Saturday, May 22, 2010

Eight Lessons from Tuesday’s Primaries

Eight Lessons from Tuesday’s Primaries
by Robert CreamerPolitical
Copyright by the Huffington Post
May 19, 2010 11:03 AM

Lesson #1. Bad news for Republican leaders. First and foremost, the results from Tuesday night were very bad news for the Republican leadership.

In the lead-up to the vote, Republicans set the bar, claiming that a win by Tim Burns to fill the Pennsylvania 12th District House seat of the late John Murtha would be the harbinger of this fall’s “Republican wave.” It didn’t happen. The overwhelmingly blue collar, Western Pennsylvania district elected former Murtha Economic Development Director, Mark Critz by a solid 53% to 45% margin of over twelve thousand votes. Democrats have won all of the last seven special elections for the House. The result in Pennsylvania 12th will damage the Republican “sweep” narrative that they hoped to use to raise funds and create momentum for the fall mid-terms. Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee sunk a million of its scarce dollars into the failed effort. In the Pennsylvania Senate race, former Admiral and Congressman Joe Sestak is likely to be much tougher for Republicans to beat than thirty-year veteran Arlen Specter. His image as an outsider and giant killer won’t hurt at all as he takes on “Club for Growther” Pat Toomey next fall. Of course, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was yesterday’s big loser as Tea Partier Rand Paul clobbered the McConnell establishment candidate, Trey Grayson, 59% to 35%. The magnitude of the defeat will fuel the mounting consensus that McConnell is an incompetent leader. Finally, Democratic turnout in the Kentucky Senate primary won by Attorney General Jack Conway far exceeded Republican turnout in the national “marquee” Republican Senate race. This bodes very well for Democratic chances to make the Kentucky Senate contest a major battleground this fall.

Lesson #2. Dance with the ones that brung ya. In politics, voters don’t like people who they think have abandoned their core constituencies or their core beliefs.

Sestak’s brilliant final TV commercial closed the deal on his argument that Specter had supported Bush’s Republican agenda until it served his personal political interest to jump into a Democratic lifeboat. Bill Halter forced Senator Blanche Lincoln into a runoff because the Democratic base – both inside and outside of Arkansas – thought she betrayed the core principles of the Party. That was especially true of organized labor. And Paul appeals to a motivated Republican base that feels disaffected from the Republican “elites” – people who hate Wall Street as much as they hate Washington.

Lesson #3. In primaries turnout is king. It will be in the mid-Terms as well. Any time you have an election that generates historically lower voter interest, turnout is the key variable that will determine victory.

Two factors affect differential party turnout:


In the Pennsylvania 12th CD, Democratic turnout was sparked by the hotly contested Senate primary, and by a well-organized ground operation conducted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Obama’s Organize for America. In the fall, Democrats must rely heavily on inspiring and mobilizing their base to win. That’s why the White House and Congressional leadership need to press hard to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform to inspire Hispanic voters and Clean Energy to inspire its younger voters. That’s also why they need to leave no stone unturned when it comes to get-out-the-vote operations.

Lesson #4. In this economic climate, populism always beats being an “insider.”

It’s almost always true that Democrats do better when they are positioned as populist outsiders than when they allow themselves to be positioned as “elite insiders.” That’s true especially in bad economic times. The Great Recession has left voters angry. The elites who allowed it to happen will be blamed. In the mid-terms, Democrats better make sure that the real culprits – the big Wall Street Banks and the rest of the “$10 million bonus” crowd -- are blamed and held accountable. If not, those who run government – Democrats – will be. Last night the candidates who positioned themselves as populist outsiders were successful. Those who were labeled as insider elites lost. Paul, Sestak, and Halter all successfully positioned themselves as populist outsiders. Lincoln would have done even worse, had she not become a champion of holding Wall Street accountable in the Senate over the last few weeks.

Lesson #5. The power of endorsements has big limits – and sometimes they backfire.

Endorsements in politics are massively overrated. They mostly matter when they are accompanied by money and troops – as in the case of the Labor backing for Halter against Lincoln in Arkansas. Specter’s material support by the Democratic organization in Philadelphia clearly kept him in the game, but even that was not enough. In fact, in the current anti-insider environment endorsements can be downright damaging. The sum of Specter’s endorsements probably did him more harm than good by branding him as the insider, Washington candidate. The same was true of Grayson in Kentucky. President Obama did what he had to do for Specter. The President had no choice but to back both Specter and Lincoln, since he has desperately needed their support for his initiatives in the Senate. But it is difficult to transfer political loyalty, and especially the personal qualities, that make Obama such an attractive candidate to a guy like Specter.

Lesson #6. All politics are personal. In the end, voters cast

Dr Laura Schlesinger and homosexuality - an oldy but a good one.

In her radio show, Dr Laura Schlesinger said that, as an
observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination
according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned
under any circumstance.

The following response is an open letter to Dr. Laura,
penned by a US resident, which was posted on the Internet.
It's funny, as well as informative:

Dear Dr. Laura:
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding
God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show,
and try to share that knowledge with as many people as
I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle,
for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22
clearly states it to be an abomination ... End of debate.
I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some
other elements of God's Laws and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both
male and female, provided they are purchased from
neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this
applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians! Can you clarify?
Why can't I own Canadians?!?!
2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned
in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would
be a fair price for her?
3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she
is in her period of Menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24.
The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but
most women take offense.
4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it
creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem
is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them.
Should I smite them?
5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath.
Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death.
Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should
I ask the police to do it?
6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish
is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination
than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?
Are there 'degrees' of abomination?
7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God
if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear
reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is
there some wiggle-room here?
8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the
hair around their temples, even though this is expressly
forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?
9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig
makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear
10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two
different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing
garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester
blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it
really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the
whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we
just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we
do with people who sleep with their in-laws??!!!?! (Lev.20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy
considerable expertise in such matters, so I'm confident you can
help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal
and unchanging.

Your adoring fan.

Prices nationwide expected to continue slipping

Prices nationwide expected to continue slipping
By Mary Umberger
Copyright © 2010, Chicago Tribune
May 23, 2010,0,4404568.column

What's your drinking pleasure today — glass half-empty? Or half-full?

For those of you who are betting that our housing headache ain't nearly over (I'm afraid that would include me), consider this little-reported prognostication from Freddie Mac: When the mortgage giant recently made an official request for more money from Congress because it's wrestling with a gigantic shortfall, it said it expects home prices nationwide will decline still further in the coming months.

Freddie sees four contributing factors putting downward pressure on prices: more foreclosures adding to the oversupply of properties that are in the hands of banks; the expiration of the homebuyers' tax credit, which removes a major incentive to buy; its expectation that mortgage interest rates will rise; and continued high unemployment.

Or, if you're in the mood for a cup of cheer, there's this: The Chicago area got a decent report card on a recent analysis of housing markets around the country. It landed on the list of "most improved" among the nation's top 50 metropolitan statistical areas, known as MSAs, in the fourth quarter of last year by PMI Group, a provider of private mortgage insurance.

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We have a lot of company, according to the insurer, which said that of the 384 MSAs it studied, 356 had declining "risk scores," as Chicago did.

PMI's risk-score index measures the probability that house prices will be lower in two years. Chicago, by PMI's measure, squeaked in under the wire in this report, scoring 47.6 on the index. A score of less than 50 suggests better-than-even odds of seeing higher housing prices in two years. In the third quarter of 2009, Chicago scored 60.8 on the index.

The price report

If predicting home price declines is a crapshoot, I can tell you at least two places where the asking prices are definitely down:

•Only a month after he listed his Manhattan penthouse, radio pundit Rush Limbaugh has cut his price substantially, by $1 million. But don't reach for your checkbook too hastily — the price has dropped from $13.95 million to $12.95 million. The 10-room condo, with about 4,600 square feet, has expansive views of Central Park. It also seems to have been decorated by Marie Antoinette, being as it's encrusted with all manner of gilt, ornate murals and room after room of froufrou. Limbaugh says he wants to leave New York because taxes are too high.

•Federal marshals have been trying to sell jailbird Bernie Madoff's Palm Beach, Fla., home since late last year, and the lack of success seems to have surprised some local real estate obsessives, but not all. The original asking price was $8.49 million, but it's now down to $7.25 million. A real estate agent tells the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel that a more realistic price might be $5.5 million.

But back to Freddie Mac

Maybe we've learned something in the aftermath of the housing boom, after all. Separately from asking for more money, Freddie Mac reports that 95 percent of people who refinanced their mortgages in the first quarter of this year chose fixed-rate mortgages.

More interestingly, one in four of them who were refinancing a 30-year mortgage chose 15-year terms for their new loans instead, the largest percentage since 2004. One reason, apparently, was that 15-year mortgages were offering somewhat lower rates, on average. But another, according to a Freddie spokesman, was that consumers want to pay down their debt faster.

Wouldn't it be loverly?

What price would you put on having good neighbors? How about $4,488, give or take a few pence?

That's the premium in the mind's eye of homebuyers in the United Kingdom. Lloyds TSB Insurance surveyed residents of the U.K.'s 20 largest cities on five standards of neighbor "niceness" — consideration, tolerance, friendliness, tidiness and vigilance — and concluded that people would pay an extra 3,100 pounds, or $4,488, for a house where they got neighbors who scored best within those attributes.

Maybe it's the neighbors

The University of Nevada, surveying the residents of recession-walloped Las Vegas, found that 40 percent of them say they want to live somewhere else.

Marchers protest suburbs' immigration initiative

Marchers protest suburbs' immigration initiative
By Dan Simmons
Copyright © 2010, Chicago Tribune
May 22, 2010,0,2545131.story

After a quick dinner of cold cuts and pasta salad, about 40 marchers headed into a driving rain Friday for the next leg of their three-day trek to McHenry County to protest what they say is a crackdown on immigrants.

"We don't have time to slow down," said Jessica Palys, a spokesman for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights as the marchers faced a 6-mile hike to a church in Arlington Heights, where they planned to sleep. By then, they had traveled 12 miles, from St. Bartholomew Church in Chicago's Portage Park neighborhood.

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The group organized the march from Chicago to the McHenry County jail in Woodstock to protest a new initiative in Chicago's suburbs, which they say resembles a controversial Arizona law that gives local police more power to enforce federal immigration laws.

The coalition chose the jail as the destination of their 50-mile journey because it's a federal detention center that usually has about 400 inmates held on immigration-related charges, Palys said.

The marchers ranged in age from late teens to early 70s. Maggie Rivera, of Crystal Lake, said laws aimed at immigrants often don't make sense.

"Do we want our police officers to serve and protect, or do we want them looking for undocumented workers?" she said. "These are people here in this country looking for a better life."

The marchers ate dinner at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines. Many carried backpacks and sleeping bags. After saying prayers in Spanish and English, they slipped on their ponchos and started walking in the rain to St. James Catholic Church in Arlington Heights, where they would spend the night in the gym.

On Saturday, they plan to hike to Cary, then finish their journey on Sunday at the jail.

The marchers said they object to the recent adoption by McHenry County of the Secure Communities initiative, which gives police and sheriff's departments access to a Homeland Security database that includes fingerprints. The initiative recently grew to include most of Chicago's suburbs.

Palys criticized the initiative, saying it punished hard-working immigrants who pose little or no criminal risk.

John Morton, who heads U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in a visit to Chicago on Wednesday that his agency intended to step up enforcement of the initiative in places such as Illinois.

Morton said enforcement efforts would result in a "sharp increase" in deportations.

Last year's 400,000 overall deportations were a record; this year has seena 40 percent jump in deportations of criminals, he said.

Inside Brady's business deals - Governor hopeful has been through economic ups and downs

Inside Brady's business deals - Governor hopeful has been through economic ups and downs
By David Heinzmann and Rick Pearson
Copyright © 2010, Chicago Tribune
May 23, 2010,0,1606406,full.story

On the southwest fringe of Champaign along Interstate Highway 57 stands the Curtis Road interchange, its ornate limestone overpass and decorative red-brick towers surrounded by acres of open farmland.

It was envisioned as the catalyst for a massive residential and retail development that would start with new homes built by Bill Brady, the state senator and Republican candidate for governor. Instead, it's an overpass to nowhere.

Brady, a developer for 25 years, underestimated the cost of his leading role and then backed away when city officials refused to provide more taxpayer money. The deal fell apart in 2007, stalling other development, and the land remains vacant.

The interchange represents the crossroads of Brady's political and business careers. As the first part-time politician running for governor in nearly 30 years, Brady contends that his experience running a successful business will help him solve the state's financial problems.

"I think people are looking for someone who understands the intricacies of business, how you manage people, how you perform services," Brady said.

But his family firm's recent struggles and the failed Champaign development offer voters a more complicated picture.

Public records and interviews with city officials show that Brady mishandled the sewer project he promised to build, improvements that other developers were counting on. In November, Brady sued the engineering firm he hired. But last week he quietly dropped the lawsuit and placed the blame on the city.

The Curtis Road mess added to the hard times for a company that had made Brady and his two brothers wealthy as they capitalized on a population boom in Bloomington-Normal.

The Brady family has been well-known in Bloomington's business community for nearly a half century. Bill Brady Sr., the candidate's father, started building homes in the mid-1960s.

The company grew into a multimillion-dollar enterprise, but Brady's father overextended himself in the early 1980s. Years of losses and sky-high interest rates pushed the company into bankruptcy in 1984 when the elder Brady couldn't keep up payments on about $2 million in debts to banks and contractors, according to court records.

At the time, Bill Jr. was just out of college, married and working at the family lumberyard. When the company emerged from bankruptcy in 1987, young Bill was running the development side of the business, while his father took a back seat running the lumberyard.

As Bloomington flourished in the late 1980s and 1990s, the family built subdivisions with names like Waterford Estates and Fox Hollow. They expanded their real estate sales business, developed a shopping center to feed the new neighborhoods and created a bustling office park where their own businesses are based.

"That time frame was just booming years for Bloomington," said Jesse Smart, who was mayor from 1985 to 1997 as the area's population was heading from 80,000 to more than 120,000 today. "It was just the hot spot of the state. Those were the heydays for developers."

Public records and interviews with downstate development professionals paint a picture of a businessman who prospered from his deep roots in the city. Known even to low-level city workers as "Billy," Brady became the very public face of his family business, a member of Bloomington-Normal's civic and business elite. That success translated into political capital for Brady, who was elected to the Illinois House in 1992.

Ken Emmons, who retired as Bloomington's city planner early last year, said Brady was careful to maintain a solid public image.

"He doesn't want to have a bad reputation, doesn't want to alienate his customers or the neighbors," Emmons said.

In fact, Brady has sometimes artfully avoided controversy.

When he bought a parcel zoned for industrial development near an area of single-family homes, he planned to develop the land with apartments. Instead of doing the work himself, he sold the land to an Indiana developer who built subsidized housing in 2001. There was a rash of opposition from nearby homeowners, but it was absorbed by the out-of-town firm, Emmons said.

At its peak in 2006, Brady Homes had 34 employees and built nearly 200 homes, according to Brady. But in the recession that started in 2007, Brady Homes, Pinehurst Development and a handful of related firms the family operates have stumbled.

Brady's personal tax returns, which he at first resisted disclosing, showed that the company has lost enough money over the last two years that he has not paid any income tax, even on his $78,000 salary from the General Assembly.

In an interview last week with the Tribune, Brady said he started re-examining the company's future during his failed 2006 campaign for governor. He said he looked at the firm's fundamentals and reorganized the business, with his brothers and partners laying off all but nine workers who last year built nearly 100 homes.

As demand for new housing waned in McLean County over the last decade, Brady has looked harder for new business in other downstate markets. He built in Peoria and suburban Springfield. On the western border of Champaign, Brady Homes started with a subdivision of houses and townhomes called The Cove.

Brady's next big project in town would be a more than 300-home subdivision called Prairie Creek designed to capitalize on plans the state announced in 2002 to build a new I-57 interchange at Curtis Road. Planners and developers saw the Curtis Road corridor as the next wave of expansion in Champaign. Brady saw the potential as well, and sought to secure options on 120 acres of farmland adjacent to the interchange site.

The homes Brady planned would lead the way for additional development that would include shopping centers, restaurants and office buildings the city had earmarked for the four quadrants surrounding the highway intersection.

In 2003, the state legislature gave the local government authority to take land for sewers along Curtis Road east of Brady's property. A final vote to enact the law occurred Nov. 4, as Brady was securing options on the land he planned to develop. He voted for it.

Three years later, when the legislature re-authorized the sewer plans, well after Brady began acquiring the land, he again voted in favor of the measure. In 2007, Brady also voted for similar legislation allowing Champaign and other local governments to seize property to build their share of the interchange.

Although the actions would help move the interchange project along, and affect the value of his land, Brady did not recuse himself.

"If I felt I had a conflict, I wouldn't have done that," Brady said. Later, in an e-mail, Brady said he believed the legislation had no direct effect on his Champaign property.

Champaign officials were originally hesitant to allow developers into the area because there was no sewer service. But when Brady offered to build the pumping station and sewer connection to jump-start his development, the city cut a deal with him with provisions to pay Brady back a portion of the costs down the road.

But problems started early because Brady moved forward without an accurate understanding of what the work would cost, said Bruce Knight, Champaign's planning director. Brady's original $1.27 million cost estimate was based on faulty assumptions, Knight said.

When proper bids were finally done, Brady's share of the cost grew by more than $1 million, and he balked at doing the work without getting more money from taxpayers, public records show.

"We made a deal with Brady, in which clearly we were capping our investment at (a certain) level," Knight said. More money from taxpayers was not "justifiable," Knight said.

Brady contended Champaign officials were supposed to cover the higher costs.

"Our attorney said the city had the right to nix the deal if they didn't like how the bids came in. The city nixed the deal," Brady said. "They told us they didn't have the money to pay it at the cost it came in. We said, 'That wasn't our agreement. You agreed to reimburse us,' and they said 'No.'"

Knight said Brady's assertion is incorrect.

As Brady backed away from the plans, Champaign officials met with two other developers who had planned to piggyback off the sewer system for their own residential projects.

Soon, one of the other developers, Darren Rogers, was taking the lead in trying to get the development back on track. In an e-mail to a city engineer, he blamed Brady for the mess over pumping station costs.

"Engineering costs are too high primarily due to Brady changing the design so many times. He needs to pay for a significant portion of those costs," Rogers said to Roland White, Champaign city engineer.

In the end, no one could put a deal together to build the pumping station, and as the bottom dropped out of the economy in 2008, the whole project was put on a back burner.

Throughout the process, city officials said they had difficulty getting Brady's attention at critical times.

"He was often hard to reach because he was busy with other things," Knight said.

Wrigleyville project is no mall invasion; foes' worst fears are unfounded, but planned complex across from Wrigley Field still needs tweaks

Wrigleyville project is no mall invasion; foes' worst fears are unfounded, but planned complex across from Wrigley Field still needs tweaks
By Blair Kamin
Copyright © 2010, Chicago Tribune
May 22, 2010

Thousands of people are getting all steamed up about a controversial plan for an eight-story hotel, apartment and retail complex across the street from Wrigley Field. On Facebook, a group called “People Against the ‘Malling of Wrigleyville’ “ is sounding the alarm, as if big-box retailers and a mall named “Cubby World” were about to set up shop at the corner of Clark and Addison, right across the street from the Friendly Confines.

Here’s some friendly advice for these folks, whose numbers as of Friday morning had grown to more than 10,000: Chill!

In reality, the proposed development, which is called Addison Park on Clark, has few attributes of car-oriented suburbia. It is not — repeat, not — a mall. The real issue is what sort of urban character is heading Wrigleyville’s way. Will the design respect the neighborhood’s edgy vitality? Or will it give us something like the banal Chicago of the North Bridge retail district, where one beige-colored, concrete-faced monstrosity lines up against another.

The $100 million proposal, which was designed by Chicago architects Solomon Cordwell Buenz for M&R Development in partnership with SAS Equities, isn’t that bad. But nor is it a particularly compelling work of architecture. It looks, like many a project that has gone through an extensive public review process, as though it were trying very hard not to offend anyone. While its broad outlines are good enough to merit approval from the Chicago Plan Commission next month, it still needs considerable l tweaking before it’s in sync with the vibrant, chock-a-block streetscape of Wrigleyville.

If nothing else, the plan has come a long way since 2008, when the developers floated a plan for two towers (left) that would have loomed menacingly over the ballpark. Part of Wrigley’s glory is that it rises like a cathedral above its namesake neighborhood — its grand scale, curving contours and exposed steel frame majestically differentiating it from the humble brick three-flats and commercial buildings that huddle around it.

The 2008 design would have destroyed that relationship. The new version (below) does a better job of respecting the ballpark’s visual preeminence.

It calls for a low-slung, V-shaped structure that would front on both Addison and Clark, wrapping around a sports merchandise shop (below) and an auto repair business that refuse to budge. A two-story retail podium would adhere to the neighborhood’s prevailing scale. Atop this base would sit 135 rental apartments and a 137-room hotel. The complex would be faced in brick and glass — with no Victorian frou-frou or other nostalgic nods to the past. Solomon Cordwell Buenz’ president, John Lahey, who lives a few blocks north of Wrigley, says the aim was instead “a contemporary building with texture and scale that made it fit into the neighborhood.”

The scale, at least, is right, which helps explain why Lake View Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th, has given the project his blessing. By reducing the proposed design’s height, breaking up its mass, and stressing ground-hugging horizontal lines instead of soaring vertical ones, the architects have done much to make this big building palatable. They have also made it street-friendly and transit-oriented, two qualities rarely associated with suburban malls.

The project’s ground-level stores would be entered directly from the sidewalk, not through an atrium or internal corridors. Its exterior walls would frame a walkable, pedestrian-oriented cityscape, including widened sidewalks. Its 399 parking spaces would even be shoved underground (at considerable cost to the developer). Indeed, by putting the apartments near the Addison elevated station, the plan will encourage residents to use energy-saving mass transit. Green roofs will further boost the project’s drive to attain LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

But there are problems, beginning with the long, visually anemic expanses of brick (left) that the project would foist on Clark and Addison. That prospect is alarming when contrasted with the delightful eclecticism (here a Victorian grace note, there some Art Deco) of the buildings that now occupy the 3500 block of North Clark Street. They would be destroyed to make way for Addison Park on Clark — not a happy trade-off. Even Lahey acknowledges that the architects don’t have the street-level facades right yet. His firm is working on alternatives, though it is not ready to make them public.

Memo to the architects: Give us something other than a banal, blank canvas for retail shops. Right now, the building’s bland base is mall-like even if it isn’t technically a mall.

Problem No. 2: Despite the sensible overall reduction in height, Addison Park on Clark still threatens to upstage Wrigley Field in one sensitive location. Along Addison (left), the complex’s apartments would be set back by just 15 feet, forming a cliff-like wall that would look down on the lowest tier of the ballpark’s wedding-cake-style roofline.

A bigger setback is called for, even if that means making the project taller in mid-block.

Problem No. 3: Addison Park on Clark could have a debilitating impact on Wrigleyville’s city-enlivening mix of uses.

The developers oversimplify when they claim that the project’s site is underutilized. That may be true on Addison, with its ugly surface parking lots and scruffy storefonts (left), but it’s false on Clark, where the row of older buildings harbors a lively collection of locally owned bars, restaurants and the iO Theater.

So it is wrong to dismiss the criticism, voiced by the iO Theater’s owner director Charna Halpern, that Addison Park on Clark would undercut the area’s hip vitality by replacing existing tenants with generic, could-be-anywhere businesses like a Best Buy store.

Locally owned enterprises like the iO Theater are assets, not obstacles, to retaining that vitality. Anything Tunney can do to help them remain on the site after construction (or, at least, in the neighborhood) would be welcome.

Neighborhoods invariably change. The issue here is how Chicago manages that change. The architects and developers deserve credit for the modifications they’ve already made. But they still need to raise the level of their game if they want to avoid sticking Wrigleyville and Wrigley Field with a design that gets only halfway to true urbanity.

Thai growth set to fall by a third

Thai growth set to fall by a third
By Mure Dickie in Tokyo and Tim Johnston in Bangkok
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010
Published: May 21 2010 08:24 | Last updated: May 21 2010 21:38

Thailand’s political turmoil could slice nearly a third off economic growth this year, according to Korn Chatikavanij, finance minister, in a sombre assessment of the deep damage caused by nine weeks of protests.

“We could reasonably have looked forward to anything like 7 per cent growth for the year, without the political conflict. But with the conflict and the way it unfolded, it could easily be two per cent off that,” Mr Korn said in an interview.

His comments came as Abhisit Vejjajiva, the prime minister, delivered an untypically emotional address to the nation calling for reconciliation.

“Fellow citizens, we all live in the same house. Now, our house has been damaged. We have to help each other,” he said.

His government faces an uphill battle. More than 80 people – the vast majority, protesters – died in the protest, stoking the fury of demonstrators already angry over what they perceived as the double standards of the urban elite and their outsize share of the country’s wealth.

“We did not lose – we will start a new fight,” shouted one protester as demonstrators arrived back to cheers in the city of Chiang Mai, deep in the rural heartland of the opposition. Almost a third of the country is still under curfew.

To start reconciliation, the finance minister said he was finalising a “healing and reconstruction” plan to help individuals and businesses affected by the protests. He hoped the plan would be ready for cabinet approval by Tuesday. “The good news is that we have the money – government revenues are far exceeding the original budget because of the rapid economic recovery,” Mr Korn said.

The finance minister noted that Thailand had been fortunate that it had gone into the crisis with a “very robust” economy. With a low base set in early 2009 during the worst of the global slowdown, first quarter gross domestic product would also be up on a sequential basis – but the impact of the protests meant it would be “struggling” to sustain such improvement, he said.

Three weeks ago the Bank of Thailand raised its GDP forecast for the full year to 4.3-5.8 per cent, up from 3.3-5.3, saying it expected export growth driven by the revival of the global economy would outweigh the costs of the protests.

Mr Korn stressed the importance to political reconciliation of a roadmap for reform offered during negotiations with the protesters and held out the prospect of an “early election” though he stressed this could only take place when the prime minister would be able to campaign without fearing for his life.

While blaming Thaksin Shinawatra, who was removed as prime minister in a military coup four years ago and now lives in exile, for engineering the demonstrations, Mr Korn said reconciliation talks would be open to those of his supporters who had not sought to overthrow the government through extra-constitutional means.

He said in spite of the bloodshed that surrounded the suppression of the protests, Thailand could be proud that it had survived the crisis without succumbing to the sort of military coup or government collapse common in past decades.

Texas School Board Set to Vote Textbook Revisions

Texas School Board Set to Vote Textbook Revisions
Copyright by The Associated Press
Published: May 20, 2010

AUSTIN, Tex. — After facing months of protest, conservative members of the Texas Board of Education were expected Thursday night to vote to teach schoolchildren a version of American history that emphasizes the roles of capitalist enterprise, the military, Christianity and modern Republican political figures.

The decision, expected to fall largely along the party lines — the board has 10 Republicans and 5 Democrats — followed tens of thousands of public comments, a protest rally and a daylong hearing where about 200 speakers addressed the board.

By sheer force of its population size, Texas has long held outsize influence on national textbook publishers, some of whom sent curriculum writers to take notes in the boardroom.

That influence has waned somewhat in recent years, with the digital age allowing editors to tailor versions of their textbooks to individual states.

But Texas has only increased in stature as a symbolic battleground over the politicization of education, largely because of the emergence of a conservative voting bloc on the board.

Once a decade, the board members rewrite hundreds of pages of guidelines known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, the blueprint for standardized tests used to judge teachers, principals and entire schools.

Last year, conservatives on the board changed the state science curriculum to undermine the teaching of evolution, cell formation and the Big Bang.

While many of the changes to the science curriculum used coded language to advance conservative principles, some additions to the history standards were more overtly political. Board members planned to add language requiring high school students of the civil rights movement to “describe the role of individuals such as governors George Wallace, Orval Faubus, and Lester Maddox and groups, including the Congressional bloc of southern Democrats, that sought to maintain the status quo.”

In another passage, the board would require students to explain the roles of “Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, and the National Rifle Association.”

By the time of the vote on Thursday, conservatives on the board had already outlined their intentions in broad strokes.

In a hearing on Wednesday, dozens of speakers, including several professional educators hired to write the original standards, urged more time for review of the full curriculum.

Instead, the board moved on to consider last-minute amendments.

In a sign of the partisan rancor, color-coded books documenting the changes of recent months showed that many of the same words and phrases have been repeatedly inserted and removed. Some of those came up again on Thursday.

The board’s chairwoman, Gail Lowe, a Republican, tried to keep the panel’s debate focused on the narrow scope of the new amendments.

At one point, for example, Ms. Lowe silenced a question about the word “justice,” ruling it irrelevant to the matter at hand, which at the moment was whether first graders should learn the importance of “respectfully” holding public officials to account or just holding public officials to account.

In last-minute amendments, some board members demonstrated the extent of their ambition to influence the classroom, proposing amendments that resembled lesson plans.

Barbara Cargill, a Republican from suburban Houston, successfully campaigned for a reference in the curriculum to the singer Julius Lorenzo Cobb Bledsoe, arguing, “How could any of us forget his rendition of ‘Old Man River’ in Showboat?”

And in a recurring debate concerning the use of the phrase “such as” when listing historical figures for inclusion in textbooks, conservative members of the board underscored their influence on textbook publishers.

“There’s not a ‘such as’ out there that doesn’t appear in the book,” said Patricia Hardy, a Republican career educator who votes independently of the conservative bloc. Teachers look for books specifically emphasizing material that will be covered on standardized tests, Ms. Hardy added, saying, “They weren’t born yesterday.”

A member of the board’s Christian conservative voting bloc, Ken Mercer, responded: “Thank you. I’m very happy.”

As positions hardened on both sides, opponents of the changes sought to blunt their impact on children in the rest of the country. Legislators in California have drafted a bill requiring that state’s board to scrutinize new textbooks for evidence of the Texas influence.

One opponent of the changes, Benjamin T. Jealous, president of the N.A.A.C.P., vowed to take the fight to other states.

“The biggest danger is we’ll end up with children who don’t understand history,” Mr. Jealous said in a telephone interview. “The school board members are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.”

Student Protests Tie Up Campuses in Puerto Rico

Student Protests Tie Up Campuses in Puerto Rico
Copyright by the Associated Press
Published: May 20, 2010

SAN JUAN, P.R. — The seven entry gates on the largest campus of the University of Puerto Rico system remained chained shut on Thursday. Beyond improvised barricades were hundreds of students in makeshift camps, some with portable showers and stoves, hardly engaged in the typical college springtime routine of studying for final exams and preparing for graduation.

The students here have hunkered down, bringing the academic calendar to a halt. They are a month into a strike that has crippled an 11-campus system with more than 62,000 students, intent on persuading the administration to revoke austerity measures that they believe will unfairly hamper low-income students. Only one campus, for medical sciences, is operational.

The Río Piedras campus here in the capital has been closed since the strike began on April 21. When the students locked the gates, a confrontation with the police ensued, and university officials later decided to shut down the school. The territory is grappling with a huge budget deficit and an unemployment rate of 16 percent. The strike is the latest, most contentious protest against Gov. Luis G. Fortuño, a Republican elected in 2008. Thousands of union members rallied against planned layoffs by the government in a national protest last October.

As the university system announced budget cuts, students demanded an alternative and a greater transparency for university finances. One point of tension is funding for music, athletics and honors scholarships for students who also have federal grants.

“We understand this is social marginalization and discrimination against the people with less resources,” said Fernando Espinal, a law school graduate and former president of the student council.

University officials did not respond to requests for interviews.

Many public universities in the United States have faced tuition increases and cuts in funding because of states’ financial problems. In March, thousands of students and faculty members protested at the University of California.

But the strike in Puerto Rico has continued for weeks and grown increasingly tense, with reports of the police preventing the students from receiving supplies, food and water last weekend.

The fiscal crisis set up the conditions for the student strike, said Miguel Soto-Class, executive director of the Center for a New Economy, an independent research organization here.

“The University of Puerto Rico is receiving a significant amount less than it has received in the past,” he said. “It has forced the administration to undertake some cost-cutting measures that have not been popular with the students and some of the staff.”

Mr. Fortuño has encouraged both sides to work together to reach a solution, a spokesman said.

The governor said in an e-mail interview: “It is unfortunate that a minuscule group of students, that do not represent the vast majority of university students, have decided to take matters in their own hands and closed the university gates, thus precluding the vast majority of students to continue their studies, the teachers to impart their classes and the researchers to continue their research projects.”

The protesters spend their time reading and using computers with wireless Internet access to spread the word about the strike. They have received support from union leaders, writers and performers, including the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano and the Puerto Rican musician Ricky Martin, who posted a supportive message on Twitter.

After negotiations between the administration and students fell apart on Thursday, Aura Colón Solá, a member of the university’s law school action committee, said she was prepared to continue the strike for several more months. She said she was upset that university officials had sued some student leaders to try to end the strike.

“You do not sue students if you really intend to negotiate,” she said. “It is ridiculous. They would have to sue the 200 students in here and the thousands that voted in favor of this.”

Maritza Stanchich, an English professor at the Río Piedras campus who supports the strike, said many professors viewed the strike as a “teachable moment” to show the students how to stand up for themselves.

“It has been an enormous disruption,” she said, “but it’s meant to be that way to force the administration to negotiate.”

Students said the administration tried to end the strike through a court injunction, but public backlash intensified and Mr. Fortuño revoked the court order after three days. This week, the police chief ordered a reduction of the police presence.

On Thursday, the mood was calm at the main gate, where about 20 police officers stood guard. A large sign on the fence read “You may cut all the flowers, but will never eradicate spring.”

Obama Mandates Rules to Raise Fuel Standards

Obama Mandates Rules to Raise Fuel Standards
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: May 21, 2010

WASHINGTON — President Obama ordered the government on Friday to develop tougher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks, advancing the fight against climate change without waiting for Congress.

Mr. Obama announced the creation of a national policy that will result in less greenhouse gas pollution from medium- and heavy-duty trucks for the first time, and will further reduce exhaust from cars and light-duty trucks beyond the requirements he had already put in place.

“Today’s announcement is an essential part of our energy strategy, but it’s not a substitute for other necessary steps,” Mr. Obama said in a Rose Garden ceremony on Friday, flanked by auto and truck manufacturers. He repeated his hope that Congress would pass an energy bill by the end of the year. “In the meantime,” he added, “I’m going to take every sensible, responsible action that I can take using my authority as president.”

Mr. Obama said that reducing fuel use would save money for businesses and consumers, and he linked his new policy to the enormous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. “The disaster in the gulf only underscores that, even as we pursue domestic reduction to reduce our reliance on imported oil, our long-term security depends on the development of alternative sources of fuel and new transportation technologies,” he said.

The executive memorandum the president signed on Friday orders the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department to develop new fuel and emissions standards more strict than those formalized last month, but the memorandum did not propose specific fuel-economy figures.

Under last month’s rules, new cars must get at least 35.5 miles to a gallon of fuel, on average, by 2016, in combined city and highway driving. The president’s new plan would order further improvements in fuel efficiency for cars and light trucks made in 2017 and beyond, and in medium and heavy trucks made in 2014 through 2018.

In addition, Mr. Obama’s directive orders more federal support for the development of new vehicles like advanced electric cars, and it instructs the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce emissions of other kinds of pollutants by motor vehicles, besides greenhouse gases.

Environmentalists hailed the move. “President Obama’s oil savings proposal will reduce our dependence on oil,” said Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research organization. “More efficient cars and trucks will help to protect families’ budgets as well as America’s shores.”

Medium and heavy trucks represent only 4 percent of all vehicles on American highways, but they consume more than 20 percent of the fuel used in road transportation, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental advocacy organization. Improving the average fuel economy of these trucks by 3.7 miles to the gallon would, by 2030, reduce American oil consumption by 11 billion gallons a year, the group said.

Mr. Obama said existing technology could improve the fuel economy of tractor-trailers, as an example, by 25 percent. Over all, he said that within 20 years he wants the nation’s vehicles to be using half the fuel and produce half the pollution they do today.

Building cleaner vehicles costs money, but may ultimately save consumers more through lower gasoline bills. The policy already enacted will add about $1,000 to the cost of an average new car by 2016, but save about $3,000 in fuel over the life of the vehicle, according to government officials.

Mr. Obama was joined on Friday by environmental leaders and representatives of major truck manufacturers who supported the new policy. Among them were the chief executives of Volvo, Daimler Trucks North America, Cummins and Navistar, the head of the American Trucking Association and a garbage-truck driver in his uniform.

Manufacturers want a single national standard set over the long term because that is easier to comply with than the patchwork of state and national regulations that had been imposed in the past.

Before the president’s initial policy a year ago, car and light-truck makers were facing fuel-efficiency standards being developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in response to Congressional legislation; separate greenhouse-gas standards being developed by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Air Act; and the possibility of separate standards enacted in California and 13 other states.

“The federal government is looking 15 years down the road and uniting all the diverse stakeholders to work towards the same national goal,” Dave McCurdy, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said in a statement. Noting the collaboration over the set of rules enacted last month, he added, “This approach achieved success once before, so we are optimistic that we can do it again.”

Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, a nonprofit group, said the new policy would promote the use of clean diesel technology. “Diesel engines offer an unmatched combination of energy efficiency, work capability, reliability and now near-zero-emissions environmental performance,” he said.

John M. Broder contributed reporting.

Obama Outlines National Security Strategy

Obama Outlines National Security Strategy
Copyright by The New York Times
May 22, 2010, 10:20 AM

WEST POINT, N.Y. – President Obama outlined a new national security strategy rooted in diplomatic engagement and international alliances on Saturday as he repudiated his predecessor’s emphasis on unilateral American power and the right to wage preemptive war.

Eight years after President George W. Bush came to the United States Military Academy to set a new course for American security in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Obama used the same setting to offer a revised doctrine, one that vowed no retreat against American enemies while seeking “national renewal and global leadership.”

“Yes, we are clear-eyed about the shortfalls of our international system,” the president told graduating cadets. “But America has not succeeded by stepping outside the currents of international cooperation. We have succeeded by steering those currents in the direction of liberty and justice – so nations thrive by meeting their responsibilities, and face consequences when they don’t.”

Mr. Obama said the United States “will be steadfast in strengthening those old alliances that have served us so well” while also trying to “build new partnerships and shape stronger international standards and institutions.” He added: “This engagement is not an end in itself. The international order we seek is one that can resolve the challenges of our times.”

The president’s address was aimed not just at the 1,000 young men and women in gray and white uniforms in Michie Stadium who could soon face the perils of combat in Afghanistan or Iraq as second lieutenants in the Army but also to an international audience that in some quarters at least grew alienated from the United States during the Bush era.
The contrasts between Mr. Bush’s address here in 2002 and Mr. Obama’s in 2010 underscored all the ways a wartime America has changed and all the ways it has not. This was the ninth class to graduate from West Point since hijacked passenger jets destroyed the World Trade Center and smashed into the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside. Most of those graduating on Saturday were 12 at the time.
When Mr. Bush addressed their predecessors, he had succeeded in toppling the Taliban government in Afghanistan and victory of sorts appeared at hand, even as he was turning his attention to a new front in Iraq. Forecasting a new generation of threats, Mr. Bush vowed not to stand by as they gathered. “If we wait for threats to fully materialize,” he said then, “we will have waited too long.”

As Mr. Obama took the stage on a mild, overcast day, the American war in Iraq was finally beginning to wind down as combat forces prepare to withdraw by August, but Afghanistan has flared out of control and tens of thousands of reinforcements are flowing into the theater. Terrorists have made a fresh effort to strike on American soil as a new president tries to reformulate the nation’s approach to countering them

Cuomo Announces Campaign for Governor

Cuomo Announces Campaign for Governor
Copyright by Bloomberg News
Published: May 22, 2010

Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo announced his campaign for governor with a video released early Saturday morning, finally making official his entrance into the race for governor this fall.

Mr. Cuomo’s announcement comes only days before the state Democratic convention is scheduled to begin Tuesday in Rye Brook, N.Y., and follows months of private planning. Mr. Cuomo has no competition for the Democratic nomination and has been moving to assert control over the state party, and the 2010 ticket, for several months. Gov. David A. Paterson, a fellow Democrat, withdrew from the race in February. “I’m Andrew Cuomo, and I’ve always worked for you,” Mr. Cuomo said in his one-minute-47-second video. “Over my career, I’ve worked to help the homeless, students, consumers and the taxpayers who are outraged by Wall Street bonuses. I’ve worked for you, but now I need your help.”

Mr. Cuomo also released a longer 21-minute video in which he described his policy positions on a range of issues, from same-sex marriage, which he supports, to a plan to have the state borrow money for its short term fiscal needs, which he opposes.

He planned a formal announcement in downtown Manhattan later on Saturday.The video echoes an approach taken by Hillary Rodham Clinton, when she launched her 2008 presidential campaign. Mr. Cuomo’s top communications strategist, Phil Singer, is a veteran of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.

More Than Just an Oil Spill - The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is threatening an ecosystem the same way that big corporations like BP threaten our p

More Than Just an Oil Spill - The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is threatening an ecosystem the same way that big corporations like BP threaten our political system
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: May 21, 2010

Hopedale, La.

The warm, soft winds coming in off the gulf have lost their power to soothe. Anxiety is king now — all along the coast.

“You can’t sleep no more; that’s how bad it is,” said John Blanchard, an oyster fisherman whose life has been upended by the monstrous oil spill fouling an enormous swath of the Gulf of Mexico. He shook his head. “My wife and I have got two kids, 2 and 7. We could lose everything we’ve been working all of our lives for.”

I was standing on a gently rocking oyster boat with Mr. Blanchard and several other veteran fishermen who still seemed stunned by the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. Instead of harvesting oysters, they were out on the water distributing oil retention booms and doing whatever else they could to bolster the coastline’s meager defenses against the oil making its way ominously and relentlessly, like an invading army, toward the area’s delicate and heartbreakingly vulnerable wetlands.

A fisherman named Donny Campo tried to hide his anger with wisecracks, but it didn’t work. “They put us out of work, and now we’re cleaning up their mess,” he said. “Yeah, I’m mad. Some of us have been at this for generations. I’m 46 years old and my son — he’s graduating from high school this week — he was already fishing oysters. There’s a whole way of life at risk here.”

The risks unleashed by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig are profound — the latest to be set in motion by the scandalous, rapacious greed of the oil industry and its powerful allies and enablers in government. America is selling its soul for oil.

The vast, sprawling coastal marshes of Louisiana, where the Mississippi River drains into the gulf, are among the finest natural resources to be found anywhere in the world. And they are a positively crucial resource for America. Think shrimp estuaries and bird rookeries and oyster fishing grounds.

These wetlands are one of the nation’s most abundant sources of seafood. And they are indispensable when it comes to the nation’s bird population. Most of the migratory ducks and geese in the United States spend time in the Louisiana wetlands as they travel to and from Latin America.

Think songbirds. Paul Harrison, a specialist on the Mississippi River and its environs at the Environmental Defense Fund, told me that the wetlands are relied on by all 110 neo-tropical migratory songbird species. The migrating season for these beautiful, delicate creatures is right now — as many as 25 million can pass through the area each day.

Already the oil from the nightmare brought to us by BP is making its way into these wetlands, into this natural paradise that belongs not just to the people of Louisiana but to all Americans. Oil is showing up along dozens of miles of the Louisiana coast, including the beaches of Grand Isle, which were ordered closed to the public.

The response of the Obama administration and the general public to this latest outrage at the hands of a giant, politically connected corporation has been embarrassingly tepid. We take our whippings in stride in this country. We behave as though there is nothing we can do about it.

The fact that 11 human beings were killed in the Deepwater Horizon explosion (their bodies never found) has become, at best, an afterthought. BP counts its profits in the billions, and, therefore, it’s important. The 11 men working on the rig were no more important in the current American scheme of things than the oystermen losing their livelihoods along the gulf, or the wildlife doomed to die in an environment fouled by BP’s oil, or the waters that will be left unfit for ordinary families to swim and boat in.

This is the bitter reality of the American present, a period in which big business has cemented an unholy alliance with big government against the interests of ordinary Americans, who, of course, are the great majority of Americans. The great majority of Americans no longer matter.

No one knows how much of BP’s runaway oil will contaminate the gulf coast’s marshes and lakes and bayous and canals, destroying wildlife and fauna — and ruining the hopes and dreams of countless human families. What is known is that whatever oil gets in will be next to impossible to get out. It gets into the soil and the water and the plant life and can’t be scraped off the way you might be able to scrape the oil off of a beach.

It permeates and undermines the ecosystem in much the same way that big corporations have permeated and undermined our political system, with similarly devastating results.

New York Times Editorial: Limits of Libertarianism

New York Times Editorial: Limits of Libertarianism
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: May 21, 2010

By denigrating several of the signal achievements of modern American society, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act, Rand Paul has performed a useful service for voters who are angry at their elected officials. He has helped to illuminate the limits and the hazards of antigovernment sentiment.

Many Americans are sputtering mad, believing that government has let them down in abetting a ruinous recession, bailing out bankers and spending wildly. But is Rand Paul really the remedy they had in mind? His views and those of other Tea Party candidates are unintentional reminders of the importance of enlightened government.

In a handful of remarkably candid interviews since winning Kentucky’s Republican Senate primary this week, Mr. Paul made it clear that he does not understand the nature of racial progress in this country.

As a longtime libertarian, he espouses the view that personal freedom should supersede all government intervention. Neighborhood associations should be allowed to discriminate on the basis of race, he has written, and private businesses ought to be able to refuse service to anyone they wish. Under this philosophy, the punishment for a lunch counter that refuses to seat black customers would be public shunning, not a court order.

It is a theory of liberty with roots in America’s creation, but the succeeding centuries have shown how ineffective it was in promoting a civil society. The freedom of a few people to discriminate meant generations of less freedom for large groups of others.

It was only government power that ended slavery and abolished Jim Crow, neither of which would have been eliminated by a purely free market. It was government that rescued the economy from the Depression and promoted safety and equality in the workplace.

Republicans in Washington have breathlessly distanced themselves from Mr. Paul’s remarks, afraid that voters might tar them with the same extremist brush. But as they continue to fight the new health care law and oppose greater financial regulation, claiming the federal government is overstepping its bounds, they should notice that the distance is closing.

Explaining the Rand Paul Disaster
By Joshua Green
Copyright by the Atlantic
May 21 2010, 5:51 PM ET

After getting himself into trouble on Rachel Maddow's show on MSNBC, and everywhere else, Rand Paul has decided to cancel an interview on Sunday's "Meet the Press" rather than risk further damage. It's pretty amazing that a guy who embraced the role of national face of the Tea Party movement with such enthusiasm is crashing and burning so spectacularly. Two points to raise from my reporting trip to Kentucky earlier this week that I think are pertinent.

The first is that the Rand Paul who emerged post-election--questioning the Civil Rights Act, exonerating BP for the oil spill, and generally setting off grenades in the national media--is nothing like the Rand Paul who campaigned and won the Kentucky GOP primary. What Paul spoke about on the stump was mostly the size of the deficit, his desire for a balanced budget and term limits, and his belief that a lot of what Congress does has no basis in the Constitution. Paul's favorite example was health care, not civil rights. But the interesting thing to me, as I wrote on Monday, is that he took care to emphasize those parts of the Tea Party agenda that appeal (he claimed) to independents and moderates. There was no talk of race, civil rights, secession, birtherism and general Fox News lunacy. "The Tea Party is not about extremism," Paul said again and again. The impression in the broader media, including the liberal blogosphere, that Paul is an angry, unlikeable nut was not borne out by my experience on the campaign trail.

The second point, which gets directly to why Rand Paul is suddenly flailing, is that the local Kentucky media--in particular the newspapers, and especially the flagship Louisville Courier-Journal--has been decimated by job cuts, as has happened across the country. This came up several times in discussions with Kentucky politicos and local journalists. The reason it matters is that because there is no longer a healthy, aggressive press corps--and no David Yepson-type dean of political journalists--candidates don't run the same kind of gauntlet they once did. They're not challenged by journalists. And since voters aren't as well informed as they once were (many are "informed" in the sense of having strongly held views about all manner of things--they're just not "well informed"), they can't challenge the candidates either.

Thus, when Rand Paul appeared on "Maddow" and the other shows, I expect he was prepared to offer the same sermon I heard on the trail. Problem is, he was encountering an aggressive, experienced press corps that appropriately had its own agenda and was eager to challenge Paul to elaborate on his views.

I must admit that, when I first heard the "diminished local press corps" theory of why Paul was skating by, I was not entirely convinced. I'm a lot more persuaded now, and as much as I'd have liked to see him Sunday on "Meet the Press," I think he probably made a wise move in backing out.

New York Times Editorial: Financial Reform

New York Times Editorial: Financial Reform
Copyright byThe New York Times
Published: May 21, 2010

After all the revelations about predatory lenders, bankers who bet against their clients and speculative booms and busts, it should be clear that weak regulation is a recipe for disaster. And open and transparent markets, with clear roles for regulators, are essential to the nation’s financial health.

So it was good news that, despite all the bank lobbying and all the Republican posturing, the Senate finally passed a financial reform bill on Thursday.

Whether it will fix the system is still not known. In many ways, the bill has moved closer to what is needed. But when House and Senate leaders meet in coming days to negotiate a final bill, they need to correct several deficiencies and omissions.

The political battle also is far from over. When the stock market sank on Thursday, hours before the final vote, opponents rushed to declare that that was because even the possibility of reform was destabilizing. The market rose again on Friday. The rhetoric didn’t stop.

Here is what needs to be addressed:

RISKY BUSINESS It was never going to be easy to rein in the multitrillion-dollar market in unregulated derivatives. The Senate bill went further than the House version in requiring most derivatives to be traded on exchanges and to be processed, or cleared, through a third party to guarantee payment in the case of default.

It still has a gaping loophole: regulators have no clear legal authority to stop or undo a derivatives deal that has not been properly cleared and exchange-traded. The House bill gives regulators more authority, but a final bill needs clear rules, with clear enforcement.

The Senate bill also waters down the “Volcker rule.” As proposed by President Obama, the rule would bar banks from making market trades for their own accounts and from owning hedge funds and private equity funds. The Senate calls for a study and a needlessly long implementation process. The House version — which was passed before the Volcker rule was proposed — only gives regulators the discretion to curb risky trading. The final bill should implement the Volcker rule without delay.

TOO BIG TO FAIL Both the House and Senate bills establish “resolution” procedures for dismantling firms if their failure threatens the system. The goal is to establish in law that stockholders and unsecured creditors — not taxpayers — will bear the losses of a failure.

The resolution power in the Senate bill is weaker than the House bill because it does not require banks to pay in advance to help cover the operational costs of dismantling a big institution. (The House bill would create a $150 billion fund.) By making banks pay for the risks they create, a resolution fund could also perform the important function of encouraging them to curtail their riskiest activities.

PROTECTING CONSUMERS AND INVESTORS Consumers of financial products would gain protections in both bills against deceptive lending and other credit abuses. Both are marred — though in different ways — by exceptions to the new rules, and by restrictions on the new consumer agency’s independence and rule-making authority. The final bill should establish an independent agency with full rule-making and enforcement powers.

The House bill imposes a fiduciary duty on brokers who give investment advice. The Senate bill does not. (Without that, brokers have leeway to pitch investments intended to boost their own or their firms’ profits, exposing investors to misleading pitches and overly expensive products.) After all that investors have suffered, it would be unconscionable not to include this provision.

All these reforms are essential for protecting investors, restoring confidence in the financial markets and ensuring that another meltdown does not happen. Congress still has work to do.

36 Hours in Santa Fe

36 Hours in Santa Fe
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: May 23, 2010

THE Plaza, the heart of old Santa Fe, hasn’t changed much since the Spanish settled here 400 years ago. But surrounding the Plaza is an increasingly cosmopolitan city. Sure, it’s possible to focus entirely just on the historic center, where Native American handicrafts are for sale on every corner.

But the rest of Santa Fe now offers groovy contemporary art spaces, hot Asian restaurants and a park by a pair of trailblazing architects. Accept that Santa Fe isn’t just tacos and turquoise anymore, and you’ll find yourself loving the New Mexico capital not for what it was, but what it is.


5 p.m.

For a beautifully curated introduction to Santa Fe, visit the New Mexico History Museum (113 Lincoln Avenue; 505-476-5200;, which opened in 2009 and includes a gripping display about Los Alamos, where the Manhattan Project was conducted in secret during World War II. A large courtyard with ancient walls and shady trees separates the museum from the Palace of the Governors (, the Spanish seat of government in the early 1600s and now a small museum of Colonial and Native American history. The two-museum complex is free on Fridays from 5 to 8 p.m.

7 p.m.

You’d have to be crazy to pay for a glass of white wine on Fridays. Canyon Road, which angles up from the center of town, has more than 100 galleries, and there are openings every Friday night. According to, the largest category is contemporary representational (think brightly colored paintings of the desert). Check out Eight Modern (231 Delgado Street; 505-995-0231;, where you’ll find the geometric scrap-metal constructions of the Santa Fe artist Ted Larsen. The backyard sculpture garden is a great place to marvel at New Mexico’s amazingly clear sky and savor its piñon-infused air before heading to dinner.

9 p.m.

Martín Rios is a hometown boy made good: Born in Mexico and raised in Santa Fe, he apprenticed at the Eldorado Hotel and the Inn of the Anasazi — two local stalwarts — and made a brief appearance on “Iron Chef” before opening his own place, Restaurant Martín (526 Galisteo Street; 505-820-0919;, in 2009. The main draw is the food — dishes like ahi tuna tartare ($14) and duck breast with smoked bacon polenta and Marcona almonds ($25) offer hints of the Southwest, with a dash of global aspiration. But the homey décor makes you want to stick around even after finishing the bittersweet chocolate truffle cake ($8).


10 a.m.

The Santa Fe Farmers’ Market (1607 Paseo de Peralta; 505-983-4098; dates back a half-century, but it stepped up a notch when it moved to a permanent building in 2008. Everything sold here, including dried chilies, yogurt and grass-fed meats, is produced in northern New Mexico. The market is part of a bustling district that includes the new Railyard Park by the architect Frederic Schwartz and the landscape architect Ken Smith, both Manhattanites whose taste is anything but quaint. As you wander around, be on the lookout for the Rail Runner, a gleaming new passenger train scheduled to pull in from Albuquerque at 11:08 a.m.


Santa Fe residents — as you learned roaming the Farmers’ Market — care where their food comes from. No wonder Vinaigrette (709 Don Cubero Alley; 505-820-9205; vinaigretteonline .com) was an immediate hit when it opened in 2008. The brightly colored cafe has a menu based on organic greens grown in the nearby town of Nambé. Choose a base — Caesar, Cobb and Greek are possibilities (around $10) — then add diver scallops or hibiscus-cured duck confit ($7) for a satisfying meal. Wines by the glass start at a very friendly $6.

2 p.m.

Thanks to Santa Fe’s sometimes depressing sprawl, it’s getting harder and harder to find wide-open spaces. But drive (or bike) to the corner of Galisteo Street and West Rodeo Road, where there’s a small parking lot — then begin pedaling due south, in the direction of Lamy (about 12 miles away). What starts as an asphalt path morphs into a dirt bike trail that swerves around a 19th-century rail spur. There are some pretty steep hills, but they’re short, and the momentum from a downhill is usually enough to handle the next uphill. (If only life were like that!) The scenery is always gorgeous, especially in late afternoon, when the sun is low in the sky. Mellow Velo (638 Old Santa Fe Trail; 505-995-8356; rents mountain bikes starting at $35 a day.

7 p.m.

La Boca (72 West Marcy Street; 505-982-3433; is one of downtown Santa Fe’s most popular new restaurants — thanks to its contemporary tapas, plus larger dishes like cannelloni filled with crab, scallop and Manchego ($11). You’ll find yourself sharing tips on what to order — and even forkfuls of delicious eats — with strangers.

10 p.m.

Santa Fe isn’t a night-life town, but Milagro 139 (139 West San Francisco Street; 505-995-0139; is helping to change that. A building that had housed a coffee shop was recently converted to a restaurant that becomes a club on Friday and Saturday nights. There’s no cover, and the drinks, including a house margarita called Beginner’s Luck ($5), are delicious. A recent visit coincided with performances by Rubixzu, a local band that performed a blend of reggae and Latin hip-hop to a diverse crowd, aged 9 to 90. For a trendier vibe, head to Meow Wolf (1800 Second Street; 505-204-4651;, an alternative art space, or check its Web site for other parties hosted by Meow Wolf artists.


10 a.m.

For a big breakfast and an early start, drive south on Cerrillos Road about 10 miles past the Interstate, until you see a handwritten cardboard sign that reads, “Pine wood stove pellets sold here.” You’ve arrived at the San Marcos Café (3877 State Road 14; 505-471-9298). Dozens of peacocks, turkeys and hens roam the property (which also houses a feed store), providing an Old McDonald-like backdrop for crowd-pleasers like eggs San Marcos, a cheese omelet in a bath of guacamole, beans and salsa ($12).


If you ever thought that item you found at a roadside stand was one of a kind, Jackalope (2820 Cerrillos Road; 505-471-8539;, a sprawling, indoor-outdoor flea market, will disabuse you of that notion. There are hundreds of everything, including punched-copper switch plates and tote bags that depict Michelle Obama smiling on a swing. If you need to shake off the kitsch, head to SITE Santa Fe (1606 Paseo De Peralta; 505-989-1199;, a contemporary art space where the 2010 biennale, focused on moving image technologies in contemporary art, will run from June 20 to Jan. 2, 2011.

1 p.m.

It’s difficult to spend time in Santa Fe without thinking about buying a home (or second home) here. So check out Zocalo (Avenida Rincon; 505-986-0667;, a striking development by the Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta. He is known for crisp geometry and super-bright colors — a welcome sight in this city of browns and terra cottas. Consider it real estate voyeurism, combined with a crash course in contemporary architecture.


Santa Fe has a tiny airport, which offers nonstop service to and from Dallas and Los Angeles on American Eagle. Most visitors fly into the larger Albuquerque airport, about an hour south. A recent Web search found round-trip fares from Kennedy Airport on Delta, from about $260 for travel in June. Sadly, the Rail Runner doesn’t run to the Albuquerque airport.

The Hotel St. Francis (210 Don Gaspar Avenue; 505-983-5700;, billed as the oldest hotel in Santa Fe, completed a top-to-bottom renovation in 2009, and it looks spectacular. Doubles from $120.

The El Rey Inn (1862 Cerrillos Road, 505-982-1931; is a retro-chic 1930s-style motel, with nicely furnished rooms and beautifully landscaped grounds to go along with the kitschy Native American-themed architecture. Doubles from $99.

Hilton Santa Fe Golf Resort & Spa (30 Buffalo Thunder Trail; 505-455-5555; is part of a new casino complex, about 15 minutes north of town. Doubles from $159. Hilton also built a less-expensive Homewood Suites nearby (10 Buffalo Thunder Trail; 505-455-9100), with doubles from $109.

Experts Express Doubts on Sand-Berm Proposal

Experts Express Doubts on Sand-Berm Proposal
Copyright by The Associated Press
Published: May 21, 2010

VENICE, La. — State officials here are imploring the federal government and BP to build 80 miles of sand berms and plug holes in barrier islands in a desperate effort to stop oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill from destroying marshes, sounds and bayous.

But many experts say it is not at all clear whether dredging companies could build up the barrier islands quickly enough to save the marshes. They are also concerned that the kind of sand berms envisioned in the plan might wash away quickly after a couple of storms, wasting scarce sand in the region.

Still, Gov. Bobby Jindal and local officials say the berms represent the state’s best hope of protecting the fragile Mississippi Delta and its fisheries. The officials are frustrated with what they see as bureaucratic inaction. “They haven’t given us any reason for the delay,” Mr. Jindal said Wednesday.

So far, the Army Corps of Engineers has not granted the state’s request for an emergency permit for the plan. The Coast Guard, which can force BP to pay for a $350 million dredging project, has yet to make a decision about it.

For several years, the state has been trying to get financing for a similar project to rebuild the Chandeleur Islands, a chain of low-lying barrier islands in the delta that lost more than 80 percent of their surface area during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But officials say they are not simply taking advantage of the oil spill to finance a long-hoped-for project.

Billy Nungesser, the president of Plaquemines Parish, who has been pushing for the sand-berm project, said he hoped BP would pay the cost of building what amounts to a six-foot seawall over the next six months. The state’s earlier plan had called for the islands to be rebuilt to about 20 feet above sea level.

At stake, Mr. Nungesser said, are Louisiana’s seafood and sport-fishing industries. “If we don’t do something, shame on us,” he said.

On May 11, the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of Louisiana requested the permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to create the barrier in the Gulf of Mexico out of sand dredged from a site several miles offshore. The barrier would stretch along the coastline on both sides of the Mississippi Delta, from Chandeleur Sound in the east to Barataria Bay in the west.

Gregory W. Stone, director of the Coastal Studies Institute at Louisiana State University, said that dredging and pumping large amounts of sand amid Louisiana’s complex inlets and bays could harm ocean life. Dr. Stone said any plan required closer study before it is put in place.

“I understand that time is of the essence, but I really think that we’re taking a gamble here,” he said.

The general idea of protecting the area’s vulnerable wetlands by buffering coastal islands with dredged sand is not particularly controversial. Similar plans have been in the works for years, and small-scale projects have had success in the recent past.

“The concepts behind this are probably sound,” said Denise J. Reed, a wetlands expert and interim director of the Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Sciences at the University of New Orleans. “One of the reasons we’re so worried about the oil coming into the marshes is the barrier islands are so degraded. We don’t have a very intact shoreline.”

The governor’s plan would not permanently rebuild degraded coastal islands — a delicate and complex process that has been planned for years. A temporary sand barrier could wash away in a matter of months, experts said. And the type of sand necessary for long-term coastal restoration is in short supply along Louisiana’s shoreline.

“If we use the good sand that we have for this quick-and-dirty berm, and a storm comes in and spreads it around, we’ve lost the major sand resource that we wanted to use for barrier-island restoration,” Dr. Reed said. “We could compromise the long-term restoration of the coast for a short-term gain.”

Right now, the chain of barrier islands has very little protection. Asbury H. Sallenger Jr., an oceanographer with the United States Geological Survey, said the Chandeleur Islands lost the majority of their surface area during Hurricane Katrina. Even a strong wind can push a surge of water over the island, he said.

But Dr. Sallenger, like other experts, noted that the dredging project would take months to complete, and the oil is already showing up in the marshes. “My first question is whether such a thing could be done, from a scientific basis, quickly enough to be useful,” he said.

Tom Mueller, a spokesman for BP, said that the oil company has many reservations about the proposal. First, Mr. Mueller said, the company’s engineers are unsure if the berms could be built quickly enough to make a difference. The current emphasis on booms might be a better strategy, he said. And they are also concerned that the berms might not be as effective in stopping the flow of oil into the marshes as the state hopes.

BP is also worried about lawsuits, Mr. Mueller said. He raised the possibility that the berms could have unintended consequences, and if the project ended up damaging the marshes, “additional lawsuits are likely.”

“Clearly the governor and Billy Nungesser are passionate about the concept of the barrier island,” Mr. Mueller said. “We appreciate their enthusiasm and we look forward to further conversation as these issues are addressed.”

State officials acknowledge there are concerns about environmental impacts from building the berms. A number of barrier islands that would be built up by the dredging operation are sensitive habitats for turtles and other species, and some are protected bird sanctuaries. Heavy construction could further disturb these populations, which are already under threat from the oil slick. But they are willing to take that risk, given the potential damage the oil slick could cause.

Still, a spokesman for the Army Corps, which will oversee the permit process, said that even under an expedited basis, the dredging project would need to comply with federal environmental regulations.

Mr. Nungesser said the proposal did not need more than a few days’ study. Similar projects have been extensively reviewed by local experts in coastal restoration, he noted.

“It’s not something that we dreamed up overnight,” he said.

Obama Sketches Energy Plan in Oil

Obama Sketches Energy Plan in Oil
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: May 21, 2010

WASHINGTON — There is very little upside for the Obama administration in the ecological and economic disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. The government has come under sharp criticism for underestimating the size of the discharge and for coddling the oil industry for too long.

Until now, perhaps distracted by the critics or because it did not appear that his overall energy agenda was moving forward, President Obama has not made use of the disaster in an overtly political way.

But on Friday — a full month after the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon — he made clear that he also was not going to let the moment go to waste, announcing plans to impose stricter fuel-efficiency and emissions standards on cars and, for the first time, on medium- and heavy-duty trucks.

He said the oil gushing from the crippled BP well in the gulf highlighted the need to move away from dirty and dangerous fossil fuels toward a cleaner energy future. And he signaled that he intended to use the accident to continue to push his broader policy priorities, including legislation that would put a price on climate-altering emissions and increased federal aid for American industries in the global race to dominate the clean energy technology sector.

“We know that our dependence on foreign oil endangers our security and our economy,” Mr. Obama said in a Rose Garden announcement. “And the disaster in the gulf only underscores that even as we pursue domestic production to reduce our reliance on imported oil, our long-term security depends on the development of alternative sources of fuel and new transportation technologies.”

Put more starkly: the road Mr. Obama is sending us on to his dreamed-of carbon-free future will be slick with oil for many years to come.

Friday’s announcement extended rules on exhaust reduction for cars and light-duty trucks and proposed new greenhouse gas pollution limits for medium- and heavy-duty trucks. The new rules build on an agreement the administration reached with automakers a year ago. Mr. Obama was able to broker that deal by taking advantage of existing executive authority and the near-desperate desire of the struggling auto companies for a single national fuel-efficiency standard, rather than a patchwork of conflicting state and federal rules.

Mr. Obama faces a much steeper path to an agreement limiting carbon dioxide emissions from other sectors of the economy, including electric power companies and heavy manufacturers. That will require a negotiated deal with a variety of regulation-averse industries like coal and oil and the lawmakers who represent their interests.

There is no Rose Garden ceremony in sight for that fundamental remaking of the American economy.

There are limits to what the president can do unilaterally, and, as the president himself has acknowledged, getting 60 votes to pass a sweeping energy bill through the Senate will require significant concessions on nuclear power, coal and, yes, offshore drilling.

“This is a small but commendable step,” said Michael Levi, an energy and climate change expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The president should indeed be using the moment to focus people on the need to reduce U.S. dependence on oil, foreign and domestic,” he wrote in an e-mail message.

“Big political moves, though, will require more,” Mr. Levi continued. “They will require sustained and focused advocacy from the president. People will not make any intuitive link between the tragedy in the gulf and legislation that raises electricity prices. For most Americans, the oil spill is tragic, but jobs and the economy are still the clear number one. The oil spill can help focus people’s attention, but it will take something else to close the deal.”

The president’s Friday announcement came against a backdrop of an administration scrambling to both respond to the crisis in the gulf and to appear to be responding to the crisis. There has been a daily drumbeat of press releases, conference calls, denunciations of BP and announcements of investigations and reorganizations intended to showcase the vigor of the government’s action.

Yet even as the oil has continued to gush beneath the gulf, the administration has not been shy about acknowledging the reality that a third of domestically produced crude oil comes from offshore and that undersea reserves will continue to be an important source of American energy for decades. On March 31, Mr. Obama announced a significant expansion of offshore oil development, just three weeks before the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, a policy shift long in the making and unfortunate in the timing.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, charged with both leasing the Outer Continental Shelf for drilling and protecting it from the ravages of oil development, reminded Congress this week that the administration was pursuing what he called a “balanced” energy strategy for the future that included substantial and expanded offshore exploration.

“Offshore development is a necessary part of that future,” Mr. Salazar told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this week. But he emphasized that new safety and environmental safeguards would have to be put in place before extensive new drilling was permitted.

Thus the president’s options are both defined and limited. There will be more offshore drilling, but the rules of the game have now changed.

As Mr. Obama put in on March 31, “Given our energy needs, in order to sustain economic growth and produce jobs, and keep our businesses competitive, we are going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable homegrown energy.”

Scores Feared Dead in Plane Crash in India

Scores Feared Dead in Plane Crash in India
Copyright by The Associated Press
Published: May 21, 2010

NEW DELHI — An Air India flight from Dubai carrying 166 people crashed into a heavily wooded valley moments after landing at an airport in southern India Saturday morning, killing almost everyone on board.

The plane appears to have overshot the hilltop runway where it was landing in one of India’s trickiest airports, in the city of Mangalore, which sits in the Western Ghats, or hills, on India’s southwestern coast.

“The aircraft has broken in pieces,” Gopal Hosu, a senior police official at the scene, told NDTV, a private television station. “Members of the rescue team are trying to douse fire and the smoke.”

Eight survivors were taken from the wreckage, according to the financially troubled airline, which is owned and operated by the Indian government.

“As soon as we landed, the tire burst,” one of the survivors told a local television crew from his hospital bed. “Within three seconds there was a fire blast. The inside was filled with smoke.”

He said he escaped through a crack in the fuselage.

The crash, at an airport with a short runway built on a plateau and surrounded by cliffs, is likely to renew debate about safety standards in India’s rapidly expanding aviation sector. Some Indian aviation safety experts have expressed increasing concern in the last couple of years about the country’s airlines, airports and regulations. Last year, there were three near-miss collisions between planes at the airport in Mumbai, the country’s commercial capital.

Air India, in particular, has been in the news for a number of embarrassing incidents, including a midair scuffle between pilots and flight attendants during which the plane was reportedly unmanned for a few minutes. In September, an Air India flight to Toronto was delayed 11 hours while staff searched for rats that had climbed aboard the plane.

At the site of Saturday’s crash, television footage showed rescue teams struggling through smoking and flaming wreckage of the Boeing 737, and survivors being wheeled on gurneys into a local hospital. Television reports said that six or seven people had been taken to hospitals.

“It is clear that most of the people are dead,” B. S. Yeddyurappa, chief minister of Karnataka state, told reporters.

As investigators rushed to the smoldering wreckage, experts said the unusual configuration of the runway made landing there complicated.

Kapil Kaul, the chief executive of India and the Middle East at the Center for Asia Pacific Aviation, a research group, said pilot error was a likely cause. The pilot had 7,500 hours of flying experience, 3,500 of which were on this type of plane, Mr. Kaul said. But he may have missed the landing threshold, which is the very first part of a runway usable for landing, he said. That kind of error doesn’t always result in a crash, but did at the Mangalore Airport because it is on a plateau.

The plane, a Boeing 737-800, was relatively new, having made its first flight in December 2007, according to the Aviation Safety Network.

The 737-800 has been involved in five fatal accidents since entering service in 1998. The most recent was in January, when an Ethiopian Airlines flight to Addis Ababa crashed into the Mediterranean Sea in stormy weather shortly after takeoff from Beirut, killing 90 people. The cause of that accident remains under investigation.

In February 2009, nine people died when a Boeing 737-800 operated by Turkish Airlines crashed on approach near Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Dutch investigators identified a faulty altimeter, which caused the plane to slow down too abruptly and stall at an altitude of around 2,000 feet.

Sanat Kaul, a former aviation ministry official and a former member of Air India’s board of directors, said the runway at Mangalore airport sits on a plateau and was extended to 8,000 feet from 5,500 feet in 2006 to better accommodate bigger planes like the 737.

“Mangalore is a difficult field because it is on a plateau,” he said. “From all accounts the visibility was all right. One can’t make any conclusions. The runway was extended to 8,000 feet in 2006. That is all right for landing” a 737.

The airline said 160 passengers were on board, four of them infants, along with six crewmembers.

Air India, which is owned and run by the Indian government, has been struggling since a 2007 merger with another state carrier, and lost $1.2 billion in the last fiscal year. Competition from new private airlines like Kingfisher and Jet Airways is luring away customers, and the company is focusing on cutting costs by trimming staff and routes.

Many safety consultants blame the government for weak policies and spotty enforcement.

“Aviation safety is a potent subject in America while it is an impotent one in India,” A. Ranganathan, a former pilot and safety consultant, wrote in The Hindu newspaper late last year. “We are impotent because we have an ineffective hierarchy — ministry, legislators and regulator — controlling aviation.”

If most of the passengers have been killed, as is feared, this would be the worst airline disaster in India since 1996, when an Air Kazakhstan flight collided with a Saudi Arabia Airlines flight in midair above Delhi airport, killing 312 people.

The last major airline accident in India was in 2000, when an Alliance Air Boeing 737 plane crashed into a neighborhood while trying to land at an airport in Patna, killing about 60 people.

Vikas Bajaj, Heather Timmons and Nicola Clark contributed reporting.