Thursday, March 30, 2006

Massachusetts Upholds Out of State Marriage Ban

Massachusetts Upholds Out of State Marriage Ban
March 30, 2006
Massachusetts Court Limits Same-Sex Marriages

Copyright by The New York Times

BOSTON, March 30 — Massachusetts's highest court ruled today that same-sex couples who live in other states cannot get married in Massachusetts unless gay marriage is legal in their home states.

In an opinion written by Justice Francis X. Spina, the court upheld a 1913 statute that says that no out-of-state resident can get married in Massachusetts if the marriage would be void in the person's home state, unless the person intends to live in Massachusetts. Five justices concurred, at least in part, with Justice Spina's opinion; one justice dissented.

"The laws of this commonwealth have not endowed nonresidents with an unfettered right to marry," Justice Spina wrote for the majority. "To the contrary, the rights of nonresidents to marry in Massachusetts have been specifically restricted."

He added, "I recognize that the brunt" of the law's impact "has inevitably fallen disproportionately on nonresident same-sex couples rather than on nonresident opposite-sex couples" because no other state currently allows gay marriage.

However, he said, the fact that the court had ruled in November 2003 that Massachusetts same-sex couples should be allowed to marry "does not now compel a conclusion that nonresident same-sex couples, who have no intention of living in Massachusetts, have an identical right to secure a marriage license that they could not otherwise obtain in their home states."

The original lawsuit was filed by eight out-of-state couples and 12 cities and towns, claiming the 1913 statute was discriminatory and had been invalidated by the legalization of gay marriage in the state.

In its decision, the court denied the claims of all but the couples from New York and Rhode Island, because laws in those states have not specifically outlawed said gay marriage.

The high court sent those cases back to the superior court judge who had originally denied them, asking the judge to determine whether same-sex marriage is allowed in those states.

The case began after gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts in May 2004. Gov. Mitt Romney, a gay marriage opponent, invoked the 1913 statute, which had been originally adopted in part to block interracial marriages. Mr. Romney refused to record marriages of out-of-state same-sex couples, saying "Massachusetts should not become the Las Vegas of same-sex marriage."

On Thursday, Mr. Romney said in an interview: "This is an important victory for traditional marriage and for the right to each state to be sovereign as it defines marriage. It would have been wrong for this court to impose it's same sex ruling on the other 49 states of America."

Only one justice, Roderick L. Ireland, dissented, writing that "the commonwealth's resurrection of a moribund statute to deny nonresident same-sex couples access to marriage is not only troubling," but "also is fundamentally unfair."

Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall concurred with much of the Justice Spina's opinion, but said that same-sex couples "who reside in states where they are not expressly prohibited from marrying by statute, constitutional amendment, or controlling appellate court decision, be permitted, at the very least , to present evidence to rebut the commonwealth's claim that their home state would prohibit their marriage."

Short view By Philip Coggan - Financial Times

Short view
By Philip Coggan
Published: March 30 2006 03:00 | Last updated: March 30 2006 03:00. Copyright by The Financial Times

The Federal Reserve's statement on Tuesday convinced most economists that US interest rates will be raised at least one more time, to 5 per cent. The statement was initially seen as positive for the dollar (by bolstering the currency's yield support) but mildly negative for equities and bonds.

The 10-year Treasury bond yield briefly touched 4.8 per cent after the announcement, while the two-year yield was trading above 4.8 per cent yesterday. Since it is likely that first quarter US gross domestic product growth numbers will be very strong, it is possible that bond yields will push higher.

For the rest of the world, the key question is how higher US short rates, together with the expectation of eurozone rate rises and the removal of quantitative easing by the Bank of Japan, will affect the flow of liquidity into financial markets.

Higher short rates and higher bond yields will increase the allure of investing in developed markets and reduce the temptation to take risk in higher-yielding currencies. Both the Australian and New Zealand dollars, classic high-yield plays, accordingly fell yesterday.

The antipodean currencies may be useful weathervanes for global financial conditions. David Bowers, a Merrill Lynch strategist, says the cross-rate between the Australian dollar and Swiss franc has interesting relationships with other variables. He says that when the Australian dollar weakens against the Swiss currency, global growth expectations tend to deteriorate and emerging market equities tend to weaken.

The Australian dollar is behaving like a low-quality cyclical asset, while the Swiss franc acts like a high-quality defensive asset. So when the Australian dollar starts to deteriorate, it is time to take a more defensive stance.

Meanwhile, Graham Turner of GFC Economics has ranked global currencies in terms of their creditworthiness, using 11 factors such as the current account deficit and the ratio of exports to short-term debt.

"New Zealand is by far the highest risk," he says. "It scores badly on every one of the 11 indicators." With Iceland's economic problems already troubling investors, the next test for markets could come from the other side of the world.

Missed chance may cost Bush dear

Missed chance may cost Bush dear
By Edward Luce
Published: March 29 2006 19:48 | Last updated: March 29 2006 19:48. Copyright by the Washington Post

Few US presidents can have received the same advice so consistently from so many different quarters as George W. Bush. And few can so consistently have ignored it. Whether from conservative allies on Capitol Hill and in the Weekly Standard, the neo-con house journal, or from liberal critics in the Democratic party and the opinion columns of the New York Times, it has been strikingly similar: overhaul your tired and discredited administration.

Given Mr Bush’s well-advertised disregard for the opinions of those outside his fiercely loyal inner circle, it is not surprising that the president has ignored such counsel. The latest manifestation of his imperviousness occurred at 8.30am on Tuesday when Mr Bush bade farewell to Andrew Card, White House chief of staff since 2001, and welcomed Joshua Bolten, head of the office of management and budget.

It is no disrespect to Mr Bolten, who is described as smart and hard-working, to say that Mr Bush passed up an opportunity to begin the revamp his presidency so badly needs. Mr Card was a low-key Bush loyalist who worked hard but was unable to ameliorate Mr Bush’s increasingly inept style of governing. Whether on the big challenges, such as the White House’s inadequate reaction to Hurricane Katrina, or smaller travails, such as Dick Cheney’s accidental shooting of a friend on a quail hunt last month, Mr Card proved unequal to the task.

In the first, Mr Bush compounded the impression of callousness in the face of victims’ suffering by reassuring Michael Brown, then head of the federal disaster agency, that he was doing a “heck of a job”. In the second, Mr Cheney, whose 18 per cent public approval rating is half the level of Mr Bush’s already dismal numbers, was allowed to suppress the news for almost 24 hours. The fall-out was magnified by the decision to divulge the incident quietly to a local Texan newspaper, as if to bypass the national media.

On those and countless other occasions – remember Mr Bush’s “bring ’em on” call to the Iraqi insurgents in 2003? – Mr Card was neither strong nor independent enough to impress a common-sense response on his boss. Both cases also pointed up Mr Bush’s almost reckless loyalty to those around him – in his blind praise of Mr Brown and in the unprecedented autonomy he has granted to the most unpopular vice-president in the country’s history.

That same tendency to return loyalty with interest was what prompted Mr Bush to appoint Mr Bolten to one of the most powerful jobs in Washington. Although considered more of a policy man than his predecessor, Mr Bolten is not the powerful and independent figure that friends and foes alike have been urging the president to appoint.

As if to damn with faint praise, Jon Corzine, the Democratic governor of New Jersey who was Mr Bolten’s boss at Goldman Sachs before they went their separate political ways, singled out one quality possessed by the new White House chief of staff: Mr Bolten was “loyal to a fault”, he said. In the absence of radical action to restore his administration’s tattered credibility, that phrase might well prove to be Mr Bush’s presidential epitaph.

Mr Bush is also the recipient of a second, but related, stream of unsolicited advice from both sides of the political fence: consult as widely as you can. The problems that you face in Iraq, over Iran and on controlling the fiscal deficit, require skill, imagination and a spirit of bipartisanship. It is a strange irony of Mr Bush’s predicament – in which very few of the White House’s proposals stand much chance of reaching the statute books despite a Republican-dominated Congress – that it is not necessarily Mr Bush’s policies that are distrusted by the public but his competence.

Whether it is maintaining a tough stance in the war on terror, the need to create a stable and non-sectarian government in Iraq or the objective of reducing America’s $400bn budget deficit, American opinion may not be out of step with Mr Bush’s priorities. It simply questions his ability to achieve them. There are both positive and negative lessons in this for Mr Bush.

On the plus side, Mr Bush can comfort himself with the fact that America is in many ways a conservative nation that continues to support a muscular US presence globally, particularly in relation to real or perceived threats from the Islamic world – and one that continues, although with growing doubts, to favour a free-trade economy. On the minus side, polls show that the American public now expresses a consistently higher level of mistrust in Mr Bush’s leadership skills than those of any of his recent predecessors, barring Jimmy Carter in the most hapless days of his sole term and Richard Nixon shortly before he was forced from office over Watergate.

Mr Bush does not face imminent ejection but something almost as bad: continuous rejection by members of his own party and the public in the more than two and a half years that remain. Sacking Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld, the two figures – other than Mr Bush – most associated with the administration’s disdain for the advice of others, would tear up Mr Bush’s unbroken record of loyalty to his friends. But it would signal loud and clear that he was sincere in wanting to change direction.

While pondering his options, Mr Bush might also ask Mr Bolten, an amateur musician, why he recently changed the name of the rock band in which he plays on weekends. The band was called The Compassionates (presumably after the forgotten tag of Mr Bush’s first campaign – Compassionate Conservatism). Mr Bolten renamed his band Deficit Attention Disorder: another possible epitaph for the Bush years.

The writer is the FT’s Washington commentator

New York Times Editorial - This is a shake-up?

This is a shake-up?

Copyright by The New York Times


For months now, people have been urging President George W. Bush to shake up his inner circle and bring in fresh air. Perhaps in response, the White House chief of staff, Andrew Card Jr., resigned Tuesday. Bush opened the window - and in climbed his budget director, Joshua Bolten, who used to be Card's deputy.

If this is what passes for a shake-up in this administration, the next two and a half years are going to be grim indeed. This is a meaningless change, and it simply sends the message that Bush lacks the gumption to trade in anyone in the comforting, friendly cast of characters who have kept him cocooned since his first inauguration.

It's hard to figure out what unmet need this change is supposed to fill. There's been a lot of talk about how exhausted the original Bush team is. But Bolten ought to be as pooped as everybody else. It takes just as much energy to put together an out-of- whack, fiscally ruinous budget as it does to mess up an invasion or ignore a cataclysmic hurricane.

Bolten has been giving the president advice for years, and the result has been a deficit estimated at $371 billion. Perhaps he'll come up with a better approach in his new job. We've heard that under Card's watch, aides wound up showing Bush videos of TV coverage of Hurricane Katrina to convince their boss that it really was a problem. Maybe Bolten can start the next budget discussion with some audiovisual aids - like an abacus.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Financial Times Editorial - A missed opportunity to make a break

A missed opportunity to make a break
Published: March 29 2006 03:00 | Last updated: March 29 2006 03:00. Copyright by the Financial Times

Andrew Card might be best remembered as the man who whispered into George W. Bush's ear, "a second plane hit the second tower - America is under attack", as he was reading to children on September 11 2001. On that occasion the White House chief of staff had no choice but to keep his president informed. But on too many others those working for the president have felt unable to pass on home truths.

By all accounts Mr Card was a competent administrator. So too is Josh Bolten, Mr Bush's new chief of staff who was previously director of the Office of Management and Budget. But replacing one dedicated administrator with another is unlikely to restore Mr Bush's tattered fortunes.

Mr Bush faces the prospect of almost three years of a lame duck presidency. Once considered an asset, the president is now spurned by fellow Republicans who are facing a tough battle to retain control of Congress in the November mid-term elections. He has become such a liability that it is now hard for his administration to get a fair hearing on the Hill even for its more thoughtful legislative proposals.

Mr Bush's problems extend far beyond growing public doubts about the wisdom of his administration's decision to invade Iraq or the ineptitude of post-war planning. They also extend beyond the controversy about his fiscal record, in which deficit spending has been fuelled by tax cuts at a time when the nation is told it is engaged in a long-term war to defend its values. They even go beyond the fact that Mr Bush is no longer automatically trusted by a majority to safeguard America's security - the one issue on which he had consistently outpolled his rivals.

At the root of Mr Bush's low credibility is a reputation for incompetence. It now disables almost everything he does. It was reinforced by his administration's poor handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster last year and the ill-judged nomination of Harriet Myers - Mr Bush's personal lawyer - to the Supreme Court. On Iraq, it is bolstered by almost continual revelations about the administration's track record of deafness to independent advice on the importance of rapidly restoring Iraqi utilities and on anticipating and then minimising the risks of a sectarianconflict.

The president can still retrieve his credibility and public trust if he acts decisively to reinvigorate his administration. This means appointing experienced and independent figures to important White House positions - people with the stature to tell the president when he is wrong. It would mean recruiting people on the basis of their experience and not necessarily their record of loyalty to Mr Bush.

Yesterday the president missed an opportunity to make a break with the way his White House operates. There will be other opportunities, which we would urge Mr Bush to seize.

New York Times Editorial - Free trade and AIDS drugs

Free trade and AIDS drugs

Copyright by The New York Times


The countries of southern Africa have the world's highest rates of AIDS infection. These governments have a special need to make or buy low-cost generic drugs to save their citizens. World trade rules are amenable, containing safeguards that allow countries to use generics to preserve public health. But the Bush administration is now negotiating a free trade agreement with the Southern African Customs Union. It is important that the United States does not, in the process, restrict the ability of poor people to get generic drugs in these countries.

For many years, American trade policy on medicines has been a struggle between the drug companies, whose campaign contributions and lobbying expenses are second only to the insurance industry's, and the social imperative to provide developing nations with cheaper and easier access to vital drugs. Most of the time, the pharmaceutical companies have won. Free trade agreements signed with Central America and other places, for example, restrict the use of generics by allowing brand-name companies to keep their clinical data a secret for five years. The Central American agreement also prevents anyone from registering a generic product without the patent holder's agreement during the life of a patent. The agreement with Morocco allows pharmaceutical companies to extend their monopolies by patenting new uses for old medicines. In 2000, President Bill Clinton, under pressure from global health campaigners and developing countries, signed an executive order that barred Washington from asking sub-Saharan Africa to accept tighter restrictions on generics than the World Trade Organization requires. President George W. Bush reaffirmed that decision when he came into office in 2001.

The trade representative's negotiator says that the subject has not yet come to the table, and that the United States, well aware that southern Africa faces unique health challenges, intends to respect the executive order. These are welcome words, and it is imperative that Washington be held to that promise.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

From San juan - Gay activist seeks support for job discrimination ban

Gay activist seeks support for job discrimination ban

By Eva Llorens
Copyright by The San Juan Star

During a visit to the Capitol Monday, gay activist Pedro Julio
Serrano was promised by Senate President Kenneth McClintock that he
would file a "bill by petition" banning discrimination against gays,
lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders in the workplace; however,
House Speaker Jose Aponte did not meet with Serrano.

Serrano did meet with Aponte aide Paco Valiente who assured him that
the House leader will file the proposed bill under his name as long
as it also includes dispositions on discrimination against the
handicapped and based on ethnicity.

Valentin added that Aponte did not meet with personally with Serrano
because he was presiding over the session. However, The STAR
observed House Majority Leader Lourdes Ramos presiding it.

"I feel he stood us up because he knew about this since last week,"
Serrano said, adding that he went to the Capitol seeking support for
two bills.

The first would ban discrimination against gay and transgender
individuals and the second would allow gays to unite in domestic

McClintock said in a press release that the matter related to
domestic parternships was being handled by the joint legislative
committee revising the Civil Code.

The STAR last year published that the new Family chapter of the
Civil COde will establish domestic partnerships to allow unmarried
couples to have some rights given to married couples.

While Serrano said McClintock promised to file his bill by petition,
he is not obligated to support it.

Senate Rule 19 states that senators can file legislation by petition
of citizens or groups. The fact that a bill is filed by petition is
stated on the document.

The Senate leader, however, said he has an open door policy to all
sectors of society.

Serrano said he was pleased by his meeting with McClintock.
Regarding Aponte, he said Valentin wanted the inclusion of the
disposition that would ban discrimination based on ethnic
considerations and the handicapped to ensure it would obtain support
because "otherwise it would ot get it."

New York Times Editorial - Civil debate on immigration

Civil debate on immigration

Copyright By The New York Times


Something powerful pulled more than half a million people onto the streets of Los Angeles on Saturday, turning 26 downtown blocks into a pulsing sea of white T-shirts and American flags. A veteran police commander said that in 38 years he had never seen a march so huge. Its target was a harsh immigration bill passed by the House that would erect a wall on the southern U.S. border and turn 12 million illegal immigrants - and any who give them aid - into a nation of felons.

The demonstrations have been timed to a climactic showdown for immigration reform in the capital. On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled debate and a vote on a bill offered by its chairman, Arlen Specter. Unlike the House bill, it seeks comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws - not just tighter borders and stricter enforcement, but also a sensible path to legal status for illegal workers already here and others who want to come.

Specter and his colleagues are working under intense pressure, since the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, has threatened to put forward a hard- line enforcement bill if the committee fails to complete its work on Monday. Senate staffs were racing over the weekend to nail down compromises before Monday's deadline. Anti-immigrant forces, meanwhile, stand ready to try to torpedo anything other than a strictly get-tough approach.

That would be an awful outcome for immigrant advocates and for President George W. Bush, who has long argued for comprehensive reform and tried, with limited success, to steer his party away from the one-note harshness of the wall-building crowd.

Last week, Bush urged Congress to have a civil, respectful discussion about the issue. But with looming elections and Republican presidential jockeying casting a distorting fuzz over the debate, it may be too late for Bush's hands-off approach. If the president really wants a sensible reform bill to reach his desk, he will have to do more than stand on the sidelines, urging everyone to have good manners.

Monday, March 27, 2006

No one’s laughing at this deja vu all over again

No one’s laughing at this deja vu all over again

By Joan Chittister, OSB
I think it was Yogi Bera, the New York Yankees own “Mrs. Malaprop,” who made famous the line, “Here we go, it’s deja vu all over again.” Everybody laughed then.

President George Bush looks as if he’s about to make the line common parlance again. Only this time people aren’t laughing.

What may be the buildup to an attack on Iran, the new breeding ground of terrorists according to the U.S. lexicon of evil nations, appears to be in high gear. It’s a ritual now of recognizable parts:

First we have a nuclear standoff -- which this time may be real for a change -- given the fear generated in the Middle East as well as in the States as a result of our last unsubstantiated “preemptive strike.”

Then, we have the declaration of the new, but now theologized and therefore holy, “doctrine of pre-emptive war.” Meaning that if we decide that another country has something that is dangerous to us, they have it and we will respond accordingly.

Then we have the parade of sabers and spears, of bombs and bombers. This, of course, is designed to intimidate the rest of the world and embolden the United States itself. I mean, if nobody can beat us, what difference does it make whether we’re right or wrong again. We’ll win anyway.

Then we have the swashbuckling speeches of a president already defeated in one war and attempting, perhaps, to distract from that debacle by creating another one.

The only question now is whether or not the public, the Congress, the world will risk another frightening U.S. fiasco in the name of freedom. Whose freedom, we’re never told. To what end, no one knows. With what success, given our present record, is anyone’s guess.

The problem is that this time we are being asked not only to be afraid but also to be nonsensical, absurd, fatuous, inane.

We are being asked to forget the blunders in Iraq:

Forget the embarrassment of the “intelligence” that wasn’t.

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Click on the archive link at the top of this page to read past columns by Sr. Joan Chittister.
Forget the old reservists who did double duty for the troops who could never be convinced of the valor of the war and so never enlisted.

Forget the number of U.S. soldiers who fell in the sand and never rose again.

Forget the pictures of Iraqi families streaming out of broken homes and pockmarked cities, saved by us, we say, only to be abandoned by us, they say.

Forget the blood spattered children in whom the seeds of another war have already been planted.

Forget the burst water systems, the streets running with sewage, the downed electric grids, the sabotaged oil fields.

Forget the wounded in body and the shattered of soul.

Forget the fact that we made things worse rather than better for a country that was bad enough off to begin with.

Forget the evolving anti-Americanism that now festers even among our most traditional allies. “Americans are very shocked,” the young Irish woman said to me, “when they come to Europe and find out we don’t like them. Why are they shocked?” she asked. And she meant it.

Somewhere in the gospels the line echoes over and over again ominously and unendingly, “And the last state shall be worse than the first.”

Why have we suddenly abandoned the decades of deterrence and containment that guided U.S. foreign policy and out-waited the cold war for over 50 years? The U.S. prospered under it; the world balanced on an unsteady peace for years because of it; talks went on unceasingly during it until understanding increased and alliances formed and bonds developed and old enemies outgrew their enmity as a result of it.

If there is such a thing as national neurosis, are we in it? Will public paranoia be the disease that defeats us in the end?

While we frisked little old ladies in wheelchairs in our airports on the grounds that they might be foreign agents, we would have allowed our commercial seaports to be serviced under the auspices of the very people we said we were trying to keep out of the country.

While we preached the fear of foreigners, we spied on our own.

While we assumed the right to invade the borders of every nation on earth, we tightened ours against the poor whose poverty came as a result of our wealth.

While we preached life, we practiced death in its name.

Has our hysteria reached the point where, like a blind giant, we are raging around the world swatting flies with a pile driver?

Is this the United States that won the respect and admiration of the world as recently as 50 years ago and lost it more recently because of torture chambers and kennels full of uncharged prisoners in leg irons?

Who are we now? Who do we want to be? Who will our leaders insist that we be? Or shall they be the very ones who lead us into more ignorant ignominy?

Have we, in all our power, forgotten all of our ideals? Are ideals only for the poor and the powerless? Is power the only foreign policy the powerful need to apply? And is it really working in Iraq -- a country on the verge of civil war, crippled physically, full of anger, and unsafe -- both for us and for them?

From where I stand, these are the questions real patriots ask. But are we?

According to The Irish Times, (Denis Staunton, March 17, p. 10) a poll by the Pew Research Center asked U.S. respondents to suggest one word that described the president. Up to this time, the word most commonly chosen has been “honest.” In this poll, “the single characteristic most closely associated with Mr. Bush in the current poll is ‘incompetent.’”

But I don’t know. When it takes six years of international bungling to change people’s perceptions of current policies, you have to wonder, don’t you, who’s really been incompetent and who’s really been clever?

Our one best hope may lie in soon being able to answer that question.

Comments or questions about this column may be sent to: Sr. Joan Chittister, c/o NCR web coordinator. Put "Chittister" in the subject line. E-mails with attachments are automatically deleted.
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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Chicago Tribune Editorial - Immigration and the A-word

Immigration and the A-word

Published March 26, 2006
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

When Congress decided in 1986 that it was time to regain control of the country's borders, it turned its attention first to the 3 million undocumented immigrants who already lived and worked here. Make them legal, lawmakers decided. Let them stay.

Twenty years later we have nearly 12 million illegal immigrants, and the prevailing sentiment, at least in the House of Representatives, is to declare them felons and throw them out. The 1986 program amounted to amnesty for crooks, the thinking goes, it made a mockery of our immigration policy and we won't be fooled again.

Amnesty has become the touchiest word in the immigration debate.

Broaching the subject of immigration reform in 2004, President Bush tried to tiptoe around the A-word by proposing a guest-worker program that would allow illegal immigrants to "step out of the shadows" but would require them eventually to go home. Nobody seriously believes the guest workers would leave voluntarily after six or eight years of legal residency, though.

The House has voted for 700 miles of wire fence along the Mexican border but no program to permit guest workers.

Senators struggling to come up with a bill to counter the House measure want to provide undocumented workers with some sort of path to legal status. But they, too, have been stymied by the A-word. Last week, 71 House members sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee that calls the proposals on the table "thinly disguised attempts to provide amnesty" and warns that no such bill will reach the president's desk.

An immigration policy that fosters an enormous underground workforce is not in the country's best interests, which is why immigration reform has moved to the front burner in this election year. But the reality is that we can't deport 12 million workers and would be very sorry if we did.

Most Americans understand that our economy depends on immigrant labor, but they still don't like the idea of rewarding those who got here by breaking the law. A recent Time magazine poll found that 73 percent favor some sort of guest-worker program, but 46 percent think those who are here illegally should have to go home first and apply for it.

Recognizing that millions of immigrants aren't likely to "go home," senators have labored to come up with a plan that doesn't appear to give lawbreakers a free pass. The plan, which is still evolving, would allow undocumented workers to stay here for six years and work toward legal residency--after they pay back taxes and up to $2,000 in fines. Under a compromise floated last week, their applications would go to the end of the line, behind 3 million foreigners outside the country who are awaiting green cards legally.

House members who say that still sounds like amnesty, and therefore a deal-breaker, learned the wrong lesson from the failure of the 1986 immigration bill. That measure was doomed not by the amnesty provision, but because the other side of the equation--strict sanctions against employers who hired undocumented workers--was never enforced, largely because the U.S. needed those workers. It still does.

We can call them guest workers, or we can call them criminals, but in another 10 years we will almost certainly need more of them, not fewer. An immigration measure that doesn't take that into account isn't going to work any better than the one we have now.

Message to White House co-pilot: Eject now by Garrison Keillor

Message to White House co-pilot: Eject now

Garrison Keillor, Copyright by Tribune Media Services
Published March 22, 2006

A peacock walked past the window as I ate breakfast last Saturday at an old country inn in Albuquerque, his great fan of bejeweled feathers open wide, following a peahen that was pecking around the gravel as if he didn't exist. The peacock appeared to be infatuated, shuffling around, waggling his rump, craning his bright-blue neck, the little doodads on his head bouncing around rather fetchingly, and the peahen kept scratching in the dirt, looking for grubs. Think of Elvis in a silver jumpsuit doing "One Night" at the Sands and the audience studying the dinner menu and trying to decide between the salmon and the baby ribs. Finally he got her cornered up against the window and then he stretched the great fan open to the max and he strutted and stuck out his chest and waved the tail feathers. The lady appeared interested for a while, and then she slipped past him and he deflated in about three seconds.

It was painful for a man to watch this. The peacock's great fan of iridescent blue-green beauty, when it deflates, becomes a feather duster, a street sweeper. You go from Waldemar the Magnificent to Bobo the Groundskeeper.

He reminded you of the president trying to win hearts and minds in Ohio this week, except Mr. Bush's tail feathers have been pecked practically clean by events. It was likewise painful for anyone to watch. As painful as seeing Henry Kissinger at a recent conference on Vietnam say he had no regrets. No president in your lifetime or mine has seen his fundamental competence--his ability to think clearly and manage the government--so doubted by the voting public as Mr. Bush has. This is humiliation of a rare sort.

If Mr. Bush wanted to reverse his slide, he could do it with a phone call to his vice president. Tell him, "Hey, Gunner, I'm sending over your resignation. Sign it and leave the building immediately, and don't take any floppies with you." Mr. Cheney would have a grand mal seizure right there, and be taken away to a sanitarium, and then Mr. Bush could get (1) Newt Gingrich, (2) John McCain, (3) Jeb Bush, (4) Rudolph Giuliani--take his pick. America needs a No. 2 who wouldn't give Americans a coronary if he became No. 1. The top story on the news that night is "Gunner dumped as veep," and a fresh breeze blows through Washington, and the American people perk up and imagine that the Current Occupant is in charge and able to connect the dots.

"Cheney resigns" is the headline for two days, and anonymous White House sources say that Gunner was cut loose because he was blind, deaf and demented on the subject of Iraq. The suspense of Who Will The New Prince Be? occupies us for a week. The pundits and bloggers puff and blow and when finally the new man is confirmed by the Senate and gives a ringing speech about the need to put our differences behind us and all pull together, lo and behold the Subject Has Been Changed and America is no longer standing around the coffee machine talking about what a dope the president is. Nobody uses the I-word (incompetent). We're still buzzed from the big news.

Defeat is inevitable in life, and every cock is bound to meet a hen who isn't interested, and eventually we all go shuffling off to the Old Soldiers Home and plop down in front of the TV set and doze through the shows. We're all destined to fall apart. But you don't have to do it in your 50s when everybody is looking at you. You can fall apart gently and privately. Don't go down hard like former chief executives Dennis Kozlowski or Bernie Ebbers or Kenneth Lay.

I once saw an old Hollywood star eating breakfast in a hotel dining room in Dublin. He was touring in a play that had been reviewed rather gently and compassionately, and here he was with his famous face, grinning at a couple of tourists who came over to ask him to autograph their placemat. Once he was an icon and sex symbol, and now he was 80, an old trouper enjoying his breakfast and smiling at the world. Gerry got to that place, and Jimmy and Ronnie, I think, and George H.W. and for sure Bill has gotten there. People see Bill in public, grinning, and they can't help it, they grin back.

If you want to be beloved, don't wait too long.

Garrison Keillor is an author and the radio host of "A Prairie Home Companion."

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Women Wage Key Campaigns for Democrats

March 24, 2006
Women Wage Key Campaigns for Democrats
Copyright by The New York Times
NARBERTH, Pa. ˜ If the Democrats have their way, the 2006 Congressional elections will be the revenge of the mommy party.

Democratic women are running major campaigns in nearly half of the two dozen most competitive House races where their party hopes to pick up enough Republican seats to regain control of the House. Democratic strategists are betting that the voters' unrest and hunger for change ˜ reflected consistently in public opinion polls ˜ create the perfect conditions for their party's female candidates this year.

"In an environment where people are disgusted with politics in general, who represents clean and change?" asks Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "Women."

Republicans, who have prospered in recent elections by running as the guardians of national security and clearly hope to do so again, dismiss this theory. But it will ultimately be tested in places like this Philadelphia suburb, where Lois Murphy, a 43-year-old lawyer and Democratic activist, lost a Congressional campaign in 2004 by just two percentage points.

This time, as she challenges the same Republican incumbent, Representative Jim Gerlach, Ms. Murphy said in an interview in her campaign headquarters in Narberth, she senses an electorate that is "really, really" ready for change, tired of the ethics scandals, and convinced "that their government has been letting them down."

On whether her sex is a particular asset this year, Ms. Murphy replied, "I leave that to the political experts, which I am not."

But Ms. Murphy said that her agenda ˜ ethics reform, fiscal responsibility, affordable health care, more sensitivity to the environment ˜ was connecting with moderates in both political parties.

In another high-profile race, an open seat in Illinois's Sixth District in the Chicago suburbs, L. Tammy Duckworth, a former Army helicopter pilot who lost both legs in Iraq, locked up the Democratic nomination in a narrow primary victory on Tuesday ˜ over another woman.

"It's about change on so many levels," said Ms. Duckworth of her campaign, which she said would focus heavily on the need to improve and expand health care. "If being a woman underscores that, makes it clear that I'm going to be an effective agent of change, that's great."

By the time it is over, this midterm election may offer some hints on the kind of climate that awaits Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York if she runs for president in 2008. At a time when voters have grown accustomed to women as secretary of state, House minority leader, governor (there are currently eight) and the like, this year's campaign could provide insight into the power of gender stereotypes that have been charted by scholars and political experts over many years.

In the 435-seat House of Representatives, there are 67 women, 43 of them Democrats, 24 Republicans.

The seats for which Democratic women are running this year are among the 24 held by Republicans that are classified by the Cook Political Report, an independent analyst, as either "tossups" or "lean Republican" ˜ a key measure of competitiveness. That is a fluid list this early in the campaign; many candidates have yet to make it through their primaries, and many races are still in a state of flux.

But Amy Walter, who tracks House races for Cook, said, "If you look at the top Republican targets this year, the success of Democratic women candidates will be very important in determining the number of Democratic pickups."

A net shift of 15 seats to Democrats from Republicans would turn over control of the House.

For all the enthusiasm on the Democratic side, experts say this will not be another 1992-style "year of the woman," the breakthrough year when the number of women in the House and Senate jumped by more than half. There simply are not enough competitive or open seats to make that kind of change likely.

But the Center for American Women and Politics, at Rutgers, says early data suggests an increase in the number of women running for open seats this year, fueled by the Democrats, although several of these women still face contested primaries. It is far easier for challengers to win an open seat than to oust an incumbent.

"It's not about how many women are running," said Ellen Malcolm, the president of Emily's List, the Democratic women's fund-raising organization. "It's about how many women are running where they have real opportunities to win."

Moreover, Democratic strategists hope to frame these midterm races as a classic change-versus-status-quo election ˜ which, they say, makes women, running as outsiders against a "culture of corruption," the perfect messengers.

Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster working for three female House candidates this year, said, "If you want to communicate change, honesty, cleaning up Washington, not the same old good old boys in Washington, women are very good at communicating that."

Officials at the Democratic campaign committee said that along with Emily's List and other women's groups, they had made a point of encouraging and recruiting women as candidates this year.

"This didn't just happen," Mr. Emanuel said.

Republicans profess to be unworried about the new wave of female candidates for what is often described, sometimes disparagingly, as the "mommy party." (Supposedly, in the shorthand of political positioning, Democrats are more concerned with nurturing, caring and domestic policy, while the Republicans care more about security.)

"I'm as worried about Rahm Emanuel's women as I am about Rahm Emanuel's vets," said Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, referring dismissively to another group of candidates Democrats have focused on this year.

Mr. Forti argued that "in our strategy every race is local, based on local issues," and he added, "It doesn't matter whether the candidate is man, woman, green, purple, orange, red, whatever."

That approach is echoed by Mark Campbell, political director of the Gerlach campaign in Pennsylvania, who said of his race, "It will be a competitive campaign, and Jim Gerlach will ultimately win because his position on important issues more closely reflects the voters of the Sixth District than Ms. Murphy's."

As for her sex, Mr. Campbell said, "I think anyone who would vote for Lois Murphy because she's a woman would vote for her just because she's the Democrat running."

In recent weeks, the Gerlach and the Murphy campaigns have been pushing competing ethics plans and trading accusations over who is truly committed to the cause.

Linda DiVall, a longtime Republican pollster who has worked for many female candidates, also notes that sex stereotypes cut both ways among voters. For example, female candidates are often seen as vulnerable on national security, Ms. DiVall said, which could be a problem in a post-Sept. 11 world. Ms. Lake, the Democratic pollster, said the sex advantages (like honesty) and disadvantages (competence on foreign policy) have grown more marginal.

"They're not as new as they used to be," Ms. Lake said of women in politics.

Republicans have some high-profile women running for Congress this year, notably Martha Rainville, who stepped aside as adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard to seek her state's lone House seat.

But this year's candidates are disproportionately Democrats, part of a longstanding trend, said Kathleen Dolan, political scientist and author of "Voting for Women: How the Public Evaluates Women Candidates."

Among the most closely watched Democratic women this year are Diane Farrell, challenging Representative Christopher Shays in Connecticut; Gabrielle Giffords and Patty Weiss, vying for the Democratic nomination for an open seat representing the Tucson area; Patricia Madrid, the New Mexico attorney general challenging Representative Heather A. Wilson; Ms. Duckworth, the Iraqi war veteran, seeking the open seat outside Chicago; Francine Busby, running for the California seat left vacant by the bribery conviction of former Representative Randy Cunningham, and Ms. Murphy, challenging Mr. Gerlach in Pennsylvania.

Emily's List, which essentially recommends female candidates who support abortion rights to its 100,000 members, reports a much heavier roster of House races than it carried two years ago. Getting recommended by Emily's List, whose members were responsible for $10 million in donations in 2004, is a major help to a campaign, candidates say.

Short view By Philip Coggan - Financial Times

Short view
By Philip Coggan
Published: March 21 2006 02:00 | Last updated: March 21 2006 02:00. Copyright by The Financial Times

Financial markets continue to keep investors on their toes, with several reverses of sentiment already occurring this year. The latest saw a recovery in government bonds last week after a previous surge in yields.

That recovery seemed to stem from a change in attitude at the US Federal Reserve. Investors had previously believed that US short rates would rise to at least 5 per cent. But last week's Beige Book and comments from various Fed officials have raised hopes that the Fed might pause at 4.75 per cent.

It is benign inflationary trends rather than any concern about growth that seems to have provoked this change in the Fed's attitude. Indeed, there have been signs of a rebound in the global economy. Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein's economic surprise indicator has been rising significantly: the new orders component of the purchasing managers' survey is at a 20-month high.

With economic growth still expected to be strong, developed equity markets were steady last week, rising 0.8 per cent in dollar terms. Bid activity is clearly helping equities. But the "Goldilocks scenario", in which growth is strong enough to boost profits but not so strong as to provoke inflation, may also be making a comeback.

What was good for equities and bonds, however, was not so good for the dollar. If the Fed has nearly stopped raising rates, while the European Central Bank and Bank of Japan are tightening, the dollar's yield support will erode. A change in momentum for the dollar - it hit a seven-week low against the euro on Friday - could be serious. The long-term dollar bears will be focusing on the current account deficit, now 7 per cent of gross domestic product.

Then there is political risk. The United Arab Emirates is diversifying its reserves after the rejection of DP World's bid to run five US ports. Anti-Chinese rhetoric is increasing ahead of November's mid-term elections. US politicians seem determined to offend all the country's creditors. A significant dollar decline might put upward pressure on US bond yields, changing the investment climate again. It is hard to see equilibrium being established.

Financial Times Editorial - Bernanke revisits the bond conundrum

Bernanke revisits the bond conundrum
Published: March 22 2006 02:00 | Last updated: March 22 2006 02:00. Copyright by the Financial Times

One of the hardest tasks of a central banker is to discuss new trends that might affect monetary policy without roiling the markets. This acclimatises opinion to any future changes in the direction of interest rates and minimises the risk of abrupt market corrections. Ben Bernanke, the new chairman of the US Federal Reserve, is known to put a high value on such communication. Yet at this stage of the interest rate cycle it is hard to give clear guidance, particularly in the light of what his predecessor, Alan Greenspan, famously called the "conundrum" of low long-term interest rates.

As Mr Bernanke explained on Monday, the forces governing long-term interest rate behaviour are "not at all clear cut". By extension, neither are the implications for monetary policy. Mr Bernanke is unlikely to cause surprise next week at his first Federal Open Market Committee, which is expected to add a quarter point to the benchmark rate. This would be the Fed's 15th consecutive rise, adding 3.75 percentage points since the start of monetary tightening in 2004 when the rate was just 1 per cent. But the subsequent path of rates remains uncertain, in part because the significance of low long-term rates remains so unclear.

One view is that long-term rates have declined because investors require a lower risk premium to hold longer-term debt. This might reflect a reduction in global economic volatility. Added to this, there is arguably an excess of demand for US Treasuries over supply. Market participants may be anticipating increased demand for long-dated fixed income securities as the baby boom generation retires. There has also been high demand for US Treasuries by foreign central banks. This analysis suggests that the decline in long-term rates is broadly stimulative. If correct, it suggests that the Fed should raise its policy rate higher than it would have done if long-term rates were not unusually low.

The contrasting view - originally popularised by Mr Bernanke himself - says a "global savings glut" has pushed down long-term interest rates around the world. The notion of a structural decline in interest rates reassures those who would normally interpret a flat or inverted yield curve as a harbinger of recession. Still, a global savings glut would imply that the neutral policy rate would be lower than it might otherwise be. If this analysis is right, it reinforces the case for the Fed to end its tightening cycle soon, possibly next week or in May. However, growth in Europe and Japan may reduce any savings glut and other factors clearly have to be taken into consideration, too.

These contrasting views present the Fed itself with a conundrum. In such circumstances central bankers can only share their musings, be honest about the limits of their knowledge and await data that will help lift the fog. By that yardstick Mr Bernanke is proceeding as he should.

The option that dare not speak its name

The option that dare not speak its name
By Jacob Weisberg
Published: March 23 2006 02:00 | Last updated: March 23 2006 02:00. Copyright By The Financial Times

Three years after the invasion of Iraq, the US does not feel remotely like a country at war. Nearly 20,000 Americans soldiers have been killed or injured to date, but the comfortable classes find it shockingly easy to forget about the conflict for weeks at a time. Most middle-class professionals, academics and journalists do not have relatives or friends serving in Iraq orAfghanistan. We have not been called on to make sacrifices, financial or otherwise. We hear less and less about the occupation on the evening news and even in the big cities it is rare to encounter an anti-war demonstration. The third-anniversary protest staged in New York last weekend was an especially shabby assemblage of moth-eaten radicals.

The chief reason that the war remains so remote to the lives of middle-class Americans is the absence of a military draft. This is a subject that no one seems to want to talk about. Supporters of the war certainly do not want to talk about it. President George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, the vice-president, react angrily to any suggestion that a draft might be needed because they know that the prospect of conscription would make their decision to invade Iraq even more unpopular. Having lived through Vietnam and shirked the draft themselves, they understand that if people anywhere near their own station in life were forced to fight, any remaining support for wars of arguable necessity would dry up and blow away.

Nor does the military want to discuss a draft, even though it is increasingly overstretched, required to rely on declining enlistment standards and "stop loss" orders to maintain even the current, insufficient troop levels. The Pentagon's reason for avoiding the subject is its plausible assumption that conscription would yield a less pliable and effective fighting force. Many senior officers remember the Vietnam-era breakdown of discipline and morale, which did massive damage to the military's reputation within society and took decades to repair.

Finally, the young men who might be called do not want to contemplate having to kill, die or be maimed in a war that inspires little idealism. Nor do their families want to dwell on such possibilities. In the upscale sectors of American society, there remains a primal antipathy to military culture, which has only been heightened by revelations about torture at Abu Ghraib and ongoing discrimination against homosexuals in the armed forces.

Contributing to the conspiracy of silence on all sides is the gross unfairness of how we now distribute the risk and burden of fighting for one's country. The current arrangement is entirely consistent with periods when the US had a draft that the sons of privilege could readily evade, by hiring "replacements" during the civil war, or getting an educational deferment or lobbying one's draft board during the Vietnam era. Once again, young people without good opportunities in life are handling the fighting and dying for those with better things to do - only this time, there is not even a pretence of shared responsibility. Such injustice is hard to face up to in a country where social equality remains the civic religion.

Because conscription appeals to no one, the US has lived with the so-called All Volunteer Force since the end of the Vietnam war. With the nation at peace or involved only in low-grade interventions that entailed limited risk, not having a draft worked relatively well. The military made itself attractive as an avenue of social mobility, offering members of the lower-middle class technical training and educational opportunity in exchange for tours of duty. As the cold war ended, reductions in the levels of troops that were needed allowed the armed forces to raise their standards and become more selective.

But Iraq has changed all that. A soldier's chances of being killed in Iraq are somewhat lower than they were in Vietnam, but this does not make it safer for combatants. The risk of being injured in Iraq is significantly higher than it was in Vietnam - 3.1 per cent as opposed to 1.8 per cent, according to Newsweek. Thanks to striking advances in field medicine, soldiers who would have died in any other war now survive but they often do so with catastrophic, life-altering injuries.

Dawning comprehension of just how dangerous service in Iraq is has made it harder and harder for the military to meet its personnel goals. Despite raising cash bonuses to $10,000 (£5,700, €8,300) and college scholarships to $70,000, the army missed its recruiting target last year by nearly 10 per cent. It has now even stopped routinely discharging people with drug and alcohol problems.

There are some who argue that America should bring back the draft because of the ennobling effects of military service - class mixing, personal growth, better mutual understanding across the civilian-military divide, and so on. These are worthy goals, but not really sufficient to justify depriving young people of their freedom in the absence of a true national need.

What does justify it is the scale of death and injury in Iraq, which makes relying on an all-volunteer force painfully undemocratic and unfair. A resumption of the draft would be everyone's nightmare. But let us be honest enough to admit that not having a draft is not working either.

The writer is editor of

Gospel by pasta sticks it to religion's funny bone

Gospel by pasta sticks it to religion's funny bone

March 24, 2006

BY CATHLEEN FALSANI RELIGION WRITER. Copyright by the Chicago Sun Times

Maybe it's all the pedophile priest stories, or the Muslim factions methodically killing one another in Iraq, or the rabbi in Israel this week who said avian flu is God's wrath for efforts to legalize same-sex marriage.

(Heavy sigh.)

Organized religion's been having a rough month. Again.

Maybe it's a genetic response -- the gallows humor that runs in my family, the lifeboat of laughter that has kept us dry when the ship is sinking -- that draws me, once again in these pages, to the altar of religious satire.

Maybe it's because if I weren't laughing, I would be crying.

Whatever the psychological or spiritual reasons were, when it came time to write my weekly religion-and-popular-culture column this week, I put aside the book on the saints I was reading, decided against going to an art exhibit at a local cathedral titled "Enemies," and moved several e-mails about clerical malfeasance, the ordination of women and what to do about America's emerging "theocracy" into my "column fodder" folder for another week.

A load of starch

Instead, I turned my attention to The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Call it Pastafarianism.

That's how its self-proclaimed "prophet" Bobby Henderson, a 25-year-old guy from Corvallis, Ore., with a B.S. in physics, a vivid imagination, and extensive post-graduate work in applied smartaleckery, refers to his religious tradition. (It's FSMism for those truly in the know.)

It's an ancient religion, Henderson explains in the very first printing of what I suppose would constitute its sacred scriptures that the New York publishing house Villard (Pastafarianism's modern-day Gutenberg) is set to release next week.

But in spite of its apparently antediluvian provenance, most people (including your correspondent) hadn't heard of Pastafarians and their veneration of the benevolent Flying Spaghetti Monster (creator of the universe) until last year -- when Henderson wrote an open letter to the Kansas Board of Education demanding that FSMism's theory of how the world came to be, be taught on equal footing with evolution and the ever-controversial "intelligent design" theory.

Henderson was kidding. Mostly. At least, I think so. It's hard to tell, and when I tried to contact him Thursday, his publicist said he didn't have time to talk because he's busy building his pirate ship.

Yes, pirate ship.

As in ahoy and aargh.

Instead, Henderson's recently deputized prophet, Chris Schluep (a.k.a. his editor at Villard) agreed to answer some of my questions about Pastafarianism's unorthodox theology and its elusive prophet.

First of all, Schluep said, "He does actually exist." Henderson is not the J.T. Leroy of the religion world. He's a real guy who really wrote FSMism's hot-off-the-presses "gospel." And there is an actual pirate ship in the works. And it will have cannons (if not canons).

Henderson intends to use the pirate ship for "missionary" work, spreading Pastafarianism's good news. It's complicated (what doctrine isn't?) but let me summarize:

Good to be the pirate

Pastafarians believe that 5,000 years ago, an actual Flying Spaghetti Monster (pictured above and in a more artistic rendering a la Michelangelo at the top of the page) created the universe, including planet Earth. It was a rather underwhelming event, Henderson explains in his gospel, and took 0.062831853 seconds to complete. The Noodly Creator, as he is called, disguised the Earth to look a lot older than it actually is because he knew humans (scientists in particular) would want to figure out how things worked and he wanted to keep them entertained.

The Spaghetti Monster also created the heavens (which he populated with scantily clad women in see-through high-heels), a beer volcano and one midget, whom he installed on Earth and later gave a woman to get things started. Midgets are much loved by the Spaghetti Monster (who may or may not be "God" -- Pastafarians are leaving that open-ended) and you can tell that because they're short and that means he's touched them with his Noodly Appendages more (which is how gravity really works, Henderson explains).

Oh, also, pirates are God's chosen people. It's the dramatic decline in the number of pirates in the world that has caused global warming, according to the Pastafarian gospel.

Henderson says Pastafarianism's explanation of how the world came into being -- its creation story -- is just as valid a theory as "intelligent design" or evolution. The Spaghetti Monster is the intelligent designer.

The "Big Bang" was actually the Spaghetti Monster falling out of bed on the fifth day of creation after he'd spent too much time with the beer volcano. That was the day he created the midget, apparently, and so he decided to declare every Friday from then on as a holiday.

Rules to loosely follow

Which is why Friday is the Pastafarian sabbath, when the faithful are encouraged to take it easy and, if possible, get some sun.

Pastafarians also celebrate Pastover, Ramendan, (it's a carbohydrate-based religion, after all) Halloween (because it marks a time when pirates roamed free), and International Talk Like a Pirate Day every Sept. 19 (it's roughly their equivalent of Easter and the day they win the most converts because of all the grog, Henderson says in his gospel.)

There's no dogma to speak of in FSMism, but the Spaghedeity did give his early followers the Eight "I'd Rather You Didnt's," chief among them being:

"I'd Really Rather You Didn't Act Like A Sanctimonious, Holier-Than-Thou Ass When Describing My Noodly Goodness. If Some People Don't Believe in Me, That's Okay. Really, I'm Not That Vain. Besides, This Isn't About Them So Don't Change The Subject."

Pastafarianism and its not-too-reluctant prophet, Henderson, really do skewer most organized religion. It's not gentle or loving. It's unabashedly snarky, but often there's ample truth in satire. Henderson is trying to hold up a mirror. I recognized myself in it and managed to laugh through my mortification.

But does he have something against all organized religion, or Christianity in specific, I asked his deputy prophet and editor, Schluep.

"I don't think Bobby has anything against religion in general," Schluep said, noting that some of Henderson's family members are quite religious and he worries about offending them. "I think it's just when religion and society get a little too closely tied together, when it starts to affect policy, when it's . . ."

"Bossy?" I offered.

"Exactly," deputy prophet Schluep said.


And Noodly Goodness may not be used as a weapon.

It's really hard to push anybody around with a wet noodle.

Cathleen Falsani's first book, The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People, was published last week by Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Voters asked to sign anti-gay marriage petition

Voters asked to sign anti-gay marriage petition
By Harry Hitzeman
Copyright by The Daily Herald Staff Writer
Posted Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Come the next Election Day — Nov. 7 — Illinois voters will not just choose a governor, if some conservative, traditional-family groups have their way.

They hope voters will also sound off on a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman only.

The Glen Ellyn-based Illinois Family Institute used Tuesday’s primary as a chance to put a dent in the 283,111 signatures from registered voters needed to place a non-binding marriage question on the November ballot.

“It’s a way to send a message from the people of Illinois who really do support marriage,” said institute Executive Director Peter LaBarbera. “We think this is a great opportunity to debate the issue.”

The group fanned out to suburban polling places Tuesday. Working with other conservative groups and churches, it’s set an April 20 deadline to collect the signatures. The required number is 8 percent of voter turnout in November 2004. So far, the group has 140,000 signatures.

David Smith, project director for Protect Marriage Illinois, said the initiative is needed to stop the courts from overturning the state’s Defense of Marriage Act, which also defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.

“We’re trying to be pre-emptive,” Smith said. “Put the law in the constitution and, in theory, the Supreme Court can’t overturn that.”

Rick Garcia, political director of Equality Illinois, a gay rights lobby, dismissed the petition drive as a ruse for conservative groups to build a database of extreme right-wing voters.

“It’s not marriage that needs to be protected. It’s gay people who need to be protected from these bigots,” he said.

Garcia believes the advisory question “means little” but would still prefer it not make the November ballot.

“We don’t want to see it. We don’t want to see the gay community demonized and attacked by these right-wing people,” he said. “The way these people operate does not resonate in Illinois.”

LaBarbera called Garcia’s characterization way off base and predicted Illinois voters would side with him.

“It’s a civil disagreement. We disagree with Rick. He disagrees with us. We don’t have to call each other names,” he said. “We’re confident if we put it on the ballot it would pass.”

History may be on his side.

In November 2004, 15 states passed constitutional marriage amendments, according to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

The lowest margin was 58 percent in favor in Oregon; 86 percent in Mississippi supported the measure.

But Illinois in recent years has taken strides to protect gays and transgender people.

In January 2005, the Illinois General Assembly passed and Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed a non-discrimination bill that protected people regardless of their sexual orientation.

Of the six candidates voters could chose from Tuesday in the governor’s race, four support civil unions: Republicans Ron Gidwitz and Judy Baar Topinka and Democrats Blagojevich and Edwin Eisendrath.

Two GOP candidates, Bill Brady and Jim Oberweis, support a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

The divisive issue and its undercurrents were on display Tuesday outside a Wheaton polling place.

“Would you like to sign a petition to protect marriage as one man, one woman?” Smith asked.

“No, I would not,” one woman snapped. “Get … away from me.”

Other patrons politely waved away Smith and LaBarbera. Some signed the petition but refused to answer questions.

Some were more than willing to support their position.

“I think it’s very important to maintain marriage between a man and a woman the way God ordained it,” said Wheaton resident Sandra Batchelar, who signed the petition.

Legalizing gay marriage would erode families and their values, she said, adding: “When families are strong, the country is strong.”

Chris Flores, a Wheaton native who attends college in Cincinnati, also signed the petition. “It’s biblical. When it comes to marriage, marriage is Bible-based,” he said.

Even if the petition is only for an advisory vote and wouldn’t directly lead to changes in the law, Flores believes it’s worthy of debate now.

“I believe it’s a topic that needed to be discussed,” he said. “What changes are going to be made, I don’t know.”

Voters in other towns had their feathers ruffled as well.

John Slania of Arlington Heights was asked to sign the marriage petition as he went to vote at Thomas Middle School.

Slania declined and ended up calling the Cook County clerk’s office to complain about electioneering. He said the woman who approached him was standing about 30 feet from the entrance to the school. Electioneers are supposed to keep a 100-foot buffer.

“I didn’t agree with the referendum, and I find it personally offensive that someone would try to solicit my signature on a day that I’m trying to vote,” he said.

Patricia Logue, senior counsel for the Midwest office of Lambda Legal, a national organization pushing for civil rights of gays, transgender and those with HIV, called the family institute’s views extreme.

“The Illinois Family Institute does not want rights for gay people,” she said. “They hope to use this as a wedge issue to bring people to the polls.”

•Daily Herald staff writer Avian Carrasquillo contributed to this report.

Financial Times Editorial - The rate conundrum

The rate conundrum
Published: March 22 2006 02:00 | Last updated: March 22 2006 02:00

One of the hardest tasks of a central banker is to discuss new trends that might affect monetary policy without roiling the markets. This acclimatises opinion to any future changes in the direction of interest rates and minimises the risk of abrupt market corrections. Ben Bernanke, the new chairman of the US Federal Reserve, is known to put a high value on such communication. Yet at this stage of the interest rate cycle it is hard to give clear guidance, particularly in the light of what his predecessor, Alan Greenspan, famously called the "conundrum" of low long-term interest rates.

As Mr Bernanke explained on Monday, the forces governing long-term interest rate behaviour are "not at all clear cut". By extension, neither are the implications for monetary policy. Mr Bernanke is unlikely to cause surprise next week at his first Fed open market committee which is expected to add a quarter point to the benchmark rate. This would be the Fed's 15th consecutive rise, adding 3.75 percentage points since the start of monetary tightening in 2004 when the rate was just 1 per cent. But the subsequent path of rates remains highly uncertain, in part because the significance of low long-term rates remains so unclear.

Financial Times Editorial - Beginning of the end

Beginning of the end
Published: March 24 2006 02:00 | Last updated: March 24 2006 02:00

Today's permanent ceasefire declared by Eta, the Basque separatist group, is a real chance to take the gun out of Basque and Spanish politics once and for all. Delicate but hard-nosed management will be needed if it is to become the foundation stone of peace.

Radical Basque nationalism emerged as a response to Franco's vengeful dictatorship, which tried to obliterate Basque language and culture. The political challenge now is to understand why a violent independence movement has survived for 30 years under a democracy that has seen the unique Basque identity re-emerge triumphant - and thereby avoid the mistakes that have kept Eta in business.

Both big Spanish parties, the governing Socialists and opposition Popular party, have behaved irresponsibly in the past. During Felipe Gonzalez's premiership, the Socialists licensed death squads against the Eta milieu. Under José María Aznar's government, the right saw electoral profit in deliberately polarising Basque politics in order to boost votes elsewhere in Spain. Such tactics gave a morally bankrupt terrorist rump a new lease of life and a fig-leaf of legitimacy.

Against this background, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Spain's prime minister, courageously offered Eta talks if they laid down their arms. He judged the moment well. After 9/11, and the Madrid and London bombings, tolerance for terror as a tactic evaporated. The IRA gave up the armed struggle last summer and Eta was reeling from infiltration that has cost it 400 arrests.

Mr Zapatero has a mandate from parliament to pursue talks. But his anything but loyal opposition - still unreconciled to losing the 2004 elections - is conjuring up the spectre of Spain's disintegration, especially as this government is open to more home rule for both Catalans and Basques.

While Spain's asymmetric federalism does raise legitimate concerns, these are mostly to do with equity between rich and poor regions. The Popular party is playing a dangerous game of reviving the inflammatory political idiom of Francoism, of "the two Spains" and the civil war. If it cannot be bipartisan on a matter of state it should at least be responsible.

Difficult decisions lie ahead. If the ceasefire becomes a formal end to hostilities there will, for example, eventually have to be a phased release of Eta prisoners in Spain and France. That will enrage the opposition and families of Eta victims. Mr Zapatero cannot constitutionally offer a democratic route to Basque secession, moreover, in the way that Tony Blair could hold out to Irish republicans the eventual prospect of an Ireland united by democratic consent.

The most plausible way forward is through expanded powers of self-government that would probably satisfy most Basques. Those who will only be satisfied by independence must have the right to pursue it - but only by peaceful and democratic means.

New York Times Editorial - Outrage in Afghanistan

Outrage in Afghanistan
The New York Times

FRIDAY, MARCH 24, 2006

What's the point of the United States' propping up the government of Afghanistan if it's not even going to pretend to respect basic human rights? President George W. Bush himself said it was "deeply troubling" that an Afghan man is facing the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity.

In fact, the case is more than deeply troubling; it's barbaric, and we were glad that Bush promised Wednesday to press for religious freedom in Afghanistan. The Afghan man, Abdul Rahman, was arrested two weeks ago. His parents reported him to the police for converting to Christianity 16 years earlier while working for a Christian aid organization in Pakistan. He was hauled before a judge, where he said he had no regrets. "If he doesn't revert back to Islam, he's going to receive the death penalty, according to the law," an Afghan Supreme Court judge told Agence France-Presse.

And maybe Afghanistan should also return to stoning women to death for adultery? The United States, Britain and every other country helping the Afghan government should take a hard look at its legal institutions. Muslim leaders would also do well to condemn this strongly; those who continue to hold the teachings of Islam hostage to intolerance do grievous harm to their religion.

There appears to be a move afoot to declare Rahman mentally incompetent as a way to avoid the mess. That would be a cheap trick because the law would remain on the books. Afghanistan is not the only American ally that enforces cruel religious laws. But this is a country that was liberated from the Taliban by American troops and whose tenuous peace is enforced by those troops. If Afghanistan wants to return to the Taliban days, it can do so without the help of the United States.

New York Times Editorial - Bush's blameless men

Bush's blameless men
Copyright by The New York Times

FRIDAY, MARCH 24, 2006

The contrast could not have been more stark, nor the message more clear. On the day that a court-martial imposed justice on a 24-year-old U.S. Army sergeant for tormenting detainees at Abu Ghraib with his dog, President George W. Bush said once again that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, whose benighted policies and managerial incompetence led to the prisoner abuse scandal, was doing a "fine job" and should stay at his post.

We've seen this sorry pattern for nearly two years now, since the Abu Ghraib horrors first shocked the world: Bush has clung to the fiction that the abuse of prisoners was just the work of a few rotten apples, despite report after report after report demonstrating that it was organized and systematic, and flowed from policies written by top officials in his administration.

Just this week, Eric Schmitt and Carolyn Marshall provided a bloodcurdling account in The New York Times of how a Special Operations unit converted an Iraqi military base into a torture chamber, even using prisoners as paintball targets, in their frenzy to counter a widely predicted insurgency for which Rumsfeld had refused to prepare. In early 2004, an 18-year-old man suspected of selling cars to members of a terrorist network was arrested and beaten repeatedly. Another man said he had been forced to strip, punched in the spine until he fainted, put in front of an air-conditioner while cold water was poured on him and kicked in the stomach until he vomited. His crime? His father had worked for Saddam Hussein.

These accounts are tragically familiar. The names and dates change, but the basic pattern is the same, including the fact that this bestiality produced little or no useful intelligence. The Bush administration decided to go outside the law to deal with prisoners, and soldiers carried out that policy. Those who committed these atrocities deserve the punishment they are getting, but virtually all high-ranking soldiers have escaped unscathed. And not a single policymaker has been called to account.

Colonel Thomas Pappas, the former intelligence chief at Abu Ghraib, testified at the dog handler's trial that the use of dogs had grown out of conversations he had had with military jailers from Guantánamo Bay led by Major General Geoffrey Miller, who had been sent to Iraq to instruct soldiers there in the interrogation techniques refined at Guantánamo under Rumsfeld's torture-is-legal policy. Pappas said Miller had explained how to use the "Arab fear of dogs" to set up interrogations.

What of Miller? He invoked his right against self-incrimination to avoid testifying, and Time magazine reported this week that he was exonerated by an army whitewash. Apparently he was not responsible for the actions of soldiers operating under rules he put in place.

About the only high-ranking officer whose career has suffered over Abu Ghraib is Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, who was the commander in Iraq at the time. Sanchez should certainly take responsibility, but he was also a victim of administration blunders.

Sanchez was vaulted inappropriately from head of the 1st Armored Division to overall commander because Bush declared "mission accomplished": The war's over. He was then denied the staff, soldiers and equipment he needed to deal with the insurgency that quickly broke out and produced thousands of prisoners.

Bush has refused to hold himself or any of his top political appointees accountable for those catastrophic errors. Indeed, he has promoted many of them. And this is not an isolated problem. It's just one example, among many, of how this president's men run no risk of being blamed for anything that happens, not matter how egregious.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Will Illinois Democrats please stand up? By Carlos T Mock

Will Illinois Democrats please stand up? By Carlos T Mock

It started with a Laura Washington article in the Chicago Sun-Times: “Black/brown coalition’ tests political waters.” In it, Washington mentioned a coalition between Chicago Democratic congressmen Jesse Jackson Jr. and Luis Gutierrez. I later heard that Senator Barrack Obama is also part of the coalition. Judicial candidate Joy Cunningham and Alexi Giannoulias, a Democratic candidate for state treasurer, were their inaugural projects.

The article made little impact on me until I received a mailing paid for by the Democratic Party (and, by extension, me, since I’ve donated to them yearly). The mailing contained a headline from The Herald Tribune: “Casinos, murder donations and Jack Abtramoff.” Without any logical connection other than being on the same page next to each other, the article says, “There’s something you need to know about the company state treasurer candidate Alexi Giannoulias keeps.”

I was even more bewildered by a mailing from Ill. Secretary of State Jesse White, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Comptroller Dan Hynes, Speaker of the Illinois House Mike Madigan and Illinois Senate President Emil Jones endorsing Peter Mangieri over Giannoulias.

With the war in Iraq and the mishandling of the economy by our president, I don’t appreciate the Illinois Democratic Party spending my money to promote one Democrat over the other when they are both well qualified. The Democratic Party will not get any more of my money. Candidates I feel represent me will.

As in the rest of the country, Democrats like me are fed up and want new voices and choices. Jackson, Gutierrez and Obama are the new voices. We should let them know we are listening.

Carlos T. Mock


My time on Brokeback Mountain

My time on Brokeback Mountain

One of the two co-screenwriters of the critically acclaimed “gay cowboy” movie responds to the commentary by Karel about the film

By Diana Ossana
An exclusive posted, January 13, 2006. Copyright by The Advocate

The following letter was written by Diana Ossana in response to “It’s Very Brave of Them,” an exclusive commentary by regular contributor Karel. Ossana, who granted permission to reprint her letter unedited and in its entirety, cowrote the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain with her writing partner, Larry McMurtry.

Dear Karel,

Your article regarding fear in moviemaking is cogent, timely, relevant, and impassioned. It is an honest journalistic piece and extremely well-written. As the cowriter of the screenplay and a producer on the film Brokeback Mountain, I hope my responses might serve to restore some of your faith in the creative process of screenwriting and filmmaking.

I read Annie Proulx’s short story in October 1997 when it appeared in The New Yorker magazine. I was deeply moved by her telling of a doomed love between two unremarkable men, young ranch hands in 1963 Wyoming. Larry McMurtry and I acted immediately to option the short story with our own money, and I felt exhilarated at the opportunity to be actively involved with getting Brokeback Mountain out into the world in a major, major way from the very beginning. Never once did fear enter my mind, not until nearly a year after the screenplay was finished and young Matthew Shepard was found not five minutes from my daughter’s apartment in Laramie, Wyo. (She was attending the university there on a basketball scholarship. My fear then was for the safety of my child.) But we remained determined to get our screenplay made into a fine and honest film.

A close friend of mine said to me once that people are mainly motivated by two emotions: fear and love. Brokeback Mountain was not a labor of love for most of us; it was a labor of great passion and belief.

Karel: Bravery? No. When I look at Brokeback Mountain all I see is fear. In the story, I see the fear of two obviously gay people too afraid to actually commit to their love, so they run off and marry women and live a life unfulfilled out of fear.

Ennis and Jack may be obviously gay to the reader/viewer, but in 1963 and even beyond, gays within the working classes barely had a context within which to operate, let alone identify themselves. The character of Jack is much more open to his sexuality and to the possibilities of life than Ennis, and has little fear. Ennis, on the other hand, comes from a place of deep homophobia--not unlike some gays today, sadly enough.

I see the fear in two major stars of actually admitting they played gay, as they downplay in the press their characters’ sexuality.

Heath Ledger actively pursued the role of Ennis once he read the script. The script itself, and we feel the film too, are unabashed and straightforward regarding the sex and affection between these two men.

I see the fear of movie studios too afraid to make the movie with Gus Van Sant years ago.

Columbia Studios and Scott Rudin came on board as soon as Gus Van Sant committed to direct. Once their options ran, however, it was extremely difficult to find funding for our screenplay/film. However, we would not have compromised our screenplay by removing or altering integral scenes in the story line.

I see the fear of countless Hollywood actors who wouldn’t take the parts.

It is our strong belief that the actors who read our screenplay and ultimately did not take the parts were dissuaded by their various representatives, in the mistaken belief that it would be "career suicide" to take on the roles. As we’ve said before, Heath Ledger actively pursued his role. Even after Heath and Jake committed to their roles, rumors floated around Hollywood, triggered by noncreative types, that they were committing "career suicide," which is eye-rolling ridiculous.

I see the fear of a still-homophobic corporate press, which grabs onto the stars’ sexuality instead of the script’s quality. A press that gives these stars an outlet to gauge their "comfort level" with playing these roles. A press that throws around words like bravery and courage when referring to pampered stars playing well-scripted roles.

I agree with you regarding much of the press; however, none of us were "pampered" on the set of Brokeback. This was a low-budget film. We worked 16-hour days, often seven days a week, while in production. More than 80% of our story takes place outside, and the weather in Alberta tends to the extreme year-round. The reason Ang Lee and the actors came on board this project had very much to do with the quality and potency of our screenplay. It would be refreshing if the media knew and actually printed that.

I see the fear in filmmakers like Lee who make "gay" movies without the "gay," meaning gay people are deluged with images of heterosexual lovemaking everywhere, but should a gay couple show it on-screen—oh, no, we must hide the sex.

None of us—including the actors—ever expressed fear regarding the sex in our screenplay/film. We all felt it was integral to telling our story and felt it was very straightforward and honest in its portrayal of these men and their passion for one another.

I see the fear of the critics, who say things like New York Daily News critic Jack Mathews did when he predicted that it may be “too much for red-state audiences, but it gives the liberal-leaning Academy a great chance to stick its thumb in conservatives’ eyes.”

Red state/blue state—people are people. People between the coasts are a lot more intelligent and compassionate than the media give them credit for.

Yes, I see a lot of fear around Brokeback Mountain.

Heath was asked by an interviewer recently if he felt brave taking on the role of Ennis. He replied, "Brave? Firefighters and policemen are brave. I’m just an actor, getting paid to act. I feel lucky to be involved with this project.”

Karel, we never once felt fear regarding the subject matter of our screenplay. What we feared was the possibility of losing the essence of our landscape and our dialogue, and of watering down the unsentimental nature of our script. When anyone sets out on a creative endeavor of any kind, they run the risk of failure. That’s what makes “creating” challenging and exciting—because the euphoria of success is so potent.

I, for one, never doubted the power of Annie Proulx’s story or our screenplay. That is why we optioned the short story with our own money and why Larry and I have been relentless in getting it up on-screen. That is why I am a producer on the film, and that is why we have insisted upon getting it made in an honest and truthful manner.

Thank you, Karel, for your thoughtful consideration of Brokeback Mountain. We hope you see—and are moved—by our little film.

All best,

Diana Ossana

The Boston Globe Editorial - (Torture) Secrets of Baghdad Airport

Secrets of Baghdad Airport
Copyright by The Boston Globe


The more revelations there are of detainee abuse by U.S. troops, the more evident it is that the guards who mistreated prisoners at Abu Ghraib were not just a few bad apples, as the Bush administration has described them. A New York Times report Sunday focused on a detention center at Baghdad airport where FBI, CIA and civilian Department of Defense officials complained to their superiors about the harsh tactics, including beatings, used by military interrogators.

The military could not ignore the Abu Ghraib abuses after soldiers who disapproved of what happened released photos to the media. The Bush administration then did its best to minimize Abu Ghraib as an isolated case and the work of untrained reservists. But the Baghdad airport center was staffed largely by highly trained Special Operations troops, with about 1,000 present at any time. According to the Times, 34 have been disciplined for mistreatment.

In late 2003, warnings of what was going on at the center came from medics who saw injuries on detainees that could have come from beatings. By 2004, relations between military and civilian officials were strained enough for reports to reach the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby. He informed the under secretary of defense for intelligence, Stephen Cambone, who instructed his deputy, Lieutenant General William Boykin, to "get to the bottom of this immediately." Boykin, who kept his Pentagon job despite having publicly disparaged the Islamic faith, concluded at the time there was no pattern of misconduct at the center.

Since then, there has been a broader inquiry into allegations of prisoner abuse by Special Operations forces. Completed in 2005 by Brigadier General Richard Formica, it was sent to Congress, but the Pentagon has refused to release even an unclassified version.

America is paying for prisoner abuse in the animosity it engenders throughout the Middle East and the world. And U.S. soldiers will pay for it in future conflicts when they are captured and subjected to similar mistreatment. The public deserves to know the findings of the Pentagon inquiry on what happened at the airport. President George W. Bush should order Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to release the Formica report.

- The Boston Globe

Basque separatists declare a cease-fire

Basque separatists declare a cease-fire
By Renwick McLean Copyright by International Herald Tribune


SEVILLE, Spain The Basque separatist group ETA, which has killed more than 800 people and terrorized Spanish society for nearly 40 years, announced a permanent cease-fire Wednesday, saying that it would turn its attention to achieving independence for the Basque region of Spain through politics.

A permanent cease-fire by ETA, which the group said would take effect Friday, has been the paramount objective of successive Spanish governments since the establishment of democracy here in 1977.

"This could be the beginning of the end," Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero said during an appearance before reporters in Madrid.

But Zapatero also said that it was important to treat the announcement with caution, echoing concerns by victims' groups who urged politicians to remember what they said was the ETA's history of deceit and unfulfilled promises.

"This government will tackle this new situation with prudence, with calm," he said, "fully aware that after so many years of suffering, we have a tough, long, difficult road ahead of us."

The government is expected to begin preparing for negotiations with ETA, which Zapatero promised in May to open if the group agreed to renounce violence permanently.

Zapatero declined Wednesday to say when he would begin negotiations, which are expected to focus on Basque claims for more autonomy from Madrid and on persuading ETA to hand over its weapons and disband.

ETA has called cease-fires before, but never in terms as categorical as those in the announcement Wednesday, which explicitly described the cease-fire as permanent.

The group first made the announcement in a statement sent to Radio Euskadi, a Basque radio station, Wednesday morning. Three ETA members later appeared on Basque public television, their heads covered in white veils and black berets, to read the statement.

"The objective of our decision is to advance the democratic process," the statement said. "ETA expresses its desire and will that the process under way should reach a conclusion and thus achieve true democracy in the Basque country, overcoming long years of violence and constructing a peace based on justice."

"Here and now, it is possible to overcome the conflict. That is the desire and will of ETA," the statement concludes.

Investigators say that the group's commitment to violent tactics may have weakened after the March 11, 2004, train bombings in Madrid, an attack thought to have been carried out by Islamic radicals in which 191 people were killed. The bombings were the worst terrorist attack in history on Spanish soil, and the popular outrage they produced may have convinced ETA that terrorism was not politically profitable.

Juan Avilés, director of the Institute for the Investigation of National Security, a research and teaching organization in Madrid, said the announcement represented a victory for Zapatero, who he said had taken a big political risk in declaring that he was willing to negotiate with ETA if it agreed to give up violence.

"But the big question is what did the government offer to get this," he said in a telephone interview. "There surely were contacts of some kind between the government and ETA beforehand."

The government has said repeatedly that it has not made contact with ETA to negotiate a cease-fire.

ETA's statement Wednesday included a call for all of its members to abandon violence, but Spanish government officials said they could not rule out the possibility that splinter groups might ignore the cease-fire.

They nevertheless said that such an outcome was unlikely, citing the structured and hierarchical nature of ETA. "That is not a serious source of concern right now," said an official in the prime minister's office who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the cease-fire. "The conditions are favorable enough that the possibility of further violence is not being seriously contemplated."

ETA, whose acronym stands for the Basque phrase Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, or Basque Homeland and Liberty, was founded in 1959 with the goal of establishing an independent Basque state encompassing sections of northern Spain and southern France.

After one of its members killed a police officer in 1968, the group went on to kill a total of 817 people, including nearly 350 civilians, according to figures from the Interior Ministry.

The group's attacks have included assassinations of politicians, car bombs placed outside police stations, and indiscriminate bombings in parks and shopping centers. The last fatal attack was in May 2003, and the group is widely considered to be weaker than at any previous point in its history.

Investigators have been saying for more than a year that the main question about ETA was when it would renounce violence, not if.

The speculation that a cease-fire was near grew in recent months, fueled by statements by Spanish officials, both in public and private.

Nevertheless, ETA has continued its nonfatal attacks against businesses, parks and other public spaces, usually in the Basque region, as part of what investigators call an extortion campaign to persuade companies and business executives to give the group money.

The conviction that ETA was considering a permanent cease-fire was fueled by scores of arrests over the past several years that have decimated its leadership ranks. Many investigators said that ETA no longer had the capacity to carry out large-scale attacks.

French president hopeful

ETA's cease-fire announcement raises new hopes for Spain and for the fight against terrorism, said President Jacques Chirac of France, The Associated Press reported from Paris on Wednesday.

Many ETA members have sought refuge in France, where they have been tracked down in joint police efforts.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Raskin's Testimony Before the Maryland State Senate

Raskin's Testimony Before the Maryland State Senate
Judicial Proceedings Committee
On Senate Bill 690 - March 1, 2006
My name is Jamin Raskin and I am a professor of Constitutional Law at American University's Washington College of Law. I live in Montgomery County with my wife and three children.

Tom Paine taught us that a Constitution is not an act of government, but of "the people constituting a government."

So this is no ordinary legislative proposal before you but an effort to redefine our social contract. You have been offered the chance to become the first Legislature in Maryland history to subtract and exclude liberty and rights from our Constitution.

It reminds me of the 18th Amendment, Prohibition, which we adopted at the national level in 1919. The outburst of self-righteous moralism which produced this amendment eventually subsided and Prohibition was repealed after fourteen bloody and disastrous years.

However, as misguided and doomed as Prohibition was, it at least had a public policy rationale, which was to get rid of the social ills associated with drinking, and it applied to everyone equally.

This proposed Amendment has no public policy rationale other than prejudice and it falls exclusively on a vulnerable minority.

As far as I can tell, the argument for writing marriage discrimination into our Constitution rests on essentially theological premises: God forbids gay marriage; my church opposes it; it violates natural law; and so on. But these arguments reflect a basic confusion about the American Constitution and our framework of liberty.

Under our First Amendment, the State may never dictate to a church who it must marry. If the government wants to force a church to marry inter-faith couples or interracial couples or a couple of people who had been divorced or a gay couple, but the church does not want to marry these people for its own theological reasons, the government loses and the church wins. Under the Free Exercise Clause, a church may marry only those people it wants to marry and reject the rest even for reasons that other people may consider narrow-minded, stupid or prejudiced or indeed for no reason at all.

But, at the same time, individual churches or even coalitions of churches may never dictate to the State who it may marry. Even if a group of large churches decides that it is irreligious or sacrilegious or just plain evil for people to marry outside of their faiths or across racial lines and the churches mobilize their members to lobby the state legislature to unanimously pass a law against miscegenation or inter-faith marriage, these law will be struck down. They violate Due Process, Equal Protection and the Establishment Clause.

In 1967 the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia struck down Virginia's law against whites marrying African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Hispanics despite the fact that it was overwhelmingly popular and its champions invoked Biblical authority for its legitimacy. The Court found that Equal Protection and the Due Process right to marry are supreme in America; they control and displace discriminatory state marriage laws, even ones based on religious ideas that majorities passionately endorse.

Thus, when I hear testimony from my fellow Marylanders about how ending statewide marriage discrimination would collide with their church beliefs, my response is simple and, I hope, reassuring: Your church will never have to perform a marriage ceremony of any gay couple or indeed any couple of any kind that it disapproves of. If the state tries to force your church to marry anyone, I will gladly represent your church pro bono to stop the state from imposing its orthodoxy on you and interfering with your freedom to discriminate as a religion.

But the irony here is that the State today is stopping many churches and temples from marrying gay couples that the churches want to marry. That is, the State today is violating the rights of many churches--including Unitarian, Episcopal, Presbyterian and Jewish congregations, among many others--who seek to perform lawful weddings for their parishioners but may not simply because other groups of citizens think it would be wrong for them to do it.

Because America is for all its citizens regardless of religion and because so many churches have so many different belief systems, we are governed here not by religious law but by secular law. The rules of civil marriage--the license that the State grants you to marry--must be determined with respect to the federal and state Constitutions, not particular religious claims, no matter how fervently held.

And the constitutional principles are clear. First, Due Process protects the fundamental right of all consenting adults to marry. This is a right so sweeping that it covers even people who marry multiple times like Elizabeth Taylor, people who get married on television game shows like Who Wants to Marry A Millionaire, deadbeat dads who seek to remarry, see Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U.S. 374 (1978), and convicted prisoners, see Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987), including murderers on death row, many of whom have married people they have met by mail. The fundamental right to marry actually includes even gay and lesbian citizens, who have been able to marry for centuries so long as they would consent to marry people they could never have a successful marriage with--that is, straight people of the opposite sex. And who knows how many thousands of unhappy marriages of this kind there have been? In any event, the Supreme Court has said that the right to marry is fundamental for all citizens.

Second, Equal Protection gives people the right to be married without discrimination based on race, ethnicity, nationality and other arbitrary factors, such as animosity towards a minority group.

Third, in Maryland we have an Equal Rights Amendment which the Circuit Court has interpreted to forbid marriage discrimination. The theory essentially is that a state cannot allow a lesbian to marry a man but forbid her to marry a woman. This policy is not only irrational and cruel but unconstitutional.

Now, a court could choose--and courts have chosen--to invalidate marriage discrimination on the basis of any and all of these constitutional principles. We can argue about the particular doctrinal basis for doing it, but marriage discrimination has no rational basis; it is rooted in fear of the unknown, animus, and anxiety about other things, like the relentless sexual images purveyed towards our children by the commercial mass media, very high heterosexual divorce rates and the difficulties that people have keeping families together in times of great economic stress and geographic dislocation.

But it seems to me that the advocates of this amendment want to cement not only a particular religious doctrine or moral judgment into our Constitution but an obsolete view of human sexuality. The supposition seems to be that gay and lesbian Americans, unlike the rest of us, have chosen their sexuality and have chosen wrong. But all of the gathering scientific evidence suggests very strongly that our sexual orientation has a hereditary and biological basis. Think of the gay people you know in your families or friends; now think of the straight people. Do you really think they have freely chosen their sexual orientation?

Doctors don't even know how to keep grown heterosexual men, like our State Comptroller, from ogling young women in public. Do you really think they can turn millions of gay men and women into straight people?

When all of the scientific and anecdotal evidence we have suggests that our sexual orientation is simply part of us, like our hair color, the decision to rope off marriage--an institution that carries hundreds and hundreds of legal and governmental benefits and privileges--from certain groups of people based on their sexual orientation can be described as nothing more than cruel and irrational discrimination.

Our Constitution should not be an historical record of our prejudices and follies but, as much as possible, a covenant reflecting our devotion to expanding liberty and equality for all of our citizens.


At the end of his testimony, Republican Maryland State Senator Nancy Jacobs said: "Mr. Raskin, my Bible says marriage is only between a man and a woman. What do you have to say about that?"

Raskin replied: "Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You did not place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible."