Saturday, June 16, 2007

Boston Globe Editorial - China's dubious distinction

Boston Globe Editorial - China's dubious distinction
Copyright By The Boston Globe
Published: June 15, 2007

Sometime later this year, the United States will be able to relinquish to China the dubious mantle as the world's biggest source of greenhouse gases. The two runaway leaders in carbon dioxide emissions have something else in common, as well: Both reject any mandatory limits on their industries' freedom to spew into the atmosphere the pollutants that are trapping heat and causing global warming. The world's efforts to limit climate change will be halting at best until the United States changes its policy and persuades China to do the same.

Any doubt about where China stood on this issue ended last week when it unveiled its climate change plan, which had been two years in the making. The plan commits China to a goal of improving energy efficiency by 20 percent by 2010, but it specifically rules out any mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions. And while the Chinese auto industry has adopted tougher mileage standards than Washington has, China's projected efficiency gain overall would require unrealistically dramatic improvements over the country's recent performance.

In 2006 alone, China built 96 major power plants burning coal, the fossil fuel that emits the most carbon dioxide. While its climate change plan calls for more new generating capacity from nuclear power and renewable energy sources, such as wind, plans for new coal plants are also on the drawing boards, and many are built without approval from Beijing. According to the International Energy Agency, at this rate China's carbon dioxide emissions could grow in 25 years to double the amount of the United States, Japan and Europe combined.

China's justification for its no-mandates position is that as a developing country it must still balance economic growth with environmental concerns, which also include poor air and water quality. In addition, it has said that the industrial nations of the West and Japan must act first on global warming because the fossil-fuel burning of their many decades of economic development are responsible for so much of the atmosphere's buildup of carbon dioxide. That argument helped get China and India excused from the emissions limits established in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

But that protocol expires in 2012. The climate change regulations that follow it cannot allow any large emitters to be exempted from whichever limits the global community adopts. The United States can ensure this by accepting mandates itself, and showing China and India that they will forfeit opportunities to be at the forefront of green technology developments if they do not also subject their industries to international limits on emissions. Playing that leadership role could be the most important task for President George W. Bush's successor in the White House.

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Palestinians at war

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Palestinians at war
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: June 15, 2007

In two days of fierce fighting, the gunmen of Hamas have virtually taken over the Gaza Strip. This is a defeat for Palestinians, and a defeat for Israeli and American policy as well.

It may sometimes look like there's not very much of a choice between the gunmen of Fatah and the gunmen of Hamas. But there is.

Fatah accepts Israel's existence and wants to negotiate with it over Palestinian statehood. It also accepts the authority of past agreements signed by the Palestinians, including agreements to stop terrorism. Hamas accepts none of these things, and sees no contradiction between its terrorist deeds and its demands that its governing officials be treated like those of any state.

Ever since Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections last January, President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel have done everything they could think of to isolate Hamas and far less than they might have to help Fatah's most important remaining leader, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

Seventeen months later, Hamas is that much stronger and Fatah is that much weaker. With the pretense of joint government now shattered, the Palestinian power struggle is certain to continue, even to intensify. Thursday, Abbas dismissed the prime minister, Ismail Haniya of Hamas, and called for new elections. With Hamas victorious in Gaza, the terrain of the contest will likely shift to the West Bank.

For Washington and Jerusalem to exert constructive influence in this dangerous situation, they urgently need to adopt a new and wiser approach to Palestinian politics. That means doing more to help Abbas in the only currency that really counts, easing the lives of ordinary Palestinians.

That should include a total freeze on settlement building and expansion, a prompt easing of the onerous, humiliating and economically strangulating blockades on Palestinian movements within the West Bank, and the swift release to Abbas' office of all tax revenues rightfully belonging to the Palestinians but still in Israeli hands.

It should also include an offer of regular, substantive talks with Abbas on issues related to a final peace settlement, like borders and provisions assuring the economic viability of an eventual Palestinian state. Obviously, there can be no final peace agreement until Hamas either changes its policies or is chased from power. But excluding Palestinian statehood from the negotiating agenda can only help Hamas.

The future diplomatic treatment of Hamas should depend strictly on its own behavior. If it is ever willing to stop engaging in terrorism and live up to the standards expected of law-abiding governments, there will be something for Israeli and American officials to discuss with it. The past few days offer little encouragement in that regard.

Taking these kind of chances to help Abbas looks a lot riskier now than it did 17 months ago, or even 17 days ago. But failing to take them invites a much more menacing specter - a replay before too long of this week's Gaza events in the much more strategically important West Bank.

Congress debates stricter visa rules

Congress debates stricter visa rules
By Brian Knowlton
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: June 15, 2007

WASHINGTON: Measures moving through Congress, including a requirement for travelers in some countries to register travel plans online 48 hours before departure, have raised fears in Europe of disruptions in the trans-Atlantic flow of business and leisure travel.

The requirement, proposed by the Homeland Security Department, would apply to people in 27 mostly West European countries who are now able to travel to the United States for up to 90 days without visas. It would also apply to new entrants to the same so-called Visa Waiver Program, a status sought by 12 countries, many of them eastern and central European states new to the European Union that have placed enormous stock on getting in - for business, tourism, family links and plain national prestige.

The Polish ambassador, for example, said his country needed "proof that this is a fair relationship."

"I'm afraid that if we fail, we may lose a generation," Ambassador Janusz Reiter said.

Poles, who can now travel and work across the EU, would turn against the United States, traditionally regarded as a friend, Reiter said.

The existing European members of the waiver program are not thrilled by the 48-hour requirement - a potential hardship for business people, who often change travel plans at the last minute - nor by some other tightening of standards for their airports and passport handling.

Nathalie Loiseau, the spokeswoman at the French Embassy in Washington, said that European officials, with full French support, were working with Congress to help "enhance trans-Atlantic relations and not to put more obstacles before people who wish to travel to the U.S."

But a U.S. official this week said that the online registration would be a "convenient" process, taking five minutes or less, and causing no one to miss a flight.

While the mechanics of the online registration are yet to be set, said Russ Knocke, the Department of Homeland Security spokesman, in practice, online registration could be done less than 48 hours before departure.

"The concept is that whenever the ticket is purchased, there's a quick 'ping' to give us advance notice on who's going to travel to the U.S."

Earlier information on travelers' identities, he said, should mean fewer flights delayed - or even turned back in midair - for security reasons.

"Whether done on the Internet from someone's office while packing up the laptop to catch a flight that day, or when they're in the hotel the night before and need to change their flight and come home early, it can still be done," Knocke said. The process would involve sharing no more data than from a passport, he said.

U.S. officials have long seen the waiver program as politically vulnerable.

If someone entering the country from a visa-waiver country should launch a terror attack, Knocke said, "the rush in Congress to shut this program down altogether would be fast and furious."

Thus the tougher standards set by the proposed change could make it easier to bring in new countries, he said. "What we're working with Congress to accomplish is to strengthen the integrity of the overall program through, for example, the electronic travel authorization process, so the program itself is stronger and potentially more inclusive."

Along with online registration, the updated program would require new and existing member countries to improve data-sharing; more rigorously report lost and stolen passports (not just blank passports); and guarantee they will repatriate nationals if those people are ordered out of the United States.

"It's really a 21st-century model," said James Carafano, a Heritage Foundation analyst who specializes in homeland security. "It'll all be done electronically and biometrically. And it really doesn't compromise your privacy."

But tied in to legislation that has passed the Senate and been introduced in the House is the question of the entry standards for countries eager to join the program.

Current members are judged as among the most reliable U.S. travel and business partners. Membership requires, among other things, a record of extremely low rejection by U.S. consular officials of the visa applications from a country's nationals - less than 3 percent of the total.

In the past, a low total mainly reflected a small probability of a country's nationals overstaying visas. But since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, terrorism concerns have played a growing role.

"Most of the refusal rates have gone up since 9/11 because consular officers have been much more cautious," said Carafano.

The new EU member countries tend to have rejection rates far higher than the 3 percent threshold. Estonia had a rejection rate last year of 7.1 percent; the Czech Republic 9.4 percent; Hungary 12.7 percent; and Poland 26 percent, according to
Both the Senate bill and a House version seek to give Homeland Security greater flexibility. Candidate countries would merely have to show a "sustained reduction in visa refusal rates," as Poland, for example, says it can do.

But an amendment to the Senate bill would set 10 percent as the maximum refusal rate for member countries. The House version proposes no such change.

The European Union has urged Congress to extend the waiver program to all EU citizens based on individual eligibility without regard to nationality.

The candidate countries say they support tighter security measures but see the refusal rate standard as arbitrary. "Even American experts recognize that granting a visa is an arbitrary decision" based on how an applicant acts during a consular interview, said Daniela Gitman, the Romanian chargé d'affaires in Washington. "The way they sweat, the way they discuss. This is not a good way" to decide.

Entry to the program, said Foreign Minister Adrian Cioroianu of Romania during a Washington visit, "for us will be a sign of appreciation for our participation in the war against terror."

Reiter put it differently: "This is not so much about practical importance. This is much more about symbolism, about the emotional side of the relationship.

"The asymmetry we are having between the U.S. and our countries, including Poland, is becoming more and more an instrument for those who say this is not a fair relationship," he said.

Applicant countries say U.S. officials are living in the past if they are worried about a flood of East Europeans entering - and not leaving.

"Many people in the U.S. seem to believe it is a natural instinct of every Pole, Hungarian or Slovak to want to stay in the U.S.," Reiter said. "This is totally wrong today."

The countries now in the waiver program are Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Britain.

Hamas urges calm in conquered Gaza

Hamas urges calm in conquered Gaza
By Sharmila Devi in Jerusalem
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: June 15 2007 18:12 | Last updated: June 16 2007 00:43

Hamas political leaders moved to impose calm in the conquered Gaza Strip on Friday after days of factional fighting left more than 90 people dead and Palestinians fearful for the future.

Ismail Haniya, the Gaza-based Hamas prime minister of the unity government dismissed by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, on Thursday night, urged talks with Fatah. But hopes for reconciliation appeared to be dashed as Mr Abbas, who is also Fatah leader, moved to appoint Salam Fayyad, an independent, as prime minister of an emergency government, said an Abbas aide.

Mr Haniya said: “I still stress that the door is open to restructure Palestinian relations on the basis of national values.” He also called for an end to looting as Hamas fighters took over security bases and other key Fatah sites.

Hamas loyalists staged victory parades and some Palestinians ventured out of their homes for the first time in days, while local and international leaders started to grapple with the reality of a Hamas-run Gaza separate from a Fatah-dominated West Bank.

Israel and the US, which never supported the national unity government brokered by Saudi Arabia in February, were quick to raise the prospect of helping Mr Abbas by easing the embargo imposed after Hamas won legislative elections 18 months ago. The international quartet of Middle East peace mediators – the US plus the European Union, Russia and the United Nations – backed Mr Abbas’s move.

The US immediately threw its support behind Mr Fayyad, saying he had a “sterling reputation” in the international community. Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, would probably visit the region this month, a spokesman said. The US is looking at ways of increasing assistance to the Palestinian Authority under the new government as well as non-lethal support for the security forces under the control of Mr Abbas.

A state department spokesman rejected any suggestion that US policies of isolating Hamas and backing Fatah had led to the intra-Palestinian conflict. A senior Israeli official was quoted as saying that Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, would discuss with President George W. Bush at a meeting in Washington next week “gestures” to bolster Mr Abbas in the West Bank. These could include releasing Palestinian Authority tax revenues held by Israel.

But many Palestinians and analysts believe that even if Mr Abbas were now shored up in the West Bank, too much time has been lost since he was elected president in 2005 to present a viable alternative that could bypass or neutralise Hamas.

The rule of Mr Abbas and Mr Fayyad by emergency decree is likely to be fiercely contested by Hamas, which also opposes and could prevent any early elections. In Gaza, Hamas granted amnesty to some Fatah leaders, saying its battle was with those who worked with Israel and the US to overthrow the Islamists. In the past few days several Fatah fighters have been executed by gunshot.

Underlining the divisions within the Fatah movement, Khalid Abu Hilal, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority interior ministry, proclaimed himself on Friday the new head of Fatah in Gaza but it was unclear whether he had the support of the nationalist movement.

He said he had formed an emergency committee with the Hamas military wing “to protect the good Fatah people” and not those associated with “collaborators” such as Mohammed Dahlan, the Fatah strongman.

Amid the political chaos, it was not known how the Israeli-controlled land and sea borders to the impoverished strip would be run. Hamas refuses to deal with Israel and would prefer others to co-ordinate the passage of people and commodities.

Israel says it will not intervene in factional fighting. Under international law, it retains responsibility as the occupying power for the welfare of the 1.3m Palestinians in Gaza because it controls access and movement from the territory, which has long been cut off from the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Decisions will need to be made in coming days to prevent a humanitarian crisis.

Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, said yesterday that a proposed multi­national force along Gaza’s border with Egypt must be willing to fight Hamas to stop weapons smuggling. But the chances that any countries would supply soldiers for it appeared slim.

Additional reporting by Guy Dinmore in Washington

She's Ready. But is America?

She's Ready. But is America?
By Lionel Barber
Published: June 16 2007 03:00 | Last updated: June 16 2007 03:00

In early 2005, after months of negotiations, I finally sat down in the Senate Dining Room to have lunch with Hillary Clinton. The occasion was billed as a conversation with the senator - one step up from a meet-and-greet but less than the Lunch with the FT I originally requested. (An aide explained that Clinton would never sit down for an hour-and-a-half with a journalist for an on-the- record interview, and anybody who assumed otherwise was out of his mind.)

The first 20 minutes went smoothly enough, although Clinton was interviewing me rather than the other way round. She appeared fascinated by Tony Blair, his sudden slide in popularity and his relationship with Gordon Brown. A tart remark followed about the importance of loyalty. Then I asked the former first lady whether America was ready to vote for a woman as president... "It depends who the woman is," she shot back, before professing, straight- faced, that she was very happy serving as the junior senator from New York and that running for the White House was far from her mind. Then, with a sly smile, she added: "Six out of 10 Americans say they are ready to vote for a woman as president. Mind you, six out of 10 whites used to say they would vote for a black mayor in Little Rock [Arkansas]."

Two-and-a-half years on, Hillary Clinton is the favourite to be the Democratic party's nominee for president. Victory would bring her within a glimmer of the White House, a prospect which inspires fear, loathing and admiration among many Americans, particularly women. On cue, a slew of presidential campaign biographies have appeared which purport to offer "the truth about Hillary", the "real Hillary" and the inside story on her relationship with Bill Clinton, her brilliant, charismatic and infuriating husband.

The trouble is that none of the authors has had access to the subject. Clinton's control of her image is legendary; so too is the ruthlessness of the Praetorian guard which surrounds her. Still, there is plenty to ponder here. What exactly is the deal between Bill and Hillary Clinton? Why has she put up with the compulsive philandering documented in these volumes? What are her guiding principles? And what would a President Hillary Rodham Clinton be like in practice?

Presidential campaign biographies are by their nature unsatisfactory. Rather than arriving at rounded portraits which benefit from the passage of time, the authors emphasise the revelation - an explosive fact or embarrassing anecdote which will dominate television news, disrupt the candidate's campaign and, ultimately, sell more books. The reader is left stranded in the middle of the narrative, not knowing whether the candidate has grasped the ultimate prize.

Carl Bernstein's book A Woman in Charge fits into the voyeuristic category. Bernstein is the other half of the famous Washington Post duo which broke the Watergate scandal. Unlike Bob Woodward, who has since exploited privileged access to make a fortune chronicling the inner workings of US government, Bernstein has remained a fringe player. The Hillary Clinton biography, seven years in preparation, looks like a belated bid to reclaim centre stage.

Much of the ground is familiar to those who have read the first couple's own sprawling (if airbrushed) autobiographies. Hillary Rodham had a solid middle-class upbringing in the suburban Midwest (her father was a stern Republican). At Wellesley College, she was radicalised by the Vietnam war, like so many of her baby-boomer generation. Then came the long back-and-forth over whether to marry Bill, subordinate a promising legal career and move to Arkansas, a hillbilly backwater in the South.

The marriage was always destined to be unconventional. Hillary declined an engagement ring, refused initially to purchase a wedding dress and finally unveiled the piece de resistance before a stunned wedding reception: she would not be taking her husband's name and would remain Hillary Rodham. Bill's mother burst into tears, while an old friend warned him, presciently: "Hillary Rodham will be your Waterloo."

The failure to conform to the traditional role of spouse is only half the story. Once inside the governor's mansion in Little Rock, Hillary assumes the role of chief counsellor to Bill, foreshadowing her later position as "co-president". Fast forward to 1992, when she reportedly toys initially with the post of attorney-general before settling for an office in the West Wing, a substantial staff next door in the Old Executive Office Building (dubbed "Hillaryland") and leadership of a task force on health care reform.

As Bernstein notes, the failure of health care reform became a metaphor for Bill Clinton's chaotic first term. A self-righteous Hillary Clinton operated in secrecy, failed to build bridges with Congress, and displayed a tin ear when dealing with criticism. Denounced in the media as an unaccountable eminence grise, she retreated, only to re-emerge in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The first lady, ever loyal, defended her husband against a "vast rightwing conspiracy" seeking to drive him from office.

Bernstein identifies the see-saw effect in the Hillary-Bill relationship. When he is most vulnerable (the Gennifer Flowers "bimbo eruption" and the Lewinsky affair) the first lady turns out to be the stronger partner and parleys Bill's guilt into supporting her own bid to become a US senator. Similarly, when Hillary falters (health care reform), Bill's fortunes and his personal confidence recover and he dispenses with her talents.

There is a Shakespearian quality to this nouveau American power couple. Hillary Clinton comes across as a Lady Macbeth figure, possessed of a ruthless will. She stiffens his spine after his devastating one-term defeat as Arkansas governor. She - not Bill - is the driving force behind the recruitment of Dick Morris, the Mephistophelian political guru. At the expense of her core liberal convictions, Morris devises the centrist "triangulation" strategy which saves the president in the wake of the catastrophic 1994 mid- term defeat at the hands of Newt Gingrich's Republicans.

Sadly, Bernstein's literary skills fall well short of the Bard's. After nearly 600 pages, which cover next to nothing on her record as a senator, he concludes: "Hers is a story of strength and vulnerability, a woman's story. She is an intelligent woman endowed with energy, enthusiasm, humor, tempestuousness, inner strength, spontaneity in private, lethal (almost) powers of retribution, real-life lines that come from deep wounds, and the language skills of a sailor (and of a minister), all evidence of her passion - which down deep, is perhaps her most enduring and endearing trait."

By contrast, Edward Klein is unequivocal in his judgments. He relates breathlessly how the first lady uses her staff to intimidate journalists, shut down debate, and impose whatever storyline happens to be the demand of the day. Her support for the invasion of Iraq her subsequent retreat is but one example. Klein claims Clinton's successive makeovers leave her the true heir of Richard Nixon.

He also insinuates that Clinton has flirted with lesbianism - one of several innuendos which drew outrage when the book was first published in 2005. This allows the author to claim that The Truth About Hillary is "the book they didn't want you to read", a challenge which conservative talk-show hosts have been happy to repeat, and will do so throughout the 2008 campaign in order to sink Clinton's candidacy.

Klein's book is mean-spirited and tendentious but his accusation that Clinton has a habit of being economical with the truth is harder to dismiss. As Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr document in Her Way, Clinton has landed herself (and her husband) in persistent trouble by failing fully to answer questions about her past, notably her work as a lawyer in Little Rock.

The two authors, both veteran investigative New York Times reporters, have produced what must rate as the definitive account of Clinton's stint as a partner in the Rose Law Firm and the notorious Whitewater land deal. Like most corporate lawyers in the US, she had several roles, doing business involving the state, the private sector and various good ol' boys. The difference was that she happened to be the governor's wife.

The reporters also reveal a supposed "secret pact of ambition" between the Clintons, a plan that he would be president for eight years and she would follow him with another eight. This plot line is even better than Macbeth, but the sourcing is disputed. Certainly, Hillary Clinton seems to have believed that she could have it all: lawyer, mother, political counsellor and sometime commodity speculator. When her husband finally decided to run for president, she was determined that nothing would derail the campaign, neither Bill's womanising nor the speculative Whitewater investment.

In fact, as the authors make clear, the sums of money in these so- called scandals were pretty trivial. The Whitewater deal, which triggered the fateful special prosecutor's inquiry, was a loss- maker and involved no criminality on their part. But in the poisoned atmosphere in Washington, Republicans targeted her as a proxy for the presidency. The couple's cover-ups gave ammunition to their enemies. William Safire's charge in The New York Times that Clinton was "a congenital liar" still sticks.

Has she learned her lesson? Gil Troy, the McGill University historian, suggests in his lively primer that she has developed since moving from the White House to the Senate. She has become "warmer, more self-assured, a more agile public figure". Rather than adopting the journalistic method, Troy fixes Clinton in the cultural-political spectrum. She is the Methodist feminist, a moralistic hippie preaching a doctrine of individual accountability and government social responsibility, a combination of the puritan and the progressive.

These contradictions explain why many Americans remain ambivalent about her. In Bernstein's book, Doris Kearns Goodwin, the presidential historian, pinpoints why Clinton has attracted more opprobrium than any first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt. "Because Eleanor was so far ahead of her time, she didn't raise deep fears in men because she was going to somehow become a model... But Hillary is part of a whole movement of women becoming important in all sectors of life... and this is unsettling for many Americans."

Curiously, the Hillary Clinton in these books bears little resemblance to the woman I met back in 2005. She was charming, humorous, well-informed and manifestly intelligent. She also came across as tough as rhinoceros hide.

What matters in media-driven American politics is the public persona, not the private person. Hillary Clinton remains a polarising force. Many women have still not forgiven her for the 1992 campaign quip about stay-at-home moms who bake cookies rather than seek careers. Others find offensive her hectoring manner, her evasiveness under questioning, and the whole power-sharing deal with Bill. Americans may well be ready to vote for a woman as president. But it probably won't be Hillary Clinton.

Lionel Barber is the editor of the FT.

Chicago Tribune Editorial - iLust for iPhone

Chicago Tribune Editorial - iLust for iPhone
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published June 16, 2007

In the coming weeks, you will be able to tell the techno-hip from the rest of us. They'll have the iPhone. We won't.

Not that our Inner Geek doesn't desire one. The Wall Street Journal says the iPhone -- a combo iPod/cell phone/Web browser with the ultracool touchpad design -- could be "the most anticipated device in the history of the wireless industry." Another moniker: The God Machine.

We've been transfixed by the new iPhone commercials, drooling like Homer Simpson in full doughnut lust. Afterward, and for hours later, only one thought forms, over and over: Gotta. Get. One.

Once unleashed, the Inner Geek cannot be subdued until the object of desire is acquired. No substitutions allowed. For some technorati, this may involve many hours in line outside the Apple store, or even camping out overnight with a sleeping bag to be the first in line on the first day of sale, June 29. Fact of human nature: The more difficult it is to obtain the object, the more desirable it is. Lots of people can pay $500 or $600 for the iPhone. But will they get the chance? Shortages of the iPhone on the first day are already being predicted.

Comparisons of the iPhone to the supreme deity do, admittedly, set high expectations. Will it -- can it -- live up to the hype?

We hope so. Doubters, skeptics, pick at possible flaws, foretell potential disappointments. We counsel optimism and patience -- any flaws tend to get fixed in the second iteration of these devices, just in time for Christmas or Hanukkah, if you know what we mean.

Some of our colleagues are impervious to all of this. They reason as follows: I already have a cell phone. I already have a BlackBerry. I already have an iPod. Why do I need an iPhone?

We pity these poor, lost souls. Life without a periodic and unslakeable desire for the next cool gizmo is a frightening void, in our opinion.

These clueless sorts are likely to witness a high-definition television, its screen blazing with impossibly sharp colors, and shrug. It's just a TV, right? Sure, and Michael Jordan was just a basketball player.

Some people may think that those who crave the iPhone enough to say, write editorials about it, really need to check their priorities and, possibly, get some serious therapy.

They may be right. But the iPhone is cheaper.

If you know what we mean.

Retaliatory strike razes Sunni Arab mosque

Retaliatory strike razes Sunni Arab mosque
By Alissa J. Rubin
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune and The New York Times
Published June 16, 2007

BAGHDAD -- A powerful explosion reduced a large Sunni Arab mosque to rubble near the southern city of Basra on Friday morning, in apparent retaliation for the bombing Wednesday of a Shiite shrine in Samarra.

Although there had been scattered reprisal attacks on Sunni mosques in the hours after the Samarra shrine's minarets were demolished Wednesday, calls for restraint by political and religious figures, as well as strict security measures, appeared to halt broader violence.

However, there were fears that violence could erupt once curfews were lifted in Baghdad and other areas over the weekend and that, like last year, the cycle of reprisal would unwind over weeks and months. "We won't see so much right away," said an official in the office of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. "It will come later."

The explosion at the Talha Bin al-Zubair mosque, about 10 miles south of Basra, occurred at dawn, according to residents. Talha Bin al-Zubair was a companion of the Prophet Muhammad, and the mosque was popular among local Sunni Arabs and pilgrims but had been visited less in recent years because of the security troubles.

"We heard two big explosions at dawn," said Shaeema Fadel, who is from Zubair, the neighborhood of the mosque. "I hold terror cells responsible because they want to divide us."

Accounts varied of how the bombers managed to enter the mosque. At about 1,200 square yards, the building would be difficult to destroy without large explosive charges.

"Photographers and cameramen entered the mosque asking to take photographs, and they put bombs inside it," said Gen. Ali Hamadi, a security official in Basra. However, local residents said they saw uniformed men enter the mosque just before the blast.

Al-Maliki condemned the attack, ordering a curfew in the area. A curfew in Baghdad that began Wednesday was extended until Sunday morning.

Obama urges fathers to be responsible

Obama urges fathers to be responsible
By Mike Dorning
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published June 16, 2007

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Two days before Father's Day, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama presented a plan Friday for lifting up poor families that included searing criticism of fathers who abandon their responsibilities to raise children.

"There are a lot of men out there who need to stop acting like boys, who need to realize that responsibility does not end at conception, who need to know that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise a child," Obama said.

The Illinois senator, who as a child had little contact with his African father except occasional letters, drew on his own life story as he spoke, describing the difficulties of growing up without a father. He noted that, without support from his father, he and his mother at times turned to food stamps to make ends meet.

Now, as a presidential candidate delivering his first major speech focusing on poverty in America, he stressed the role absentee fathers have in contributing to economic misfortune, particularly among African-Americans.

"Too many black men simply cannot afford to raise a family -- and too many have made the sad choice not to," Obama said. "A fatherless household takes its toll. Children who grow up without a father ... are five times more likely to live in poverty and nine times more likely to drop out of school."

Obama's criticism of absent fathers in the black community -- he noted that more than half of African-American children grow up in homes without two parents -- reprises a theme he has touched on several times as a senator, first in a Father's Day talk at a South Side Chicago church two years ago. He also introduced related legislation with Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and briefly addressed the subject in a speech in Selma, Ala., earlier this year.

But his comments Friday were his most extensive and personal as a presidential candidate.

Obama's remarks Friday illustrate the opportunities he is afforded as an African-American to address sensitive racial issues; few white presidential candidates would present such blunt criticism, particularly in a Democratic primary.

Still, such comments are not without risk. Bill Cosby provoked charges of elitism and exposed simmering class resentments among African-Americans when in 2004 he sharply criticized the behavior and values of some poor black people.

Obama's comments on fatherhood provided emotional ballast for a speech at an African-American church outlining a vision for bolstering low-income families that balances new government aid with a call for parents to take greater personal responsibility for their children's fate.

Obama said the government has "gone AWOL" as low-income and working-class families face new stresses from a global economy, diminished union representation, stagnant wages, reduced pension benefits and rising health costs.

"Too many rungs have been removed from the ladder to middle-class security, and the safety net that's supposed to break any fall from that ladder has grown badly frayed," he said.

Obama called for a dramatic expansion of the earned-income tax credit, which provides government aid to working poor families and for indexing the minimum wage to inflation.

He also said he would invest $50 million to provide transitional jobs doing community service and training in employment skills. He said that manufacturing-job losses have fallen particularly hard on black men, citing a figure that more than 300,000 of them have lost work in the sector in the past six years.

Obama also said government policies need to be altered to provide greater rewards to fathers who support their children and penalties to those who do not.

He said he would increase funding for child-support enforcement but require state-run collection programs to turn over all funds to the intended recipients. He added that he would allow larger earned-income tax credits for non-custodial parents who support their children.

But he said the success of poor and working-class families still depends heavily on the parents. They must prepare their children for a job market that will demand more education to succeed, he added.

"It's going to take changes in habits and changes in attitudes. We need to work more, read more, train more and think more," Obama said.


Tolerance put to the test - Gay mayoral candidate and his opponent refuse to make his sexual orientation an issue,and many residents feel the same way

Tolerance put to the test - Gay mayoral candidate and his opponent refuse to make his sexual orientation an issue, and many residents feel the same way, writes the Tribune's Jo Napolitano
By Jo Napolitano , Tribune staff reporter recently on assignment in Texas
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published June 16, 2007

DALLAS -- Ed Oakley, in a neck-and-neck contest for mayor, didn't want to make an issue of being gay.

But then came Time magazine and its "Lavender Heart of Texas" piece. After that, an Associated Press story announced Oakley's sexual orientation.

Suddenly, the nation was forced to put aside its stereotypes of rodeos and 10-gallon hats and realize that Texas has changed.

But no matter how far the state has come, Oakley's campaign still shies away from the topic, insisting his sexual orientation is not an issue in the race, which has come down to a runoff Saturday with businessman Tom Leppert.

Oakley's scheduler refused to arrange a phone interview with Oakley about it, shunning the national attention. "You'd do the same thing in my position," he said.

The fact that Oakley is gay is relevant to a group called Heritage Alliance, which mounted an effort to inform voters of his sexual orientation, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Clare Jones, Heritage's vice president, said crime, education and homosexuality are the three main issues in the race, and that her group had made 50,000 calls to alert residents to the fact that Oakley is gay.

When I met Oakley last weekend at a photo shoot, he kept his distance, referring all questions to a campaign supporter who later said he couldn't be quoted.

Oakley would answer just one query before he left. It was an easy question about his chances on Saturday. "Of course I'm going to win," he said.

Though Dallas has a thriving and close-knit gay community, it's still in a red state. As a result, gays here say they are a little more low-key than in other cities across the nation.

But most people in the community are glad to know Oakley's sexuality didn't keep him out of the race.

"Texas has a reputation of not being gay-friendly, and small-town Texas is still pretty conservative," said Eric Cartrite, a patron at a gay bar in the Oak Lawn neighborhood.

But Dallas is a place, he said, where "you can walk the streets holding hands with your partner. You couldn't do that in other areas."

Indeed, many gay residents say they flocked to Dallas from smaller places knowing they would be able to make a home here without harassment.

The city already elected an openly gay sheriff and other officials, so Oakley's run isn't a surprise, at least not among native Texans. Word was already out about Oakley when he joined the City Council in 2001.

Now, the nation will be watching how or whether his sexuality plays a role in the race.

Early voting was up by about 28 percent compared with the May 12 general election, which featured 11 candidates, an election official said. Runoffs don't get as much voter turnout, but this one may be different. The Dallas Morning News has said the race is too close to call.

It's not clear whether the early voters are Oakley's supporters coming out in droves or Dallas' more conservative residents who simply don't want the distinction of being the largest city in America with an openly gay mayor.

Still, there's no denying the region's conservative roots. Jones, of the Heritage Alliance, said, "We believe that homosexuality is a sin and would complicate someone's ability to govern judiciously."

Leppert, Oakley's opponent, denounced the group's information effort on Oakley.

No matter what happens Saturday, the election isn't necessarily a barometer of the city's tolerance. Many residents -- gay and straight -- said they planned to put sexual orientation aside and vote for the best candidate.

And it's not clear that Oakley will have the support of all gay voters. Some said they planned to vote for him until his camp released a commercial highlighting his opponent's facial tick. It was a cheap shot, they said.

They say, too, that Oakley's election isn't critical for the advancement of the gay community -- that Dallas will still be a great place to be out whether he's in or not.


Going hand-in-hand into an uncertain future

Going hand-in-hand into an uncertain future
By John Authers
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: June 16 2007 03:00 | Last updated: June 16 2007 03:00

Bond prices have just gone down, a lot. A 20-year bull market for bonds may have come to an end. How exactly should we expect stocks to respond?

There are many good reasons why there should be some relationship between stocks and bonds.

Stock valuations are supposed to represent the discounted value of a company's expected future cash flows. The rate at which those flows are discounted must depend, at least in part, on the bond market. That is where risk- free interest rates are set.

So falling bond prices should lower the value of stocks. The coupon that bonds pay out remains constant, so a lower bond price increases the yield, or effective interest rate, that an investor will get by buying that bond.

That increases the rate at which stocks' future cash flows should be discounted, and hence reduce the value of stocks.

By raising the cost of finance, higher bond yields also raise companies' interest costs. That reduces the profits that they share with their shareholders.

Higher bond yields also depress general economic activity (and with it, profits and share prices).

There is a further way in which the two markets might be interrelated. This is through a substitution effect. Asset allocation tends to be a game of shifting between bonds and equities.

If an investor has to choose between bonds and stocks, the natural thing is to buy whichever asset class is cheaper. Bonds do not have the chance to log real capital growth in the long run. But if they offer a higher yield, they grow more attractive compared with equities. That would prompt investors to sell stocks and buy bonds, until the gap in value had been closed. Logic points to a fall in bond prices ultimately leading to a fall for stocks.

Then again, bond prices go down if inflation is rising. So do share prices. As bonds are more sensitive to inflation, they can act as a warning signal for stocks.

So the relationship between stocks and bonds looks clear. When bond prices come down, expect equity prices to follow.

The "Fed Model" (so called because comments by Alan Greenspan while running the Federal Reserve suggested he was using it) is the most popular model for finding a "fair value" for the stock market. It holds, with variations, that the earnings yield on stocks (earnings over price, or the inverse of the p/e multiple) should follow the bond yield. P/e multiples and bond yields should have an inverse relationship.

Now we encounter a key problem: experience.

The "Fed Model" worked beautifully for a 20-year period from 1977 to 1997. But bond yields and earnings multiples moved together (the opposite of what is predicted by the model) over the previous 20 years. The relationship also broke down at the turn of the 1990s, as bond and equity yields first rose and then fell together.

Over the last 50 years, therefore, it is questionable whether there is any observable relationship between bonds and equities.

Andrew Smithers once attacked brokers who use the Fed Model for "data- mining". As he put it in the FT, statistics "will always confess if tortured sufficiently". Using all the available data, he said, "there is no relationship at all between bond yields and earnings yields".

How to reconcile logic with experience? Jim Paulsen, strategist at Wells Capital, suggests the inflationary environment is a key variable. When investors are not worried about inflation, as now and in the post-war period, the Fed model will not work.

With inflation out of the picture, then when growth is good, bonds, whose income payments do not increase in line with the economy, are less attractive relative to stocks.

There are still no great worries about inflation. So when growth prospects improve, as they have in recent weeks, then Paulsen reasons, "bond yields go up, and stocks go up".

A different take comes from Vinny Catalano, who runs Blue Marble Research in New York. He suggests the Fed Model is still a good one. Its breakdown once the tech bubble blew up was merely an indicator that the market had been uprooted from the fundamentals.

He models fair value for stocks by projecting earnings and capitalising them using the 10-year bond yield. With just a few adjustments, this works well, he says.

The adjustment has been to increase the bond yield by about 0.9 percentage points - he finds that the stock market is discounting more aggressively than the bond market implies is necessary. Catalano suggests this is because the stock market has been more nervous about the outlook than the bond market.

This leads to a bearish conclusion. The rise in bond yields has left stocks looking overvalued - unless earnings rise by 16 per cent in the next year, which almost nobody expects.

So what does the fall in bonds mean for stocks? Here is a suggestion. The rise in stocks of late has been fuelled by cheap financing. Higher long-term rates endanger this.

Higher bond yields cannot be good news for stocks. But we still do not know if they have risen enough to end the flow of cheap money.

They are a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for a fall in share prices.

Financial Times Editorial Comment: Treasuries tumble, markets worry

Financial Times Editorial Comment: Treasuries tumble, markets worry
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: June 16 2007 03:00 | Last updated: June 16 2007 03:00

"Gentlemen prefer bonds," said Andrew Mellon, the great US banker, who never had the chance to see the Marilyn Monroe film and so change his mind. Though bond-buying gentlemen must be having a bad couple of weeks - the price of US Treasuries has fallen sharply and yields have risen - it is those who depend on cheap money, such as consumers with a lot of debt, who have more to worry about.

The surge in yields came in the past couple of weeks but the upward move, from about 4.5 per cent to about 5.25 per cent on the 10-year bond, has been under way since March. Borrowing US dollars for a few years has got more expensive, and the shape of the yield curve has changed as well. At the start of the year borrowing for five or 10 years cost less than borrowing for one. Now the reverse is true.

Though the shift in yields was sudden it was not especially alarming. Bond investors had a great run until June 2003 when the Federal Reserve cut rates to 1 per cent (lower interest rates are good for bonds). A return to 10-year yields above 5 per cent is just a return to normality, as is the reappearance of an upward-sloping yield curve.

What happens next depends on why yields went up. One explanation - that traders have got into a panic about inflation - does not stand up. The US Treasury issues bonds with an interest rate linked to inflation and their value should be unaffected by expected changes in the price level. Yet, in the past few weeks, they have fallen by just as much as normal bonds.

Another possibility is that central banks in East Asia and the Middle East suddenly decided to stop buying Treasuries. Those purchases, made to balance trade surpluses and keep exchange rates down, are probably the main reason why US bond yields have stayed so low for as long as they have.

But China, other Asian exporters and Gulf states are still running vast current account surpluses, still managing their currencies, and so still need to buy a lot of US assets. Their appetite for long-dated bonds may have declined, but that does little to explain the overall upward shift across the yield curve.

The best explanation, therefore, is probably the simplest. Global growth is strong and markets have become more optimistic about the outlook for the US economy. That creates demand for investment capital, and pushes real interest rates - the price of capital - upward.

Interest rates in Britain, Europe and the US are still moderate and may have further to rise, which would mean a bit more pain for bond investors. But those who will really suffer are consumers who have borrowed too much on their credit cards, property investors who bought at high prices, and buy-out funds dependent on cheap money to finance their acquisitions. Private equity prefers bonds, but it likes them to carry a low rate of interest.

US prices data allay rate rise concerns

US prices data allay rate rise concerns
By Alex Barker and Eoin Callan in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: June 16 2007 03:00 | Last updated: June 16 2007 03:00

Underlying US consumer prices rose less than expected last month, easing concerns that higher energy costs would exert inflationary pressure on the broader economy.

The moderate rise in core prices fits a pattern seen in recent months of decelerating underlying inflation. Economists said that this trend, which was broadly expected by the Federal Reserve, makes it more likely that interest rates will remain steady.

Core consumer prices, a closely watched measure that excludes volatile energy and food costs, rose by just 0.1 per cent in May. This lower-than-expected rise came in spite of rising energy costs pushing the overall consumer price index up 0.7 per cent last month, its biggest increase in almost two years.

Peter Kretzmer, senior economist at Bank of America, said: "The Fed will be pleased by the ongoing easing of core consumer inflation evident in the May release."

"Still, [the Fed] is likely to remain concerned about the impact of high levels of resource utilisation, so long as the labour market remains robust and the unemployment rate low."

The Fed has kept rates at 5.25 per cent while maintaining a bias towards controlling inflation. Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, has said that although core inflation appeared to be moderating, the "risks remained on the upside".

Separate data showed the US current account deficit widened less than expected in the first quarter. The current account deficit grew to $192.6bn (£97.4bn, €144bn) from $187.9bn, compared with economists' predictions of a $201bn gap.

Wall Street investors reacted positively to the inflation update, with the S & P 500 Index advancing 0.8 per cent by midday.

"What we are getting is reasonable economic growth absent of attendant inflationary effects," said Jeoff Hall, managing economist at Thomson Financial.

Annual consumer prices rose from 2.6 per cent in April to 2.7 per cent in May. Core annual prices rose 2.2 per cent, its smallest monthly rise in more than a year.

Bernanke hints at thinking on housing

Bernanke hints at thinking on housing
By Krishna Guha in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: June 15 2007 21:13 | Last updated: June 15 2007 21:13

Changes in house prices could have a bigger effect on consumption than the traditional “wealth effect” suggests, Ben Bernanke said on Friday in comments that offer some insight into how the Federal Reserve may think about the continuing problems in the US housing market.

The Federal Reserve chairman told a conference hosted by the Atlanta Fed that, in addition to making homeowners richer or poorer, changes in house prices might influence the cost and availability of credit to consumers.

This is because people with equity in their homes have more at stake in avoiding default. That, in turn, reduces the premium char-ged by lenders owing to their imperfect knowledge of their borrowers’ financial circumstances.

If this theory is correct, Mr Bernanke said, “changes in home values may affect household borrowing and spending by somewhat more than suggested by the conventional wealth effect”.

The Fed chief notes that this argument also indicates that the distribution of home price gains or losses matters for consumption. “The effect on aggregate consumption of a given decline in house prices is greater, the greater the fraction of consumers who begin with relatively low home equity,” he said.

This suggests the Fed may be relatively relaxed about declines in segments of the housing market where wealthy homeowners have a large stock of home equity, but more concerned about price falls in areas where people have little home equity. This is typically the segment with a high proportion of subprime loans.

In an economy such as the US where most mortgage contracts are still fixed-rate, the effect of house price changes on access to credit overall may be “muted”, he said. But consumers with adjustable rate mortgages – whose cash flow suffers when short-term interest rates go up – could see their access to credit deteriorate.

The Fed chief said he did not know whether the so-called “financial accelerator effect” on household spending via access to credit was big enough to affect the overall economy.

His remarks on housing came as he explored the ways in which changes in creditworthiness may amp-lify the effects of monetary policy as well as real economy shocks such as a shift in productivity. A rise in interest rates that reduced the value of companies assets and cash flows “would increase the effective cost of credit by more than the change in risk-free rates”.

Likewise, a rise in rates that negatively affected the balance sheet and cash flows of banks and other financial intermediaries would raise the cost of external finance.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Porn to be mild: Smut lets down lesbians

Porn to be mild: Smut lets down lesbians
By Jennyy Spinner
Copyright by The Red Eye

Published June 15 2007
Boy-girl, boy-boy, girl-girl—there's a stunning cornucopia of pornographic flicks on the market.

However, the vast majority of the smut pile caters to men. Many lesbians I know think it's a capital crime that men, straight and gay, have such an embarrassment of riches to choose from while women are left in the lurch.

Where is our smut?

Several weeks back, my girlfriend and I opened up our home for an all-girls game night. However, as is wont to occur in a room full of randy, young homo-ettes, the group's thoughts turned to play of a different variety.

"Let's watch porn!" one gal shouted.

"Doesn't anyone want to play Trivial Pursuit?" I offered. "Maybe Clue—I have the Simpsons vers ..."

"Porn! Porn! Porn!" the others shouted in mutinous unison.

We'd lost control, and the throng could not be dissuaded, so my girl picked up the cable remote and searched through the On Demand movie listings for a promising, girl-on-girl selection. There were more titles than Boystown has bad faux hawks, but finding a movie that appealed to us was challenging.

"'Naughty Girls Who Love Naughty Girls' looks good," Alexis remarked, leaning forward in the tattered La-Z-Boy.

The others nodded in assent. After deciding the $12.99 fee for 50 minutes of smut seemed like a wise investment (especially split nine ways), we ordered up and leaned back.

The video opened on Amber, a fake-baked young lass with a towering Tawny Kitaen 'do framing her makeup-encrusted visage. As she opined on the merits of doin' it with dames—"They're so ... soft"—she cast her pink-clawed hands all over her body.

Instead of being titillated, though, the crew in our living room was confused.

"Is this supposed to be hot?," Liz wondered. "What the hell's she doing?"

Amber's bored-and-boring solo performance gave way to bikini-clad Stacey and Julie scrubbing a Corvette. As usual, they soon forgot about the car they were washing and commenced soaping up each other. Each displayed all the erotic energy of a nurse sponge-bathing a drooling grandpa.

Our disappointment in the film's utter lack of hotness rapidly gave way to amusement as we poked fun at the fake lesbians prancing onscreen. True, it was a giant letdown to the assemblage of lasses, but it's not like any of us hadn't ever been there before. When you're a porn-seeking lesbian, disappointment is all but guaranteed.

Me, I've brought home my share of DVDs with wicked women on the cover in the hopes of causing a stir. But the actresses resemble blow-up dolls come to life, with their hard-plastic boobs and coifs that wouldn't stir if subjected to hurricane-force winds. I have no idea how they pursue their profession with such unbelievably lengthy nails—it's a wonder they don't puncture their co-stars.

Do straight men find these movies entertaining? They must—the shelves of adult stores are teeming with titles, and I've spent many an hour combing those shelves, hoping to find my personal Horny Grail of porn movies. One with real lesbians, not fake femme fatales. One that evokes hormones, not ha-has. One made just for me.

A gay gal can dream.

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Ethical deep freeze

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Ethical deep freeze
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: June 14, 2007

Now, just as fervid promises of ethics reform from Democratic legislators are running out of steam, comes the bribery indictment of one of their own, William Jefferson, the Louisiana congressman accused of stashing $90,000 in marked bills in his home freezer. Surely this is the strongest possible wake-up call for foot-dragging members to face up to the need for aggressive ethics enforcement.

The timing could not be better for House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to offer Congress and its doubting constituents the strongest possible proposal for the creation of an independent office to oversee ethics enforcement. If Congress wants to repair its tattered reputation, it is crucial to resist cosmetic change. For any independent panel to be convincing it must be given the power to investigate corruption allegations and make recommendations to the ethics committee for forceful action.

Such a panel could render a double service by credibly shooting down frivolous charges and by bracing the House in its duty to police wayward members. The alternative is for Congress to continue to sit there in encrusted apathy, relying on criminal prosecutors and the news media to surprise it with fresh embarrassments about its members abusing the people's business.

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Studying Avandia

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Studying Avandia
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: June 14, 2007

Eight years and 7 million patients later, we still don't know whether the diabetes drug, Avandia, is safe or effective. This is largely because the manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, failed to vigorously pursue questions about cardiac safety and the Food and Drug Administration acquiesced in its feeble efforts. Both either ignored or tried to silence scientists who raised the alarm.

Avandia was approved for use in 1999 based on studies showing that it lowered blood glucose levels in patients suffering from Type 2 diabetes. At the time, the FDA's medical reviewer called for a postmarketing study to address cardiovascular risks. The company's response was a study that looked primarily at long-term control of blood sugar - a potential plus in marketing the drug - and only glancingly at cardiac risks. Only because European regulators insisted on a more comprehensive study did the company start one.

So what's going on here? One disturbing possibility is that Glaxo has designed tests that have the effect of meeting the company's marketing objectives while minimizing risks.

There are two suspected problems with Avandia. One is heart failure, where the heart gradually loses its ability to pump sufficient blood. That side effect has long been recognized. But an FDA drug safety officer told The New York Times that she was rebuked and removed from assessing the drug last year after urging a black box warning, the agency's strongest. The agency has now requested such a warning.

The other, more troublesome, issue is the risk of sudden heart attacks. Here, too, there were early signals of a potential problem, raised both by the FDA's own reviewer and an outside authority, Dr. John Buse, who is about to become president of the American Diabetes Association. In 1999, when he was still a junior academic, Buse warned about possible cardiac danger only, he says, to have a high company official call his supervisor, castigate him as a liar and make veiled threats of a huge lawsuit. Now, after further signals of possible danger and a melange of conflicting studies, the FDA plans to present the issue to a panel of experts.

At this point, no one is sure whether the heart attack risks from Avandia are significant. The clearest lesson is that the FDA needs the power to demand adequate studies and the resources to analyze the results. That would not guarantee that the regulators would act as vigorously as needed, but it would increase the odds.

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial - Violence in Gaza takes hope hostage

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial - Violence in Gaza takes hope hostage
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
June 15, 2007

Almost five years ago, in a speech he delivered to the United Nations on June 24, 2002, President Bush called for the establishment of a Palestinian state -- one "built through reform," not "created by terror." It was a significant moment in U.S. relations with the Middle East, especially as it was coming less than a year after the 9/11 attacks. It was a moment to build on. But it didn't last long: Yasser Arafat soon would be caught smuggling weapons and fomenting terrorism.

Now, what can be best described as gang warfare is rewriting the outlook for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Men are killed execution-style in front of their families; others are thrown from the roof of a building. As Hamas completes its overrunning of Gaza, having taken over the city of Rafah and government facilities in Gaza City, including the headquarters of Fatah's elite Preventive Security forces, the notion of a Palestinian state is all but dead. After all these years of on-again-off-again diplomacy and new ideas for peace plans and road maps, of trying to construct terms by which the Palestinians and Israelis could live side by side in peace, the two-state situation peace advocates had hoped for is degenerating into a two-Palestinian-state nightmare. One is Gaza ruled by Hamas, the other the West Bank run by Fatah. And make no mistake about it, Hamas is creating a full-fledged terrorist state in Gaza.

This Palestinian civil war has been brewing for more than a year. When Hamas caught the world off guard by winning big in the 2006 elections, hopes of negotiating a peace by appealing to moderates led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas suffered a major blow. A terrorist organization, Hamas refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist or renounce violence against it and has no use for peace agreements, past or present.

With Hamas taking control of Gaza only four months after its exiled leader, Khaled Meshal in Damascus, and Abbas agreed to a power-sharing plan, U.S. and Israeli efforts to isolate Hamas while boosting Fatah can be judged a failure. Now, frighteningly, stocked with weapons and explosives supplied to Fatah by Egypt and Jordan, Hamas has the potential to be the same kind of terrorist threat on Israel's southern border that Hezbollah is up north in Lebanon. And, of course, Israel-hating Iran is the major backer of both Hamas and Hezbollah.

On Thursday, Abbas declared a state of emergency and dissolved the Hamas-led "unity" coalition, but at this point, that doesn't mean much. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said there would be "regional consequences" if Gaza fell under the complete control of Hamas. Those consequences may be military actions in Gaza to reduce the very real threat from Hamas. A long, hot, tension-filled summer looms.

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial - Pounding home the truth: Obesity can't be taken lightly

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial - Pounding home the truth: Obesity can't be taken lightly
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
June 15, 2007

It's time to stop being so diplomatic and start referring to truly fat children as obese. That was the sensible conclusion last week of a committee of medical experts convened by the American Medical Association and funded by federal health officials. The group was formed to design guidelines to help doctors and other medical professionals combat obesity in children, a problem that has spiked in the last decade.

The idea is not to be cruel, but to more straightforwardly convey the health risks that accompany excessive weight, including diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Old guidelines opted for "overweight" instead of "obese" due to fears that the blunter label could stigmatize the child, but the group argues the problem is getting so serious that doctors should stop mincing words and confront it directly in a sensitive and careful way.

The group also made other recommendations aimed at fighting the problem, including evaluating eating habits, limiting TV watching and encouraging physical activity. With those ideas in mind, it was refreshing to see Kellogg's announcement this week that it would reformulate some of its products to meet nutritional guidelines or stop advertising them to children. Combatting childhood obesity is hard enough as it is; the pervasive and subversive advertising of unhealthy foods certainly doesn't help.

Subprime loan defaults jump - Consumer advocates press Fed for action

Subprime loan defaults jump - Consumer advocates press Fed for action
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published June 15, 2007

WASHINGTON -- Consumer advocates on Thursday demanded the Federal Reserve write strict rules to end abusive lending practices, saying the central bank hasn't acted forcefully enough to curb delinquencies and foreclosures in the subprime mortgage market.

They made their demands at a hearing held on the same day that a new report showed the number of Americans who could lose their homes because of late mortgage payments rose to a record in the first quarter, led by subprime borrowers pinched by an economy that grew at the slowest pace in four years.

The share of all mortgages entering foreclosure rose to 0.58 percent in the first quarter from 0.54 percent in the fourth quarter, according to a quarterly report from the Mortgage Bankers Association. Subprime loans entering foreclosure jumped to a five-year high of 2.43 percent from 2 percent in the fourth quarter, and prime loans rose to 0.25 percent, the highest ever, from 0.24 percent.

It was worse for subprime borrowers who took out adjustable-rate mortgages. The association said the percentage of payments that were 30 or more days past due for subprime ARMs jumped to 15.75 percent in the first quarter. That's the highest level ever and up from 14.44 percent in the fourth quarter. The percentage of subprime ARMs that started the foreclosure process climbed to 3.23 percent, also a high, from 2.70 percent.

People who have taken out subprime mortgages, especially ARMs, have been clobbered as rising interest rates and weak home prices have made it increasingly difficult for them to keep up with their monthly payments. Some lenders in the subprime market have been forced out of business.

Analysts estimate that nearly 2 million ARMs will reset to higher rates this year and next. Some subprime borrowers were lured by initially low "teaser" rates offered during the five-year housing boom that ended in 2005. But those rates can spike upward after the first few years, causing payment shocks.

"Housing is in a recession, and we're seeing that reflected in prices," said Doug Duncan, chief economist for the group. "If you're in a position where you can refinance or sell, but house prices have fallen below your outstanding loan balance, you're in trouble."

The consumer advocates spoke at a public meeting the Fed held to gather feedback from the mortgage industry and public as it examines its rulemaking authority under a 1994 mortgage consumer-protection law.

The Fed meeting was called in response to criticism from Congress that the central bank wasn't doing enough to protect consumers. On Wednesday, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, threatened to strip the Fed of its power to write consumer-protection rules, telling Fed Governor Randall Kroszner "use it or lose it."

Kroszner said at the start of Thursday's hearing that policymakers would "seriously consider" tougher rules. He also warned that the Fed "must walk a fine line" and be careful not to restrict consumers' access to credit.

"Nibbling around the edges isn't going to solve this problem," Alys Cohen, attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, said at the hearing. "It's incumbent upon the Federal Reserve to act to prohibit loans that are unaffordable by requiring an analysis of ability to repay."

Industry representatives defended some of the practices the Fed is considering restricting, including prepayment penalties and loans that don't require verification of a borrower's stated income.

Suit says cops savaged gay man - Arrest at bar turned violent, he alleges

Suit says cops savaged gay man - Arrest at bar turned violent, he alleges
By Michael Higgins
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published June 15, 2007

A Chicago man alleged Thursday in a lawsuit that two police officers viciously beat him last year while hurling anti-gay slurs, then left him in a holding cell for two days without food or water.

Attorneys for Alexander Ruppert, 37, said the beating took place in March 2006 after authorities say the officers responded to call that he was causing a disturbance at a bar, the suit says.

Ruppert later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct stemming from the altercation inside the bar, but he contended in the suit that he did not provoke the officers and that he was beaten because he is gay.

While in the police lockup for the two days, Ruppert resorted to drinking water from the toilet to quench his thirst, according to the suit filed in federal court in Chicago.

"This was a hate crime disguised as policework," Jon Erickson, an attorney for Ruppert, said Thursday at a news conference near Lawrence Avenue and Broadway, where Ruppert says the incident took place. The lawsuit against the city and the two officers seeks unspecified damages for excessive force, battery, unlawful seizure and malicious prosecution.

Ruppert was not at the news conference for health reasons, Erickson said.

Ruppert initially was charged with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and two counts of aggravated battery to a police officer.

Last month he pleaded guilty to the one misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct, and prosecutors dropped the other charges, said Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for Cook County State's Atty. Richard Devine.

Prosecutors dropped the felony charges because the police officers did not want to testify about the incident in court, Simonton said. She didn't know why the officers wouldn't testify.

Police officials would not comment about the case, citing the pending lawsuit.

City officials had not reviewed the suit and also declined to comment.

The incident began when police responded to a call that Ruppert was creating a disturbance at the Uptown Lounge, Simonton said. Simonton said she didn't have details about the nature of the altercation inside the bar. Ruppert's lawyers declined to discuss whether Ruppert was intoxicated.

According to Ruppert's lawsuit, two officers asked him to leave the bar and put him in the back of a squad car but didn't handcuff him or arrest him. The officers have not been charged with a crime.

They made "vulgar comments referring to his sexual orientation" and after driving him a block away from club, hit him in his face and on his head while calling him names, according to the lawsuit.

Simonton said that according to the initial charges, Ruppert was "injured during the transport to the police station," but she had no further details.


County health system is flatlining

County health system is flatlining
By Quentin Young, chairman of Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's Health Care Transition Committee
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published June 15, 2007

We must act now to stop the dismantling of Cook County's health-care system before it's too late. This was the sentiment of many health experts who attended a recent luncheon on the quality of health care here.

Kenneth Robbins, president of the Illinois Hospital Association, reported at the session that in 2006 the county's Bureau of Health Services had 33,298 hospital admissions, 28,542 inpatient visits and more than 1 million outpatient visits. He said that in the last year, half of Cook County's private hospitals lost money, warning that if the county's health services continue to be slashed beyond repair, the resulting burden will cause some private hospitals to go under.

The years of patronage, nepotism, sweetheart contracts and fiscal incompetence will have destabilized the bureau fatally. In the next few months, with another huge budget shortfall looming, the million or so folks who use the county's health services will have to seek care elsewhere.

Paradoxically, what is unacknowledged and unheralded by the media and little known to the public is that during the last three decades, a remarkable health system has been created in Cook County. Despite toxic political intrusions, the bureau organized an impressive array of public health services: Cook County's Jail Health Services, which handles approximately 100,000 inmates each year; long-term care and rehabilitation at Oak Forest Hospital; 30 community- and school-based health clinics; the CORE Center devoted to HIV/AIDS outpatient care; the nationally renowned Occupational Health Training and Service; obstetrics and gynecology and pediatric services through Stroger and Provident Hospitals.

Nonetheless, critical functions were overwhelmed by increased medical demands. This resulted in absurdly long waiting times for important procedures such as colonoscopies and mammograms. Waits for filling prescriptions were measured in hours, even days.

The current budget crisis took decades to develop. Cook County Board President Todd Stroger responded to this challenge with decisions and appointments that made a bad situation catastrophic. His interim chief of the health bureau, Dr. Robert Simon, dismantled or impaired the achievements of the last 30 years with surgical precision.

There has been a 20 percent drop in patients receiving care, primarily due to the loss of half of the ambulatory-care staff and the elimination and downsizing of clinics. In addition to the large-scale firing of physicians and nurses (and other valuable professionals), there have been resignations by numerous outstanding staff unwilling to work in the degraded environment of these health facilities. Mind you, these seasoned employees are being snapped up by hospitals and academic centers here and in other cities. Their departure, however, intensifies the gathering debilitation of Cook County's health-care system.

While Simon has focused on cutting services, Stroger has failed to achieve one of the potential solutions: a sound system to bill and collect from third-party payers. Hundreds of millions of dollars remain unrecovered, aggravating the system's fiscal woes.

Stroger's own Health Care Transition Committee Report provided him with a roadmap for turning the bureau around. Highlights include: Institute a nationwide search for competent leadership; create an independent hospital board of health experts and civic leaders for the bureau; create a human resources system based on professional competence and free of patronage; adopt a new revenue cycle with an experienced financial team in place.

The media are fulfilling their responsibility by avidly reporting and condemning the many political abuses on the watch of Todd Stroger and Cook County's commissioners. The proposals of the transition committee validate the urgent need for a new social compact to fulfill the bureau's health-care responsibilities. It also requires the thorough depoliticization of the bureau. As Kenneth Robbins informed us, the county's health-care crisis is profound and puts all of us at risk. For example, when a hospital can't accept an emergency patient who comes to the facility in an ambulance, the personnel in the emergency vehicle must search for another hospital to take the patient. There were 804 "ambulances bypasses" countywide in 2006, and if the Cook County Bureau of Health Services is allowed to be dismantled, these bypass figures surely will increase.

During a recent bank robbery on the South Side, a teller was shot. His ambulance had to bypass four hospitals. Admitted to the fifth hospital, the teller died three hours later.

We must act before it's too late.

Chicago Tribune Editorial - Stem cell deja vu

Chicago Tribune Editorial - Stem cell deja vu
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published June 15, 2007

Congress and the president recently showed they still were stalemated over easing federal restrictions on stem cell research funding. That is disappointing. But scientists in the field aren't waiting around for the pols to settle their differences. They're making progress.

In recent weeks, researchers announced that they had reprogrammed ordinary cells from mice, dialing back their developmental clocks so they are virtually indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells. That's exciting news because if it works in humans, such a method could offer a way to create a limitless supply of stem cell lines without using human embryos. And that would almost certainly skirt the ethical and moral objections of Bush and others, clearing the way for more federal funding of research that could lead to treatments or cures of heart disease, cancer, paralysis, diabetes and many other illnesses.

If all this seems familiar, it is. Last year, the same debate raged and Bush vetoed the same bill. Scientists trumpeted a series of advances that some analysts suggested might become alternatives to human embryonic stem cells.

The latest scientific research, detailed in papers released by three research teams, has rekindled speculation that science might render the whole political debate moot by the time the president leaves office.

We wish that were true. Unfortunately, it's highly unlikely. Among the main reasons:

*The technical hurdles. The latest discovery summarized above comes with a series of daunting disclaimers about all the scientific hurdles that remain to be overcome before such procedures might be deemed safe and effective for humans. First, it was done in mice, not humans. No one knows if the same four genes that were used to turn back the clock in the mice cells are the same ones that will work with people. Second, two of those genes can cause cancer: 20 percent of the mice in one study died of the disease. Third, the gene is carried into the cell by means of a virus. That creates the possibility that the genes could wind up in the wrong place in the body; not a cheerful prospect.

Nevertheless, many experts believe these hurdles are surmountable in time. "These are all merely technical hurdles that are very approachable and very conquerable," with time, says Dr. Evan Snyder, director of the stem cell research center at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in California. How much time? With luck, he says, human stem cells may be cultivated by the same technique in two years. Or it could take as much as 10 years.

*The overwhelming need for human embryonic stem cells. "The embryonic stem cell is still the gold standard," Snyder says. Even if the latest method ultimately turns out to be useful, scientists say one method of producing stems almost certainly won't trump all the others.

Researchers are seeking to develop an extensive array of stem cells derived different ways because it's likely that some stem cells will work against some kinds of illnesses but not others. Some stem cells may work best at one stage of a disease but not another. It's also possible that combinations of stem cells derived in different ways could be most potent against certain illnesses.

Given the stances of many top presidential candidates on this issue, it's likely that the next president will reverse Bush's stand and allow the research more room to grow. We hope so. We've supported allowing federal funding for stem cell lines derived from thousands of embryos created in fertility clinics that would otherwise be discarded.

At the moment, private money is helping this field to flourish. But there's nothing that would galvanize this vital research like an infusion of federal dollars.

Immigration bill revived - Senate could take up issue again next week

Immigration bill revived - Senate could take up issue again next week
By Karoun Demirjian
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published June 15, 2007

WASHINGTON -- A far-reaching, comprehensive immigration bill is poised for a comeback, after Senate leaders approved a bipartisan deal Thursday to resuscitate the near-dead measure and bring it to the floor as early as next week.

Senate leaders Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a joint statement that the Senate would resume consideration of the legislation after it finishes debate on the energy bill, but did not disclose details of the compromise.

For the past week, the immigration bill has been on life support as the architects of the original bipartisan measure crafted a limited list of amendments that the Senate would debate. A week ago, the majority of Republicans voted against motions to proceed to final consideration of the bill, complaining that they had not had enough of an opportunity to consider changes in the legislation. After three failed votes to move forward, Reid pulled the bill.

Though President Bush has made several attempts this week to rally support for the measure, the key question remains whether the bill will garner the 60 votes needed to circumvent the threat of a filibuster by opponents.

The bill, which would improve border security, stiffen employment verification procedures and put an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the U.S. on a path to citizenship, has attracted vocal critics.

But the final test in the Senate will come as about 20 amendments -- split evenly between those offered by Republicans and Democrats -- are voted on, and whether they will help the bill's chances.

Lawmakers supporting the measure are putting great stock in at least one new proposal, presented by Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), that would guarantee $4.4 billion for the border security effort outlined in the bill with funds drawn from fines and fees collected from undocumented immigrants seeking visas under the new system.

Bush pledged his support for the proposal Thursday, heralding it as a necessary step toward convincing naysayers that the government will stick by promises to deliver this time on security improvements.

Though the rest of the likely amendment list is varied, no measures are expected to counteract divisive amendments already approved.


Mass. lawmakers kill bid for gay marriage referendum

Mass. lawmakers kill bid for gay marriage referendum
By Pam Belluck, New York Times News Service; Tribune political reporter Rick Pearson in Chicago contributed to this report
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published June 15, 2007

BOSTON -- Same-sex marriage will continue to be legal in Massachusetts, after proponents on Thursday won a months-long battle to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

"In Massachusetts today, the freedom to marry is secure," Gov. Deval Patrick said after the legislature voted 151-45 against the amendment. It needed 50 favorable votes to come before voters in a referendum in November 2008.

The vote means opponents would have to start from square one to sponsor a new amendment, which could not get on the ballot before 2012. Massachusetts is the only state where same-sex marriage is legal, although five states allow civil unions or the equivalent.

Thursday's victory for same-sex marriage was not a foregone conclusion, especially after the amendment won first-round approval from the previous legislature in January, with 62 lawmakers supporting it. It needed 50 votes in consecutive sessions of the legislature.

House and Senate leaders and the governor lobbied intensively to stop the amendment.

Patrick said he tried to persuade lawmakers not only that same-sex marriage should be allowed but also that a 2008 referendum would be divisive and distract from important issues.

About 8,500 same-sex couples have married in Massachusetts since the unions became legal in May 2004. In December 2005, opponents, led by the Massachusetts Family Institute, gathered a record 170,000 signatures for an amendment banning same-sex marriage. Patrick's predecessor, Gov. Mitt Romney, supported that effort.

Romney, campaigning in Chicago on Thursday, said he was "disappointed that the legislature did not allow the people to have their voice heard."

The Republican presidential hopeful also spoke in favor of a federal marriage amendment "to assure marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman."

Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, did not indicate whether opponents would start a new petition drive but said, "We're not going away."

The vote reflected lobbying by gay-rights groups.

"This was the focus of our national community," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "Frankly, a loss today would have been very demoralizing."

Hamas seizes Gaza - Takeover disrupts peace hopes throughout region

Hamas seizes Gaza - Takeover disrupts peace hopes throughout region
By Joel Greenberg
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Published June 15, 2007

JERUSALEM -- Hamas forces completed their takeover of the Gaza Strip early Friday with the capture of President Mahmoud Abbas' seaside compound, raising urgent questions throughout the region and in Washington about how to respond to the emergence of a militant Islamic enclave on Israel's southern border.

The Hamas victory over forces of the rival Fatah movement dealt a heavy blow to U.S.-sponsored peace efforts, as the Palestinians are divided geographically and politically. Hamas now controls Gaza while Fatah remains dominant in the West Bank.

While some analysts portrayed the developments as a failure for the U.S. effort to support Abbas, a moderate who supports peace negotiations with Israel, others debated how Israel would deal with Hamas, a militant Islamic movement that refuses to recognize Israel and rejects a permanent peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

That elusive goal has been the focus of a renewed push by the Bush administration, reflecting the widespread belief that the Israeli-Palestinian crisis has inflamed militants throughout the Middle East and must be addressed comprehensively before stability can be achieved in Iraq and other troubled parts of the region. The U.S. has funneled millions of dollars to bolster Abbas' government in hopes of encouraging renewed peace talks.

But both Israel and the U.S. consider Hamas a terrorist organization, and the matter of who represents the Palestinian leadership now appears in doubt. As Hamas fighters overwhelmed his forces' main command centers in Gaza City on Thursday, Abbas dissolved the Palestinian unity government, dismissing Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and announcing the formation of a temporary emergency government.

Hamas leaders rejected Abbas' move and said they constituted the legitimate elected government.

Abbas, the leader of Fatah, also declared a state of emergency, accusing Hamas of a "military coup."

But none of the measures, announced at Abbas' headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah, was likely to be enforced in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas took control after less than a week of fighting that has killed about 90 people and wounded scores more.

In a final push Thursday, Hamas forces captured the Preventive Security headquarters and General Intelligence building in Gaza City after battles in which the attackers pounded their targets with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and explosive charges.

Later Hamas fighters also took Al-Saraya, the headquarters of the paramilitary National Security Forces, with little resistance, capturing vehicles, arms and ammunition.

A symbolic capture

The fall of Preventive Security headquarters had special significance for both sides. More than a decade ago, the Fatah-allied force had been at the forefront of factional fighting with Hamas and led a crackdown on the group.

In a scene shown on Hamas television, Preventive Security officers were led out of their headquarters, stripped to the waist, their arms in the air. Several flinched at the crack of a gunshot.

A witness and Fatah officials said several officers were executed, shot in the head after they surrendered, The Associated Press reported. Hamas denied such killings and said the men died in combat.

Black-clad Hamas fighters in ski masks and green bandannas overran the captured security buildings, firing bursts of celebratory gunfire and raising the green Hamas flag. Some knelt in prayer and shouted "God is great!"

Security offices were looted, along with the empty homes of Abbas and the Fatah strongman in Gaza, Mohammed Dahlan. He and other local Fatah leaders were outside of Gaza during the recent days of fighting.

"We are telling our people that the past era has ended and will not return," Islam Shahwan, a spokesman for the Hamas militia, told the group's radio station. "The era of justice and Islamic rule has arrived."

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called his group's victory a second liberation after Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip two years ago. "This time it was liberated from the herds of the collaborators," he said of Fatah, which has pursued talks with Israel.

With the capture of the main security bases in Gaza City, only Abbas' compound, usually protected by the elite Presidential Guard, remained under Fatah control. But Palestinians reported that some commanders of the guard fled by sea to Egypt and Israel, and other officers escaped in civilian clothes. By the time Hamas forces arrived about midnight, there was little resistance and the area was easily overrun.

Earlier, dozens of Fatah officers stationed on the Egyptian border at the southern town of Rafah fled to Egypt as the city fell to Hamas forces. The Popular Resistance Committees, militants allied with Hamas, were said to be in control of the border crossing at a spot where military weapons frequently are smuggled into Gaza.

The clashes spilled into the West Bank, where Fatah gunmen rounded up more than 30 Hamas supporters and ransacked and burned a Hamas office in Nablus, tossing furniture out of windows. Early Friday, Hamas said one of its members had been killed in the city.

In his decree dismissing the government, Abbas called Hamas an "outlaw militia" that he said had waged a "criminal war" and an "armed rebellion."

Abu Zuhri, the Hamas spokesman, called the presidential decree illegal. "In practical terms these decisions are worthless," he said. "Prime Minister Haniyeh remains the head of the government even if it was dissolved by the president."

In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. backed Abbas' move to disband the government. "President Abbas has exercised his lawful authority as president of the Palestinian Authority, as leader of the Palestinian people," she said.

Earlier, White House spokesman Tony Snow said the situation in Gaza "is a source of profound concern" and he accused Hamas of "committing acts of terror, now against the Palestinian people."

Broad policy implications

The new reality in Gaza could lead to a rethinking of policy in Israel and Washington regarding talks with the Palestinians.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Wednesday that a Hamas takeover in Gaza "will be significant ... for the ability to reach agreements with [Abbas] and whether it would be possible to implement them in Gaza."

Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official, said Israel would have to work with Egypt and other nations to prevent the smuggling of weapons to Gaza and the granting of foreign aid or diplomatic recognition to the Hamas-controlled entity in the coastal strip.

Hamas has received support from Iran and Syria, two countries that are particularly antagonistic to Israel.

"They have to be defined as a hostile, dangerous entity, and that is how they should be treated," Gilad told Israel Radio. "Politically we should not delude ourselves that it is possible to have dialogue with Hamas as long as it doesn't change its declared aims."

Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh warned of a "danger that Hamas will turn the Gaza Strip into Hamastan, into a center of thugs, murderers, terrorists, poverty and despair."

Dennis Ross, the former chief U.S. envoy to the Middle East, said Fatah officials' lack of accountability and leadership led to an inevitable rebellion against them, but that Hamas' brutal treatment of Fatah officers had disgusted some Palestinians and "will backfire on them."

In a meeting with Tribune editors and reporters in Chicago, Ross urged the Bush administration, Israel and their allies to focus on strengthening economic and political forces in the Fatah-controlled West Bank while trying to figure out ways to isolate Hamas in Gaza.

Yossi Alpher, an Israeli analyst and former head of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, said the Hamas takeover was a resounding failure for U.S. policy, which allowed armed Islamic groups such as Hamas to participate in elections across the Middle East and then tried to counter them by arming moderates.

The U.S. recently launched a $60 million program to supply Abbas' presidential guard with advanced training and equipment. At Washington's urging, Israel also had allowed shipments to Gaza of arms and ammunition for Abbas' forces.

"What this policy succeeded in doing is provoking a strong Hamas reaction," Alpher said. "Hamas saw the writing on the wall and reacted by taking over."

Ali Jarbawi, a professor of political science at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, said the U.S. had failed to empower Abbas politically through genuine progress toward a negotiated two-state solution, leaving him domestically weakened.

"Without an initiative that he can show the Palestinians and convince them, he doesn't have a chance," Jarbawi said. "Sixty million dollars and ammo is a recipe for civil war, not a solution. Now it's going to be more complicated for everybody."


- - -

A day of upheaval in the Gaza Strip

* Hamas fighters capture the Palestinian presidential compound and headquarters of Preventive Security Service, completing a rout of rival Fatah forces and consolidating their armed conquest of the Gaza Strip.

* President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah declares a state of emergency, fires the Hamas prime minister and disbands the unity government. Hamas rejects the orders.

* Masked Hamas gunmen humiliate Fatah security officers, escorting them into the streets with hands in the air and stripped to the waist.

* At least 33 Palestinians are killed Thursday, some in alleged executions. About 90 are dead in five days of fighting.

* Violence spreads to the West Bank, where Fatah militants detain Hamas fi ghters and burn an offi ce used by Hamas lawmakers. One Hamas activist is killed.

- - -

Rival factions battling for control Hamas

Militant Islamic movement founded during the first Palestinian intifada in 1987. Known outside the Palestinian territories for its suicide bombings against Israel but inside for its social services network. Labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S., it has a charter that calls for the destruction of Israel. Won a majority in the Palestinian parliament in early 2006, named the prime minister and Cabinet and deployed armed supporters on the streets.


Nationalist movement founded by Yasser Arafat and others in the Palestinian diaspora in the late 1950s. Became the primary force in the Palestinian nationhood struggle after the 1967 Six-Day War, and staged thousands of guerrilla attacks against Israel. Later endorsed negotiations with Israel and the 1993 Oslo peace accords. Lost its legislative majority to Hamas in early 2006 but kept the Palestinian Authority presidency and control of official security forces.

Timeline of the conflict Tensions between Hamas and Fatah have been simmering in the year and a half since Hamas' victory in parliamentary elections.

Jan. 25, 2006

In a stunning political victory, Hamas wins control of the Palestinian parliament from long-dominant Fatah.

Feb. 13

The Palestinian parliament uses its final session before Hamas takes over to grant President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah broad new powers, angering Hamas leaders.

April 23

Violent clashes between Hamas and Fatah break out across the West Bank and Gaza Strip after a Hamas leader accuses Abbas of treachery.

June 12

Fatah fighters set fire to the Cabinet and parliament buildings in Ramallah, West Bank, in protest against the Hamas-led government.

Sept. 11

Abbas says Fatah and Hamas will form a coalition government.

Oct. 1

Fighting resumes as talks on forming a coalition government stall.

Nov. 25

A five-month Israeli military incursion in Gaza ends with a cease-fire.

Dec. 15

Hamas accuses members of Abbas' presidential guard of trying to assassinate Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.

Jan. 6, 2007

Abbas outlaws the 6,000-strong Hamas-led Interior Ministry's police force, demanding that it be incorporated into the security apparatus loyal to Fatah. The ministry refuses.

Jan. 18

In a move aimed at aiding Abbas, Israel announces it is freeing $100 million in Palestinian tax funds frozen after Hamas' electoral victory.

Feb. 8

Fatah and Hamas sign a Saudi-brokered deal for coalition rule.

May 15

Fighting resumes, with gun battles in the streets of Gaza City.

May 18

Hamas accuses Fatah of providing Israel with information used in air strikes against Hamas members.


The latest cease-fire between the two groups collapses as up to 17 are killed in fighting.


Twenty-eight are killed as Hamas fighters overrun Fatah posts.


Hamas blows up or captures three Fatah security positions.


Abbas dissolves the coalition government and declares a state of emergency.

-- Tribune staff and news services