Saturday, May 26, 2007

International Herald Tribune Editorial - The wealth of candidates

International Herald Tribune Editorial - The wealth of candidates
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: May 25, 2007

The initial financial disclosure required of the U.S. presidential candidates is already shedding light on important questions of wherewithal looming beyond the glare of televised debate. As voters sort through the crowd, which includes 10 millionaires, they should find their finances useful in sizing up the contenders and whom and what they actually work for.

For one thing, former Senator John Edwards, a Democrat whose signature issue is fighting poverty, turns out to have more than $11 million in holdings in a lately controversial hedge fund that paid him $479,000 as a part-time consultant. Edwards has said investment was a motive, but so was learning more about the financial market's interplay with poverty.

Disclosures like this prompt healthy discussion.

Similarly, some veils were lowered about former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's high-powered career in law and consulting operations, in which the Republican earned more than $5 million last year. Book and speaking fees on Giuliani's constant theme - 9/11 - grossed more than $11 million. Voters can now decide whether they approve of Giuliani's profits from 9/11. But they need more information on such questions as how Giuliani advised and was remunerated by the drug company that pleaded guilty to criminal charges for misleading the nation about the addictiveness of OxyContin.

Comparable questions about other candidates' financial decisions - none necessarily nefarious - undoubtedly will arise. Several of the candidates are taking 45-day extensions before filing.

Even then, these election commission reports are more limited than the ultimate disclosure candidates should make by releasing their tax returns. This higher standard has been the tradition - though not a requirement - in past campaigns, but thus far only one of the major candidates, Senator Barack Obama, has released his return. Like other candidates who are senators, Hillary Clinton already files public financial reports in the Capitol. But these are not as definitive as tax returns, which should be part of real disclosure.

Global Overview: Interest rate expectations reassessed

Global Overview: Interest rate expectations reassessed
By Dave Shellock
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 25 2007 17:45 | Last updated: May 25 2007 21:16

US and European stock markets retreated this week and government bond yields rose as investors reassessed their expectations for global interest rates.

Higher oil prices added to the pressure on equities, although losses were limited by continued merger and acquisition activity. One of the biggest surprises of the week came from a 16.2 per cent increase in new US home sales last month.

The rise, the biggest monthly increase for 14 years, raised the prospect that the housing market might be emerging from an 18-month slump and added to optimism about the US growth outlook. However, some of the shine came off the data with the release of soft existing home sales figures on Friday.

“In the US, the latest series of firmer economic data has led to a reduction in market expectations for rate cuts, especially as inflationary pressures remain above the Federal Reserve’s preferred range,” said Thanos Papasavvas, head of currency management at Investec.

But Dominic Wilson, economist at Goldman Sachs, warned against over-optimism about the economy.

“While significant parts of the US data have looked better recently, the economy is certainly not showing uniform strength,” he cautioned. “Most recent consumer data remain soft, the picture on housing remains quite mixed and, while the labour market still looks quite stable, there are important risks here.”

Meanwhile, robust economic data from the eurozone – including the key German Ifo index of business sentiment – added weight to the argument that eurozone interest rates still have some way to go before peaking.

“The market expects the European Central Bank to tighten to 4 per cent by June [from 3.75 per cent at the moment] and then to pause . . . for the remainder of the year, whereas we expect another rate hike before year-end taking rates to 4.25 per cent,” Mr Papasavvas said.

World stock markets had a volatile week. On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average touched a lifetime high of 13,624.55 before coming off to trade 0.4 per cent down on the week in New York on Friday.

The S&P 500 index came within a whisker of setting a record closing high but then fell back to stand 0.5 per cent lower over the week.

The Dow and S&P made their first weekly declines in seven weeks.

The Nasdaq Composite slipped from a six-year peak to trade a fraction lower for the five-day period, for its third successive weekly drop.

In Europe, the FTSE Eurofirst 300 index recorded its highest close since December 2000 before easing back to end the week with a loss of 0.2 per cent.

Alan Greenspan prompted a midweek equity market wobble after warning that recent gains for Chinese stocks were unsustainable and he feared a significant correction to the market.

But the Shanghai market recovered from an initial drop and ended the week within striking distance of its all-time high. Several other markets in the region also set new highs.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 Average inched up 0.5 per cent over the week, although Hong Kong ended 1.8 per cent softer.

Government bonds extended their recent losses, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury climbing back to 4.9 per cent at one stage – its highest since January.

The yield subsequently slipped back to 4.86 per cent, up 5 basis points over the week.

The 10-year Bund yield touched a three-year high, rising 7 basis points over the week to 4.39 per cent.

In the currency markets, the dollar continued to attract buyers as it extended its recent rally against the euro and the yen. But sterling was the stand-out gainer as expectations that UK interest rates would rise at least once more were heightened by the release of hawkish minutes from the Bank of England’s last policy meeting.

In commodities, oil prices touched a nine-month high amid escalating political tensions in the Middle East.

July Brent – currently seen as the global benchmark oil price – touched $71.80 a barrel during the week and was holding above $70 in late trade on Friday.

US-China talks shift to Congress

US-China talks shift to Congress
By Krishna Guha and Eoin Callan in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 24 2007 21:17 | Last updated: May 25 2007 01:44

The focal point of US-China economic relations moved from Hank Paulson’s US Treasury to Capitol Hill on Thursday as Chinese officials met senior members of Congress for a second day of talks.

Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate finance committee, said the meetings would mark an enduring shift as the lead role in the bilateral economic relationship passed from the White House to Congress.

“Administrations come and go. It is Congress that remains in the driver’s seat on the key trade and economic issues affecting our two countries,” he said.

Mr Baucus said after meeting Wu Yi, the Chinese vice-premier, that the “dialogue left key issues unresolved”.

“I emphasised to [Ms Wu Yi] that putting our long-term relationship on a sustainable footing requires addressing key short-term concerns [including its] “under-valued currency”.

Other members of Congress expressed concern at the limited results from the talks. Charles Rangel, chairman of the House ways and means committee, said he expected Congress would move to consider legislation.

“They are going to drop lots of bills,” a former administration official who characterised the outcome of the talks as “weak tea” told the Financial Times. He said there was a “real risk” of serious legislation emerging.

In an interview with the FT, Mr Paulson said he had encouraged the delegation to meet members of Congress on the basis that there “will almost certainly be some China trade legislation” and it was important for both sides to hear each other’s views. The Treasury secretary made clear he had no intention of surrendering the role of principal interlocutor between the US and China.

He said his economic dialogue with Beijing, which this week yielded an aviation deal and some concessions in financial services, would “see more progress over time”.

US officials stress the dialogue is a process and that modest gains this week are part of an effort to speed up China’s reform agenda. The Treasury believes Mr Paulson’s message on the importance of financial sector reform is sinking in and will yield more changes.

But it appears the strategic dialogue may no longer be able to serve the political purpose of dissuading members of Congress from legislating on China. Asked whether Beijing had given him enough to persuade Congress not to legislate, he said: “That is the question everybody is asking. ... There is a strong feeling from the American public that they should do more.”

China was the fastest growing economy in the world. “A good many people see that as a threat. I want to see it as an opportunity.

“But it is easier for me to effectively fight to keep our markets open if members of Congress see China moving to open its markets to greater competition.”

Mr Paulson said the dialogue had allowed the US to obtain results “we would never achieve without it”.

But he did not hide his disappointment that China had refused to make changes to the foreign ownership rules in its financial services sector. “We have pressed hard on capital markets,” he said. “I said I do not understand why there are ownership caps.”

US officials privately blame domestic Chinese interest groups for blocking more extensive change.

China’s refusal to commit to a far-reaching liberalisation of its financial services sector has political as well as economic consequences.

US officials know China will never make advance commitments on its currency, no matter how great the pressure from Congress. To do so would be to invite a tidal wave of speculative capital inflows.

Mr Paulson highlighted the importance of financial sector reform as an equally, or even more important, mechanism than currency action through which to rebalance China’s economy and reduce its trade surplus.

Beijing upgrades nuclear arsenal

Beijing upgrades nuclear arsenal
By Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 25 2007 20:21 | Last updated: May 25 2007 20:21

China is modernising and expanding its arsenal of nuclear weapons giving it an enhanced nuclear strike capability, according to a new Pentagon report on the Chinese military.

The Pentagon said China was developing mobile, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles in addition to long-range, submarine-launched ballistic missiles that would be deployed on a new fleet of nuclear submarines.

A US defence official said the shift to mobile and sea-based missiles was an effort by the People’s Liberation Army to improve the ability of its nuclear forces to survive a first nuclear strike.

“China is pursuing long-term comprehensive transformation of its military forces to improve its capabilities for power-projection, anti-access and area denial,” the report said. “China’s actions in certain areas increasingly appear inconsistent with its declaratory policies.”

Releasing its annual report on the Chinese military, the Pentagon also warned that Beijing’s counter-space programme “puts at risk the assets of all space-faring nations”.

In January, China destroyed a satellite with a missile in a move that prompted the US air force to reassess the vulnerability of US satellites.

While the report suggested that most of China’s military modernisation was aimed at preparing for a possible conflict over Taiwan, the Pentagon said Beijing also appeared to be “generating capabilities for other regional contingencies, such as conflict over resources or territory”.

The defence official said China’s growing concern about its vulnerability over energy and natural resources could end up shaping its military planning.

China’s more recent focus on increasing its naval power, including attack submarines, is believed to be partly aimed at protecting sea routes for tankers transporting energy resources.

China maintains that it is simply engaging in a “peaceful rise” and that its military modernisation is commensurate with its economic expansion.

US subprime crisis hits house sales

US subprime crisis hits house sales
By Eoin Callan in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 25 2007 18:02 | Last updated: May 25 2007 18:02

The crisis in the high-risk mortgage market made it harder for Americans to sell their homes last month, according to real estate agents.

Sales of existing homes fell to their lowest level in three years with a drop of 2.6 per cent in April, data from the National Association of Realtors indicated on Friday.

The association said home purchases were being held back because subprime lenders were applying tighter standards following the collapse of the high-risk mortgage market.

The Federal Reserve does not expect the crisis to have a lasting impact on the housing market, despite increasing signs of distress among high-risk borrowers and the collapse of leading subprime lenders.

Gary Bigg, an economist at Bank Of America, said: “Prospects for future home sales remain mixed as the problems in the subprime market and tighter credit standards are partially offset by improving housing affordability.”

Mr Bigg said he was expecting a gradual recovery in the market for existing homes following signs this week that sales by developers of new homes were picking up after an 18-month slump.

Alan Ruskin, an analyst at RBS, said: “The latest numbers do not themselves negate the perception of somewhat better transaction trends from the new home sales. I still think housing demand has put in a bottom.”

The fall in sales of existing homes last month was widespread across the country and dragged the annual rate of home sales to below 6m units, compared with expectations that purchases would hold steady at a rate of about 6.15m homes.

Mark Zandi, an economist at Moody’s, said the increase in inventory was “the most disconcerting” element of the figures.

The slowdown in purchases drove the excess supply of single-family homes on the market up to about eight months’ worth of sales from seven months’ supply in March. The supply of condominiums also climbed to 9.5 months’ worth of sales from 8.8 months.

Economists are awaiting figures that give a fuller picture of how the housing market has performed during the crucial spring selling season when most homes are bought.

Postwar Iraqi conflict ‘was predicted’

Postwar Iraqi conflict ‘was predicted’
By Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington
Published: May 26 2007 00:35 | Last updated: May 26 2007 00:35
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

The US intelligence community predicted before the Iraq war that an invasion would probably encourage al-Qaeda to increase terrorist attacks and attempt to regroup in Afghanistan, a key report found on Friday.

The Senate intelligence committee report into prewar intelligence on postwar Iraq comes at a sensitive time for the White House, which is trying to rally support for the increasingly unpopular war.

Based on two assessments made by the intelligence community in January 2003 and given to the White House, the report concluded that the invasion could spark internal conflict in Iraq, encourage al-Qaeda to boost terrorist operations and propel proponents of political Islam. It also concluded that an invasion would not encourage other countries to abandon programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction.

While the intelligence reports warned of increased terrorist activity following the invasion, they did estimate that “the threat from terrorism resulting from a war with Iraq, after an initial spike, probably would decline slowly over the next three to five years”.

President George W. Bush in recent months has argued that al-Qaeda is the greatest threat in Iraq, in an attempt to convince the US population of the need to stay the course in Iraq.

The US intelligence community has taken heavy criticism for the flawed intelligence over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but many of its assessments of postwar Iraq appear to have been accurate.

According to the report, US intelligence wrote in January 2003: “A post-Saddam authority would face a deeply divided society with a significant chance that domestic groups would engage in violent conflict with each other unless an occupying force prevented them from doing so.”

The intelligence community also concluded: “The practical implementation of democratic rule would be difficult in a country with no concept of loyal opposition and no history of alternation of power.”

It also assessed that the Iraqi government would have to “walk a fine line between dismantling the worst aspects of Saddam’s police, security and intelligence forces and retaining the capability to enforce nationwide peace”.

Democrats used the report to criticise the White House.

“The intelligence community gave the administration plenty of warning about the difficulties we would face if the decision was made to go to war,” said John Rockefeller, the Democratic chairman of the Senate intelligence committee. “These dire warnings were widely distributed at the highest levels of government, and it’s clear that the administration didn’t plan for any of them.”

US under fire over Afghan poppy plan

US under fire over Afghan poppy plan
By Guy Dinmore in Washington and Rachel Morarjee in Kabul
Published: May 25 2007 19:39 | Last updated: May 25 2007 19:39
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

The US is proceeding with plans for a big crop-spraying programme to destroy opium poppies in Afghanistan, in spite of resistance from the government of President Hamid Karzai and objections from some senior US military officers who fear it will fuel the Taliban insurgency.

A US delegation will soon leave for Kabul to persuade Mr Karzai that glycophate, a herbicide that is widely applied by US farmers, is safe to use and that trial ground-spraying should begin for the first time since the US ousted the Taliban regime in 2001.

But controversy over the proposed spraying is causing rifts within the Nato alliance. Some governments, including Germany, want nothing to do with the eradication programme and are threatening to reconsider their posture in Afghanistan, diplomats say. Afghan security forces trained by Dyncorp, a private US defence contractor, are to carry out the spraying.

“There has to be a stick that goes with the carrot,” said Ambassador Thomas Schweich, US co-ordinator for counter-narcotics in Afghanistan. Eradication had to be a component of US policy, he said.

Mr Schweich said no decision had been reached on aerial spraying and this would rest on agreement with the Afghan government. But he made it clear that crop spraying was the preferred US approach, combined with economic development and information programmes as well as robust efforts to interdict drug traffickers.

Pointing to a map of Afghanistan, he described a broad north-south divide. Poppy cultivation had either fallen sharply or stabilised in the north-central provinces that were more secure, but risen in the west, south and east, where the Taliban insurgency was gaining strength.

Eradication would target wealthier farmers who had spurned other development options, he said. “We are not targeting poor farmers. This is fiction,” he said.

Afghanistan supplies over 90 per cent of the world’s opium, but the crop also accounts for about a third of the country’s entire economic output.

“The US is hell-bent on eradication,” said Robert Rotberg, Harvard University professor. “They claim it worked in Colombia and so will work in Afghanistan. It is not clear to anyone it worked in Colombia,” he added.

US and Berlin clash on G8 climate text

US and Berlin clash on G8 climate text
By Hugh Williamson in Berlin and Edward Luce in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 25 2007 18:21 | Last updated: May 25 2007 18:21

Political tensions between the US and Germany over climate change have worsened sharply, with Washington threatening to no longer "tread lightly" in negotiations on global warming ahead of the Group of Eight rich nations' summit next month.

The US has sent Germany a harshly worded statement in which it accuses Berlin of ignoring of Washington's “serious, fundamental concerns” with Germany's draft climate change communiqué for the Baltic coast summit.

The statement, written in red ink and obtained by the Financial Times, says: "We have tried to 'tread lightly' but there is only so far we can go given our fundamental opposition to the German position."

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, would like the summit to agree limits on carbon emissions but the US says climate change should be tackled with technology-based solutions rather than mandatory emissions targets and accuses Berlin of ignoring its stance.

Washington says the latest version of the communiqué "is called final but we never agreed to any of the climate language presented in the document".

It adds: "The majority of our comments on the previous draft have not been addressed and some new, problematic text has been added." Germany's proposed text "crosses multiple 'red lines' in terms of what we simply cannot agree to", according to the statement.

The statement and draft communiqué are dated May 14, according to a person familiar the documents.

Diplomats said the US outburst confirms that a substantial deal on climate change is no longer possible at the summit, despite the months of diplomatic pressure from Berlin.

The strains in German-US relations ahead of the June 6-8 summit, to be attended by US President George W. Bush, are also likely to make it tougher for Ms Merkel to achieve progress in other sensitive fields, such as the stalled world trade talks.

German officials involved in this week's G8 talks – held in Heiligendamm, the luxury resort that will host the summit – declined to comment. The White House also refused to comment on the "specific language" disagreements in the climate change draft negotiations with the German government and said the important thing to judge was the final communiqué at the summit next month.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Laughing and Crying

Laughing and Crying
May 23, 2007
Copyright by The New York Times

First I had to laugh. Then I had to cry.

I took part in commencement this year at Rensselaer
Polytechnic Institute, one of America's great science and
engineering schools, so I had a front-row seat as the first
grads to receive their diplomas came on stage, all of them
Ph.D. students. One by one the announcer read their names
and each was handed their doctorate . in biotechnology,
computing, physics and engineering . by the school's
president, Shirley Ann Jackson.

The reason I had to laugh was because it seemed like every
one of the newly minted Ph.D.'s at Rensselaer was foreign
born. For a moment, as the foreign names kept coming .
"Hong Lu, Xu Xie, Tao Yuan, Fu Tang" . I thought that the
entire class of doctoral students in physics were going to
be Chinese, until "Paul Shane Morrow" saved the day. It was
such a caricature of what President Jackson herself
calls "the quiet crisis" in high-end science education in
this country that you could only laugh.

Don't get me wrong. I'm proud that our country continues to
build universities and a culture of learning that attract
the world's best minds. My complaint . why I also wanted to
cry . was that there wasn't someone from the Immigration
and Naturalization Service standing next to President
Jackson stapling green cards to the diplomas of each of
these foreign-born Ph.D.'s. I want them all to stay, become
Americans and do their research and innovation here. If we
can't educate enough of our own kids to compete at this
level, we'd better make sure we can import someone else's,
otherwise we will not maintain our standard of living.

It is pure idiocy that Congress will not open our borders .
as wide as possible . to attract and keep the world's first-
round intellectual draft choices in an age when everyone
increasingly has the same innovation tools and the key
differentiator is human talent. I'm serious. I think any
foreign student who gets a Ph.D. in our country . in any
subject . should be offered citizenship. I want them. The
idea that we actually make it difficult for them to stay is

Compete America, a coalition of technology companies, is
pleading with Congress to boost both the number of H-1B
visas available to companies that want to bring in skilled
foreign workers and the number of employment-based green
cards given to high-tech foreign workers who want to stay
here. Give them all they want! Not only do our companies
need them now, because we're not training enough engineers,
but they will, over time, start many more companies and
create many more good jobs than they would possibly
displace. Silicon Valley is living proof of that . and
where innovation happens matters. It's still where the best
jobs will be located.

Folks, we can't keep being stupid about these things. You
can't have a world where foreign-born students dominate
your science graduate schools, research labs, journal
publications and can now more easily than ever go back to
their home countries to start companies . without it
eventually impacting our standard of living . especially
when we're also slipping behind in high-speed Internet
penetration per capita. America has fallen from fourth in
the world in 2001 to 15th today.

My hat is off to Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry, co-founders
of the Personal Democracy Forum. They are trying to make
this an issue in the presidential campaign by creating a
movement to demand that candidates focus on our digital
deficits and divides. (See:
Mr. Rasiej, who unsuccessfully ran for public advocate of
New York City in 2005 on a platform calling for low-cost
wireless access everywhere, notes that "only half of
America has broadband access to the Internet." We need to
go from "No Child Left Behind," he says, to "Every Child

Here's the sad truth: 9/11, and the failing Iraq war, have
sucked up almost all the oxygen in this country . oxygen
needed to discuss seriously education, health care, climate
change and competitiveness, notes Garrett Graff, an editor
at Washingtonian Magazine and author of the upcoming
book "The First Campaign," which deals with this theme. So
right now, it's mostly governors talking about these
issues, noted Mr. Graff, but there is only so much they can
do without Washington being focused and leading.

Which is why we've got to bring our occupation of Iraq to
an end in the quickest, least bad way possible . otherwise
we are going to lose Iraq and America. It's coming down to
that choice.

Irrational attacks on immigration

Irrational attacks on immigration
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
May 25, 2007

As the immigrant haters demolish the current version of "reform," the wise person tries to reflect on these three propositions:

The first is self-evident: All humans are created equal and have certain inalienable rights -- life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Immigrants are humans. Therefore, they have these inalienable rights.

Second, as long as you have a long border with a labor supply on one side and a labor demand on the other, impoverished people will find ways to cross the border -- unless they are shot on sight.

Third, the United States needs these workers. If we sent them all back, the national economy would collapse.

All the irrationalities of the arguments about "amnesty," "protect our borders," "our ancestors were LEGAL immigrants," "enforce the laws," "send them all home" collapse in the face of these three ineluctable facts. The fury aimed that these poor, hardworking people is comparable to the fury against the Italians, Poles and Irish a century ago. It is as useless now as it was then. And as evil.

Americans are not the only "nativists," not the only immigrant haters. Most European countries, with their aging and war-depleted populations, need immigrant workers. But politicians who run against them win or come close to winning elections. They want foreigners, strangers, people with darker skin, no more than we do. They accept them grudgingly and demean them whenever possible.

However, there is one notable exception to this rule. In Spain the welcome mat is out for immigrants. Eleven percent of the people living there are immigrants -- just a shade under the American rate. In each of the past two years 600,000 immigrants have poured into the country. Yet, Spain accounts for half the new jobs in Europe, according to an article in Business Week, and enjoys the best-performing major economy in Europe. The immigrants are from Eastern Europe (especially Romanians, who are not really welcome anywhere, even in Ireland), Morocco, Latin America (especially Ecuador) and Africa. Like many of our immigrants, they are concentrated in the construction industry, which has been booming in recent years with new buildings, hospitals, schools, railroad stations and airports . Spain also offers an easy amnesty (dirty word!) to its illegal immigrants.

For a couple of thousand years, Spain has been a cultural, racial and religious mosaic. The people who are native to the country now see no reason to exclude these new "invaders" because they are adding notably to the prosperity of the Spanish state. Many of them also speak Spanish (of different varieties), which is a help. Nonetheless, they have different customs and lifestyles and look different.

The difference between Spain and this country is that the Spaniards realize that immigrants are good for a country. The American attitude is that they used to be good for the United States a century or so ago when our ancestors came, but not anymore. Yet the jobs they do suggests that they are still good for the country. To keep them illegal and to deny them citizenship to which they aspire makes it easier for Americans to exploit them and treat them like second-class human beings.

If one were a true cynic, one might come to believe that those who rant against "amnesty for criminals" are secretly fronting for those who want to keep the immigrants defenseless. Then we Americans can continue to treat them like subhumans -- Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and their ilk to the contrary notwithstanding.

Congress OKs raise for minimum-wage workers

Congress OKs raise for minimum-wage workers
By Jesse J. Holland
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune and The Associated Press
Published May 25, 2007

WASHINGTON -- America's lowest-paid workers won a $2.10 raise Thursday, with Congress approving the first increase in the federal minimum wage in almost a decade. By summer 2009, all minimum-wage jobs will pay no less than $7.25 an hour.

President Bush was expected to sign the bill quickly.

For years, the idea of increasing the minimum wage has been stalled by bickering between Republicans and Democrats.

That almost became the fate of this year's proposal. Democratic leaders attached the provision to the $120 billion Iraq war spending bill, which Bush vetoed May 1 because Democrats insisted on a pullout date for American troops.

But with the House and Senate passing a rewritten bill Thursday, the end is near for the longest stretch without an increase in the federal minimum wage since it was established in 1938.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) called the increase one of "the proudest achievements of this new Congress."

"We've overcome many obstacles -- and faced every procedural trick in the book -- to get this

minimum-wage increase across the finish line," Kennedy said. This will be the first change since the minimum wage went from $4.75 to $5.15 on Sept. 1, 1997, under then-President Bill Clinton and a Republican-controlled Congress.

A person working 40 hours per week at the current minimum wage of $5.15 makes about $10,700 a year. An increase to $7.25 would boost that to just over $15,000 a year.

More than two dozen states and the District of Columbia already have minimum wages higher than the federal level. Raising the minimum wage was a key part of Democrats' midterm election platform last year.

To help make it palatable for Republicans, they added $4.84 billion in tax relief for small businesses to help them hire new workers and offset any cost associated with the wage increase.

- - -

Wage scale If President Bush signs the bill quickly, as expected, the minimum wage will increase as follows:

Currently: $5.15 an hour.

Before the end of the

summer: $5.85 an hour.

Next year: $6.55 an hour.

Summer 2009: $7.25 an hour.

Surprise inspection finds Stroger Hospital lacking

Surprise inspection finds Stroger Hospital lacking
By Mickey Ciokajlo
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published May 25, 2007

Cook County's top public hospital could have its accreditation status downgraded for the first time in more than 15 years. But the county's top health official predicted the change wouldn't last long, saying most of the violations cited were minor and readily fixable.

The agency that inspects most of the nation's hospitals cited Stroger Hospital with 16 findings of non-compliance, said Dr. Robert Simon, the county's interim health chief. If the organization's board approves those citations next month, as Simon expects it will, the hospital would be granted "conditional accreditation" and be given time to fix the problems.

The old Cook County Hospital, which Stroger Hospital replaced in 2002, lost its accreditation in 1991 for 13 months over fire-safety problems with two of its buildings.

The Oakbrook Terrace-based Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations doesn't make its findings public, but Simon said Thursday that he would release the findings after the agency's board votes.

In an interview, Simon listed what he considered to be the most serious of the issues cited and then said he's confident the hospital would return to full accreditation within a matter of months.

"The things are minor. They're so easy for us to fix," Simon said.

One of the most important findings, Simon said, was how the hospital laboratory reports its most serious results after patient tests. The lab is supposed to give the results directly to a doctor or a nurse, but the investigators found instances in which the information was relayed through clerical staff, Simon said.

In another finding, investigators observed staffers failing to ask patients their names to verify the identification with a wrist band or other documentation before taking a medical action such as drawing blood.

Another citation involved doctors failing to wash their hands between every encounter with a patient, even if they were wearing gloves and not dealing with infectious materials or wounds.

"We have those policies in place," Simon said.

The surprise visit in March was Stroger Hospital's first since the organization last year stopped announcing its inspections to hospitals in advance. Earlier this year, the Boston Globe reported that Massachusetts General Hospital was hit with a number of findings of problems after the accreditation agency's unannounced visit. The hospital retained full accreditation, however.

Stroger Hospital was initially hit with 22 citations of non-compliance, but the number was dropped to 16 after county officials made their case to the agency's staff, said Susanne Klein, director of quality assurance and regulatory affairs at Stroger Hospital.


Financial Times Editorial Comment: Time is short to halt spread of Jihadism

Financial Times Editorial Comment: Time is short to halt spread of Jihadism
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 24 2007 22:09 | Last updated: May 24 2007 22:09

It was perfectly forseeable, and indeed predicted, that the US-led invasion of Iraq, far from striking a decisive blow against terrorism, would proliferate militant Islamism all over the Arab and Muslim worlds, from where a new generation of jihadis would strike into Europe and the west. The roll-call of atrocities, from Casablanca to Istanbul, Bali to Mumbai, Riyadh to Amman, London to Madrid, is bloody indeed. Now, however, jihadi extremism is sprouting like poisonous mushrooms in the darkness enveloping the Middle East.

It is not just that all America’s enemies – al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Iran, Hizbollah and Hamas – have been strengthened by the policies of the US and its allies. The totalitarian jihadism peddled by Osama bin Laden and his growing following is emerging in new chapters all over the Middle East, including in places it has never before been seen.

Iraq itself, jihadi-free until the invasion, became a magnet for cadres now skilled in the urban terrorism favoured by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mr bin Laden’s strategist. These methods are being used with deadly effect in Afghanistan by the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

But every bit as alarming is what is going on outside these theatres of war. Virulent jihadism – not necessarily linked to but inspired by al-Qaeda – seems to be seeping out of Arab soil almost everywhere. It is spreading into Gaza and northern Lebanon, into Iraqi Kurdistan (and south-eastern Turkey), into Jordan, Yemen and across north Africa. The region’s political immune system, such as it was, is collapsing.

The Bush administration’s bungling use of disproportionate and misdirected force in Iraq has been immensely pernicious: it might as well have taken a hammer to a ball of mercury. So too is the Middle Eastern habit of dabbling in religious extremism. Nearly all the region’s regimes, pro- and anti-western, have at some time tried to use Islamist extremists to their advantage; Syria’s links to the jihadis fighting the Lebanese army in Tripoli is but the latest example.

These groups cannot, ultimately, be directed. Nor can they be deterred. They must be isolated and crushed. That first requires a diplomatic offensive that wins legitimacy and a broad alliance for stability.

The two main needs are obvious. There will be no stability without enlisting Iran’s power in the region. A return to relying on Sunni strongmen alone (in Riyadh, Cairo and Amman) will fail. There will be no stability – or legitimacy – without a concerted effort to tackle the region’s unresolved conflicts, beginning with Palestine. Time is short.

Strong housing data prompt bond sell-off

Strong housing data prompt bond sell-off
By Richard Beales and Michael Mackenzie in New York
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 24 2007 21:25 | Last updated: May 24 2007 21:25

Unexpectedly strong data on new home sales in the US hit Treasury bonds on Thursday, sending yields back to their highest levels of the year.

The sharp rise in yields underlined a three-month rising trend as bond investors have gradually discounted the likelihood of Federal Reserve rate cuts amid signs that US economic growth remains stronger than some had feared.

The yield on 10-year Treasuries on Thursday morning rose 5 basis points in New York to touch 4.90 per cent at one stage, a level last seen in January and matching the yields in August 2006.

Meanwhile, two-year yields also made headway towards 5 per cent, rising 4bp to 4.88 per cent. Yields on 30-year bonds broke above 5 per cent earlier in the week.

Thursday’s housing data revealed a 16 per cent year-on-year rise in new home sales and a drop in inventory in April.

“This piece of data combined with home completions at the lowest level in six years . . . suggests the supply overhang is finally starting to head south,” said Dimitry Fleming, economist at ING Financial Markets.

Meanwhile, average new home prices fell a record 11 per cent, as homebuilders tried to move stock amid slack demand.

“Some may see a silver lining here, as softer prices may also be helping the market clear, boosting transactions and reducing inventory,” said Alan Ruskin, chief international strategist at RBS Greenwich Capital.

Mounting evidence of sustained growth in the US – albeit at a lower level than in recent years – has damped investors’ hopes of rate cuts by the Fed this year.

“The bond market is selling off because there is a convergence towards a view that the Fed will do nothing for some time,” said Dominic Konstam, head of interest rate strategy at Credit Suisse. However, he said Treasury yields would probably continue to trade below the overnight Fed funds rate – currently at 5.25 per cent – because there were still questions over the health of the US consumer and the outlook for risky assets.

In March, when interest rate futures were pricing in at least two quarter-point rate cuts this year, the two-year Treasury yield stood at about 4.5 per cent. Now, interest futures markets are not pricing in a full 25bp cut until mid-2008.

The global rise in government bond yields has been even more pronounced in Europe, where robust economic growth is fuelling expectations of central bank interest rate rises.

The two-year German Schatz yield is up from 2.8 per cent at the start of last year to 4.3 per cent. The 10-year Bund yield has also been rising, narrowing the gap with US Treasury yields, and is near 4.4 per cent.

Republicans mired in immigration battle

Republicans mired in immigration battle
By Edward Luce in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 24 2007 20:58 | Last updated: May 24 2007 20:58

If there were ever an instance where the primary election process could wreak havoc with a party’s broader electability, many believe US Republicans are demonstrating it in their increasingly bitter internal battle over immigration reform.

President George W. Bush on Thursday pleaded with his party to support a bipartisan compromise unveiled last week, which would offer a “pathway to citizenship” for America’s estimated 12m illegal immigrants but which Republican critics have dismissed as an “amnesty”.

Faced with an outpouring of rage from conservative talk radio hosts, many Republicans, including most of its leading presidential contenders, have attacked the immigration reform bill in harsh terms – often linking the country’s mostly Mexican illegal immigrant flow with the country’s broader “war on terror”.

Mr Bush sought to refute those charges, pointing out that under the proposal it would take up to 13 years for illegal immigrants to gain US citizenship after first having paid a $5,000 fine and having proved they had no criminal record, among other requirements.

“Amnesty means forgiveness without penalty,” Mr Bush said. “This bill does not provide an amnesty . . . I strongly believe this bipartisan bill addresses the reasons for past failures.”

One measure of how tough it will be for Mr Bush to push this bill through is the number of Republicans who are turning against it. Formerly strong pro-immigration Republicans, such as Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, two of the leading presidential contenders, have either abandoned or watered down their support for much more liberal immigration bills that were proposed and shot down in the past 18 months.

Earlier this week, John McCain, who stands alone among the presidential contenders in supporting the compromise but who nevertheless removed his name from the latest bill in the Senate, exchanged barbs with Mr Romney. The latter has attracted accusations of hypocrisy for allegedly hiring illegal Guatemalan gardeners and for having proclaimed himself to be a lifelong hunter when it turned out not to be the case.

“Maybe I should wait a couple weeks and see if Mr Romney’s position changes,” Mr McCain said. “And maybe his solution will be to get out his small varmint [vermin] gun and drive those Guatemalans off his yard.”

Judging by the rising temperature among talk-radio conservatives, who have a critical influence on large sections of the primary-voting Republican base, Mr McCain’s remarks were an opening salvo in what looks like becoming a long and ugly debate.

“There is real Republican rage over this bill, and a rage against Mr Bush that I haven’t seen before,” says Brian Darling at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington. “People see this bill as an amnesty that was agreed behind close doors and which rewards law-breakers.”

Frank Sharry, head of the National Immigration Forum, an advocacy group, says the debate could damage the Republicans’ electability among Hispanic voters, America’s fasting-growing electoral group. As governor of Texas and then president, Mr Bush succeeded in winning over a large section of Hispanic voters – 40 per cent of whom voted for him in the 2004 presidential election.

In last November’s mid-term congressional elections, which the Republicans lost, that share fell to 29 per cent after a strong anti-immigration campaign by many Republicans. Now presidential contenders are targeting their message at the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire, which respectively hold the first primary and first caucus votes next January, but which are two of the whitest and least multicultural states.

“It is like watching a slow-motion car wreck,” says Mr Sharry. “It took 100 years for the Republicans to win back the Catholic vote [under Ronald Reagan] after its anti-Catholic campaigns of the late 19th century. And they looking like doing it again with the Hispanics. It is ironic because Hispanics are one of the most socially conservative, anti-abortion communities in America.”

More ironically, it was left to Tom Tancredo, the most hardline Republican presidential contender, to summarise best why his party was being dragged so sharply to the right.

Mr Tancredo, who said his response to a terrorist attack would be to “bomb Mecca”, said: “I see so many conversions [to anti-immigrant positions] around this room tonight . . . But I must tell you, I trust those conversions when they happen on the road to Damascus and not on the road to Des Moines [capital of Iowa].”

China warns against ‘politicised’ trade ties

China warns against ‘politicised’ trade ties
By Krishna Guha in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 25 2007 01:18 | Last updated: May 25 2007 08:04

China will ”fight to the end” against a case on intellectual property rights brought by the US before the World Trade Organisation, Wu Yi, China’s vice-premier, vowed on Thursday night in Washington.

Ms Wu said the US action ”will surely have serious impact on bilateral IPR co-operation” through the US-China joint commission on commerce and trade (JCCT).

In a robust speech at the end of her trip to the US, Ms Wu also defended China’s decision to open its financial sector at a gradual pace, saying this was essential because its domestic financial institutions were still at a ”relatively low level” of development.

However, she promised to take US President George W. Bush’s request that China lift restrictions on the sale of US beef to Chinese President Hu and ”try to find a solution to the problem”

The vice-premier reiterated the importance of the US-China strategic economic dialogue, while stressing that it should ”bear in mind larger interests and have a long term perspective.”

She said the US and China had complementary economic interests and said ”any effort to politicise economic and trade matters and resort to trade protectionism can do nothing but damage.

Earlier, President Bush pressed Ms Wu on the need for more rapid appreciation of the renminbi at a meeting that followed high-level bilateral economic talks.

Mr Bush said after the meeting that “one of the issues that I emphasised to Madame Wu Yi, as well as the delegation, was that we’re watching very carefully as to whether or not they will appreciate their currency.”

The president said he told Ms Wu that “the $233bn trade deficit must be addressed. And one way to address it is through currency revaluation.”

Mr Bush also backed a push by Hank Paulson, Treasury secretary, to persuade China to open up its financial sector – which achieved only limited results this week.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said her talks with the US president had been “very friendly”.

Zhu Guangyao, China’s assistant finance minister, said it was normal for there to be some bilateral economic disputes, and said China saw the strategic economic dialogue with the US as a way of “gradually solving the problems”.

Chinese companies had entered into contracts worth $32.6bn in a massive procurement and investment mission to 24 states ahead of this week’s strategic economic dialogue in Washington, a move some see as designed to soften opposition among US legislators.

Mr Zhu called on Congress to “bear in mind the overall interests of the US” when considering possible legislation on trade with China.

US fears over China long-range missiles

US fears over China long-range missiles
By Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington and Mure Dickie in Beijing
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 24 2007 21:13 | Last updated: May 25 2007 00:15

The US is increasingly concerned about China’s deployment of mobile land and sea-based ballistic nuclear missiles that have the range to hit the US, according to people familiar with an imminent Pentagon report on China’s military.

The 2007 Pentagon China military power report will highlight the surprising pace of development of a new Jin-class submarine equipped to carry a nuclear ballistic missile with a range of more than 5,000 miles.

Washington is also concerned about the strategic implications of China’s preparations later this year to start deploying a new mobile, land-based DF-31A intercontinental ballistic missile that could target the whole US.

Robert Gates, US defence secretary, on Thursday said the report would not exaggerate the threat posed by China. “It paints a picture of a country that is devoting substantial resources to the military and developing...some very sophisticated capabilities.”

The report also outlines concerns about the build-up of missiles across the Taiwan Strait, China’s recent anti-satellite missile test and its development of technologies to deny access in space.

Beijing has strongly criticised previous Pentagon reports on the Chinese military, which it sees as portraying China as a cold war-style enemy, and points out that the Chinese military budget is a fraction of US defence spending.

US experts on the Chinese military have been surprised by the pace of development of the nuclear forces, and particularly the Jin programme. The Pentagon believes that China is developing five Jin submarines. One is already being tested at sea and could become operational next year.

“The Chinese have maintained that they have a ‘no first use’ policy [for nuclear weapons] and that they have a minimal deterrent policy, which means they have only enough nuclear capability to retaliate,” said Michael Green, former White House senior Asia adviser to President George W. Bush.

“But open source journals and discussions and their own modernisation suggest that they are possibly developing capabilities for a more flexible use of nuclear weapons, and survivability and tactical uses that would call into question this declared policy.”

In 2005, Chinese General Zhu Chenghu fuelled US concerns that China might be changing its strategic stance when he told journalists that it might have to use nuclear weapons against the US if attacked during a confrontation over Taiwan. Chinese officials later restated the country’s “no first use” policy and have privately played down Gen Zhu’s influence.

Some analysts have also suggested that the Chinese move could be partly in response to US plans to develop a ballistic missile defence system.

Russia has recently raised concerns about plans by the US to place missile interceptors in Europe.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

International Herald Tribune Editorial - France's new leader makes a quick break with the past

International Herald Tribune Editorial - France's new leader makes a quick break with the past
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: May 23, 2007

President Nicolas Sarkozy promised his countrymen a break with the past, and he has not wasted time.

The leaner, 15-member cabinet that Sarkozy introduced two days after he was sworn in last week is led by Prime Minister François Fillon, who is credited with reforming the pension system in the last government.

The new foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, the founder of Médecins sans Frontières who was awarded a Nobel Prize and who is a hugely popular figure on the French Left, is a global activist sympathetic to the United States.

Other members include a woman of Arab descent as justice minister, a one-time heir-apparent to ex-President Jacques Chirac at a new super-ministry for the Environment, a defector from the centrist party at Defense, and the woman who used to be defense minister as the country's top cop at the Interior Ministry.

Political opponents, women and generally new faces in a country accustomed to loyal members of the elite at the top are strong signals, as were Sarkozy's first words and actions. He proclaimed at his inauguration that his priorities would include a Mediterranean Community, climate change, and friendship with the United States. The same evening he flew off for a dinner with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, where he declared, "I've come as a European, a friend, fully aware there must be results, and that we are out of time."

It was all meant to demonstrate that Sarkozy was serious when he pledged immediate reforms on all fronts. And it was certainly an impressive whirl after the pompous inaction of the last Chirac years.

Sarkozy's next hurdle is the Parliamentary elections in June, and polls indicate that he will take those by storm as well, which would give him a stronger political launching pad than any French president has had in decades.

The new president also has signaled that he will be an active, hands-on boss on domestic, foreign and security affairs.

One sign of this was the return to Paris of Jean-David Levitte, the respected French ambassador to the United States, to set up an American-style national security council in the Elysée.

The real tests lie ahead, of course. But Sarkozy, in turn, has put together a team that exudes competence, diversity and energy. This is one French revolution that might actually be fun to watch.

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Washington backs down on democracy in Pakistan

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Washington backs down on democracy in Pakistan
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: May 23, 2007

It seems the more unpopular Pakistan's military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, becomes at home and the less he is willing to fight the Taliban, the more the Bush administration clings to him.

Washington is afraid - and entirely not without reason - that the next ruler of nuclear-armed Pakistan could be even worse.

But the answer is not to stand by while the general cranks up his repression. That only feeds the fundamentalist and anti-American passions that Washington fears.

Instead of propping up the general, Washington should use the leverage it gets from roughly $2 billion a year in aid to encourage an early return to democratic rule.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has been paying about half that amount each year to reimburse Pakistan's military for fighting Taliban and Al Qaeda forces along the Afghan border.

Eight months ago, Musharraf radically pared back those efforts, but the lavish payments by Washington have continued. Islamabad's military cutbacks make it easier for the Taliban and Al Qaeda to kill American and NATO troops. Congress must insist that future payments be linked to actual counterterrorist activity and results, as some American military officials now recommend.

Washington's uncritical support has also reinforced the general's arrogance and insularity, which are at the heart of his current political problems.

In March, Musharraf arbitrarily suspended Pakistan's chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. The move, widely regarded as an attack on the independence of the judiciary, set off protest demonstrations by lawyers and the opposition that ignited the worst political violence seen in Pakistan in years.

The suspension came as the court was preparing to hear challenges to the general's schemes to keep himself in power - as both army commander and president - with his presidential candidacy ratified by the current, submissive Parliament, not the new one due to be elected later this year.

Members of the general's ruling party are urging him to compromise. Some are even calling on him to open the election to other serious contenders, including two former prime ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, now living in exile. Both of their governments were badly stained with corruption. But there can be no meaningful return to democracy without the free participation of the country's two most popular political leaders.

Musharraf is resisting this good advice, but could change his mind if Washington added its voice to the call for free elections.

A succession of uniformed dictators has misruled Pakistan for more than half of its 60-year history. All have advertised themselves as great friends of Washington, but all have fanned extremism while discrediting America's reputation among ordinary Pakistanis. There is no security with Musharraf. The United States belongs on the side of Pakistani democracy.

Report: U.S. erodes rights - War on terrorism blamed for abuses

Report: U.S. erodes rights - War on terrorism blamed for abuses
By Raphael G. Satter
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune and The Associated Press
Published May 24, 2007

LONDON -- In its fight against terrorism, the United States has eroded rights worldwide, Amnesty International said Wednesday.

In its annual report, the London-based rights group said politicians around the world -- from Australia to Sudan -- were taking advantage of shortsighted U.S. leadership in a fight against global terrorism that sacrificed liberties.

"One of the biggest blows to human rights has been the attempt of Western democratic states to roll back some fundamental principles of human rights -- like the prohibition of torture," Amnesty's Secretary General Irene Khan said before the report's release. She also criticized the U.S. policy of extraordinary rendition.

While Amnesty International has highlighted rights issues that have erupted since the Sept. 11 attacks, little of the 337-page report dealt with the terrorist threat itself or attacks linked to Al Qaeda.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Amnesty's time would have been better spent on helping the Iraqi government deal with past rights abuses.

"It's pretty clear that Amnesty International thought that we'd make a convenient ideological punching bag," Casey said.

Last year's Amnesty report offered similar criticism of the United States, saying the country's pursuit of security had undermined human rights.

America's unique position on the world stage justified the criticism, Khan said.

"If we focus on the U.S. it's because we believe that the U.S. is a country whose enormous influence and power has to be used constructively," she said. "When countries like the U.S. are seen to undermine or ignore human rights, it sends a very powerful message to others."

- - -

Other targets of Amnesty International Concerns cited in annual report:

Europe: Criticized for its role in allowing the U.S. military to put suspected terrorists on secret flights to third countries for interrogations.

Britain, Australia and Japan: Taken to task for passing strict anti-terror laws.

Russia: Accused of authoritarian drift. Journalists, human-rights defenders and others have been devastated by a government crackdown on civil society, the report said, pointing to the assassination of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the abduction of civilians in war-racked Chechnya.

Zimbabwe: Deteriorating human-rights situation noted.

Darfur: Amnesty's Secretary General Irene Khan called this region of Sudan "a bleeding wound on world conscience."

China: Accused of shielding Sudan from UN action regarding Darfur. The report said the Chinese government and companies showed little regard for their "human rights footprint" in Africa.

Israel: Amnesty said the army killed more than 650 Palestinians last year -- half of them unarmed civilians, including some 120 children -- a threefold increase from 2005. The report said the number of Israelis killed by Palestinian armed groups dropped by half last year, to 27, including 20 civilian adults and one child. Israel's military said the report was "rife with inaccuracies."

-- Associated Press

N.J. Governor Releases Seat Belt Ad

N.J. Governor Releases Seat Belt Ad
Copyright © 2007, The Associated Press
Published May 24, 2007, 10:31 AM CDT

TRENTON, N.J. -- "I'm New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, and I should be dead."

So begins Corzine's public service announcement promoting seat belt use, which was released Thursday ahead of the Memorial Day weekend. The governor was critically injured in an April 12 car crash in which he wasn't wearing a seat belt.

Corzine worked with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on the message, taping it May 15 at the governor's mansion in Princeton, where he is recuperating. Video and audio versions were released to radio and television outlets nationwide.

In the ad, the 60-year-old Corzine details his injuries as video plays of the wrecked SUV he was riding in. He broke his leg, 11 ribs, collar bone and sternum in the crash and spent 18 days in the hospital.

He notes how he lost more than half his blood, spent eight days in intensive care and had to use a ventilator.

"It took a remarkable team of doctors and a series of miracles to save my life when all I needed was a seat belt," Corzine says.

He then advises, "I have to live with my mistake. You don't. Buckle up." The last moments of the ad then show him walking off camera on his crutches.

Corzine apologized and voluntarily paid a $46 fine for violating state law by failing to buckle up as he rode in the front seat of his SUV, which was driven by a state trooper.

It crashed after it was clipped by a pickup truck on the Garden State Parkway. The SUV was going 91 mph in a 65 mph zone.

The release of the public service announcement comes during the annual "Click It or Ticket" seat belt enforcement campaign by law enforcement agencies across the country.

AAA says using a seat belt reduces the risk of death by 45 percent and the risk of moderate to critical injury by 50 percent for front seat passengers. David Weinstein, the organization's mid-Atlantic spokesman, predicted the Corzine ad would save lives, calling it "extraordinarily powerful."

Corzine, former CEO of the Wall Street investment firm Goldman Sachs, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2000 and then won the governor's office in 2005.

Ban Kept for Gay Men Donating Blood

Ban Kept for Gay Men Donating Blood
Copyright © 2007, The Associated Press
Published May 23, 2007, 5:05 PM CDT

WASHINGTON -- Gay men remain banned for life from donating blood, the government said Wednesday, leaving in place -- for now -- a 1983 prohibition meant to prevent the spread of HIV through transfusions.

The Food and Drug Administration reiterated its long-standing policy on its Web site Wednesday, more than a year after the Red Cross and two other blood groups criticized the policy as "medically and scientifically unwarranted."

"I am disappointed, I must confess," said Dr. Celso Bianco, executive vice president of America's Blood Centers, whose members provide nearly half the nation's blood supply.

Before giving blood, all men are asked if they have had sex, even once, with another man since 1977. Those who say they have are permanently banned from donating. The FDA said those men are at increased risk of infection by HIV that can be transmitted to others by blood transfusion.

In March 2006, the Red Cross, the international blood association AABB and America's Blood Centers proposed replacing the lifetime ban with a one-year deferral following male-to-male sexual contact. New and improved tests, which can detect HIV-positive donors within just 10 to 21 days of infection, make the lifetime ban unnecessary, the blood groups told the FDA.

In a document posted Wednesday, the FDA said it would change its policy if given data that show doing so wouldn't pose a "significant and preventable" risk to blood recipients.

"It is a way of saying, 'Whatever was presented to us was not sufficient to make us change our minds,'" Bianco said.

The FDA said HIV tests currently in use are highly accurate, but still cannot detect the virus 100 percent of the time. The estimated HIV risk from a unit of blood is currently about one per 2 million in the United States, according to the agency.

Critics of the exclusionary policy said it bars potential healthy donors, despite the increasing need for donated blood, and discriminates against gays. The FDA recognized the policy defers many healthy donors but rejected the suggestion it's discriminatory.

Anyone who's used intravenous drugs or been paid for sex also is permanently barred from donating blood.

Blacks debate impact of Obama's race on campaign

Blacks debate impact of Obama's race on campaign
By Kayce T. Ataiyero
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published May 23, 2007, 6:41 PM CDT

ST. LOUIS -- In a converted Shriners temple, presidential hopeful Barack Obama stood before a majority-white crowd on a recent afternoon and spoke of uniting the country beyond race. Nearby, at a soul food joint called Sweetie Pie's, a mostly black crowd debated whether his race would keep America from ever giving him the chance.

"The workplace is much more integrated, as is society with blended families," said Leah Merrifield, a 50-year-old college administrator, who thought Obama's chances are good. "You have more white people with more personal experience with people who are different."

Her sister, Carolyn Christiel, 55, a schoolteacher, was unconvinced.

"Society is so tainted," she said. "What makes me think they are going to let this black man win?"

At lunch counters and cocktail parties, in living rooms and grocery lines, black America is having its own private conversation about Obama's candidacy that is less about the man and more about the racial reality he seems to belie.

At the core of that dialogue is the struggle to reconcile the face of America in the crowd at an Obama rally with the everyday America that still struggles with racial segregation, discrimination and bigotry. It's about understanding how the same culture that gave rise to Don Imus can make Obama a political rock star. It's even about fears that Obama could be assassinated.

The basic question is whether society has made enough progress on race to elect a black person to lead it. In a country where a black man still can have a hard time catching a cab, can he be president of the United States?

Opinions within the black community are mixed. In some circles there is a reluctance to believe that white people will vote for Obama. While some blacks question whether he is black enough, others think that in the end he will prove to be, in effect, too black. They say they are resigned to the notion that he is doomed, not by black ambivalence but by white prejudice.

To be sure, it's a conversation black America has had before. A similar dialogue took place in the 1996 campaign, when retired Gen. Colin Powell's mainstream popularity prompted many to call on him to run for president. But the fact that Obama is an actual contender has brought an immediacy to today's discussion.

Voters like Chicago real estate appraiser Barry Tatum think white people will vote for Obama because of his multicultural pedigree but that their endorsement would not reflect an improvement in race relations in America.

"It's just like with Tiger Woods. They want to make him the exception. He ain't really black," said Tatum, 43. "It's the same thing with Obama. That's why he can win."

Raymond Broady, a 60-something architect, agreed. On a recent morning at Izola's Restaurant on Chicago's South Side, Broady and a group of breakfast buddies debated Obama's prospects.

He "has all the white credentials, doesn't come off as being about black power. He's different," Broady said. "He is speaking for everyone."

Burke Baxter, 72, a retired criminal justice administrator, said Obama's manner is such that whites are more comfortable voting for him than a black candidate who is more racially divisive.

"He speaks a language that white people can understand and comes across as not frightening," Baxter explained. "White people who are somewhat apprehensive are more relaxed" with him.

Some blacks say acceptance of Obama on those terms shows just how little progress has been made on race. Many cringed earlier this year when Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) described Obama as the first mainstream black candidate who is "articulate and bright and clean," comments that were intended as compliments but were seen as offensive because they suggested Obama was an exception.

"The criteria that a lot of whites use to support Obama—articulate, different, clean—him being black becomes incidental and, to me, that is like saying I still don't want a real black person in office. But I will take Obama because he's different," said Robin D.G. Kelley, a professor of history and American studies at the University of Southern California. "That doesn't mean we are back in the days of Jim Crow. It does mean that the same assumptions about racial differences are still in place."

Lynn Small, a 70-year-old retired advertising and marketing executive from Chicago, agreed. He said that while there are pockets of white America that could accept a black president, the country as a whole is not ready.

"They give lip service to the right thing," Small said, "but when they get in the voting booth it will be hard to pull that lever."

Recent political history, though, suggests that America might be closer than Small thinks. David Bositis, senior political analyst with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, an African-American think tank, said the 2006 election of Deval Patrick as Massachusetts governor is an example of how whites are more willing to vote for black candidates in big races than they once were.

Those candidates typically share similar traits: Ivy League educations, high-powered résumés, a message that is not aimed principally at African-Americans, characteristics more closely associated with mainstream contenders, Bositis said. An Obama presidential candidacy stands in contrast to those of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who lacked similar credentials and whose agendas were viewed as black-oriented.

"It doesn't mean that racism has gone out of voting in American elections," Bositis said. "But a majority of voters in enough states have shown that they will vote for a black candidate. And those states will potentially give that black candidate enough votes to win."

In his 2004 race for the Senate, Obama received support from 66 percent of white voters, 92 percent of black voters and 82 percent of Latino voters, according to figures from the Joint Center.

Obama's candidacy is a scary notion for many blacks who fear for his safety. Rika Lawrence, a 25-year-old assistant business manager from Chicago, said the early assignment of a Secret Service detail to protect him is proof that her concerns about an assassination attempt are valid.

"Unfortunately there are still lots of racists out there who would hate to see him win," Lawrence said, "and that is the bottom line."

An undercurrent of hard-line racism is simmering in America, said Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University. Harris-Lacewell wasn't surprised earlier this month when was forced to shut down reader comments on Obama stories after the postings became racist. She received similar vitriol via e-mail when she spoke out against Imus.

"If you listen to Don Imus and Michael Richards and the discourse in parts of white America around those comments, not only are we not ready for a black president, old-fashioned racism is back," Harris-Lacewell said.

Alondra Jones, a 23-year-old senior at Howard University in Washington, D.C., noted a slow but steady change.

"In 2007 we are far more progressive on race than we were in 1967. But we are not at the point now where the whole of America will allow a black man to win the presidency," Jones said. "Maybe in another 25 or 26 years. I'm hopeful."

Wal-Mart health clinics divide US medics

Wal-Mart health clinics divide US medics
By Christopher Bowe in New York
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 23 2007 16:18 | Last updated: May 23 2007 16:18

Can a retail store deliver healthcare? Wal-Mart, the largest US retailer, thinks so, together with CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid, the leading US drug store chains. But as all four move ahead with plans to expand “walk-in clinics” in their stores, the doctors of Illinois are fighting back.

The state could be the first to impose stricter regulation on the new generation of walk-in clinics, where nurse-practitioners can examine patients, conduct basic procedures such as inoculation, and prescribe for minor illnesses, while charging less than a doctor’s practice.

Massachusetts is also considering whether and how to license the state’s first retail clinics, proposed by drugstore group CVS and its MinuteClinics unit. And the industry expects more challenges ahead.

Walk-in clinics represent one of the most advanced and aggressive attempts by US business and entrepreneurs to drive reform of the healthcare system.

This year hundreds will be opened in some of the US’s largest drugstore and retail groups, and thousands of clinics could be running in the next decade.

Advocates say the clinics will improve access to healthcare and reduce costs; that they will reduce more expensive visits to hospital emergency rooms; and that they will catch some illnesses before they become serious and costly. As a result, physicians will have more time for complex cases.

But the clinics also have a direct impact on doctors, who see themselves as the gatekeepers of common, everyday healthcare.

Dr Rodney Osborn, president of the Illinois State Medical Society, said: “This is a brand new animal. That’s why we believe legislation is important to guarantee patient safety ... They’re not putting these things in to provide healthcare; these people are businessmen.”

Dr Arnold Milstein, chief physician at Mercer health consultancy, says doctors are playing on patient fears to thwart change.

“[Doctors] wrap themselves in the holy garb of quality ... completely ignoring the facts that all the research shows current care stinks,” Dr Milstein says. “The weaknesses that are endemic in the current healthcare system are being trotted out to block innovation and change.”

The clinics see themselves as advancing medical care, not diminishing its quality, with a retailer’s focus on service: the slogan of CVS’s MinuteClinic, for instance, is “You’re sick, we’re quick”.

Hal Rosenbluth, chairman of clinic company Take Care and head of the industry group Convenient Care Association, says any pushback against the clinics actually validates their existence, and adds that the concept is here to stay.

“That’s what people are clamouring for - they want healthcare on their terms not the system’s,” says Rosenbluth. Doctors’ quality concerns, he says, are merely anti-change “turf protection.”

On a national level, the American Medical Association, the doctors’ lobby group, has taken a cautious tone, issuing guidelines last year for clinics. They call for a well-defined scope of services; standardised medical protocols; and clear definitions of medical qualifications. They also call for closer doctor oversight, and emphasise the importance of referrals to doctors, which the leading clinics promise.

In any case, retail clinic companies are expanding nationally. In May, Walgreens bought Take Care, following CVS’s MinuteClinic acquisition last year. Both Wal-Mart and Target, the leading discounters, are opening clinics.

Their national footprint could eventually support the development of a much-discussed but elusive electronic records system for the US, as the clinics build patient databases, see more patients, and give patients printouts of their diagnoses and treatments.

Nevertheless, there are still some tough questions, raised by doctors and others, on the clinics and whether they can deliver what they promise.

First, despite US business’s push to inject and increase consumer principles into healthcare, it is still unproven whether people understand how to shop for medical care like other products, or even whether they want to do so. Clinics also could be a controversial way for employers to push more health costs on to employees.

Second, retail clinics claim they will increase doctors’ business by referring new patients or allowing them to spend more time on higher-value tasks.

But experts agree that they could be sapping high-margin, easy tasks like vaccinations from doctors’ businesses, and that clinics do not yet generate significant referral business to doctors.

Third, the clinics are for-profit businesses. Dr Osborn, of Illinois, says: “They’re not at this to increase doctors’ business; they’re in it to make money. That’s a smokescreen.”

More than anything, however, the retail clinics show that business is pushing for change on its own without waiting for government. And walk-in clinics could do for US healthcare what low-cost Southwest Airlines did for the airline industry, by making healthcare better, faster, and cheaper.

“This is a conceivably disruptive innovation of our happy little empire,” Dr Milstein says.

Goodling admits ‘crossing line’ on hirings

Goodling admits ‘crossing line’ on hirings
By Edward Luce in Washington and Brooke Masters in New York
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 23 2007 19:29 | Last updated: May 24 2007 04:31

Monica Goodling, a former Justice department official, said on Wednesday that she “crossed the line” in using political criteria to help decide who should be hired as career federal prosecutors.

Ms Goodling’s testimony to the House of Representatives judiciary committee is also likely to create new problems for Alberto Gon z ales, the attorney-general, and Paul McNulty, his outgoing deputy, who are under fire for the sacking of at least eight US attorneys.

Ms Goodling told Congress that Mr Gonzales was “inaccurate” and Mr McNulty “not fully candid” in testimony to Congress on the removals. The former White House liaison officer for the Justice department, who was testifying under partial immunity from self-incrimination, also said Mr Gonzales had made her “uncomfortable” in March by asking her to give him her recollections of how the firings occurred.

“I did not know if it was appropriate for us to both be discussing our recollections of what had happened, and I just thought maybe we shouldn’t have that conversation,” she said.

During her day-long appearance at the committee, Ms Goodling minimised her input in the firing process and claimed to have little memory of the roles played by Karl Rove, President George W. Bush’s chief political strategist, and Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel.

Ms Goodling said she had “no knowledge” of why particular prosecutors were targeted for removal, even though Justice department e-mails show she was involved at many stages in helping Kyle Sampson, then Mr Gonzales’s chief of staff, draw up the various lists.

“I never had a conversation with Karl Rove or Harriet Miers while I served at the department,” said Ms Goodling, who resigned in March. “I never recommended to them that a specific US attorney be added to or removed from Mr Sampson’s list, and I do not recall that they ever communicated any such recommendation to me.”

Leading Democrats allege the Bush White House ordered the firing of the attorneys because they were either too zealous in prosecuting political corruption involving Republicans or insufficiently enthusiastic about voter-fraud cases that would have benefited the party.

Ms Goodling, a law graduate of Regent University, a leading conservative Christian institution, gave more detailed answers on her role in screening applicants for lower-level Justice department positions, which are by law supposed to be non-partisan civil service jobs.

Ms Goodling’s testimony comes in advance of an expected Senate vote of no confidence in Mr Gonzales this week.

Dell to sell computers through Wal-Mart

Dell to sell computers through Wal-Mart
By Kevin Allison and Chris Nuttall in San Francisco
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 24 2007 18:46 | Last updated: May 24 2007 18:46

Dell, the struggling computer maker, will next month begin selling computers through Wal-Mart, confirming its move away from a traditional reliance on direct sales of personal computers over the telephone and internet.

News of the Wal-Mart deal came a week after Michael Dell, Dell’s founder and chief executive, said the company planned to end two decades of reliance on direct sales of computer equipment by embracing third-party resellers and retailers.

Dell is struggling to get back on its feet following several quarters of sluggish sales growth and missed forecasts.

“This is the first step in an evolving global retail strategy,” a Dell spokesman said on Thursday. “Customers are telling us they want more and new ways to purchase our products. We’re committed to finding new ways to reach more customers and this is one example of a new approach.”

Dell, which has long shunned retail sales because they force computer makers to carry costly inventory, said it would begin selling two of its Dimension desktop computer models for under $700 in 3,000 Wal-Mart stores in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico, beginning June 10.

J.P. Gownder, a principal analyst with Forrester Research, said Dell would gain a lot of experience from the deal in learning how the retail space worked. He predicted it could help the company regain some market share against Hewlett-Packard in the low-end segment.

“They are selling their lower end line, so it’s compatible with the Wal-Mart story, but I don’t know if it’s a great brand move because Dell is trying to sell itself as an elite brand,” he said.

The company stressed that the move to open a retail channel did not represent an abandonment of the direct-sales model that led the company to the top of the worldwide PC market in the early 2000s.

“The fact is the vast majority of our consumer customers prefer to purchase online or over the phone,” Dell said.

Dell has long argued that its direct sales model has an advantage over indirect sales because it gives the company tighter control over its supply chain and gives customers more options when it comes to customising purchases.

The cost advantages of the direct approach have been blunted by improvement in the supply chains of some of Dell’s rivals, such as Hewlett-Packard, which reclaimed the top PC spot from Dell last year.

Meanwhile, perceptions of poor customer service and other problems have led sales to slump.

The move to offer Dell computers for sale through Wal-Mart marks the most aggressive move yet by Mr Dell, who replaced Kevin Rollins as chief executive earlier this year in an effort to put the company back on track.

Toll tumbles as housing weakness lingers

Toll tumbles as housing weakness lingers
By Daniel Pimlott in New York
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 24 2007 14:32 | Last updated: May 24 2007 18:56

Hank Paulson jumped the gun when he said earlier this week that the US housing slump has finally petered out, according to the chief executive of Toll Brothers.

Robert Toll’s criticism of the US Treasury Secretary came as Toll, the luxury homebuilder, said that net income plummetted 79 per cent in its second quarter.

“I was taken by surprise when the secretary of the Treasury said that the hard times were behind us ... I wondered where he got that information,” Mr Toll said. “The bad times are not behind us yet.”

Mr Paulson told CNBC this week that the housing slowdown is ”largely” over and ”contained”.

Mr Toll’s downbeat assessment on the US housing market came as data showed many more new homes were sold last month, but at much lower prices. Analysts suggested that the data reflected homebuilders’ price-cutting efforts and a pick up in the sales of of cheaper homes, but said it was too early to call a bottom to the housing market.

Toll’s dive in profits is the latest in a series of terrible results for US homebuilders as the housing slowdown has deepened in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis.

DR Horton, the largest US homebuilder by sales, in April said its profits had fallen 85 per cent to $52m.

Toll said it earnings were weak in part becasue it has been holding back on making sales while it waits for an upturn in the market.

”We are not going to drop our drawers so that subcontractors and managers can have something to do,” said Mr Toll. “We think when the market gets back, we’ll be glad we held onto the good land.” But he admitted that future price cuts were a possibility.

On a lighter note, the company said that the New York housing market was still in robust health, and that there were positive signs in Philadelphia, and Chicago. Meanwhile, the numbers of prospective homebuyers who cancelled purchases, while still more than double their historical average, had fallen for the third quarter in a row.

Toll warned two weeks ago that it was going to miss the quarterly and yearly earnings forecasts it issued in February. It now says that “uncertainty surrounding sales paces, and market direction” means that it cannot give earnings guidance for the next quarter or for the rest of the year.

Net income was $37m compared with $175m in the second quarter last year. Revenue fell 19 per cent to $1.17bn.

The company said it expected revenue of $4.26bn to $4.88bn this year and $990m to $1.28bn in the third quarter.

Blocked by U.S., China finds it own way to space

Blocked by U.S., China finds it own way to space
By Jim Yardley
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: May 23, 2007

BEIJING: For years, China has chafed at efforts by the United States to exclude it from full membership in the world's elite space club. So, lately, China seems to have hit on a solution: create a new club.

Beijing is trying to position itself as a space benefactor to the developing world - the same countries, in some cases, whose natural resources China covets here on Earth. The latest, and most prominent, example came last week when China launched a communications satellite for Nigeria in a project that serves as a tidy case study of how space has become another arena where China is trying to exert its soft power.

Not only did China design, build and launch the satellite for oil-rich Nigeria - it also provided a huge loan to help pay the bill. China has also signed a satellite contract with another major oil supplier, Venezuela. It is developing an earth observation satellite system with Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iran, Mongolia, Pakistan, Peru and Thailand. And it has organized a satellite association in Asia.

For China, the strategy is a blend of self-interest, broader diplomacy and, from a business standpoint, an effective way to break into the satellite market. Satellites have become status symbols and technological necessities for many countries that want an ownership stake in the digital world dominated by the West, analysts say.

"There's clearly a sense that countries like Nigeria want to have a stronger presence in space," said Peter Brown, a journalist who specializes in satellite technology and writes frequently about the satellite market in Asia. "As you look around the map, more and more countries are moving to get satellites up."

The more grandiose Chinese space goals, which include building a Mars probe and, eventually, putting an astronaut on the Moon, are based on a blueprint in which space exploration enhances national prestige and advances technological development. But Beijing also is focused on competing in the lucrative $100 billion commercial satellite industry.

In recent years, China has managed to attract customers with its less expensive satellite launching services. Yet it had never demonstrated the technical expertise to compete for international contracts to build satellites.

The Nigeria deal has changed that. Chinese engineers designed and constructed the geostationary communications satellite, called the Nigcomsat-1. A Chinese state-owned aerospace company, Great Wall Industry, will monitor the satellite from a ground station in northwestern China. It will also train Nigerian engineers to operate a tracking station in Abuja, the Nigerian capital.

Last week, a day after the launching, Ahmed Rufai, the Nigerian project manager for the satellite, was exultant as he paused between appointments at his Beijing hotel. Nigeria may be rich in oil, he said, but it lacks many of the basic building blocks of a modern, information-based economy.

"We want to be part of the digital economy," Rufai said, noting that Africa suffers more than any other continent from the so-called digital divide. "We are trying to diversify the economic base of the country."

Rufai predicted the satellite would pay for itself within seven years as Nigeria sold bandwidth to different commercial users. He also predicted major improvements for Nigeria itself: "distance learning" educational programs for remote rural areas, online public access to government records, a video monitoring system of remote oil pipelines to allow quicker responses to spills and the establishment of an online banking system.

Nigeria is a risky customer for any satellite manufacturer. It is consistently rated one of the most corrupt nations in the world, and at least one Western aerospace company has become embroiled in business disputes there.

"Business ventures with Nigeria have been difficult, to say the least," said Roger Rusch, president of TelAstra, a satellite communications consulting firm in California.

Nigeria put the project out for bidding in April 2004. Rufai said 21 bids arrived from major aerospace companies, but that nearly all of them failed to meet a key requirement: a significant financial package.

Rufai said the Western firms saw Nigeria as a major gamble. "Their response was very cool," Rufai said of one financial institution approached about backing the deal. "They said, 'Oh, Nigeria. Don't touch it.' "

China was not so cautious. With the satellite priced at roughly $300 million, the state-owned Export-Import Bank of China, or China ExIm, granted $200 million in preferential buyer's credits to Nigeria. The bank often provides the hard currency for Chinese soft power aspirations: In Africa, China ExIm has handed out more than $7 billion in loans in recent years, according to one recent study.

Quality remains a concern. Last year, China suffered a major setback with the failure of the Sinosat-2. It was the most sophisticated satellite ever made in China, and it suffered a systems breakdown on its first launching. The Nigerian satellite was delayed for three months so that it could be retrofitted.

Joan Johnson-Freese, chairwoman of the Department of National Security Studies at the U.S. Naval War College, said China still trailed major aerospace companies in the quality and sophistication of its satellites but that the strategy was working on multiple levels.

"They want to play a leadership role for developing countries that want to get into space," Johnson-Freese said in an interview earlier this year. "It's just such a win-win for them. They are making political connections, it helps them with oil deals and they bring in hard currency to feed back into their own program to make them even more commercially competitive."

Satellites also are becoming vital to Beijing's domestic development plans. In the next several years, China could launch as many as 100 satellites to help deliver television to isolated rural areas, create a digital navigational network, facilitate scientific research and improve mapping and weather monitoring.

But the Chinese focus on satellites has also brought suspicions, particularly from the United States, since most satellites are "dual use" technologies, capable of civilian and military applications.

China is overhauling its military in a modernization drive focused, in part, on developing the capability to fight a high-tech war.

Analysts say the Chinese determination to develop its own equivalent to the Global Positioning System is partly because such a satellite system would be critical for military operations if a war were to erupt over Taiwan.

Most alarmingly to Western countries, China conducted an antisatellite test in January by firing a missile into space and destroying one of its own orbiting satellites. Four months later, Washington is still trying to parse the Chinese motivations for the test, while China has offered little in the way of explanation.

For nearly a decade, even as China has participated in different projects with Europe, Russia and Canada, the United States has sought to isolate the Chinese space program in ways large and small. Export restrictions intended to block the illegal transfer of military technology now prohibit U.S. technology from being used on satellites launched in China.

The United States also has blocked Beijing from participating in the international space station. Chinese scientists are often denied visas to attend important space conferences held in the United States.

In fact, a debate is under way in Washington and within the U.S. aerospace industry about whether the export restrictions have damaged American competitiveness. Some European companies now build satellites without any American parts in order to avoid the export ban.

Eric Hagt, a director at the World Security Institute, testified in Washington this year that China's increasing investment in space has also made it feel more vulnerable at a time when the United States is advocating missile defense programs in the name of protection against terrorist states. China seems to believe Washington is determined to dominate space, he said.

The United States is also realizing that many parts of the world are happy to help China gave a bigger role in space. When the Nigerian satellite was launched, the blast-off was televised live to Nigeria. Nigerian newspapers proclaimed the satellite as a seminal moment in efforts to modernize the Nigerian economy.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Connecticut Mulls Gay Marriage Case

Connecticut Mulls Gay Marriage Case
Copyright by The Associated Press
Monday, May. 14, 2007

Connecticut's Supreme Court justices asked a lawyer on Monday how the traditional definition of marriage could be changed to include same-sex couples as they heard arguments urging them to legalize gay marriage there.

"How can it reasonably be done or logically be done to sort of delink the long-standing, deeply held institutional aspect of marriage, that it's a union between a man and a woman, and then define marriage as something other than that for purposes of this argument?" Justice Richard Palmer asked.

Connecticut already offers civil unions, but eight gay couples, unhappy with the civil unions law, are suing over the state's refusal to grant them marriage licenses. They say the marriage law is unconstitutional because it applies only to heterosexual couples and denies gay couples the financial, social and emotional benefits of marriage.

Attorneys on both sides say a decision in the couples' favor could have nationwide implications for states that have adopted or are considering civil union-like legislation.

Plaintiff's attorney Bennett Klein told the court Monday that the fundamental principles of marriage are not based on gender. "It is really a relationship of two legal equals based on mutual consent by which they take responsibility for each other, and that relationship is protected by the state," he said.

Assistant Attorney General Jane Rosenberg argued that the state's 2005 civil unions law gives the couples the equality they seek under state law. "This court is not grappling with the question whether same-sex couples should be granted all the rights and benefits of marriage, because all those rights and benefits, at least under state law, have now been granted," Rosenberg said.

She said the question really should be: "Is the Legislature constitutionally required to use the word marriage when it's referring to the package of rights and benefits it has given to same-sex couples. And the answer is clearly no." The justices aren't expected to issue a ruling until later this year.

Currently, only Massachusetts allows same-sex couples to marry. Connecticut, Vermont, California, New Jersey, Maine and Washington have laws allowing either civil unions or domestic partnerships, with New Hampshire set to join in January. Hawaii extends certain spousal rights to same-sex couples and cohabiting heterosexual pairs. The Connecticut couples who sued have been together between 10 and 32 years and say civil unions are inferior to marriage and violate their rights to equal protection and due process.

Married couples have federal rights related to taxes, Social Security beneficiary rules, veterans' benefits and other laws that people in civil unions don't have. Because civil unions aren't recognized nationwide, other rights, such as the ability to make medical decisions for an incapacitated partner, disappear when couples cross state lines.

The couples' claim was dismissed last year by a judge who said they received the equality they sought when Connecticut passed its civil unions law. The couples appealed. Their lawsuit names state Department of Public Health and the Madison town clerk's office, which denied marriage licenses to the couples based on state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal's advice.

A bill is pending in Connecticut's legislature to approve same-sex marriage, but leaders of the Judiciary Committee say they want to pull it from consideration this session because they do not believe enough lawmakers would vote to approve it. Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who signed the civil unions bill into law, has said she would veto a gay marriage bill.
Associated Press writer Susan Haigh in Hartford contributed to this report.