Latino Sexual Oddysey

Used to send a weekly newsletter. To subscribe, email me at

Sunday, March 19, 2006



For Immediate Release Contact: Rick Garcia
February 14, 2004 312-560-0405


CHICAGO – The Roman Catholic director of Illinois’ statewide gay rights organization issued a blistering criticism of Chicago Cardinal Francis George’s opposition to the gay and lesbian civil rights bill at a gay rights rally at the Cardinal’s residence.

“As a Roman Catholic I am embarrassed and ashamed that there is a need to protest the cardinal’s position on gay and lesbian civil rights,” said Rick Garcia, director of Equality Illinois. “Instead of standing on the side of justice, honesty and mercy, the cardinal promotes discrimination, abuse and violence against gay people.”

Cardinal George, through the Illinois Catholic Conference, is opposing legislation to add sexual orientation to the Illinois Human Rights Act. Discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation is legal in 101 of Illinois’ 102 counties. More than two hundred gay rights supporters protested at the cardinal’s mansion on Saturday.

“Cardinal George issues statements telling us that gay people should be treated with dignity and should not suffer discrimination or violence. Nonetheless, his actions belie his words. The Cardinal’s opposition to gay civil rights protections gives tacit approval to such discrimination and violence,” charged Garcia. “You can’t say you love and respect someone and then find it acceptable to deny them housing and employment simply because of who they are. There is no love without justice.”

Garcia acknowledged that the Cardinal has the right and the responsibility to present Church teaching clearly and concisely but insisted “he can not and should not use Church teaching as a battering ram to beat down gay people, our families and our rights”.

“We do not stand alone in our criticisms of Cardinal George. Twenty-six Roman Catholic pastors have written to George chastising him for his ‘abusive language’ with regard to gay people and two dozen religious orders of nuns as well as the leaders of the United Church of Christ, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal churches have endorsed the gay civil rights bill,” Garcia noted. “We do this not because we waver in our commitment to Christ and the Church but precisely because of that commitment.

”Let us remember that at certain times in our country’s history Roman Catholic Bishops invoked the teachings of our Church to oppose the abolition of slavery, oppose the right of women to vote and to oppose integration,” said Garcia. “George’s position is based less on a desire to uphold Church teaching and more on rank anti-gay sentiment. He should be ashamed, but bigots seldom are.”


Garcia’s statement is follows:

Rick Garcia
Political Director
Statement at Demonstration at Cardinal George’s Residence
February 14, 2004

A reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah:

Yahweh said: The kind of fasting I want is this: Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice and let the oppressed go free…If you put an end to oppression and every gesture of contempt then the darkness around you will turn to the brightness of noon.

A reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew:

And Jesus said: How terrible for you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you give to God one tenth of your herbs and seasonings but you neglect to obey the really important teachings of the Law, such as justice, mercy and honesty…You strain a gnat out of your drink but you swallow a camel. Hypocrites! You clean the outside of your cup, while the inside is full of what you have gotten by violence and selfishness. Clean what is inside the cup first and then the outside will be clean too.

As a Roman Catholic I am embarrassed, angered and ashamed to be here today in front of the home of a man who should be on the side of justice, honesty and mercy but instead promotes discrimination, abuse and violence against GLBT people.

We all know the anti-gay Kansas preacher the Reverend Fred Phelps and his rantings on how “God hates fags”, “I hate fags”, “Fags burn in Hell”.

I respect Fred Phelps more than I respect Cardinal Francis George. Fred is upfront and honest about his animosity toward gay people. Cardinal George, on the other hand, tells us that he loves us, that gay people should be treated with respect and dignity. And yet, his actions belie his words.

Cardinal George, you can’t say you love someone and then find it acceptable to deny them housing because they are lesbian, you can’t say you love someone and then find it acceptable to deny them employment because they are gay. You can’t say you love someone and then promote lies and myths and stereotypes about them, their lives and their families. In the words of St. Augustine “There is no love without justice”.

Let us remember that at certain times in the history of our country Roman Catholic bishops invoked the teachings of our holy mother, the Church, to oppose the abolition of slavery. They invoked the teachings of the Church to oppose women’s right to vote and some even invoked the teachings of the Church to oppose the education of black children, to suppress religious orders of black nuns and to oppose integration. All positions that we find morally repugnant today.

Let me be clear. Cardinal George has the right, the responsibility and the obligation to present Catholic Church teaching clearly and concisely. But he cannot and should not be selective in his presentation or focus of that teaching. Nor should that presentation be used to approve and promote anti-gay sentiment. Nor should Church teaching be used as a battering ram to beat down gay people and our families.

We do not stand alone in our criticism of the cardinal’s opposition to the basic civil rights of GLBT Illinoisans.

More than two-dozen religious orders of nuns and priests in Illinois are on record as supporting the nondiscrimination bill currently before the Illinois senate. And, recently twenty-six Roman Catholic priests in the diocese criticized the Cardinal for his abusive language with regard to gay and lesbian people and our families. They do so not because they waver in their commitment to Christ and their Church but precisely because of that commitment. The Cardinal is outside mainstream Catholic thought on the rights of glbt people.

We are entering the season of Lent, a time for reflection and repentance. We call upon Cardinal George to reflect on his behavior, to have a conversion of heart and we urge him to repent and believe the Gospel.

Thank you.



For Immediate Release Contact: Rick Garcia
January 24, 2006 312-560-0405

Why didn’t he protect his own marriage?

CHICAGO – The director of Illinois’ gay civil rights group criticized Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Oberweis for joining anti-gay activists in promoting an amendment to the Illinois Constitution forbidding the recognition of same-sex marriages. Same-Sex marriages are already illegal in Illinois and polling shows little support in Illinois for such an amendment.

“Jim Oberweis thinks he can win elections through divisiveness and bigotry”, said Rick Garcia, political director of Equality Illinois. “In his last bid for office he demonized Latino immigrants. Now, he attacks gay people and our families. Hatemongering didn’t work then, it won’t work now. He ought to try milking a different cow.”

The divorced Oberweis joined with the anti-gay Illinois Family Institute in support of the group’s Protect Marriage Initiative. “If Oberweis is so concerned about protecting marriage why didn’t he protect his own,” Garcia asked.

All Illinois constitutional officers oppose same-sex marriage and all oppose amending the Illinois constitution. A June 2005 poll of registered voters in Illinois showed that while 48% opposed same sex marriage 67% also opposed a constitutional ban. (Glengariff Group, June 2005. Poll available by calling 312-560-0405)

Garcia noted that in the last Illinois race for U.S. Senate, candidate Alan Keyes toured the state with IFI for a series of ‘protect marriage’ rallies. Keyes barely garnered 26% of the vote in his race. “Illinoisans are fair-minded people and do not take well to those who try to demonize their neighbors,” Garcia suggested.

“This has nothing to do with the protection of marriage and everything to do with rank divisive politics,” Garcia stated. “If these charlatans were so concerned about marriage why are they not proposing a constitutional ban on divorce? Clearly, marriage doesn’t need to be protected from gay people. It is gay people who need to be protected from anti-gay bigots,” Garcia said.

Baghdad Burning Girl Blog from Iraq... let's talk war, politics and occupation.

Baghdad Burning Girl Blog from Iraq... let's talk war, politics and occupation.

... I'll meet you 'round the bend my friend, where hearts can heal and souls can mend...

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Three Years...
It has been three years since the beginning of the war that marked the end of Iraq’s independence. Three years of occupation and bloodshed.

Spring should be about renewal and rebirth. For Iraqis, spring has been about reliving painful memories and preparing for future disasters. In many ways, this year is like 2003 prior to the war when we were stocking up on fuel, water, food and first aid supplies and medications. We're doing it again this year but now we don't discuss what we're stocking up for. Bombs and B-52's are so much easier to face than other possibilities.

I don’t think anyone imagined three years ago that things could be quite this bad today. The last few weeks have been ridden with tension. I’m so tired of it all- we’re all tired.

Three years and the electricity is worse than ever. The security situation has gone from bad to worse. The country feels like it’s on the brink of chaos once more- but a pre-planned, pre-fabricated chaos being led by religious militias and zealots.

School, college and work have been on again, off again affairs. It seems for every two days of work/school, there are five days of sitting at home waiting for the situation to improve. Right now college and school are on hold because the “arba3eeniya” or the “40th Day” is coming up- more black and green flags, mobs of men in black and latmiyas. We were told the children should try going back to school next Wednesday. I say “try” because prior to the much-awaited parliamentary meeting a couple of days ago, schools were out. After the Samarra mosque bombing, schools were out. The children have been at home this year more than they’ve been in school.

I’m especially worried about the Arba3eeniya this year. I’m worried we’ll see more of what happened to the Askari mosque in Samarra. Most Iraqis seem to agree that the whole thing was set up by those who had most to gain by driving Iraqis apart.

I’m sitting here trying to think what makes this year, 2006, so much worse than 2005 or 2004. It’s not the outward differences- things such as electricity, water, dilapidated buildings, broken streets and ugly concrete security walls. Those things are disturbing, but they are fixable. Iraqis have proved again and again that countries can be rebuilt. No- it’s not the obvious that fills us with foreboding.

The real fear is the mentality of so many people lately- the rift that seems to have worked it’s way through the very heart of the country, dividing people. It’s disheartening to talk to acquaintances- sophisticated, civilized people- and hear how Sunnis are like this, and Shia are like that… To watch people pick up their things to move to “Sunni neighborhoods” or “Shia neighborhoods”. How did this happen?

I read constantly analyses mostly written by foreigners or Iraqis who’ve been abroad for decades talking about how there was always a divide between Sunnis and Shia in Iraq (which, ironically, only becomes apparent when you're not actually living amongst Iraqis they claim)… but how under a dictator, nobody saw it or nobody wanted to see it. That is simply not true- if there was a divide, it was between the fanatics on both ends. The extreme Shia and extreme Sunnis. Most people simply didn’t go around making friends or socializing with neighbors based on their sect. People didn't care- you could ask that question, but everyone would look at you like you were silly and rude.

I remember as a child, during a visit, I was playing outside with one of the neighbors children. Amal was exactly my age- we were even born in the same month, only three days apart. We were laughing at a silly joke and suddenly she turned and asked coyly, “Are you Sanafir or Shanakil?” I stood there, puzzled. ‘Sanafir’ is the Arabic word for “Smurfs” and ‘Shanakil” is the Arabic word for “Snorks”. I didn’t understand why she was asking me if I was a Smurf or a Snork. Apparently, it was an indirect way to ask whether I was Sunni (Sanafir) or Shia (Shanakil).

“What???” I asked, half smiling. She laughed and asked me whether I prayed with my hands to my sides or folded against my stomach. I shrugged, not very interested and a little bit ashamed to admit that I still didn’t really know how to pray properly, at the tender age of 10.

Later that evening, I sat at my aunt’s house and remember to ask my mother whether we were Smurfs or Snorks. She gave me the same blank look I had given Amal. “Mama- do we pray like THIS or like THIS?!” I got up and did both prayer positions. My mother’s eyes cleared and she shook her head and rolled her eyes at my aunt, “Why are you asking? Who wants to know?” I explained how Amal, our Shanakil neighbor, had asked me earlier that day. “Well tell Amal we’re not Shanakil and we’re not Sanafir- we’re Muslims- there’s no difference.”

It was years later before I learned that half the family were Sanafir, and the other half were Shanakil, but nobody cared. We didn’t sit around during family reunions or family dinners and argue Sunni Islam or Shia Islam. The family didn’t care about how this cousin prayed with his hands at his side and that one prayed with her hands folded across her stomach. Many Iraqis of my generation have that attitude. We were brought up to believe that people who discriminated in any way- positively or negatively- based on sect or ethnicity were backward, uneducated and uncivilized.

The thing most worrisome about the situation now, is that discrimination based on sect has become so commonplace. For the average educated Iraqi in Baghdad, there is still scorn for all the Sunni/Shia talk. Sadly though, people are being pushed into claiming to be this or that because political parties are promoting it with every speech and every newspaper- the whole ‘us’ / ‘them’. We read constantly about how ‘We Sunnis should unite with our Shia brothers…’ or how ‘We Shia should forgive our Sunni brothers…’ (note how us Sunni and Shia sisters don’t really fit into either equation at this point). Politicians and religious figures seem to forget at the end of the day that we’re all simply Iraqis.

And what role are the occupiers playing in all of this? It’s very convenient for them, I believe. It’s all very good if Iraqis are abducting and killing each other- then they can be the neutral foreign party trying to promote peace and understanding between people who, up until the occupation, were very peaceful and understanding.

Three years after the war, and we’ve managed to move backwards in a visible way, and in a not so visible way.

In the last weeks alone, thousands have died in senseless violence and the American and Iraqi army bomb Samarra as I write this. The sad thing isn’t the air raid, which is one of hundreds of air raids we’ve seen in three years- it’s the resignation in the people. They sit in their homes in Samarra because there’s no where to go. Before, we’d get refugees in Baghdad and surrounding areas… Now, Baghdadis themselves are looking for ways out of the city… out of the country. The typical Iraqi dream has become to find some safe haven abroad.

Three years later and the nightmares of bombings and of shock and awe have evolved into another sort of nightmare. The difference between now and then was that three years ago, we were still worrying about material things- possessions, houses, cars, electricity, water, fuel… It’s difficult to define what worries us most now. Even the most cynical war critics couldn't imagine the country being this bad three years after the war... Allah yistur min il rab3a (God protect us from the fourth year).

The wrong answer for illegal immigration

Steve Chapman
The wrong answer for illegal immigration
Punitive laws won't fix America's border problems

Published March 19, 2006.
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

What would you do to move to another country? Most of us wouldn't do anything, because we don't want to leave. And most of those who profess a desire to emigrate, like Alec Baldwin, eventually conclude they can stand it here after all.

But even if I decided to move to Canada, it wouldn't take much to change my mind. If the government imposed a requirement that I root for the Toronto Blue Jays or listen to Shania Twain, I'd give up and go home.

America's illegal immigrants are not so easily discouraged. In recent years, tighter border enforcement has made it much harder for Mexicans to get into the United States. So they pay thousands of dollars to smugglers. They hike across sweltering, rattlesnake-infested deserts. They accept living in the shadows of society, without the same rights as everyone else. They endure long separations from their loved ones. They work for substandard wages.

You want to know how determined they are? Since 1986, the U.S. Border Patrol's budget has increased tenfold, and the number of agents has tripled. The costs and risks of sneaking into the country have gotten much higher than before. And yet the number of Mexicans coming to the U.S. illegally has not fallen--it has risen. No matter how many obstacles we erect, they keep climbing over them.

Everyone agrees that illegal immigration has gotten out of hand and needs to be addressed. President Bush has offered an initiative coupling greater border enforcement with a guest-worker program that will afford illegal immigrants already here a chance to stay legally, though temporarily. His plan rests on the sound premise that our economy depends on some 11 million foreigners who are not supposed to be here, and that we should offer them a way to come into compliance with the laws.

But in December, the House of Representatives passed a bill saying, "U.S. to Illegal Immigrants: Drop Dead." It contains all sorts of punitive measures--such as making it a felony for foreigners to be here without permission and making it a felony for anyone to knowingly help an illegal immigrant.

It also authorizes a new 700-mile-long fence on the Mexican border. It forces employers to check the Social Security numbers of new hires against a national database. But it does nothing for all the people in Mexico and elsewhere who would prefer to come here through legal channels.

There are three major problems with relying entirely on strict enforcement. The first is that if it actually forced these people to go home, a lot of jobs they do would not get done, to the detriment of our living standards and economic health.

That brings us to the second problem: Such enforcement is not sustainable. The measures envisioned are just too Draconian to bear. Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony has already urged civil disobedience if the House bill becomes law. One of his complaints is that it would subject church workers to prison terms of 5 years for something as innocent as giving an illegal immigrant a meal at a soup kitchen or a ride to the doctor.

If the past is any guide, there would also be consequences we don't foresee or want. When we cracked down on illegal immigrants in cities like El Paso, Texas, and San Diego, the effect was to divert people to dangerous, remote crossing points--and to reduce the chance that they would be caught. In the last decade, says Princeton University sociologist Douglas Massey, the probability of apprehension has dropped to 5 percent from 20 percent.

In addition, many illegal immigrants who used to come and go now come and stay. Why? Because tighter border checkpoints mean they'll have to take serious risks if they decide to return. Before 1986, when Congress upgraded enforcement, nearly half of illegal immigrants went home within a year. Today, only 25 percent do. Instead of getting fewer illegal immigrants, we got more.

The idea that we can get so tough that all the unauthorized foreigners will leave is a fantasy akin to thinking that if we banned alcohol, people would stop drinking. The central fact about this issue is that illegal immigrants want to be here more than most of us want to get rid of them--if we want to get rid of them at all. That's a reality many Americans may not like, but one we had better learn to deal with.


Saturday, March 18, 2006

George Bush's reality

George Bush's reality
By Charles Kaiser

Copyright by The Advocate, March 28, 2006

If you believe, as I do, that the modern gay liberation movement was made possible by the triumph of science over religion, the news from Washington could hardly be worse. There are at least seven new Centers for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives: in the White House, the departments of Labor, Commerce, Education, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, and the Veterans Administration. German diplomats are often startled when early morning meetings with American officials begin with prayer sessions. The president argues for equal time in high school for “intelligent design” and evolution. Since the rise of science over religion began when Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, it makes perfect sense that evolution is still the central issue for religious reactionaries.

Now even NASA scientists are being forced to kowtow to ideology over evidence. When a 24-year-old former Bush campaign worker named George Deutsch was installed in NASA’s public affairs office, he promptly tried to limit what climate scientist James Hansen could say in public about global warming. He also instructed Hansen to always use the word theory whenever he referred to the Big Bang as the origin of the universe.

Deutsch was fired after it was revealed that he had invented a college degree on his résumé, but Hansen told reporters the young politico was only a “bit player” in a much larger scenario. “The problem is much broader and much deeper, and it goes across agencies,” Hansen said. “On climate, the public has been misinformed and not informed.… That’s the big issue here.”

Unreasoning faith is at the heart of all of the Administration’s problems, beginning with Bush’s belief in the need for a “crusade” to bring democracy to Iraq. Bruce Bartlett is a Republican libertarian who has just published Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. This is how Bartlett explained the president’s problem to Ron Suskind in The New York Times Magazine: “This instinct he’s always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do. This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all.… He truly believes he’s on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence.’’

Suskind got additional confirmation of this point of view when a senior White House aide accused the reporter of being part of “what we call the reality-based community.’’ The aide explained that Suskind was one of those people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’’

“That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’’ the White House man continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”

That literally surreal attitude explains almost every excess of this administration—from a president who gives himself the right to spy on American citizens to a vice president who can shoot a man in the face and not see any reason to talk about what he’s done until four days later.

Trailer for 9/11 movie about mysteries of the Pentagon hit

Check this out! (Spanish) (several language options)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

How about a straight poll? by Jennifer Vanasco

How about a straight poll? Copyright by Jennifer Vanasco

Polls. People are always taking polls about what America thinks about same-sex marriage, or gay adoption, or gay and lesbian clergy. But have you noticed that no one seems to be asking gay people about what we think about heterosexual rights?

I mean, no one ever seems to question heterosexual existence, or ask why that screaming parent is allowed to have a child, or wonder whether the spectacularly high divorce rate among straight people may mean that they are simply not equipped to marry.

And that, my friends, is a wrong I plan to address right now.

I didn’t come up with this idea myself. I got it from a straight friend who threw down a newspaper in disgust after reading another Gallup poll that asked what (presumably straight) America thought about gay America.

“No one ever asks about whether I should have rights,” he said. “I just get them.”

Right on, brother. This is for you.

Straight men are heterosexual because:

a. They hate other men.

b. They hate their fathers.

c. They hate choosing their own clothes.

d. They never quite understood the power of musical theater.

Straight women are heterosexual because they:

a. Hate other women.

b. Had absent mothers.

c. Had absent fathers.

d. Have a psychological aversion to power tools.

Which of the following should be defined as examples of heterosexual flaunting?

a. Kissing in public.

b. Insisting on marriage.

c. Declaring that they should have special rights limited to heterosexuals only

d. Making films and television shows overwhelmingly about straight relationships

e. Holding hands in public

f. Bearing children

g. All of the above

Should heterosexuals be allowed to have sex without contraception? Consider the abortion rate, the 50-percent divorce rate, the number of memoirs of children of straight parents who complain about lousy childhoods. Discuss.

What do you think about heterosexual marriage?

a. Approve

b. Disapprove

c. Don’t care.

d. Heterosexuals are allowed to marry?

Should heterosexuals be able to marry without a Constitutional amendment explicitly granting them this right?

a. Yes

b. No

c. Only if it mandates that gay men plan the wedding.

If heterosexuals are forbidden to marry, should they be covered under inheritance laws and other laws that give preference to married people?

a. No

b. Yes

c. Only if this means I get Dad’s Porsche.

Which comes closest to your view?

a. Straight couples should be allowed to marry

b. Straight couples should be allowed to live together

c. Straight couples must first prove that they could never, ever be happy living in a long-term relationship with someone of the same sex before they’re allowed to experiment with their opposite-sex attraction?

Should known heterosexuals be allowed to work in gay workspaces?

a. Yes, if they hide their heterosexuality

b. Yes, if they wear a discreet rainbow flag on their lapel

c. No, unless they can dance

d. No, unless they are good at passing by showing evidence of a gay accent, lesbian adenoids or thorough knowledge of the history of gay figures in history and culture.

Pick the personality that best represents all heterosexuals:

a. Jeffery Skilling of Enron

b. Evil mastermind Karl Rove

c. Socialite Paris Hilton

d. Jerry Springer

e. The guy who ate those cockroaches on “Fear Factor.”

Well. We’ll probably never get a phone call from a pollster asking us these questions. But a girl can dream, can’t she?

Copyright by Jennifer Vanasco. Jennifer Vanasco is an award-winning, syndicated columnist based in Chicago. Email her at

Approval of Games sets up next step - Gays must get OK from 2 communities

Approval of Games sets up next step - Gays must get OK from 2 communities

By Jeff Long
Tribune staff reporter Copyright by The Chicago Tribune
Published March 9, 2006

Pleased with the permission granted late Tuesday by the Crystal Lake Park District to hold Gay Games rowing competition on the city's lake this summer, organizers turned their attention to approval still needed from two municipalities.

Tracy Baim, co-vice chairwoman of the Gay Games board, said Wednesday that formal application would be made to Crystal Lake and Lakewood as soon as possible.

She also pledged that organizers would spend the next four months trying to soothe any lingering concerns about the event.

The Crystal Lake City Council is tentatively scheduled to vote April 4 on restricting wakes on the lake so as not to disturb the racers, according to City Manager Gary Mayerhofer, who began talking to Gay Games officials Wednesday.

Lakewood officials must also approve the wake restriction before the July 16 rowing event can be held. But officials there are unsure about what else they might consider or when it will be discussed.

Scheduled to last between noon and 6 p.m. that Sunday, up to six boats will row side-by-side on a course up to 1,000 meters long--covering about two-thirds the length of the lake on the south side.

The races would not interfere with boaters elsewhere, except for the requested wake restriction. And Main Beach would remain open to the public, organizers said.

City officials in Crystal Lake are waiting their turn in what has become an emotional debate over morality and community acceptance. But Mayor Aaron Shepley said Wednesday that the council vote would be about wakes, not gay politics.

"The only thing that disappoints me is the kind of attention this has drawn upon us," Shepley said.

News reports have circulated around the world about the culture clash in Crystal Lake, a city of about 38,000 some 50 miles northwest of Chicago in McHenry County.

Lakewood, on the southwest side of the lake, is a community of about 3,400.

"It does not fairly reflect what our community stands for," Shepley said of what he called the vocal minority opposed to the event.

Baim said organizers would also request the closing of a portion of Lake Shore Drive in Crystal Lake before and after the regatta to get boats into and out of the lake.

Organizers also will ask the city to waive non-residential boating fees--$15--for the international competitors.

The rowing event of the weeklong Gay Games being held in Chicago was approved by the Park District board about 11:15 p.m. Tuesday in a 3-2 vote after more than three hours of sometimes-heated debate.

Board President Jerry Sullivan, absent for last week's 2-2 tie vote that originally defeated the Gay Games' request, cast the deciding vote.

Commissioners David Phelps and Scott Breeden again voted "no," and Candy Reedy and Michael Zellmann remained in favor.

"I have been threatened," Breeden said. "I have been called names I do not appreciate. To be called a homophobe and names just because I'm trying to represent the people who elected me, I feel uncomfortable."

"I was not elected to be park commissioner to the world," Phelps said. "I was elected to represent the people of Crystal Lake."

Held in the Park District's banquet hall, which seats 250 but couldn't accommodate the crowd, the Tuesday meeting began with Sullivan emphasizing that the vote was about whether the Gay Games event fit Park District guidelines.

But much of the public comment centered on community values, standards of decency and the potential for public lewdness. About 70 people spoke.

"I'm totally against it," said Crystal Lake resident Jeff Bebe. "I don't think it's good for anybody."

Lakewood resident Julie Billimack said she plans to take her children to the beach that day to watch the racers slice through Crystal Lake's spring-fed waters.

"It will definitely enhance the quality of life for us on that day," she said.

George Stasiak of Crystal Lake said the name "Gay Games" is offensive because no one should flaunt his or her sexuality in public.

On Wednesday, Baim said the name is not about sexuality.

"There's not a need for a `Heterosexual Games' because heterosexual people are not oppressed and killed for who they are and who they love," Baim said.


Approval of Games sets up next step - Gays must get OK from 2 communities

Approval of Games sets up next step - Gays must get OK from 2 communities

By Jeff Long
Tribune staff reporter Copyright by The Chicago Tribune
Published March 9, 2006

Pleased with the permission granted late Tuesday by the Crystal Lake Park District to hold Gay Games rowing competition on the city's lake this summer, organizers turned their attention to approval still needed from two municipalities.

Tracy Baim, co-vice chairwoman of the Gay Games board, said Wednesday that formal application would be made to Crystal Lake and Lakewood as soon as possible.

She also pledged that organizers would spend the next four months trying to soothe any lingering concerns about the event.

The Crystal Lake City Council is tentatively scheduled to vote April 4 on restricting wakes on the lake so as not to disturb the racers, according to City Manager Gary Mayerhofer, who began talking to Gay Games officials Wednesday.

Lakewood officials must also approve the wake restriction before the July 16 rowing event can be held. But officials there are unsure about what else they might consider or when it will be discussed.

Scheduled to last between noon and 6 p.m. that Sunday, up to six boats will row side-by-side on a course up to 1,000 meters long--covering about two-thirds the length of the lake on the south side.

The races would not interfere with boaters elsewhere, except for the requested wake restriction. And Main Beach would remain open to the public, organizers said.

City officials in Crystal Lake are waiting their turn in what has become an emotional debate over morality and community acceptance. But Mayor Aaron Shepley said Wednesday that the council vote would be about wakes, not gay politics.

"The only thing that disappoints me is the kind of attention this has drawn upon us," Shepley said.

News reports have circulated around the world about the culture clash in Crystal Lake, a city of about 38,000 some 50 miles northwest of Chicago in McHenry County.

Lakewood, on the southwest side of the lake, is a community of about 3,400.

"It does not fairly reflect what our community stands for," Shepley said of what he called the vocal minority opposed to the event.

Baim said organizers would also request the closing of a portion of Lake Shore Drive in Crystal Lake before and after the regatta to get boats into and out of the lake.

Organizers also will ask the city to waive non-residential boating fees--$15--for the international competitors.

The rowing event of the weeklong Gay Games being held in Chicago was approved by the Park District board about 11:15 p.m. Tuesday in a 3-2 vote after more than three hours of sometimes-heated debate.

Board President Jerry Sullivan, absent for last week's 2-2 tie vote that originally defeated the Gay Games' request, cast the deciding vote.

Commissioners David Phelps and Scott Breeden again voted "no," and Candy Reedy and Michael Zellmann remained in favor.

"I have been threatened," Breeden said. "I have been called names I do not appreciate. To be called a homophobe and names just because I'm trying to represent the people who elected me, I feel uncomfortable."

"I was not elected to be park commissioner to the world," Phelps said. "I was elected to represent the people of Crystal Lake."

Held in the Park District's banquet hall, which seats 250 but couldn't accommodate the crowd, the Tuesday meeting began with Sullivan emphasizing that the vote was about whether the Gay Games event fit Park District guidelines.

But much of the public comment centered on community values, standards of decency and the potential for public lewdness. About 70 people spoke.

"I'm totally against it," said Crystal Lake resident Jeff Bebe. "I don't think it's good for anybody."

Lakewood resident Julie Billimack said she plans to take her children to the beach that day to watch the racers slice through Crystal Lake's spring-fed waters.

"It will definitely enhance the quality of life for us on that day," she said.

George Stasiak of Crystal Lake said the name "Gay Games" is offensive because no one should flaunt his or her sexuality in public.

On Wednesday, Baim said the name is not about sexuality.

"There's not a need for a `Heterosexual Games' because heterosexual people are not oppressed and killed for who they are and who they love," Baim said.


Trouble in South Dakota by Molly Ivins

Trouble in South Dakota
You just can't trust the women there to make important decisions

Molly Ivins, Copyright by Creators Syndicate
Published March 9, 2006

AUSTIN, Texas -- South Dakota is so rarely found on the leading edge of the far out, the wiggy, the California-esque. But it has now staked its claim. First to Outlaw Abortion This Century. The state legislature of South Dakota, in all its wisdom and majesty, a legislature made up of sons and daughters of the soil from Aberdeen to Zell, has usurped the right of the women of that state to decide whether to bear the child of an unwanted pregnancy. They will decide. Women will do what they decide.

These towering solons, representing citizens from the great cosmopolitan centers of Rapid City and Sioux Falls to the bosky dells near Yankton, are noted for their sagacity and understanding. When you think "enlightenment," the first thing that comes to your mind is "the South Dakota Legislature," right?

As well it might. The purpose of the law is to force a decision from the United States Supreme Court, where the appointments of John Roberts Jr. and Samuel Alito Jr. have now shored up the anti-choice forces.

The South Dakota Legislature has made it a crime for a doctor to perform an abortion under any circumstances except to save the life of the mother. There are no exceptions for rape, incest or to preserve the health of the mother. Should this strike you as hard cheese, state Sen. Bill Napoli (R-Rapid City) explains how rape and incest could be exceptions under the "life" clause. Napoli believes most abortions are performed for "convenience," but he told "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" about how he thinks a "real-life example" of the exception could be invoked:

"A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life."

Please stop and reread the paragraph above. See? Clearly Napoli's exception would not apply to the South Dakota woman also interviewed by "NewsHour." "Michelle" is in her 20s, has a low-paying job and two children. And says she simply cannot afford a third. She drove five hours to the state's only abortion clinic.

"It was difficult when I found out I was pregnant. I was saddened because I knew that I'd probably have to make this decision. Like I said, I have two children, so I look into their eyes and I love them. It's been difficult, you know, it's not easy. And I don't think it's, you know, ever easy on a woman, but we need that choice."

But who is she to make that choice when Napoli can make it for her? He explains: "When I was growing up here in the Wild West, if a young man got a girl pregnant out of wedlock, they got married, and the whole darned neighborhood was involved in that wedding. I mean, you just didn't allow that sort of thing to happen, you know? I mean, they wanted that child to be brought up in a home with two parents, you know, that whole story. And so I happen to believe that can happen again. ... I don't think we're so far beyond that, that we can't go back to that."

I find this so profound I am considering putting Napoli in charge of all moral, ethical and medical decisions made by women. Certainly lucky for the women of South Dakota that he's there, and perhaps that's what we all need--a man to make decisions for us in case we should decide to do something serious just for our own convenience.

Look at some of the incompetent women we have running around in this country: Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright, now there are a couple of girls in need of guidance from the South Dakota Legislature. Female doctors, lawyers, airplane pilots, engineers and, for that matter, female members of the South Dakota Legislature--who could ever trust them with an important decision?

In South Dakota, pharmacists can refuse to fill a prescription for contraceptives should it trouble their conscience, and some groups who worked on the anti-abortion bill believe contraception also needs to be outlawed. Good plan. After that, we'll reconsider women's property rights, civil rights and voting rights.

For years, the women's movement has been going around asking, "Who decides?" as though that were the issue. Well, here's the answer. Bill Napoli decides, and if you're not happy with that arrangement, well, you'd better be prepared to do something about it.


Molly Ivins is a syndicated columnist based in Austin, Texas. E-mail:

Dublin archdiocese says 102 priests suspected of abuse

Dublin archdiocese says 102 priests suspected of abuse

By Shawn Pogatchnik
Associated Press
Published March 9, 2006
Copyright © 2006 by the Associated Press

DUBLIN -- Rocked for a decade by sex scandals, the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland on Wednesday made its biggest admission yet: 102 of its Dublin priests past and present, or 3.6 percent of the total, are suspected of abusing children.

The disclosure precedes by a week the launching of a government investigation into how church and state authorities conspired to cover up decades of child abuse within the Dublin priesthood.

"It's very frightening for me to see that in some of these cases, so many children were abused. It's very hard to weigh that up against anything," said Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, a Vatican diplomat assigned to Dublin in 2003 to address the problem in Ireland's largest Catholic congregation.

Since his appointment, the archdiocese, which is home to more than 1 million Catholics, has been going over the personnel records of more than 2,800 priests who have worked in Dublin since 1940.

The conclusion: 102 are suspected of abusing children, 32 have been sued, and 8 have been convicted of criminal offenses.

The archdiocese already has paid $7 million, including $2 million in both sides' legal bills. Martin says the archdiocese probably will have to begin selling property to meet impending bills for 40 unresolved lawsuits and potential claims from hundreds more.

The government investigation, expected to run for at least 18 months, follows a similar inquiry into clerical abuse in the southeast diocese of Ferns. When the earlier report was published in October, it exposed a catalog of abuse, including a priest who molested a group of first communion girls on the altar but was never punished.

While the church has been on the legal and moral defensive in the United States in recent years, the sense of uproar and disillusionment has been more profound in Ireland, a predominantly Catholic country that once exported priests worldwide. Here, church and state were intertwined until the 1970s, a breakup being accelerated by the abuse fallout.

The first major scandal, in 1994, involved the government's failure to extradite a notorious pedophile priest to the neighboring British territory of Northern Ireland. The government of the day collapsed over it.

In 2001, Prime Minister Bertie Ahern apologized for state agencies' role in prolonging children's suffering and injustice and established a compensation-paying panel that exposed the taxpayer, rather than the church, to most of the bill for victims abused in orphanages, workhouses and other Catholic-run institutions.

Wednesday's report said Dublin church officials had positively identified at least 350 abuse victims and "a possible further 40 persons who may have been abused but who it is not yet possible to identify or trace."

New York Times Editorial - The Death of the Intelligence Panel

New York Times Editorial - The Death of the Intelligence Panel

Published: March 9, 2006. Copyright by The New York Times

The wrenching debate in the 1970's over the abuse of presidential power produced two groundbreaking reforms aimed at preventing a president from using war or broader claims of national security to trample Americans' rights.

One was the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which struck the proper balance between national security and bedrock civil liberties, and the other was the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, a symbol of bipartisan leadership. They endured for a quarter of a century — until George W. Bush and Dick Cheney left FISA in tatters and the Senate Select Committee on its deathbed in just five years.

The Senate panel has become so paralyzingly partisan that it could not even manage to do its basic job this week and look into President Bush's warrantless spying on Americans' international e-mail and phone calls. Senator Pat Roberts, the chairman, said Tuesday that there would be no investigation. Instead, the committee's Republicans voted to create a subcommittee that is supposed to get reports from the White House on any future warrantless surveillance.

It's breathtakingly cynical. Faced with a president who is almost certainly breaking the law, the Senate sets up a panel to watch him do it and calls that control. This new Senate plan is being presented as a way to increase the supervision of intelligence gathering while giving the spies needed flexibility. But it does no such thing.

The Republicans' idea of supervision involves saying the White House should get a warrant for spying whenever possible. Currently a warrant is needed, period. And that's the right law. The White House has not offered a scrap of evidence that it interferes with antiterrorist operations. Mr. Bush simply decided the law did not apply to him.

It was no surprise that Mr. Roberts led this retreat. He's been blocking an investigation into the domestic spying operation for weeks, just as he has been stonewalling a promised investigation into how the White House hyped the intelligence on Iraq. But it was disappointing to see a principled Republican like Senator Olympia Snowe go along. The Democrats are not blameless, either. Too often, their positions seem like campaign tactics, and Senator John Rockefeller IV fumbled by not consulting Ms. Snowe, who is up for re-election and under intense White House pressure.

But the Republicans deserve the lion's share of the blame. It was Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney who hyped the intelligence on Iraq — and the Senate Republicans who helped them evade accountability. And it was Mr. Bush who approved the warrantless wiretapping, which is part of Mr. Cheney's crusade to expand presidential powers. (Unlike the rest of us, Mr. Cheney thought the lesson of Watergate was that the president was not strong enough.)

Ms. Snowe said she would still support an investigation if the new panel uncovered more wrongdoing. But that's hardly likely to happen because the Republicans on the panel are Mr. Roberts, Orrin Hatch, Mike DeWine and Christopher Bond, who march in lock step with the White House.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is still looking into the wiretapping. That committee should have plenty of incentive to go forward — its chairman, Senator Arlen Specter, was righteously angry when he received a letter in which Attorney General Alberto Gonzales implied that there was more warrantless spying we don't know about. Mr. Gonzales won't even say that Mr. Bush understands it is blatantly illegal to spy on communications within the United States without a warrant. Nevertheless, there's not much cause for hope: Mr. Specter has a sad habit of bowing to the right wing when the chips are down.

There are moments when leaders simply have to take a stand. It seems to us that one of them is when Americans are in danger of the kind of unchecked surveillance that they thought had died with J. Edgar Hoover, Watergate and spying on Vietnam protesters and civil rights leaders.

Equality Illinois Political Action Committee 2006 Primary Endorsements

Equality Illinois Political Action Committee
2006 Primary Endorsements

From Our Community

Tom Chiola for Judge Vote YES to retain
Larry McKeon for State Rep 13th District, Mark #21
Mike McHale for Cook County Judge Mark #72
Mary Colleen Roberts for Judge 11th Sub-Circuit, Mark #90
Debra Shore for MWRD Mark #43

Constitutional Officers

Democratic Ballot
Rod Blagojevich Governor
Jesse White Secretary of State
Lisa Madigan Attorney General
Paul Mangieri OR Treasurer
Alexi Giannoulias Treasurer
Dan Hynes Comptroller

Republican Ballot
DO NOT VOTE for Oberweis Governor
Dan Rutherford Secretary of State
Christine Radogno Treasurer

Illinois Senate

Antonio “Tony” Munoz First District

Mattie Hunter Third District

Kimberly Lightford Fourth District

John Cullerton Sixth District

Carol Ronen Seventh District

Jeffrey Schoenberg Ninth District

Martin Sandoval Twelfth District

Kwame Raoul Thirteenth District

Jacqueline Collins Sixteenth District

Maggie Crotty Nineteenth District

Terry Link Thirtieth District

Don Harmon Thirty-Ninth District

Debbie DeFrancesco Halvorson Fortieth District

Illinois House of Representatives

Susana Mendoza First District

Edward Acevedo Second District

Willie Delgado Third District

Cynthia Soto Fourth District

Karen Yarbrough Seventh District

Calvin Giles Eighth District

Arthur Turner Ninth District

Annazette Collins Tenth District

John Fritchey Eleventh District

Sara Feigehnoltz Twelfth District

Larry McKeon Thirteenth District

Harry Osterman Fourteenth District

Lou Lang Sixteenth District

Elizabeth Coulson Seventeenth District

Julie Hamos Eighteenth District

Joseph Lyons Nineteenth District

Robert Molaro Twenty-Fist District

Michael Madigan Twenty-Second District

Daniel Burke Twenty-Third District

Barbara Flynn Currie Twenty-Fifth District

Lovana Jones Twenty Sixth District

Monique Davis Twenty Seventh District

David Miller Twenty-Ninth District

Will Davis Thirtieth District

Marlow Colvin Thirty-Third District

Constance Howard Thirty-fourth District

Kevin Joyce Thirty-Fifth District

James Brosnahan Thirty-Sixth District

Robin Kelly Thirty-Eighth District

Maria Antonia Berrios Thirty-Ninth District

Richard Bradley Fortieth District

Sandra Pihos Forty-Second District

Patricia Reid Lindner Fiftieth District

Mark Beaubien Fifty-Second District

Sidney Mathias Fifty-Third District

Suzi Bassi Fifty-Fourth District

Elaine Nekritz Fifty-Seventh District

Karen May Fifty-Eighth District

Kathleen Ryg Fifty-Ninth District

Eddie Washington Sixtieth District

Charles Jefferson Sixty-Seventh District

Mike Boland Seventy-First District

Deborah Graham Seventy-Eighth District

George Scully Eightieth District

Linda Chapa LaVia Eighty-Third

Michael Smith Ninety-First District

Naomi Jakobsson One-Hundred Third District

Wyvetter Younge One-hundred Fourteenth District

Financial Times Editorial - US migrant headache

Financial Times Editorial - US migrant headache
Published: March 9 2006 02:00 | Last updated: March 9 2006 02:00. Copyright by the Financial Times

The US Congress is in a twitchy mood. Unless something drastic happens it is likely on security grounds to legislate to deny Dubai Ports World permission to operate container terminals at five US ports. Since the planned move is motivated by concern over the company's Arab ownership, it would send a powerful signal that America is prepared to override its commitment to an open economy when that principle clashes with popular sentiment.

A large chunk of public opinion is also behind a series of proposals before Capitol Hill that would send an even more protectionist signal by imposing draconian controls on illegal immigrants. Yesterday the US Senate's judiciary committee began writing legislation that would crack down on the country's estimated 11m illegal immigrants but offer new ways for them to work legally in the US.

It follows the passage in December of a far harsher bill in the House of Representatives that focused on tightening enforcement measures to deter illegal immigrants and banish existing ones. That bill, which must still be reconciled with whatever the Senate produces, ignored President George W. Bush's proposal to create a guest worker visa for unskilled immigrants that would match the H1B visa for skilled workers. It also provided for a large expansion in detention centres, border patrol forces and punitive measures against employers with illegal immigrants on their payrolls.

Much of the momentum behind the anti-immigrant backlash stems from very legitimate concerns about terrorist infiltration into the US highlighted by September 11 2001. But building a fence along America's 2,000-mile border with Mexico - as some Congressmen are suggesting - would do little or nothing to reduce that threat. As with the plan to shut out Dubai, such a move would visit unnecessary damage on the US economy, in which sectors such as services, agriculture, food processing and construction rely on the labour provided by illegal immigrants.

More than 400,000 illegal immigrants enter the US each year and most of them find employers who connive in the process by accepting easily forged documents as proof of identity. Clearly it would be preferable for the US to adopt a system that gave legitimacy to this annual labour flow and which also protected the rights of these workers.

Unrealistic as it might seem in the existing climate, it would make sense to give illegals an incentive to exit the underground economy by offering the possibility of eventual US citizenship - as has been proposed by senators Ted Kennedy and John McCain. Congress is right to explore new ways to tackle illegal immigration because the existing system is unenforceable. But a cure that expelled hundreds of thousands of people, incarcerated thousands of new ones and imposed an expensive compliance cost on US businesses would be far worse than the disease.

New York Times Editorial - The Farmer at Guantánamo

The Farmer at Guantánamo

Copyright by The New York Times


This has been our nightmare since the Bush administration began stashing prisoners it did not want to account for in Guantánamo Bay: An ordinary man with a name something like a Taliban bigwig's is swept up in the dragnet and imprisoned without any hope of proving his innocence.

A case of mistaken identity's turning an innocent person into a prisoner-for-life was supposed to be impossible. President George W. Bush told Americans to trust in his judgment after he arrogated the right to arrest anyone, anywhere in the world, and toss people into indefinite detention. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld infamously proclaimed that the men at Guantánamo were "the worst of the worst."

But it has long been evident that this was nonsense, and a lawsuit by The Associated Press has now demonstrated the truth in shameful detail. The suit compelled the release of records from hearings for some of the 760 or so men who have been imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay. (About 490 are still there.) Far too many show no signs of being a threat to American national security. Some, it appears, did nothing at all. And they have no way to get a fair hearing because Gitmo was created outside the law.

Take the case of Abdur Sayed Rahman, as recounted in The New York Times on Monday. The transcripts quote Rahman as saying he was arrested in his Pakistani village in January 2002, flown to Afghanistan, accused of being the Taliban's deputy foreign minister and then thrown into a cell in Guantánamo Bay. "I am only a chicken farmer in Pakistan," he said, adding that the Taliban official was named Abdur Zahid Rahman.

Other cases included prisoners who owned a particular kind of cheap watch supposedly favored by Al Qaeda. An Afghan was accused of being the former Taliban governor of a province and subjected to a pretzel logic that would make Joseph Heller cringe. He said he was a different person entirely and asked the tribunal to contact the current governor and verify his story. The presiding officer refused, saying it was up to the prisoner to produce the evidence. The incarcerated Afghan then pointed out that he was being held virtually incommunicado in a U.S. prison in a remote corner of Cuba and not allowed to make calls. The presiding officer assured the prisoner that he would have plenty of time to write a letter - during the year of continued detention before his case might be reviewed again.

Some of the prisoners proudly proclaimed their allegiance to the Taliban or Al Qaeda. But far too many seemed to be innocents or lowly foot soldiers simply caught up in the whirlwind after 9/11.

Because Bush does not recognize that American law or international treaties apply to his decisions as commander in chief, these prisoners were initially not given hearings. The transcripts are from proceedings that were begun under a court order. They started years after the prisoners were originally captured - a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions. And they were conducted under rules that mock any notion of democratic justice.

Prisoners do not see the evidence against them and barely have access to legal counsel. Now, thanks to a horrible law sponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham, a Republican, and Carl Levin, a Democrat, they have virtually no right of appeal. The law even permits the use of evidence obtained by torture.

If the stories of the chicken farmer and the men with the wrong watches are new, the broad outlines of this disaster have long been visible. It is shocking in itself, and in the fact that average citizens have not risen up to demand that these abuses come to an end.

The founding fathers knew that when you dispensed with the rule of law, the inevitable outcome was injustice. Now America is becoming the thing they sought to end.

Vermont Towns Vote to Impeach (President Bush)

Vermont Towns Vote to Impeach -- Copyright by The Nation

A single Vermont community's call for the impeachment of President Bush turned into a chorus Tuesday night, with town meetings across southern Vermont echoing the demand that Congress act to remove the president.

Voters in the town of Newfane, where the movement began, endorsed impeachment by a resounding margin. The paper ballot vote was 121-29 for a slightly amended version of the resolution that had been submitted by Dan DeWalt, an elected member of the town's select board. DeWalt's initial resolution declared:

Whereas George W. Bush has:

1. Misled the nation about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction;

2. Misled the nation about ties between Iraq and Al Quaeda;

3. Used these falsehoods to lead our nation into war unsupported by international law;

4. Not told the truth about American policy with respect to the use of torture; and

5. Has directed the government to engage in domestic spying, in direct contravention of U.S. law.

Therefore, the voters of the town of Newfane ask that our representative to the U.S. House of Representatives file articles of impeachment to remove him from office.

The key amendment involved the addition of a call for the Vermont House and Senate to take up the issue. Though it is a little-known and even less-used power, state legislatures can officially forward impeachment resolutions to Congress.

The Newfane vote was expected. The surprise on Tuesday night came from neighboring communities where, inspired by Newfane's example, citizens demanded that their town meetings address the issue. At least four other Vermont towns -- Brookfield, Dummerston, Marlboro and Putney – voted for impeachment resolutions Tuesday night. Most of the additional resolutions passed by voice votes, but in Marlboro a show of hands produced a 60-10 vote for impeachment.

DeWalt, the Newfane official who started the process when he drafted an impeachment article and placed it on the official agenda for the annual town meeting, celebrated the grassroots revolt against George Bush and his administration as a healthy sign that democracy is still alive – at least in Vermont.

"In the U.S. presently there are only a few places where citizens can act in this fashion and have a say in our nation,'' explained DeWalt.

U.S. Representative Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who has been a fierce critic of the Bush administration, responded to the call from the towns with an acknowledgement that Bush "has been a disaster for our country, and a number of actions that he has taken may very well not have been legal." Yet, despite the fact that more than two dozen House members have cosponsored a resolution calling for the establishment of a select committee that would make recommendations regarding impeachment, Sanders said that Republican control of the House and Senate makes it "impractical to talk about impeachment" at this point.

Vermont Republicans and conservative commentators were dismissive, suggesting that town meetings ought to focus on local issues rather than attempts to check and balance executive excess.

But Newfane's DeWalt said impeachment was an appropriate item for town meeting consideration. While he noted that the resolution cited a number of issues, the select board member used the example of the continuing occupation of Iraq. "The war affects us here in Newfane," he said. "It affects us when our mothers and fathers and sons and daughters are sent off to war, and it affects us in our tax dollars to pay for that war."

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Short view By Philip Coggan - Financial Times

Short view
By Philip Coggan
Published: March 8 2006 02:00 | Last updated: March 8 2006 02:00. Copyright by The Financial Times

The US Treasury bond market has been under pressure. The yield on 10-year bonds rose to 4.805 per cent yesterday, the highest since June 2004, before falling. As a result, the inversion of the yield curve, when short rates are higher than long rates, has almost disappeared.

There are a number of potential reasons for the sell-off. One could be the perception that the US economy is strengthening. After a weak fourth quarter in 2005, output growth is expected to be an annualised 5-6 per cent in the first three months of this year. William Poole, St Louis Federal Reserve president, said on Monday that the economy has a "great deal of momentum", leading to expectations that the Fed will keep raising rates.

But this view does not square with widespread expectations that the US economy will weaken in the second half of the year, under the burden of a slowing housing market. Nor does it square with the weaker trend in US profit forecasts.

Another possibility is that the markets have become concerned about inflation, either because commodity pricerises will be passed on to consumers or central banks are running too lax monetary policies.

But if inflation is the concern, that does not explain why Monday's bond sell-off was accompanied by a fall in gold, a traditional inflation hedge. There has been little sign of increasing price pressures in the core inflation measures.

Nor is the "carry trade" the likely explanation. Speculators have been borrowing low-yielding yen to invest in higher-yielding assets or in fast-appreciating markets. They normally cut those positions on days when the yen rises, but the currency fell on Monday.

Perhaps the most likely answer is that US bond markets are driven by those in Japan. Joachim Fels of Morgan Stanley says the sell-off has been driven "by changing expectations about European and Japanese monetary policies, rather than a changing Fed outlook".

"This supports the idea of globalised bond markets, where foreign investors become major factors in each national market," he says. In short, higher yields elsewhere have driven investors to demand more from the US market.

Financial Times Editorial - America's looming fiscal iceberg

America's looming fiscal iceberg
Published: March 8 2006 02:00 | Last updated: March 8 2006 02:00. Copyright Financial Times

Since the time of Ronald Reagan it has been a habit of US presidents to request a budget line item veto to curtail spending put there for the benefit of special interests. This week George W. Bush revived the tradition that had been struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court during Bill Clinton's second term. But even if Mr Bush's proposal were to get round the courts, and through Congress, it would do almost nothing to address America's looming fiscal nightmare. In the five years that he had use of the measure Mr Clinton deleted only $2bn (£1.15bn) worth of spending. This year's budget deficit is forecast to exceed $400bn.

On purely political grounds, it makes sense for Mr Bush to be seen to attack pork barrel spending. The forthcoming trial of Jack Abramoff, the K Street lobbyist with close ties to the Republicans, will intensify public mistrust of Mr Bush's party in the build-up to the mid-term Congressional elections in November. Aware of its near rock-bottom credibility with the American public, the Republican-dominated Congress is holding hearings on ways to restrict the influence of lobbyists on the Hill.

Parallel to this, John McCain, the Republican senator, has submitted a bill that would cut back on the epidemic of earmarking, in which Congressmen insert irrelevant measures into broader spending bills designed to benefit constituents or preferred lobby groups. Last year earmarking added almost $50bn on to Congressional appropriations, most notoriously in the highways bill, which squandered billions of dollars on bridges that led nowhere and other frivolities. Yet even if - as this newspaper hopes - Mr McCain's bill were to succeed, it would not do much to assuage America's growing fiscal headache.

Bush officials point out he has submitted other ideas to restore "fiscal sanity". Of these, a proposal that would mandate Congress to pay for any spending increases with offsetting spending cuts or tax rises is the most notable. But Mr Bush's "paygo" mechanism is asymmetric since it does not mandate any equivalent action to offset the cost of tax cuts. Again, it is hard to avoid the suspicion that Mr Bush's real intention is political rather than fiscal.

In its defence, the administration also highlights the latest budget estimates by the Congressional Budget Office, which project America's fiscal deficit falling to 1 per cent of gross domestic product within five years from 2.8 per cent in the current fiscal year. But the CBO's figures are based on the premise Congress will choose not to make Mr Bush's tax cuts permanent when most of them expire in 2010 and that spending on Iraq, homeland security and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will remain constant. None of these assumptions is realistic. But even if they proved correct, they are still dwarfed by America's approaching crunch on healthcare and other entitlement programmes.

In just two years from now the baby boom generation will start to retire. Halfway through the term of Mr Bush's successor, the Social Security fund will start to decline. From then on the funding gap will get progressively worse, raising social security spending from 4.2 per cent of outlays in 2006 to 6 per cent by 2030. The outlook for Medicare and Medicaid is even gloomier.

Mr Bush lacks a credible strategy on any of these fronts. Restoring the budget line item veto looks like diversionary tactics - not so much shifting deckchairs on the Titanic as tap dancing to entertain its passengers.

Humor - Religion

The Missing Cock

The priest in a small Irish village loved the cock and ten hens he kept in the hen house behind the church. But one Saturday night the cock went missing! The priest knew that cock fights happened in the village so he started to question his parishioners in church the next morning. During Mass, he asked the congregation, "Has anybody got a cock?" All the men stood up.

No, no," he said, "that wasn't what I meant. Has anybody seen a cock?" All the women stood up. No, no," he said, "that wasn't what I meant. Has anybody seen a cock that doesn't belong to them?"

Half the women stood up.

No, no," he said, "that wasn't what I meant. Has anybody seen MY cock?" All the nuns, three altar boys, two priests and a goat stood up.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Humor - Politics

A little boy goes to his dad and asks, "What are Politics?"

Dad says, "Well son, let me try to explain it this way:

#1. I'm the head of the family, so call me The President.
#2. Your mother is the administrator of the money, so we call
her the Government.
#3. We're here to take care of your needs, so we'll call you the People.
#4. The nanny, we'll consider her the Working Class.
#5. And your baby brother, we'll call him the Future.

"Now, think about that and see if it makes sense."

So, the little boy goes off to bed thinking about what Dad has said.

Later that night, he hears his baby brother crying, so he gets up to check on him. He finds that the baby has severely soiled his diaper. So, the little boy goes to his parent's room and finds his mother sound asleep. Not wanting to wake her, he goes to the nanny's room.

Finding the door locked, he looks in the peephole and finds his father in bed with the Nanny. He gives up and goes back to bed.

The next morning, the little boy says to his father, "Dad, I think I understand the concept of politics now."

The father says, "Good, son, tell me in your own words what you think politics is all about."

The little boy replies:

"The President is screwing the Working Class, while the Government is sound asleep. The People are being ignored and the Future is in deep shit."

The AIDS Legal Council of Chicago Oppose HB 4306 Mandatory HIV testing of Newborn Babies

The AIDS Legal Council of Chicago Oppose HB 4306 Mandatory HIV testing of Newborn Babies

HB 4306 is unnecessary and may make the lives of some women and babies worse

WE DON’T NEED HB 4306! The 2003 Perinatal HIV Prevention Act makes Illinois one of the
nation’s leaders in perinatal HIV prevention

We already have routine testing in Illinois. The Perinatal HIV Prevention Act already mandates Counseling and voluntary testing of pregnant women during pre-natal care and during labor and delivery; Routine HIV testing of a newborn infant if the mother’s HIV status is not known.

And it’s working!
• Illinois has seen an increase of 20% in the number of pregnant women getting counseling and HIV testing -- for a total of 98% of all pregnant women in the state!
• Mandatory Testing will not test more mothers and infants. In New York, the only state in the union to have mandatory testing of newborns, 900 infants a year miss being tested.

Although 98% of women will chose voluntary testing, the 2% who refuse HIV testing may have valid reasons to do so because HIV stigma and discrimination are real.

Mandatory testing may put some women and children in harm’s way. Research has shown that up to 20% of women report acts of violence against them when their partners learn of their HIV status. Any father will have access to the newborn’s records and thus the mother’s status. Our experience tells us that supportive resources such as housing are frequently withdrawn by family members when they discover their sister, child, grandchild, niece, aunt or girlfriend, is HIV+.

The results of newborn rapid HIV tests may be wrong as often 50% of the time, resulting in increased violence and discrimination against HIV negative, as well as HIV positive, women.
Rapid HIV tests are only screening tests. In populations with low incidences of HIV (including rural and southern Illinois), half the women who test positive on a rapid test may be HIV negative.

An HIV diagnosis may trigger post-partum depression.
HIV diagnosis is often overwhelming for patients. Research shows that co-occurrence of depression and HIV among women occurs up to 50%. If women are not ready to learn their status, the moment of childbirth maybe the worst moment to put them at risk for depression and could result in less optimal care for the infant. Depression also has a high correlation with mortality in HIV/AIDS patients.

Mandatory testing may decrease women’s participation in health care. Forcing doctors to test regardless of the patients’ wishes or risks is a recipe for bad health care.

The AIDS Legal Council of Chicago, founded in 1987, is the only agency in Illinois devoted solely to
protecting the legal rights of people with HIV. For information, contact Ann Fisher at 312-427-8990.

Chicago Tribune Editorial - South Dakota's abortion error

South Dakota's abortion error
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Published March 7, 2006

In signing a bill Monday virtually banning abortion, South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds has created an unworkable law--and almost certainly damaged the anti-abortion cause.

The impetus for this bill was the arrival of John Roberts and Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court. Both are thought to be skeptical, at least, of the court's decisions creating a constitutional right to abortion. But even if we assume they are open to scrapping the 1973 Roe vs. Wade verdict, the South Dakota law is clearly doomed.
In the first place, the court very rarely repudiates a major precedent merely because of a change in personnel. In addition, five of the nine justices are on record supporting that decision. About the best anti-abortion groups can hope for is to lose 5-4 instead of 6-3.

And even that is far from certain. As conservatives, Roberts and Alito have stressed that they will not lightly overturn venerable precedents. Forced to confront the issue so early in their tenure, the court could end up reaffirming Roe by an even bigger margin than before--effectively settling the question for another 30 years.

The other problem is that while a majority of the people in South Dakota may favor a ban, a clientele for abortion still exists. The state's only abortion clinic serves 800 patients a year. If those women could not get an abortion in South Dakota, odds are good they would travel to a neighboring state to get it. Or they might obtain illegal abortions, with the attendant risks.
As Prohibition proved, a mere law can't make people abandon something they value. Changing behavior requires changing basic attitudes--to eliminate not just the availability of abortion, but also the demand for it.

Though the activists on both sides of this debate get most of the attention, many people favor the goal often stated by President Bill Clinton, which was to make abortion "safe, legal and rare." The anti-abortion movement has had some successes in recent years, notably on "partial-birth" abortion and parental notification laws. But it has not been able to convert widespread ambivalence about abortion into firm opposition.

What South Dakota lawmakers have approved may shake some people out of ambivalence, but not in the direction the lawmakers favor. The ban allows no exceptions for rape, incest or serious dangers to the mother's health. Only when the mother's life is at risk would it be allowed. Faced with this ban, voters on the fence are more likely to be pushed toward the abortion-rights camp than pulled away from it.

Roe vs. Wade was a legally dubious decision that deprived the states of the power to make policy on abortion and caused a lasting polarization of the debate. What the South Dakota legislature has approved, however, does not promise to change that state of affairs.

U.S. faces latest trouble with Iraqi forces: Loyalty

U.S. faces latest trouble with Iraqi forces: Loyalty

By Edward Wong Copyright by The New York Times


BAGHDAD For much of the war in Iraq, U.S. military commanders have said their most important mission here was to prepare Iraqi security forces to take over the fight against the Sunni- led insurgency. But with the threat of full-scale sectarian strife looming larger, they are suddenly grappling with the possibility that they have been arming one side in a prospective civil war.

Now, they are making it a central goal to weed out ethnic or religious loyalties from the Iraqi forces, particularly in the police, which is controlled at the highest levels by Iranian-backed religious Shiite parties. Militiamen loyal to conservative clerics have flooded the police ranks in Baghdad and the south, and reports of uniformed death squads have risen sharply in the past year.

The U.S. military risks alienating religious Shiite leaders with its efforts, but could win some favor among recalcitrant Sunni Arabs, further drawing them into the political process. It is trying an array of possible solutions, including affirmative action programs for Sunni Arabs in police academies, firing Shiite police commanders who appear to tolerate militias and deploying 200 training teams composed of Americans who had been police officers or military policemen to Iraqi police stations around the country, even in remote and risky locations.

For example, U.S. commanders say they have ensured that a new academy class of 1,200 paramilitary recruits is virtually all Sunni, to shift from Shiite dominance. Recently, U.S. advisers in Baghdad had a Sunni replace a Shiite paramilitary commander who appeared to tolerate Shiite militiamen. The new commander purged the ranks. Now, Shiite officers in that unit no longer openly display stickers of Moktada al-Sadr, the radical cleric, on their guns or cars, the U.S. advisers say.
Several of the initiatives, like the overhauling of the sectarian makeup of some academy classes, have been going on for months but are now being done on a larger scale. Others, such as the deployment of the new police training teams, are just getting started on any significant level.

There is no quick fix, senior military officials acknowledge: Besides resistance from Shiite politicians, cleansing the police forces could take years because sectarian loyalties have become so entrenched and because police officers are rooted in their communities.

The police came under harsh criticism during the violence following the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra on Feb. 22. In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, as mobs led by Shiite militiamen attacked dozens of Sunni mosques and left hundreds dead, many police units stood aside out of confusion or sectarian loyalties, according to Iraqi witnesses. Iraqi security forces asserted their presence only after clerics called for calm.

General George Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said Friday that police officers allowed militiamen through checkpoints in eastern Baghdad, where much of the violence occurred.

The Iraqi Army poses less of a problem than the police, because the U.S. military has direct operational control over it and because the Americans took more care in building it up.

The military's efforts to revamp the police are taking place alongside a strong push by the U.S. ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, to get Iraqi politicians who are forming the new government to appoint a nonsectarian figure as head of the Interior Ministry, which controls the police.

"When you're forming a government, you can't form it with any kind of sectarian element," said Major General J.D. Thurman, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, charged with controlling Baghdad. "That's got to be put aside, particularly with military forces."

Officials at the most powerful Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or Sciri, which oversees the Interior Ministry, have sharply lashed out at the Americans, arguing that the majority Shiites have the right to control security because Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated government used security forces to abduct, torture and kill Shiites on a mass scale.

"The Shiites were beheaded by the security forces before and we are not ready to be beheaded again," said Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Organization, Sciri's militia trained in Iran. "We can relinquish any part of the government except for the security forces."

The attempts to erase sectarianism dovetail with a broader U.S. initiative to strengthen police training by diverting more resources from mentoring the Iraqi Army. The military hopes to have 200,000 Iraqi police officers in place by early next year. The development of the police is in some ways more crucial than that of the army, because the Americans want the police to handle all security inside Iraq.

The units believed to be most plagued by militia recruitment and sectarian loyalties are the police paramilitary forces, which have a total of 17,500 fighters, the U.S. military says. The regular blue-uniformed police force numbers 89,000. But there are serious doubts about whether anyone has an accurate overall tally.

The paramilitary forces are divided three ways: the commandos, the public- order brigades and a mechanized brigade that will soon be shifted to the army.

The Interior Ministry is accused of sponsoring death squads in police or paramilitary uniforms. Khalilzad has been outspoken in his criticism of the interior minister, Bayan Jabr, and hinted last month that the Americans may withhold financing if sectarianism continues to dominate the security forces.

U.S. commanders say recent scrutiny of the public-order brigades, which were expanded after Sciri took control of the Interior Ministry in early 2005 and whose 7,700 members do light infantry duty, showed that virtually all the members were Shiites.

"When we stood them up, we didn't ask, 'Are you Sunni or are you Shia?'" Major General Joseph Peterson, the U.S. officer overseeing police training, said in an interview at a base in Taji, as he was visiting incoming soldiers assigned to advise the Iraqi police. "They ended up being 99 percent Shia. Now, when we look at that, we say, 'They do not reflect the population of Iraq.'"

No accurate census of Iraq exists, but the country is believed to be about 60 percent Shiite Arab, 20 percent Sunni Arab and 20 percent Kurdish (most Kurds are Sunni). The Americans have pushed the Interior Ministry to diversify the forces. All recruits in the public- order brigades have to go through a six- or seven-week training course, with 1,200 in each class. The Americans ensured that the last three classes enrolled greater numbers of Sunni Arabs: The first of those was 42 percent Sunni Arab, the second 92 percent Sunni and the third, which is just starting, is virtually all Sunni, Peterson said.
U.S. officers say that when they try to talk to Iraqi commanders about the religious or ethnic breakdown of the forces, the commanders tend to shy away from those conversations, as most Iraqis do, saying they prefer to think of themselves as one people rather than in terms of sect.

Colonel Gordon Davis, the top adviser to the public order brigades, said the senior commander of that force, a Shiite Arab from the old Iraqi Army, addresses the issue only with much reluctance. "'You shouldn't be talking like this,' he tells us," the colonel said in an interview at the Iraqi command base in Kadhimiya, a Baghdad neighborhood.

Davis said his advisers have no qualms about removing Iraqi commanders if it becomes evident they have sectarian loyalties.
For much of last year, the 2nd Public Order Brigade had a particularly bad reputation. It was accused by many Iraqis, especially Sunni Arabs, of torture and illegal killings. Its ranks were filled with men recruited from eastern Baghdad who were loyal to Sadr, the firebrand Shiite cleric who has led two rebellions against the Americans.

The head of the brigade was the former police chief of Nasiriya, a southern city under the sway of hard-line Shiite parties, and was "rumored to tolerate" militias, Davis said. The Americans replaced him with a Sunni Arab commander in December, who then fired 160 people below him, presumably because he suspected those men of ties to militias, the colonel said.
Davis said that having the Sunni Arab in charge proved helpful during the militia-driven violence the day of the shrine bombing. The brigade was dispatched to guard Sunni mosques around Baghdad. While the Sunni commander spoke to Sunni imams to calm them, his Shiite officers tried to placate the raging Shiite mobs.

Matthew Sherman, a former Interior Ministry adviser, though, said the commandos also have significant numbers of Shiites loyal to Sciri. Major General Adnan Thabit, a Sunni Arab, is head of the commandos in name only, he said, having ceded control to Shiite partisans. "They've just taken a more kind of political bent over the past 10 months or so," Sherman said.
David S. Cloud contributed reporting from Washington.

Majority in U.S. Fears Iraq Civil War - Poll Also Finds Growing Doubt About Bush

Majority in U.S. Fears Iraq Civil War
Poll Also Finds Growing Doubt About Bush
By Richard Morin
Copyright by THe Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 7, 2006; Page A03

An overwhelming majority of Americans believe that fighting between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq will lead to civil war, and half say the United States should begin withdrawing its forces from that violence-torn country, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The survey found that 80 percent believe that recent sectarian violence makes civil war in Iraq likely, and more than a third say such a conflict is "very likely" to occur. These expectations extend beyond party lines: More than seven in 10 Republicans and eight in 10 Democrats and political independents say they believe such a conflict is coming.

In the face of continuing violence, half -- 52 percent -- of those surveyed said the United States should begin withdrawing forces. One in six favors immediate withdrawal of all troops, however, while about one-third prefer a more gradual return.

The survey also found growing doubt that the Bush administration has a strategy in Iraq. Two-thirds of those interviewed said they do not think the president has a clear plan for handling the Iraq situation, the highest level of doubt recorded since the question was first asked three years ago. But an even larger share -- 70 percent -- questions whether Democrats in Congress have a plan for dealing with Iraq, suggesting Americans see neither party as offering a coherent exit strategy.

The survey highlights how support for the war in Iraq dissolved since the first months after the U.S. invasion. At the end of 2003, nearly six in 10 -- 59 percent -- said the conflict was worth the cost; today, 42 percent share that view. In the past nine months, the proportion in Post-ABC polls who say the United States should begin withdrawing its troops has increased from 38 percent to a 52 percent majority.

Recent U.S. reversals in Iraq have not dramatically reduced overall support for President Bush, in contrast to some other national polls. His overall job approval rating stood at 41 percent, essentially unchanged from January. Nearly six in 10 disapproved of his job performance, the 11th consecutive survey since last April in which at least half the country has been critical of Bush's leadership.

In only one area -- terrorism -- does more than half of the public see Bush positively, and even here 46 percent disapprove while 52 percent approve. On every other issue tested in the poll -- including the economy, international affairs and health care -- Bush received negative marks.

Americans also expressed disappointment with Congress, which is now controlled by Republicans. Slightly more than a third -- 36 percent -- said they approve of the way Congress is doing its job, down seven percentage points in the past five weeks and the lowest marks for the legislative branch since October 1997.

But the survey showed Democrats slipping also. Asked which party they trust to deal with the country's biggest problems, 42 percent said the Democratic Party and 40 percent said the GOP. Barely five weeks ago, Democrats held a 14-point advantage.

Americans continue to fault the administration's performance in Iraq. Well under half -- 40 percent -- think Bush is doing a good job there, unchanged from late January but still down six points from December. Nearly six in 10 -- 57 percent -- said the war was not worth fighting, marking the 12th consecutive poll since December 2004 in which a majority said invading Iraq was a mistake.

In question after question, the new survey reflected a sharp decline in optimism, perhaps sparked by the sectarian violence that has flared in Iraq after the bombings of a revered Shiite mosque two weeks ago. Since then, deadly confrontations have occurred between Shiites and Sunnis, who are a minority in Iraq but were favored under Saddam Hussein's regime.

The poll found that 56 percent think the United States is not making significant progress toward restoring civil order in Iraq, while 43 percent think that stability is being reestablished -- a 17-point drop in optimism since December and the most pessimistic reading on this question since it was first asked in June 2004.

The nation is split down the middle over whether the United States is moving ahead toward establishing a democratic government in Iraq. About half, 49 percent, say the United States is making progress on the political front, with 48 percent saying the nation and its allies are not gaining ground. Shortly after the December elections, almost two in three Americans said the country was making significant progress toward democracy.

Over the weekend, pressure mounted on Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari to give up his bid for a new term, a move that would add to the political turmoil engulfing Iraq.

Although news from Iraq has not been good, the survey suggests Bush has been helped somewhat by improving perceptions of the U.S. economy. Forty-three percent believe the economy is either excellent or good, up from 35 percent four months ago. And nearly half -- 48 percent -- of the country approve of the way Bush is handling the economy, 12 points higher than in November. Still, slightly more than half (51 percent) disapprove.

Bush's standing in other areas is mixed as well. More than six in 10 disapprove of the way he handled Hurricane Katrina, a nine-point increase since early September. A growing majority (58 percent) also disapproves of the way he is dealing with the prescription drug issue. But his overall approval ratings on terrorism (52 percent), health care (38 percent), international affairs (44 percent) and ethics in government (40 percent) remain basically unchanged from recent Post-ABC polls.

Perceptions of Democrats, who have struggled to take advantage of Bush's lack of popularity, declined on several measures. In late January, Democrats held a clear advantage over Republicans -- 55 to 37 percent -- on which party could best handle the economy. In the new poll, Democrats still led, but by 49 to 40 percent.

The survey found a similar shift on Iraq. In January, Democrats had an advantage of 47 to 40 percent on which party could better handle the situation there, but the new poll found Americans evenly divided -- 42 percent on each side -- on that question.

A total of 1,000 randomly selected Americans were interviewed March 2 to 5. The margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus three percentage points.

Assistant polling director Claudia Deane and staff writer Dan Balz contributed to this report.

Democrats Struggle To Seize Opportunity - Amid GOP Troubles, No Unified Message

Democrats Struggle To Seize Opportunity - Amid GOP Troubles, No Unified Message
By Shailagh Murray and Charles Babington
Copyright by the Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 7, 2006; Page A01

News about GOP political corruption, inept hurricane response and chaos in Iraq has lifted Democrats' hopes of winning control of Congress this fall. But seizing the opportunity has not been easy, as they found when they tried to unveil an agenda of their own.

Democratic leaders had set a goal of issuing their legislative manifesto by November 2005 to give voters a full year to digest their proposals. But some Democrats protested that the release date was too early, so they put it off until January. The new date slipped twice again, and now House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) says the document will be unveiled in "a matter of weeks."

Some Democrats fear that the hesitant handling is symbolic of larger problems facing the party in trying to seize control of the House and Senate after more than a decade of almost unbroken minority status. Lawmakers and strategists have complained about erratic or uncertain leadership and repeated delays in resolving important issues.

The conflict goes well beyond Capitol Hill. The failure of congressional leaders to deliver a clear message has left some Democratic governors deeply frustrated and at odds with Washington Democrats over strategy.

Party leaders, for example, have yet to decide whether Democrats should focus on a sharply negative campaign against President Bush and the Republicans, by jumping on debacles such as the administration's handling of the Dubai port deal -- or stress their own priorities and values.

There is no agreement on whether to try to nationalize the congressional campaign with a blueprint or "contract" with voters, as the Republicans did successfully in 1994, or to keep the races more local in tone. And the party is still divided over the war in Iraq: Some Democrats, including Pelosi, call for a phased withdrawal; many others back a longer-term military and economic commitment.

"It could be a great year for Democrats," said Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), but the party must present a more moderate face and distinguish itself more clearly from the GOP on issues such as ethics. "The comment I hear is 'I'd really like to vote for you guys, but I can't stand the folks I see on TV,' " Cooper said in a telephone interview from Nashville.

On issues such as explaining that former lobbyist Jack Abramoff's work "was a 110 percent Republican operation," Cooper said, "we're not making nearly as much headway as we should." Abramoff has pleaded guilty in a corruption scandal.

The Democratic leaders in Congress -- Pelosi and Sen. Harry M. Reid (Nev.) -- are the party's chief strategists and architects of the agenda, which they view as a way to market party ideas on energy, health care, education and other issues. They have held countless meetings to construct the right list, consulting with governors, mayors and just about every Democratic adviser in town.

"By the time the election rolls around, people are going to know where Democrats stand," Reid said.

But many in the party have their doubts. On Feb. 27, Reid and Pelosi appeared before the Democratic Governors Association. At one point in the conversation, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, noting that the two leaders had talked about a variety of themes and ideas, asked for help. Could they reduce the message to just two or three core ideas that governors could echo in the states?

According to multiple accounts from those in the room, Reid said they had narrowed the list to six and proceeded to talk about them. Pelosi then offered her six -- not all the same as Reid's. Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski said later: "One of the other governors said 'What do you think?' and I said 'You know what I think? I don't think we have a message.' "

Others, including Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) -- who head the Senate and House campaign efforts -- believe the November election will turn mainly on how voters view Republicans. Schumer is leading the Democratic attack on the port deal, excoriating the administration for jeopardizing national security -- a realm in which Republicans have held the advantage with voters.

He and Emanuel have sought to delay the agenda's release to allow Democratic attacks to hold the stage with minimum distraction. "When you're in the opposition, you both propose and oppose," Emanuel said. "But fundamentally, this is going to be a referendum on [Republican] stewardship."

Campaign 2006: Key Races

The Key Races Map provides Washington Post analysis and candidate profiles for the most important races of Campaign 2006.
• Interactive Map: Key Races
• Party Control & Trends:
House & Senate | Governorships
» Full Coverage: 2006 Elections
The Fix
Chris Cillizza provides daily posts on a range of political topics, from the race for control of Congress in 2006 to scrutinizing the 2008 presidential hopefuls.
• Ohio: Parties Gear Up for Early Fight in 6th District
• Allen and Frist: GOP Birthday Boys
• Texas Primary Primer
• The Fix Archive
Sign Up for RSS Feed
Online Politics Extras
Join The Washington Post's or's political staff daily at 11 a.m. ET to talk about the latest political news.
• Tuesday: Washington Post National Political Reporter Tom Edsall.
• Weekly Politics Chat Schedule
Politics Trivia
Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, announced on Monday that he will retire at the end of his current term in 2007. Before being elected to Congress, Thomas served in the California Assembly. What position did Thomas hold before that?

Also dividing Democratic strategists is the question of what lessons to take from the Republican landslide of 1994, when the GOP won the Senate and picked up 54 House seats, wiping out 40 years of Democratic rule. Some Democrats associate that breakthrough with the House Republicans' "Contract With America," a list of proposals on policy and government.

"We should take a page from their book" and have "an overarching theme" similar to the 1994 contract, said Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.).

Many of his colleagues agree, but not Reid. "We're not going to do a 'Contract With America,' " Reid said in an interview. He noted that the GOP document received scant attention when it was presented a few weeks before the 1994 election, and political historians say it played a minor role in the outcome. "There's a great mythology about the contract," Reid said.

Even the party's five-word 2006 motto has preoccupied congressional Democrats for months. "We had meetings where senators offered suggestions," Reid said. "We had focus groups. We worked hard on that. . . . It's a long, slow, arduous process."

That slogan -- "Together, America Can Do Better" -- was revived from the 2004 presidential campaign of Sen. John F. Kerry. It was the last line of Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's response to President Bush's State of the Union address, and Reid, Pelosi and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean have used it in speeches. But there is an effort afoot to drop the word "together." It tests well in focus groups and audiences, Democratic sources said, but it makes the syntax incorrect.

Governors privately scoff at the slogan. They also say the message coming from congressional leaders has been too relentlessly negative. "They want to coordinate. They want to collaborate. That's all good," said one Democratic governor who declined to be identified in order to talk candidly about a closed-door meeting. "The question is: Coordinate or collaborate on what? People need to know not just what we're against but what we're for. That's the kind of message the governors are interested in developing at the national level."

Reid spokesman Jim Manley said congressional Democrats have spent the past year redefining the debates over terrorism and Iraq and have prepared the ground for a shift to a more positive message that will focus on energy, health care and homeland security, all areas in which the governors would concur, he predicted. "We've had an unprecedented level of cooperation," he said.

Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly added: "At the end of the day, I think everyone will be on board."

Perhaps the Democrats' greatest dilemma is how to respond to the Iraq war. It looms as the biggest question mark over Bush's administration and the Republican lawmakers who have backed him on the conflict almost without question.

Congressional Democrats have been split over the war since 2002, when many voted to authorize military action. The ground shifted last November when Rep. John P. Murtha (Pa.), a leading Democratic voice on military matters, called for U.S. troops to be withdrawn as soon as possible. Two weeks later, Pelosi endorsed his stance.

Although Pelosi said she was not speaking for her caucus, some colleagues complained that she was handing Republicans a gift by enabling them to tag Democrats as soft on terrorism and forcing Democratic candidates to explain whether they agreed with their House leader.

There is little question that the political landscape looks promising for Democrats. A Feb. 9 poll by the Pew Research Center found that Democrats lead Republicans 50 to 41 percent in a generic ballot.

But congressional Democrats have some key deficiencies. For instance, they lack the hard-charging, charismatic figurehead that Gingrich represented for the House GOP in 1994. But the Democrats have an abundance of presidential hopefuls, and their agendas sometimes differ from those of Reid, Schumer, Pelosi and Emanuel.

For instance, Sen. Russell Feingold (Wis.) tried to filibuster the renewal of the USA Patriot Act, a move opposed by most of his Senate colleagues, including Reid. Kerry (Mass.) led an unsuccessful filibuster attempt against Samuel A. Alito Jr.'s confirmation as a Supreme Court justice. The best-known Democrat is Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), whose plans for a 2008 presidential bid leave many of her colleagues wary of how her famous but divisive presence might affect them.

"There are lots of skeptics," Schumer conceded. But the polls look better and better, he stressed. "There may be some inside-the-Beltway babble, but it's not affecting the voters," said Schumer, who wants the agenda delayed again -- until summer.

Staff writer Dan Balz contributed to this report.