Saturday, February 10, 2007

Obama declares he's running for president

Obama declares he's running for president
Copyright by CNN News
POSTED: 12:05 p.m. EST, February 10, 2007

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois (CNN) -- Sen. Barack Obama stood before cheering crowds at the Capitol in his home state Saturday and announced he will seek the 2008 Democratic nomination for president.

Invoking the memory of fellow Illinoisan and the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, the first-term senator addressed thousands packed into the Springfield, Illinois, town square on a chilly day in America's heartland.

To chants of "Obama! Obama!," he told the crowd: "It was here, in Springfield, where North, South, East and West come together that I was reminded of the essential decency of the American people -- where I came to believe that through this decency, we can build a more hopeful America," said the 45-year-old Obama, who, if elected, would become the nation's first African-American president. (Watch how name recognition may be Obama's best weapon )

"And that is why, in the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a divided house to stand together, where common hopes and common dreams still live, I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for president of the United States of America."

Despite his brief tenure in the Senate, Obama has quickly gained popularity as he pondered his bid to break the Oval Office's color barrier.

According to a University of New Hampshire Survey Research Center conducted this month, Obama placed second, behind Sen. Hillary Clinton, among New Hampshire Democratic primary voters. Obama snared 21 percent of the vote in that popularity poll, trailing Clinton by 14 points.

Other Democrats seeking the office include Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware; Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut; former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina; Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich; New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson; Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and Sen. Clinton of New York.

While speculation abounds over whether a black presidential candidate can be viable, Obama -- whose first name comes from the Swahili word for "one who is blessed" -- has not let the color of skin hinder his career.

He attended Harvard and Columbia universities and was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. He entered politics in Illinois, where he practiced civil rights law and taught at the University of Chicago Law School.

His first foray into politics came in 1997, when he took his seat in the state Senate, where he served until 2005. He was sworn in as a U.S. senator in 2005.

'People who love their country can change it'

In his Saturday announcement, Obama acknowledged that he hasn't been in Washington long, but said he is familiar enough with the city's political machinations to understand that change is in order.

"I recognize there is a certain presumptuousness in this -- a certain audacity -- to this announcement," Obama said. "I know that I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington, but I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.

He added, "People who love their country can change it."

Admitting the tactic is typical of aspiring candidates, Obama promised to overhaul a political system he says is dominated by lobbyists and special interest groups "who've turned our government into a game only they can afford to play."

"They write the checks and you get stuck with the bills, they get the access while you get to write a letter, they think they own this government, but we're here today to take it back. The time for that kind of politics is over," he said. "It's time to turn the page right here and right now."

Obama, the son of a black Kenyan father and white American mother, then invoked Lincoln again.

"He had his doubts. He had his defeats. He had his setbacks, but through his will and his words, he moved a nation and helped free a people."

Obama told the crowd he would tackle problems like poor schools, economic hardships and oil dependence, saying "failure of leadership" is to blame for not meeting the nation's challenges.

He further called the Iraq war a "tragic mistake" and said, "It's time to admit that no amount of American lives can resolve the political disagreement that lies at the heart of someone else's civil war. That's why I have a plan that will bring our combat troops home by March of 2008.

"Letting the Iraqis know that we will not be there forever is our last, best hope to pressure the Sunni and Shia to come to the table and find peace," he said.

Comments on Outing Jane Adams

Comments on Outing Jane Adams
By Carlos T Mock, MD
February 6, 2007.

Dear Ms. Schoenberg

Thanks for your article on James Adams.

You answered the first question on your premise: Jane Adams was a Lesbian, but you fail miserably on its connotation. Lots of heterosexual marriages have little or no sex, but that does not make them less of a couple.
You are right to point that it should not matter, but the truth is that it does. In today’s world Jane Adam and Mary Rozet Smith would face even more challenges that they did when they lived.

Here are some facts:

- Homosexuals and lesbians are subject to the death penalty in twelve countries in the world

- In about 30 countries or provinces lesbians, gays and bisexuals are subject to a discriminatory age of consent

- In more than 40 states around the world same sex acts are illegal

- In about 15 countries or provinces the free association and free expression of lesbians, gays and bisexuals are denied explicitly through legal provisions

- About 30 countries have some form of protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation
Only 15 states in the United States provide basic human rights (employments, housing and right to assemble) protection. In 35 states of the union you can be fired from your job, denied housing, and thrown out of a restaurant just because you are perceived as being gay or lesbian. Sexual acts have nothing to do with it.

Source: The International Lesbian and Gay Association website ( (May 2002)

-- Carlos T. Mock, MD
Author: Borrowing Time: A Latino Sexual Odyssey - Floricanto Press 2003. Nominated for a Stonewall Award by the American Library Association Round Table
Author: The Mosaic Virus – Floricanto Press 2007. Nominated for a Stonewall Award by the American Library Association Round Table
Author: Papi Chulo – Coming to a bookstore near you soon

Cold snap has pipes in deep freeze - Thousands lose water, 700 forced to vacate high-rise

Cold snap has pipes in deep freeze - Thousands lose water, 700 forced to vacate high-rise
By Mitch Dudek and Josh Noel
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published February 9, 2007, 10:50 PM CST

Nearly 1,500 homes still have no water—or have seen it reduced to a trickle—as the city battles what it calls the most severe winter assault against pipes in at least 10 years.

The combination of sustained frigid temperatures and a lack of snow to insulate the ground has led to an unusually high number of frozen pipes, Department of Water Management spokesman Tom LaPorte said Friday.

Since Feb. 1, more than 5,500 residents have complained about losing water service, he said. Some blockages occurred in city pipes, but "more than 50 percent" of the problems were the result of owners failing to insulate exposed pipes, LaPorte said.

In cases where city pipes have frozen, people have had to wait an average of two days for crews to arrive with thawing equipment, he said. Priority is being given to the elderly and to people who have been without water the longest.

"We're getting to them as fast as we possible can," LaPorte said.

The latest victims were about 700 people forced out of a Lake View high-rise Friday afternoon when a pipe froze and burst, gushing as much as 11 feet of water into the basement, Fire Department officials said.

Residents of the 29-story building at 3200 N. Lake Shore Drive were left without heat, running water or working elevators. Occupants evacuated by stairs as firefighters were stationed every five floors. Hours later, firefighters were still going door to door to be sure no residents remained.

Two people were taken to hospitals with stress-related conditions.

Though late-arriving residents were to be allowed to return to their apartments to gather belongings, tenants were not allowed to stay in the building overnight and might not be allowed back for several days, officials said.

"You're just at Mother Nature's mercy from time to time in life," Fire Commissioner Raymond Orozco said.

Displaced residents were less philosophical.

"This is my birthday weekend," said Darren Seifer, 31, luggage in hand. "It's not fun."

LaPorte said the water department has responded to 29 broken mains flooding streets and nearly 3,000 reports of water leaking from cracked pipes in yards, streets and sidewalks. The staff has been working "around the clock" and 18 private plumbers have been hired to help, he said.

Olivia Tkachuk, who owns Wagner and Sons plumbing at 725 W. 47th St., said her company fielded about 50 calls Friday for frozen and burst pipes in the city and western suburbs. One day earlier in the week she received about 150 calls, though her 24-hour operation could only service about half.

All last winter she got two such calls.

Most of the problems stem from underground water lines and pipes in walls and basements freezing. One of her plumbers found a desperate man trying to fix a leaky pipe in his basement while standing in five feet of water.

"It's the worst I've seen it in five years," Tkachuk said.

Most cracks have formed where pipes are exposed to the cold or pass through meter vaults near homes, LaPorte said. The average pipe bringing water to a home is buried 4 or 5 feet below the ground, he said.

Tim Halbach, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said readings Friday showed the ground was not frozen beyond about a foot.

Yet problems persisted for Mike Leong, 32, a banker who lives in a three-story townhouse in Wrigleyville.

He discovered he was without water Wednesday morning, as every faucet he tried came up dry. On Friday afternoon he was still without water and growing increasingly frustrated.

Leong and his wife, Vanessa, 30, had been filling up buckets of water at a neighbor's home to flush their toilets, but the neighbor's pipes also froze Friday. He said he's called the city's 311 non-emergency line repeatedly, only to be told to be patient.

"The frustration is when there is no visibility of when this might be resolved," he said. "Let's just say people take for granted that you can flush the toilet."

Leong and his wife have bought dozens of gallons of water to brush their teeth, wash up and do simple cooking, he said. They take showers at their health club. And if they're still without water this weekend, they were prepared to take their desperation one step further.

"We'll have to bring our laundry to our parents' house," he said. "Just like college."

Tribune staff reporter Gerry Doyle contributed to this report.

Obama to announce run for presidency

Obama to announce run for presidency
By Caroline Daniel in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: February 9 2007 20:44 | Last updated: February 9 2007 20:44

Barack Obama, the fresh face of the Democratic party, will formally announce his candidacy for the 2008 presidential nomination in Springfield, Illinois on Saturday.

Mr Obama’s recruits there will pale in comparison with his virtual support group of devotees who have signed up to his cause on Facebook, the social networking site that has spread like wildfire among college-going youth since 2003.

In the three weeks since Mr Obama created his exploratory presidential committee on January 16, a spontaneous online community group on Facebook “Barack Obama (One Million Strong for Barack)” has enlisted 244,225 members.

That makes it not only the fastest-growing Facebook group but also perhaps the most instantaneous creation of a political community of supporters for any presidential candidate.

Farouk Olu Aregbe, 26, a graduate of Missouri Western State University who created the group, said: “Quite frankly I have been surprised at how fast it has been. It has now become a hub.” He aims to reach 1m by April 21.

The success of this spontaneous, viral, effort – which comes alongside another Facebook group, “Barack Obama for President in 2008”, with 60,000 members – has sparked comparisons with Howard Dean’s 2004 pioneering, internet-driven campaign of 2004.

At the heart of it was, an internet tool for community events. Yet it took Mr Dean 11 months for his group on Meetup to attract 140,000 members rather than three weeks to recruit 250,000.

Jerome Armstrong, an architect of Mr Dean’s campaign, sees networking sites such as Facebook, the seventh most trafficked site in the US, as an untapped resource. “It wasn’t around in the last presidential cycle...I’ve seen websites to get in touch with youth, but this is about spontaneous organising amongst themselves instead of relying on a campaign to reach out to them,” he said.

Yet he still sees similarities between the Dean and Obama campaigns. In January 2003, Mr Dean e-mailed a group of 140 people from Meetup. “By sending them an e-mail, he validated it and encouraged the effort to happen. Obama just did a similar thing,” he said, referring to how Mr Obama addressed 3,500 students at George Mason University at an event last week organised via the Obama for President group on Facebook.

Mr Obama told the student crowd that grassroots activism could help him reshape the political environment. But challenges remain in translating online enthusiasm into wider action. Online networking groups are prone to fads. There are also doubts about how helpful they might prove to a campaign since members’ contact details are often not volunteered by participants.

Mr Armstrong said: “The barrier to entry is pretty low. You get online and within two clicks you have joined. It takes five seconds. The question is how to mobilise them beyond the two clicks thing.” Even so, he said: “It can translate into something. Youth voted in the last two elections in higher percentages.”

Other Democratic candidates have borrowed ideas from Mr Dean. John Edwards has sought to be the voice of the netroots, the progressive activists who organise through blogs. He announced his plans for 2008 with a video on YouTube.

Hillary Clinton is using slick webcasts to announce her campaign and the internet for fundraising. Peter Daou, her internet director, says 100,000 people signed up at the site in the first 48 hours. “We want to target certain nodes where information moves around, bloggers who are opinion leaders on certain issues. You will see more webcasts and see us working more with social networking sites.”

Republican candidates have been slower to embrace the net. Rudy Giuliani’s official website does not always work, offers a few press releases and no video.

While the online world matters, it still cannot compensate for personality. Mr Aregbe says he might drive four hours to watch Mr Obama make his announcement speech today.

Pentagon office ‘misled’ on Iraq war

Pentagon office ‘misled’ on Iraq war
By Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: February 10 2007 01:28 | Last updated: February 10 2007 01:28

A special Pentagon office created in the run-up to the Iraq war engaged in “inappropriate” activities by providing misleading intelligence to policymakers, according to the US Department of Defense.

The Pentagon inspector-general on Friday said the Office of Special Plans set up by Douglas Feith, then undersecretary of defence for policy, provided senior policymakers with “alternative intelligence assessments” on alleged links between al-Qaeda and Iraq that were “inconsistent with the consensus of the intelligence community”.

Senator Carl Levin, the Democratic chairman of the armed services committee and senior member of the intelligence committee, said the report was a “devastating condemnation” of senior Pentagon officials.

“The bottom line is that intelligence relating to the Iraq/al-Qaeda relationship was manipulated by high ranking officials in the Department of Defense to support the administration’s decision to invade Iraq when the intelligence assessments of the professional analysts of the intelligence community did not provide the desired compelling case,” said Mr Levin.

The report comes at a critical time for the White House as President George W. Bush struggles to keep Republican support for the war in Iraq.

Democrats have long argued that Mr Feith was engaged in helping Dick Cheney, vice-president, build the case for war based on inaccurate, or misleading, intelligence.

Before the 2003 invasion, Mr Cheney often referred to the alleged links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, which subsequent investigations confirmed never existed.

While the report said the actions of Mr Feith’s office were not “illegal or unauthorised”, it concluded that they were “inappropriate” because they “did not clearly show the variance with the consensus of the intelligence community”.

Mr Feith, who now teaches at Georgetown University, told Associated Press that the allegations of inappropriate activity were “bizarre”.

“The policy office has been smeared for years by allegations that its pre-Iraq-war work was somehow ‘un lawful’ or ‘unauthorised’ and that some information it gave to congressional committees was deceptive or misleading,” AP cited Mr Feith as saying.

Robert Gates, the new US defence secretary, in Seville for Nato meetings yesterday, said he had not read the report, which referred to activities that occurred under his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld.

But the former Central Intelligence Agency director said: “Based on my whole career, all intelligence activities need to be carried out through established institutions where there is oversight.”

Separately, yesterday, Mr Gates said the US had “pretty good” evidence that Iran was providing groups in Iraq with sophisticated explosive devices called “explosively formed projectiles” [EFPs].

He said the evidence included serial numbers and markings on fragments of exploded devices. But Mr Gates again dismissed suggestions that the recent increase in anti- Iranian rhetoric in Washington was a prelude to war. After the Iranian supreme leader threatened on Thursday to respond to any US attack on Iran, Mr Gates responded that it was “just another day in the Persian Gulf”.

Asked yesterday whether that response was aimed at ratcheting down the US rhetoric, he replied: “In the last few weeks there’s been an effort in Washington actually to tone down everybody else.

“I don’t know how many times the president, Secretary [Condoleezza] Rice and I have had to repeat that we have no intention of attacking Iran, that the second carrier group [recently dispatched to the Gulf] is there to reassure our allies, as well as to send a signal that we’ve been in the Persian Gulf for decades and we intend to stay there. And I think these are fairly modest statements.”

Boston Globe Editorial - Saudi statesmanship

Boston Globe Editorial - Saudi statesmanship
Copyright by The Boston Globe
Published: February 9, 2007

Saudi Arabia, ruled by a one- family regime, is the ultimate status-quo power. So it is in character for the Saudi royals to suffer an anxiety attack over events in their region — and to want the fires doused before they flare into an uncontrollable conflagration.

This week, they focused, with success, on the incipient civil war between Palestinian fighters of President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement and the Iranian-backed Hamas. They also see a rising Iran with hegemonic ambitions pursuing nuclear weapons; a U.S. superpower blithely toppling regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq that once contained the would-be hegemon; sectarian warfare in Iraq that could easily spread across borders; and a closely affiliated government in Lebanon under assault from the Shiite movement Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and the minority Alawite regime in Syria.

What are out of character are the active efforts of the Saudis to contain the ambient chaos. In the past, the Saudi princes bought safety for themselves by paying off regional thugs and relying on an American security umbrella. But the bungling of the Bush administration — by empowering the Iranians, Al Qaeda in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas among Palestinians — leaves Riyadh with little choice but to play its own cards in quest of regional stability.

So far, the Saudis are playing those cards well. A telling sign of their deftness is the agreement on a national unity government reached Thursday in Mecca between Abbas and the leaders of Hamas. The other Arab states supported the Mecca talks, as did the Americans, the Europeans and the Israeli government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Careful preparations preceded the arrival in Mecca of the Palestinian leaders. Mediators already got the two sides to agree on almost all the crucial points concerning the distribution of ministerial posts and the program of a unity government. Also, high-level talks between Saudi and Iranian officials apparently smoothed the way for a Fatah-Hamas compromise that Tehran is not about to sabotage.

For all the diplomatic finesse shown by the Saudis in this matter and in their efforts to avoid a civil war in Lebanon, they have not ignored the rougher edges of statecraft. The recent Saudi-inspired decline in the price of oil, coming just as United Nations sanctions and U.S. banking restrictions on Iran were taking effect, appears to have had the desired effect on Iran's rulers. There is also reason to believe that the recent arrival of a second U.S. carrier task force in the Gulf was consonant with the Saudi strategy.

The Saudi royals, for their own survival, are acting as peacemakers for Palestinians and between Palestinians and Israel; among Lebanese; between Persians and Arabs; and among Iraqis. This is what President George W. Bush should have been doing the past six years.

Emotions run high for Portugal vote

Emotions run high for Portugal vote
By Elaine Sciolino
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: February 9, 2007

LISBON: Last week, hundreds of children from two Catholic day care centers in the port city of Setúbal arrived home with a most unusual note from school: a fictional letter from a fetus to the woman who conceived and aborted it.

"Mommy, how were you able to kill me?" the letter read. "How were you able to allow me to be cut up in pieces and thrown into a bucket?"

But the Reverend Miguel Alves, its author and the centers' director, defended his action as perfectly "normal," adding, "There's no reason for indignation."

The letter reflects one view in a passionate, often raw campaign by supporters and opponents of abortion to sway voters before a referendum this Sunday on whether Portugal should decriminalize abortion.

But the incident of the letter infuriated abortion supporters and some of the children's parents, and even made some opponents uneasy.

"It was completely incorrect, low class," said Manuel de Lemos, the director of a confederation of charitable organizations, who opposes a liberalization of the law. "But Portugal is a 90 percent Catholic country, and that means that 90 percent of the voters should vote no. Being Catholic is a way of life."

Cardinal José da Cruz Policarpo, the Patriarch of Lisbon, has told Catholics to uphold the "sanctity of life" and oppose any change to Portuguese law. He also argued that the balance of Europe's race and culture is at risk as a result of low birth rates.

With one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the European Union, Portugal is also the only member that has put on trial women who undergo illegal abortions, the health care providers who perform them and even "accomplices" like husbands or family members.

The referendum, if approved, would be the first step toward both legalizing abortions in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy and allowing women to openly seek medical help from the social security system. If it is approved, it is expected to be passed quickly into law by Parliament, the majority of whose members support the changes.

But in this overwhelmingly Catholic country, the referendum has pitted the Socialist government against the Catholic Church and exposed divisions within the church hierarchy itself.

It has recalled the botched backstreet abortions that ended in death and the humiliation of women who have been forced to go to trial. It has divided families and sparked a debate on how "modern" a nation Portugal is more than three decades after the end of dictatorship.

"This is an important moment for Portugal because it's a chance to shed the image that we are in the Middle Ages," said Maria de Belém Roséira, a Socialist deputy, head of Parliament's health committee and a former health minister. "That a woman who ends an unwanted pregnancy can be sent to prison is unacceptable and hypocritical."

Women who have gone to trial for undergoing abortions have been punished not with prison but with suspended sentences and a fine; health care professionals who have carried out abortions have been punished more severely.

In one highly publicized trial that ended in 2002, a hospital nurse spent four years in prison for conducting illegal abortions on the side before her eight-year sentence was commuted.

The criminal aspect of abortion is widely seen as unfair to women, even by much of the church hierarchy and supporters of the no vote.

"This practice is so stupid, so inhumane," said Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a leading political commentator who opposes approval of the referendum. "This is very Portuguese — you have the law and you have the social reality."

The validity of the referendum hinges on whether more than 50 percent of the country's more than eight million voters cast their ballots. A similar referendum in 1998 took place on a sunny Sunday in June, when many Portuguese went to the beach. Only 32 percent of the electorate turned up at the polls, voting by a razor-thin margin to retain the existing law. The result was declared invalid.

Last autumn, polls showed more than 70 percent of voters supported a change in the law this time, although recent surveys indicate a drop in support to slightly lower than 60 percent in recent weeks. About 40 percent of the voters have said in several polls that they are either undecided or will not vote.

The campaign has played out on the streets, on the Web, in churches, health clinics and the corridors of power.

On Thursday, two dozen Socialist members of Parliament carried green and white flags with the word "Sim" — or "Yes" — through one of Lisbon's main squares. At a headquarters for youth for the no vote a few blocks away, young people sold T-shirts and plastic fetuses made in China.

Prime Minister José Sócrates, a Socialist whose center-left government enjoys a comfortable majority in Parliament, has campaigned hard in favor of the referendum, calling the country's tens of thousands of illegal abortions every year "Portugal's most shameful wound" and urging voters to go to the polls.

After his election in a landslide nearly two years ago on a platform of reform modernization, Sócrates called for an abortion law "that is more modern and more European."

The referendum also has triggered the memories of women who had illegal abortions many years ago.

"There is still a stigma," said a 46- year-old educator who said she was only now able to talk to her friends about the abortion she had 18 years ago.

The practice of abortion in Portugal is among the most restrictive in the 27- country European Union. Only a few countries, including Malta (where all abortion is illegal), Ireland and Poland have tougher legislation.

Despite a legal morning-after pill and contraception use by 80 percent of women of fertility age, Portugal has the second highest pregnancy rate among teenagers in Europe, second only to Britain.

The current law in Portugal, passed in 1984, allows abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy in case of "mental and physical risk," until 16 weeks in case of rape, until 24 weeks in case of a malformed fetus and at any time if the woman's life is in danger. It imposes prison sentences of up to three years for all other women who obtain an abortion and up to eight years for a medical professional who provides one.

But the availability of abortion is complicated by the narrow interpretation the medical profession has given to the existing law. Portugal's conservative psychiatric hierarchy has ruled that an unwanted pregnancy is a mental health issue only in extreme cases; most medical doctors are unwilling to challenge the conventional wisdom.

In Spain, by contrast, where the law is similar, the law is liberally interpreted and abortions routinely performed. That has created a lucrative market for legal abortions in Spain for those Portuguese women who can afford it.

Portuguese newspapers carry advertisements every day of clinics over the border in Spain offering "voluntary treatment of pregnancy" or even "voluntary interruption of pregnancy."

Even if the law is changed along the lines of the referendum to allow abortion on demand in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, it will still be stricter than the 12- week limit in Germany, France and Italy.

Even within the clergy itself, there are divisions. On Thursday, a 79-year- old priest, Reverand Manuel Costa Pinto, from the small town of Lamego, stunned the church hierarchy in declaring that he planned to vote "yes."

"I will vote 'yes' without any difficulty," he told the Portuguese news agency Lusa. "I don't take it lightly. I know my responsibility as a Catholic and as a priest."

Calling the current law "real infanticide," he described the crisis of women who are too poor and too afraid to have an illegal abortion, and even less to go have it done abroad. "They put their babies into a bag and throw them into the garbage, in the gutters" or "abandon them in the middle of the fields" after giving birth, he said.

The referendum will ask: "Do you agree with the decriminalization of a woman's choice to voluntarily interrupt pregnancy in the first 10 weeks, in a legally authorized health establishment?"

"There has always been a double standard in Portugal toward abortion and that's what we want to eliminate," said Duarte Vilar, the executive director of the Family Planning Association. "The majority of the Portuguese people are Catholic but in a very autonomous way. Even if we are Catholic, we are a soft Catholic country."

Alcatel-Lucent increases job cuts to 12,500

Alcatel-Lucent increases job cuts to 12,500
By Victoria Shannon
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: February 9, 2007

PARIS: A cloud of uncertainty among the world's phone companies left Alcatel-Lucent with a bruising net loss Friday in its first quarterly report as the world's largest telecommunications equipment maker, and the company moved to eliminate thousands more jobs.

The company cited "challenging market conditions," hesitation from its customers and challenges from regulators, and it raised the number of jobs it was eliminating as part of its merger by 3,500 to a total of 12,500 positions.

The cascade of negative announcements seemed to give critics of the $11.6 billion merger of Alcatel with Lucent Technologies, first proposed in March and officially completed Dec. 1, some validation of their doubts.

But Patricia Russo, the chief executive of the company, cast the balance of the year in a positive light, saying that some of the factors that led to the "disappointing" loss — €618 million, or $804 million, compared with a €381 million profit a year earlier — would not recur. She cited customer uneasiness as the merger closed, and the consolidation of some of its biggest customers, AT&T, BellSouth and SBC, into one company.

Alcatel-Lucent, posting results for the first time as a combined company, said revenue, which declined 16 percent in the latest quarter to €4.4 billion, would show only minimal gains before April.

But the company forecast that for all of 2007, revenue would keep steady with the growth in the phone carrier business, a number it estimated at about 5 percent. Last year, sales came in at €18.25 billion, 1.7 percent lower than in 2005. All the figures were calculated on a pro-forma basis, as if the two companies had been combined for the entire period. Alcatel-Lucent did not predict 2007 profits or margins.

For the second time, Russo raised the estimate of how much money the merger would save in the long term, to €1.7 billion over three years. In another positive sign, the company said it would keep its dividend of 16 euro cents a share.

Investors seemed not to be overly disappointed, sending the stock down just one cent in Paris, to €10.14. The company had warned Jan. 23 that the quarter's profit would be wiped out, and shares fell 8.5 percent that day. The price is down 7 percent so far this year.

The fourth quarter "was really an extraordinary, exceptional quarter," Jean- Pascal Beaufret, chief financial officer, said during a conference call. It was, Russo added, "not indicative of the long- term growth benefits of the merger."

Still, the company's French unions called a one-day strike for next Thursday to protest the increase in layoffs. Of Alcatel-Lucent's 80,000 total employees at the end of 2006, about 12,000 were in France. Although fewer than 10 percent are unionized, labor leaders said they expected a large number of nonunion workers to join the strike.

Two other major telecommunications hardware makers, Ericsson of Sweden and Nortel Networks of Canada, also recently warned of soft business. Ericsson, which last year bought the British company Marconi, cut its forecast for the mobile-equipment market to "mid- single-digit growth." Nortel said this week it would shed 2,900 jobs over the next two years.

Nokia of Finland and Siemens of Germany, meanwhile, are merging their network divisions into one company to better compete with their European and North American counterparts, as well as with lower-priced competitors in Asia like Huawei Technologies of China.

Alcatel-Lucent combined to strengthen their offerings to phone companies and businesses in wireless, fixed-line and Internet protocol-based networks and hardware. Alcatel is the market leader in DSL equipment, which turns regular copper phone connections into high-speed Internet links.

The increase in job cuts was a result of finding new ways to combine tasks, as well as a response to "what we see happening in the marketplace," Russo said during an interview.

In Europe in particular, Russo said, telecommunications investment was responding to a less-favorable regulatory climate. The European Commission is pressuring companies like Deutsche Telekom to give rivals access to their next-generation networks. The phone companies, which are investing billions of euros in fiber optic and other advanced transmission networks, are resisting.

European Union law requires member states to force telecommunications companies with a dominant market position to open networks on favorable terms to rivals.

"The bottleneck of regulation is short-term because people need the bandwidth — the market demand is there," Beaufret said.

Friday, February 09, 2007

New national Latino gay group forms (Gay)

New national Latino gay group forms (Gay) - Unid@s directors to focus on human rights issues
Copyright by The Washington Blade
Friday, February 09, 2007

A new Washington-based, national organization for Latino gays has formed and announced its board of directors. The group's first meeting is tentatively planned for April.

Unid@s board member Pedro Julio Serrano describes the organization as a grassroots, national advocacy group that will function as a liaison between resource providers and local organizations.

"Unid@s means 'everybody together,'" Serrano said. "We use the 'at' symbol because when you want it to refer to females you use 'unidas' and males, 'unidos.' We use 'unid@s' to show our diversity, unity and inclusivity."

He said that the organization will not offer direct programming at first because the board does not want to overstep work being done by other Latino agencies at the local level. Serrano, who is also on the communications team for the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said the Task Force will work with Unid@s to help with movement and capacity building as well as technical assistance. The Gill Foundation has provided seed money to help the organization get started.

"We know they know their communities and can do programming that is more focused on what their communities need," Serrano said. "We want to support their work."

They will be working with other groups to focus on human rights issues of importance to gay Latinos, including immigration and racial and economic justice. He said Latinos are caught in the double bind of being discriminated against because of race and sexual orientation.

"We would like to work toward creating a more just society for all, especially Latinos," he said.

Washington transgender activist Ruby Corado is also on the board, which includes representatives from seven regions of the U.S., plus Puerto Rico. There are 13 board seats, made up of a representative from each region (not including Puerto Rico), and six more spots for areas that have large concentrations of Latinos, including New York, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Texas and D.C. Corado represents the District as one of its Latina transgender members.

"We wanted to make sure we had four lesbians or bisexual women, four transgender people and four gay or bisexual men," she said. "We have every spot filled except for one Illinois transgender person."

Board members include transgender members Corado, Gael Gudin Guevara and Yosenio Lewis; gay members Jorge Alexandro Cestou, Wilfred Labiosa, Pedro Julio Serrano, Gabriel Gonzalez and Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano; and lesbian members Monica Paher, Sandra Telep, Ada Conde Vidal and Cristina Martinez. The organization also includes a spot for an extra gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person from any of the geographical areas. Unid@s chairpersons are Corado and Herrera.
Unid@s took two and a half years to develop, rising from the ashes of the national Latino organization National Latino/a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Organization or "LLEGO," which went bankrupt in September 2004 under the direction of its former president Martin Ornelas-Quintero, the sole manager of LLEGO's financial affairs. Funding was provided by the Gill Foundation, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Human Rights Campaign, American Airlines and other corporate and private sponsors.

The Blade reported in 2002 that when Ornelas-Quintero began running the organization in 1996, LLEGO had less than a dozen employees and an operating budget of $500,000. By 2002, the organization reported revenue of $2.8 million, with Ornelas-Quintero's salary reported to be $68,960. By the time Ornelas-Quintero left two years later and the organization abruptly shut its doors, all 14 of its employees were laid off and LLEGO was in the red by $700,000.

Gill Foundation executive director Rodger McFarlane said in an October 2004 interview with the Blade that his organization gave LLEGO a total of $400,000 over 10 years. He said LLEGO's downfall was an over-reliance on government contracts and the lack of a development plan and no sustained donor base.

 When LLEGO's doors shut, Latino gay activists in Seattle, who were slated to host LLEGO's national Encuentro Conference in October 2004, decided to host a national forum. The event consisted of workshops and training sessions for Latino activists. It was also the beginning of Unid@s.
Unid@s, the National Latina/o Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Human Rights Organization

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Bush's improbable budget

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Bush's improbable budget
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: February 8, 2007

President George W. Bush claims that his new $2.9 trillion budget request is a tough- minded plan for balancing the books by 2012. In reality, it's a smokescreen for making Bush's tax cuts permanent — and either hollowing out the government in the process or digging the country deeper into debt.

The budget is based on a series of improbable, if not dishonest, assumptions. To make it appear as if the tax cuts are affordable in the near term, it assumes that the Pentagon will not spend a single penny on Iraq or Afghanistan after 2009. It also assumes there will be no costs for fixing the alternative minimum tax after this year, even though Bush and virtually every politician in America is committed to such relief.

The new budget would also slash key entitlement programs and punish many of the country's most vulnerable citizens. Sharp reductions are envisioned for Medicare, with cuts of $66 billion over five years, and Medicaid, down approximately $11 billion.

Bush's budget would also take an ax to most other domestic spending. The $99 million block grant to states to help pay for preventive health care would be eliminated. Other cuts — in veterans' health care, environmental protection, scientific research, low-income housing and heating assistance, to name a few — would start in 2008 and grow, totaling $114 billion over five years. Such cuts would be shortsighted and cruel. They would also be politically impossible to enact — further exposing Bush's budget as the sham it is.

Even if they were achievable, the proposed spending reductions would be grossly unfair. Government programs that serve middle-class and low-income Americans would be slashed to offset the cost of extending tax cuts that favor the rich. By 2012, 20 percent of the tax cuts would go to that richest sliver of Americans; one-third of the benefits would go to households with incomes over $400,000.

Bush's new budget has a few worthwhile nuggets, like funds for AIDS treatment worldwide. In drafting a real budget, Congress can take those items from the president's version, and jettison the rest.

International Herald Tribune Editorial - The fog of accountability

International Herald Tribune Editorial - The fog of accountability
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: February 8, 2007

The details are graphic: Billions of dollars of Iraqi oil revenues — 363 tons of cash — bundled up and urgently flown to Baghdad on 484 pallets from the Federal Reserve Bank to jump-start a new Iraqi government. Four years later, the unanswered questions are just as graphic: Who was responsible for the money? What became of it?

Two years ago, the special inspector general for Iraqi reconstruction reported that $8.8 billion of the cash surge could not be adequately accounted for by the Bush administration's provisional governing authority. The Republican-controlled Congress — which shrugged off oversight responsibilities for President George W. Bush's failed war — dutifully sidestepped the issue. Thankfully, the new Democratic Congress is finally investigating the disappeared billions and other aspects of the war's mismanagement.

The details emerging provide a lesson in how easily cash can evaporate into the fog of an unmonitored war. One $500 million outlay was explained away with a one-word record entry — "security" — in the provisional authority's books. Ten disbursements ranging from $120 million to $900 million have no documentation at all, as if they were petty cash.

Paul Bremer III, the former chief of the administration's provisional authority, told the House of Representatives' Oversight and Government Reform Committee this week that Iraq was strictly a cash economy with primitive banking, and that there had been no alternative but to spur reconstruction with a fast and poorly documented infusion of billions. "There are no perfect solutions in Iraq," said Bremer, still cocky despite the increasingly apparent and seemingly limitless failures of his tenure.

According to the inspector general and congressional investigators, Bremer's provisional authority — with the full backing of the White House and the Pentagon — doled out an estimated $12 billion to dodgy ministries — duffle bags full, some of it from the backs of pickups. The fact that this was Iraqi money reserved during the United Nations' oil-for- food program is no comfort to any U.S. taxpayer wondering what's been happening to the hundreds of billions Washington is pouring into Iraq.

Republican lawmakers at the hearing again tried to gloss over the administration's mismanagement of the war, complaining that the mystery billions were "old news." The real news is that — at long last — the truth about the Iraq fiasco is being pursued in public by congressional investigators.

Financial Times Editorial - Iraq’s refugee crisis is nearing catastrophe

Financial Times Editorial - Iraq’s refugee crisis is nearing catastrophe
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: February 8 2007 22:31 | Last updated: February 8 2007 23:45

Nobody in the world with access to a television can be in any doubt that the US-led invasion of Iraq four years ago has been a disaster. What they, and we, are much less aware of is that it has already produced the worst refugee crisis in the Middle East since the mass exodus of Palestinians that was part of the violent birth of the state of Israel in 1948. And what we should all be scandalised by is how little the two countries most responsible for the Iraq misadventure – the US and the UK – are doing to alleviate this crisis.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, about 2m Iraqis have fled the country and 1.8m have been displaced within Iraq since the invasion of March 2003.

The descent into anarchy, with militias, insurgents and bandits in control of roads, borders and swaths of territory, followed by sectarian warfare that now claims about 1,000 lives a week, has led to a desperate mass migration – principally to neighbouring Jordan and Syria – and the even more desperate internal dislocations caused by ethnosectarian slaughter. One out of every seven Iraqis has been uprooted. By the end of this year, on current trends, that figure will be one in five.

António Guterres, former prime minister of Portugal and head of the UNHCR, says “we are facing a humanitarian disaster”. He is currently touring the Middle East to sound the alarm and raise an extra $60m in emergency funds. This is equivalent to what the Pentagon spends every five hours on an occupation that cannot establish security and a reconstruction effort that can barely turn on the lights.

Jordan, with about 1m Iraqis, and Syria with slightly fewer, are overwhelmed. Yet the US has budgeted a mere $500,000 this year to aid Iraqi refugees, of whom it has accepted precisely 466. Britain is little better.

Partly, the two main perpetrators of this catastrophe cannot bring themselves to admit failure. Iraqis fleeing Saddam Hussein were in the past well received. Now, however, the view is that liberated Iraqis should be building their nation and democracy – and admitting them to our countries is deemed a security risk.

For the refugees, moreover, even neighbouring borders are now being closed; and a stupid decision in Baghdad to withdraw old passports has left hundreds of thousands undocumented.

The US on Monday announced a task force on Iraq refugees. It is to be hoped this is more than a committee. For it is the moral duty of those who are ultimately responsible for this state of affairs to do three things immediately.

The UNHCR needs serious money now, for services Iraq’s neighbours cannot provide. Many of those now fleeing are trapped inside Iraq’s borders as sitting ducks and must be protected. The US and UK should reconsider their refugee admission policies since, without their foreign policies, these people would not be refugees.

Worries over HSBC hit markets

Worries over HSBC hit markets
Peter Thal Larsen in London and David Wighton and Richard Beales in New York
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: February 8 2007 20:29 | Last updated: February 9 2007 15:50

Financial markets on Thursaday reacted strongly to HSBC’s admission that it failed to supervise its US consumer lending arm properly as it ran up big losses lending to sub-prime mortgage borrowers.

HSBC’s revelations came as New Century, the second-largest US provider of mortgages to borrowers with patchy credit histories, also said it had underestimated the number of bad loans.

The combined warnings unsettled investors, sending the cost of insuring sub-prime mortgage bonds soaring. “There has been a very violent bearish reaction,” said Alex Pritchartt, a bond index trader at UBS.

Meanwhile, Toll Brothers, the luxury housebuilder, added to concerns about wider weakness in the housing market by saying it would write down land values amid plunging orders.

The warning raised doubts about whether the market is recovering as quickly as hoped from its recent slump. The Federal Reserve has been signalling confidence that the economy is heading for a soft landing. But it said recently there were only “tentative” signs of stabilisation in housing, which is a driver of the broader economy.

Stephen Green, who took over as HSBC chairman in May, acknowledged on Thursday that risk management and other controls were not up to scratch at Household, the consumer lending group HSBC bought for $14.7bn almost four years ago.

“This wasn’t supervised as closely as it should have been,” he said of the US mortgage book, which has expanded rapidly since the end of 2005.

HSBC warned on Wednesday night that the prospect of rising defaults in US mortgages meant provisions for bad debts in 2006 would be $10.56bn, $1.76bn higher than previously expected.

Shares in HSBC fell only 1.5 per cent on the news, suggesting that many investors had already discounted increased bad debts, but New Century shares plunged by more than a third. The ABX index for mortgage bonds rated BBB- widened about 100 basis points to a record level above 750bp on Thursday.

Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, said last week that sub-prime mortgages was the one area of the economy “which looks like a recession”. Most of the problems have related to loans originated in the last couple of years and Mr Dimon said JPMorgan had sold off most of the loans it had taken on in 2006.

The rising number of sub-prime loans in default is also likely to attract official scrutiny. Regulators have already questioned lending practices in other part of the mortgage market, and in September issued guidance to lenders, requiring them to use relatively conservative assumptions when qualifying borrowers. That approach could now be applied to sub-prime lending.

A long way to go, and who will lead us? by Garrison Keillor

A long way to go, and who will lead us? by Garrison Keillor
Copyright by The Chicago Tribune
Published February 9, 2007

As a clean and articulate man, I was surprised to see the Biden for President movement run over a bicycle while backing out of the driveway and then take out the gladioluses, but there it was and the distinguished gentleman from Delaware had to go on Comedy Central to explain himself and then clarify his explanations. All of us little macacas derive some pleasure from this, of course, seeing big guys stumble. It's Darwinism in action. Your head gets too big and your pants too tight and you trip and fall down.

Amid all the stumbling and spinning and clarifying and angling in Washington, Sen. Chuck Hagel is walking tall these days. A man who can look at a disaster and call it a disaster when other people are trying to pretend it's a cabbage or a 1957 Chevy is always admirable, and it helps to have that heroic Roman visage of his and that rumbly Nebraska twang. If you were casting the role of Presidential Nominee, he would be it. He is a Republican dissenter, a rarity in our time, a caribou among Holsteins.

Sen. John McCain accuses opponents of the Iraq war, including Hagel, of having no plan to bring it to an end. This is brazen nonsense: You drive down the wrong road and then you yell at the people in the back seat because they can't tell you an easy way to get where you want to go. You lie to the American people and invade a small country and four years later you're bogged down and boys from Nebraska and Minnesota are trying to police a religious-ethnic war that has nothing to do with us and you accuse your critics of being unhelpful. Is this what passes for debate these days?

The Current Occupant has been very cordial to folks in the Democratic Party lately, which a Publican president ought to be, especially when there are mo' Crats than there are Licans. This is the beauty of democracy: You are more or less forced to sit down and break bread with people you might prefer to despise, and they with you. Some Democrats are in a mood to kick shins and they look on bipartisanship as wimping out, and that's fine for columnists and cloistered nuns, but in real life, as a rule, we coexist with the opposition.

Not so long ago I sat down to dinner with a band of rock-ribbed conservatives in Virginia--one of those little accidents in life--and we were elaborately polite to each other, as our mothers taught us to be. Our mothers believed that showing good manners instills respect, and they were right. And thus we don't have Republicans blowing up cable cars in San Francisco or Democrats sending suicide bombers into Temple Square in Salt Lake City.

A couple weeks ago in Minneapolis, I rode in a cab driven by a young Iraqi exile who said, sadly, "My wife's family is Sunni and I am Shiite and this used to make no difference at all. We all lived together and nobody paid attention to whether you were one or the other." That's the voice of humanism speaking: live and let live. It's a quiet voice, often drowned out but persistent, especially in a democratic society operating under the rule of law. Tread lightly. Be patient. Try to work things out.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is speaking in that voice and her poise and intelligence stand out in the field of candidates. She's had so much experience in the limelight that she's no longer enchanted by it. All of the articles about Whether America Is Ready To Elect A Woman have been written, and now we can move on and look at real issues. We need to figure out how to accommodate the millions of good folks who are here illegally and have become a part of our social fabric. Medicare should be extended to cover everybody. Our infrastructure and industrial base need rebuilding.

One of Clinton's visible assets is the army of enemies she has accumulated, the carpet-chewers of AM radio and the right-wing trolls who go berserk in their webby caverns whenever madame comes trotting over the bridge. One could not hope for better enemies. It is like playing softball against drunks. They illustrate everything about Republican dominion that the country has come to loathe, the blithering arrogance, the cynicism and corruption, and this wretched war that drags on and on.


Garrison Keillor is an author and host of "A Prairie Home Companion."

Lutherans to remove gay pastor

Lutherans to remove gay pastor
By Dorie Turner
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune and The Associated Press
Published February 9, 2007

ATLANTA -- The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America said Thursday that it is removing from the clergy a gay minister who announced he has a partner.

Rev. Bradley Schmeling, who has led St. John's Lutheran Church in Atlanta since 2000, will be removed from the roster effective Aug. 15, according to a report from the Chicago-based ELCA's disciplinary committee.

The committee, however, also said the church document that bars practicing homosexuals from the clergy is "bad policy" and encouraged church leaders to abandon it. The delay in Schmeling's removal gives the ELCA a chance to nullify it by changing the document at an August meeting.

Without the language in the document, the panel said it would agree with near unanimity that there is nothing about Schmeling's relationship "that would impede the proclamation of the gospel or the right administration of the sacraments."

The church is among several Protestant denominations that have struggled to resolve differences over the Bible and gay clergy. In 2005, delegates to an ELCA national meeting rejected a proposal to allow sexually active gays and lesbians in committed, long-term relationships to be ordained.

Shortly after the committee's report was released, Schmeling said, "I feel hopeful that if the church has an open and honest conversation about this, that the Holy Spirit will lead the church to change the policy, and therefore there will be no need for any discipline."

Schmeling, 44, who was open about his sexuality when he became pastor of Atlanta's oldest Lutheran church, announced last year he had found a lifelong companion. Bishop Ronald Warren asked the pastor to resign, but Schmeling refused.

Warren then began disciplinary proceedings last year against Schmeling for violating church rules barring sex outside of marriage.

Warren said in a statement posted on the ELCA's Web site that his decision to seek Schmeling's removal was "difficult because of my deep respect for the pastor and the congregation at St. John's."

Mark Chavez, who heads WordAlone, a group that supports upholding the ban on homosexual clergy in relationships, said the church's current policy adheres to Scripture. "The word of God--in the Old and New Testaments--is clear about setting boundaries for sexual relationships," said Chavez, a Lutheran minister.

U.S. needs the strength to be patient BY ANDREW GREELEY

U.S. needs the strength to be patient BY ANDREW GREELEY
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
February 9, 2007

We are told that it is a time for Americans to demonstrate courage, strength, power. We must not accept defeat in Iraq and the "dire" (favorite new word) consequences of failure -- such as region-wide chaos in the Middle East. It is not clear who these "we" are. Not the senators or columnists or editorial writers who are calling on us for sacrifice. They are not in combat themselves, they do not have children in combat. By what right do they lecture those who do and those who now perceive that it was the wrong war, carried out in the wrong way?

President Bush and his swagger, either in his walk or in the "Bush Doctrine," emphasizes America's power. We can do what we want because we have the power to do so and God is on our side. The United States should not negotiate with Iran or Syria as long as it remains powerful and its people steadfast and courageous. It dialogues with other countries only in the modality that Cardinal Egan of New York described to his priests as dialogue Roman style -- "I talk, you listen." In fact, it seems unlikely that the president or the vice president or the attorney general are morally capable of dialogue. Once the arrogance of power is abandoned, they would become mute.

I suggest that what the United States needs is not power or strength, but ingenuity and honesty.

On "Frontline" last week they did a program about the Berlin Airlift, one of the great diplomatic triumphs of the cold war. Since no one pays any attention to history, it means as much to leaders today as the battle of Lookout Mountain. In 1948 Stalin imposed a blockade on Berlin, hoping to force the Allies out of the city and integrate it into their socialist empire. It was suggested to President Truman that we send a convoy of tanks through the blockade and force open the road to Berlin. Truman, unlike the current White House crowd, had been in a war. He realized that the Russians might back down (as they often did in subsequent crises), but that they might not and that something could go wrong, which would launch another war. He decided that the United States would supply the 2 million people of Berlin and the 20,000 Allied troops by air. No one, not least Stalin, thought it would work. However, American ingenuity and organizing skill made it work. After two years Stalin backed down -- the first defeat he had suffered since Stalingrad.

The current crowd, spoiling for a war with Iran while they are bogged down in the Big Muddy of Iraq, would have sent that tank column right down the road and God only knows what would have happened. It would have bombed the Russian missile sites in Cuba in 1963. It would have refused to negotiate with the Russians. It would never have gone to China as President Nixon did. It would still be fighting in Korea or Vietnam. It would not have broken the chill with Khrushchev. It would not have negotiated with Gorbachev, as did Reagan.

The history of the United States in the last half century shows that the country loses nothing when it minimizes risks, is open to negotiations, and exits impossible situations with grace. In those times the leaders of the country urged patience but never strength. They feared the dangers of war. They never equated power with moral right. They never lied to their people. They made mistakes but because they were more or less sane and not unintelligent, they were never reckless.

The revelations of the I. Lewis Libby trial reveal a very different environment. The office of the vice president emerges as something like a cross between a story by Franz Kafka and one by Lewis Carroll. The vice president and Libby, respectively, play the Mad Hatter and the March Hare in their efforts to cover up a cover-up.

The president and the vice president and the secretary of state, having learned no lessons from one war, seem ready to risk another. They urge courage and strength and power but are innocent of such traditional American instincts as realism, pragmatism, restraint and ingenuity, to say nothing of honesty.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Molly Ivins' Last piece: Stand up against the surge in Iraq

Stand up against the surge in Iraq by Molly Ivins
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune and Creators Syndicate
Published February 8, 2007

The purpose of this old-fashioned newspaper crusade to stop the war is not to make George W. Bush look like the dumbest president ever.

People have done dumber things. What were they thinking when they bought into the Bay of Pigs fiasco? How dumb was the Egypt-Suez war? How massively stupid was the entire war in Vietnam? Even at that, the challenge with this misbegotten adventure is that we simply cannot let it continue.

It is not a matter of whether we will lose or we are losing. We have lost.

Gen. John P. Abizaid, until recently the senior commander in the Middle East, insists that the answer to our problems there is not military. "You have to internationalize the problem. You have to attack it diplomatically, geo-strategically," he said.

His assessment is supported by Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior American commander in Iraq, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who only recommend releasing forces with a clear definition of the goals for the additional troops.

Bush's call for a "surge" or "escalation" also goes against the Iraq Study Group.

Talk is that the White House has planned to do anything but what the group suggested after months of investigation and proposals based on much broader strategic implications.

About the only politician out there besides Bush actively calling for a surge is Sen. John McCain. In a recent opinion piece, he wrote: "The presence of additional coalition forces would allow the Iraqi government to do what it cannot accomplish today on its own--impose its rule throughout the country. ... By surging troops and bringing security to Baghdad and other areas, we will give the Iraqis the best possible chance to succeed."

But with all due respect to the senator, that ship has long since sailed.

A surge is not acceptable to the people in this country--we have voted overwhelmingly against this war in polls (about 80 percent of the public is against escalation, and a recent Military Times poll shows only 38 percent of active military want more troops sent) and at the polls.

We know this is wrong.

The people understand, the people have the right to make this decision, and the people have the obligation to make sure our will is implemented.

Congress must work for the people in the resolution of this fiasco.

Sen. Ted Kennedy's proposal to control the money and tighten oversight is a welcome first step.

And if Republicans want to continue to rubber-stamp this administration's idiotic "plans" and go against the will of the people, they should be thrown out as soon as possible, to join their recent colleagues.

Anyone who wants to talk knowledgeably about our Iraq misadventure should pick up Rajiv Chandrasekaran's "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone." It's like reading a horror novel. You just want to put your face down and moan: How could we have let this happen? How could we have been so stupid?

As the Washington Post's review notes, Chandrasekaran's book "methodically documents the baffling ineptitude that dominated U.S. attempts to influence Iraq's fiendish politics, rebuild the electrical grid, privatize the economy, run the oil industry, recruit expert staff or instill a modicum of normalcy to the lives of Iraqis."

We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders.

And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous.

Make our troops know we're for them and trying to get them out of there. Hit the streets to protest Bush's proposed surge. We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, "Stop it, now!"


Editor's note: This is the last column Molly Ivins wrote before she died of breast cancer on Jan. 31 in Austin, Texas.

Diet pill OKd for sale over the counter

Diet pill OKd for sale over the counter
By Jeremy Manier and Judith Graham
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published February 8, 2007

In a move that will expand dieters' access to a drug that has shown modest benefits and potentially embarrassing side effects, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday gave approval to over-the-counter sales of orlistat, the first federally approved diet pill available without a prescription.

Previously released in a stronger prescription form called Xenical, the non-prescription drug will be marketed by drug maker GlaxoSmithKline PLC, which plans to call the drug Alli.

Consumers hoping for a miracle weight-loss product are likely to be disappointed. Orlistat has been shown to help dieters lose weight only if it's taken in conjunction with a reduced-calorie diet. Studies suggest the effects are moderate. On average, people who take the drug lose about 6 pounds more than they would have with diet alone.

The drug works by blocking the digestive system from absorbing fat. But patients benefit most if they are already on a low-fat diet. Eating too much fat increases the likelihood of what one expert described as "totally socially revolting" digestive side effects. For example, about one-quarter of patients experienced oily, spotting bowel movements while taking the drug.

Obesity experts said the drug is likely to help some people with weight problems, but only as part of a thorough weight-loss plan.

"I hope people don't say this means I don't have to think about my diet," said Dr. Dan Bessesen, chief of endocrinology at Denver Health Medical Center and associate professor of medicine at University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.

Diet pills always have enjoyed intense consumer demand, but few have passed rigorous tests of safety and effectiveness.

In the last decade alone, the FDA has called for manufacturers to withdraw two forms of diet drugs for safety reasons. The agency acted to remove drugs with fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine in 1997, and in 2000 it did the same with an ingredient called phenylpropanolamine, which was in Dexatrim and other drugs. In addition, an array of non-approved remedies tout unproven claims to help people lose weight.

FDA officials said the approval offers an extra tool in the fight against obesity.

"We know that being overweight has many adverse consequences, including an increase in the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes," said Dr. Douglas Throckmorton, deputy director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. "[Over-the-counter] orlistat, along with diet and exercise, may aid overweight adults who seek to lose excess weight to improve their health."

The agency recommended users take a multivitamin when using this drug.

The new drug would contain half the dose of Xenical prescription capsules. The price has not been set, but it is expected to run $1 to $2 a day, company officials said. The company estimated 5 million to 6 million Americans a year would buy the drug over the counter.

Some experts said the potential for awkward side effects may serve as a helpful deterrent to anyone tempted to see the pill as a license to indulge in bad eating habits without consequences.

"They'll pop a pill until they have diarrhea, and then they'll stop," said Dr. Naomi Neufeld, clinical professor of pediatrics at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine.

Dr. Sidney M. Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, called the approval "the height of recklessness." Wolfe said studies have associated the prescription version of the drug with precancerous lesions of the colon.

- - -

Diet pill's effects

Facts about orlistat, the diet drug that will be sold over-the-counter as Alli and is prescribed as Xenical:

- The drug must be used with a low-fat diet.

- One-quarter of pill-takers have abnormal bowel movements, including "oily" defecation.

- Orlistat works by limiting absorption of dietary fat in the gut.

- The drug eliminates 25 percent to 30 percent of the fat in the food a person eats.

Sources: GlaxoSmithKline PLC, Tribune reporting


When policy paralysis is bad politics

When policy paralysis is bad politics
By Jacob Weisberg
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: February 8 2007 02:00 | Last updated: February 8 2007 02:00

I had planned to write this week about the US Senate's grand debate on President George W. Bush's proposed troop surge in Iraq, but then the Senate decided not to have one. Harry Reid, the majority leader, called it off rather than allow a vote on a demagogic resolution that insisted Congress should not "endanger United States military forces in the field including by the elimination or reduction of funds". Because most senators would rather be photographed clubbing baby seals than go on record against the troops, a roll call on the motion would have indicated sham support for Mr Bush's policy.

This gambit delighted Republicans because it avoided a showdown they were poised to lose. But some Democrats were no less pleased not to have to cast a vote on the war. Taking a straightforward position on Iraq is the kind of thing that tends to cause problems for them down the road, as John Kerry, the losing 2004 presidential candidate, and Hillary Clinton could testify. For many opponents of the surge, being able to blame Mr Bush's supporters for blocking action is an ideal impasse. Happily helpless, Democrats can denounce Mr Bush for getting it wrong without assuming any responsibility themselves.

This sort of kabuki drama is emerging as the political style of Mr Bush's closing years in office. This is not the type of divided government in which two sides knock heads in a struggle to have their way, which describes the battle that took place between Ronald Reagan and the Democrats in the early 1980s or between Bill Clinton and the Newt Gingrich Congress in the mid-1990s. That kind of conflict is relatively straightforward. Positions on both sides are clear, the fighting is above board and a winner typicallyemerges (the president in both those cases).

The type of deadlock that has overtaken Washington since the handover of congressional power is of a muddier and more frustrating sort, reminiscent of the diminished, final years of nearly every recent American presidency. In this kind of divided government, a lame duck leader cannot move his agenda forward and his opponents in Congress cannot move theirs. Rather than seek compromise, both sides accept nothing much is going to happen for the duration. The political game becomes a matter of blaming the other side for obstructing progress while positioning oneself for the next election.

Fiscal politics exemplify the current stand-off at its most disingenuous. The president's budget, which

was released this week, is a characteristically reality-evading document that asserts that the federal government can achieve balance in five years, based on a series of implausible assumptions, including unrealistic growth in tax revenues, unlikely cuts in domestic spending, underestimating the costs for Iraq and Afghanistan and treating funds that in theory are accumulating in the Social Security trust fund ($184bn [£93.4bn] this year) as free money.

A candid Democratic response would be that restoring fiscal balance again will require hard choices - tax increases and budget cuts - that will become even harder if we want a universal healthcare system. John Edwards, the most populist of those running for the Democratic nomination in 2008, has so far come the closest to saying this, by calling explicitly for tax increases on the wealthy and asserting that moderate deficits are tolerable. But as a rule, Democrats are no more interested in a frank discussion of fiscal realities than the president is. Excessive honesty will get them whacked as tax-raisers. The safer ground is to scoff at Mr Bush's evasions, elide their own and kick the can down the road. A similar sort of calculation explains the current stalemate on a range of other issues, including immigration, entitlement spending, energy policy and climate change.

It is an obvious point that leaving the country's biggest problems to fester cannot be good policy. Less obvious is that it may not be good politics either. A two-party system is a zero-sum game, in which Republican gain ought to mean Democratic loss and vice versa. But because the politics of blockage, blame and stagnation tends to breed disgust with both sides, it can pave the way for big anti-incumbent swings and third-party movements. John McCain and Barack Obama both owe their popularity to a reputation for speaking more plainly than other politicians. But if the current logjam persists, Michael Bloomberg or someone else may wage an independent presidential candidacy on the case that neither Republicans nor Democrats are facing up to America's challenges.

Not talking about problems is also a poor way to prepare the ground for fixing them later. Former vice-president Walter Mondale's acknowledgement that he would raise taxes if elected in 1984 is thought by most to have been a boneheaded political move. Democrats think

Mr Mondale should have evaded the question on the campaign trail, then done what he needed to do if elected. But Bill Clinton's decision to raise taxes in 1993 without a mandate from voters was not brilliant politics either. It was probably the biggest factor in the loss of Democratic control over Congress that lasted 12 years.

If leaders think it suicidal to confront the public with hard choices, the public learns that hard choices are not necessary. Honest debate ceases to be unlikely and becomes impossible.

The writer is editor of

Halliburton faces scrutiny over security

Halliburton faces scrutiny over security
By Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: February 8 2007 02:00 | Last updated: February 8 2007 02:00

The US military is weighing up whether to force Halliburton to pay back what could amount to tens of millions of dollars in fees it charged the army to pay for private security subcontractors in Iraq.

Tina Ballard, deputy assistant secretary of the army, said it was investigating allegations that Halliburton violated the terms of its $16bn (£8bn, €12bn) logistics contract in Iraq, known as Logcap, by knowingly or unknowingly paying for private security subcontractors, and that the army would consider taking steps to recoup those funds.

Use of private security contractors in Iraq, for duties ranging from protecting visiting US officials to securing reconstruction sites, has soared in recent years, costing US taxpayers about $3.8bn, according to a report by Democratic lawmakers.

Under the terms of Logcap, Halliburton is prohibited from using security contractors, such as Blackwater. Last year a top Defense Department official said in a letter to lawmakers investigating the issue that the department had been told by Halliburton subsidiary KBR that the company was "unaware" that Blackwater had been hired by any of KBR's many subcontractors.

But in testimony yesterday before the chief House oversight committee, Ms Ballard admitted that, after a subsequent army probe, one of KBR's subcontractors, ESS, a food services company that is a subsidiary of Compass of the UK, admitted it had hired Blackwater to protect ESS employees under a Logcap subcontract.

KBR's director of security yesterday said travelling in Iraq without security was "exceptionally dangerous".

The investigation of the alleged engagement of Blackwater by KBR and other contractors in Iraq lies at the heart of a wrongful death lawsuit against Blackwater by families of four employees who were ambushed in Falluja in 2004. Henry Waxman, the Democratic chairman of the oversight committee, said that, after three years investigating the ambush, it was still unclear whether the men, who were working for ESS, were ultimately working under a contract held by KBR - which would have violated contracting rules - or Fluor, another contractor, because ESS had offered conflicting information on the issue. Fluor yesterday denied ever working with Blackwater.

"It's remarkable that the world of contractors and subcontractors is so murky that we can't even get to the bottom of this, let alone calculate how many millions of dollars taxpayers lose in each step of the subcontracting process," said Mr Waxman.

In emotional testimony yesterday, the families of the four men, who were shot, dragged through the streets, burned and hanged from a bridge, said Blackwater failed to supply the men with teams big enough to ensure their safety, armoured vehicles and rear gunners, and other provisions. "It's like the wild west over there and there is no accountability," said Kathryn Helvenston-Wettengel, mother of one of those killed.

A Blackwater official declined to discuss details of the case, but said Congress was only hearing an "incomplete and one-sided exploration" of the incident.

TV reporter contradicts Libby in perjury trial

TV reporter contradicts Libby in perjury trial
By Caroline Daniel in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: February 8 2007 02:25 | Last updated: February 8 2007 02:25

Tim Russert, host of NBC’s Meet the Press, on Wednesday became the latest witness in the perjury trial of Lewis Scooter Libby to contradict Mr Libby’s testimony to the grand jury.

Mr Russert told the trial that he had not discussed the identity of a CIA agent with Mr Libby, the vice-president’s former chief of staff.

Mr Libby had told the grand jury he first heard about Valerie Plame, the covert operative, from Mr Russert during a phone call in July 2003, claiming the journalist had said “all the reporters” knew that Ms Plame was an agent at the Central Intelligence Agency. Mr Russert said he had not discussed Ms Plame in that call. “That would be impossible. I didn’t know who that person was until several days later.”

The prosecution contends that Mr Libby lied to the grand jury, seeking to blame reporters to mask the fact he first heard her name from Dick Cheney, the vice-president, and that there was an effort to leak her name to undermine her husband, Joe Wilson, for voicing public doubts about intelligence on Iraq’s nuclear capabilities.

Mr Russert’s testimony could be damaging to Mr Libby, who faces five charges, including obstruction of justice. Mr Russert said he first learned about the identity of Ms Plame from a newspaper article several days after he spoke to Mr Libby, who had called him in “a state of agitation” to complain about how the vice-president’s office was being characterised on Hardball, a political programme on MSNBC.

“He was very firm and very direct. He had not liked what he had heard, saying ‘What the hell is going on with Hardball, and damn it, I’m tired of hearing my name again and again’,” Mr Russert testified. “It was not a natural phone call.”

Mr Libby’s defence lawyers sought to discredit Mr Russert by citing evidence he admitted having a faulty memory about an unrelated incident. They have been trying to prove their client simply forgot who first told him about Ms Plame.

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Government inside out

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Government inside out
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: February 7, 2007

The United States is quickly becoming a government of the contractors, by the contractors and for the contractors. While the private security personnel in Iraq have attracted the most attention, many day-to-day operations are no longer in the hands of federal employees. Functions as disparate as clerical work and tax collection are handled by private companies, while oversight of this always for-profit work is being sorely neglected.

There are plenty of examples of good contracting. The U.S. Interstate Highway System was built in large part by contractors. The problem is that the explosion of government outsourcing under the Bush Administration has not been accompanied by a sufficient increase in civil service personnel to ensure that the work is done without wasting tax dollars.

As Scott Shane and Ron Nixon reported recently in The New York Times, spending on outsourced contracts has nearly doubled under this administration, to roughly $400 billion last year from $207 billion in 2000, while oversight staff levels have remained flat. At the same time, fewer contracts are being put up for competitive bids.

The conventional wisdom holds that outsourcing saves money because the private sector is supposedly more efficient. But if there is to be any chance of cutting costs, that will have to come from competitive bidding. What is most needed is a return to pragmatism, where each decision of whether to use government workers or outside companies is dictated by cost, rather than ideology or political favors.

International Herald Tribune Editorial - It's the war, senators

International Herald Tribune Editorial - It's the war, senators
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: February 7, 2007

It is not an inspiring sight to watch the U.S. Senate turn the most important issue facing America into a political football, and then fumble it. Yet that is what now seems to have come from a once-promising bipartisan effort to finally have the debate about the Iraq war that Americans have been denied for four years.

The Democrats' ultimate goal was to express the Senate's opposition to President George W. Bush's latest escalation. But the Democrats' leaders have made that more difficult — allowing the Republicans to maneuver them into the embarrassing position of blocking a vote on a counterproposal that they feared too many Democrats might vote for.

We oppose that resolution, which is essentially a promise never to cut off funds for this or any future military operation Bush might undertake in Iraq. But the right way for the Senate to debate Iraq is to debate Iraq, not to bar proposals from the floor because they might be passed. The majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, needs to regroup. By changing the issue from Iraq to partisan parliamentary tactics, he threatens to muddy the message of any anti-escalation resolution the Senate may eventually pass.

As it happens, the blocked Republican alternative, proposed by Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, itself represents an end run around the Senate's constitutional responsibilities. The rational way to oppose cuts in funds is to vote against them, if and when any ever come before the Senate. Reid should not be shy about urging fellow Democrats to vote against this hollow gimmick, which tries to make it look as if the senators support Bush's failed Iraq policies by playing on their fears of being accused of not supporting the troops.

America went to war without enough public discussion, and it needs more Senate debate about Iraq, not less. Voters expect to see energized congressional scrutiny of the entire war — not just of the plan for an additional 21,500 troops but also of the future of the 130,000 plus who are already there.

Another Republican resolution, proposed by Senator John McCain, gives the appearance of moving in that more promising direction by ticking off a series of policy benchmarks and then urging the Iraqi government to meet them. But listing benchmarks is one thing. It is another to spell out real consequences for not meeting them, like the withdrawal of American military support. Instead of doing that, the McCain resolution hands a blank check to the new Iraq commander, Lieutenant General David Petraeus. It breathtakingly declares that he "should receive from Congress the full support necessary" to carry out America's mission.

Frustrated by the Senate's fumbles, the House plans to move ahead next week with its own resolution on Bush's troop plan. When the Senate is ready to turn its attention back to substance again, it should go further.

Senators need to acknowledge the reality of four years of failed presidential leadership on Iraq and enact a set of binding benchmarks.

These should require the hard steps toward national reconciliation that the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, continues to evade and that the White House refuses to insist on.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Todd squad - Appoints his cousin to $142,000-a-year job as chief financial officer while promoting CFO to new post with $70,000 raise

The Todd squad - Appoints his cousin to $142,000-a-year job as chief financial officer while promoting CFO to new post with $70,000 raise
February 7, 2007
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger didn't conduct a nationwide search to fill the county's top financial post.

Instead, he tapped into his family tree.

These moves come as Stroger is proposing hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts that would slash police, prosecutors, health programs and nursing jobs.

'This is just obscene'
"This is stunning," said Sheilah Garland-Olaniran of the National Nurses Organizing Committee. "In the face of what he is doing to nurses, prosecutors, public defenders, sheriff's officers -- to do this is just obscene."
Stroger defended his promotion of Glaser -- the CFO for the past 12 years, who will make $225,000 a year in his new job -- saying he'll help lead a hospital system long mismanaged and drowning in debt.

'She has great credentials'
Asked whether Dunnings was the best person for the job "in all of Cook County, in all of Illinois, in all of the country," Stroger said yes. He touted her 1986 college grade-point average and master's degree from Northwestern, saying "if she was anybody else . . . you wouldn't ask me about it."
Dunnings has been the county's budget director and previously worked for the assessor's office.

"I don't care what her name is or what her bloodline is, she has great credentials," Stroger said at a news conference on the appointments.

But Commissioner Forrest Claypool, who ran unsuccessfully for board president in last year's Democratic primary, later called it "nepotism at its worst" and said Stroger's insistence on hiring friends and relatives adds to the county's reputation as "a fat, feather-bedded patronage den."

Dunnings insists she's qualified. "My mother told me a long time ago that Jesus walked our Earth, and he had critics," she said.

"I just happen to be his cousin," she added. "But that is not Donna Dunnings in totality."

Stroger also introduced his choice for comptroller, Joseph Fratto, who has spent 16 years running the Chicago Park District's pension fund.

Hires former boss
Fratto was finance chief for Ed Kelly's patronage-laden park district in the early 1990s. He was also Stroger's boss for a time at the park district and is the brother of investment banker Tony Fratto, who was comptroller under Mayor Jane Byrne and whose firm now does substantial city bond business.
As Stroger was asked about whether clout played a role in Fratto's hiring, Fratto shook his head and rolled his eyes. He declined a request to be interviewed.

Low AIDS awareness adds to crisis - Many blacks don't get latest treatments

Low AIDS awareness adds to crisis - Many blacks don't get latest treatments
By Dahleen Glanton
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published February 7, 2007

ATLANTA -- More than 25 years into the AIDS epidemic, HIV continues to soar in the black community, accounting for nearly half the newly diagnosed infections in the U.S. in a recent yearly assessment by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At the same time, health officials say, the African-American community has been slow to acknowledge the problem, prompting the CDC and grass-roots organizations to mark a yearly observance to bring attention to the epidemic.

Wednesday is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, a national effort designed to mobilize blacks to get tested, educated and treated for the disease. Well-known African-Americans--including Tony Dungy, head coach of the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts; entertainer Patti LaBelle; Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.); and former Secretary of State Colin Powell--have joined the campaign by taping public-service announcements to run on radio and television.

Of the roughly 1 million people estimated to be living with HIV in the United States, 47 percent are African-American, according to CDC statistics for 2005, the most recent year for which numbers are available. Though blacks represent only about 12 percent of the U.S. population, 49 percent of the newly diagnosed cases in 2005 were African-Americans. About 31 percent of new infections were among whites; the number was 18 percent for Hispanics.

"The ability to manage this terrible disease has improved, and more people are living healthier and longer lives, but African-Americans have been diagnosed late and are not availing themselves to treatment," said Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of the CDC's National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention. "The stigma within the community has prevented people from getting tested and accessing services needed to help manage infections."

African-American women are disproportionately affected, with an infection rate 20 times that of white females. Among men who have sex with men, blacks are infected at 7 times the rate of whites.

"HIV is closely associated with socio-economic disparity in our country. Poverty, poor access to services and lack of knowledge all factor into this," Fenton said. "Stigma, homophobia and lack of open conversation in the black community have further compounded the problem."

To increase early detection of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, the CDC recently issued a new policy recommending that HIV testing become a routine part of medical care for Americans 13 to 64 years of age. It should be given much like a cholesterol or blood-pressure test, the CDC said, adding that patients should be allowed to refuse the HIV test if they choose.

Illinois Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) recently introduced a bill in the Illinois legislature that would include HIV testing in routine physical examinations that Illinois students take before entering school. HIV tests would be administered during school physical exams, just as tuberculosis tests and vaccinations are given.

Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is an important part of a comprehensive awareness program to stop the spread of the disease, according to supporters, and it helps to get the message out.

"Black people are going to have to take responsibility for themselves in this epidemic," said Debra Fraser-Howze, president of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS. "We have to make some serious decisions, a decision to first talk about the epidemic and a decision to own it. It is ours."

While there has been progress in confronting the disease in the black community, she said, much work remains in getting the subject to the forefront in churches, schools and community groups. And while much attention has been given to the epidemic in Africa, not enough has been placed on the problem in black communities in the U.S., she said.

"We are in a quandary because we as African-Americans have to be concerned about what is going on in Africa. But at the same time we are concerned about Africa, we have to be concerned about South Central Los Angeles. Both have to be addressed," said Fraser-Howze. "Funds are dwindling, and everybody is taking money to Africa when African-Americans are dying in this country."


Bookshops' latest sad plot twist

Bookshops' latest sad plot twist
By David Streitfeld
Copyright by The Los Angeles Times
February 7, 2007

San Francisco — FIVE years ago, Gary Frank decided to sell his bookstore here.

The Booksmith had built a fine reputation over a quarter of a century, thanks to an impressive series of author appearances and a high-traffic location in the old hippie neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury.

Yet hardly anyone expressed interest. Frank was disappointed but not surprised.

"Maybe they saw the future," he said.

A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books, open since 1982 near City Hall, sought a buyer, couldn't find one, and closed last summer. Cody's Books shut its flagship Berkeley store after a half-century run. Black Oak Books closed one of its stores and is considering shutting the other two if a buyer can't be found. Numerous small new and secondhand stores have fallen with little fanfare.

The casualties are nationwide. Coliseum Books and Murder Ink in Manhattan shut down in recent weeks. Micawber Books in Princeton, N.J., couldn't make it. Dutton's 2-year-old outpost in Beverly Hills has closed, and the original Dutton's in Brentwood will be forced to shrink or relocate if the landlord carries through with plans to redevelop the site.

Rising rents and competition from the chains have imperiled independents for years, but San Francisco used to think it was immune. Cody's and other Bay Area stores helped spark the Beat movement, encouraged the counterculture, fueled the initial protests against the Vietnam War. In a region that sees itself as smart and civilized, bookshops were things to be cherished.

No longer, apparently. The stores that are still in business feel compelled to underline that fact.

"Rare but Not Extinct," one proclaimed in a holiday ad. Another, announcing a special sale in a leaflet, felt the need to emphasize, "We're not going out of business."

WHAT'S undermining the stores is a massive shift in buying habits brought about by the Internet. Ordering from, Frank said, has almost become the generic term for book buying.

Technology changes behavior, which reshapes the physical landscape. The era of repertory movie houses playing "Casablanca" and "High Noon" ended with the VCR. The telephone booth was replaced by the beeper, which was made obsolete by the cellphone. And the newspaper is under siege by the Internet's ability to recombine and distribute news without leaving ink on your hands.

"The bookstore as we know it is in dire straits," said Lewis Buzbee, a novelist who spent many years working in the local shops.

That sense of peril is doubtless one reason "The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop," Buzbee's loving memoir of his time as a clerk in the Bay Area interspersed with a history of the bookselling trade, has become a small but genuine hit. It's just gone into its fourth printing, with enthusiastic crowds flocking to the writer's appearances.

"One thing books do is offer us concrete definitions for sometimes hazy feelings," said Buzbee, 49. "My memoir gives people a venue for sharing their emotions about bookstores."

A good bookstore, he notes, is unlike any other retail space. Where else can you linger, sample the merchandise and then casually reject it if not quite right? Your local pizzeria would frown on such behavior. In a culture that worships money, bookstores are one of the few commercial institutions where cost doesn't trump all other considerations. Massive bestsellers share shelf space with the most obscure tomes.

Buzbee exalts a place where time seems to slow but hours can disappear in an instant, where browsers coexist in a companionable solitude, where a chance encounter with the exact right volume might create an explosion in your head.

"Not only could your world change, but the rest of the world could change," he told an audience at the venerable City Lights bookstore in North Beach.

It was a message that Kim Webster, an apartment concierge, heard and found eloquent. She said Buzbee captured "the essence, the nirvana feeling, the power of the written word."

But she didn't buy his $17 volume that night. Maybe later, she said, maybe from her local chain superstore. And if she missed it there, the Internet is an emporium that never closes.

THIS is the paradox of modern bookselling. Even in an entertainment-saturated age, people still buy books. But the casual reader has many other places to get bestsellers and topical books, from warehouse stores to the mall. Meanwhile, book nuts — the ones who simply must buy several volumes a week — are lured online. Few businesses can survive that lose customers from both ends of the spectrum.

In 1995, anyone seeking a book that was the least bit uncommon had to have a store special order it from the publisher. If it was out of print, the would-be reader needed to trudge to the local secondhand shop, which would run a classified advertisement in AB Bookman's Weekly, a magazine that circulated among book dealers. It was a hit-or-miss proposition.

AB Bookman's Weekly went out of business in late 1999, an early Internet casualty. There are now half a dozen major Internet search engines that specialize in books. On one of them,, there are 44 copies of "The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop."

It's hard for any single used bookstore to compete against this bounty, just as it's impossible for any shop carrying new books to rival the electronic plenitude of Amazon. Because the Internet retailer doesn't have to pay rent for display space or charge sales tax, its books are almost invariably cheaper too.

"I'd be really hard pressed to come up with a single social or demographic trend that is in favor of bookstores," said Tom Haydon, whose Wessex Books in Menlo Park was for decades the best secondhand store in the 50-mile stretch between San Francisco and San Jose.

Unable to find a buyer, Haydon closed Wessex in June 2005.

"It's a lost cause," he said.

During the 1990s, when the biggest threat facing independents was the Barnes & Noble and Borders chains, there was outrage and action. In Capitola, a full-size Borders store was voted down by the City Council in 1999. When a Borders opened a few miles away in Santa Cruz the next year, it was greeted by demonstrators and hecklers.

But in the last year or two, as the menace from the Internet became palpable, the chains lost their position as No. 1 villain. Borders and Barnes & Noble reported that sales in stores open for more than a year slipped over the Christmas holidays, despite the healthy economy.

Meanwhile, Amazon reported "media" sales (which include books) in North America of $1.25 billion for the last three months of 2006, a 21% increase over the same period a year earlier.

"The purpose of a business is to satisfy the needs and wants of a customer," said book industry consultant Albert Greco. "That's what the online world has done."

MAYBE that's why passions among literary folk now seem so muted.

When sliding sales forced Cody's to close its store next to the UC Berkeley campus, the poet Ron Silliman wrote on his blog that it was once the anchor of "the best book-buying block in North America." But in the discussion that followed, the attitude was one of resignation if not indifference.

"Why would anyone want to perpetuate small independents by paying higher prices?" wondered Curtis Faville, a poet who sells rare books on the Internet. "Most of these proud little independents were poorly run anyway."

Less harshly, Silliman suggested in an e-mail that "we're simultaneously caught in the wonder of the new and true mourning for the losses of the old."

It's an unsettling if inevitable process. Half a century ago, Silliman said, he would play chess and checkers with his grandfather as they listened to the radio. "That stopped once the TV arrived, because now we all had to face the same direction," he wrote.

Those for whom "browsing" has much more of an online connotation than a physical one barely register the shift.

"Bookstores, small or large, don't carry what I'm looking for," said Logan Ryan Smith, a 29-year-old accountant who publishes a literary magazine and poetry pamphlets. "I'm not going to find an Effing Press or Ugly Duckling Presse book even at City Lights or Cody's."

Smith is a beneficiary of what Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine, has dubbed "the Long Tail."

The Internet has transformed American culture from a place where a few sold the same thing to many — think network television or the Hollywood studios or even booksellers circa 1970 — to one where the middleman or gatekeeper can be circumvented.

The humblest band, the most amateur moviemaker and the clunkiest poet now have at least a hope of finding fans, and of having fans find them. When diagramed on a chart, this new marketplace resembles a tail extending into infinity.

"The clear lesson of the Long Tail is that more choice is better," Anderson said. "Since bookstores can't compete on choice, many once-cherished stores are going to be road kill."

Not that he thinks this is a big deal.

"A lot of our affection for bookstores is based on a romanticized notion," Anderson said. "The fact that we're not patronizing them speaks more loudly than our words."

Buzbee, who does patronize them, is determined to be hopeful.

"I don't know whether pulling our hair out and bemoaning our fate does any good," he said. "Technology is here to stay, but I firmly believe that we will still have better things to do than sit in front of a computer."

The bookstores Buzbee worked in, Upstart Crow and Printer's Inc., are long gone. The shop where he now feels most at home is the Booksmith. "The perfect urban bookstore," he calls it in "The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop."

Last fall, a weary Frank was contemplating closing the 11-employee store when he finally received a solid offer. A few weeks ago, he signed a tentative agreement to sell the Booksmith for a mid-six-figure price to a partnership led by Praveen Madan, whose previous career involved steering tech firms to profitability.

Madan, 41, calls bookstore owners "reluctant capitalists," saying they're suffering because they haven't innovated. His goal: "Create the store for the 21st century. If you do it well, you'll give customers a reason to come back. But you can't do it by making them feel guilty."

He's full of plans for improving the Booksmith's website, tying the store more firmly to the Haight-Ashbury community, doing more events — making it both inescapable and irresistible for those who live in the neighborhood.

Frank, who owns the Booksmith building, is helping out the new team by offering a below-market rent. He couldn't think offhand of a store anywhere in the country that has successfully reinvented itself and moved to a secure financial footing, but that doesn't mean it's impossible.

"Someone needs to take bookstores to another level," Frank said. "Because this level sure isn't working."