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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Polls show opposition to Iraq war at all-time high - Sixty percent also say terrorism is more likely in US because of Iraq.

Polls show opposition to Iraq war at all-time high - Sixty percent also say terrorism is more likely in US because of Iraq.
By Tom Regan
posted September 1, 2006 at 12:15 p.m.
Copyright by

A series of polls taken over the last few weeks of August show that support for the war in Iraq among Americans is at an all-time low. Almost two-thirds of Americans in each of three major polls say that they oppose the war, the highest totals since pollsters starting asking Americans the question three years ago. Many of the polls were conducted in advance of the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on Washington and New York.

A new Associated Press/Ipsos poll that surveyed the country, and more specifically residents of Washington and New York, shows that many feel the cost in blood and money in Iraq may already be too high and that Osama bin Laden will never be found. The poll also showed that 60 percent of Americans believe that the war in Iraq has increased the chances of a terrorist attack in the US.

"I think there's a fatigue about the price of doing these activities," said Robert Blendon, a specialist in public opinion at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "There's also a concern about the competency of how well we're doing them."

Some of the divisions are from political differences. For example, Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to think the cost of the terror fight may be too high and twice as likely to think Iraq is making terrorism worse. And this comes when the nation has gone five years without an attack possibly making the terror war seem less urgent to some.

Popular support for the war on terror helped neutralize opposition to the Iraq war for a long time, said political analyst Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. "Now the negative effect of Iraq is dragging down support for the war on terror," he said.

On the question of which political party can do a better job of protecting the US, both parties lost support since an April poll. But in another sign of trouble for the Bush administration, the AP/Ipsos poll also shows that more Americans believe the Democrats will do a better job than Republicans, 47-40 percent.

A new CNN poll shows that only about one-third of Americans now support the war in Iraq, with 61 percent opposed. Fifty-one percent of Americans see President Bush as a strong leader, although he doesn't do well in other areas of the survey.

Most Americans (54 percent) don't consider him honest, most (54 percent) don't think he shares their values and most (58 percent) say he does not inspire confidence. Bush's stand on the issues is also problematic, with more than half (57 percent) of Americans saying they disagree with him on the issues they care about. That's an indication that issues, not personal characteristics, are keeping his approval rating well below 50 percent ...

Bush dismissed a question about his popularity during a news conference Monday.

"I don't think you've ever heard me say: 'Gosh, I better change positions because the polls say this or that,'" he told reporters. "I've been here long enough to understand, you cannot make good decisions if you're trying to chase a poll." He added, "I'm going to do what I think is right, and if, you know, if people don't like me for it, that's just the way it is."

A Princeton Survey Research Associates International poll conducted Aug. 24-25 for Newsweek shows that 63 percent of Americans disapprove of the way the president has handled Iraq. A CBSNews/New York Times poll conducted Aug. 17-21 shows 65 percent of Americans disapprove of the way the president is dealing with Iraq. Among those who identified themselves as independents, 67 percent disapprove.
Finally, a survey by Quinnipiac University Polling Institute found that 60 percent of Americans believe screening of people who look "Middle Eastern" at airports and train stations is OK.

Quinnipiac's director of polling, Maurice Carroll, said he was surprised by the apparent public support for racial profiling. "What's the motivation there -- is it bigotry, or is it fear or is it practicality?" he said.

The Quinnipiac poll also found that Americans considered the 9/11 attacks of more significance than the attack on Pearl Harbor. But the findings varied considerably among age groups, with 9/11 being the most important event among those 35 and under, but with Pearl Harbor being more important those 65 and older.

"People have fresh memories of 9-11 and many don't have any memories at all of Pearl Harbor, and those who do don't have fresh memories of it," said Bruce Schulman, a Boston University professor of history and American studies. "We also feel pretty confident that we know how the results of Pearl Harbor turned out, and we certainly don't know what the consequences of 9-11 are going to turn out to be.

A Plan to Save the Country by Garrison Keillor

A Plan to Save the Country by Garrison Keillor
Copyright © 2006, The Baltimore Sun
Thursday, August 31, 2006

It's the best part of summer, the long, lovely passage into fall. A procession of lazy, golden days that my sandy-haired, gap-toothed little girl has been painting, small abstract masterpieces in tempera and crayon and glitter, reminiscent of Franz Kline or Willem de Kooning (his early glitter period). She put a sign out front, "Art for Sale," and charged 25 cents per painting. Cheap at the price.

A teacher gave her this freedom to sit un-self-consciously and put paint on paper. A gentle, 6-foot-8 guy named Matt who taught art at her preschool. Her swimming teachers gave her freedom from fear of water. So much that has made this summer a pleasure for her I trace to specific teachers, and so it's painful to hear about public education sinking all around us.

A high school math class of 42! Everybody knows you can't teach math to 42 kids at once. The classroom smells bad because the custodial staff has been cut back. The teacher must whip his pupils into shape to pass the federal No Child Left Untested program. This is insanity, the legacy of Republicans and their tax-cutting and their hostility to secular institutions.

Last spring, I taught a college writing course and had the privilege of hanging out with people in their early 20s, an inspirational experience in return for which I tried to harass them about spelling and grammar and structure. My interest in being 21 again is less than my interest in having a frontal lobotomy, but the wit and passion and good-heartedness of these kids, which they try to conceal under their exquisite cool, are the hope of this country. You have to advocate for young people, or else what are we here for?

I keep running into retirees in their mid-50s, free to collect seashells and write bad poetry and shoot video of the Grand Canyon, and goody for them, but they're not the future. My college kids are graduating with a 20-pound ball of debt chained to their ankles. That's not right, and you know it.

This country is squashing its young. We're sending them to die in a war we don't believe in anymore. We're cheating them so we can offer tax relief to the rich. And we're stealing from them so that old gaffers like me, who want to live forever, can go in for an MRI if we have a headache.

A society that pays for MRIs for headaches and can't pay teachers a decent wage has made a dreadful choice. But health care costs are ballooning, eating away at the economy. The boomers are getting to an age where their knees need replacing and their hearts need a quadruple bypass - which they feel entitled to - but our children aren't entitled to a damn thing. Any goombah with a Ph.D. in education can strip away French and German, music and art, dumb down the social sciences, offer Britney Spears instead of Shakespeare, and there is nothing the kid can do except hang out in the library, which is being cut back too.

This week, we mark the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the Current Occupant's line, "You're doing a heckuva job," which already is in common usage, a joke, a euphemism for utter ineptitude. It's sure to wind up in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, a summation of his occupancy.

Annual interest on the national debt now exceeds all government welfare programs combined. We'll be in Iraq for years to come. Hard choices need to be made, and given the situation we're in, I think we must bite the bullet and say no more health care for card-carrying Republicans. It just doesn't make sense to invest in longevity for people who don't believe in the future. Let them try faith-based medicine, let them pray for their arteries to be reamed and their hips to be restored, and leave science to the rest of us.

Cutting out health care to one-third of the population - the folks with Bush-Cheney bumper stickers, who still believe the man is doing a heckuva job - will save enough money to pay off the national debt, not a bad legacy for Republicans. As Scrooge said, let them die and reduce the surplus population. In return, we can offer them a reduction in the estate tax. All in favor, blow your nose.

Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.

Prejudices cloud vision on immigration

Prejudices cloud vision on immigration
Copyright by The Chicago Sun Times
September 2, 2006

My, my. One little brown woman sure has a lot of people very angry. She must be on the right track.

That's my reaction after reading the e-mails on last week's column on Elvira Arellano, who, along with her American-born son, Saul, has taken sanctuary in Adalberto United Methodist Church to protest her deportation to Mexico. You all sure started e-mailing early and often!

The biggest point of contention is that Arellano came into this country illegally. ''She broke the law'' is mentioned repeatedly. Of course, not one of them ever fudged on their income tax returns, ''borrowed'' supplies from the workplace, figured out how to hook up ''free'' cable TV or purchased a bootleg DVD. Oh, no.

Yes, Arellano broke the law. But, I'm sorry, no one, unless you've been in her situation, can say for sure you wouldn't have done the same. She, like so many others, sees opportunity here, and because there isn't a timely fashion to enter the country legally, did so illegally.

When it's convenient for our government, it pays attention to undocumented workers. It looks the other way when it is not. As I've said before, people have been coming here for at least 100 years to work because businesses need them. At the same time that a very vocal contingent is yelling, ''Send them back where they came from,'' industries, such as agriculture, are saying, ''Hey, wait -- what are you trying to do to our work force?''

I'd like to see the folks who are so up in arms over immigration enter a grocery store and find apples selling for $5 apiece because picking crops has become so costly. For that is exactly what many in agriculture warn will happen. They're willing to follow a legal system, but say the current one is cumbersome and doesn't work.

For the life of me I cannot understand why, especially with the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11 so near, no one seems concerned about the other border. Seeing Arellano and others like her being escorted over the southern border is going to make me safer? Right. Osama bin Laden himself could probably cross over from the north and there'd be someone available to carry his bags right in. Why? Because we're so busy letting our prejudices about our neighbors to the south cloud our vision.

Yes, prejudices. Because for every e-mail that spoke of the legality of Arellano's actions, two others dredged up bigoted stereotypes and overall distaste for anyone who doesn't look or speak like themselves as reasons to deport her.

They're incensed she had a child out of wedlock. (If she'd been a popular actor, those same e-mailers would have been buying magazines galore to see her offspring.) It angers them that Arellano's spoken English isn't up to their standards and she appears to be more comfortable speaking Spanish. Hey, if we were going to start deporting people because of the way they fracture English, I'd say from the e-mails I'm getting, a lot of my critics would be on the way out, too. Studies have found that with all immigrants to the United States, by the third generation, everyone is speaking English as their first language. So relax; English is here to stay.

These same critics have decided Saul isn't really an American. Wrong! The way it works here is if you are born in the United States, you're a citizen. That's all it takes. If we start limiting citizenship because of heritage, what's next? How much longer until economic or religious requirements exist? How soon before the only folks eligible for citizenship are those with the physical features Adolf Hitler liked?

The immigration system in our country is broken and needs fixing. That's why Arellano sits in that church, why thousands are marching this weekend to U.S. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's home office. Our leaders need to figure out a system with realistic numbers for entering this country. We need a clear path to citizenship. If politicians such as Hastert had done their jobs, instead of just ''stirring the pot,'' as my old granny used to say, and getting people all riled up, we wouldn't be in the situation we're in today. Real solutions are needed.

Maybe the speaker of the House will think about that when guess who comes to dinner on Labor Day.

If economy is growing, why aren't workers' wages growing?

If economy is growing, why aren't workers' wages growing?
Copyright by The Chicago Sun Times
September 2, 2006

Just in time for Labor Day, the federal government released some good news about the economy: It's growing, continuing a five-year trend. Incomes across all households are up, while corporate profits hit their highest point since the 1960s. And to whom do we owe this apparent good news? Why, the American worker. Continuous increases in worker productivity (along with inflated consumer spending financed by credit card debt and mortgage refinancings), has driven economic growth. Recognizing the importance of workers to our economic well-being, the U.S. Department of Labor's Web site says Labor Day allows us ''to pay tribute . . . to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership: the American worker.''

Noble sentiments, those. The problem is, sentiments don't put food on the table or pay rent -- wages do. And, despite the rosy economic news, workers have been completely excluded from the recent prosperity gains, even though they're largely responsible for causing them. The truth is, as corporate profits surged, wages for the vast majority of Americans stagnated or declined.

What about the fact that average income is growing? That's true enough, but misleading. Average income increased overall solely because incomes at the very top exploded. For 80 percent of workers, incomes actually declined on an inflation-adjusted basis since November 2001. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes this is the only time income for most workers declined during any four-year-long economic recovery, going back 40 years.

Think about it this way: If Sally police officer and Joe plumber are sitting at a bar, their average income would be, well, average. Now if Bill Gates Jr. joins them, the average income of our three bar patrons suddenly increased astronomically. Still, only one of the three can afford to buy drinks for the house.

Even the seeming bright spot that median household income finally grew after four years of decline, if by a meager 1.1 percent, masks reality for working families. Once you eliminate households headed by those over age 65, median income for everyone else dropped. It's especially troubling that incomes declined as worker productivity increased. Sylvia Allegretto of the Economic Policy Institute noted, ''Traditionally, a mature recovery combined with growing productivity leads to wage gains, not losses. Workers aren't sharing in benefits created by their improved productivity.''

Meanwhile, the value of the national minimum wage has dropped to its lowest point in 50 years. Wages and salaries now constitute only 45 percent of the country's economy, a historic low. An additional 1.3 million Americans became uninsured last year as health-care costs continued to escalate at rates three times greater than wage growth.

All of which makes many policy debates seem grossly off-point. For instance, why, during a time of skyrocketing corporate profits and worker productivity, is it controversial for Congress to increase a minimum wage that's at historic lows? Why shouldn't Chicago consider a living wage ordinance? And since all the data demonstrate how essential a high-quality education is to both getting hired and earning a decent wage, why doesn't Illinois finally get around to school funding reform, so every kid has the skills to get a good job?

Well, because many believe the rhetoric that government should, to put it mildly, get the hell out of the way of our capitalist economy. Under this worldview, private sector economic growth will distribute its benefits to all, leaving government no role to play in big, economic quality of life issues such as reducing poverty, providing health care, mandating wage levels or even educating kids. The data, and sound capitalist theory, say otherwise.

In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith, the father of capitalism, maintained that what improves the lot of the working classes, who constitute the greatest proportion of society, ''can never be regarded as an inconvenience to the whole.'' He continued: ''It is but equity that they who feed, clothe and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed and lodged.'' Maybe Labor Day celebrations would be more festive if instead of being paid tribute, workers were actually being paid.

Mr President, please don't send me back to fight in Iraq

Mr President, please don't send me back to fight in Iraq
By David Mortlock
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: September 2 2006 03:00 | Last updated: September 2 2006 03:00
From Mr David Mortlock.

Sir, What does a military draft feel like? As one of the 50,000 former marines in the Individual Ready Reserve, I am absolutely terrified by the prospect of returning to Iraq. I have even talked with another former marine officer about forming an anti-war movement called Iraq War Veterans Against the Backdoor Draft. My wife and I have avoided talking about the recall because the thought of another separation is too painful.

Not a day goes by since the announcement of this involuntary recall that I don't think about getting a letter instructing me to report for duty. And sadly, I feel growing resentment towards my fellow citizens, and specifically towards my Wharton classmates, who can lead their lives without sharing some of this burden. The president can call this an involuntary recall, but it sure feels like a draft to me.

Some people would probably argue that I should not gripe since I willingly agreed to serve four years in the Marine Corps followed by four years of inactive duty. However, it is hard for me to rationalise why I should have to return to Iraq against my own free will.

When I joined the Marine Corps, I was a directionless 22-year-old. It was before September 11, before experiencing first-hand the devastation and violence of war, before being ambushed in Iraq and almost killed, and before meeting my wife and getting married. The world is different today. I am different today. And while I am proud of my service in Iraq and honoured to have shared that experience with some fine marines, I have come to hate this senseless war. In 20 years, will tomorrow's generation be unable to find Iraq on a map much like my generation can't find Vietnam?

My stance against the war and against this involuntary recall has generated conflicting emotions. I still strongly believe in the Marine Corps motto, Semper Fi (Always Faithful). I am grateful for my time in the military. The marines made me a better person by helping me shape a value system around discipline, honour and integrity. So I have often asked myself over the past two years, Can I protest against the war without dishonouring the Marine Corps and the marines that have made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq? I now believe the answer is yes.

I recognise that I went to war fighting for the marine on my left and the marine on my right, not for the people of Iraq. All warriors feel this way. The obvious conclusion is that the best way to honour the marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen who died in this war is to leave Iraq and raise the threshold for which we accept the sacrifice of Americans who live today but once fought on the left and on the right of those killed.

However, if we pull out of Iraq as I advocate, are we not responsible for the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths that will occur as the factional violence gains intensity? This issue should weigh heavily on our consciences, which leads me to believe that it will require significantly more courage to pull out of Iraq than it took to go in.

The US needs new leaders in Washington, and preferably ones who have experienced warfare first-hand and know its awfulness. In the meanwhile, I will hold my breath every time the mail arrives because we have a military draft no matter what you call it.

David Mortlock,
MA/MBA Candidate,
The Wharton School,
University of Pennsylvania
The School of Advanced International Studies,
Johns Hopkins University

Financial Times Editorial - Time to confront Iran with a realistic deal

Financial Times Editorial - Time to confront Iran with a realistic deal
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: September 2 2006 03:00 | Last updated: September 2 2006 03:00

The fateful deadline set by the United Nations Security Council for Iran to cease its nuclear enrichment activity has come and gone. Tehran, as expected, has refused to comply and insisted it is within its legal rights under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. There are no good options from now on, but there are some potentially terrible ones.

It is therefore important to subject all policy options to a simple test: what stands a chance of persuading Iran to set aside its presumed nuclear ambitions? Can this standoff be resolved short of armed conflict, which would set fire to a Middle East already in turmoil and unleash Iranian retaliation within and beyond the region?

First of all, it should be clear that confrontation is playing into the hands of the Iranian regime. The ruling mullahs are widely despised by their people, but Iranians across the spectrum support their country's right to both technology and deterrence. The nuclear controversy has thus allowed the coalition of theocrats and vested interests built up by the 1979 Islamist revolution to rally the nation and close all remaining space to the reform movement.

Iran, moreover, is in dangerously confident mood. The US is bogged down in Iraq, an enterprise that has greatly expanded Iranian influence among the Iraqi Shia majority. Hizbollah's performance against Israel during the recent war in Lebanon has enhanced the prestige of its Iranian patron throughout the region. Iran's oil revenues are high and demand for its energy riches has never been higher.

The Bush administration, meanwhile, is growing impatient with the brittle consensus in the Security Council, where China and Russia are hesitant about sanctions, and the Europeans are reluctant to end the dialogue they have conducted with Iran over the past two years.

The debate in the US has been shaped by the rhetoric of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the mercurial and messianic president who has been prodigal in Holocaust denial and bloodcurdling threats. Yet the US spurned the overtures of his reformist predecessor, Mohammad Khatami - whose current tour of the US the administration is snubbing - and, in any case, the president plays second fiddle in Iran to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader and his parallel power structure.

True, in June Washington offered direct talks, but with the killer precondition that Iran immediately cease enrichment. So what should happen now? The best bet is still a calibrated and united response that holds out to Iran a realistic package of rewards as well as penalties. Some sanctions are now inevitable but they should be targeted, for example, to prevent any imports usable for nuclear purposes. Iran must be left in no doubt that any negotiations will always demand a full account of its nearly two decades of clandestine nuclear activities.

But, to have any hope of success, negotiations must address the main concerns of both sides.

Iran essentially wants security guarantees and recognition as a legitimate regional power. These are two things that, ultimately, only the US can provide. In exchange, Tehran must be prepared to offer full and verifiable nuclear transparency, to demonstrate it has ceased meddling in the affairs of its neighbours, and to work with those neighbours towards building stability in the Middle East. It remains the case that, as this paper has argued, the best way to confront Iran is with a deal.

Abe launches campaign to become Japan's leader - Would revise the pacifist constitution imposed by the US

Abe launches campaign to become Japan's leader - Would revise the pacifist constitution imposed by the US
By David Pilling in Tokyo
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: September 2 2006 03:00 | Last updated: September 2 2006 03:00

Shinzo Abe, the man almost certain to become Japan's next prime minister later this month, yesterday formally launched his candidacy, saying he would help build and preserve a "beautiful country".

Mr Abe, a conservative, is one of three candidates to have declared for the presidency of the Liberal Democratic party, which comes up on September 20 when Junichiro Koizumi steps down after more than five years in office.

He will run against Taro Aso, the foreign minister and a fellow conservative, and Sadakazu Tanigaki, the finance minister, a fiscal hawk who has a more conciliatory approach to foreign relations, particularly with China.

Mr Abe has overwhelming support within the LDP and his likely selection as party president should be easily ratified in parliament, making him prime minister. He is expected to name a new cabinet as early as September 22. Mr Koizumi is widely believed to have picked him as his successor, giving him a number of prominent posts.

Mr Abe, now chief cabinet secretary, said the success of the economic reforms of the past five years gave Japan a chance to construct a strong country capable of taking a leadership role in international affairs and winning respect.

Standing beneath a sign saying "Beautiful Country", taken from the title of his recent book-cum-manifesto, he emphasised reviving Japan's national pride. "Japan has beautiful nature, culture and a long history. We should take pride in that," he said in a speech at a political rally in Hiroshima broadcast live on NHK television.

He promised to develop Japan's role in peace-keeping operations of the sort that took 550 ground forces to Iraq, and to put revision of Japan's pacifist constitution on the political agenda.

He would also take measures to strengthen the US-Japan security alliance. "The Japan-US alliance is the foundation of Japan's diplomacy and national security. We need to make efforts to further increase the relationship of trust and reciprocity."

Aides say he plans to scrap Japan's self-imposed ban on participating in mutual defence, clearing the way for it to help the US or other allies if they come under attack.

He said Japan should build strong links with like-minded democracies in the region. Improving relations with China required mutual effort, he said.

Japan should open its eco-nomy more and build competitive industries based on innovation and world-class education, he said. Mr Abe plans to overhaul the nation-al education curriculum, im-prove standards and correct what he regards as a self-flagellating view of history.

He would also conduct root-and-branch reform of the social security system, which he said was hard to understand and inadequate for a fast-ageing society. Only through repairing Japan's damaged finances could the economy grow sustainably, he said.

Although he is expected to stick to Mr Koizumi's broadly liberal economic agenda, he said it was important to maintain a safety net and to help some of the struggling regions, including their farmers.

Property decline offsets US jobless fall

Property decline offsets US jobless fall
By Richard Beales in New York
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: September 1 2006 13:40 | Last updated: September 1 2006 22:56

US unemployment fell slightly to 4.7 per cent in August, suggesting the US economy is still generating jobs, but a sharp slowdown in the residential property market persists, according to data released on Friday.

Construction spending dropped an unexpected 1.2 per cent in July, pulled down by a 2 per cent fall in private residential activity. And the National Association of Realtors’ pending home sales index plunged 7 per cent in July. Each was the biggest monthly decline of its kind for five years.

The fall in unemployment reversed a surprise increase to 4.8 per cent in July, according to the Labor Department’s monthly employment report.

The report, among the most influential regular economic releases, also showed the US economy added 128,000 jobs last month, in line with expectations. The July figure was revised slightly higher to 121,000.

The rise in average hourly earnings was only 0.1 per cent, against consensus expectations of 0.3 per cent. A higher number could have intensified fear that the Federal Reserve would be more likely to raise interest rates to fight price pressures.

“Optimists will continue to point to the household survey’s more upbeat job growth, whilst pessimists can point to the peaking out of earnings growth and hours worked,” said Rob Carnell, analyst at ING Financial Markets.

He said the report had “no substantial market implications”.

The fall in residential construction was offset by a rise in non-residential activity, but John Ryding, chief US economist at Bear Stearns, said the fall in pending home sales heralded further weakening for the housing sector.

Recent housing data have shown sharp declines in sales of new and existing homes, rising inventories of unsold properties, and weak sentiment among potential buyers.

The rapid price appreciation of recent years has slowed to nearly zero on a national basis.

Stocks in New York consolidated gains, while government bonds slipped on the payrolls news before rebounding positively on the housing data.

Ian Shepherdson, chief US economist at High Frequency Economics, said he expected a further slowdown in growth by the end of the year.

He thought the Fed would leave interest rates steady: “The Fed expects sub-trend growth to continue; so no more hikes.”

The market for Fed funds futures is pricing in only about a 10 per cent chance of the Fed raising rates again this month, and only a slightly greater likelihood of a rise by the year’s end.

Pentagon says Iraq strife has worsened

Pentagon says Iraq strife has worsened
By Guy Dinmore in Washington and agencies
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: September 1 2006 23:25 | Last updated: September 1 2006 23:25

Three days after Donald Rumsfeld, the US secretary of defence, declared that Iraq was heading along a difficult path to a “secure new future”, a Pentagon report presented to Congress said sectarian violence had worsened over the past three months, creating the most complex security challenge since the 2003 invasion.

The report, mandated by Congress each quarter, was likely to add to growing calls for Mr Rumsfeld to resign. It covered the period since the new government under Nouri al-Malaki took office, when the Bush administration raised expectations of progress in quelling the violence while insisting that civil war was not on the cards.

“Death squads and terrorists are locked in mutually reinforcing cycles of sectarian strife,’’ the report said. The Sunni-led insurgency remained “potent and viable”, it said.

“Conditions that could lead to civil war exist in Iraq, specifically in and around Baghdad, and concern about civil war within the Iraqi civilian population has increased in recent months,’’ the report said. “Nevertheless, the current violence is not a civil war, and movement toward a civil war can be prevented,” it added.

Peter Rodman, the assistant secretary of defence, told reporters that there had been progress in the economy and the number of trained Iraqi troops was up. But he said security conditions had deteriorated.

“Breaking the cycle of violence is the most pressing goal of coalition and Iraqi operations.”

The report was issued on a day on which news agencies reported the deaths of at least 47 people in bomb and rocket attacks.

The report said overall attacks rose 24 per cent to 792 per week and Iraqi casualties increased by 51 per cent to nearly 120 per day.

Democrats in Congress said the report showed that Mr Rumsfeld and the administration leadership were disconnected from reality.

Political foes deny Fox podium - Mexican leader can't deliver yearly report

Political foes deny Fox podium - Mexican leader can't deliver yearly report
By Colin McMahon
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published September 2, 2006

MEXICO CITY -- Facing the threat of an ugly confrontation with opposition congressmen, President Vicente Fox abandoned his reading of his state of the nation speech Friday before the Mexican Congress, breaking a tradition dating back 180 years.

"Given that the posture of a group of legislators makes it impossible to read the message I have prepared for this occasion, I am leaving the hall," Fox announced after delivering a written version of the annual presidential report, called the informe.

Half an hour earlier, legislators from the Democratic Revolution Party had swarmed the congressional stage. They waved anti-Fox posters and the tri-colored national flag, chanting "Mexico! Mexico!" And a leading senator from the party stood at the podium, refusing to yield.

"Deliver it and go," the protesting congressmen shouted.

The gambit worked. But it also showed Mexicans, again, how fractured their political system has become.

Election still disputed

The Democratic Revolution Party and its leftist allies accuse Fox of illegally torpedoing their candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, in the July 2 presidential election. They refuse to accept official results showing that Felipe Calderon of Fox's National Action Party won.

They consider Fox, as their signs of protest said Friday, a "traitor to democracy."

"Vicente Fox has turned the country into a powder keg," said Ricardo Cantu Garza of the Workers Party in one of several anti-Fox speeches that preceded the fireworks of Fox's arrival. "He never fulfilled a democratic reform of the Mexican state, nor strengthened its institutions. ... On the contrary, they are now submerged in the worst crisis of their history."

Though street protesters loyal to Lopez Obrador had sought to block Fox from reaching Congress, the president arrived safely at the legislative palace in a line of armored SUVs.

Late by almost 20 minutes but waving for the television cameras, Fox entered the building as legislators from his National Action Party chanted "Vicente! Vicente!"

Once inside the vestibule, however, the president stood down. Rather than challenge the opposition legislators on the stage, Fox bowed to the wishes of many congressmen even in his own party that he not further inflame the country's political conflict.

He handed over the informe and announced his departure.

"The PRD showed its arbitrary and anti-democratic face," said Sen. Santiago Creel of the National Action Party, referring to the Democratic Revolution Party by its Spanish acronym. "It would have been easy to respond. ... But the PRD was turning this hall into a circus. We are not going to join in a circus."

In turning in a written version of the informe, Fox fulfilled his obligation under the constitution, which demands that at the opening of each annual congressional session the president present a written summation of the state of the nation.

Topic of hot debate

But in failing to read that informe to legislators, Fox became the first Mexican president in 80 years to depart from a tradition that began in 1825.

The question of whether Fox would, could, should or had to make the speech was debated all week.

Legal scholars weighed in on exactly what the constitution demanded. Average Mexicans, many of whom normally show little interest in the informe, were debating tactics and options as if the congressional session were a sporting event.

Mexicans hardly needed more evidence of the severity of their political crisis. Street closings and other protests around Mexico City have lengthened commutes, disrupted businesses and idled workers.

Public confidence in legislators and political parties has sunk to an all-time low, according to a survey this week in the Mexico City daily Reforma.

Amid all this, the thousands of die-hard protesters who are intensely loyal to Lopez Obrador say they are not going away.

They refuse to accept the official results of the July 2 vote. And if the nation's highest electoral court ratifies Calderon's victory next week, as expected, Lopez Obrador supporters vow not to recognize the new president and instead construct a parallel government.

The events Friday showed how far apart are the competing views of Mexico and its incipient democracy. Lopez Obrador's supporters say they are fighting for democracy and that their blocking of Fox's speech was a legitimate part of the fight.

Yet in that same speech, which Fox recorded and aired over national television later Friday, the president used the word "democracy" dozens of times.

"Democracy is synonymous with liberty, and, today, Mexico lives in a true system of liberties," Fox said in the last informe of his six-year term. "Today, democracy is the verb and the noun of national life."

While that message was being aired, the halls of Congress Fox had just abandoned were finally emptying out. And the leaders of the various parties were talking to the cameras, making their case for democracy.


Milwaukee archdiocese to pay $16 million abuse settlement

Milwaukee archdiocese to pay $16 million abuse settlement
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune and The Associated Press
Published September 2, 2006

MILWAUKEE -- The Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee has agreed to pay more than $16 million to settle sexual abuse claims involving 10 victims in California and two priests, one transferred there by the archdiocese, church officials said Friday.

Half the settlement will come from insurance, the archdiocese said. The deal was reached after two days of court-ordered mediation.

"We believe this agreement brings closure to all cases in California and, hopefully, provides healing for victims survivors," Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan said.

Nine claims were against Siegfried Widera. The other was against Franklyn Becker, who worked in California and has since left the priesthood, the archdiocese said.

The Milwaukee archdiocese had transferred Widera to California in 1981, knowing the priest had a history of abuse. He was facing 42 counts of child molestation in the two states when he died in 2003 after leaping from a hotel balcony in Mexico.

Differences between California and Wisconsin law allowed the victims in California to sue the archdiocese years after the alleged abuse, while the Wisconsin victims could not.

Democrats return fire over Iraq - Officials seize on Pentagon report, respond to administration rhetoric

Democrats return fire over Iraq - Officials seize on Pentagon report, respond to administration rhetoric
By Stephen J. Hedges
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published September 2, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Democrats kept up their verbal assault on President Bush and his national security team Friday over Iraq, while a new Pentagon report underscored the escalating violence there.

In a wave of statements, Democratic Party leaders targeted Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for casting the Iraq war as part of a broader war on terrorism.

"The Pentagon's new report today indicates that President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld's speeches are increasingly disconnected from the facts on the ground in Iraq," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement.

"Even the Pentagon acknowledges Iraq is tipping into civil war," Reid said. "Failed Republican policies have left America bogged down in Iraq, with our military stretched thin and less able to fight and win the war on terror."

Bush, in a speech to the American Legion on Thursday in Salt Lake City, said, "The war we fight today is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st Century."

Rumsfeld, in his speech to the Legion on Tuesday, cited the "strange innocence" in the period between World Wars I and II and the failure of Western nations to recognize the rising Nazi threat.

"Some nations tried to negotiate a separate peace, even as the enemy made its deadly ambitions crystal-clear," Rumsfeld said, explaining, "I recount this history because once again we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism."

Some Democrats, though, were sharply critical of Rumsfeld's suggestion that critics of the war in Iraq were engaging in appeasement.

Rumsfeld "wants to lecture everybody else," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "He should be ashamed of himself. His stewardship has been a disaster."

Emanuel said House Democrats are considering staging a no-confidence vote on Rumsfeld.

The Pentagon's report on Iraq was noticeably more pessimistic than previous quarterly accounts that the Defense Department has sent to Congress. It highlighted civilian deaths, the rise in strife between rival Muslim factions and the growing role of death squads in Baghdad.

"Rising sectarian strife defines the emerging nature of violence in mid-2006," the report found, concluding, "Death squads and terrorists are locked in a mutually reinforcing cycle of sectarian strife."

Cheney suggested several weeks ago that the primary defeat of Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat who has supported the war, would "embolden Al Qaeda types."

Lieberman, now running as an independent in the race for his seat, was defeated by Ned Lamont, a critic of the Iraq war.

Howard Dean, the Democratic National Committee chairman, said Bush has failed to deliver a winning strategy in Iraq.

"You can't trust Republicans to defend America," Dean said. "Today we only heard more of the same propaganda from a desperate Bush administration worried more about its party's political prospects this fall than about how to protect America and fight and win the real war on terror. It's results that matter, and the Bush White House and its rubber-stamp Republicans in Congress have not produced results when it comes to keeping America safe."

The charges and counter-charges over Iraq have more to do with political than military strategy. With the Nov. 7 elections more than two months away and poll numbers suggesting Democrats could overturn the GOP majority in the House, the role of U.S. troops overseas has become a primary focus.

Bush and Rumsfeld included references to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in their American Legion speeches, and framed U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the war against militant Islamic fundamentalism.

Emanuel said Rumsfeld crossed the line into partisan politics during his speech.

"He gave it for political purposes," Emanuel said. "He's playing politics. One casualty that Americans were willing to give up after 9/11 was partisanship."

Rumsfeld spokesman Eric Ruff said there was nothing political in the defense secretary's comments.

"He was not accusing anybody of being soft on terrorism," Ruff said. "What he's saying is that terrorist networks pose a threat to the United States and the free world. The questions he's raising are questions that all Americans ought to be addressing. He linked that to those very clear lessons in history, and history tells us that you just can't ignore a problem."

Late Friday, Rumsfeld wrote top Democrats in Congress saying his recent remarks in Salt Lake City were misrepresented by the media, The Associated Press reported. Rumsfeld said he was "concerned" with the reaction of Democrats.

"I know you agree that with America under attack and U.S. troops in the field, our national debate on this should be constructive," he wrote.


Putting a lid on the melting pot - Mayor John Kimmel seeks to rid Arcadia, Wis., of illegal immigrants

Putting a lid on the melting pot - Mayor John Kimmel seeks to rid Arcadia, Wis., of illegal immigrants. He is proposing rules on language, signs and the flying of foreign flags.
By Robert Gutsche Jr
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published September 2, 2006

ARCADIA, Wis. -- Francisco Acuhua milks cows, harvests food and works as a farmhand with dozens of other Mexican immigrants--some legal, some not--to raise enough money for his family across the border and to help his girlfriend, Sarah, be a stay-at-home mother.

Acuhua, 21, says he isn't afraid of hard work, but living in this town is getting increasingly difficult for immigrant workers after the mayor said last month that he wants to oust undocumented immigrants.

"If you employ illegal immigrants or rent to or house illegal immigrants, there will be consequences," Mayor John Kimmel, a 31-year-old who manages a local bar and grill, wrote in his hometown newspaper. "They [immigrants] are not welcome here!"

The mayor's proposals have nearly divided this western Wisconsin community of 2,400 people as Arcadia, which is north of La Crosse, has become the latest town to propose or pass measures aimed at undocumented immigrants. Similar efforts have emerged in Hazleton, Pa., and elsewhere.

They come as immigration legislation remains on hold in Congress. The House and Senate have approved different measures, with the House bill focusing on enforcement and the Senate bill providing ways for illegal immigrants to obtain citizenship.

Under the Arcadia proposals, English would be the official language in the town, all directional signs would be in English and people flying foreign flags would have to fly the U.S. flag also. A video store has long displayed Mexican flags but not an American flag.

The new rules would include alerting federal agencies about undocumented workers living in the town, as well as restricting the number of people allowed to live in a rental housing unit.

Acuhua, who speaks Spanish and doesn't use English much, said he and his friends were shocked that the community they call home might be turning against them. Officials estimate that as many as 300 immigrants live and work in Arcadia, but it is not known how many are undocumented.

"This isn't right," Acuhua said. "They should not be doing this to us."

It is not clear when--or even if--the mayor's proposed ordinances will go to the City Council for discussion. Late last month, more than 90 residents turned out for a meeting on the matter that became heated. Since then, the mayor has stopped talking to reporters.

Kimmel said in an interview earlier with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that his proposed ordinances would not be like those in Hazelton, Pa. He also denied that he wants to enforce federal immigration laws, saying he just wants to provide local sanctions.

The mayor said he was responding to complaints from constituents, and he seems surprised by the reaction he has received from near and far. "Locally, I've gotten more positive feedback than heat," he said.

Meanwhile, local churches have been working to calm tensions.

"What we want to be trying to do is not join that list of cities elsewhere who have been on one side or the other of this issue," said Rev. Michael Klos, a priest whose separate Spanish-language mass at Holy Family Catholic Church has been attracting 75 to 100 people each Sunday since May.

"This issue is not done yet," he said. "It can't be done yet. We can't sweep this under the rug. What we need to do is see how we can have a positive outcome."

What's happening in local governments across the country, including in Arcadia, can easily be blamed on national politics, said John Keeley, communications director with the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think tank that favors strong immigration control.

"Washington isn't doing its job," Keeley said. "And this is a cultural flare-up that is attendant to [an immigration] policy unabated for three decades. In addition to the concerns over quality of education, access to health care . . . there is what I call a `press-one-for-English-press-two-for-Spanish' phenomenon. And many Americans are fed up with this."

The owner of Arcadia's San Juan Mini Market, which caters to Mexican residents through the sale of authentic Mexican music, foods and decorations, offers a different view.

Mateo Barrientos said many of his customers have been frustrated and confused about the views expressed by Kimmel and supported by some in talks at coffee shops and in local newspapers.

"Even with the [immigration] laws in the U.S.," Barrientos said, "many of the people here say the city can't do all this to them because we are human beings."

READY, AIM, MISFIRE - Coast Guard's proposal to test guns on Great Lakes hits waves of opposition from Congress, boaters

READY, AIM, MISFIRE - Coast Guard's proposal to test guns on Great Lakes hits waves of opposition from Congress, boaters
By Michael Hawthorne
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published September 2, 2006

The Coast Guard has been quietly planning to conduct target practice on Lake Michigan with boat-mounted machine guns that would be fired a few miles from beaches along the North Shore.

But plans to establish a permanent "live-fire zone" in waters near Highland Park, Lake Forest and Waukegan--and in 33 other spots around the Great Lakes--are on hold after boating groups and an influential member of Congress complained that the public wasn't informed about the exercises.

The proposal, so unusual it required changes to a nearly 200-year-old disarmament treaty with Canada, is raising concerns that recreational boaters might unwittingly cross into the live-fire zones or get hit by stray bullets. Car ferries that operate in the summer between Wisconsin and Michigan also would pass through the zones.

Environmental groups, meanwhile, are concerned that lead and other metals in the bullets could add more toxic pollution to the Great Lakes.

"This was a surprise to me and many others," said U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who serves on a congressional subcommittee that oversees the Coast Guard. "When we think about the Coast Guard on the Great Lakes, we think about search and rescue missions, not firing machine guns."

Coast Guard stations around the Great Lakes began mounting M240 machine guns on cutters and small boats this year, marking the first time since World War II that the lakes have had routine armed patrols.

The 7.62 mm guns, which can fire up to 600 rounds a minute, were installed as part of the nation's anti-terrorism efforts, the Federal Register shows.

Firing live ammunition at floating targets in the lakes is "essential to carrying out Coast Guard missions relating to military operations and national security," the documents state.

Coast Guard boats on the lakes previously did not have mounted weapons, but crews carried rifles and pistols.

In the Chicago area, six boats stationed at Calumet Harbor are equipped to carry the heavier machine guns. None are currently mounted, Petty Officer Jarrod Morris said Friday.

Critics said the only notice of the training exercises was published Aug. 1 in the Federal Register. Because the Coast Guard now is part of the Department of Homeland Security, it was not required to hold public hearings or study potential environmental impacts.

Under pressure from Hoekstra, Coast Guard officials decided Friday to accept public comments for 60 days. They also are mulling a series of meetings around the Great Lakes to provide more information.

Chief Petty Officer Robert Lanier, a spokesman for the Coast Guard's Ninth District office in Cleveland, said each zone would be used for target practice by local guard members two or three times a year. The training exercises would last one or two days, Lanier said, though the notice filed in the Federal Register does not limit when the zones could be used.

"Our top priority when conducting these exercises is public safety," Lanier said.

Fourteen of the 34 live-fire zones proposed by the Coast Guard are on Lake Michigan, including sites near Kenosha, Milwaukee, Gary, Michigan City, Benton Harbor and Grand Haven. There are seven zones on Lake Superior, six on Lake Huron, four on Lake Erie and three on Lake Ontario.

Marinas and boaters would be notified of the exercises on a marine radio frequency, Coast Guard records show. Notices also would be posted at local marinas, and safety officials would watch for vessels that might drift toward the training areas.

But some marina managers and charter captains said many boaters now rely on cell phones and often don't tune radios to Coast Guard announcements.

Several boat captains interviewed Friday said they had little information about the exercises other than that some would be in prime fishing spots.

"It seems a little ridiculous to have so many parts of the lake set off like this," said Mike Schoonveld, who operates out of East Chicago. "Why don't they just get all their people in the middle of the lake, take care of what they need to do and let the rest of us fish?"

Jim Fenner, president of the Ludington (Mich.) Charter Boat Association, wondered why some zones are close to shore.

"We're all for homeland security, but we have a lot of questions about this," Fenner said.

Some marina managers and charter boat captains said they worried the live-fire exercises would damage the image of the Great Lakes as a safe and carefree tourist destination.

"It doesn't sound like a very good idea to me," said Ken Larsen, owner of Larsen's Marine at Waukegan Harbor. "We don't want this to scare people away from our industry."

In response to concerns about lead bullets falling into the lakes, the Coast Guard said its own study found the potential environmental effects would be minimal. The Michigan Environmental Council, though, wants an independent analysis.

In comments filed with the Coast Guard, the council complained that officials at the agency's Cleveland office would not release information about the type of ammunition or how many rounds will be fired.

Military exercises once were routinely conducted on Lake Michigan. During World War II, sailors from the Great Lakes Naval Air Station at Glenview frequently practiced bombing runs and fired live ammunition at targets in the lake, according to news accounts from the time.

However, the recent arming of Coast Guard boats on the Great Lakes required changes to a treaty that the U.S. and Canada signed after the War of 1812.

The treaty, which was written to limit naval forces and armaments on the Great Lakes, limited each country to equipping four wooden vessels with an 18-pound cannon.


New York Times Editorial - AIDS money at risk

New York Times Editorial - AIDS money at risk
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: September 1, 2006

A lethal form of budgetary politics is at work in the U.S. Congress. The proven formula for assisting AIDS-ridden urban areas that pioneered effective treatment programs is in danger of being radically altered to shift money to more rural states. Rather than increase spending to cover both real priorities - the cities' AIDS needs and the growing problem of HIV in rural areas - current proposals would deny the cities tens of millions of dollars.

Nothing could be more foolhardy for the nation as a whole. The AIDS battle knows no boundaries and has hardly waned in New York, California, Florida, Illinois and the other states that first confronted the challenge a generation ago. The cuts being contemplated would be traumatic for the valuable mix of treatments now given to tens of thousands.

The Republican leadership hopes to rush this change through Congress soon after it returns next week in the renewal of the $2 billion AIDS spending program. A fairer formula is being sought by alarmed lawmakers from the states slated to be shortchanged.

It will take a relative pittance - perhaps $100 million more - to finance the AIDS fight across the board. Surely a Congress that repeatedly spends far more on favored hometown projects can find the wherewithal to see to this life-and- death issue for all of America.

New York Times Editorial - In California, a breakthrough

New York Times Editorial - In California, a breakthrough
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: September 1, 2006

California, long a leader on environmental issues, has done it again, approving a pathbreaking bill that would impose America's broadest and most stringent controls on emissions of carbon dioxide, the main global warming gas. California's action stands in bold and welcome contrast to the U.S. government's reluctance to take aggressive action on a problem of mounting concern among scientists and the general public.

The deal between the state's Democratic leadership and its Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, would reduce California's carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. This is by any measure a huge undertaking. It will be up to state agencies, chiefly the California Air Resources Board, to work out the details, but the plan allows for market- based mechanisms like emissions trading to achieve the maximum possible gains at the lowest cost.

Taken together with other state actions - including an important agreement among several Northeastern states to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants - California's assertiveness has suggested to some people that the United States may be at a transformational moment on climate change, with the states leading a powerful "bottom-up" movement to deal with the problem.

That could well be so, but a global problem cannot be solved by state and regional initiatives, however admirable and necessary. There is no real substitute for determined action at the national level, since states that make the necessary capital investments to reduce emissions could well end up at a temporary economic disadvantage. Nor is there any substitute for American leadership globally; China and India, two big polluters and getting bigger, are unlikely to undertake costly controls while the world's biggest polluter sits on its hands.

Given California's size and economic reach, its initiative will surely help. But Congress and President George W. Bush are by no means off the hook.

New York Times Editorial - In Iraq, which army?

New York Times Editorial - In Iraq, which army?
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: September 1, 2006

Iraq's prime minister, Nouri Kamal al-Maliki, has a problem. His power depends on two armies. One is Iraq's national army, trained and supported by the United States. The other is the Mahdi Army, a radical Shiite militia loyal to Maliki's most powerful political backer, Moktada al-Sadr.

This week, open warfare broke out between these two armies. Maliki can no longer put off making an essential choice. He can choose to be the leader of a unified Iraqi government, or he can choose to be the captive of a radical Shiite warlord. He can no longer pretend to be both.

The issue came to a head in the southern city of Diwaniya. The fighting began when the Mahdi Army took to the streets to protest the arrest of several Sadr loyalists. At one point, according to an Iraqi general, Mahdi fighters killed a group of Iraqi soldiers in a public square. After hours of fierce fighting, Shiite politicians worked out a cease-fire with Sadr. But no one sees this as an isolated incident or imagines it will not soon be repeated.

Iraq's national army is the very fragile reed on which White House hopes for an eventual American withdrawal now rest - as President George W. Bush made clear Thursday in a speech about Iraq in which he heaped praise on Maliki but painted a picture of the Iraq war that had only the most tenuous connections to reality. The Iraqi Army was already demoralized and fragmented. Its soldiers and officers, including some courageous Sunnis who have defied the insurgency to stand with their Shiite and Kurdish countrymen, cannot be expected to go on risking their lives indefinitely unless Maliki stands up to Sadr's attacks.

But thus far, the prime minister has conspicuously stood aside, recently denouncing Washington for supporting an Iraqi Army attack on a Sadr stronghold in Baghdad. Maliki's refusal to go after the main stronghold - Sadr City - helps explain Baghdad's continued high level of violence despite the prime minister's endlessly repeated announcements of a security crackdown in the capital.

The underlying political reality is that Maliki owes his job to an alliance between his own Islamic Dawa Party and Sadr's faction. (If you see a parallel to the way Hezbollah has shielded itself from being disarmed by the Lebanese government, so does Sadr. A few weeks ago he rallied thousands of supporters in Baghdad to cheer Hezbollah's rocket attacks against Israeli cities.)

The White House and the Pentagon keep assuring Americans that despite the obvious problems, the Iraqi Army is becoming increasingly capable of taking over basic defense responsibilities. But evidence continues to mount that it is not.

In Anbar Province, the western heart of the Sunni insurgency, army desertion rates in some units have run as high as 40 percent. In Maysan, in the Shiite southeast, 100 Iraqi soldiers defied orders to deploy for Baghdad, in part out of concern they would be asked to fight Shiite militias. Days before, a former British base in Maysan that had been turned over to the Iraqi Army was overrun by looters as Iraqi soldiers and the police stood watching.

Instead of standing up to take over the defense of Iraq, the Iraqi Army is in danger of crumbling. Now, government-backed Shiite militiamen have publicly killed Iraqi soldiers and fought an army unit to a humiliating draw. And Maliki still hasn't decided where his military loyalty lies.

Spurning diplomacy weakens America

Spurning diplomacy weakens America
Aria Mehrabi
Copyhright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: September 1, 2006

LOS ANGELES Iran's answer to the world on its nuclear program is a characteristically complicated and equivocating one. It offers Washington few easy answers - a pattern that diplomats have become familiar with when dealing with Iran.

On the one hand, Tehran did not give in to the Security Council demand that it suspend uranium enrichment by Aug. 31 as a precondition for negotiations. Once again: Iranian defiance. On the other hand, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, has said Iran is ready for "serious talks" on its program and wider regional issues. A sign of Iranian willingness to cooperate?

This mixed message smacks the ball firmly back in the court of the six-country group that made a wide-ranging offer to Iran in exchange for suspending its uranium enrichment program - the United States, Britain, China, Russia, France and Germany. Washington has already expressed its dissatisfaction with Iran's response, and is likely to push for sanctions now that the Aug. 31 deadline has passed. Meanwhile, Russia and China have indicated that talks with Tehran would be more fruitful than sanctions.

Many observers of this delicate diplomatic game have long known that Russia holds the key to this conflict. If it chooses to side firmly with Washington and embrace a more confrontational approach to Iran, China would probably follow. All of this would lead us to believe that Washington should be taking an especially delicate approach to its relations with Russia right now. After all, if the Iran nukes issue is as important as the Bush administration says it is, then Washington needs to marshal all of the diplomatic support it can get.

On Aug. 3, as the world's attention focused on the war between Hezbollah and Israel, Russia made a significant concession toward the U.S. position on Iran's nuclear program. In an unusually blunt communication, it told Iran that it had no choice but to respect the Security Council deadline to suspend uranium enrichment.

Less than 24 hours later, Washington "thanked" Russia for this significant statement by announcing sanctions against two Russian companies that sold goods to Iran that it alleged might be used for the making of weapons of mass destruction. One of the companies, a state arms exporter, said it only sells defensive armaments. The other company said it hasn't sold equipment to Iran in more than six years.

Without access to the intelligence, of course, we'll never be able to verify who is right. President Vladimir Putin was said to be incensed - and less likely to want to cooperate with Washington on Iran, or other issues for that matter.

So, the question must be asked: Why antagonize Moscow now, in the middle of delicate negotiations over Iran? And, if it was absolutely necessary, why do it so publicly?

The answer is this: The Bush administration has lost its diplomatic bearings. It sees the hard work of diplomatic deal-making, negotiated solutions and coalition-building as a tiresome (albeit sometimes necessary) exercise. It sees the rest of the world as inconvenient obstacles in its path. It has become far too comfortable in its unilateralism.

As such, the White House fails to see the obvious: If you want Russia on your side in the Security Council, you're better off issuing a strongly worded, quiet, behind-the-scenes protest about the two companies in question, rather than publicly announcing sanctions and humiliating a proud nation.

The world of diplomacy is complicated, Byzantine and treacherous. American diplomats are trained to be able to sit with friend and foe, protecting America's national interest. Right now, Washington seems reluctant to send its diplomats anywhere near someone who will oppose them. Its inability and unwillingness to directly engage Syria and Iran is symptomatic of this.

This idea that engagement means endorsement should be discarded. America's diplomats should be able to jawbone with the best of them and state clearly America's national interest, even to foes. Fortunately, figures like Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and some of the old-guard Republican "realists" of the Bush-Baker era are reasserting this basic tenet of diplomacy.

It has become fashionable in neoconservative circles to decry the "false stability" of 60 years of American foreign policy. But we must remember that the Cold War consensus - of both Democrat and Republican - got America through an incredibly challenging six decades, when America's national soil was directly threatened by the specter of nuclear annihilation. And even during the height of the Cold War, it maintained lines of communications to the Soviet Union. There was a U.S. embassy in Moscow and a Soviet one in Washington.

The problems arrayed before U.S. policy makers are varied and complex. It won't be easy to solve the Iran nuclear issue, the aftermath of the Lebanon war or the deteriorating Iraq situation. Other foreign policy challenges, such as managing the rise of China, energy security and Northeast Asian stability, will also strain the thinking of America's foreign-policy crafters.

One thing is for certain, however: Washington is less likely to be able to solve these problems alone.

Aria Mehrabi is a member of the leadership council of the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan Washington-based think tank devoted to pragmatic solutions to national and global problems.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Final short view By Philip Coggan - The new conundrum

Final short view By Philip Coggan
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: September 1 2006 03:00 | Last updated: September 1 2006 03:00

Who would be a financial pundit? Investors could take their pick from a welter of economic statistics yesterday and use them to justify any number of views on asset prices.

Europe was rich in data, with sharp declines in German retail sales and Italian business confidence looking negative for economic growth prospects, while a fall in French unemployment was positive.

European economic growth was strong in the second quarter but many commentators are nervous about whether this can be sustained in the second half of the year. And the European Central Bank made clear in its press conference yesterday, with its mention of "strong vigilance" over inflation, that monetary policy would soon be tightened again.

The problem with reacting to individual items of economic news is that much of it is "noise", subject to random fluctuations and likely to be revised in subsequent months. Capital Economics made that point about the 0.9 per cent July fall in Japanese industrial production, reminding investors it followed a sharp 2.1 per cent increase in June.

Nevertheless, it seems clear that the balance of Japanese economic data in recent weeks has been disappointing.

That has prompted investors to scale down their expectations for the speed of Japanese interest rate increases, and led the yen to fall to a record low against the euro and eight-year lows against sterling and the Swiss franc.

The currency markets continue to be a battle between the weaklings. There are good reasons to sell each of the three main currencies; the yen's lack of yield; doubts about the long-term growth prospects for Europe; and the massive US current account deficit.

But there is no sign yet of the great dollar crisis that those most concerned about the US deficit have been forecasting. Perhaps this is because none of the alternative currencies is sufficiently attractive to trigger a stampede out of US assets.

There is always gold, which is up 20 per cent since the start of the year. But gold is also $100 an ounce below its May peak. That does not suggest investors have any immediate desire to bid paper currencies goodbye.

Bernanke's optimism contrasts with inflation fears in Europe

Bernanke's optimism contrasts with inflation fears in Europe
By Chris Giles in Londonand Ralph Atkins in Frankfurt
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: September 1 2006 03:00 | Last updated: September 1 2006 03:00

The Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank painted contrasting pictures of the US and European economies yesterday, with Ben Bernanke, Fed chairman, depicting a US economy that could continue to grow rapidly without generating inflation, while the ECB hinted that further interest rate rises were needed to stem inflationary pressure in the eurozone.

Together, the statement by Jean-Claude Trichet, ECB president, and the speech by Mr Bernanke indicated that European interest rates were likely to rise while there was no urgency for further US rate rises.

Mr Bernanke gave an optimistic assessment of the US economy's ability to continue rapid economic growth without triggering further inflationary pressures.

He said recent downward revisions to official statistics on US national income and output did "not appear to require a significant rethinking of long-term productivity trends".

His comments showed that he thinks the US economy can still grow a little over 3 per cent a year without stoking inflation and interest rates.

Many economists have recently said that downward revisions to recent years' data imply that the underlying speed limit of the US economy had fallen to 3 per cent or below.

Bond and equity markets were little moved by Mr Bernanke's optimism.

But Mr Bernanke's belief in the strong prospects for long-term US productivity performance was tinged with a warning that new technology alone would not secure the US a competitive advantage.

Across the Atlantic, Mr Trichet announced big upward revisions to the ECB's inflation forecasts for this year and next and called for "strong vigilance" to defend price stability - code words used to signal an interest rate increase in early October.

He added that he expected "a progressive withdrawal of monetary accommodation", implying more than one rise in borrowing costs was likely.

Mr Trichet's comments followed the unexpected strength of the eurozone recovery in the second quarter, and ECB fears about the impact on inflation in 2007 of oil prices and a three percentage point rise in the German consumer tax rate next year.

Eurozone consumers' fears about inflation increased in August to the highest level since the introduction of euro notes and coins in 2002, according to a European Commission survey yesterday.

The ECB left its main interest rate unchanged at 3 per cent. But a quarter percentage point rise is now expected at the bank's meeting in Paris on October 5.

Property decline offsets US jobless fall

Property decline offsets US jobless fall
By Richard Beales in New York
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: September 1 2006 13:40 | Last updated: September 1 2006 19:57

US unemployment fell slightly to 4.7 per cent in August, suggesting the US economy is still generating jobs, but a sharp slowdown in the residential property market persists, according to data released on Friday.

Construction spending dropped an unexpected 1.2 per cent in July, pulled down by a 2 per cent fall in private residential activity. And the National Association of Realtors’ pending home sales index plunged 7 per cent in July. Each was the biggest monthly decline of its kind for five years.

The fall in unemployment reversed a surprise increase to 4.8 per cent in July, according to the Labor Department’s monthly employment report.

The report, among the most influential regular economic releases, also showed the US economy added 128,000 jobs last month, in line with expectations. The July figure was revised slightly higher to 121,000.

The rise in average hourly earnings was only 0.1 per cent, against consensus expectations of 0.3 per cent. A higher number could have intensified fear that the Federal Reserve would be more likely to raise interest rates to fight price pressures.

“Optimists will continue to point to the household survey’s more upbeat job growth, whilst pessimists can point to the peaking out of earnings growth and hours worked,” said Rob Carnell, analyst at ING Financial Markets.

He said the report had “no substantial market implications”.

The fall in residential construction was offset by a rise in non-residential activity, but John Ryding, chief US economist at Bear Stearns, said the fall in pending home sales heralded further weakening for the housing sector.

Recent housing data have shown sharp declines in sales of new and existing homes, rising inventories of unsold properties, and weak sentiment among potential buyers.

The rapid price appreciation of recent years has slowed to nearly zero on a national basis.

Stocks consolidated gains in morning trading, while government bonds slipped on the payrolls news before rebounding positively on the housing data.

Ian Shepherdson, chief US economist at High Frequency Economics, said he expected a further slowdown in growth by the end of the year.

He thought the Fed would leave interest rates steady: “The Fed expects sub-trend growth to continue; so no more hikes.”

The market for Fed funds futures is pricing in only about a 10 per cent chance of the Fed raising rates again this month, and only a slightly greater likelihood of a rise by the year’s end.

Hybrid effort: Trio takes on Toyota

Hybrid effort: Trio takes on Toyota
GM, Chrysler and BMW have gotten together to save money and combine gas/electric knowledge
By Rick Popely
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published September 1, 2006

General Motors is just getting into the burgeoning hybrid vehicle market and Chrysler won't be there until 2008, so both badly lag industry leader Toyota.

But GM and Chrysler, along with German luxury brand BMW, have something Toyota doesn't: a three-way alliance that the partners say will save money and speed development of hybrid systems that work on a variety of vehicles, from large sport-utility vehicles to sleek luxury sedans.

Whether three cooks are better than one remains to be seen, but such collaboration may be the only way even major auto manufacturers can compete with industry juggernaut Toyota in hybrids.

GM and its partners will invest more than $1 billion in their collaborative effort with no guarantee of a return. Toyota reportedly spent more than that during the 1990s to develop its first hybrid model, so it takes big bucks to compete in this arena.

To catch Toyota, GM and its partners are adopting common specifications for a hybrid system built around a GM automatic transmission. They will use a single factory to build hybrid systems, a GM plant in Baltimore, achieving economies of scale none could realize on its own.

The three-way alliance on gas/electric hybrids is a sign of the times as automakers search for partners as a way to save money globally on purchasing, product development and new technology.

GM, which recently teamed with Ford to develop a new automatic transmission, is in preliminary talks with Renault and Nissan about possible partnerships and joint ventures.

Any deal among those three is bound to get other manufacturers talking, and recent news reports have said Ford would be interested in talking to Renault and Nissan if GM backs away.

Phil Gott, an analyst with industry forecaster Global Insight, calls the hybrid alliance "an excellent strategy" that lets three rivals pool resources and tailor the system to their own vehicles.

"The transmission is versatile enough that each manufacturer can talk about the benefits of it in their own vehicles," Gott said.

"You could say it puts them ahead (of Toyota). You have three manufacturers sharing the research and development and the manufacturing. That means they should have a lower cost structure."

But Toyota is a rapidly moving target, and it could be years before the GM alliance matches Toyota's current hybrid sales.

Toyota has sold more than 370,000 hybrids in the U.S. and globally expects to sell its 1 millionth hybrid next year. Honda ranks second in U.S. sales with 141,000 and Ford is third with 33,000.

Without talking specifics, Toyota says it reduced costs of the hybrid technology by 50 percent in the 2004 Prius compared to the first-generation Prius, introduced in Japan in 1997.

Toyota expects another 50 percent cost reduction by early next decade, when the company's goal is to sell 1 million hybrids annually around the world, with 600,000 in the U.S.

Analysts estimate a full hybrid system like the one in the Prius currently adds $3,000 to $4,000 to a vehicle's cost, but the amount is coming down with higher volume.

"It's a numbers game, and Toyota has the advantage in production," said Anthony Pratt, director of global powertrain forecasting for J.D. Power and Associates.

"They're already a volume player. If anyone's making money on hybrids, Toyota's probably doing it."

Toyota also is selling its hybrid system to Nissan, which will use it in the Altima sedan starting next year, and is working on a deal with Fuji Heavy Industries, maker of Subaru cars.

Power sees U.S. hybrid sales growing to 900,000 in 2013, about 5 percent of the market, from 270,000 this year or less than 2 percent of sales.

The cost will need to come down to attract buyers beyond early adopters who embrace hybrids as an environmental statement. Power says the higher price is the main deterrent among consumers considering hybrids.

"Environmentalism is a wealthy person's hobby," Pratt said.

Power's research shows that the average new-vehicle buyer has annual family income of $82,500, but hybrid buyers earn $113,400.

GM, DaimlerChrysler and BMW have not projected sales for the hybrid system they are developing or talked price, but they have ambitious plans to spread their hybrid technology across a range of models to maximize return.

It will appear first in late 2007 on the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon full-size SUVs. DaimlerChrysler will offer it on its Dodge Durango SUV in early 2008 and later will adapt it to rear-wheel drive luxury sedans in its Mercedes-Benz brand.

"You will certainly see further rollout of this technology. It has to work on other vehicle applications," said Andreas Truckenbrodt, director of DaimlerChrysler's hybrid program. "We're talking about DaimlerChrysler here, not just Chrysler."

BMW and GM also plan to use it on rear-drive sedans, and GM and Chrysler are interested in adapting it to their mass-market front-drive cars.

GM says the hybrid versions of the Tahoe and Yukon will get about 25 percent better fuel economy than conventional models, which average 17 m.p.g. in EPA mileage tests.

Toyota hybrids like the Camry sedan and Highlander SUV get fuel economy improvements of more than 40 percent, but Pratt says those are car-based vehicles that don't do heavy-duty chores. GM will have the first truck-based hybrid and says it will not reduce towing or cargo hauling capabilities.

"Each company is playing to its strengths and is defending their most profitable segments," Pratt said. "Toyota doesn't have that, so it's a competitive advantage."

That advantage may not last long because Toyota has said it intends to eventually offer hybrid versions of all its models.

As GM and its partners race to catch up to Toyota, that leaves financially strapped Ford Motor Co. with a choice of continuing to develop its own hybrid technology or find a dance partner.

Ford was the first U.S.-based manufacturer with a hybrid, offering it in 2004 on the Escape, a car-based, compact SUV. Ford plans to introduce Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrid sedans in 2008 and four other hybrid vehicles by 2010.

Troubled Ford, however, is in the midst of a major overhaul that could make it a smaller company with less money to spend on technologies like hybrids.

That has sparked speculation that Ford may eventually join the GM collaboration, especially since it could use the hybrid technology in its large trucks.

At a recent industry conference, Tom Watson, Ford's hybrid manager, said "collaboration is always a possibility," but he added that Ford sees developing its own system as an "intellectual and competitive advantage."

Pratt notes that BMW and Mercedes-Benz are archenemies in the luxury field yet are on the same team with GM on hybrids. Ford already has jointly developed an automatic transmission with GM, so there is precedent.

"Market forces can make for strange bedfellows," Pratt said.


Music Box' `Viva Pedro' series offers solid tribute to the director

`Viva Pedro' series offers solid tribute to the director
By Michael Wilmington
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published September 1, 2006

"Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" (star)(star)(star)(star), the wild tale of Spanish television actress Pepa (Carmen Maura) and her attempts to get over a jilting by her faithless lover and fellow actor Ivan (Fernando Guillen), is the most celebrated movie of Spain's perverse auteur Pedro Almodovar. Almodovar's new film, "Volver," arrives in Chicago later this fall, but "Women," meanwhile, is a perfect opener for the eight-film Almodovar retrospective, "Viva Pedro," starting at the Music Box Theater Friday. It screens for a week (Sept. 1-7), followed by seven other Almodovars through the end of the month (Sept. 28), all in restored 35 mm prints.

They're all memorable--sardonic, witty, packed with emotion and personality and filled with lusty comic performances of tormented women and irresponsible men (and vice versa) by Almodovar's formidable acting troupe.

"Women," loosely inspired by Jean Cocteau's play "The Human Voice," is the funniest of all his movies: a madcap farce/romance/drama that suggests a great Hollywood screwball comedy operating without censorship. As Pepa and Ivan's old apartment fills up with increasingly strange and mad people after Ivan leaves with his new lover and Pepa decides to rent out the place, the sheer absurdity of the gathering crowd becomes a healing force for Pepa, even as they make the audience weak with laughter.

In comes Candela (Maria Barranco), a fugitive with a Shiite terrorist boyfriend, and also Lucia (Julieta Serrano), Ivan's abandoned lover and the mother of his son. Most disturbingly, here comes the son: Carlos (played by Antonio Banderas in one of the early performances that made him famous), his girlfriend Marisa (Rossy de Palma) in tow, and his own wandering eye drawn to both Candela and Pepa.

Sex and emotional trauma are subjects both amusing and painful for Almodovar, whose own gay perspective is more obvious in male romances like 1987's searing "Law of Desire" (also in the series). So, in "Women," he can both laugh at Pepa's predicament and view her with due seriousness. With Maura delivering an explosive performance, Almodovar presents Pepa's tale with gusto--vibrant colors, gaudy personality, mad jokes and a sexiness that erupts off the screen. "Women" is a feminist comedy with real bite; it always brings down the house.

Dates for the other "Viva Pedro" Almodovars: "All About My Mother," "Talk to Her" and "The Flower of My Secret," Sept. 8-14: "Live Flesh," "Law of Desire" and "Bad Education," Sept. 15-21; "Matador," Sept. 22-28.

MPAA rating for "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown": R (adult situations, strong sexual content, profanity).


(Telephone) Callers may get $60 tax refund

Callers may get $60 tax refund
By Mary Dalrymple
Associated Press
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published September 1, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Consumers can claim a standard $30 to $60 refund next year for a tax on long-distance telephone calls that the government declared invalid, the Internal Revenue Service announced Thursday.

Telephone customers had been paying the 3 percent federal excise tax on local and long-distance service. The government this month stopped collecting the tax on long-distance calls after businesses repeatedly fought the tax in court and won.

Next year, consumers can use their 2006 tax returns to claim a refund on long-distance telephone taxes paid since March 2003.

The standard refund starts at $30 and increases by $10 for each additional exemption claimed on a tax return, up to $60. A married couple with two dependent children, for example, could claim a $60 refund.

The IRS will add a line to the 2006 tax returns mailed next spring, enabling individuals to claim the refund. The tax agency will also create a special form for people not otherwise required to file tax returns, so they can request their money back.

"These amounts save taxpayers from locating 41 months of old phone bills and analyzing these bills to determine the taxes paid," said IRS Commissioner Mark Everson. "We believe the standard amounts are both reasonable and fair."

The IRS said it based the refund amounts on telephone usage data, and that the standard amounts reflect averages for households of different sizes.

Individuals do not have to use the standard amount. Consumers who have their old phone bills can instead add up the taxes they paid between March 2003 and July 2006 and apply for a refund.

The tax dates back to the late 19th Century and the Spanish-American War, when telephones were a luxury and the government needed revenue.

In recent years, multiple businesses successfully challenged the tax because it applied to long-distance calls billed according to time and distance, a billing formula mostly replaced by flat-rate calling plans.

The Treasury Department has said it expects to return $13 billion to consumers, including businesses and other organizations.

Brown answers 'call,' joins mayoral race

Brown answers 'call,' joins mayoral race
By Gary Washburn
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published September 1, 2006

Dorothy Brown, who entered local politics in 1999 as a novice, announced Thursday that her sights are now on the biggest job in town: mayor.

Brown, currently clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court, formally declared her candidacy after months of preparation.

"I have heard the call from many of the citizens of the city of Chicago," she said. "Today I am answering that call."

Brown quoted philosopher William James, poet Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King Jr., President Harry Truman and the Declaration of Independence during an 11-minute speech in a Hotel Allegro conference room packed with enthusiastic supporters.

The crowd included comedian and political activist Dick Gregory, one-time mayoral candidate and former Cook County Circuit Court Judge R. Eugene Pincham, and Wallace "Gator" Bradley, a community activist and former gang member.

Questioned after her speech and during a series of interviews with reporters, Brown repeatedly took pains to avoid making Mayor Richard Daley, who is expected to run for his sixth term in the February mayoral election, a focus on the day of her announcement. But she alluded to the contracting and hiring scandals that have plagued his administration.

"Obviously, the citizens of Chicago have concerns about some of the things that have been occurring within the current administration," Brown said. She asserted that "as a proven and visionary leader with over 30 years of business and management experience," she is "a person people can trust, a person with high ethical values."

Daley political consultant David Axelrod asserted that Daley has been candid about the problems in his administration and has taken steps to fix them.

"I think that if the mayor runs, people will look at his record in totality," Axelrod said. "I think they will see a city on the move, a city that is making progress and a city that has good leadership."

U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), who also is considering a run for mayor, praised Brown as "a solid public servant."

"The issues confronting the voters of Chicago are numerous and serious, including waste, fraud and abuse," Jackson said in a statement. "It is important to have multiple voices in the campaign speaking out against the culture of corruption in Chicago."

Like Jackson, Brown is an African-American.

"If they both run, it's over," said a Chicago alderman with independent leanings, who asked not to be named. Brown and Jackson--along with Bill "Dock" Walls, another African-American candidate who already has tossed his hat into the ring--would split the black vote, something that would guarantee Daley a big advantage, the alderman said.

But some Chicago political veterans think that every candidate who runs would skim a certain number of votes that otherwise would go to Daley, something that could prevent him from receiving more than 50 percent of the votes cast if there are enough challengers. That would force Daley into a run-off with his closest competitor.

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) has said he also is considering a run.

Asked about a Jackson candidacy, Brown said Thursday that "it would be nice" if the congressman did not run.

Even if he did, "I feel that I can win this office," Brown said. "I would not be in this race if I didn't feel I could win."

Without going into detail, Brown said in her speech that the city needs more affordable housing, "enhanced public safety," more neighborhood reinvestment and an expanded airport system.

Hinting at a campaign theme of unequal treatment across the city, Brown said she would aim to improve "all the Chicago public schools," repeating the phrase over and over and emphasizing "all," to the applause of her supporters.

When reporters asked her position on the controversial "big-box" minimum wage ordinance passed by the City Council in July, she would say only that the issue needs "a lot more discussion."

Daley is expected to veto the measure at the September council meeting, but Brown refused to say what action she would take if she were mayor.

Brown, 52, was a political unknown before making a strong, but unsuccessful, bid for city treasurer in 1999. She won the clerk of the court's office in 2000, handily winning re-election four years later.

Brown continues to be considered an outsider by some Democratic Party leaders but maintains grass-roots support based in African-American churches, including her denomination, the Church of God in Christ.

Present at her announcement were her pastor and Bishop Ocie Booker of the denomination's First Illinois Jurisdiction.


Why this immigrant rights march is brought to you by Miller

Why this immigrant rights march is brought to you by Miller
By Oscar Avila
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published September 1, 2006

Marchers had to duck into fast-food restaurants for water when they first took to Chicago's streets in support of illegal immigrants five months ago. At the next two marches, family-owned grocery stores offered free bottled water from trucks emblazoned with their names.

This time, as demonstrators march from Chinatown to House Speaker Dennis Hastert's (R-Ill.) Batavia office this weekend, they will have Miller Brewing Co., as a sponsor. The brewer has paid more than $30,000 for a planning convention, materials and newspaper ads publicizing the event.

The support of a major corporation for a controversial political cause shows how fierce the competition has become to woo the growing market of Latino consumers.

For Miller, the march offered a special chance to catch up. This spring the brewer drew the ire of pro-immigrant forces over contributions to U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who sponsored legislation that would crack down on illegal immigrants. That prompted a short-lived boycott by some Latino groups.

Now, march advertisements feature not just the organizing committee's trademark blue globe but Miller's logo and a Spanish translation of its "Live Responsibly" slogan, a company effort to build goodwill among Latinos.

But this march is no Cinco de Mayo parade. The politically charged event will promote a controversial plan to end deportations and offer legal status for all 11 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants. That creates potential pitfalls for any businesses lending support, experts say.

At the same time business sponsorships have forced activists to confront whispers that they are commercializing their movement when they accept much-needed donations.

"We would love to have 20 corporate logos. It doesn't mean we are selling the movement out," said Jorge Mujica, a member of the March 10 Committee. "The principles and demands remain the same. They are helping out this movement and we are happy with that."

Labor unions remain the movement's backbone with four major unions bringing at least 600 marchers on buses from throughout Chicago. Religious groups have been key too. Some marchers will bed down in churches and a mosque.

But businesses have become vital to this weekend's Immigrant Workers Justice Walk, which will cover 45 miles to Hastert's district office. Hundreds of marchers plan to cover the entire span from Friday through Monday, and organizers need food and water for them.

Sometimes political and commercial messages are mingled.

At a July march, Chicago-based food producer V&V Supremo printed signs with its logo that urged "Moratorium Now, Legalization Yes."

Jimenez Market, an area chain, had its sign on display as workers passed out more than 5,000 bottles of water and other supplies worth nearly $17,000. Co-owner Jose Perez acknowledged it is good publicity but stressed that "we are supporting our people. Without them, our business would go downhill."

This weekend, the Los Comales restaurant plans to donate 500 tortas, Mexican sandwiches filled with steak, ham and other toppings. The Laredo Bakery is donating bread while other restaurants are donating water, fruit and other supplies, organizers said.

Those businesses are natural allies--"part of the same brotherhood," as one marketer put it.

But the presence of Miller at a welcoming reception the day before the Aug. 12-13 planning convention raised eyebrows.

The convention brought together labor unions, anti-war groups, immigrant service organizations and even socialist political candidates.

Hours before bashing NAFTA and U.S. foreign policy, participants at the Aug. 11 reception mingled with the Miller Girls, the company's public relations ambassadors, amid a display of Miller logos.

That Miller was involved in the first place is one measure of the growing power of immigrants. After the boycott announcement, the company approached march organizers to try to find common ground, and agreed to back the march organizers' efforts.

Miller is also bankrolling informational ads in Voces Migrantes, or Migrant Voices, a community newspaper in Chicago, and has promised scholarships for area Latinos.

Mathew Romero, the company's local market development manager, said Miller felt it was important to speak out against Sensenbrenner's legislation, though his campaign was one of many the company supported.

Romero noted that company founder Frederick Miller was a German immigrant and many current executives are foreign nationals. Miller is now part of London-based SABMiller.

Romero said he wasn't worried that some opponents of illegal immigration would be upset at the company's support of "the free movement of people, labor, goods and services."

"As long as you are stacking facts against facts, they are free to make their own decisions. We will stand by our positions," he said.

George San Jose, president of the San Jose Group, a Chicago-based marketing company specializing in the Hispanic market, said he understands why companies chase Hispanic purchasing power, which tops $700 billion annually in the U.S. Brewers, he said, have been especially aggressive.

But San Jose would advise clients that there are better ways.

"A company sponsoring one of the two sides of the immigration debate is no different than a company sponsoring groups for or against abortion [rights]. It's one of those heated political debates that companies should stay clear of," he said.

At the request of march organizers, media executive Robert Armband sent e-mails to thousands of business contacts, asking if they would consider helping the March 10 Committee.

"It certainly is an opportunity to reach the masses, but it might not be the right vehicle to come out as a sponsor," said Armband, publisher and chief executive of La Raza, a Chicago newspaper.

March organizers say they have not made any full-fledged sales pitches to major corporations and are having internal discussions about whether they should make a real push. That can be a tough decision, according to march organizer Gabe Gonzalez.

Gonzalez said he represents those in the movement--maybe half the total, he thinks -- who don't even consider themselves capitalists. Many have been involved with labor campaigns targeting specific companies.

March organizers shot down a suggestion that they approach Coca-Cola, for example, because of what they perceive as the company's labor abuses in the developing world, a cause celebre among liberal activists.

Although immigrant activists see legalization as an issue of social justice, Gonzalez said corporations might back the idea as a way to protect their bottom line. Whatever the motivations, Gonzalez said he would cooperate with almost any company willing to back the cause.

"That's the nature of politics. You form coalitions based on mutual self-interest," Gonzalez said. "So will we work with corporations? We will work with anyone who will work with us."