Saturday, March 10, 2007

Peoples Gas files rate hike request - Increase would be first in 12 years; CUB vows scrutiny

Peoples Gas files rate hike request - Increase would be first in 12 years; CUB vows scrutiny
By Jon Van
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published March 9, 2007, 8:52 PM CST

Peoples Gas filed a rate increase request Friday with the Illinois Commerce Commission that the company estimated would raise residential gas bills, on average, as much as $120 a year for Chicago customers who heat their homes with natural gas.

The firm's parent, Integrys Energy Group Inc., also filed a rate increase for North Shore Gas customers that it estimated would amount to an average of as much as $60 a year for those customers who use gas to heat their homes.

The companies said last month that they would file for rate increases. Peoples President Desiree Rogers emphasized that it has been 12 years since the firm filed for an increase in the rates it charges to deliver natural gas.

"We have cut our costs during those 12 years, reducing staff and automating processes, to keep prices down," Rogers said. "But you can only cut so much."

The rate increase would raise about $102 million a year from Peoples customers and $6.5 million from North Shore customers.

Customer gas bills have been rising significantly in recent years because the price of natural gas has gone up, but charges for delivery have remained fixed, she said. Delivery charges amount to about 20 percent of a customer's bill on average. But delivery is where Peoples makes its money.

Though the ICC has authorized her company to earn somewhat more than 11 percent of its rate base investment, Rogers said actual results have been much below that. In 2006, the firm said it earned 4.2 percent on its rate base investment.

Energy conservation has played a role, she said.

In the last dozen years, Peoples customers have cut their consumption of natural gas by about 25 percent by insulating their homes, dialing down thermostats and other conservation measures.

"Using less gas is good," Rogers said. "We encourage that, but our fixed costs to deliver the gas don't change when people use less. We need a rate structure that will cover those fixed costs."

Consumer advocates vowed to closely examine the rate hike request and to oppose any increases that aren't economically justified.

"This is horrible timing," said Jim Chilsen, a spokesman for the Citizens Utility Board. "Illinois consumers are facing an energy crisis. Natural gas costs are climbing and electric bills are skyrocketing.

"Our experts will scrutinize this request and fight every penny that we don't think Peoples deserves. Just because there hasn't been an increase in the delivery rate for 12 years doesn't mean they automatically deserve to get an increase now."

Rogers said the increased funding will help to maintain the 4,000 miles of natural gas pipeline the company owns to deliver gas to about 815,000 customers.

For customers who don't heat their homes with gas but use it to heat water and for cooking, the company estimates that monthly bills on average would go up as much as $48 annually.

The ICC may take up to 11 months to hear testimony about the proposed rate hike, which Peoples said would likely take effect some time in early 2008.

City's 'skin' for Games? $500 million - But top official says only 'incompetents' could lose money

City's 'skin' for Games? $500 million - But top official says only 'incompetents' could lose money
By Gary Washburn and Philip Hersh
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published March 9, 2007, 11:22 PM CST

Chicago would be responsible for as much as $500 million if the 2016 Olympic Games operated in the red and other guarantees fell short, officials said Friday.

But Chicago 2016 Chairman Patrick Ryan insisted that no other host city has ever lost money in the Summer Games, and "we would have to be the first really incompetents to do that" if the reserves had to be tapped.

By a conservative estimate, the Games would generate a surplus of $525 million, Ryan said.

The risk of a money-losing Olympics would be "layered" under the plan proposed to meet the requirements of the United States Olympic Committee. The city could be required at two different points to come up with $250 million payments.

Exactly how City Hall would raise the money was somewhat hazy. Dana Levenson, the city's chief financial officer, said it would come from "cash on hand" and the proceeds of bond issues, but he did not elaborate on what funds would be used to pay off the borrowing.

Mayor Richard Daley for months had said that taxpayers would not be on the hook if Chicago wins the Games, but local officials amended that this week during a visit by a USOC evaluation team. An Olympic executive said that the city would have to have "skin in the game," a reference to cash backing in a worst-case scenario.

The city had been working to get "private market guarantees" as backing in case the Games operate in the red and only recently became aware of the requirement for public funds in reserve, Ryan said.

"You have to comply with what rules they establish, what they say it takes to win," he said. "Now we know it takes city skin in the game to win."

Defending Daley, a personal friend, Ryan said, "We think the mayor's statement stands that there won't be taxpayer money spent" because of the positive revenue projections.

Though Ryan said previous Summer Games enjoyed large surpluses, the figures he cited come from an author whose conclusions about the success of past Olympic Games can be questioned.

In his book, "The Economics of Staging the Olympics," Holger Preuss insists one can eliminate what he calls "investments" from the expense side on final balance sheets. That allows him to ascribe a $635 million surplus for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, while the official Atlanta report calls its balance sheet a wash, with revenues and expenses of $1.72 billion.

Preuss goes so far as to contend that Montreal did not lose money on the 1976 Summer Games, something that most experts would dispute.

USOC Vice President Bob Ctvrtlik applauded the city's guarantee plan, saying it "substantially satisfies our requirements with respect to financial guarantees."

"This is a responsible, balanced approach reflecting commitments from both the private and public sectors, which we believe is critical for an internationally competitive bid," Ctvrtlik said in a statement.

Chicago and Los Angeles are vying for the right to be the U.S. candidate for 2016 in a contest that will be settled when the USOC selects a winner on April 14. The International Olympic Committee will make a final selection from a list of global competitors in 2009.

In what Ryan described as "a significant enhancement to our venue plan," the $78 million Olympics aquatics center would be built in Douglas Park on the impoverished West Side instead of the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago as originally planned.

In the new location, it would be "more accessible to the community and much more available to the youth of that community," Ryan said.

The cost of the facility would be covered by $50 million from sale of air rights at the site of the planned Olympic Village near McCormick Place; $15 million from the Chicago Park District; and the remainder from the sale of naming rights.

Ctvrtlik said the USOC is "comfortable" with the change in location.

If a Chicago Olympics suffered an operating loss, the first pot of money to be tapped, an estimated $200 million, would come from two sources under the financing plan, officials said. They are skybox revenues at the major venues, including a new stadium planned for Washington Park, and money from the private developer of the Olympic Village.

Contributions from private donors in the years approaching the Games would add to the $200 million figure, Ryan said.

The city would be responsible for the next $250 million in potential losses. Third in line would be $250 million from private sources and other government entities. The city then would follow with another $250 million in reserve.

Quick action by the City Council is required to meet a March 31 USOC deadline. The council is expected to vote on the plan Wednesday.

Aldermen who emerged from private City Hall briefings on Friday generally liked what they heard, expressing confidence that the city's risk would be minimal and that the Games are worth pursuing despite the financial exposure.

"From what I saw, the structure looks sound," said Ald. Isaac Carothers (29th). "I think we should do all we can to bring this historic event to the city. [For] what it is going to do for the income of Chicago, it is well worth it."

Ald. Edward Burke (14th), chairman of the council's Finance Committee, was enthusiastic after his briefing, citing the impact on the city of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition and the 1933-34 Century of Progress International Exposition.

"Believe it or not, in a six-month period 28 million people came to Chicago," Burke said of the Columbian Exposition. "It was the transforming event in Chicago's history.

"Likewise, in 1933 in the middle of the Depression, Chicago put on an exposition that was so successful it was held over for another year, and it was profitable," Burke said. "I think the potential of this 2016 Olympics to showcase Chicago and metropolitan Chicago and the state of Illinois is as important as it was in 1893 and 1933."

Fed warns of more subprime problems

Fed warns of more subprime problems
By Ben White in New York
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: March 9 2007 23:36 | Last updated: March 10 2007 01:07

Federal Reserve governor Susan Bies on Friday said problems in the subprime mortgage market could escalate, further unnerving investors, as shares in troubled lender New Century Financial continued to plummet.

At a risk management forum in Charlotte, North Carolina, Ms Bies said lenders were likely to see an increase in defaults involving borrowers who took out mortgages with low “teaser” interest rates, which jump to higher levels during the life of the loan.

“What’s happening is the front end of this wave of teaser-rate loans that are coming into full pricing,” said Ms Bies, who is retiring from the Fed. “So what we’re seeing in this narrow segment is the beginning of the wave – this is not the end, this is the beginning.” She added that, thus far, problems remain contained in the subprime sector.

The comments, reported by Bloomberg, came as shares in troubled mortgage lender New Century Financial fell another 17 per cent to $3.21 as analysts said the company would probably have to file for bankruptcy protection. Also on Friday, General Electric’s US home lending unit, WMC Mortgage, said it would cut back on loans and cut 460 jobs, or 20 per cent of its staff. Concerns about the subprime market helped limit US stocks to modest gains in spite of solid employment numbers.

New Century shares are off nearly 80 per cent since the lender disclosed last week that federal prosecutors were probing its accounting practices and trading in its shares. The mortgage group is negotiating with lenders to extend credit agreements and is not accepting new loan applications.

Andrew Wessel, analyst at JPMorgan, said the chances of New Century surviving were slim. “We believe it is likely that [the company] has essentially mortgaged its last unencumbered assets,” he said.

Morgan Stanley has extended $265m in new financing to New Century and taken over a $710m facility withdrawn by Citigroup. Morgan Stanley’s lending, like that extended by other banks, is secured by mortgage loans held by New Century. Banks that buy subprime loans from New Century to package and sell as securities also generally have the right to sell back the loans if they go into default. However, New Century may not be in a position to buy back bad loans.

International Herald Tribune Editorial - George Bush goes south

International Herald Tribune Editorial - George Bush goes south
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: March 9, 2007

President George W. Bush came to office six years ago pledging a "fundamental commitment" to Latin America.

Whether because events elsewhere distracted him or because he was incapable of concentrating on more than one or two foreign challenges at a time, Bush has failed to keep that promise. As he hops from Brazil to Uruguay to Colombia to Guatemala and finally to Mexico on his current Latin America tour, he is certain to hear well-founded complaints about the consequences of his inattention to the southern hemisphere.

Administration spokesmen have been denying that the president's trip is meant to counter the influence of the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez. But Bush's hosts know better.

If the president hopes for even modest success, he will have to alter his past approach to Latin America. Instead of harping on a militarized war on drugs or free-trade agreements that seem only to exacerbate poverty and disparities of wealth, Bush ought to heed the particular local needs of the countries he visits.

In Brazil, his first stop, he is likely to be told it is hypocritical of the United States to maintain a tariff of 54 cents per gallon on imported ethanol. Brazilian sugar-based ethanol is considerably cheaper to produce than U.S. corn-based ethanol, and so the U.S. tariff on imported ethanol amounts to a protectionist barrier for U.S. corn producers — exactly the sort of device American proponents of free trade commonly preach against.

If Bush wants to respond to Mexico's central concerns, he will take to heart complaints he is sure to hear from President Felipe Calderón about the U.S. failure to keep a promise to legalize undocumented Mexicans working in the United States. And Bush will also have to recognize that the United States cannot be considered a good neighbor if it builds a 700-mile wall along the Mexican border.

In Mexico as elsewhere in Latin America, the best way for Bush to begin rolling back the Chávez tide is by undoing some of the damage done during the past six years of

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Terrorism's victims

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Terrorism's victims
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: March 9, 2007

American law currently bars entry to the United States of some of terrorism's most abused victims: refugees who have been forced, often at gunpoint, to provide so-called material assistance.

Among those excluded by these provisions are a 13-year-old Ugandan girl taken away by the Lord's Resistance Army and forced to gather food and cook for her abductors, and a Sri Lankan fisherman kidnapped by Tamil Tiger rebels and forced to pay a ransom for his freedom.

Some who fought as irregulars alongside American troops in Indochina also now find themselves excluded because they have been wrongly classed as terrorists. Watching all that, Iraqis may well ask why they should now risk their lives in support of American policies if this is what they can expect if they ever have to seek refuge in the United States.

Just about everyone, including Bush administration officials, agrees that these rules need to be fixed. But the remedy that the Homeland Security Department has recently proposed — chiefly a promise of discretionary waivers — does not go nearly far enough. Unless the administration comes up with an acceptable solution soon, Congress will have to.

The problem begins with a sloppy definition of terrorism written into a 1990 immigration law. It was compounded after the 9/11 terrorist attacks by the Bush administration's overly aggressive and rigid interpretation of what constitutes material support for terrorism. Standard legal definitions of terrorism characterize it as planning or committing unlawful, violent acts aimed at killing, injuring, or intimidating innocent civilians. But the 1990 law defined it in a way that could encompass virtually any illegal civilian use of weapons — even to resist a violent dictatorship or to fight alongside American troops.

The Bush administration, using the Patriot Act and other tools, turned this into a much bigger problem by pumping up the number of groups — and individuals — officially labeled as terrorist and aggressively enforcing the concept of material support.

In response to complaints from both parties in Congress and from religious and human rights groups, the administration recently agreed to consider selective waivers of the material support ban. But the waivers would apply only if the groups doing the intimidating were not on any of the State Department's lists of terrorist organizations. That is a cruel and irrelevant distinction.

Duress is duress, no matter which group coerced the cooperation. In the name of keeping out terrorists, Washington should not slam the door on terrorism's victims

FBI admits abuse of Patriot Act

FBI admits abuse of Patriot Act
By Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: March 9 2007 23:00 | Last updated: March 9 2007 23:00

The Bush administration misused its authority and improperly obtained personal information about people in the US on hundreds of occasions, according to a report released by a US Justice Department watchdog.

Robert Mueller, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said he was to be held accountable for the abuses, which involved the improper use of so-called national security letters, which allowed the FBI to obtain personal information, including telephone, banking, and e-mail records.

“I am committed to ensuring that we correct these deficiencies,’’ Mr Mueller said, adding that he would not resign.

A report by Glenn Fine, inspector-general of the Justice Department, found that the FBI circumvented the legal restrictions on the use of the letters by obtaining telephone records from three unnamed telecommunications carriers without first getting required legal permission and that the FBI routinely sought out e-mail records improperly.

In one “possible violation” of the law detailed in the report, the inspector-general said the FBI issued a national security letter seeking education records from a North Carolina university in connection with the 2005 London Tube and bus bombings.

The report found that, in this case, the FBI sought records it was not authorised to demand under the law, including admissions applications, housing information, and campus health records.

In addition, the report found the FBI “significantly understated” the total number of letters it requested in half-yearly reports to Congress from 2003 to 2005. (FBI response)

Alberto Gonzales, attorney-general, said in a letter to the inspector-general that the problems raised in the report were “serious” and must be addressed immediately.

However, the national security letters were “vital investigative tools” to the US effort to “fight and win the war on terror”.

Mr Gonzales ordered the FBI’s inspection division to investigate the use of national security letters and said that – although there had been no allegation of misconduct by FBI lawyers – the office of professional responsibility would examine the role played by attorneys in the matter.

The inspector-general’s report comes at a difficult time for the Justice Department, which was under fire this week from lawmakers in Washington who are investigating the potential political motivation behind the recent firing of at least eight US attorneys.

The report drew angry reactions from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including Senator Arlen Specter, the most powerful Republican on the judiciary committee.

Mr Specter said Congress had reauthorised the Patriot Act, which gave the government the authority to issue the letters, on the basis that the administration would be in strict compliance with the act’s limitations.

“The judiciary committee will now have to undertake comprehensive oversight on this important matter and perhaps act to limit the FBI’s power by revising the Patriot Act,” Mr Specter said.

China to invest its foreign currency reserves

China to invest its foreign currency reserves
By Jim Yardley and David Barboza
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: March 9, 2007

BEIJING: The Chinese government on Friday announced the formation of a new agency to oversee investment of China's $1 trillion in foreign currency reserves, representing a potent new force in international finance.

Finance Minister Jin Renqing offered no specifics about how much of the currency reserves would be made available to the investment agency. But analysts say the agency is expected to control one of the world's biggest investment funds, and one that could singlehandedly alter the value of many assets.

The government said one model for the agency was Temasek Holdings, the Singapore government's successful investment agency, which manages an $84 billion global portfolio of investments.

China already has the world's largest foreign exchange holdings, and they are growing rapidly because of the country's huge trade surpluses. Most of the reserves China now accumulates are conservatively invested in U.S. Treasury bonds and other government securities, which earn little return for China yet help to keep interest rates in the United States and other countries low.

But the investment agency being established will allow China to diversify its foreign exchange holdings. Analysts say the agency could deploy hundreds of billions of dollars to acquire financial or strategic assets around the world, particularly in
"They're not going to be looking for financial assets, but energy assets and natural resources, minerals — things China desperately needs," said Jing Ulrich of J.P. Morgan.

China's currency-exchange reserves are now held by its central bank, the People's Bank of China, and most of the reserves are expected to continue to be held there, in safe, conservative investments in government securities.

But a large sum of money is expected to be shifted to the new agency or investment group, which could aggressively invest it for higher returns. Some of the money could even possibly be used to acquire stocks, corporate bonds or real estate holdings in other parts of the world.

Some financial experts are already talking about the huge potential impact of China's emergence as a major global investor, and how that could push asset prices higher and create even more competition for scarce resources.

But Jin, the finance minister, suggested that the new investment agency would not simply be allowed to speculate.

"The biggest priority is safety, and under the principle of security we will try to will try to increase the efficiency of management and the investments' returns," Jin said at his news conference during the two-week meeting of the National People's Congress, the country's largely ceremonial national legislature.

The decision to form the new agency has been rumored for months, and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said in January that the government was exploring new ideas about investing the currency reserves.

Andy Rothman, a strategist at CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets, said the government would probably be extremely conservative in how it invested and would initially use only a small fraction of its overall reserves.

Rothman said, "I think they'll be very conservative at the beginning and probably give them about $20 billion at the beginning."

"It's not all of a sudden going to change the world," he added.

"I think they are going to move very, very slowly to diversify what they are doing. Nobody should expect that suddenly they are going to invest $1 trillion."

Some analysts say the formation of the new agency means that Beijing is moving away from heavy reliance on investing in dollars through U.S. Treasury securities, and that could affect interest rates in the United States, which are being kept down by China's huge purchases.

But foreign exchange reserves are accumulating so quickly in China, at more than $20 billion a month, analysts say, that it's possible that for the time being the agency would be operating with only a small portion of the money now accumulating.

China's foreign exchange holdings are just one of the latest signs of the country's spectacular rise — and of its growing influence in the global economy and financial markets.

With that growth have come rising costs for education, health care and pension funds. Making a better return on government holdings, analysts say, will allow the government to cope with some of these problems.

Rothman said the formation of the new investment agency should be viewed in the context of other new government measures, like the recent efforts to pass a private property law and a law to equalize corporate taxes. He said China was trying to create the legal and regulatory structure to underpin its still-evolving market economy.

in, the finance minister, said the new agency would answer directly to the State Council, the equivalent of China's cabinet.

David Barboza reported from Shanghai.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Test Positive Aware Network Offers New Oral, Rapid HIV Testing

Rhett Lindsay
Special Events Coordinator
Test Positive Aware Network
Phone: (773) 989-9400

Test Positive Aware Network Offers New Oral, Rapid HIV Testing

As part of Test Positive Aware Network’s (TPAN) newly funded HIV Prevention Programs, TPAN is proud to announce expanded testing hours using the OraQuick Rapid HIV Oral Test. In 20 minutes, a person can learn their HIV results, without the discomfort of drawing blood.

TPAN’s HIV testing hours:

Mondays 2-8
Tuesdays 10-4
Wednesdays 10-4
Thursdays 2-8
Fridays 10-3
Other times by appointment

To make an appointment and for more information about TPAN’s rapid, oral HIV testing, please call TPAN’s Prevention Coordinator Nick Branock at (773) 989-9400.

About Test Positive Aware

Test Positive Aware Network (TPAN) is one of Chicago’s longest standing HIV/AIDS service providing agencies. TPAN provides peer-led treatment education, support services, information dissemination and advocacy to empower people living with HIV/AIDS. TPAN also provides free, rapid, anonymous, oral HIV testing, prevention education services and a needle exchange program in an effort to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS. TPAN proudly produces the only non-profit, national, HIV treatment publication Positively Aware and Positively Aware en Espanol. TPAN is a local Chicago agency making a difference nationally.

# # #


Begin by standing on a comfortable surface, where you have plenty of room at each side. With a 5-lb potato sack in each hand, extend your arms straight out from your sides and hold them there as long as you can. Try to reach a full minute, and then relax. Each day, you'll find that you can hold this position for just a bit longer.

After a couple of weeks, move up to 10-lb potato sacks. Then try 50-lb potato sacks and then eventually try to get to
where you can lift a 100-lb potato sack in each hand and hold your arms straight for more than a full minute. (I'm at this level)

After you feel confident at that level, put a potato in each of the sacks.

Betraying the truth betrays the troops

Betraying the truth betrays the troops
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
March 9, 2007

I see by the papers that Senators Barack Obama and John McCain have been "dinged" by the "researchers" (mud collectors and mud throwers) because they have asserted that lives and money have been "wasted" in Iraq. How dare they say that the lives of "our troops" were wasted? Have they no respect for the feelings of the survivors of "our troops''? Must one maintain the illusion that these brave men and women died for something important, like American freedom or democracy or to prevent another World Trade Center attack?

The truth is that they died because of loyalty to the armed services and to their duty. That ought to be enough. One ought not to pretend that the war was waged for any other reason than that the president, the vice president, the secretary of defense and their coterie of neoconservative intellectuals wanted a war and exaggerated intelligence data to justify it.

The administration talks endlessly about loyalty to our troops and the duty of all Americans to support them. In fact, once they had the congressional resolution justifying the war, they showed precious little concern for the troops. They did not send enough troops to ensure immediate victory, nor did they train them for the kind of war they would have to fight. It was supposed to be over in a couple of weeks. You could win with substantial numbers of reserve and National Guard personnel, weekend soldiers who were yanked away from their families and jobs and sent off to war.

They did not equip the troops with adequate body armor or adequate vehicle armor. They did not devise a way to protect the troops from roadside bombs. They played games with their paychecks. They deployed and redeployed and then redeployed again, like they were yo-yos without any concern for their personal and familial stress. They assigned them to duty in prisons like Abu Ghraib for which they were totally unqualified.

And Donald Rumsfeld delivered himself of the brilliant military dictum, "stuff happens." And remarked that ''you don't fight the war you want to fight but the war you have to fight.''

Then, when the troops died in substantial numbers, they forbade pictures of flag-draped coffins being unloaded by the score from transport planes. They boasted of great progress and then redeployed troops again beyond human endurance.

As the casualties mounted, the president mouthed meaningless cliches like, "Iraq is hard." Hard on whom, one wonders? On himself or the vice president? On Secretary Rumsfeld or Secretary Condoleezza Rice or on the wives and children, the mothers and fathers, the sweethearts and the friends of those who died in a foolish war that has been bungled at every deeper step into the Big Muddy? Hard on the men and women whose lives will be forever blighted by unnecessary deaths? But those of us who wanted all along to remove them from harm's way are accused of not supporting the troopswhen the leaders who sent them into this military miasma clearly don't give a hoot about them, save as a political talking point.

Now we have the revelations of how the returning troops are treated at Building 18 in the Walter Reed Hospital complex, the inadequate treatment at most VA hospitals around the country, and the cover-up of statistics about brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. The returning troops, it would seem, were relegated to a status similar to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

To those of you preparing to write your usual letters telling me I am a traitor for not caring about the troops, I reply that you betrayed them by your silence about the intolerable expenditure of American blood and money (some of which might have gone to VA hospitals) so that President Bush could play-act at the role of a wartime president. And he wasn't even the kind of wartime president who would tour the hospitals or appoint men to make sure the hospitals were decent places to come alive again.

In an administration where spin, doublethink and lies have replaced the truth, why is anyone surprised about mistreatment of injured troops? Why do we still think that the buck stops in the Oval Office as it did in Harry Truman's day?

Iraq: the patriotically correct version

Iraq: the patriotically correct version
By Jacob Weisberg
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: March 7 2007 19:32 | Last updated: March 7 2007 19:32
When it comes to Iraq, there are two kinds of candidate. The disciplined ones, such as Hillary Clinton, carefully avoid acknowledging reality. The more candid, such as John McCain and Barack Obama, sometimes blurt out the truth, but then quickly apologise.

For many US presidential aspirants, the first unspeakable truth is simply that the war was a mistake. The current focus is on Mrs Clinton’s obstinate refusal to acknowledge that voting to give President George W. Bush the power to invade Iraq was the wrong thing to do. Although fellow Democratic candidates John Edwards and Christopher Dodd have managed to express that they erred in voting for the 2002 war resolution, Mrs Clinton, along with Joe Biden and the full roster of Republican candidates, refuses to disgorge the M-word. Perhaps most absurdly, the senator Chuck Hagel, a possible Republican presidential candidate, has called Bush’s 21,500-troop “surge” the biggest blunder since Vietnam, without ever stating that the war itself was the larger blunder and that he favoured it.

Reasons for failing to admit that the war itself was a mistake are surprisingly alike across party lines. It is seldom easy to admit you were wrong – so let me repeat that I am sorry to have given even qualified support to the war. But what is awkward for columnists is nearly impossible for self-justifying politicians, who resist facing up to their mistakes at a glandular level. Specific calculations help to explain their individual positions. Mrs Clinton, for instance, clearly worries that confessing her failure will make it easier for Mr Obama and other consistent opponents of the war to savage her in the primaries. But at bottom, the impulse is the same across party lines. Politicians are stubborn and fear that an admission of error will be cast as flip-flopping and inconsistency.

A second truth universally unacknowledged is that Americans returning in flag-draped coffins or grotesquely maimed, and then treated like whining freeloaders at military hospitals, are victims as much as “heroes”. John Kerry was the first to violate this taboo when he was still a potential candidate last year. Mr Kerry told a group of California college students that those who fail in school end up in Iraq. A variety of conservative goons instantly denounced Mr Kerry for disrespecting the troops. An advanced sufferer from senatorial infallibility syndrome, Mr Kerry resisted apologising for his comment, but eventually regretted what he called a “botched joke” about Mr Bush.

Lost in the debate about whether Mr Kerry meant what came out of his mouth was the fact that what he said was largely true. Americans who attend college and have good employment options after graduation are unlikely to sign up for tours of the Sunni Triangle. People join the military for a variety of reasons, of course, but since the Iraq war turned ugly, the all-volunteer army has been lowering educational standards, raising enlistment bonuses and looking past criminal records. The lack of better choices is a larger and larger factor in the choice of military service. Our troops in Iraq may not see themselves as victims of political misjudgments, but they are.

Reality number three, closely related to number two and following directly from number one, is that the American lives lost in Iraq have been wasted. Mr Obama transgressed this boundary when he declared at a rally: “We ended up launching a war that should have never been authorised and should have never been waged and . . . have seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted.” Mr Obama immediately said he had misspoken and apologised to military families. Mr McCain, too, used the term “wasted” when he announced his candidacy on a television talk show last week and promptly ate his words. The patriotically correct term for dying or losing parts of your body in a pointless war in Mesopotamia is, of course, “sacrifice”.

A fourth and final near-certainty, which is in some ways the hardest for politicians to admit, is that America is losing or has already lost the Iraq war. The US is the strongest nation in the history of the world and does not think of itself as coming in second in any two-way contest. When it does so, it is slow to face up to being beaten. American political and military leaders were reluctant to acknowledge or utter that they had miscalculated and wasted tens of thousands of lives in Vietnam, many after failure was assured. Even today, American politicians tend not to describe Vietnam as a straightforward defeat (although they will often admit that it was a mistake). Something similar is happening in Iraq, where the most that our leaders will say is that we risk losing and must not do so.

Democrats avoid the truth about the tragedy in Iraq for fear of being labelled unpatriotic or unsupportive of the troops. Republicans avoid it for fear of being blamed for the disaster or losing their defence and patriotism cards to play against Democrats. Politicians on both sides believe that acknowledging the unpleasant truths will weaken them and undermine those still attempting to persevere on our behalf. But nations and individuals do not grow weaker by confronting the truth. They grow weaker by avoiding it and coming to believe their own evasions.

The writer is editor of

THE BUSH DOCTRINE - First strike - Candidates ought to be clear about their position on pre-emptive war

THE BUSH DOCTRINE - First strike - Candidates ought to be clear about their position on pre-emptive war
By Robert Schmuhl. Robert Schmuhl is Annenberg-Joyce Professor of American Studies and Journalism at the University of Notre Dame and author of "In So Many Words: Arguments and Adventures."
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published March 4, 2007

As rhetorical firefights over Iraq keep breaking out among the 2008 presidential candidates, the controversial policy that produced the war seems strangely distant from the campaign battlefield.

The Bush Doctrine, formulated after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, endorsed pre-emptive war as an option for dealing with potential enemies. But the past four years in Iraq have been a case study of the unintended consequences of the doctrine's aggressive approach.

Rather than sniping at each other about past statements or votes on Iraq, presidential candidates--Democratic and Republican alike--should be taking a stand on the policy of pre-emption. Will the nation's next president adopt a strike-first strategy?

The Bush Doctrine shifted American foreign policy from its Cold War emphasis on containment and deterrence to a more activist, assertive approach. Domestically, the new stance seemed a tough-minded response to terrorist threats. Internationally, U.S. strategy was perceived as superpower saber rattling with dangerous and unforeseen implications.

Previous presidents have acted pre-emptively. Lyndon Johnson did so in the Dominican Republic in 1965, Ronald Reagan in Grenada in 1983. But the Bush Doctrine is different in its unprecedented threat of military action and its procedural merging of pre-emptive and preventive war into indistinguishable activities.

Although documents articulating the administration's approach--notably "National Security Strategy" reports from 2002 and 2006--emphasize self-defense and a need to be pro-active when potential peril looms, the policy's execution is less precise and more problematic.

But the inability to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or direct involvement between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein--the stated reasons for going to war--weakens its rationale and undercuts the policy triggering it.

Iraq, from what we know now, is less an example of pre-emptive war--one based on incontrovertible evidence of an imminent attack--than of a preventive war, or one initiated on grounds that conflict is inevitable but not imminent.

This is an important distinction. The Bush Doctrine focuses on pre-emption without dealing with the more bellicose concept of preventive war.

Given all that has happened since 2003, candidates seeking the White House next year need to look beyond the Iraq imbroglio and debate the larger policy that led to America's entanglement there.

Here, the thinking of former presidents can be instructive, though a time when terror is such a threat is vastly different from earlier eras of conflict.

`Make war at pleasure'

As a member of the House of Representatives in 1848, Abraham Lincoln opposed pre-emptive strikes in the Mexican War because it allowed a president to act like a king and "to make war at pleasure." Later, in his first inaugural address in 1861, Lincoln spoke directly to Southern secessionists about "the momentous issue of civil war," saying, "The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors."

Nearly a century later, Dwight Eisenhower said in 1954 that modern weaponry made him, as a former military commander, dubious about any strike-first approach.

"A preventive war, to my mind, is an impossibility today," Eisenhower said. "How could you have one if one of its features would be several cities lying in ruins, several cities where many, many thousands of people would be dead and injured and mangled? . . . That isn't preventive war; that is war. I don't believe there is such a thing; and, frankly, I wouldn't even listen to anyone seriously [who] came in and talked about such a thing."

Eisenhower's successor, John F. Kennedy, was more emphatic. Speaking in 1963 at American University, Kennedy said the United States, "as the world knows, will never start a war."

With Iraq, the world now knows otherwise in no uncertain terms, and the consequences are troubling. In late January, the BBC World Service released results of a 25-country, 26,000-person survey. In 17 countries, a majority of those polled held a mainly negative view of U.S. influence, with Germany, France, Australia and Great Britain among the most critical.

As long as a strike-first policy is central to security strategy and execution, world leaders will respond in ways Americans find disturbing or dangerous. It's not surprising that Iran and North Korea allegedly have been seeking nuclear weapons when the only other member of the president's "axis of evil"--Iraq--was on the receiving end of a U.S. attack. American policy is a spark in this new arms race.

Is it any wonder Russian President Vladimir Putin threw rhetorical punches at the U.S. in his speech last month at the Munich Conference on Security Policy? Saying America "has overstepped its national borders in every way," Putin was, according to Russian media analysis, warning the 2008 presidential candidates that continuation of the Bush Doctrine could lead to more profound global crises.

While Putin grasped the broader issue, candidates are doing the opposite. By focusing so directly on Iraq and whether voting for congressional authorization of military action was right or wrong, White House hopefuls seem fixated on one tree rather than the more significant forest.

Jousting among Democrats

Especially on the Democratic side, with a fervent anti-war base crucial for nominating support, candidates keep jousting over prewar judgments and what they currently support.

Joseph Biden, Christopher Dodd and John Edwards have called their Senate votes authorizing the administration's use of force a mistake, while Barack Obama, Dennis Kucinich and Bill Richardson opposed the war, to varying degrees, from the beginning.

This leaves Hillary Rodham Clinton conspicuous among Democratic candidates in having voted for the Senate war resolution while being adamant about not apologizing for her vote or acknowledging it as a mistake. In fact, she told a New Hampshire audience recently, "If the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote or has said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from."

Hers is a deliberate posture to avoid the label of an irresolute mind-changer. But the speech she delivered on the Senate floor Oct. 10, 2002, the day before the vote, is a nuanced argument of hopes and hedges.

After 26 paragraphs of history and context leading up to what she called "probably the hardest decision I have ever had to make," Clinton said: "Because bipartisan support for this resolution makes success in the United Nations more likely, and therefore, war less likely, and because a good faith effort by the United States, even if it fails, will bring more allies and legitimacy to our cause, I have concluded, after careful and serious consideration, that a vote for the resolution best serves the security of our nation."

Her vote, to a certain extent, was a bet with the Bush administration. It is now evident she lost that bet. However, near the end of her remarks she broadens her scope, taking direct aim at the Bush Doctrine. "My vote," she said, "is not, however, a vote for any new doctrine of pre-emption, or for unilateralism, or for the arrogance of American power or purpose--all of which carry grave dangers for our nation, for the rule of international law and for the peace and security of people throughout the world."

As the 2008 campaign intensifies, with televised debates and town-hall meetings multiplying, candidates have an obligation to tell the electorate more than their views, past and present, on Iraq. If pre-emptive or preventive war continues as the doctrine of the next president, voters--and the wider world community--should know whether another Iraq might loom on America's horizon.

Refocus on immigration

Refocus on immigration
By Juan Rangel
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published March 9, 2007

Last year, I joined hundreds of thousands of Hispanic immigrants who marched in cities across the country under the generic banner of "immigration reform." However, their faces told a more profound story: America's newest immigrants also yearn for America's promise.

Unfortunately, today's immigration debate has been led--or better, misled--by extremists on both sides of the political spectrum. Immigrants are depicted as vulnerable victims who suffer from American greed and abuse, or as foreign opportunists who demand and take America's generosity and benefits, but refuse to commit to her future.

Both sides have it wrong.

Immigrants, legal or not, seek a shot at economic prosperity--they always have. And today's illegal immigrants, mostly Mexican, are no different.

They replenish America's workforce with an unparalleled work ethic. They follow job opportunity to every corner of the United States, whether it's Chicago's factories, Nebraska's farmland, Los Angeles' restaurants, New York's hotels or even New Orleans' rebuilding effort. No job is ever considered too low--it's the next step up.

They breathe life into our economy with entrepreneurial vigor, building thriving businesses in every community they live in. As consumers, their brand loyalty and growing purchasing power have big business catering to their every want and need.

They rejuvenate aging neighborhoods by purchasing homes at a record pace. They repopulate great American cities that have lost families to suburbia. They celebrate traditional family and religious values and are optimistic about their economic future.

Like their European predecessors, their optimism leads them to embrace assimilation.

In myriad ways, they live and bolster the classic American dream: get better jobs, buy bigger homes, drive the newest sport-utility vehicles and watch satellite TV. What a country! What a people!

Yet, if their faces told this story at those massive marches last year, their hopeful voices have been drowned out by the angry rhetoric from leftist activists who have taken up the immigrant cause.

Worse, the left has taken a topic that most Americans, including a Republican president, can build consensus on and have turned it into a wedge issue that divides even the most centrist of middle America.

What has emerged are the demands for rights, charges of American discrimination and the ever-vague "fight for justice." The inspiring story of immigrant aspirations has morphed into the usual chant for entitlements and social services.

The left seized the moment with nationalist displays of Mexican flag waving, protesting teenagers staging school walkouts and foreign music stars bastardizing our national anthem in Spanish. Could the claim of "reconquering our stolen land for Aztlan" be far behind?

White liberals, who thrive on minority "struggles," create symbolic victims who seek sanctuary, while the newest "poverty pimps" demand government/philanthropic funds for a newfound constituency.

Not to be outdone, the extreme Republican right, which in essence has been organized and motivated by the left, espouses its equally hollow rhetoric, seducing the pragmatic center into this melee.

The "minutemen," a small inconsequential volunteer border group, demands the erection of a useless wall along our southern border to stop this "invasion." Local officials have turned their police into quasi-immigration agents. Others contemplate denying education services to undocumented children. Fearing a Spanish version of French Canada, English-only laws are being proposed across the U.S. Alarmists demand the immediate deportation of the "12 million criminals," disregarding its impact to our economy, or more simply, its logistical impracticality.

And of course, politicians, who never miss an opportunity to pander, respond in typical knee-jerk fashion to each side.

Extremists have succeeded at creating a vigorously do-nothing environment, which serves them just fine. In fact, their survival and relevance depends on it.

Again, they are both wrong!

To be sure, immigration reform is not easy to address. The undocumented or illegals, whichever term you prefer, bring new opportunities as well as additional burdens to our nation. Rather than allow fringe groups to distort the debate, we need an earnest discussion on how best to continue integrating immigrants into America's future.

It's time for a pragmatic and centrist leadership to recognize the contribution of the undocumented by creating a legal process that regulates their status and satisfies our nation's economic self-interest. To focus on anything else diminishes immigrant success, past and present, and threatens our potential, as well as our legacy, as a nation.


Juan Rangel is the chief executive officer of the Chicago-based United Neighborhood Organization.

Dems: Troops out by '08 - White House vows to veto proposal

Dems: Troops out by '08 - White House vows to veto proposal
By Aamer Madhani and Liz Sly, Tribune correspondents; Aamer Madhani reported from Washington, and Liz Sly from Baghdad
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published March 9, 2007

WASHINGTON -- Laying out their toughest challenge for the Bush administration since taking control of Congress, Democrats in the House and Senate moved Thursday to set firm deadlines to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq in 2008.

The calls for a pullout deadline immediately set off partisan debate as Republican leaders accused Democrats of setting conditions that could lead to the failure of the U.S. military mission in Iraq.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who introduced legislation in the House calling for troops to be redeployed by Sept. 1, 2008, said the move is necessary to wind down the 4-year-old conflict, which has already left more than 3,100 U.S. troops dead.

Separately, the Senate Democrats introduced binding legislation directing the president to begin a phased redeployment within 120 days with the goal of redeploying all combat forces by March 31, 2008, but the Republican leadership immediately said it would not agree to bring the proposal to debate next week.

The latest maneuvering comes as Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, said the U.S. military would need to maintain its increased troop levels for some time if it expects to pacify the insurgency and stamp out sectarian fighting.

Some Democrats complained that their legislative leaders have been slow in taking meaningful action on Iraq since wresting control from the Republicans in November.

With the new strategy, the Democrats are acceding to the White House's plan to send an additional 21,500 combat troops and 7,000 support troops to Iraq but are trying to ensure that the escalation will be Bush's final gambit in pacifying Iraq.

"The president's strategy is not working, and Congress must decide whether to follow his failed policies or whether to change course," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Satisfying liberal Democrats

With the House measure, Pelosi hopes to satisfy the desires of some in the party, particularly the more liberal wing, to hasten the withdrawal, while reassuring moderates hesitant to set conditions that could be seen as tying the hands of commanders in the field.

The legislation, which is attached to a spending bill funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, also calls for an additional $1.2 billion to finance the war in Afghanistan and $3.5 billion for the Veterans Health Administration to assist returning veterans--points that the Democratic leadership is counting on to help draw support from moderate Republicans who have grown weary of the Iraq war.

"We will come together and find our common ground," Pelosi said.

The Republican leadership quickly retorted that the Democratic leadership was trying to bring its political weight to bear on the commanders in the field, and that such a move would telegraph arbitrary timelines to the enemy.

The White House called the proposal a "non-starter" and dismissed the move as an attempt to find comity among various Democratic Party factions.

The measure comes just days after an anti-war plan floated by Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) collapsed. It would have required the Pentagon to meet readiness and training standards for U.S. troops and would have effectively shut down the war as the Pentagon would have had difficulty finding enough fully rested, trained and equipped units to meet its needs.

Senior White House adviser Dan Bartlett said the newest plan is little more than a "political compromise in the Democratic caucus of the House" and would have a dire effect on the security of Iraq if it is passed.

"It would unnecessarily handcuff our generals on the ground," Bartlett told reporters aboard Air Force One with President Bush headed to South America. "Obviously, the administration would vehemently oppose and ultimately veto any legislation that looks like what was described today."

House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) said he hoped that his committee could complete markup of the legislation next week and that the full House could debate the bill the following week.

Petraeus: Maintain troop level

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the House minority leader, said soon after the Democrats unveiled their plan that the insurgents would sit back and wait for U.S. troops to leave before pressing ahead with their attacks.

"Gen. Petraeus should be the one making the decisions on what happens on the ground in Iraq, not Nancy Pelosi or John Murtha," Boehner said. "Under the guise of supporting our troops, Democrats are actually mandating their failure."

The House plan would require Bush to certify by July 1 and again by Oct. 1 that Iraq is making progress toward building its security apparatus and stabilizing the country.

If the Iraqi government met those benchmarks, U.S. troops would end their combat role no later than Sept. 1, 2008. If Iraq did not meet either of the deadlines, troop withdrawals would begin immediately and be completed in six months.

The legislation allows Bush to waive the standards, but such a situation could be embarrassing to a White House that maintains the troop increase is already having a positive effect in Baghdad and Anbar province.

Petraeus told reporters in Baghdad that it is likely the U.S. will have to sustain troop levels for the foreseeable future if the new plan to secure Baghdad is to have a chance of success.

He said he anticipated no new requests for troops in the foreseeable future, but did not rule out that more may be needed.

The general also said the use of force "is not sufficient" to end the conflict and political talks must eventually include some militant groups now opposing the U.S.


Error Message - Daylight-saving time comes early this year. Are your gadgets ready? If so, click . . .

Error Message - Daylight-saving time comes early this year. Are your gadgets ready? If so, click . . .
By Mike Hughlett
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published March 9, 2007

You may be set to spring forward Sunday and enjoy more evening sunshine courtesy of daylight-saving time. But your computer might not be.

While humans moved up the start of daylight-saving time this year, millions of machines--cell phones and video recorders, too--were programmed to mark the event in early April.

Techies throughout the country have been working feverishly in recent weeks to fix the glitch. It's a job that will cost businesses hundreds of millions of dollars.

Experts predict the fixes largely will succeed, meaning most people won't notice a thing.

Still, those who rely on their computer calendars may have to do a little work to ensure their schedules stay up to date. And some folks are bound to show up an hour late for a Sunday brunch or Monday morning meeting.

But the "DST" glitch isn't nearly as portentous as the Y2K bug, which unleashed global fears that computers would crash as 1999 segued into 2000.

"What this is going to be is a minor annoyance for people," said Jeffrey Hammond, a software analyst at Forrester Research. "If you see a device that's not going along with your watch, trust your watch."

Analysts say a lot of fixes are being done automatically by companies with central control over devices.

For example, wireless networks will automatically update the clock on their customers' cell phones. Comcast will do the same for digital video recorders, so no one who intends to record "King of Queens" at 6:30 p.m. Sunday will get a Billy Graham special at 7:30 instead.

But some systems, particularly those that are a little older, will require that owners go to a Web site to download a patch.

Congress decided in 2005 to move up daylight-saving time from the first Sunday of April to the second Sunday of March. The idea: More evening daylight would lead to energy savings.

Computers and other electronic gizmos made since 2005 take into account the switch. For instance, if you have a desktop computer with Microsoft's new Vista software, you need not worry.

However, millions of people have older versions of Microsoft's ubiquitous software. "There will be some challenges with both individuals and businesses," said Jim Desler, a Microsoft spokesman.

Microsoft already has sent automatic time updates to machines running on XP S2. But people using older Microsoft systems will have to go to a Microsoft Web site to download a software patch.

And even if a computer does run on Windows XP S2, Microsoft recommends downloading its "Outlook TimeZone Update Tool" if you use your computer's Outlook calendar.

A messed up electronic calendar is likely to be the average person's biggest headache, and not just on the PC.

Calendars on mobile phones that use Microsoft software could be affected. Ditto for the popular BlackBerry device, which runs on a system proprietary to its maker, Research In Motion Ltd.

For those who got their BlackBerry independently, not through their employer, RIM suggests a manual fix. Directions are on RIM's Web site.

Most BlackBerry users get their devices through their employer, so they probably do not need to worry. That's because employers will likely take care of the problem through a centralized computer system.

The daylight-saving switch has given corporate tech departments a fair amount of work.

t's not been huge, but it's not been trivial," said Steve Betts, chief information officer of U.S. infrastructure at Aon Corp.

The Chicago-based insurance brokerage has 43,000 employees worldwide spread across 500 offices, making for lots of PCs and BlackBerries to cope with.

Betts and others at Aon have been working since the end of January on "a program of patching" to make sure calendar appointments, for one thing, will properly transfer. "We're in pretty decent shape," Betts said.

For industry, if the time glitch is left unfixed, all sorts of time-pegged things could be affected.

Take an example from the cell phone business.

With a wireless plan from Sprint, customers pay less for calls made at 7 p.m. than at 6 p.m. If Sprint didn't patch its internal system, a call made at 7 would be billed as a call made at 6. (Sprint says rest assured; it has accounted for this issue.)

The daylight-saving glitch has forced companies to temporarily redirect their tech departments. That's costly, both in time and money.

A medium to large corporate tech department has probably commissioned two to four people to fix the glitch, said Hammond, the Forrester analyst. Those workers have put in about two weeks on the task--about $50,000 in labor costs on average, he said.

At the nation's publicly traded companies alone, the total cost to patch the glitch is $300 million to $350 million, Hammond estimates.

And those companies may get a chance to do it all over again. If substantial energy savings from the new daylight-saving time aren't realized, Congress can switch back to the old date.


Staff reporter Eric Benderoff contributed to this story.

- - -

If fix not automatic, Web sites can help

Q. How will the early start of daylight-saving time on Sunday affect my home computer and devices?

A. Many computers, hand-held devices and online calendars are programmed to recognize daylight-saving time as the first Sunday in April. The new March 11 start might throw calendars off by an hour. Daylight-saving time will be extended a week in the fall, to the first Sunday in November.

Q. What do I do?

A. Most software vendors have sent automatic upgrades to computers, home networks and devices. If you are not sure whether you have received them, go to the Web sites of the technology companies and download the software patch at no charge. TiVo and cable companies say they have repaired their technologies.

Q. What if I don't fix everything?

A. People who use online calendars, particularly shared ones, may notice meetings are off an hour. And the display clock on the computer will be off until April 1, when the old daylight-saving time begins. Technology companies predict that everything should continue to operate normally.

Q. Where do I go if I need help?

A. For personal computers, the following sites offer assistance: rtnum=305056

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Financial Times Editorial Comment: Justice is served on an imperial presidency

Financial Times Editorial Comment: Justice is served on an imperial presidency
Published: March 7 2007 22:32 | Last updated: March 7 2007 22:32
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

The Bush White House seems to specialise in tortured political dramas that are impenetrable to those who live outside the Washington Beltway – not to mention around the world. The Libby affair, which resulted on Tuesday in the conviction of Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a former top White House official, on perjury and obstruction of justice charges, is more opaque than most.

Even the prosecutor in the case has called it a “he-said, he-said, she-said, he-said, he-said, she-said, he-said, he-said, he-said” case. Most Americans, even those whose dismay at the turn of events in Iraq grows by the day, showed little interest in who said what to whom, in this convoluted saga of journalists and White House aides and unmasked CIA agents and lies about the Iraq war.

And even after a verdict, many important questions remain unanswered: the jury found that Mr Libby lied and tried to block justice, but not whether he, or anyone else in the White House, vindictively and illegally blew the cover of a CIA agent because her husband publicly criticised the administration’s Iraq policy – the unproved charge that sparked the scandal in the first place.

But one thing is clear: Mr Libby was the right-hand man to Dick Cheney, the most powerful vice-president in living memory, himself the right hand man to the president. When someone that close to the Oval Office is found guilty of trying to pervert the course of justice, that is a serious blot on the already sullied reputation of an unpopular presidency.

Once again, as so often in politics, a top official has been tripped up not by what he did, but by what he did to cover up what he (or someone else) had done. There may be lessons to be learned here in the cash-for-honours inquiry in the UK, where investigators now appear to be looking more for evidence of a cover-up than for the proof of the crime itself.

But proof of a cover-up does not constitute proof of a crime. Evidence that Mr Libby lied does nothing to prove or disprove the existence of much larger lies, about weapons of mass destruction and the rationale for launching the Iraq war in the first place. Mr Bush’s critics have seized on the conviction as evidence of that much larger deception.

In fact, it is evidence of something that is, if anything worse. Mr Libby’s cavalier approach to the truth betrays an attitude that pervades the White House to this day: an arrogance of power, that pretends government officials are above the law; an expansionist notion of executive privilege that pervades this administration, from the war in Iraq to the treatment of detainees, to the recent sackings of federal prosecutors – and apparent attempts by the US Department of Justice to muzzle them before a Congressional hearing.

The Libby verdict is a welcome if only small step towards reining in this imperial approach to the presidency.

Gates warns on US immigration curbs

Gates warns on US immigration curbs
By Kevin Allison in San Francisco
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: March 7 2007 19:26 | Last updated: March 7 2007 19:26
Bill Gates, the chairman of Micro soft, on Wednesday warned that restrictions on the number of skilled workers allowed to enter the US put the country’s competitiveness at risk.

The comments marked the latest attack on restrictive US immigration policies by the technology industry, which is facing a shortage of skilled workers even as demand for their skills is increasing.

Speaking before the Senate committee on health, education, labour and pensions, Mr Gates said that tighter US immigration policies – governed partly by concerns over terrorism – were “driving away the world’s best and brightest precisely when we need them most”.

“It makes no sense to tell well-trained, highly skilled individuals, many of whom are educated at our top colleges and universities, that the United States does not welcome or value them,” Mr Gates said. “America will find it infinitely more difficult to maintain its technological leadership if it shuts out the very people who are most able to help us compete.”

Mr Gates said that other countries were taking advantage of restrictive US policies by catering to highly skilled workers who would otherwise choose to study, live and work in the US.

“Our lost opportunities are their gains,” he said. “I personally witness the ill effects of these policies on an almost daily basis at Microsoft.”

Mr Gates’s comments on immigration were part of a broader warning over the state of US competitiveness.

Mr Gates said he felt “deep anxiety” about the US’s ability to remain competitive if it did not act quickly to improve education, invest in basic science research, and reform its immigration ­policies.

“America cannot maintain its innovation leadership if it does not educate world-class innovators and train its workforce to use innovations effectively. Unfort unately, available data suggest that we are failing to do so . . . especially in our high schools.”

Mr Gates called on Congress to loosen rules that prevent many foreign students from settling once their studies in the US are complete. He also suggested that Congress speed the process of obtaining permanent resident status for highly skilled workers.

Immigration reform emerged as a key issue among voters in last year’s mid-term elections. However, most of the debate has focused on illegal immigration and whether the US should create a guest worker programme for low-skilled immigrants.

The US currently limits visas for skilled foreign workers to 65,000 a year, while the number of green cards, required for permanent resident status is limited to 140,000 a year.

Mr Gates ack now ledged concerns over US job losses resulting from immigration but sought to distinguish between the need to encourage more highly skilled workers to enter the US and the broader debate on immigration reform.

“These reforms do not pit US workers against those foreign born,” he said. “Far from displacing US workers, highly skilled foreign-born workers will continue to function as they always have: as job creators.”

`Scooter' Libby and Bush's unkept promise

`Scooter' Libby and Bush's unkept promise
By Steve Chapman
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published March 8, 2007

So now we have confirmation that Vice President Dick Cheney's chief assistant set out to discredit former Ambassador Joseph Wilson by secretly telling reporters his wife worked for the CIA--and then repeatedly lied about it during a federal criminal investigation.

When George W. Bush assured us during the 2000 campaign that Cheney "is a man of integrity and sound judgment, who has proven that public service can be noble service," I doubt this is what Americans were expecting.

Nor does it quite jibe with what Bush and Cheney promised about the tone they would set. Cheney lamented that under Bill Clinton, Washington had "often become a scene of bitterness and ill will and partisan strife." In accepting the Republican nomination, Bush confided, "I want to change the tone of Washington to one of civility and respect." How are we coming on that project?

Whatever else you can say about Lewis "Scooter" Libby's conviction, it yielded a mortifying day for an administration that lately has spent most of its time in an acute state of public embarrassment. Never mind if the original leak violated federal law, or if the prosecution of Libby for lying about it was justified. At best, the campaign against Wilson was petty and cowardly; at worst, it was dangerous and criminal. In either case, it is devilishly hard to square with what Bush and Cheney pledged when they came to Washington.

No one above the age of 6 believes everything a candidate for office says. Still, it's occasionally useful to go back and compare what politicians say they will do and what they actually do. It reminds us of the folly of putting faith in them, and it reveals that some partisans will stick with their guy even when he does exactly the opposite of what they thought he would do.

During the previous administration, such reflections were a favorite pastime of conservatives and other critics, who noticed that after being elected, Clinton reversed himself on trade relations with China, allowing gays in the military and sending boat people back to Haiti. Then there was his affair with Monica Lewinsky, which provided howling proof of his 1992 complaint: "Our families have values. But our government doesn't."

Bush tapped into disgust over Oval Office shenanigans by vowing to "uphold the honor and dignity of the office to which I have been elected." It's good that he hasn't been canoodling with the interns, but where is the honor and dignity in leaking a CIA operative's name merely because her husband had the gall to criticize the administration? Imagine what Bush supporters would have said in 2000 if Al Gore's chief of staff had outed an intelligence operative for political gain.

The Valerie Plame leak is not the biggest of the administration's detours from its promises. During the campaign, Bush said Clinton's cardinal mistake was "to launch today's new causes with little thought of tomorrow's consequences." You could ponder for days and not come up with a better description of how we went wrong in Iraq.

Conditions in Iraq are not entirely within the U.S. government's control. But conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center can't be blamed on Sunni insurgents or Al Qaeda terrorists. They can only be ascribed to the people in charge, who didn't make a priority of assuring that those wounded in battle would be treated in a manner commensurate with their sacrifice.

Bush once promised to do right by our men and women in uniform. During the campaign, he fumed that many of them had paltry incomes and poor housing. "This is not the way a great nation should reward courage and idealism," he announced. "It is ungrateful, it is unwise, and it is unacceptable."

So what words would serve to describe a military hospital where injured soldiers were subjected to filth, neglect and bureaucratic incompetence? This week, Bush pronounced the situation "unacceptable." What he didn't say is that until now, those conditions, though not acceptable, were somehow accepted.

The biggest surprise was that, unlike in past debacles, someone in a high position got fired for the failure. Maybe this time, Bush woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, suddenly recalling what he said in 2000: "An era of tarnished ideals is giving way to a responsibility era."

Tarnished ideals we've got. Responsibility we're still waiting for.


Steve Chapman is a member of the Tribune's editor board. E-mail:

Gay awareness panel roils school - Some parents object to kids' discussion

Gay awareness panel roils school - Some parents object to kids' discussion
By Lisa Black
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published March 8, 2007

Some parents have accused Deerfield High School of promoting a homosexual agenda by allowing gay students to speak before freshman classes about their personal experiences, cite research and invite questions.

Taking place in classrooms this week, the panel sessions are scheduled during a class called freshman advisory, which seeks to help students adjust to high school. The class is mandatory, but parents can choose to remove their child on days the lessons concern them, school officials said.

But Deerfield resident and parent Lora Sue Hauser, who heads a group called North Shore Student Advocacy, wants to see the panel discontinued, saying it delves into complex issues of sexuality that are better addressed by parents and trained counselors. She said the panel is one of several ways that Deerfield High and other schools treat homosexuality as morally acceptable without presenting the viewpoints of those who disagree.

"The school makes heterosexuality and homosexuality equivalent, and our country is deeply divided on that," said Hauser, who said dozens of parents belong to the advocacy group but fear they will be labeled as haters or religious fanatics if they speak out.

"You can't dump that on a 14-year-old," Hauser said. "These are really difficult waters to navigate."

School officials say the parents are picking out one portion of a unit that helps students make the transition into high school, forge friendships and create a climate of acceptance. The class begins in fall by familiarizing freshmen with the school, its resources and lessons on improving study skills. Teachers move into touchier topics during the second half of the school year.

Suzan Hebson, assistant superintendent for human resources for Township High School District 113, said she believes only a few parents oppose the freshman advisory class.

"We have a great deal of pride in the program and don't feel we are overstepping any boundaries that [most] parents would feel are inappropriate," Hebson said.

But Ellen Waltz, a Deerfield mother of eight, said the climate has changed so much that students who believe that homosexuality is immoral and violates their religious beliefs are now the ones being bullied.

She said other students called her daughter anti-gay and anti-Semitic when she spoke out during the panel four years ago. One of the panel members was Jewish.

"My daughter was devastated when she came home. She said, `Everyone hates me,'" said Waltz, adding that she plans to pull her son out of class for the day this year.

The advocacy group, led by eight board members who live in North Shore communities, published a full-page advertisement March 1 in a local newspaper, the Deerfield Review. The ad states: "We believe these students are being used to further the causes of gay activists," and demands that Deerfield High officials "rein in your staff who are using the school to promote their personal views."

Hauser said grassroots groups are forming around the nation to voice their objections to school practices, performances or material they find morally questionable. She is also a school-issues adviser for the Illinois Family Institute, which describes itself as being "dedicated to upholding and re-affirming marriage, family, life and liberty in Illinois."

During the panel sessions, students who belong to a club called the Straight and Gay Alliance talk about personal experiences, such as what it feels like to be bullied or to be a straight friend of a gay classmate. On a separate day, members of a racially diverse club called the Minority Report speak.

"The whole point of the presentation is to help students understand how they--maybe even flippantly, intending to communicate with others--can be perceived or misperceived by others," Hebson said.

Erin Kaplan, 17, a senior, who describes himself as the only transgender student at Deerfield, said he believes that the climate at school has improved since the panel discussions began five years ago. He said the student alliance began the practice "after a really big wave of homophobic comments, targets for being gay."

Kaplan, a panelist for the last three years, tells students that he was born a boy--his parents gave him the name "Evan"--but that he has always felt like he should have been a girl. He wears feminine clothing at times but has a man's narrow hips and husky voice.

The panel this year consists of seven students. Four students identify themselves as gay, bisexual or transgender, and three are heterosexual, he said.

"What is important is that we learn to respect each other as peers," Kaplan said. "That's really the heart of what we talk about."

Kevin Jennings, executive director of the New York-based Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, commends the Deerfield program.

"We're not trying to tell people what to believe but how to behave," said Jennings, who described the Illinois Family Institute as one of several organizations trying to intimidate school districts.

"A program that helps kids deal with bullying and harassment helps kids learn," he said. "Politics and religion should be set aside in the school."

Waltz said she asked school officials if she could sit in on the class. They declined, saying her presence would detract from the learning experience and instead offered to videotape the class and give her a copy.

Laurie Higgins, a teacher's aide at Deerfield, said she, too, has complained to school administrators about the panel and her requests to have an opposing viewpoint presented have been denied.

"My goal is not to generate controversy," said Higgins, a Deerfield parent. "I don't think they should be treating [homosexuality] in the same way they treat conditions that are immutable and carry no behavioral implications, like race, sex, ethnicity and disability."

Hauser said the topic belongs in schools only when presented neutrally in an academic forum. She opposes the Day of Silence held every spring as part of a national event. On April 18 students attempt to remain quiet to bring attention to harassment of gays and their desire for a safe environment at school.

In response, other students--in Deerfield and elsewhere--participate in a Day of Truth, held a day later, which opposes acceptance of homosexuality.

"Neither day at Deerfield High School has been disruptive in nature, educationally," Hebson said. "Unfortunately, there have been some hurt feelings on those two days because it's pretty evident that people choose sides."

Waltz said her children tell her the only time there is tension at the school is during the week the panel discussions take place, culminating with the Day of Silence and Day of Truth.

"There really isn't a problem at our school," Waltz said. "It's like they're throwing more logs in the fire. ... All our kids are great kids, whether they're gay or straight."


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Runoff Rundown

Runoff Rundown
by Amy Wooten
Copyright by The Windy City Times

In addition to a few surprises on Election Day, Chicago will see the largest number of runoff elections in years.

On April 17, there will be a total of 12 runoff elections ( 11 involving incumbents ) held throughout the city. There were many tight races. Candidates had to 50 percent of the vote in the Feb. 27 elections to avoid a runoff in April, in which the two candidates with the most votes must go head-to-head once again.

Here is a rundown of the runoff elections:

2nd Ward:

Alderman Madeline Haithcock came behind challenger Bob Fioretti for an April 17 showdown. Fioretti received 28 percent of the vote to Haithcock’s 21 percent.

Haithcock has held office since 1993, and is a former banker. Fioretti has spent his career as a civil rights lawyer. Both, in interviews with Windy City Times, expressed support for the LGBT community.

3rd Ward:

In a surprise to many, Alderman Dorothy Tillman will face a tough battle for re-election against Pat Dowell in this South Side ward. Tillman got roughly 43 percent of the vote, with Dowell trailing slightly behind at 38 percent. The runoff election will no doubt be a tight race.

Tillman has been on the city council for 23 years, and is known for her colorful hats and her controversial stances on human rights issues. Dowell is a supporter of organized labor, and is disappointed that Tillman voted against the Big Box ordinance.

15th Ward:

This South Side ward had the highest number of candidates—topping off at 11—so it is no surprise a runoff will be held next month. The seat was up for grabs because Alderman Ted Thomas is retiring. The majority of candidates received a low number of votes, so it will be a showdown between attorney Felicia Simmons-Stovall and Toni Foulkes, a union activist and Jewel bakery employee.

16th Ward:

On the South Side, Alderman Shirley Coleman, an ordained minister who focuses on crime and poverty issues, will face a runoff against challenger Joann Thompson, who supported the Big Box ordinance and has the backing or organized labor. ( Thompson got 41 percent of the vote while Coleman received 37 percent. )

18th Ward:

Vote counts showed incumbent Lona Lane ( who was appointed to replace Tom Murphy by Mayor Daley in December ) just a hair under the magic 50 percent needed to defeat challenger Paul Stewart, who received 26 percent of the vote. Both have experience working for the city.

21st Ward:

Alderman Howard Brookins, Jr., will face challenger Leroy Jones, Jr. Brookins pushed to have a Wal-Mart in his South Side ward and failed; therefore, unions backed Jones.

24th Ward:

A long list of candidates spread around the vote enough to give Michael Chandler and Sharon Dixon too few votes to avoid a runoff in this Lawndale-area ward. Chandler wound up with 36 percent of the vote, while Dixon garnered 20 percent.

32nd Ward:

Despite the fact that there were only three candidates, incumbent Ted Matlak only received 47 percent of the vote—not enough to stave off a runoff with Scott Waguespack, who got 39 percent. One of the major issues for Matlak’s challengers is what they perceive as an ongoing cycle of corruption in the alderman’s office.

35th Ward:

Incumbent Rey Colon will face former alderman Vilma Colom next month. A key issue for Colom is crime.

43rd Ward

On the North Side ( in the Lincoln Park area ) , Alderman Vi Daley is headed for a runoff against Michele Smith. Smith is a former prosecutor and businesswoman. Daley has worked hard on streetscape and capital improvements in the area.

49th Ward

On the Far North Side, Alderman Joe Moore just missed the magic number—getting 49 percent of the vote—and will face challenger Don Gordon, who received roughly 29 percent.

During his campaign, Gordon has shown his support of gay rights and a willingness to listen to LGBT concerns in the ward. Moore, famous for his foie gras ban, faced three challengers upset by what they perceived as his poor handling of issues from crime to condos. Many felt that the longtime alderman hasn’t done enough to improve the area, which is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Chicago.

50th Ward

Like Moore, Alderman Bernie Stone, who has served the area for 33 years, was just under the magic number in order to avoid a runoff against Naisy Dolar.

Stone, a long-time ally to the mayor, received 48 percent of the vote. In the late ‘80s, Stone ran as a Republican against Carol Moseley Braun. He has since returned to the Democratic Party.

Dolar, an advocate for multiculturalism and director of the city’s Commission on Human Relations, received roughly 28 percent of the vote. Dolar is also noted for raising awareness of the city’s Asian-American community.


In addition to a high number of runoff elections, there were a few surprises on Feb. 27, including the tight race between Alderman Helen Shiller and openly gay candidate James Cappleman ( 46th Ward ) . Shiller, a longtime LGBT ally, won 53 percent to 47 percent.

On the South Side, Sandi Jackson trumped appointed Alderman Darcel Beavers ( 7th Ward ) . The race, which was not even close, was a battle between two women from prominent Black political families. Jackson is the wife of Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.

The largest shock of election night was when longtime Alderman Burton Natarus, a staunch ally to the mayor, fell to Brendan Reilly ( 42nd Ward ) . Natarus had been on the city council longer than Reilly has been alive. Reilly is an AT&T executive, and has since voiced that he will support the mayor.

Feigenholtz Stem Cell Bill Passes

Feigenholtz Stem Cell Bill Passes
Copyright by The Windy City Times

State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, voted Thursday to use public funding to support embryonic stem cell research in Illinois. The bipartisan measure, House Bill 138, marks the first time the House has approved embryonic stem cell research, according to a press release.

“I am grateful to my fellow legislators for having the wisdom to approve this measure,” Feigenholtz said in the statement. “The steps we have taken to approve and fund stem cell research will pave the way for medical miracles with tremendous life-saving potential. We are making an important investment and one that will keep Illinois competitive with other states that have already approved similar legislation.”

The measure, which passed 67-46-1, allows for research involving the derivation and use of human embryonic stem cells from any source, human embryonic germ cells and human adult stem cells from any source. Additionally, the bill authorizes the Illinois Department of Public Health to develop the Illinois Regenerative Medicine Institute Program to provide and award grants to state medical research institutions. In addition, the bill bans the cloning of human beings.

Chicagoan Becomes Lambda Legal Co-Chair

Chicagoan Becomes Lambda Legal Co-Chair
Copyright by The Windy City Times

Lambda Legal has announced the appointment of a new co-chair, Chicago’s Roy Wesley of Chicago, to its national board of directors.

Wesley, who joined Lambda Legal’s board of directors in 2003, lives in Chicago and is the chief financial officer of Fermalogic, Inc., a research-driven industrial biotechnology company that develops technology to improve pharmaceutical manufacturing. “As a third generation Japanese American, I experienced discrimination very early in my life,” Wesley said in a statement. “As an infant, I was sent to an internment camp and have since struggled with prejudice because I am also a gay man. But as I look back, I can see clearly how things have gotten better, and I am honored to become a co-chair of Lambda Legal’s board of directors because I know that with each day, Lambda Legal gets us one step closer to ending legal discrimination in our country.”

Australian GDP surprisingly strong in Q4

Australian GDP surprisingly strong in Q4
© Reuters Limited
By Reuters March 7 01:47:53 GMT

Australia’s economy grew at its fastest pace in one and a half years last quarter as consumers and the government spent briskly while businesses ramped up production to meet strong domestic demand.

The strength handily beat market expectations and pushed the Australian dollar higher while bonds slipped as investors gave up any thought of interest rates being cut later in the year.

“It is clearly higher than most people were expecting, suggesting the economy had a fair amount of momentum in it at the end of 2006 and not a bad base for 2007,” said Michael Blythe, chief economist at Commonwealth Bank.

The country’s gross domestic product (GDP) rose 1.0 percent in the fourth quarter to an inflation-adjusted A$236 billion ($183 billion). That was well above forecasts of a 0.6 percent increase. Annual growth quickened to 2.8 percent from 2.2 percent in the third quarter.

Household spending added 0.7 percentage point to growth, as did business and government investment. Companies stocked up on n inventories, contributing a similar amount to growth. All of that helped to offset a hefty 1.3 percentage point drag from the country’s trade deficit.

Analysts noted output was up across a range of industries, outweighing weakness in the drought-hit farm sector, while incomes were further boosted because Australia’s export prices have been rising and its import prices falling.

“The Australian economy is responding to the most favourable global conditions in decades,” said Warren Hogan, head of market economics at Westpac. “The economy enters 2007 with momentum and will shrug off the impact of last year’s rate rises.” The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) raised rates three times in 2006 to curb inflation, with some success.


Earlier on Wednesday, the central bank left rates unchanged at 6.25 percent, a decision widely expected given growing confidence among officials that past tightenings were working to restrain inflation.

“Our base case favours a period of steady cash rates for the RBA, possibly throughout the whole of 2007,” said Su-Lin Ong, a senior economist at RBC Capital Markets.

“However, we continue to think that the extremely tight labour market, high level of capacity utilisation, risk of fiscal stimulus, and a generally supportive global growth backdrop will keep a tightening bias intact for some time,” she added.

That was essentially the message from a top central banker on Wednesday.

In a speech to an industry conference, Malcolm Edey, head of the RBA’s economics department, was optimistic on the outlook for global growth, thanks in large part to booms in China and India which he thought could continue for decades yet.

In turn, such growth would keep the demand for resources high and support the economies of commodity producers such as Australia, which was already close to full capacity after 16 years of uninterrupted expansion, said Edey.

Crucially, the labour market remains drum-tight with unemployment at 30-year lows of 4.5 percent after employers created a stunning 300,000 new jobs in the past year.

“The RBA’s main concern is the economy is running out of new workers,” said Rory Robertson, interest rate strategist at Macquarie Bank.

“It will only tighten again if unemployment falls yet further or we get some really bad news on inflation. Otherwise, they must be thrilled with where the economy is right now,” he added.

Greenspan risks new row with Fed

Greenspan risks new row with Fed
By Krishna Guha in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: March 6 2007 19:08 | Last updated: March 7 2007 00:34

Alan Greenspan risked stirring renewed controversy on Tuesday when he told the Bloomberg news agency that there was a “one-third probability” of a US recession this year.

The former Federal Reserve chairman’s comments are starkly at odds with the relatively upbeat assessment made by Ben Bernanke, his successor, in testimony to Congress last week.

Mr Greenspan’s latest remarks come barely a week after he told investors in Hong Kong that he thought a US recession this year was “possible”. The earlier comments spread quickly through the investment community, spooking investors and contributing to turmoil in financial markets.

Following a global sell-off in equities and other assets, Mr Greenspan was forced to clarify his statement, declaring he had said that a recession this year was “possible” but not “probable”.

The markets appeared to take Mr Greenspan’s latest comments in their stride but the remarks show he has decided not to keep quiet in the light of the past week’s experience, highlighting a dilemma for Mr Bernanke.

The Fed chairman is inclined to think it is not Mr Greenspan’s fault the market takes his comments so seriously. Moreover, such is the respect and goodwill towards Mr Greenspan within the Fed, as well as in markets globally, that there would be little benefit for Mr Bernanke in being seen to clash publicly with him.

However, the apparent second-guessing of the Bernanke Fed’s economic view by its former chief risks adding to the volatility and undermining the current chairman’s efforts to establish his authority in the markets.

Mr Greenspan on Tuesday told Bloomberg he was “surprised at this recent episode”. He said: “I was aware of the problem that if I stayed public I could make it difficult for Ben. For the most part it has worked. I was beginning to feel quite comfortable that I was fully back to the anonymity I was seeking.”

He said there were signs that the US’s economic expansion was ageing. “We are in the sixth year of a recovery. Imbalances can emerge as a result,” he said.

Mr Bernanke has not put any figure on the likelihood of a US recession this year. However, his public remarks suggest that, while he feels there may be some chance of a hard landing so painful that it results in negative growth this year, the likelihood of that is much less than one in three.

Mr Greenspan’s interview overshadowed a speech by Mr Bernanke later in the day, in which he called for new legislation to tighten controls on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage finance institutions.

Mr Bernanke said their portfolios “represent a potentially significant source of systemic risk”. He suggested that the two institutions should only keep on their books loans that promoted low-cost housing.

Chicago Tribune Editorial - Verdict: He lied.

Chicago Tribune Editorial - Verdict: He lied.
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published March 7, 2007

Libby lied. That's what the jury said Tuesday. After all the suggestions of faulty memories and who said what to whom, that's what counts. I. Lewis Libby Jr., the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, lied to federal agents and grand jurors. He lied during an investigation into how and why a CIA operative was unmasked in the midst of a debate about the Iraq war.

The jury didn't buy the defense that Libby was a busy man with a bad memory who simply forgot what he'd been told.

That answers one serious question. But it leaves a much larger--and more important--one hanging: Why?

Did Libby lie to help the White House avoid embarrassment? Because he wanted to cover his tracks? Because he just didn't think he'd get caught?

We don't know.

Many Americans long ago lost track of all the complicated twists in this case. And yes, some of the trial testimony was so complex and convoluted that it would take a phalanx of color commentators to help you follow the action.

Indeed, what many may remember most is not the case but the collateral damage it generated. Reporters have been dragged into court--and one of them was dragged off to jail for refusing to testify. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald of Chicago has been accused of excessive zeal in his pursuit of a leak case in which no one was ever charged with leaking the CIA operative's name.

Politics helped drive the public discussion of this case, but politics didn't drive the case itself. Fitzgerald said Tuesday that he had done what "any responsible prosecutor" would do. "It's not the verdict that justifies the investigation," he said. "It's the facts. ... Any lie under oath is serious. The truth is what drives the justice system."

So what is the truth here?

The truth is that top government officials had a choice, and they chose badly. They had a choice when former ambassador Joseph Wilson wrote an op-ed in The New York Times, criticizing one aspect of the administration's rationale for war against Iraq.

Administration officials could try to refute Wilson's words with facts, fully and publicly.

Or they could launch a whispered smear campaign against Wilson to damage his credibility.

They foolishly chose the latter: Libby became a point man in a campaign to discredit a critic of the administration's war policy. In the process, Wilson's wife, CIA operative Valerie Plame, was outed in the press.

As Fitzgerald's prosecution of Libby played out, jurors--like all Americans--got an unflattering glimpse of a White House mobilized for action, ready to crush an opponent even if it meant the questionable declassifying of an intelligence report to undercut Wilson.

So now what? There is much speculation about the next chapter in this saga. Will Bush pardon Libby? Will Libby make a deal with prosecutors and step forward to fill in the blanks?

The full story of why top administration officials got so needlessly overwrought about a former ambassador's allegations in a newspaper commentary has yet to be told.

Americans deserve to hear it.