democrats, including Barack Obama, a front-runner for the 2008 presidential campaign, evinced cautious welcomes for Mr Bush’s modest proposals to address global warming and healthcare reform.

But most Democrats and several prominent Republicans remained fixed on Mr Bush’s unwillingness to listen to his growing army of critics over the war in Iraq, to which he devoted about a quarter of the 50-minute speech on Tuesday night.

In spite of an impassioned plea for Congress to give his Iraq strategy a chance, Mr Bush failed even to sway waverers within his own party.

Several leading Republicans, including John Warner, the former chairman of the senate armed services committee, plan to go ahead with resolutions that oppose Mr Bush’s 21,500 troop “surge” to Iraq.

“If people like John Warner, who represents the southern and military heart of the Republican party, are now abandoning Mr Bush over Iraq then he is going to come under acute pressure to reverse course,” said Bruce Riedel at the Saban Centre for the Middle East in Washington DC. “His speech failed to dent those defections.”

On domestic policy, meanwhile, the Democratic leadership in both houses dismissed Mr Bush’s proposals as either too timid or irrelevant. Mr Bush was also criticised for failing to mention reconstruction in New Orleans following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“We were very surprised last night when the president talked about the city of Baghdad that he did not mention the city of Detroit or Louisville or Minneapolis or, most importantly, the city of New Orleans,” said Debbie Stabenow, Democratic senator for Michigan.

In contrast to his six previous State of the Union addresses, Mr Bush appealed to Congress, which turned Democrat last November for the first time in his presidency, to work “across the aisle” in a bipartisan way in order to “achieve big things for the American people”. But the already-weak prospects for a fruitful White House legislative agenda over the next 18 months appear only to have waned further.

“If you want to see bold bipartisan action between now and 2008 you should look to America’s democratic laboratories at the state level where states like California and Massachusetts are showing the way on issues like healthcare and global warming,” said Ted Halstead, president of the Centre for the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank in Washington.

As authority drains from the White House, Washington is also increasingly looking to the large and growing field of 2008 presidential candidates – most of whom are in the Senate – to provide a lead on big policy ideas, such as healthcare, Iraq and climate change. With the exception of John McCain, who dutifully welcomed Mr Bush’s restated Iraq plan, almost all others were either critical or lukewarm.

Hillary Clinton, who entered the race last weekend, spoke for most Democrats when she opposed Mr Bush’s proposal to put a cap on employer-provided health benefits and extend higher subsidies to individuals. The former first lady said it would do very little to bring in the 47m Americans who have no health insurance.

Likewise on global warming, Mr Bush’s ideas were dismissed as too little too late. “In last year’s State of the Union, Mr Bush said we were addicted to oil and nothing happened,” said Evan Bayh, Democratic senator for Indiana. “Doing little or nothing on this issue is not good enough any more.”

But it was Jim Webb, the newly elected Democratic senator for Virginia, who best summarised Mr Bush’s prospects when he gave his party’s response straight after the president’s speech on prime time television.

Mr Webb, a Vietnam veteran, called on the president to follow the lead of some of his most illustrious predecessors who had changed course dramatically in mid-stream. “If he does, then we will join him,” said Mr Webb, “If he does not, then we will be showing him the way.”

Ford falls to record full-year loss of $12.7bn

Ford falls to record full-year loss of $12.7bn
By John Reed in London
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: January 25 2007 12:55 | Last updated: January 25 2007 13:23

Ford Motor on Thursday reported a net loss of $12.7bn or $6.79 a share for 2006, the largest in its 103-year history and one of the largest ever for a carmaker.

The figure exceeds the $10.6bn net loss reported by General Motors in 2005, previously the largest reported in recent years by any of Detroit’s troubled Big Three automakers.

Ford’s net loss includes a total of $9.9bn costs associated with its restructuring efforts and fixed impairments. Before Thursday’s announcement, analysts had said they expected Ford to take large charges on its earnings in order to reflect the full brunt of its massive ongoing restructuring.

The company’s largest previous net loss was $7.3 bn in 1992, and it reported net income of $1.4 bn, or 77 cents a share in 2005.

The net loss for the fourth quarter of 2006 was $5.8 bn, or $3.05 a share.

Ford’s full-year sales and revenue for 2006 was $160.1bn, down from $176.9bn a year ago, reflecting its rapid loss of market share in its core North American market.

Seeking to stem its mounting losses, Ford last year introduced its Way Forward plan under which it is reducing staff, cutting costs, and revamping its product line. Ford has said it does not expect its North American operations to return to profitability before 2009.

Last year about 38,000 hourly workers at Ford and its Automotive Component Holdings division accepted buyout packages. Ford’s white-collar staff is to be reduced by 14,000 or about a third under the restructuring plan.

The effort is being led by chief executive Alan Mulally, the Boeing executive who last year replaced Bill Ford, Ford’s chairman and a member of the company’s controlling shareholder family.

Last month Ford raised $23.5 bn of new liquidity by leveraging its assets to give itself breathing room as it seeks to remake its business.

“We began aggressive actions in 2006 to restructure our automotive business so we can operate profitably at lower volumes and with a product mix that better reflects consumer demand for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles,” Mr Mulally said in a statement.

“We fully recognise our business reality and are dealing with it. We have a plan and we are on track to deliver.”

Ford is due to give more details about its earnings in conference calls with media and investors later on Thursday.

Taken by region, Ford’s North American automotive operations reported a pre-tax loss of $6.1bn, compared to a loss of $1.5bn in 2005. This reflected in part higher incentive spending, lower market share and a reduction of dealer stocks, partially offset by cost reductions.

Ford’s sales in North America, its core market, were $69.4bn for the year, compared to $80.6bn a year ago.

The company reported profits of $551m and $469m, respectively, from its South American and European divisions, but a loss of $185m from Asia-Pacific and Africa.

The Premier Automotive Group, which owns the Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin brands, reported a full-year pre-tax loss of $327 m, compared with a pre-tax loss of $89 m a year ago.

Ford, which is in the process of selling Aston Martin, says it has no current plans to sell its troubled Jaguar marque, but is understood to have tested the market for potential buyers.

Ford does not break down the earnings of PAG’s individual brands, but the Detroit News newspaper this week reported that the Jaguar brand lost more than $715 m in 2006, citing an internal analysis presented to Ford executives.

Ford’s share of the profit of Japan’s Mazda, of which it owns 33.4 per cent, was $168m, down from $255m a year ago.

In 2007, Ford predicted that its U.S. market share would continue to decline, but that market share in other regions would increase. The company said its cash flow would be negative, and its capital spending would be about $7 bn.

In line with previous guidance, Ford said its North American operation would continue to lose money, but it forecast a return to profit for PAG.

Like Detroit’s other automakers, Ford is struggling with high raw-material costs, large pension and healthcare liabilities, and intensifying competition from foreign rivals.

GM, which lost more than $3 bn in the first nine months of 2006, is due to release its fourth-quarter and annual earnings on January 30. DaimlerChrysler will report earnings on February 14, when it is also due to announce a restructuring plan for its lossmaking US Chrysler division.

'Grey's' star in treatment facility

'Grey's' star in treatment facility
By Maureen Ryan
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published January 25, 2007

Shonda Rhimes, executive producer and creator of "Grey's Anatomy," spoke out Wednesday about a cast controversy that has engulfed the show, as the actor at the center of the flap sought counseling.

Actor Isaiah Washington uttered an anti-gay slur at the Golden Globes last week--in the midst of denying he had used the word in an October fracas concerning co-star T.R. Knight on the ABC show's set.

"I speak for all the executive producers here at `Grey's Anatomy' when I say that Isaiah Washington's use of such a disturbing word was a shocking and dismaying event," Rhimes' statement said.

"We applaud and encourage Isaiah's realization that he needs help and his subsequent choice to seek immediate treatment for his behavioral issues," added Rhimes, who had faced fan criticism for not speaking out immediately.

Her statement, which was released after an article about the controversy in Thursday's Tempo section went to press, didn't address whether Washington will stay with the show.

Washington, 43, entered a treatment facility for psychological counseling Wednesday and is expected to stay for a week. He issued a statement, which read, in part, "I regard this as a necessary step toward understanding why I did what I did and making sure it never happens again."


The Personals page was compiled by Emily Rosenbaum from Tribune news services and staff reports.

International Herald Tribune Editorial - A healthy Wall Street

International Herald Tribune Editorial - A healthy Wall Street
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: January 24, 2007

A healthy financial sector is crucial to the economic well-being of the United States and to New York City in particular. And it is true that Wall Street is facing ever stiffer competition from financial markets like London's and Hong Kong's. But beware of the doomsayers who argue that U.S. markets are in free fall and contend that looser regulations are the only way to save them.

Senator Charles Schumer of New York and the city's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, joined that chorus this week. In a new report, they warn that without changes to what they call America's "stringent regulations and high litigation risks," the U.S. share of the lucrative finance business will decline further, at a cost of billions of dollars and thousands of jobs.

We certainly do not want U.S. regulations to drive away good business. But it is first important to remember that when investors lose their shirts in huge frauds like Enron, plenty of damage is done to markets as well. And any discussion about the health of America's financial industry must be as open as possible. This report at times seems to cull facts to prove predetermined conclusions.

For example, to support its argument that U.S. markets are losing ground, the report notes that over the first 10 months of 2006, U.S. exchanges managed barely a third of the overall share of initial public offerings that they did in 2001. It strikes us as odd that a report released in late January could not include data from the previous November. In that month, the Securities and Exchange Commission registered 32 initial public offerings worth a total of $8 billion — the highest monthly total in five years.

The report goes on to say that the number and cost of securities class- action settlements in the United States set an all-time high in 2005.

That is hardly surprising, considering the many settlements in that year stemming from the enormous fraud at WorldCom. But what about last year? The number of securities fraud class-action suits fell 38 percent in 2006, to the lowest level in 10 years.

The report raises some valuable questions, and we agree with some of its conclusions. Loosening restrictions on work visas for talented foreigners and visitor visas for dealmakers strikes us as essential.

While some common-sense changes are needed, shareholder rights and market stability cannot be trampled in the rush for competitive advantages. U.S. financial markets are still the largest in the world, and Wall Street just enjoyed a year of record profits. And while we are talking about reforms, financial firms might ask whether lower underwriting fees and smaller bonuses could also contribute to their long-term health and the health of U.S. financial markets.

International Herald Tribune Editorial - The state of the union

International Herald Tribune Editorial - The state of the union
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: January 24, 2007

The White House spin ahead of George W. Bush's seventh State of the Union address was that the president would make a bipartisan call to revive his domestic agenda with "bold and innovative concepts." The problem with that was obvious on Tuesday night — in six years, Bush has shown no interest in bipartisanship, and his domestic agenda was set years ago, with huge tax cuts for wealthy Americans and crippling debt for the United States.

Combined with the mounting cost of the war in Iraq, that makes boldness and innovation impossible unless Bush truly changes course.

And he gave no hint of that on Tuesday. Instead, he offered up a tepid menu of ideas that would change little: a health insurance notion that would make only a tiny dent in a huge problem. Promises about cutting oil consumption with barely a word about global warming. And the same lip service about immigration reform on which he has failed to deliver.

At times, Bush sounded almost as if he had gotten the message of the 2006 elections. "Our citizens don't much care which side of the aisle we sit on — as long as we are willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done," he said.

But we have heard that from Bush before. In early 2001, he promised to bring Americans together and instead embarked on his irresponsible tax cuts, a divisive right-wing social agenda and a neo-conservative foreign policy that tore up international treaties and alienated even America's closest allies. In the wake of Sept. 11, Bush had a second chance to rally the United States — and the world — only to squander it on a pointless, catastrophic war in Iraq. Bush promised bipartisanship after his re-election in 2004, and again after Hurricane Katrina.

He failed to deliver. He did not even mention New Orleans on Tuesday night.

When Republicans controlled Congress and the White House, Bush's only real interest was in making their majority permanent; consultation meant telling the Democrats what he had decided.

Neither broken promises nor failed policies changed Bush's mind. So America has been saddled with tax cuts that have turned a budget surplus into a big deficit, education reform that has been badly managed and underfinanced, the dismantling of regulations in order to benefit corporations at the expense of workers, and a triumph of ideology over science in policy making on the environment and medical research. All along, Americans' civil liberties have been trampled by a president determined to assert ever more power.

Now that the Democrats have taken Congress, Bush is acting as if he'd had the door to compromise open all along and the Democrats had refused to walk through it.

Bush also acted on Tuesday as if he were really doing something to help the 47 million people in this country who don't have health insurance. What he offered, by the White House's own estimate, would take a few million off that scandalously high number and shift the burden to the states. Bush's plan would put a new tax on Americans who were lucky enough to still have good health-care coverage through their employers.

Bush's comments on Iraq added nothing to his failed policies. He did, at last, propose a permanent increase in the size of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps that would repair some of the damage he has done to those forces. But that would take years, and it would do nothing to halt Iraq's spiral. Bush failed to explain how he would pay for a larger force, which would almost certainly require cutting budget-busting weapons programs. That would mean going up against the arms industry and its lobbyists — something Bush has never been willing to do.

Bush almost certainly did not intend it, but his speech did reinforce one vital political fact — that it's not just up to him anymore. There was a big change Tuesday night: the audience. Instead of solid Republican majorities marching in lock step with the White House, Congress is controlled by Democrats. It will be their task to give leadership to a nation that desperately wants change and expects its leaders to work together to deliver it. The Democrats' challenge will be to form real coalitions with willing Republicans. If they do, Bush may even be forced, finally, to compromise.

Say what you will about the flaws of the two-party system. After six years of the Bush presidency, at least we know it's a lot better than the one- party system.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Book Party at Sidetrack

Book Party at Sidetrack
Copyright by The Windy City Times

Local writer Carlos Mock held an official book-release party for his latest work—the thriller Mosaic Virus—on Jan. 16 at Sidetrack, 3349 N. Halsted. The event was one of a series of discussions that Mock and Felice Picano, a revered writer who resides in Los Angeles, led.
Picano has published more than 20 volumes of fiction, poetry, memoirs and other books. Considered a founder of modern gay literature along with the six other members of the Violet Quill Club, he also founded two publishing companies: the SeaHorse Press and Gay Presses of New York. Mock, who has also penned several works, lives in Chicago with his life partner, Bill Rattan.

Picture of Mock, Picano and Sidetrack co-owner Art Johnston ( left to right ) by Emmanuel Garcia

South Side Forum on Hate Crime

South Side Forum on Hate Crime
by Andrew Davis
Copyright by The Windy City times

Earnest Hite and Darrell Gordon. Lt. Regina Evans and Ald. Michelle Harris listen at the forum. Pic by Andrew Davis

LGBT-related issues concerning Chicago’s South Side—including the 8th Ward, site of a devastating crime—were the focus of a brainstorming session and a youth collaborative that both took place on Jan. 18 at the Youth Pride Center, 637 S. Dearborn.

In the early-morning hours on Dec. 31, six Black males were shot at a party on the 7900 block of South Woodlawn. ( All were admitted to area hospitals and have been released. ) However, the crime—still unsolved—has set in motion a flurry of activity, including a Martin Luther King, Jr., Day march down 79th Street and several meetings, such as the events that occurred last Thursday.

A panel consisting of 8th Ward Ald. Michelle Harris; Anthony Scalise, commanding officer of the Chicago Police Department’s civil-rights section; Lt. Regina Evans of the Chicago Police’s Fourth District; and mayoral liaison Bill Greaves ( who also moderated the meeting ) listened as approximately 40 people—including 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney; Vernita Gray of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office; and community activists Earnest Hite, Keith Green, Tommy Avant-Garde Sampson, Marc Loveless and Darrell Gordon—passionately and clearly aired issues and ideas.

However, before people offered suggestions, Scalese discussed the shootings as well as a robbery that took place on Jan. 13 on 79th and Jeffrey. Scalese, part of the police’s Civil Rights Unit ( which investigates suspected hate crimes such as the shootings ) , stressed that the department is assisting Area Two authorities. “We’re in a support mode with [ that ] division,” he said. “We’ve helped canvas, we’ve done some interviews and we’ve helped uncover some leads, but the matter is still with area detectives because, at this point, it’s very difficult to say that it’s a hate crime.”

He added that “when we investigate a hate crime, there are certain indicators that lead us in that direction. The presence of one or two indicators doesn’t always mean it’s a hate crime; things are not always what they appear to be—especially in police work. The indicator that we do have here is that it was a party attended by all gay men; we know that.

“ [ What we also know ] is that two masked men entered, never said a word and opened fire. There’s a lot we have to uncover here. ... We have to look for a hate motive but we also have to look for other motives.” He added that they have gone to Cook County Crimestoppers and that there’s a flyer that offers a description of the crime as well as a $1,000 reward for relevant information that leads to the apprehension of the perpetrators.

Scalese also took some time to discuss the elements of the hate-crime statute. “The state would have to be able to prove motive,” he said. “The shooting is being handled as an aggravated battery, which is a Class 3 felony; the hate-crime charge is a Class 2 felony. If we get these [ shooters ] , the state will probably charge them with a Class 3 felony. The aggravated-battery charge is the more serious charge, even though the crime might be classified as a hate crime—so the judge will have leeway to sentence to the maximum because hate was the motivating factor in the case. With misdemeanors, a hate [ -related motive ] can enhance the crime to a felony [ which is more serious ] ; it’s called a penalty-enhancing statute.”

Among the issues/ideas that were discussed were training for the police; assessing school curricula; continuing to investigate and provide updates on the treatment of the shooting victims; and starting community groups as well as public meetings. “African Americans are the number one group most likely to be targeted, followed by Jews, who are followed by gays and lesbians,” said Gray. “ [ This ] means that African-American gays and lesbians are in two of the top three categories to be targeted for hate crimes. So we’re targeted out in downtown Chicago, and then we’re targeted in our communities. We’re two-fers.”

Another idea came from Tunney, who suggested having the Lesbian and Gay Police Association involved. Safety, which one attendee described as “paramount for everyone,” was also discussed.

Masculinity was another issue that was brought up, and it was also discussed that, in some people’s eyes, being a gay male is not the same thing as being a masculine one. Natalie Bennett of DePaul University also suggested that this way of thinking is tied into sexism and the fact that, ultimately, some heterosexual males may be displaying enmity toward females in attacking males who “not masculine.”

Yet another topic that came up concerned the emphasis on having allies support the 8th Ward LGBT community. Attendees said that the result would be more visibility regarding the demographic and its issues—plus, as one person said, “it’s harder for a straight person to tell another straight person ‘no’ about [ an issue ] .”

Several individuals volunteered to become part of a task force to look into issues that concern the 8th Ward’s LGBT community. ( Greaves stated that the organization will hopefully include “representation from the police and religious leaders” as well as residents from the ward. ) The nascent group will examine the issues discussed at this meeting.

During the meeting, Harris admitted that she did not understand many LGBT-related issues but added that she was willing to learn. “That’s why we’re setting the task force with people from the community [ who ] can help me address the issues,” she said. “I’m not gay; I don’t know. In order to educate the community; I’ve got to be on target and understand the issues.”

Youths speak out

Later that evening, a large group of youths held its own forum. ( A few older adults [ 30+ ] also attended, but the focus of this meeting was on younger adults and teens. ) The youths were asked questions concerning their feelings about the South Side, masculinity and the New Year’s Eve shootings, among other things. Some of the questions asked were:

— Do you feel safe on the South Side? One person said that he felt safe, but the others who responded said no, including one who said that he feels “safe until 55th Street.” Another suggested that “safety depends on yourself and how you carry yourself,” although another countered that people should be able to go anywhere regardless of who they are.

— Have you been a hate-crime victim and have you reported the crime to the police? Several youths said that they have been robbery victims, and that anti-gay slurs were uttered by the perpetrators. One said that it just “comes down to protecting yourself. It’s common sense; your life isn’t worth five dollars or a cell phone.”

— What are the myths about the shootings at 79th and Woodlawn? One person said she had heard that people died, although all of the victims have recovered from their wounds. Another who spoke was one of the individuals who threw the party. “It was just a house party, and it went off without a hitch,” he said. “When the gunshots went off, we thought it was a joke [ at first ] .” The individual, who said that two bullets happen to miss him, added that “there was no fight at the party” and that “we have [ ideas about who the shooters are ] but we don’t know [ exactly ] who it was. ... Before we throw another party, we’ll make sure the space is safe.” When asked if he felt like the partygoers were targeted because of their sexual orientation, the individuals responded, “Yes.”

The older individuals in the room also had their say. Power was one topic the older adults emphasized repeatedly. Whether it was Alicia Ozier of TaskForce Prevention & Community Services talking about self-defense and organizing activities; Sankofa Way’s Rev. Deborah Lake stressing economic power; or activist Jerry Lightfoot discussing strength through unity and respect, power was a recurring theme that the more mature individuals hoped that the younger attendees took to heart.

Clark’s on Clark to close doors

Clark’s on Clark to close doors
Copyright by Gay Chicago Magazine
January 23, 2007

CHICAGO - After 19 years, Clark’s on Clark will celebrate it’s final last call on Sunday night Jan. 28. At 4 a.m., the staff and owners will bid farewell to the customers, family and friends that have made Clark’s successful over the years.

“I’m proud of Clark’s and what we have become in the community,” said owners Larry Belgrow and Gary Werle. “Our staff has made Clark’s one of the community’s most popular destinations for afternoon and late-night crowds. Our goal from the beginning was to provide a fun and casual atmosphere for our patrons. In that philosophy, we have celebrated special occasions and advances for our rights and also had the sad honor of hosting countless memorial services for both staff and customers. We have helped community organizations by hosting fund-raisers and have had the distinct pleasure to welcome new friends through our different sports teams: bowling, pool, softball and darts.”

On this farewell, Clark’s on Clark would like to thank the staff and customers who have helped make the bar successful over the years.

Bumpy ride on way to White House

Bumpy ride on way to White House
By Clarence Page
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published January 24, 2007

WASHINGTON -- "A lie can travel halfway around the world," Mark Twain is said to have exclaimed, "while the truth is putting on its shoes." What an optimist he was. In this age of the Internet, lies go around the globe many times before the truth can even find its shoes.

Just ask Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama. Just as Illinois' rising superstar senator announced his White House bid, an anti-Obama smear campaign was percolating in cyberspace and popping up in countless e-mail boxes, including mine.

And by the time Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) announced her presidential bid Saturday, the Obama rumor had taken on new legs in the mainstream media, thanks to an unfounded accusation linking the rumor to "the Hillary Clinton camp."

The Web site of the conservative magazine Insight alleged that Democrats "connected" to the New York senator had discovered that Obama had studied at a madrassa, a Muslim religious school, for four years while living in Indonesia as a kid and doesn't want anyone to know about it.

Besides its incendiary implications of anti-Muslim paranoia, the allegation of an Obama coverup and the Clinton outing is simply wrong, wrong and wrong.

First, Obama was not secretly educated in a radical Islamic school when he was growing up in Indonesia. That was confirmed Monday by CNN senior international correspondent John Vause, reporting from Jakarta. With pictures and interviews that include one of young "Barry" (his childhood nickname) Obama's classmates, Vause found that the Besuki School is not and never was a madrassa. It is a secular public school attended mostly by Muslims.

That's not surprising, since Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim country. Yet, about a fourth of the school's enrollment was non-Muslim, like young Barry, as it is now. Children and teachers wear conventional Western dress, not Eastern religious garb, and theology is found only in a weekly class on comparative religions.

Insight also said Obama's political rivals "are seeking to prove" that the school promoted Wahhabism, an austere form of Islam that fuels many Islamic terrorists. But Vause observed on CNN that "I've been to those madrassas in Pakistan ... this school is nothing like that."

Yet, no matter how many facts you dig up, truth has a tough time standing up to a juicy rumor. By the time CNN debunked the unfounded allegations, they had been repeated on Fox News, The New York Post, the Glenn Beck program on CNN Headline News and other outlets. To hear some of the chatter, you would have thought that Clinton's campaign had all but outed Obama as an Al Qaeda agent.

Welcome to the big leagues, senators. Whisper campaigns are a sad reality of politics. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) knows. Vicious rumors that were traced back to the George W. Bush camp helped undo McCain's momentum in South Carolina's critical Republican primary campaign in 2000.

The Internet only deepens the targeted candidate's dilemma: If you deny rumors that are just bubbling around cyberspace, that public denial makes them more newsworthy in the mainstream media. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) learned that in 2004 when his candid denials on Don Imus' radio show of rumored hanky-panky with a young female staffer ("There's nothing to it.") actually helped to spread the unfounded rumors. The rumor was not sufficiently newsworthy for The New York Times and others to report, but Kerry's response to it was.

But if politicians don't respond, they risk the corrosive effect that unanswered charges can have on their campaign. Kerry, again, offered an excellent example by failing to respond to attack ads by Swift Boat Veterans for more than two weeks.

And Hillary Clinton is no political patsy. Although quite a few Democrats sound nervous about her vulnerabilities, one of her strengths as a campaigner is her experience, along with her ex-president husband, at weathering political storms.

Obama's just beginning to learn. Worse is yet to come. If one can be condemned by faint praise, Obama should feel praised so far by faint condemnation. If empty rumors are the worst that his enemies can come up with in their desperate attempts to chip away at his amazingly pristine image, he's doing remarkably well. But, fasten your seat belt, Senator. It's going to be a bumpy ride, to paraphrase Bette Davis in "All About Eve."

And with this much mudslinging a year before the first primary and caucus votes are cast, this presidential contest will be a big test not only for the candidates, but also for the rest of us.

There's a lot of speculation going on about whether we Americans are ready to elect a black or a female president. The real question is whether we are ready to be fair to all candidates, despite the spin doctors, mudslingers and rumormongers who betray our hopes and play on our fears.


Clarence Page is a member of the Tribune's editorial board. E-mail:

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Chemical insecurity

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Chemical insecurity
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: January 23, 2007

The new Democratic leadership in Congress has a chance to finally do what the Republican Congress and the Bush administration failed to do after Sept. 11: To protect America's chemical plants from an attack. Lawmakers should stop the Homeland Security Department from adopting new regulations that would block state and local governments from doing more to protect their residents and should finally pass a federal law with teeth.

An attack on a single plant could release deadly chemicals that could put hundreds of thousands of people at risk. But since Sept. 11, the chemical industry — a major campaign contributor — has managed to ward off any significant new federal rules that might require it to spend money to increase security.

Now it is going a step further by trying to get the federal government to "pre-empt," or invalidate, state and local efforts to impose safety standards. Supporters of pre- emption always claim that they just want a uniform standard. But in situations like this one — where the federal law is absurdly weak — it is obvious that the real agenda is to block serious safety measures at every level of government.

Congress wisely refused to include a pre-emption provision in legislation it adopted last year. Now, however, the Homeland Security Department has proposed regulations that would give itself the authority to pre-empt state and local laws. If the proposed regulations were adopted, they could wipe away the serious chemical plant security law that New Jersey has passed, and prevent other states and cities from requiring the chemical industry to do more to protect their residents.

It is up to Congress to act. It should block these deeply flawed regulations and move quickly to pass a comprehensive law that imposes tough requirements on chemical plants to harden their facilities.

Last year Congress passed a bad rider, backed by the industry, that gives the chemical industry far too much leeway to decide on its own how its plants are vulnerable and how to protect them. The new law should contain specific requirements for plant safety. It should also require companies to switch to safer chemicals when the cost is not prohibitive, a key safety measure that the industry has resisted. And it should clearly state that federal chemical- plant laws do not pre-empt state and local laws. Congress should finally put the public's safety ahead of the chemical industry's bottom line.

China confirms antisatellite test

China confirms antisatellite test
By Joseph Kahn
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: January 23, 2007

BEIJING: The Chinese government confirmed Tuesday it had conducted a successful test of a new antisatellite weapon, but said it had no intention of participating in a "space race."

The confirmation, made at a regular news briefing held by the Foreign Ministry, came 12 days after China used a medium-range ballistic missile to destroy one of its own weather satellites, which was orbiting about 860 kilometers, or 535 miles, above Earth.

The United States, Japan, Britain and Australia had pressed Beijing to explain the test, apparently the first successful destruction in more than 20 years of a satellite in orbit.

Despite numerous press reports last week quoting Bush administration officials describing the exercise in detail, Chinese officials declined to confirm or deny whether it had occurred. Liu Jianchao, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, issued the first official comment on the matter Tuesday.

"This test was not directed at any country and does not constitute a threat to any country," he said.
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"What needs to be stressed is that China has always advocated the peaceful use of space, opposes the weaponization of space and an arms race in space," he said. "China has never participated and will never participate in any arms race in outer space."

Liu did not say why the 2nd Artillery Battalion of the People's Liberation Army had conducted the test. He also did not directly address concerns that shattering a satellite in low-earth orbit might be perceived as inconsistent with China's repeated calls to ban the use of weapons in space.

Beijing's prolonged silence about the test, which American intelligence officials said took place on Jan. 11, raised speculation about China's intentions and the circumstances surrounding the firing of the missile.

Senior Bush administration officials raised the possibility that the blackout of information may have reflected the autonomy and isolation of the military. They said they could not be sure that President Hu Jintao, who oversees the military and the ruling Communist Party, had personally authorized or overseen the test.

Liu denied Tuesday that officials had taken too much time before speaking publicly.

"China has nothing to hide," he said. "After various parties expressed concerns, we explained this test in outer space to them."

Japanese and American officials said that China did not volunteer any information about the test until they had made formal diplomatic inquiries, and that it took at least four days to get a reply.

Independent experts on the Chinese military said that China has sought a workable antisatellite weapon since the 1980s. It has experimented with using lasers and kinetic force, such as missiles or other satellites, to disable or destroy satellites in orbit.

One reason is that the United States military depends heavily on satellites for missile guidance, navigation and communications, and any widespread damage to that infrastructure would hamper military action overseas.

China has long feared that the United States might intervene in the event of a military conflict with Taiwan, and it has invested heavily in new weapons that experts say are geared toward giving it the power to attack Taiwan while keeping American forces at bay.

But others said China's intentions in conducting this test may have been more diplomatic in nature, designed to pressure the United States to negotiate a treaty to ban weapons in space. Russia and China have pressed for such a treaty, but the Bush administration has declined to participate in such talks.

Over the summer, President George W. Bush authorized a new space policy that seeks to preserve "freedom of action" in space, and he said that the United States reserves the right to use force against countries that seek to disrupt American satellites.

Xu Guangyu, a former Chinese Army officer and an official at the government-run China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said that the antisatellite test amounted to an attempt to redefine the "rules of the game" and bring the United States to the negotiating table. "What China is saying is, Let's sit down and talk," Xu said. "There is a trend toward weaponization of space that no one, especially China, wants to see."

He criticized the Bush administration for declining to join international negotiations on the issue. He said that the United States and the former Soviet Union first used antisatellite weapons in the 1980s.

"It is purely catch-up," he said. "Our policy of using space for peaceful purposes absolutely has not changed."

China has rapidly become the world's third major space power, after Russia and the United States. In 2003, a Chinese astronaut circled the earth in a space vehicle. China also plans to send a robot to the moon by 2017.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Point Foundation opens 2007 application season

Point Foundation opens 2007 application season
Copyright by Gay Chicago Magazine
January 16, 2007

LOS ANGELES, CA - Point Foundation, the national nonprofit foundation supporting academic achievement in higher education among LGBT youth, announced the opening of its 2007 application season. Students who will be enrolled in undergraduate or graduate programs for the 2007-08 school year are eligible to apply for the prestigious, multiyear scholarships. The application deadline for this year’s scholarships is March 1.

Point Foundation Board Chair Bruce Lindstrom, who founded the organization with his partner Carl Strickland in 2001, is looking forward to the selection process, which begins with written online applications and concludes with face-to-face interviews with selected finalists in April.

“The application and selection process is rigorous but rewarding,” he said. “It’s quite inspiring to meet so many outstanding LGBT students who represent this community’s future leaders. Our staff, trustees and directors look forward to the process with great anticipation. To be a part of this process is both a great honor and a great responsibility,” he concluded.

Point Scholarships are substantial. While the average scholarship award is approximately $12,500, Point supports scholars with additional programs. For example, the Point’s mentoring program, leadership training and summer leadership conference create a multifaceted support network for scholars extending far beyond their time in school. The average amount of financial support devoted to each scholar is greater than $30,000 which includes scholarship funding, mentoring and success and leadership training.

Point Scholars agree to maintain a high level of academic performance and to give back to the LGBT community through completion of an individual community service project. In addition, scholars are matched with mentors from the professional world thought Point’s formal mentoring program; the mentors serve as role models and provide personal support to their assigned scholars. The mentoring program and Point’s professional support network equip scholars with skills to ensure a lifetime of leadership, success and well-being.

Point Scholars are chosen for their demonstrated leadership, scholastic achievement, extracurricular activities, involvement in the LGBT community and financial need. Particular attention is paid to students who have lost the financial and social support of their families and/or communities as a result of revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Since its inception in 2001, Point Foundation has invested more than $2 million in the education of outstanding LGBT students.

For more information, visit For information on how to apply for a Point Scholarship, visit

Harris sworn in for first full term

Harris sworn in for first full term
Copyright by Gay Chicago Magazine
January 16, 2007

SPRINGFIELD, IL - State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) was recently sworn into the 95th General Assembly as representative of the 13th District.

“It is an honor and a privilege to serve the residents of the 13th District,” Harris said. “I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues in the General Assembly to pass effective and fair legislation for everyone throughout the state.”
Originally appointed to finish out retired State Rep. Larry McKeon, Harris was elected to his first full term this past November. For 14 years, he served as chief of staff to Ald. Mary Ann Smith in the 48th Ward, and is now serving in his first elected position.

Harris, the only openly gay legislator in the General Assembly, has been an active member of the community in the Chicagoland area for many years. He was the founder and first board president of Open Hand Chicago and AIDS Walk Chicago. He has been honored for his work in the community by groups such as the Uptown Chamber of Commerce, AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Chicago House and Social Service Agency and Human Rights Campaign, where he shared the Equality award with Mayor Daley for their work on a domestic partner ordinance in Chicago.

“My goals for the upcoming year are to focus on the issues of affordable housing, quality and affordable healthcare, as well as economic development,” Harris said. “I know that the job will be difficult at times, but I am committed to being a strong advocate for my district in Springfield.”

The 13th legislative district includes the Chicago neighborhoods of Uptown, Ravenswood, Lincoln Square, North Center and Bowmanville.

Pfizer to cut 10% of workforce

Pfizer to cut 10% of workforce
By Andrew Jack in London
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: January 22 2007 13:23 | Last updated: January 22 2007 21:01

Pfizer, the world’s biggest pharmaceuticals company, is to cut 10,000 jobs to reduce costs by $2bn in an attempt to maintain earnings growth in spite of stagnating sales in the face of fierce competition from generic drugs.

In a wide-ranging announcement on Monday after a sharp fall in underlying fourth-quarter profits, Pfizer revealed plans to shut three factories, close three research sites and cut its global workforce by 10 per cent.

The group said it would reduce its European workforce by 20 per cent.

Jeffrey Kindler, the chairman and chief executive appointed last July to replace Hank McKinnell and reverse the fortunes of the US group, also pledged up to $10bn in share buybacks this year and more dividend increases.

The company said it would boost research with the aim of launching two externally sourced drugs a year by 2010 and four internally developed ones a year by 2011, but would pull out of two areas – gastroenterology and dermatology. The plans came after Pfizer published fourth-quarter earnings down 15 per cent to $3bn on revenues almost unchanged at $12.6bn, ahead of one-off gains from the sale of its consumer health business.

Generic competition sharply eroded sales of Zithromax, an antibiotic, and Zoloft, an anti-depressant, in the US, while sales of its branded anti-cholesterol drug Lipitor, the world’s top-selling medicine, also dipped 1 per cent in the fourth quarter to $3.3bn.

Mr Kindler said: “While we attained nearly all of our financial targets for the year, we continue to face a difficult operating environment, including competitive challenges and the risks inherent in drug development.”

Mr Kindler had only just announced an overhaul of drug research last month when he was forced – because of safety concerns – to cancel development of Torcetrapib, an experimental drug designed to be combined with Lipitor.

He said adjusted diluted earnings per share of $2.06 for the full year were in line with guidance, and that its Adapting to Scale productivity programme had achieved savings of $2.6bn last year against a goal of $2bn.

Pfizer’s reported net income for the final quarter of 2006 was up sharply to $9.5bn from $2.7bn in the same period of 2005. The full-year net income was $19.3bn on revenues of $48.4bn. The figures included one-off gains from the sale of its consumer healthcare business to Johnson & Johnson, which raised $16.6bn. Mr Kindler said proceeds would be invested in new products and “to support a strong dividend and an active share purchase programme”.

US productivity growth lowest for decade

US productivity growth lowest for decade
By Chris Giles in London
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: January 22 2007 22:08 | Last updated: January 22 2007 22:08

The US economy last year recorded its lowest rate of labour productivity growth in more than a decade, with growth in output per hour worked falling behind the EU and Japan. The fall casts further doubt on the ability of the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates as the US economy slows.

Research to be published on Tuesday by the Conference Board, the international business organisation, shows that US labour productivity in the whole economy grew by 1.4 per cent in 2006 as slower economic growth was combined with a rapid rise in employment.

Gail Fosler, the chief economist of the Conference Board, told the Financial Times that the fall in productivity growth was unlikely to be cyclical and the result of weaker gains in services’ industries, raising “concerns about the long-lasting productivity impact of information and communications technology”.

If weak productivity growth continues, she said, “even in a slow growth environment, the US economy will be performing close to its potential”, restricting the Fed’s ability to cut interest rates.

Better economic figures released this year, alongside emerging signs of a slowdown in US economic potential, has led to tumbling market expectations of a rate cut in recent weeks. Investors now believe that there is only about a 10 per cent chance of a reduction in official interest rates by the May meeting of the Fed’s interest rate-setting committee, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.

The US slowdown in whole economy productivity growth over the past three years - to a rate half that in 2002 and 2003 - contrasts with rising productivity growth in Japan, on the back of a surge in manufacturing exports on the Conference Board’s internationally comparable figures.

Japan’s labour productivity grew by 2.5 per cent in 2006 as manufacturing companies took advantage of new demand from China in addition to its traditional export destinations.

Europe improved its productivity performance considerably last year as it enjoyed its first year of strong economic growth since 2000. However, the improvement in Nordic countries and Germany masked continued weakness in southern Europe, where growth was generated by surging employment rather than an improvement in the efficiency of the economies of Spain, Italy and Portugal.

The Conference Board recorded that productivity growth remained extremely high in emerging countries of China, India and Eastern Europe, as inefficient companies fell away and huge numbers of workers moved from relatively inefficient sectors such as agriculture to manufacturing.

China recorded 9.5 per cent productivity growth in 2006, while India achieved 6.9 per cent and the 12 new EU member states achieved 4.1 per cent growth.

Madigan move on consent law isn't final word

Madigan move on consent law isn't final word
By Eric Zorn
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published January 23, 2007

What's Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan thinking?

It's the obvious question at the front-page news over the weekend that she has seemingly turned her back on her fellow abortion-rights supporters by calling on the federal courts to allow the 1995 Parental Notice of Abortion Act to take effect in Illinois.

Parental notice--the idea that a minor seeking an abortion must first inform a responsible adult in her life--has been a social and legal controversy here since 1977 when the General Assembly first passed such a law and abortion-rights supporters began the first in a series of successful legal efforts to overturn or thwart implementation of such laws.

Those in favor of parental notice tend to be opposed to abortion rights and argue that minors should not be allowed to undergo the emotionally and physically significant procedure to terminate an unwanted pregnancy without consulting a parent, grandparent or legal guardian.

Those opposed tend to support abortion rights and argue that notification laws ignore life's realities: Not every parent or guardian is understanding or supportive of a pregnant teen, and forcing girls to choose between full disclosure and an illegal abortion invites them to choose the latter with potentially tragic consequences.

Lawmakers and courts have tried to steer a middle course, allowing fearful teens to avoid the notice requirements by going through a judge, for instance. And the 1995 law had long been in limbo because the Illinois Supreme Court had declined to issue rules spelling out the exact circumstances under which a girl could get a waiver.

When the court issued those rules in September, abortion-rights supporters hoped that Madigan, a Democrat who campaigned as a strong supporter of abortion rights, would go to court to argue that the law still unconstitutionally impedes access to abortion. But Friday she said no, she planned to go to court to argue that, with the new rules in place, Illinois' parental notice law is at last constitutional.

Is she thinking this is a good move to the political middle in preparation for an anticipated run for governor in 2010? Is she thinking now is a strategic time to force the issue in Springfield?

After all, similar notification laws have withstood constitutional challenges in many other states, and Illinois law has long been a time bomb for abortion-rights supporters. Only a high-handed, unilateral and legally dubious refusal to act by the state Supreme Court had been postponing the day that bomb went off.

So why not set off the explosion today? Democrats now control both houses in Springfield, and the governor and state Senate president are strong supporters of abortion rights. The House speaker is an opponent of abortion rights, yes, but he also happens to be Lisa Madigan's father.

The political planets may never be better aligned than they are right now for passage of the "Adolescent Health Care Safety Act." That act, introduced last week with bipartisan sponsorship in anticipation of Madigan's announcement and authored by Rep. John Fritchey (D-Chicago), adds "adult family member or a member of the clergy" to the list of notification options for a pregnant teen seeking an abortion.

"It's a bill that makes sense because it addresses the real lives of young women," said Pam Sutherland, president of the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council. Lorie Chaiten, director of the reproductive rights project for ACLU of Illinois, said she believes the existing law is still unconstitutional and that, ideally, "no law should mandate family communication." But she added that Fritchey's bill is "a good piece of legislation."

Lisa Madigan supports the idea behind Fritchey's bill, too, according to her chief of staff, Ann Spillane.

But what's she thinking?

Spillane says Madigan is thinking that a thorough, impartial review of court decisions shows the Illinois law is constitutional. She's thinking that, no matter what abortion notification rules she might write if she were queen, her job is to defend constitutional state laws, not write them. She's thinking it's high time (if not an ideal time) that our lawmakers and courts settle this little piece of the otherwise unsettlable abortion issue once and for all.

And that's what I'm thinking too.