Saturday, August 05, 2006

No smokers please as Brussels refuses to stub out job prejudice

No smokers please as Brussels refuses to stub out job prejudice
By Andrew Bounds in Brussels
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: August 5 2006 03:00 | Last updated: August 5 2006 03:00

European employers are free to refuse a job to smokers, clinching tobacco users' status as the continent's last pariahs.

The European Commission, which has presided over a vast array of anti-discrimination legislation in the past six years, says its laws did not cover tobacco users.

The position was revealed when Catherine Stihler, European parliament deputy, tabled a question to the Commission on behalf of a pro-smoking constituent alarmed at reports that an Irish call-centre company had advertised for staff, warning "smokers need not apply".

Mrs Stihler's query about whether the advert breached European law was answered by Vladimir Spidla, the commissioner for employment and equal opportunities, who said it did not. "EU anti-discrimination law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of racial or ethnic origin, disability, age, sexual orientation and religion and belief in employment and other fields," the Czech commissioner told Mrs Stihler.

"A job advertisement saying that 'smokers need not apply' would not seem to fall under any of the above mentioned prohibited grounds," he added in a written reply vetted by the Commission's lawyers.

Mrs Stihler, a British Labour party MEP, asked her question after the Irish company, Dotcom Directories, placed such an advert in May.

The Irish government had said it did not breach any laws.

Philip Tobin, the director of Dotcom Directories, said smokers were antisocial and took too much sick leave.

He told Irish radio in May: "If people are smoking on a coffee break or in their own time, they come back into the office and they stink. We have a very small office here and it would make things unbearable for the other staff. To be honest, if these people can ignore so many warnings and all that evidence, then they haven't got the level of intelligence that I am looking for. Smoking is idiotic."

Forest, the UK pro-smoking pressure group, said it was distressed but not surprised by Mr Spidla's view.

"We all know employers discriminate on all sorts of grounds, from being too fat to the wrong colour hair. But for it to be so overt is depressing and shows that smokers are fair game,"said Simon Clark, Forest'sdirector.

The World Health Organisation this year announced it would no longer hire smokers to work at its Geneva headquarters.

Mr Spidla, a veteran anti-communist and anti-smoker, is studying whether to introduce legislation to protect workers from the effects of passive smoking. That could one day make it too risky for businesses to employ those who indulge.

Senate threat to revisit authority for war in Iraq

Senate threat to revisit authority for war in Iraq
By Demetri Sevastopuloin Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: August 4 2006 03:00 | Last updated: August 4 2006 03:00

The US Congress may have to re-examine President George W. Bush's authority to wage war in Iraq if the country descends into full-blown civil war, an influential Republican senator said yesterday.

John Warner, chairman of the Senate armed services committee, raised the possibility that Congress might have to revisit the authorisation it gave Mr Bush to wage war in Iraq after two senior US generals conceded that Iraq could slide into civil war.

General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the committee civil war was possible but said later he did not believe it was probable.

Carl Levin, the top Democrat on the committee, asked General John Abizaid, commander of US Central Command, which oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, whether he agreed with a leaked assessment by the British ambassador to Iraq that the country was sliding towards civil war.

He said the sectarian violence was probably as bad as he had seen it in Baghdad in particular and civil war was possible.

Some Republican senators joined Democrats in questioning whether the US military had expected a year ago that violence in Iraq would have increased to the current levels, with 100 deaths a day in Baghdad. Both generals said they had not expected this.

The generals were speaking as the US military decided to delay the departure of some troops to bolster counter-insurgency efforts in Baghdad. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who has long criticised Mr Rumsfeld for not sending more troops to Iraq, said the military was employing a strategy of "whack-a-mole" by redeploying troops from areas that were not under control to other violent areas.

"It's very disturbing," said Mr McCain. "If it's all up to the Iraqi military, General Abizaid … then I wonder why we have to move troops into Baghdad to intervene in what is clearly sectarian violence."

Hillary Clinton, the New York Democrat, lambasted Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, for his 'mishandling' of the war. She said the Pentagon sent too few troops, mistakenly disbanded the Iraqi army, failed to anticipate the insurgency, and did not plan sufficiently for the post-war situation.

"My goodness," Mr Rumsfeld shot back. "There is no rule book … your assertion is at least debatable."

Despite growing public dissatisfaction with the war, Democrats have struggled to put forward an alternative policy. But this week, top Democrats in Congress wrote to Mr Bush, calling on him to begin a phased redeployment of US troops in Iraq by the end of theyear.

Additional reporting by Holly Yeager in Washington

Generation gap marks US views on Cuba’s future

Generation gap marks US views on Cuba’s future
By Andrew Ward
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: August 4 2006 16:21 | Last updated: August 4 2006 16:21

Hundreds of Cuban-Americans took to the streets of Miami’s Little Havana this week to celebrate news that Cuban President Fidel Castro had temporarily ceded power to his brother because of ill health.

The carnival scenes reflected hope among south Florida’s 800,000-strong Cuban-American population that communist rule over the island could be nearing an end after 47 years.

But, while most Cuban-Americans oppose Mr Castro, there are divisions within the community about US policy towards Cuba and nervousness about the impact that an upheaval in Havana would have on south Florida.

“There is a widespread misconception that the Cuban-American community is homogeneous,” says Brian Latell, a former Cuba specialist for the CIA and author of the book After Fidel. “There are still some vocal hardliners but the majority is increasingly moderate.”

“The first wave of immigrants brought with them the personal scars of revolution and the pain of exile,” says Luis Martinez Fernandez, professor of Latin American studies at the University of Central Florida. “But the younger generations are far less political.”

Hardliners view Mr Castro’s deteriorating health as an opportunity for the US to tighten the screws of its economic embargo and provide aid to dissidents with the aim of accelerating regime change. But opinion polls show that many younger Cuban-Americans favour a loosening of the embargo and an increase in diplomatic engagement to encourage gradual change.

The softening in attitudes has political implications because the Republican party draws much of its strength in Florida from Cuban-American support for its uncompromising approach towards the Castro regime.

Cuban-American votes in Florida were crucial to President George W. Bush’s election victory in 2000.

But polling data showed a sharp drop in support for Mr Bush in some Cuban-dominated districts of Miami in 2004. “Cuban-Americans can no longer be taken for granted by the Republicans,” says Mr Fernandez.

Florida politicians have lined up this week to make the obligatory calls for change in Havana, but their statements have been laced with caution, aware of the potential for chaos if Mr Castro died or lost power.

“I think it’s a moment for us to just express our desire for change and our openness to those voices of change. But I think anything beyond that is premature,” said Mel Martinez, the state’s Cuban-born Republican senator. “I think we need to see how events unfold within Cuba.”

Mr Fernandez says that, for all the hostile rhetoric towards his regime, politicians understand that Mr Castro has provided valuable stability in the US backyard. “Before Castro the island had been a source of instability in the region and it could become so again after he goes,” he says.

Many analysts predict an influx of Cuban refugees across the 90-mile Straits of Florida should the island descend into violence. Other possible scenarios include a flotilla of exiles sailing in the opposite direction to pick up relatives or return home.

But Mr Fernandez says that, provided violence is avoided, the predictions of mass boatlifts would probably prove unfounded. “Why would people leave at the moment when there is hope of change for the better?” he asks.

Mr Latell is equally sceptical about the prospect of thousands of exiles wanting to return. “Most Cuban-Americans now see the US as home,” he says.

Asked whether he would consider returning, Mr Martinez said people should not to underestimate the emotional pull felt by Cuban-Americans towards the island: “I have always said that I would go back to Cuba when I could speak freely in the town square of the little city where I grew up and not feel persecuted for doing that.”

Florida race pits incumbency against anti-Bush feeling

Florida race pits incumbency against anti-Bush feeling
By Caroline Daniel
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: August 4 2006 17:26 | Last updated: August 4 2006 17:26

Clay Shaw has all the advantages of a political incumbent. Over 26 years in the House of Representatives he has forged a reputation as a respected moderate Republican, driving welfare reform and pushing an $8bn restoration of the Everglades. After a tight race in 2000 his Florida district was re-mapped to make it safer.

Such advantages used to be enough. In 1998 the House re-election rate of those seeking another term was 98 per cent. In 2002 it was 96 per cent. This year, however, even incumbents could suffer if the election becomes a national referendum on President George W. Bush’s record and on disaffection with Congress.

The Cook Political Report, a non-partisan analysis of US electoral politics, identifies Mr Shaw’s 22nd congressional district as one of the 15 most competitive Republican-held seats. In a sign of how seriously both parties take the seat, it is set to be the costliest House race. Mr Shaw has raised $3.2m (£1.7m, €2.5m), including $1.3m in the last three months alone, more than any other House Republican.

Ron Klein, his Democratic opponent and a state senator, is not far behind, with $2.6m. “Incumbents can accumulate large amounts of money and use taxpayers’ dollars to support their position. But in this race and this year, incumbency may not be all it is cracked up to be. People may be looking for change,” he says.

That message is at the heart of the Democrats’ strategy to tie Mr Shaw to Mr Bush, citing the fact he has voted with the president 90 per cent of the time.

Mr Shaw, a soft-spoken 67-year-old, has not shunned photo opportunities with Mr Bush. On Monday he sat in the front row on a sweltering day in the port of Miami as the president spoke to the Coast Guards. Mr Bush grinned at him and said, “I’m proud you’re here.”

Yet Mr Shaw prefers to run on his own legislative record. He barely mentions Iraq, and is quick to identify areas where he has differed from the president. “My opponent says I’m a rubber stamp for Bush. It’s an invention. I voted to overturn the veto on stem cell research.” Although he backs free trade he disagreed with Mr Bush’s approval of Dubai Ports World taking control of the Miami port. He also differs on immigration, favouring the tougher House bill over a complex guest worker programme.

Immigration was a key theme of a low-key speech at the Deer Creek Country Club on Tuesday, a lush golf course between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Mr Shaw told Rotary Club members, “If you look around this golf course you would find that most of the workers are from Latin America, and most of them are illegal. Just as we are addicted to gasoline, we are also addicted to foreign labour.”

The 22nd district was the hub of the 2000 presidential ballot recount, when Mr Shaw squeaked through by 559 votes. But in 2002, his prospects were eased by a re-mapping, led by Republicans, that removed some of the strongest Democratic areas. The district is about 90 per cent white, affluent and with a large Jewish community.

Republicans remain confident. Mr Shaw was re-elected in 2002 and 2004 with more than 60 per cent of the vote. “It is not as close as people make out. Clay has always polled above the president and above the governor. They go on his coat-tails,” says Larry Casey, his campaign manager.

US jobs data ease rate rise fears

US jobs data ease rate rise fears
By Jennifer Hughes in New York
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: August 4 2006 13:50 | Last updated: August 4 2006 21:51

Hopes that the US Federal Reserve will next week pause its long-running series of interest rate rises were boosted on Friday by figures showing weaker-than-expected employment growth and a rise in the jobless rate.

The news triggered an early rally on the markets, although stock indices eventually gave back gains to close slightly lower.

The Labor Department said 113,000 jobs were created last month, less than the 145,000 expected by economists.

The Federal Open Market Committee convenes on Tuesday. If it leaves rates unchanged, it would be the first time in over two years that it has not raised rates.

After Friday’s data, futures markets indicated investors had priced in a 20 per cent probability of a rate rise, having previously factored in a 40 per cent chance.

“There is enough doubt about growth to force the Fed to take a wait-and-see stance next week,” said Avery Shenfeld, analyst at CIBC World Markets. “Four tepid payrolls gains in a row will be too much for the Fed to ignore.”

Averaged over the past four months, payrolls have risen by 112,000 a month – well below the 150,000 economists use as a rule of thumb for the pace needed to absorb new entrants to the workforce. Unemployment, which is calculated from a different survey, unexpectedly rose from 4.6 per cent to 4.8 per cent last month – its highest level this year.

“This may be a one-month blip but if I was on the FOMC I would be willing to sit on my hands just to make sure,” said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at RBS Greenwich Capital, who still expected one more rate rise, perhaps as soon as September.

Underneath the weak headline numbers, the report showed some signs of ongoing strength. Private employment improved and manufacturing hours worked rose even as overtime fell, suggesting healthy production rates.

There were some concerns about inflation pressures, which could force the Fed to raise rates in the future even if growth is slowing. Average hourly earnings rose 0.4 per cent, more than the 0.3 per cent expected, for an annual rate of 3.8 per cent.

The S&P500 ended virtually flat at 1,279.36 after an early 1 per cent rally while yields on benchmark 10-year Treasuries dropped 6 basis points to 4.9 per cent, a four-month low. The dollar fell to $1.288 against the euro from $1.28.

Court upholds lesbian's parental rights

Court upholds lesbian's parental rights
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
New York Times News Service. Tribune news services contributed to this report
Published August 5, 2006

Isabella Miller-Jenkins has two mothers, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The court rejected a host of arguments from Isabella's biological mother, Lisa Miller, that her former lesbian partner, Janet Jenkins, should be denied parental rights.

The decision conflicts with one from a court in Virginia, where Miller and her daughter, who is 4, now live. A lawyer for Miller predicted that the U.S. Supreme Court would eventually resolve the dispute.

After living together for several years in Virginia, Miller and Jenkins traveled to Vermont to enter into a civil union in 2000. Isabella was born in Virginia in 2002, after Miller was impregnated with sperm from an anonymous donor.

When Isabella was 4 months old, the women moved to Vermont, where they separated after about a year. Miller and Isabella moved back to Virginia.

It was not clear that Virginia courts will honor the Vermont decision. In October 2004, a judge in Winchester, Va., granted sole custody of Isabella to Miller.

"The Vermont ruling illustrates that same-sex marriage or civil unions will inevitably clash with other states," said Mathew Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel, a public interest law firm that represents Miller. "This case will have to be resolved at the United States Supreme Court."

In another case Friday, Indiana's Supreme Court let stand a ruling that allows unmarried couples, including those of the same sex, to adopt children through a joint petition giving both partners equal custody.

Hispanic community is place to look for new leaders

Hispanic community is place to look for new leaders
August 5, 2006
Copyright by The Chicago Sun Times

If you're like me, it's getting to be too much. Real problems and issues in people's lives go unaddressed, but the symbolic issues and matters get the politicians' attention. It's time to change this for all of our sakes. It takes new leadership -- and the Hispanic community can help bring this about.

Here's the map. New leaders bring about new politics that bring about new, results-oriented government. How do we find new leaders? Let workable ideas, tenacity, a track record and broader backgrounds be our guides when assessing people for leadership. Let's not simply give our support to somebody who gets elected, holds office and does very little to better people's lives. This maturing community can have an impact on the local, state and national scenes by encouraging people who are accomplished -- from so many different fields -- to seek leadership.

Come they will and we should seize them. Choose the community hospital department head who came forward with an idea to provide easy access to health care, an idea that can really work -- not a hot-air speech that's safe for one's political career or political party. Look for the Hispanic company owner who brought us an economic development project that truly created jobs. Let's listen to the teachers and others who have a sound plan to make education a fundamental part of our Hispanic homes across Chicago. And, shouldn't we look to the police officers and others in law enforcement who truly have a workable idea to improve the safety of our neighborhoods?

Here's what we don't want and can no longer tolerate: If you happen to be a federal or state officeholder, especially in the legislative branch, there's so much pressure to do whatever it takes to win an election, serve the party, win the majority of a chamber, or set yourself up to look good on an issue, even if you can't prevail on it. This explains why millions march for immigration reform across the United States, and Congress takes the summer off and leaves the issue until later. We do, however, have time for debates and votes on flag amendments.

State government isn't immune to this malady either. Recently, Gov. Blagojevich proposed $1.5 billion for school construction assistance across the state. Some districts have been waiting for years to expand and renovate schools, build labs and add technology. But the politicians (mostly Republicans) who hail education as our most important issue didn't want to give Blagojevich a "victory" he could use in November, so they decided to just ignore him! School construction funding died, and the children and their families wait.

Local government is less susceptible to this. Here, people won't stand for it. They want the streets safe, the garbage picked up, the water to flow, the schools to work and public housing to work.

What can we learn from all this? Be especially careful of those coming from Congress seeking local office. They must show that they can leave the posturing, positioning, flamboyance, hyperbole, party-serving stalling mode in Congress. Similarly, state officeholders ought to be held accountable for what they've done already before seeking another office.

I challenge the Hispanic community to lead the way here, first by talking about change and then by making it happen. If you and they are as fed up as I am, changing the way our leaders are chosen is a start.

New York Times Editorial - Rumsfeld and reality

New York Times Editorial - Rumsfeld and reality
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: August 4, 2006

It's been obvious for years that Donald Rumsfeld is in denial of reality, but the U.S. defense secretary now also seems stuck in a time warp. You could practically hear the dominoes falling as he told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that it was dangerous for Americans to even talk about how to end the war in Iraq.

"If we left Iraq prematurely," he said, "the enemy would tell us to leave Afghanistan and then withdraw from the Middle East. And if we left the Middle East, they'd order us and all those who don't share their militant ideology to leave what they call the occupied Muslim lands from Spain to the Philippines."

And finally, he intoned, America will be forced "to make a stand nearer home."

No one in charge of American foreign affairs has talked like that in decades. After Vietnam, of course, the Communist empire did not swarm all over Asia as predicted; it tottered and eventually collapsed. And the new "enemy" that Rumsfeld is worried about is not a worldwide conspiracy but a collection of disparate political and religious groups, now united mainly by American action in Iraq.

Americans are frightened by the growing chaos in the Middle East, and the last thing they needed to hear this week was Rumsfeld laying blame for sectarian violence on a few Qaeda schemers. What they want is some assurance that the administration has a firm grasp on reality and has sensible, achievable goals that could lead to an end to the American involvement in Iraq with as little long-term damage as possible.

Instead, Rumsfeld offered the same old exhortation to stay the course, without the slightest hint of what the course is, other than the rather obvious point that the Iraqis have to learn to run their own country.

By contrast, the generals flanking him were pillars of candor and practicality. General John Abizaid, the U.S. commander in the Middle East, said "Iraq could move toward civil war" if the sectarian violence - which he said "is probably as bad as I've seen it" - is not contained. The generals tried to be optimistic about the state of the Iraqi security forces, but it was hard. They had to acknowledge that a militia controls Basra, that powerful Iraqi government officials run armed bands that the Pentagon considers terrorist organizations financed by Iran, and that about a third of the Iraqi police force can't be trusted to fight on the right side.

Rumsfeld suggested that lawmakers leave everything to him and the military command and stop talking about leaving Iraq. "We should consider how our words can be used by our deadly enemy," he said.

Americans who once expected the Pentagon to win the war in Iraq have now been reduced to waiting for an indication that at least someone is minding the store. They won't be comforted to hear Rumsfeld fretting about protecting Spain from Muslim occupation.

New York Times Editorial - Au revoir, freedom fries (Congress busy at work with all the important issues affecting our country)

New York Times Editorial - Au revoir, freedom fries (Congress busy at work with all the important issues affecting our country)
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: August 4, 2006

When Congress renamed the French fries sold in its cafeterias "freedom fries" before the Iraq war, Bob Ney, whose position as House Administration Committee chairman put him in charge of the cafeterias, said the change registered "the strong displeasure of many on Capitol Hill with the actions of our so-called ally, France." In the real world, it mainly allowed people to register their strong displeasure at how juvenile Congress was being.

In the last few weeks, as The Washington Times reported, Congress has quietly changed the name back. We could think of many good reasons for the move. "Freedom fries" is now a stale relic of a naïve time, when the war's supporters were convinced that Iraqis would be free right after they finished greeting their liberators with rose petals.

The renaming also was the embodiment of Bush's my-way-or-the-highway diplomacy. A French Embassy spokeswoman gamely said at the time that "we are at a very serious moment dealing with very serious issues, and we are not focusing on the name you give to potatoes." But "freedom fries" was intended to be, and was, a poke in France's eye. Harassing the French is probably not the wisest course now that America may need their help negotiating a cease-fire in Lebanon.
We would like to think that such sound policy reasons account for the change. But the real reason appears to be that Ney was forced to give up his chairmanship of the committee because of his extensive ties to the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The current chairman, Vernon Ehlers of Michigan, seems more sensible about both intergovernmental affairs and cafeteria management.

Friday, August 04, 2006

If only Castro is gone - America should play a quiet, discreet role in a post-Castro Cuba

If only Castro is gone - America should play a quiet, discreet role in a post-Castro Cuba
Georgie Ann Geyer, a syndicated columnist based in Washington: Universal Press Syndicate
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published August 4, 2006

WASHINGTON -- If there is one word that most definitely does not define Fidel Castro--in any of its possible meanings--it is "resigned."

Castro has never been resigned to anything, not across his whole life. He created worldwide power out of a powerless little island in the Caribbean and remains today, at nearly 80 and having outlasted nine American presidents, the quintessential modern revolutionary. Nor did he ever, ever seriously think of resigning from his position as the Cuban totalitarian version of El Supremo. Cuba would not exist without him!

So when the Cuban president "resigned" his position this week because of illness--a "sharp intestinal crisis with sustained bleeding"--the world took notice. Oh, it was to be temporary, two weeks, and his little brother Raul, 75, and six other top Cuban leaders would temporarily take power. But the world is changing before our eyes, and everyone knows it: The Fidel Castro era is coming to an end.

But what is to come next? The scariest part of the scenario is that the U.S. administration--once again--knew exactly what was right for the old-new Cuba! The White House and even the supposedly more analytical State Department did not miss a beat, a deadline or a breath. Before Castro could even settle down in his hospital bed, we were already constructing the new Cuba, to be built, apparently, on our recent successes in constructing the new Iraq, the new Afghanistan, the new Palestine and the new Lebanon.

"If Fidel Castro were to move on because of natural causes," President Bush said on Miami's Spanish-language Radio Mambi just before the illness was announced, "we've got a plan in place to help the people of Cuba understand there's a better way than the system in which they've been living under. No one knows when Fidel Castro will move on. In my judgment, that's the work of the almighty."

Then, after the illness was announced Monday, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow put the administration's thoughts in further order. There would be no reaching out to Raul Castro, because "Raul Castro's attempt to impose himself on the Cuban people is much the same as what his brother did. The one thing that [Bush] has talked about from the very beginning is his hope for the Cuban people, finally, to enjoy the fruits of freedom and democracy. ... We stand ready to help."

But already such ideas were moving far beyond words in Washington. Only three weeks before the reports of Castro's deteriorating health, the results of a presidential commission on what comes after Castro were released. They called for an $80 million program to bolster non-governmental groups in Cuba, "assistance in preparing the Cuban military forces to adjust to an appropriate role in a democracy" and an entire program of "aid" to the new Cuba that in fact only amounts to more historical American meddling on that island 90 miles to the south.

Perhaps it is prudent here to see Cuba the way the president and his avid democratizers see it. Obviously, they see a long-suffering people yearning for freedom, for American tutelage, to be just like the Americanos. Sort of like our original ideas about Iraq, only now in the tropics, close by and so much easier to get to!

But this is not Cuba today--and, despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of Cubans have over the years chosen the danger of leaving for the United States, it will not be the post-Castro Cuba. This will be a Cuba of sullen, frightened people; of people who have known only one leader for 47 years and who have submitted to him; of people who will feel both guilt at that submission and some fleeting joy, but who will not know where to go next; of people who will rightfully fear that the Miami Cubans will come back and reclaim their old property; of people who have to be de-ideologized from Castro before they can become something else.

And, remember, Latin America is deep into the process of moving toward Castro's authoritarian-caudillo far-left example, whether Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador or Argentina. There are tens of thousands of Cuban doctors, sports trainers and teachers working and being paid well in leftist Venezuela; are they, or the military that has supported Castro so passionately for nearly five decades, going to turn around and say to El Norte, "Hey, you were right. We've been wrong all these years. Here we are, take us!"

I am not one to dwell on America's past mistakes, but it is a foolish person in foreign policy indeed who does not acknowledge them--and their outcomes. We have a very checkered history with Cuba, ever since, at the end of the Spanish-American war in 1898, we took the victory away from the Cuban fighters in Santiago de Cuba, leaving them on the outskirts of town.

The task of America in the next stage of our relationship with this important neighbor should be not to threaten them, as we did this week, with more American intervention, abhorred across Latin America, but to do what Bush's wise father and Secretary of State James Baker did with Eastern Europe. When Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was letting the East go free, they were quiet, discreet, prudent, not rubbing anyone's nose in anything but only taking actions that would work instead of backfire and create more years of misery.



Chicago Tribune Editorial - Plan B for the FDA

Chicago Tribune Editorial - Plan B for the FDA
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published August 4, 2006

Is the Food and Drug Administration really serious about approving Plan B, the "morning-after pill," for over-the-counter sales? Maybe. FDA officials sure surprised a lot of people--including, apparently, the drugmaker, Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc.--by springing a sudden decision to talk to the company in the next week. After years of ignoring its own scientific experts and delaying the contraceptive drug's move to over the counter, the FDA said in a statement that it hoped to agree on an approval process "in a matter of weeks" if the talks go well.

No, the timing of this--one day before Senate confirmation hearings for a new FDA head--wasn't coincidental.

The nominee, Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, the acting FDA commissioner, faced tough questions before the Senate on Tuesday. He pledged that under his leadership the agency would be guided by "sound science" and that he was "committed to maintaining the long-standing traditions and values" of the FDA.

If so, his first order of business should be to end this shameful chapter in FDA history and grant the approval for over-the-counter sales of Plan B. The evidence is overwhelming that the morning-after pill is safe and effective.

The FDA's dawdling and delay over the Plan B proposal for more than two years has been unconscionable. It had argued that science alone, not politics, accounted for its reluctance to approve the pill for over-the-counter sale. That argument was demolished last year by the Government Accountability Office. A GAO report led to one conclusion: Top FDA officials bigfooted the decision in 2004 to deny over-the-counter sales of the pill. Politics, not science, dictated the final outcome.

Politics, not science, will also dictate whether von Eschenbach is confirmed as the next FDA chief. Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) vow to block a vote on his nomination until the FDA acts on Plan B. And this time, unlike last year, they say they won't be swayed by empty FDA promises to settle the issue. Last year, the senators got fleeced when then-FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford told them he planned to make a decision by Sept. 1 on allowing Plan B to be sold over the counter. But then Crawford "decided" not to decide, opting instead for further study.

President Bush could circumvent the Senate vote on von Eschenbach with a recess appointment. So stay tuned.

FDA approval for over-the-counter sales is not assured. One potential hurdle: the FDA wants the company to ensure that pharmacies won't sell the pill over the counter to girls younger than age 18. But isn't that the pharmacies' responsibility? Some advocates worry that such an onerous requirement could be a loophole that would allow the FDA to deny permission for over-the-counter sales.

Dr. Susan Wood, former director of the FDA's Office of Women's Health, resigned in protest last August after the last Plan B delay. She said she was "somewhat encouraged" by Monday's announcement. But she also warned: "I feel they're making it appear they're moving forward. But until we actually see a decision, we can't count on that." Yes, some skepticism is warranted here. Unfortunately, politics may yet trump science again.

What's going on in Cuba? U.S. doesn't know

What's going on in Cuba? U.S. doesn't know
By Lesley Clark and Pablo Bachelet
McClatchy/Tribune newspapers
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published August 4, 2006

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration said Thursday that it does not have detailed knowledge of the workings of Cuba in the days following Fidel Castro's historic relinquishing of power to his brother Raul.

"Our insight into the decision-making process of . . . this particular dictatorship isn't that great," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Thursday, three days after Castro named his brother to run the country temporarily after what was described as complicated surgery to stem gastrointestinal bleeding.

"I don't think there are too many people outside that small core group of people who run Cuba who really know what is going on," McCormack said. "I don't have an assessment for you on Fidel Castro's health."

Later in the day, President Bush issued a statement saying the U.S. government is "actively monitoring the situation in Cuba" following Castro's transfer of his powers to Raul Castro, Cuba's defense minister.

But in private encounters with lawmakers and other Cuba watchers, U.S. officials concede that monitoring has yielded little, people in contact with administration officials say.

White House spokesman Tony Snow has attributed the lack of information to Cuba's status as a "closed society" with a government-controlled media and a long tradition of secrecy because of fears of U.S. attacks.

Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), a Cuba native who has met with Bush and other high-ranking administration officials in recent days, acknowledged Thursday that "sometimes people in Miami know more than what the government knows."

"I've asked, and we don't have any more information than what the Cuban government has released," Martinez said.

The Bush administration is not alone in being mystified.

A diplomat with the Organization of American States who asked for anonymity said the Cuban government has been "pretty hermetically sealed" since Monday. His embassy had no information on recent events in Havana, and he noted that U.S. diplomats were "blind down there" because they are confined to Havana and under close watch.

A European diplomat who attended a meeting to discuss Cuba at the State Department said the administration was "as confused as we are."

Cuba wants to hear from Raul Castro

Cuba wants to hear from Raul Castro
Propaganda fills airwaves as acting president (right) stays out of sight
By Gary Marx
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
Published August 4, 2006

HAVANA -- The mystery and anxiety over who is running Cuba deepened Thursday as the acting president, Raul Castro, stayed out of public view for a third consecutive day and the government released no new information about Fidel Castro's medical condition.

While Cuban authorities organized rallies and filled the airwaves with words and images of support for the Castros and the revolution, residents voiced concern that Raul Castro had not spoken to the nation since his brother ceded power following major surgery.

"He's got to show his face sooner or later," said one Havana resident, who asked for anonymity, fearing government reprisals. "No one can run the country from obscurity. He needs to explain what's going on."

The closest Raul Castro has come to addressing Cubans was on Thursday's front page of the Communist Party daily Granma, which reprinted two paragraphs of a July 1 speech in which he proclaimed the Communist Party would keep control of Cuba even if his brother no longer were president.

"Only the Communist Party, as an institution that brings together the revolutionary vanguard and is a sure guarantee of Cuban unity in all times, can be the worthy inheritor of the confidence deposited by the people in its leader," Raul Castro said. "The rest is pure speculation."

Though those words likely were meant to calm the Cuban people, they were unlikely to please President Bush, who urged Cubans to work for democratic change and pledged U.S. support.

"It has long been the hope of the United States to have a free, independent and democratic Cuba as a close friend and neighbor," Bush said in a statement.

Although Cuban authorities have tried to downplay speculation about Fidel Castro's condition, describing him as stable and in good spirits, at least one Havana-based diplomat questioned the upbeat assessment and said the 79-year-old leader remained gravely ill.

Castro's estranged sister, Juanita Castro of Miami, told CNN she had heard from people in Havana that her brother was "very sick" but had been released from intensive care.

Festival suspended

One possible indication of the seriousness of Castro's illness was the suspension of an annual celebration scheduled to begin Friday, an event that lures huge crowds to the Malecon, Havana's seaside boulevard.

Security around the nation also remains tight. Militant pro-government civilian groups have been mobilized and residents have been called to meetings of neighborhood block committees, government-organized watchdog groups aimed at monitoring dissent.

Army and security agents in civilian clothes have flooded Havana's streets.

There have been no reported anti-government demonstrations since Monday's announcement. Opposition leaders in Havana said dissidents remained under tight surveillance, but they knew of no arrests.

But Yamile Llanes, wife of an imprisoned activist from eastern Cuba, said in a telephone interview that a crowd of about 100 pro-government demonstrators shouted slogans and threw stones at her home Thursday.

On Monday, Castro delegated his top political and security posts to Raul Castro, who long has served as Cuba's defense minister.

A motive for appointment

Some experts suggest that Raul Castro's appointment as head of the Communist Party and acting president is meant to cement the loyalty of the Cuban armed forces, by far the nation's most powerful institution.

Aiding Raul Castro is a committee of veteran Communist Party officials, including Jose Ramon Balaguer, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura and Esteban Lazo Hernandez.

Other officials assigned to key posts include economics czar Carlos Lage, Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and Francisco Soberon, head of Cuba's Central Bank.

Also crucial is National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon, the nation's most experienced diplomat. Though Fidel Castro did not mention Alarcon in his statement relinquishing power, Alarcon has been a spokesman for the ailing president, telling interviewers that he had met with Fidel Castro on Monday and Tuesday.

On Thursday, Cuba's state-run television broadcast a series of glowing man-on-the-street interviews about Raul Castro, an apparent attempt to build confidence among the populace. But some Cubans said they wanted to hear from the man himself.

"When is he going to talk?" asked one Havana resident.


Why voters are holding Congress in deep contempt

Why voters are holding Congress in deep contempt
By Edward Luce
Published: August 4 2006 03:00 | Last updated: August 4 2006 03:00
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

Political observers in the US for months have been fixated on George W. Bush's abysmal approval ratings. But compared to the public's view of Capitol Hill, which goes into recess tomorrow with its reputation at rock bottom, Mr Bush could almost be described as popular.

With recent approval ratings of just 23 per cent (compared with 36 per cent for President Bush) America's 109th Congress is held in greater contempt by voters than at any time since modern polling began. With reason, some have dubbed it the "Do Nothing Congress" in an echo of the enduring moniker that Harry S. Truman bestowed on the 80th Congress in 1948.

But that label might miss the larger point. Although it is on course to have met for fewer days than any recent predecessor, this Congress might better be described as "The Broken Branch" - after a recent book by Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, two non-partisan veteran observers of Capitol Hill. Their view is that America's legislative branch has all but abdicated its constitutional role of acting as a check on the power of the executive. The key trend driving the dissolution of Capitol Hill's oversight role is the rise and rise of a visceral form of partisanship.

The Senate is today expected to vote on one of the most notorious bills to come before lawmakers. The bill, which combines the first increase in the US minimum wage since 1996 with massive tax relief for estates bequeathing multimillion-dollar inheritances, is a classic example of the intense partisanship that now prevails.

To persuade enough opposition Democrats to support the virtual repeal of the "death tax", which will cost the US Treasury an estimated $753bn (£399bn) in the decade after it comes into effect, Republicans sweetened the pill with a long-denied increase in the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour.

Republicans in the House of Representatives also sugared the bill with tax breaks for key Democratic constituencies, including a tax subsidy for the timber sector and one for America's ailing mining industry - both of which are targeted at specific lawmakers. Whether or not it is enacted today, observers on the right and the left have already thrown their hands up in despair over what is seen as cavalier treatment of critical issues.

There are two further benchmarks to show how low the Congress has fallen. First, it is now practically impossible to defeat most sitting candidates. Of the 435 House seats, only 20 or so (less than five per cent) are considered genuinely "competitive" for this November's mid-term elections. Because of gerrymandering, in which districts are contorted into ever more peculiar shapes to give demographic advantage to the incumbent, opposition challenges are becoming ever more quixotic.

The incumbency advantage means that the real electoral contest more often takes place in the primary race to select the candidate for the incumbent party within each district, which gives a huge advantage to activists, who tend to be more extreme than the electorate at large. The rise of gerrymandering explains why Republicans have become so much more conservative and Democrats so much more liberal in the past decade or two.

Second, the resulting growth in partisanship has encouraged US lawmakers to behave more like their counterparts in the Westminster parliamentary system, where party discipline prevails. But while strict party control of elected representatives might make sense in a parliamentary system, it undercuts America's traditional separation of powers. Instead of pronouncing on key issues facing America today, such as energy security, climate change, the war in Iraq and immigration, this Congress has agreed to disagree (along partisan lines) on the vital issues and has achieved virtually nothing of statutory consequence.

Perhaps the biggest item on which this Congress has failed to achieve anything meaningful - despite pledges to do so - is the problem of so-called "earmarks" in bills and the influence of the notorious "K Street" lobby groups on Capitol Hill. Instead, this Congress has broken all records for adding "pork" - targeted subsidies that benefit specific lawmakers - to appropriations bills.

In 1987, Ronald Reagan vetoed a large spending bill on highways because it contained 150 earmarks (clauses with pork) - a scandalous number by the standards of that time. Last year Mr Bush failed to veto an even larger highways bill that had 5,000 earmarks.

On this issue at least, bipartisanship prevails. Is it any surprise the American public is so disillusioned?

The writer is the FT's Washington bureau chief

US policy in the Middle East unravels

US policy in the Middle East unravels
By Roula Khalaf in London and Edward Luce in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: August 4 2006 03:00 | Last updated: August 4 2006 03:00
On March 14 2005 Beirut's fashionable downtown district was flooded with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, waving Lebanese flags and passionately demanding an end to Syrian control over Lebanon.

Dubbed in Washington the "Cedar Revolution", the protests - following the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri - were held up as evidence of a changing Middle East, a blow to radicalism and a vindication of America's push for freedom.

There were stirrings of democracy elsewhere in the region. From the first nationwide municipal elections in Saudi Arabia to the emerging Kefaya movement in Egypt, the Arab world was sending signs of hope.

In Palestine, Yassir Arafat, the historic leader shunned by the US, was gone and a more moderate Mahmoud Abbas had taken over, promising accountable government and reviving hopes for Middle East peace. Even in Iraq, the US-designed political transition was progressing in defiance of escalating insurgent violence.

That image of the Middle East has now been dramatically transformed. As Israel pounds Lebanon and its troops push deeper into the south, the US vision of the Middle East is in disarray.

The Lebanon conflict is the latest sign of a broader unravelling of US policy. Looking across the Arab world: the radical Palestinian group Hamas is in power and Mr Abbas is marginalised; Iraq is sinking towards civil war; no one expects wider elections in Saudi Arabia; and the Egyptian regime has reverted to its repressive ways.

Expressing the sense of frustration and desperation, Walid Jumblatt, leader of Lebanon's Druze group and a driving force behind the Cedar Revolution, told the FT this week that today's Middle East is one of "darkness everywhere" with "failure in Palestine, failure in Iraq and now this failure in Lebanon".

Israel's onslaught, supported by the US, has intensified anti-American sentiment in the region and raised domestic pressure on US-friendly regimes.

Worse yet from the US perspective, the Lebanese conflict has underlined the rising power of Iran, Hizbollah's most important backer. The crisis comes as Sunni Arab governments fret over Shia Iran's growing influence in Iraq, now ruled by a Shia-led coalition, an anxiety exacerbated by Tehran's determination to pursue a nuclear programme.

With little evidence so far that Israel's offensive has done much to degrade Hizbollah's military power and growing signs that it has strengthened the group's political influence in Lebanon, Iran and its allies - in Syria and Lebanon - could yet emerge as the biggest beneficiaries of the war.

By radicalising public opinion, the Lebanon conflict also risks complicating US efforts to contain Iraq's civil strife. Al-Qaeda leaders have seized on Israel's war as justification for their violence. Worrying too are angry warnings from Iraq's Shia figures againstUS backing for Israel.

In considering the Middle East's predicament, there is enough blame to go round for all the regional actors - leading Arab governments, Iran, Syria and Israel. But American blunders, starting with the bungled handling of Iraq, have contributed to the region's mounting troubles.

The sticks waved at Iran and Syria appear to have only radicalised them further. The lack of perceived US even-handedness in the Arab-Israeli conflict has allowed the conflict to fester and undermined the credibility of other US policies. The contradictions between fighting a war on terrorism and spreading democracy, meanwhile, became starkly evident in the Palestinian elections, where most parliamentary seats went to Hamas, a group labelled a terrorist organisation in the US but considered by Arabs as legitimate resistance to Israeli occupation.

In Washington, Bush administration officials maintain that the Lebanon crisis can be turned around to the advantage of the US and its allies in the Lebanese government. They point to the growing convergence between the US and leading European countries on UN resolutions needed to defuse the crisis. Betting that Israel's military campaign and international pressure will lead to the disarmament of Hizbollah, they insist the US is not losing the war for hearts and minds.

"There are two curves that intersect at some point: the military curve that is degrading Hizbollah's capability and the political curve of public opinion," says a senior US official. "Even as Hizbollah are losing on the military battleground, their political standing may be growing. But we don'tthink that public empathy for Hizbollah in theMiddle East will be deep or lasting."

However, Richard Haass, former head of policy and planning at the US State Department and now president of the Council on Foreign Relations, echoes many, including a queue of former Democrat and Republican secretaries of state, who fear the US is losing the larger political war.

"The US is giving the impression that it is uncaring about Lebanese lives and this will help further radicalise elements in the Arab world," says Mr Haass. "The administration limited its options at the outset by refusing to deal with Iran and Syria and aiming for maximum objectives in a short time-frame. This is entirely consistent with its approach to diplomacy over the last five and a half years."

In Beirut, meanwhile, the Americans' optimistic predictions are met with growing scepticism. With the country battered by Israel for more than three weeks, the government, dominated by forces that led the March 14 2005 protests, can ill-afford to turn against Hizbollah, whatever the outcome of the war.

Attempts to impose an internationally agreed deal to disarm Hizbollah, warn politicians, could push Lebanon down the treacherous path of another internal conflict, only 15 years after it emerged from civil war.

It is no doubt such gloomy prospects that led to this week's lament from Saudi al-Feisal, foreign minister of Saudi Arabia. "We would like to return to the old Middle East," he said, "as we did not see anything new in the new Middle East apart from more problems".

Apple likely to restate after options probe

Apple likely to restate after options probe
By Financial Times reporters
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: August 4 2006 07:09 | Last updated: August 4 2006 07:09
Apple Computer said it would probably need to restate its earnings and would delay the filing of its most recent quarterly results, after an internal probe found more evidence of irregularities related to its granting of stock options between 1997 and 2001.

Shares in Apple fell $2.04, or 3 per cent, to $ 67.55 in early New York trading on Friday.

Apple, which had first discovered stock option-related irregularities in June, is among the biggest of more than 60 Silicon Valley-based companies embroiled in a widening stock options backdating scandal.

The company said late on Thursday it would probably need to restate its past financial statements to record non-cash charges for compensation expenses related to past stock option grants.

It said it had not determined the amount of charges it needed to record, the resulting tax and accounting impact, or which periods may require restatement. But in a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission, it said all earnings issued since September 29 2002 should not be relied upon.

Apple said in June its internal probe had discovered irregularities in some stock option grants made between 1997 and 2001. These included one involving its chief executive Steve Jobs, which was cancelled subsequently and resulted in no financial gain.

The widespread use of options by small, California-based technology companies has in recent months become the focus of enforcement action by the SEC and federal prosecutors.

Several dozen companies have received subpoenas from US authorities who are investigating whether executives manipulated the grant dates of stock options to coincide with low points in the value of their companies’ shares without disclosing their actions to shareholders.

Most cases seem to relate to a roughly six-year period prior to the introduction of Sarbanes-Oxley legislation. Before then option grants were disclosed once a year and could be made in a 45-day window, which has now been cut to two days.

The scandal escalated in July when the US attorney in San Francisco launched an official taskforce together with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to determine whether there was “fraudulent intent to defraud the marketplace, or to hide something from the auditors or the tax man”.

Dehumanizing others is no virtue

Dehumanizing others is no virtue
Copyright by The Chicago Sun Times
August 4, 2006

To hate other humans or to feel no pain at their suffering, it is necessary to dehumanize them, to write them off as less than human. The Nazis are the classic example of this dehumanization. Germans were the obermensch, the master race. Jews, Slavs, Gypsies were the untermensch, the inferior peoples who barely had the right to exist.

The Puritans dehumanized Native Americans, white Americans dehumanized African Americans, Irish Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland dehumanized one another, as do Jews and Arabs in the Mideast, and Shiite and Sunni Muslims. In every case, one attributes to the "other" characteristics that prove that they are not fully human by the use of stereotypes -- "illegals," for example. The American soldiers who tortured, beat, raped and murdered Iraqis dismiss their victims as "rag heads." The rest of us are able to ignore the pain and the grief of ordinary Iraqis, as I learned from responses to my last column, by arguing that Iraq was involved in the Sept. 11 attack or that Saddam Hussein killed far more than have died under our inept and unplanned "occupation."

The first argument is ignorant. Bush administration officials have admitted in whispers that no evidence has been found of a link between al-Qaida and Iraq. It is also immoral because it assumes that revenge is appropriate. The second argument reveals twisted immorality. Because Saddam was a mass murderer, Americans are not responsible for our failure to protect Iraqis when we have taken charge of their country. He was worse than we are, he killed through commission, we kill (for the most part) through omission. Our only sins were to make war on the basis of false arguments with little understanding of the people whose social system we destroyed and to establish an occupation of arrogant incompetence. Thus the ineffable Paul Wolfowitz, the intellectual architect of the Iraq war, could say, "I think that there are ethnic differences in Iraq, but they are exaggerated."

Right! The Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites will be too busy celebrating our liberation to kill one another. It is unlikely that Wolfowitz assumes any responsibility for what went wrong.

So you see, the e-mail that makes this argument implies, why should we feel any guilt because Saddam was much worse than we are? Baldly stated, that argument is nonsense and immoral nonsense at that. Yet many Americans are still ready to use it to wash their hands of the pain and suffering, the fear and the horror of innocent Iraqis we have betrayed.

Joel Preston Smith, one of my e-mail commentators, writes he was in Iraq before the war and after it began. "If I hadn't been treated so well, maybe I wouldn't feel so connected to the families and friends who sheltered me, fed me, helped me do my work. But I see the vast majority of Iraqis as incredibly kind, thoughtful people. And it is a knife in my heart, every day, to see them suffer." Many Americans do feel a similar knife, but many others dispense themselves from any feelings of grief or responsibility.

Moreover, when Americans finally "cut and run" -- as Ronald Reagan did in Lebanon -- there is no reason to think that Baathist leaders of the insurgency (from the safe haven of Syria) will not re-install Saddam or someone as bad as he was.

The man who was to lead the military police contingent into Iraq was promised 20 battalions of MPs. At the last minute, to prove Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's point that not many troops would be needed to dispose of Saddam, his contingent was cut to three battalions. If he had his full complement, he might have been able to prevent the looting that provided weapons for the insurgency. Rumsfeld dismissed the looting as something that was inevitable and not important. "Stuff happens."

Are all Americans responsible for the administration's ignorance and arrogance in Iraq? Surely not. Yet those who still defend the war with clichés and phony arguments despite all the published evidence to the contrary are whistling in the dark as they pass the graveyard.

New York Times Editorial - Dishonorable service

New York Times Editorial - Dishonorable service
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: August 3, 2006

What happens to a general who turns a military detention camp into a center for the torment of prisoners, and then keeps exporting those vile practices to other U.S. prisons until their exposure sickens the world? If the general works under President George W. Bush, he is whitewashed of any blame, protected from even the mildest reprimand, and, finally, retires honorably with the military's highest noncombat medal pinned to his chest.

By now, we shouldn't be all that surprised at the treatment of Major General Geoffrey Miller, the Guantánamo Bay commandant who helped organize interrogation centers in Afghanistan and at Abu Ghraib.

After all, Bush has promoted the civilians who formulated the policies behind illegal detention and prisoner abuse. And he awarded the highest civilian honor to George Tenet, who either bungled the intelligence on Iraq or helped the White House hype it, and Paul Bremer, whose post-invasion mismanagement helped foment the bloody chaos in Iraq.

But there was something especially appalling about the ceremony on Monday in which Miller got the Distinguished Service Medal in - of all places - the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes. The medal is for "exceptionally meritorious service" beyond the performance of duty.

We hope the Pentagon had something in mind beyond putting prisoners into painful positions for hours or threatening them with dogs. Surely they were not thinking of naked men in pyramids or posed with electric wires on their genitals.

This sorry tale dishonors the real heroes. If the Pentagon wanted to honor them, it could have chosen the military lawyers who tried to stop the Bush administration from scrapping the Geneva Conventions and trying to put places like Guantánamo Bay beyond the rule of law. Or it could just look to the front line in Iraq, where heroes put their lives on the line every day - and all too often lose them.

New York Times Editorial - Conflicted medical journals

New York Times Editorial - Conflicted medical journals
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: August 3, 2006

Leading U.S. medical journals seem to be having a difficult time disentangling themselves from the pharmaceutical and medical-device industries. If they cannot stop printing articles by scientists with close ties to these businesses, they should at least force the authors to disclose their conflicts of interest publicly so that doctors and patients are forewarned that the interpretations may be biased.

Two disturbing cases were described in detail by The Wall Street Journal recently. One involved The Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA; the other concerned Neuropsychopharmacology, a journal published by a leading professional society in the field.

The article in JAMA must surely have pleased all makers of antidepressant drugs. It warned pregnant women that if they stopped taking antidepressant medication they would increase their risk of falling back into depression. Hidden from view was the fact that most of the 13 authors had been paid as consultants or lecturers by the makers of antidepressants. Their financial ties were not disclosed to JAMA on the preposterous grounds that the authors did not deem them relevant.

An even more egregious set of events occurred at Neuropsychopharmacology, which recently published a favorable assessment of a controversial new treatment for depression resistant to conventional therapies. Left unmentioned was that eight of the nine authors serve as consultants to the company that makes the device used in the therapy. The ninth works directly for the company.

It is hard to know whether to be more upset at the journal's failure to disclose these ties or at its decision to let such interested parties serve as authors in the first place.

Many journals have been tightening their disclosure and publication policies in recent years, and both JAMA and Neuropsychopharmacology plan further tightening. But the reforms are not likely to go far enough. More muscle should be put into forcing disclosure of conflicts of interest. If all leading journals agreed to punish authors who fail to reveal their conflicts by refusing to accept further manuscripts from them, a lot more authors would be inclined to fess up. Better yet, journals should try much harder to find authors free of conflicts. That is the best hope for retaining credibility with doctors and the public.

New York Times Editorial - Latinas and a cry for help

New York Times Editorial - Latinas and a cry for help
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: August 3, 2006

A recent series in the Spanish- language New York newspaper El Diario/La Prensa sheds some light on a mostly overlooked phenomenon in the United States, the misunderstood and endangered young Latina, who represents one of the fastest-growing segments of the American population. Hispanic teenage girls attempt suicide more often than any other group. They become mothers at younger ages. They tend not to complete their education. They are plagued by rising drug use and other social problems.

A U.S. government study found that a startling one in six young Hispanic women had attempted suicide, a rate roughly one and a half times as high as that among non-Hispanic black and white teenage girls. If there was any good news, it was that these young women usually survived. Dr. Luis Zayas, a professor of social work and psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis, says the self-destructive behavior seems to affect Latinas of every origin and every region of the United States.
El Diario tracked several young women and found that they faced particularly acute social pressures, especially if their parents were foreign-born. Zayas and other experts note that the suicide attempts trend higher for Latinas who are the first generation born in the United States.

Adolescent and teenage girls with families recently rooted in Latin America are expected to adhere to old culture traditions, including tending to other family members and putting themselves last. Self-esteem issues are common among teens generally, but they appear magnified for young women who cannot seem to fit in at home or away from it.

About one-quarter of Latina teens drop out, a figure surpassed only by Hispanic young men, one-third of whom do not complete high school. Latinas, especially those in recently arrived families, often live in poverty and without health insurance.
Another piece of the puzzle is how to address the complication of very early, usually unmarried motherhood. Religious beliefs in Hispanic families often limit sex education and rule out abortion. U.S. government statistics show that about 24 percent of Latinas are mothers by the age of 20 - three times the rate of non-Hispanic white teens.

Solving these problems will require more than research. What is needed is a larger effort that includes educators, policy makers, families and communities. Here's one more statistic: One in four women in the United States will be Hispanic by the middle of the century. The time to help is now.

Tapes show confusion in U.S. military on 9/11

Tapes show confusion in U.S. military on 9/11
By Philip Shenon
Copyright by The New York Times
Published: August 3, 2006

WASHINGTON Newly disclosed tapes offer evidence of the widespread confusion within the military as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were being carried out, further undermining contentions by the Pentagon that it moved quickly to try to intercept and shoot down one or more of the hijacked jets.

When matched with the timeline of the attacks, the tapes make clear that information about the hijackings was slow to reach the military and that much of the information that did reach air force commanders was faulty.

The tapes were provided under subpoena to the independent commission that investigated the attacks, and parts of them had previously been made public by that commission.

But the full collection of nearly 30 hours of tapes from the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or Norad, were released by the Pentagon last year to Michael Bronner, a producer of the recent film "United 93," who described them in detail in an article posted this week on the Web site of Vanity Fair magazine, The Web site includes links to excerpts from the actual tapes.

The tapes demonstrate that for most of the morning of Sept. 11, the airspace over New York and Washington was essentially undefended and that jet fighters scrambled to intercept the hijacked planes were involved in a fruitless chase for planes that had already crashed.

Although much of the conversation in the tapes is heavy with military jargon, it makes clear the terror of the morning, with military air controllers trying to monitor the whereabouts of hijacked planes bearing down on lower Manhattan and Washington.

"I got an aircraft six miles east of the White House!" one military commander is quoted as barking to a colleague.
The tapes also document a conversation among officers about how best to shoot down passenger planes, if the order to do so came from the White House.

"My recommendation, if we have to take anybody out, large aircraft, we use AIM-9s in the face," an air force commander says, a reference to a type of missile that would be fired into the nose of the plane.

The Sept. 11 commission subpoenaed the tapes and other evidence after the panel's investigators determined that material had been improperly withheld by Norad, which is responsible for air defense.

Members of the commission said the tapes demonstrated that the Pentagon's initial account of its actions on Sept. 11 was wrong and that some military officers might have intentionally provided false statements to the commission.

The officers had testified that Norad had been tracking Flight 93, the plane that crashed into a Pennsylvania field after a cockpit struggle between passengers and the hijackers, and were prepared to shoot it down if it approached Washington.
But the tapes show that the military was not even alerted to the hijacking of the plane, a United Airlines flight, until four minutes after it had crashed.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Short view By Philip Coggan - Financial Times - Central banks are not so much taking away the punch bowl from the party

Short view By Philip Coggan
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: August 4 2006 03:00 | Last updated: August 4 2006 03:00

Central banks are not so much taking away the punch bowl from the party as handing guests their coats and holding the door open for them to leave. If there were any doubts about the direction of global monetary policy, yesterday's simultaneous rate rises from the European Central Bank and Bank of England (after Australia earlier in the week) settled them.

In the long run, this is probably positive for the markets, since some had started to fear that central banks were going soft on inflation, after the deflationary scare of 2003. Although it may well turn out that higher commodity prices serve to contract demand instead of resulting in a cost-push price spiral, banks are not taking the risk.

In the short term, however, investors will be nervous. Some think the US economy will extend its second quarter slowdown into the second half of the year, in the face of a rapidly weakening housing market. That would require the European and Japanese economies to take up the slack, something that may not happen if interest rates rise too much.

By removing the word "vigilance" from its statement, the ECB seemed to rule out a rate rise later this month. But analysts are still expecting a further move towards the end of the year and Barclays Capital said that short sterling moved to price in a further UK rate increase in November.

Furthermore, speculative investors will worry that the cost of financing their positions is steadily rising. That worry will increase substantially if the US Federal Reserve raises rates next week.

Some commentators have long held the view that the global economy avoided crisis in the wake of the dotcom bubble only because central banks, by cutting rates so sharply, created a housing bubble (particularly in the US) to bolster consumer spending. If that view is right, then the economy may face some testing times over the next year or so.

But the bulls will argue that interest rates are only returning to "normal" levels after the crisis lows earlier this decade and that, with corporate profits and household balance sheets still strong, the odd quarter point rate increase is nothing to worry about.

Short view By Philip Coggan - Financial Times - Financial markets may have suffered in the correction that began in early May.

Short view By Philip Coggan
Published: August 3 2006 03:00 | Last updated: August 3 2006 03:00
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

Financial markets may have suffered in the correction that began in early May, but the worst now appears to be over. While investors still worry about higher interest rates and the clashes in the Middle East, markets have recovered a lot of the lost ground.

The S&P 500 index, for example, fell about 100 points between May 9 and its June 13 low and, by the close on Tuesday, had regained about 50 points. The FTSE World Index, having dropped 48 points between May 9 and June 13, has regained 22.

Developed and emerging markets are lower than when the correction started but, in many cases, the losses are less than 10 per cent. The notable exceptions are Japan, India and Brazil, where the consensus got a bit carried away earlier in the year, Israel (for obvious reasons) and Turkey, where investors suddenly remembered the risks they were running.

As is typical in a correction, defensive sectors, such as tobacco, pharmaceuticals and food retailers, have done best; all have gained since May 9. The volatile technology sector has been hardest hit, along with cyclical sectors such as construction and mining.

Such market movements would seem to point to perceptions of an economic slowdown. The 10-year US Treasury bond yield is lower than it was on May 9, although only by about 15 basis points. But the economic fears have not delivered one much-anticipated dividend: a fall in the oil price. Crude is now about $4.50 a barrel or 6 per cent higher than it was in early May, thanks mostly to Middle East turmoil.

This can be interpreted in two ways. One could see the market rebound as a sign of the resilience of the system, with investors focusing on fundamentals such as strong corporate profits and a rebound in the European and Japanese economies.

Or one could see market movements as a sign of investor complacency. Emerging market bond spreads, as measured by JPMorgan, have fallen below 200 basis points over Treasuries, a low level by historic standards. That suggests the turmoil of the past three months has not diminished investors' appetite for risk.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

AOL throws open e-mail subscriptions & AOL reveals plans to cut 5,000 jobs

AOL throws open e-mail subscriptions
By Aline van Duyn in New York
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: August 3 2006 03:00 | Last updated: August 3 2006 03:00

AOL yesterday made its boldest effort to ditch its reputation as a dinosaur reliant on a dying dial-up business by offering free e-mail addresses to people signing up for broadband elsewhere.

The move marks AOL's attempt to square up to its biggest competitors, Yahoo, MSN and Google, which provide free e-mail and other services and have been snatching AOL's millions of departing customers.

The push is also a last effort to turn AOL, the "new media" giant which disastrously acquired "old media" company Time Warner at the height of the internet boom in 2001, into a growth business capable of lifting Time Warner's flagging shares.

The plan, unveiled by Jeff Bewkes, number two at Time Warner and heir apparent to Dick Parsons, and Jonathan Miller, AOL chief, is risky. AOL's income from its 18m US dial-up subscribers, although declining, accounts for 80 per cent of its income, $2bn in the last quarter alone.

However, a planned $1bn in cost cuts, and anticipated growth in online advertising because of an expected rise in AOL's internet audience, means Time Warner does not expect AOL profits to fall this year and expects them to rise from next year.

"This is finally a strong move from us that will hurt our competition," said Mr Bewkes. "We are going to stop sending our members to our competitors."

Stronger-than-anticipated gains in AOL's advertising revenues in the second quarter - up 40 per cent relative to last year to $449m - and investor relief that the plan was not expected to hurt profits lifted Time Warner's shares more than 3 per cent to $16.75.

AOL, which is second only to Yahoo in US internet usage, said its e-mail users were also its most active online users, and doing nothing would result in a further 30bn to 40bn of page view losses this year. In addition, it has found that broadband users are more active on the internet than dial-up customers. Free e-mail will be available from September to any internet users around the world.

Measures such as a $20bn share buyback and cost cuts have failed to lift Time Warner's shares, mainly because of concerns about AOL's future. Time Warner - which also includes the Warner Brothers and New Line studios, and cable channels CNN and HBO - reported net income of $1bn, or 24 cents a share, for the quarter.

Revenue from its cable business, its most profitable arm, rose 15 per cent to $2.7bn. Its Time Inc publishing business continued to disappoint amid declines in magazine subscriptions. Mr Bewkes said cost controls would remain key in this business.

*AOL's attempts to sell itsEuropean internet access business took a step forward yesterday as it announced exclusive negotiations with Neuf Cegetel to sellits access services business in France.

AOL reveals plans to cut 5,000 jobs
By Aline van Duyn in New York
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: August 4 2006 03:00 | Last updated: August 4 2006 03:00

A day after unveiling a strategy aimed at boosting its online audience, internet group AOL told its 19,000 staff around the world that within six months 5,000 of them would no longer be on its payroll.

The move to get rid of about one-quarter of its staff, AOL's biggest employee reduction plan, is a key part of the planned $1bn in cost savings the group has promised it would make by the end of next year.

A new strategy which makes key AOL services such as e-mail and anti-spam software free is aimed at increasing AOL's share of the fast-growing internet advertising market.

The plan, the success of which is regarded as essential to lifting the flagging shares of AOL's parent, Time Warner, is likely to trigger millions of its 18m US internet dial-up subscribers to cancel their accounts. The resulting sharp drop in income from subscriptions as dial-up customers switch to broadband internet connections from other providers has to be offset by cost cuts.

Jonathan Miller, AOL's chief executive who devised the plan together with Jeff Bewkes, Time Warner's president and chief operating officer, told staff of the likely staff cuts on Thursday morning.

About half of AOL's staff are based in the US, with the remainder spread around the world, mostly in Europe.

As part of a restructuring process aimed at ditching its lucrative but declining business of providing internet access via telephone lines, AOL is selling off its access businesses in Europe, divisions which employ about 3,000 people.

Although some staff might be retained by companies buying the business, people familiar with plans said many were likely to lose their jobs in any sale.

In the US, the biggest joblosses are expected to come at AOL's customer service call centres. Employing around 3,000 staff, and dealing with 24-hour customer support helplines as well as trying to persuade customers to avoid cancelling subscriptions, these centres are based around the US.

Time Warner, the media group with which AOL disastrously merged at the height of the internet boom in 2001, has seen its shares fall this year in spite of strength is some of its other businesses, such as cable or its movie studios.

This is attributed by many shareholders to AOL's declining subscription business.

AOL said it expected to incur restructuring costs of $250m- $350m by the end of next year. It hopes profits will start to grow next year as advertising continues to grow.

Many of the dial-up customers who have left AOL have opened free e-mail accounts with rivals Yahoo, MSN and Google. AOL hopes its e-mail customers will stay with it and view its content instead.

The neglected roots of conflict are buried in combustible land

The neglected roots of conflict are buried in combustible land
By David Gardner
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: August 3 2006 19:34 | Last updated: August 3 2006 19:34

President George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice, his secretary of state, repeatedly justified their unwillingness to demand an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon over the past three weeks by the need to deal with what they keep calling “the roots of the problem”. Let us take them at their word. Let us clear away the dust, dig out the earth and carefully examine those roots.

What that will show is that the US and its allies in the Middle East have demonstrated a steadily diminishing ability to acknowledge the root causes of conflict in the region, let alone the will or ability to deal with them.

It needs to be stressed, first of all, as Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush put it in The Washington Post last Sunday, that: “Hizbollah is not the source of the problem; it is a derivative of the cause, which is the tragic conflict over Palestine that began in 1948.”

Hizbollah was, in fact, incubated as a result of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which was intended to destroy the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Its midwives may have been Iran and Syria – Hizbollah was born in the Iranian embassy in Damascus – but the parents were Israel and a US that declined to restrain its ally until it had nearly razed Muslim west Beirut.

Repeated attempts by Israel since then to crush Hizbollah have failed. Indeed, the present onslaught has barely dented the operational capability of the Shia Islamist group. Rather, it has raised it to the peak of its prestige, in Lebanon, in the Arab world and, miraculously, among Sunni Muslims who regard the Shia as idolators and Iranian agents.

Hizbollah is an organisation brought to life by unresolved conflict, as are Hamas and its militant allies on Israel’s other front. The root cause of that conflict is land: principally the battle between Arab and Jew over how (or whether) to share the cramped and combustible Holy Land.

The political and diplomatic failure to pursue and prosecute a resolution to this conflict is an astonishing abdication of responsibility, especially towards future generations who will have to deal with steadily more vicious attempts to settle it once and for all. There is no mystery, moreover, as to what the outlines of such a settlement would have to be.

The solution lies in the parameters set by President Bill Clinton and in more than two dozen sets of talks between Israelis and Palestinians at Taba in Egypt after the collapse of the Camp David negotiations in 2000; in the subsequent but informal Geneva accord based on these and in the adoption of their essentials by the Arab League at Beirut in 2002.

The now poignantly named Beirut peace initiative calls for an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, with full Arab recognition of – and relations with – Israel in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from all land occupied in the 1967 six-day war. That, above all, means a Palestinian state on almost all of the occupied West Bank and Gaza, with Arab east Jerusalem as its capital, and what the Arab peace plan calls “a just solution” that inevitably means compensation rather than right of return for most Palestinian refugees.

As a formula to end the conflict at the heart of the Middle East’s chronic instability this has not really been tried. The 1993-95 Oslo accords pointed hesitantly but hopefully in that direction. They expired, however, long before being pronounced dead. They were killed principally by Israel’s belief that it could continue to build settlements on Arab land without any reaction from the Palestinians.

The biggest expansion of these illegal settlements, moreover, occurred during the heyday of the peace process. Under Labour governments in 1992-96, led by Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, the number of settlers in the West Bank grew by 50 per cent, four times the rate of population increase inside Israel proper. East Jerusalem has been encircled and enclosed by four big blocs of settlements, with every government since Oslo able to claim a rampart in the wall. Housing and zoning restrictions inside the city helped ensure a Jewish majority. As Ariel Sharon, Israel’s now stricken leader and settlers’ champion, boasted: “In Jerusalem we built and created facts that can no longer be changed.”

The other villain of Oslo, of course, is Yassir Arafat. So anxious was the PLO leader to assume the trappings of statehood and so incompetent at statecraft that Israel’s main tactic during the Oslo negotiations, an Israeli participant once told me, was to get him alone. Subsequently, Arafat felt swindled, one reason why he kept the “armed struggle” option dangerously in play.

Arab leaders, whether formally at peace with Israel like Egypt and Jordan, or not, like Saudi Arabia and Syria, usually rather favoured that situation of “no war, no peace”. It justifies the emergency powers through which they exercise their despotism and monopolise resources.

The US, meanwhile, the only power with the influence to end this stalemate, has regressively declined to do so. A decade ago, warning that expanding settlements would kill peace, former secretary of state James Baker lamented that: “We have gone from calling the settlements illegal in the Carter administration, to calling them an obstacle to peace in the Reagan and [George H.W.] Bush administrations, and now [under President Clinton] we are saying they are complicating and troubling.”

The present President Bush has gone much further, licensing Mr Sharon’s 2002 recapture of Palestinian territory, backing a so-called security barrier well inside the West Bank and, in 2004, endorsing Israel’s aim of annexing the wall of settlements separating east Jerusalem from its hinterland. Everything is now in place for Ehud Olmert, the current prime minister, to set Israel’s borders where Mr Sharon decided they should be on a map he drew in 1982. The idea is to keep the geography without the demography, leaving the Palestinians about a tenth of what was Palestine, in three discontiguous Bantustans.

It was never going to work. Now it may not even be tried. No Arab or Muslim would accept it. But many Israelis who supported it no longer do. Being attacked from land Israel left, they reason, means this conflict is no longer about land but is existential: Hamas and Hizbollah want to destroy us. Possibly. But certainly what has given these organisations power and prestige well beyond their natural constituency is a catalogue of failure in the Middle East that has, at its heart, the failure honestly to seek a comprehensive settlement based on land-for-peace.

Sanctions help to sustain rogue states

Sanctions help to sustain rogue states
By Jacob Weisberg
Published: August 2 2006 19:27 | Last updated: August 2 2006 19:27
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
When trying to rein in the misbehaviour of roguish regimes, be it nuclear proliferation, support for terrorism or internal repression, the US increasingly turns to economic sanctions.

A brief survey: we have applied a full economic embargo to North Korea since 1950. We have had one against Cuba since 1962. We first passed economic sanctions against Iran during the hostage crisis in 1979 and are now trying for international sanctions aimed at getting its government to suspend uranium enrichment. We attached trade sanctions to Burma in 1990 and an asset freeze to Sudan in 1997. President George W. Bush ordered sanctions against Zimbabwe in 2003 and against Syria in 2004. The US also led sanctions campaigns against regimes since brought down by force of arms in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

American sanctions policy is largely consistent and in a certain sense morally admirable. By applying restraints, we label the world’s most oppressive and dangerous governments pariahs. We wash our hands of evil, declining to help despots finance their depredations, even at a cost to ourselves of some increment of economic growth. We wincingly accept the collateral damage that falls on civilian victims of the governments we target. But as the above list of countries suggests, sanctions have one even more serious drawback. They don’t really work.

Sanctions tend to fail as a diplomatic tool for the same reason aerial bombing usually fails. As Israel is rediscovering in Lebanon, the infliction of indiscriminate suffering tends to turn a populace against the proximate cause of its devastation, not the underlying causes. People living in hermit states such as North Korea, Burma and Cuba already suffer from advanced global isolation. Fed on a diet of propaganda, they do not know what is happening within or without their borders. By increasing their seclusion, sanctions make it easier for dictators to blame external enemies for a country’s suffering. And because sanctions make a country’s material deprivation worse, they paradoxically make it less likely that the oppressed will throw off their chains.

Tyrants seem to understand how to capitalise on the law of unintended consequences. In many cases, such as Iraq’s oil-for-food programme, sanctions afford opportunities for plunder and corruption that can help a clever despot shore up his position. Many dictators also thrive on seclusion, and in some cases appear to seek more of it. The pariah treatment suits Bashar al-Assad, Kim Jong-il and Robert Mugabe just fine. Fidel Castro is another dictator who has flourished in isolation. Every time the US considers lifting its embargo, Mr Castro unleashes a provocation designed to ensure against normalising relations. It was no surprise to learn that the Cuban dictator was in a stable condition after stomach surgery this week. With American help, Castro has been in a stable condition for 47 years.

Constructive engagement, which often sounds like a cover for business interests, tends to be more productive. Trade prompts economic growth and human interaction, which raise expectations, which in turn prompts political dissatisfaction and opposition. Trade, tourism, cultural exchange and participation in international institutions all serve to erode the legitimacy of repressive regimes. Though each is a separate case, these forces contributed greatly to undermining dictatorships and fostering democracy in the Philippines, South Korea, Argentina, Chile and eastern Europe in the 1980s. The same process is arguably under way in China.

As another illustration, take Iran, which is currently the focus of a huge how-do-we-get-them-to-change conversation. Despite decades of sanctions, Iran is full of young people who are culturally attuned to the US. One day, social discontent there will lead to the reform or overthrow of the ruling theocracy. But there is little reason to think that more sanctions will bring that day closer. The only guaranteed effect of sanctions is that they will push dissatisfied and potentially rebellious Iranians back into the arms of the nuke-building mullahs.

The counter example always cited is South Africa, where economic and cultural sanctions do seem to have contributed not only to the fall of a terrible regime but to a successful democratic transition. In his new book The J Curve, Ian Bremmer argues that South Africa was unusually amenable to this kind of pressure because it retained a functioning multi-party democracy and because, unlike many other pariah states, it did not actually like being a pariah. Even so, sanctions took a long time to have any impact. It was nearly three decades from the passage of the first UN resolution urging sanctions in 1962 to Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990.

If they are so rarely effective, why do western governments press for more sanctions? In a world of trouble, it is partly an exercise in frustration. We often have no good options and need to feel we are doing something. Sanctions are a palatable alternative to military action, and often serve to appease domestic constituencies as well. And perhaps we continue to turn to sanctions because we fail to appreciate irony as a force in international relations. Dictators are supposed to react to incentives and the threat of punishment. So when they fail to respond, we call for more of the same medicine.

The writer is editor of

Iraq could ‘descend into civil war’

Iraq could ‘descend into civil war’
By Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: August 3 2006 16:39 | Last updated: August 4 2006 00:30

Iraq could descend into civil war if the recent surge in violence in Baghdad is not stopped, two senior US generals said on Thursday.

“The sectarian violence is probably as bad as I’ve seen it,” General John Abizaid, head of US Central Command, which oversees the Iraq war, told the Senate armed services committee. “If not stopped, it is possible Iraq could move toward civil war.”

Gen Abizaid’s comments came in response to a question about a leaked memo from William Patey, the outgoing British ambassador to Iraq, which warned that civil war was a more likely outcome in Iraq than the emergence of a stable democracy.

Mr Patey’s memo to the prime minister and cabinet, which was leaked to the BBC, added: “Even the lowered expectation of President [George W.] Bush for Iraq – a government that can sustain itself, defend itself and govern itself and is an ally in the war on terror – must remain in doubt.”

Gen Abizaid’s remarks prompted John Warner, the committee’s influential Republican chairman, to suggest that Congress might have to re-examine the authority it gave the president to wage war in Iraq.

“I think we have to examine very carefully what Congress authorised the president to do in the context of a situation if we’re faced with an all-out civil war and whether we have to come back to the Congress to get further indication of support,” Mr Warner said.

General Peter Pace – the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was testifying alongside Gen Abizaid and Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary – agreed that Iraq could descend into civil war, though he said that outcome was not “probable.” But under questioning from John McCain, the Republican senator and likely presidential contender, he conceded that a year ago he would not have considered even the possibility of civil war.

Some Republican senators joined Democrats in questioning whether the US military had expected a year ago that violence would be at the current levels, with an estimated daily death toll of a hundred in Baghdad.

The acknowledgments of increasing violence in Iraq come as the US military has had to delay the departure of some troops to bolster counter-insurgency efforts in Baghdad.

Gen Abizaid appeared to play down suggestions last month by General George Casey, the top US commander in Iraq, that significant troop cuts could still be possible this year. Gen Abizaid said “some reductions in forces” were still possible, but would depend on the situation in Baghdad. Mr McCain, who has often criticised Mr Rumsfeld for not sending more troops, said he was concerned that the military was employing a strategy of “whack-a-mole” by redeploying troops from areas that are not under control to other violent areas.

“Its very disturbing,” said Mr McCain. “If it’s all up to the Iraqi military, General Abizaid … then I wonder why we have to move troops into Baghdad to intervene in what is clearly sectarian violence.”

Hillary Clinton, the New York Democrat, lambasted Mr Rumsfeld for what she said was his mishandling of the war.

Iraq rebuilding ‘hit by bad planning’

Iraq rebuilding ‘hit by bad planning’
By Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: August 2 2006 20:17 | Last updated: August 2 2006 20:17

The US government failed to prepare adequate procurement and contracting systems before its 2003 invasion of Iraq, a predicament that has severely hampered the $20bn (€16bn, £11bn) reconstruction effort, according to a report released to Congress on Wednesday.

Stuart Bowen, the special inspector-general for Iraq reconstruction, said the US needed to overhaul and simplify its current contracting and procurement procedures for “universal use” in future post-conflict situations.

In a 140-page report to Congress, Mr Bowen detailed how a hodge-podge approach to the reconstruction effort, which engaged multiple US government agencies with overlapping jurisdictions, led to procurement and contracting policies that occasionally came into conflict.

Although he stressed before lawmakers at the Senate homeland security committee that aspects of the reconstruction effort had improved, Mr Bowen’s report was met with frustration by legislators, who increasingly link the ultimate outcome of the war with the success or failure of the reconstruction effort.

“I don’t know if we’ve ever had such a post-conflict challenge. I have to believe from a historical point of view that this miscalculation [on postwar reconstruction planning] will go down as a major mistake that we made,” said Senator George Voinovich.

Senator Joseph Lieberman, who is facing an unexpectedly tough election challenge largely because of his strong support for the war, blamed the Bush administration for taking “far too many short cuts” in its planning and implementation of the reconstruction of Iraq.

Mr Bowen, a former attorney for President George W. Bush who is preparing for his 13th trip to Iraq on Monday, has been a frequent bearer of bad news on US reconstruction efforts. In a series of audits released in recent days, the inspector- general has highlighted the “pervasive corruption’’ in Iraq that threatens the nation’s future; the heavy toll the lack of security has taken on reconstruction efforts; and significant questions about the sustainability of US projects once they are handed over to Iraqis.

In a separate report that investigated their sustainability, Mr Bowen’s office found that there was no overall strategic plan for the handover of reconstruction projects to the Iraqi government, whose commitment to sustaining US projects was “uncertain” because Iraq had not yet set its 2007 budget.

Although Mr Bowen has highlighted six recommendations to Congress, including the “institutionalisation” of smaller scale contracting programmes that are developed “on the ground” to meet specific needs in post-conflict areas, his report highlights some early resistance to the suggestions by some government agencies.

Mr Bowen testified on Wednesday that the “first thing” General George Casey, the top US commander in Iraq, had told him at a November meeting was the need for the US to improve how it regulates rapid contracting activity, which needed to be more uniform and accessible.

But in its report to Congress, the office of the special inspector-general indicated that the State Department believed the current system was flexible enough to meet contracting needs and that more training could remedy current problems.