Thursday, February 22, 2007

NATIONAL & WORLD DIGEST February 22, 2007

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The Washington Post

String of Successes Enlivens Democratic Party

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 22, 2007; VA04

RICHMOND It was hard to miss the swagger Saturday night as Democratsgathered at the Greater Richmond Convention Center for their annualJefferson Jackson Day dinner, traditionally the party's biggest fundraiser.

But there was nothing traditional about this year's party.

Instead of about 1,000 die-hard activists, there were almost 4,000 Democratsfrom across the state. It was, according to party officials, the largestsingle sit-down dinner in the city's history.

There were more than 350 tables in the cavernous room. The kitchen offered1,500 pounds of steak, 800 pounds of potatoes and 1,500 pounds of crab meat.There were three huge video screens so that those sitting at the back couldsee the speakers.

Make no mistake: Most were there to see the keynote speaker, Illinois Sen.Barack Obama. His presidential campaign is generating enormous buzz -- andhuge crowds -- everywhere he goes. Virginia was no exception.


Los Angeles Times,0,5795148,print.story?coll=la-home-nation

McCain slams Bush on global warming, Iraq policy
The Arizona senator criticizes White House decision-making during a tour ofthe L.A. and Long Beach ports.
By Michael Finnegan
Times Staff Writer

February 22, 2007

Republican presidential candidate John McCain was anything but subtleWednesday as he took swipes at the Bush administration during a meticulouslystaged appearance with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on the bustling docks ofLos Angeles Harbor.

President Bush's record on global warming? "Terrible," McCain declared. Hispursuit of the Iraq war? "A train wreck."

If the point of the Arizona senator's visit was to put distance betweenhimself and his party's unpopular president, McCain was following a patternset by Schwarzenegger in his reelection campaign. For McCain, the task isespecially important because his vocal support for Bush's recent troopbuildup in Iraq threatens a voter backlash.

In what was billed as a nonpolitical event to call for tougher federalaction to stop global warming, McCain joined Schwarzenegger for a hazymorning helicopter tour of the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports. TheRepublican duo flew over the future site of a hydrogen power plant thatwould pump carbon dioxide into the ground instead of the air.

Later, standing side by side amid the roar of engines as cranes hoistedcargo containers onto ships and trucks, Schwarzenegger lavished praise onMcCain ("a great, great senator, a great national leader"), raising thequestion of whether he supports him for president.


Feb. 22, 2007, 1:17AM
Clinton, Obama clash over Geffen; Cheney strikes back

New York Times

The sun was not yet up on Wednesday, and members of Sen. Hillary RodhamClinton's campaign team were confronted with the kind of attack that mostinfuriates them: one questioning the character of Clinton and her husband.

To make matters worse, it came from David Geffen, the Hollywood producer whowas once a big supporter of the Clintons but has since turned on them and isnow backing Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination.

What followed was a remarkably caustic exchange between the Clinton andObama campaigns that highlighted the sensitivity in the Clinton camp toObama's rapid rise as a rival and his positioning as a fresh face unburdenedby the baggage borne by Clinton, the junior senator from New York. TheClinton camp seemed also to be sending a warning to mud-slinging criticsthat they would be dealt with fiercely.

It began with a column in The New York Times by Maureen Dowd, in whichGeffen said the Clintons lie "with such ease, it's troubling" and that theClinton political operation "is going to be very unpleasant and unattractiveand effective." Geffen called Bill Clinton a "reckless guy" and suggestedthat Hillary Clinton was too scripted.

In a statement, the Clinton campaign called on Obama to sever his ties toGeffen and return the $1.3 million that Geffen helped raise at a receptionon Tuesday.

"While Sen. Obama was denouncing slash-and-burn politics yesterday, hiscampaign's finance chair was viciously and personally attacking Sen. Clintonand her husband," Howard Wolfson, the Clinton campaign communicationsdirector, said.


The Washington Post

Barack Obama Drawing Large Crowds

The Associated Press
Thursday, February 22, 2007; 3:47 AM

WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama's campaign says 9,000 people showed up for hisLos Angeles rally, but it's hard to know for sure. The crowd sprawled aroundthe stage set up in a park, a sea of upturned faces and waving campaignsigns.

What is clear is that Obama is sparking unusual turnout early in thepresidential campaign. Massive crowds are signing up for tickets, standingin long lines and taking time out of their day for the chance to hear thefreshman Illinois senator speak in person about his vision for the country.Obama is taking his campaign to large urban areas outside of the earlyvoting states where presidential candidates typically stump for votes. It'spart of a strategy to build his reputation among voters nationwide who stilldon't know much about him and to create an army of small-dollar donors whoare invested in his success.

Supporters like Los Angeles rally attendee Leah Hanes, a Canadian citizenpushing to get her U.S. citizenship in time to vote for Obama. The52-year-old producer said Obama's challenges growing up of mixed race hadgiven him a depth of understanding she didn't see in other candidates.

"He is a combination of both sides of the country," said Hanes, wearing anObama T-shirt that she bought at the rally. "He's been through his ownstruggle. (It's) given him a center."


The Los Angeles Times,0,6906959,print.story?coll=la-home-world

Why the British are scaling back in Iraq

The military can't fight there and in Afghanistan without approaching'operational failure,' one critic says. Something had to give.
By Kim Murphy
Times Staff Writer

February 22, 2007

LONDON — Britain's decision to pull 1,600 troops out of Iraq by spring,touted by U.S. and British leaders as a turning point in Iraqi sovereignty,was widely seen Wednesday as a telling admission that the British militarycould no longer sustain simultaneous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The British military is approaching "operational failure," former defensestaff chief Charles Guthrie warned this week.

"Because the British army is in essence fighting a far more intensivecounterinsurgency war in Afghanistan, there's been a realization that therehas to be some sort of transfer of resources from Iraq to Afghanistan," saidClive Jones, a senior lecturer in Middle East politics at the University ofLeeds, who has closely followed Britain's Iraq deployment.

"It's either that, or you risk in some ways losing both," he said. "It's theclassic case of 'Let's declare victory and get out.' "

Prime Minister Tony Blair's government has been pressed to add 800 troops toAfghanistan to halt a resurgent Taliban and a worrying escalation of drugtrafficking, at the same time that it is beset by criticism for joining theUnited States in an unpopular invasion and prolonged war in Iraq. The 132ndBritish soldier to die in Iraq, Pvt. Luke Daniel Simpson, was buriedWednesday. He was killed Feb. 9.


Feb. 21, 2007, 6:42PM

Raise the alarm
Two surveys point to the abysmal and deteriorating state of Americanchildren's well-being

Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

Two recent surveys, one international, one local, show that America's andHouston's children are suffering enormous deficits to their well-being. Thestudies' findings should be raising alarms, not being met with thewidespread indifference typical of past reactions to such news.

A recent United Nations survey of the overall welfare of children in 21economically advanced countries resulted in abysmal ratings for the UnitedStates and the United Kingdom: The United States came in at No. 20 on thelist, saved only by Britain, ranked 21st, from the ignominy of last place.The Netherlands ranked No. 1, followed by Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

The survey assessed all aspects of children's well-being in six broadcategories: material well-being; health and safety; education; peer andfamily relationships; behaviors and risks; and the children's own subjectivesense of well-being. Children apparently fared worst in Britain and theUnited States because of the marked disparity between rich and poor and thelack of support for poor families and children — a sorry state of affairsfor two historic world powers.

U.S. officials quibbled that the survey defined poverty differently than theUnited States, but raised no objections to the data. The British, at least,paid attention, with officials calling the results "a moral issue" and "acrisis at the heart of our society" — this last from the Children'sCommissioner for England. (Now there's a novel idea, a senior official justfor children.) Only Hungary had a worse record of infant mortality than theUnited States, only New Zealand had a higher death rate for children under19 and only British children smoked and drank and beat each other up morethan American children.


Poll: Clinton unfavorable rating up at home
By Marc Humbert, AP Political Writer | February 21, 2007

ALBANY, N.Y. --Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's unfavorable rating among NewYork voters has climbed by a third since her landslide re-election victoryin November, a statewide poll reported Wednesday.

In that time, she announced she was running for president.

While the Democrat's favorable rating among New York voters remained at arobust 56 percent in the latest poll from Siena College's ResearchInstitute, her unfavorable rating was at 40 percent, the highest in the lasttwo years of Siena's polling and up from 33 percent in a January pollconducted just a few days after her presidential campaign announcement. Herunfavorable rating was 29 percent, the lowest in the past two years,immediately after her easy re-election victory over former Yonkers MayorJohn Spencer.

Siena poll spokesman Steven Greenberg said the rise in Clinton's unfavorablerating likely stemmed from her "I am in this to win" announcement on Jan. 20that she would seek the Democratic nomination for president.

"There is clearly more attention being paid to her and the opposition isstarting to get out their message more about her," said Greenberg. "Sinceshe's now a declared candidate, the anti-Hillary forces -- and we know theyexist -- are starting to provide more information and more ammunition totheir supporters."


The Washington Post

In Far North, Peril and Promise
Great Forests Hold Fateful Role in Climate Change

By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, February 22, 2007; A01

PINE FALLS, Manitoba -- Here on the edge of the silent and frozen northerntier of the Earth, the fate of the world's climate is buried beneath thesnow and locked in the still limbs of aspen trees.

Nearly half of the carbon that exists on land is contained in the sweepingboreal forests, which gird the Earth in the northern reaches of Canada,Alaska, Scandinavia and Russia. Scientists now fear that the steady rise inthe temperature of the atmosphere and the increasing human activity in thoselands are releasing that carbon, a process that could trigger a viciouscycle of even more warming.

The prospect of the land itself accelerating climate change staggersscientists, as well as woodsmen such as Bob Austman, who stopped recently ina quiet stand of birch on the edge of the boreal forest to examine a jackrabbit's tracks.

"There are big forces out there," he said succinctly.

Those forces, which scientists are only starting to understand, could freevast stores of carbon and methane that have been collecting since the lastice age in the frozen tundra and northern forests. Their release would pushthe world's climate toward a heat spiral that would raise ocean levels,spawn fierce storms and scorch farmlands, scientists believe.


The Washington Post

No Way to Elect a President

By David S. Broder
Thursday, February 22, 2007; A19

When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced plans to hold an unusualSaturday session last week to vote on the House-passed resolution opposingPresident Bush's plan to send more U.S. troops into Iraq, he disrupted theschedules of at least six of his colleagues who are running for president.

Joe Biden and John McCain were both supposed to spend the day in Iowa;Hillary Clinton, in New Hampshire; Chris Dodd, in South Carolina; BarackObama, in South Carolina and Virginia; and Sam Brownback, in Florida.

It's only February of 2007, but from the schedules these presidentialhopefuls -- and their rivals -- are keeping, you would think the primarieswere almost upon us. Plenty of campaign consultants were aggravated thatReid was inconsiderate enough to let a little matter such as the Iraq warintrude on their important work of getting their candidates elected -- nextyear.

What we have, friends, is a remarkably distinguished field of candidatesvying in an election system that has become truly insane.

I think the 16 men and one woman actively pursuing the presidency right nowconstitute a classy assemblage. The front-runners are people of substantialstature; the long shots include many who, in other years, would have beenthought of as formidable challengers.


The Washington Post

A War Under Law
Congress Must Address U.S. Detainee Policies

By Jeffrey H. Smith
Thursday, February 22, 2007; A19

In November, Americans voiced their frustration with the war in Iraq andgave control of Congress to the Democrats. The voters rejected thepresident's swaggering, go-it-alone approach and the administration'scontemptuous attitude toward the Geneva Conventions, which led to the abusesat Abu Ghraib, actions that so damaged our credibility that other nationsare much less willing to cooperate in the war on terrorism. Secretary ofState Condoleezza Rice, and her able legal adviser, John Bellinger, havepushed for reforms that have begun to reverse this trend -- but much moremust be done.

Sens. Christopher J. Dodd and Patrick J. Leahy introduced legislation lastweek that will move us further in the right direction. But there are threethings Congress should do.

First, Congress should reconsider the detainee legislation passed last fall.Last-minute changes rammed through by the White House watered down many ofthe bill's key provisions. On the treatment of detainees and interrogationtechniques it created two standards -- one for the military and another forthe CIA. The standards for the military are in an Army Field Manual, but theCIA standards are to be enumerated in a presidential executive order. Rumorssuggest that the White House is struggling to develop those rules. Congressshould relieve the president of that task before he makes a bad situationworse.

If Vice President Cheney has his way, a good dunking may be among theapproved CIA techniques, even though "waterboarding" is prohibited by theArmy Field Manual. Cheney's October remarks that dunking a detainee was " ano-brainer" were irresponsible and added to the confusion in the field (andaround the world) about the rules for treatment of detainees.

It is not clear why the military and the CIA should have different standardsfor the treatment and interrogation of detainees. All U.S. agencies shoulduse the techniques best able to elicit information that is vital to oursecurity. And why should the CIA once again be asked to take risks notknowing whether, when the political winds change in Washington, its officerswill be left facing charges that they violated the law?


The New York Times

February 22, 2007
American Liberty at the Precipice

In another low moment for American justice, a federal appeals court ruled onTuesday that detainees held at the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, donot have the right to be heard in court. The ruling relied on a shameful lawthat President Bush stampeded through Congress last fall that givesdangerously short shrift to the Constitution.

The right of prisoners to challenge their confinement — habeas corpus — isenshrined in the Constitution and is central to American liberty. Congressand the Supreme Court should act quickly and forcefully to undo the grievousdamage that last fall’s law — and this week’s ruling — have done to thisbasic freedom.

The Supreme Court ruled last year on the jerry-built system of militarytribunals that the Bush Administration established to try the Guantánamodetainees, finding it illegal. Mr. Bush responded by driving throughCongress the Military Commissions Act, which presumed to deny the right ofhabeas corpus to any noncitizen designated as an “enemy combatant.” Thisfrightening law raises insurmountable obstacles for prisoners to challengetheir detentions. And it gives the government the power to take away habeasrights from any noncitizen living in the United States who is unfortunateenough to be labeled an enemy combatant.

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit,which rejected the detainees’ claims by a vote of 2 to 1, should havepermitted the detainees to be heard in court — and it should have ruled thatthe law is unconstitutional.

As Judge Judith Rogers argued in a strong dissent, the Supreme Court hasalready rejected the argument that detainees do not have habeas rightsbecause Guantánamo is located outside the United States. Judge Rogers alsorightly noted that the Constitution limits the circumstances under whichCongress can suspend habeas to “cases of Rebellion or invasion,” which ishardly the situation today. Moreover, she said, the act’s alternativeprovisions for review of cases are constitutionally inadequate. The SupremeCourt should add this case to its docket right away and reverse it beforethis term ends.


The New York Times

February 22, 2007
Italy President in Crisis Talks After Prodi Quits
Filed at 8:41 a.m. ET

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's president held crisis talks on Thursday to see ifRomano Prodi, who resigned after only nine months in power after losing aSenate vote, has enough support to be reappointed as prime minister or mustbe replaced.

``We're a country of madmen,'' said Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema to onenewspaper after Prodi unexpectedly stepped down on Wednesday following aforeign policy defeat in the Senate.

But Prodi and D'Alema, who both had previous spells as prime minister cutshort, know from personal experience that Italy is accustomed torevolving-door politics -- which explains why financial markets couldlargely shrug off the latest upset.

After winning the narrowest election in post-war history to lead the 61stgovernment since 1945, Prodi quit after a revolt by the left in hisCatholics-to-communists alliance.

``Comrades, all go home,'' crowed right-wing daily Il Giornale which isclose to Silvio Berlusconi, the media tycoon who hopes to return to power ifnew elections are held. He was the first post-war premier to serve a fullfive years, but he too had to resign and reform his government due toinfighting.


The New York Times

February 22, 2007
Iraq Insurgents Employ Chlorine in Bomb Attacks

BAGHDAD, Feb. 21 — A truck bomb that combined explosives with chlorine gasblew up in southern Baghdad on Wednesday, and officials said it mightrepresent a new and deadly tactic by insurgents against Iraqi civilians.

It was at least the third truck bomb in a month to employ chlorine, agreenish gas also used in World War I, which burns the skin and can be fatalafter only a few concentrated breaths. The bomb killed at least two peopleand wounded 32 others, many of them sent to hospitals coughing and wheezing,police and medical officials said.

Iraqi and American officials said the use of chlorine seemed aimed atbringing a new level of fear and havoc to Iraq as a new security plan forBaghdad takes shape.

Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, an American military spokesman, said theattacks highlighted the fluidity of insurgent tactics in Iraq, dominated bymilitant groups that often notice and repeat attacks that attract the mostattention and cause the most suffering.

Insurgents have shifted tactics to focus on helicopters, and on Wednesdayone group forced down an American Black Hawk helicopter, the eighth suchincident since Jan. 20. Roadside bombs have been adapted to punch throughheavily armored Humvees. Attacks on Americans also now include coordinatedassaults from multiple locations, with a mix of weapons and in at least onecase, counterfeit American uniforms and vehicles.


The New York Times

February 22, 2007
U.S. Is Sued Over Position on Marijuana

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 21 — Frustrated by government policy and inaction, agroup of advocates for medical marijuana sued two federal health agencies onWednesday over the assertion that smoking it has no medical benefit.

The group, Americans for Safe Access, a nonprofit organization based inOakland, filed the lawsuit in Federal District Court, challenging thegovernment’s position that marijuana, “has no currently accepted medical usein treatment in the United States.”

In its lawsuit, the group contends that federal regulators have publiclyissued “false and misleading statements” about the medical benefits ofmarijuana.

The lawsuit, which named the Department of Health and Human Services and theFood and Drug Administration, seeks a court order to retract and correctstatements that the group called, “incorrect, dishonest and a flagrantviolation of laws.”

A lawyer for the medical marijuana group, Joseph Elford, said the lawsuitwas filed now because administrative avenues had been exhausted and becauseof mounting scientific and anecdotal evidence to the contrary.


The Washington Post

The Cloud Over Cheney

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Wednesday, February 21, 2007; 2:12 PM

"What is this case about?" special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald asked inhis rebuttal to the defense's closing arguments yesterday in the ScooterLibby perjury trial.

"Is it about something bigger?"

And while Fitzgerald never directly answered that second question, he atlong last made it quite clear that the depth of Vice President Cheney's rolein the leaking of the identity of a CIA operative is one of the centralmysteries that Libby's alleged lies prevented investigators from resolving.

"There is a cloud over the vice president . . . And that cloud remainsbecause this defendant obstructed justice," Fitzgerald said.

"There is a cloud over the White House. Don't you think the FBI and thegrand jury and the American people are entitled to straight answers?"Fitzgerald asked the jury.

Libby, Fitzgerald continued, "stole the truth from the justice system."


The Washington Post

Guantanamo Detainees Lose Appeal
Habeas Corpus Case May Go to High Court

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 21, 2007; A01

A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that hundreds of detainees in U.S.custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, do not have the right to challenge theirimprisonment in federal courts, a victory for the Bush administration thatcould lead to the Supreme Court again addressing the issue.

In its 2 to 1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District ofColumbia Circuit upheld one of the central components of the MilitaryCommissions Act, the law enacted last year by a then-Republican-controlledCongress that stripped Guantanamo detainees of their right to such habeascorpus petitions. Lawyers have filed the petitions on behalf of virtuallyall of the nearly 400 detainees still at Guantanamo, challenging PresidentBush's right to hold them indefinitely without charges. Yesterday's rulingeffectively dismisses the cases.

Attorneys for the detainees vowed to quickly petition the Supreme Court tohear the case.Judge A. Raymond Randolph wrote in the majority opinion that to overrule thenew law, which Bush signed in October, would "defy the will of Congress." Heand Judge David B. Sentelle also found that historical interpretations ofhabeas corpus do not apply to foreign nationals not on U.S. soil,determining that the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay is a leasedproperty that falls under Cuban sovereignty.

"Federal courts have no jurisdiction in these cases," Randolph wrote in thecombined cases of Al Odah v. USA and Boumediene v. Bush. "Our only recourseis to vacate the district courts' decisions and dismiss the cases for lackof jurisdiction."


The Washington Post

A Call to Confession, for It Is Fading
D.C. Archdiocese Opens an Ad Barrage to Revive the Elemental Rite

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 22, 2007; A01

Between Oprah and the therapist's couch, is there any role left for thechurch confession?

Noting that the number of Catholics taking part in the key rite has plunged,the Archdiocese of Washington is launching its biggest marketing blitz thisweek, using ads on buses, subway cars, a Route 301 billboard, 100,000brochures and radio spots in an effort to get people back to theconfessional.

The unusual campaign -- whose slogan, "The Light is On for You," shouldn'tbe confused with Motel 6's promise to "Leave the Light On for You" --highlights the church's alarm that Catholics are ignoring a fundamentalritual meant to keep them holy and close to God.

Priests and sociologists of Catholicism have theorized about the drop foryears. Is it because of a culture that tells us we aren't responsible forwhat we do wrong? Or could it be something less dark: that the traditionalSaturday confession time has simply been gobbled up by youth soccer leaguesand errand-mania? Or maybe something more dark: that we don't even know whatsin is anymore?

"People go online and confess all sorts of things, but they don't do it in away of apology. And it's very hard to verbalize what you did wrong," saidarchdiocese spokeswoman Susan Gibbs, letting loose an admission of her own:"That's why I like to go when I'm in Rome, because I won't know anyone."


The New York Times

February 22, 2007
Mortgage Insecurities

If the bankers, investors and regulators who populate the global financialmarkets are not already anxious, they should be. The easy money that hasbuoyed the global economy for much of this decade is getting harder to comeby.

At a similar point a decade ago, Russia defaulted on its foreign debt andAsia came unglued, weakening global growth. This time, the trigger could bethe rapid erosion in the quality of American home mortgages — reflected insurging delinquencies and rising defaults.

Two economists, Mark Zandi and Juan Manuel Licari of Moody’s,detailed the dangers recently. In 2005 and 2006, lenders wrote an estimated$3.2 trillion in new home mortgages, which was a record — and lowered theircredit standards considerably to do it. In 2005 alone, 20 percent of themortgages taken out were “subprime” — made to borrowers with poor credit —and many more had worrisome features like interest-only payments.

Not surprisingly, as interest rates rose last year, mortgage delinquenciessoared. Delinquency rates are expected to peak in 2008 at over 3 percent,well above the level of the last recession. Many of these risky mortgageswere sold to investment banks, who carved them up into complex i.o.u.’s thatthey sold to investors worldwide. More than 20 percent of global privatedebt securities is now tied to housing in the United States. That works outto $7.5 trillion — far larger than the market for United States Treasuries.So if America’s mortgage market heads south, the losses could be widespread.

The odds of a global financial crisis are still low, according to Mr. Zandiand Mr. Licari, but they are rising. There is not a lot now that can be doneabout the risks in the mortgage market. But the growing possibility of hardtimes ahead is another argument for rolling back many of the recentexcessive tax cuts, so the government will have more resources available torespond if a crisis comes.


The New York Times

February 22, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
So You Want to Run ...

I want you to know I’ve shelved the idea of writing a book called “The Idiot’sGuide to Winning the Republican Presidential Nomination.” But that doesn’tmean I don’t have ideas. Here are a few rules the G.O.P. contenders shouldfollow if they want to sweep this thing.

First: Be the Snowball. The conventional view is that Feb. 5 is going to bethe decisive day of the race, when California, New Jersey, Illinois and abunch of other states will probably have their primaries. That’s wrong.

Since so many states will be voting then, the candidates will be stretchedthin in all of them. As a result, the Republican candidate who does best inthe first three states — Iowa, New Hampshire and, on Feb. 2, SouthCarolina — will sweep on Feb. 5 through sheer momentum.

You want to be that snowball rolling downhill. Focus your efforts on thefirst three, especially New Hampshire. Win those, and the big states willtake care of themselves.

Second: Remember the Rule of Three. When three big candidates go up againstone another, two of them often get into a mutually destructive grudge matchand the third skates through to victory.


The New York Times

February 22, 2007
TV Review | 'Ghosts of Abu Ghraib'

Abu Ghraib and Its Multiple Failures

The problem with the Fox thriller “24” is not that it justifies torture butthat it fosters the illusion that the American government is good at it.Thepractices of Abu Ghraib suggest the opposite. The mystery of that shamefulepisode was not the cruelty of American troops assigned there. After theinitial disbelief over the obscene snapshots, their smile-for-the-camerabarbarity turned out to be another painful reminder that the banality ofevil has no borders.

The real puzzle is why the administration, which argued that the war againstterror required extreme interrogation techniques — the kind critics calltorture — would then entrust such measures to untrained amateurs.

“Ghosts of Abu Ghraib,” a documentary by Rory Kennedy on HBO tonight, looksup and down the chain of command to examine how and why the abuse tookplace. It is not a new line of inquiry; a 2005 PBS “Frontline” documentarywent over the same ground and also concluded that responsibility for theexcesses trickled upward all the way to Washington.

But the raw material never ceases to shock. How is it that a government thattook such bold steps to reinterpret the Geneva Conventions and update therules of combat did not pay closer attention to how its policy changes werecarried out on the ground? The Pentagon didn’t even manage to shield theworst excesses from public view.

The power of photography was yet another forgotten lesson of Vietnam, onerelatively easy for the military to have remembered. If school principalscan ban cellphones from the classroom, it seems strange — or reckless — thatgenerals did not apply the same common sense and forbid cameras insidetop-security cellblocks.


The New York Times

February 22, 2007
Mugabe Gets Ready to Eat Cake While Fellow Zimbabweans Can’t Find Bread onShelves

JOHANNESBURG, Feb. 21 — President Robert G. Mugabe of Zimbabwe turned 83 onWednesday to the strains of the song “God Bless President Mugabe” onstate-controlled radio, along with an interview on state television, a16-page paean to his rule in Harare’s daily newspaper and the prospect of agrand birthday party — costly enough to feed thousands of people for months,his critics argued — on Saturday.

Zimbabwe’s economy is so dire that bread vanished from store shelves acrossthe country on Wednesday after bakeries shut down, saying government pricecontrols were requiring them to sell loaves at a loss. The price controlsare supposed to shield consumers from the nation’s rampant inflation, whichnow averages nearly 1,600 percent annually.

In Harare, the capital, the police banned demonstrations and politicalgatherings in the city’s sprawling townships on Wednesday, citing the threatof looting and vandalism. Slum dwellers clashed with policemen on Sundayafter the police blocked a court-approved rally by political opponents ofMr. Mugabe.

His critics called the ban an act of desperation, and some said thatZimbabwe’s deepening economic crisis was beginning to goad citizens intopolitical action despite the threat of arrest and beating.

“It’s a sign of panicking by the regime,” Lovemore Madhuku, who leads thenation’s largest civic organization, the National Constitutional Assembly,said in a telephone interview from Harare. “It’s also a signal that thisregime will go down fighting. They’re showing that they will continue torely on brute force to stay in power.”


The New York Times

February 22, 2007

New York Tops 8 Big Cities in Taxes, Study Shows

New York City has long had a notorious reputation for high taxes, but anofficial analysis released yesterday shows just how much the city stands outin this regard: State and local taxes swallow $9.02 out of every $100 inhousehold and business income, putting New York’s tax burden far above thoseof the eight other American cities with populations over one million.

The city’s Independent Budget Office, which prepared the report, is widelyseen as the authoritative source of nonpartisan fiscal and economic analysisfor New York. The office tackled the same issue in a 2000 report, withsimilar findings, but this time, it factored in state taxes in comparing thenation’s largest cities.

The new analysis attributed much of the disparity between New York and theother cities to the exceptionally high costs New Yorkers bear for Medicaid,the health insurance program for the poor that is run by the federal andstate governments but partly financed by the city.

The average state and local tax burden for the other eight cities in theanalysis was $6.16 of every $100 in gross taxable resources. Philadelphia($7.16) came in a distant second to New York, and Los Angeles ($6.88) camein third, according to the report.

The analysis considered total tax burdens — not the way they aredistributed — so it cannot be used to calculate whether a family would payless in taxes outside of the city. Nonetheless, the findings were seized onby politicians and others who have raised alarms about the tax burdens NewYorkers face, through a city income tax that tops out at 3.65 percent and astate income tax with a ceiling of 6.95 percent, along with property andsales taxes.

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