Sunday, February 25, 2007

NATIONAL & WORLD DIGEST February 25, 2007

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The New York Times

February 25, 2007
Al Qaeda Resurgent

Almost five and a half years ago, America — united by the shock of 9/11 — understood exactly what it needed to do. It had to find, thwart and take down the command structure of Al Qaeda, which was responsible for the deaths of 3,000 innocent people on American soil. Despite years of costly warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq, America today is not significantly closer to that essential goal.

At a crucial moment, the Bush administration diverted America’s military strength, political attention and foreign aid dollars from a necessary, winnable war in Afghanistan to an unnecessary, and by now unwinnable, war in Iraq. Al Qaeda took full advantage of these blunders to survive and rebuild. Now it seems to be back in business.

As our colleagues Mark Mazzetti and David Rohde reported last week, American intelligence and counterterrorism officials believe that Al Qaeda has rebuilt its notorious training camps, this time in Pakistan’s loosely governed tribal regions near the Afghan border. Camp graduates are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq — and may well be plotting new terrorist strikes in the West.

The same officials point to more frequent and more current videos as evidence that Al Qaeda’s top leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri — once on the run for their lives and unable to maintain timely communications with their followers — now feel more secure. Al Qaeda is not as strong as it was when its Taliban allies ruled Afghanistan. But, the officials warn, it is getting there.

Al Qaeda’s comeback didn’t have to happen. And it must not be allowed to continue. The new Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan do not operate with the blessing of the Pakistani government. But Pakistan’s military dictator, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has not tried very hard to drive them out. In recent months he has virtually conceded the tribal areas to local leaders sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

President Bush needs to warn him that continued American backing depends on his doing more to rid his country of people being trained to kill Americans.


The New York Times

February 25, 2007
The Truth About Coal

Last Wednesday, members of the Rainforest Action Network, a scrappy little advocacy group, assembled in New York outside the Citigroup Center, where Merrill Lynch has a branch office.

Dressed in top hats, carrying bags of coal and calling themselves “Billionaires for Coal,” the group was protesting what it felt was the hypocrisy of a giant investment bank that proclaims a devout commitment to “environmental excellence” even as it provides financing for dirty power plants.

Merrill is a lead underwriter for TXU, a Dallas-based utility that plans to build a dozen coal-fired power plants in Texas that will add significantly to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, the main global warming gas. Though Merrill was the protesters’ target, Citigroup must have been feeling queasy. It has also trumpeted its environmental virtues and is among TXU’s lead underwriters.

There are at least two points to be made here. One, obviously, is there is a difference between talk and reality. Much of corporate America now appears to be out in front of the Bush administration in facing up to global warming. Some big players like Pacific Gas and Electric and DuPont seem seriously committed to mandatory controls on carbon dioxide emissions — in sharp contrast to the administration’s voluntary approach.

Others, notably big investment banks, are still doing what comes naturally: seizing opportunities, whether or not those opportunities fit their green posturing. TXU can fairly claim that its plants, outfitted with the latest technology, will emit fewer pollutants that cause smog and acid rain than the clunkers that have been around for 50 years. But these plants will still be using the same basic technology — burning coal, with no ability to capture and dispose of immense amounts of carbon dioxide. That’s distressing from a global warming perspective. It is also distressing because cleaner, if costlier, technologies are available that could capture greenhouse gases before they enter the atmosphere (that is, if TXU or the private equity group that is negotiating to buy the utility were willing to make the investment).


The New York Times

February 25, 2007
Real Tests for Real Children

The No Child Left Behind Act required the states to raise educational standards and test student performance, in exchange for federal aid. But things have not worked as Congress planned.

Instead of moving toward the educational excellence that the country needs to compete in the global economy, many states opted for dumbed-down tests and deliberate sleight of hand to create the fraudulent appearance of

As a result, states that perform well with their own watered-down exams do shockingly poorly when their students take the far more rigorous federal test known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress. A report this month by the bipartisan Commission on No Child Left Behind highlights this problem and calls for the development of more rigorous tests and national standards in reading, language arts, math and science.

States would then be offered the options of embracing the national standards and tests, building new ones based on the national model or keeping their existing standards and tests. States that chose not to embrace the national standards would have to submit their tests and standards to federal evaluation — to see how they compare to the national model — and the results would be reported to parents and the general public.

This proposal, which would have been shot down in previous years, is finding a great deal of sympathy in Congress. That is good news, given the work that has to be done to ensure that all of America’s children can compete in the world.


The New York Times

February 25, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
Where Were You That Summer of 2001?

“UNITED 93,” Hollywood’s highly praised but indifferently attended 9/11 docudrama, will be only a blip on tonight’s Oscar telecast. The ratings rise of “24” has stalled as audiences defect from the downer of terrorists to the supernatural uplift of “Heroes.” Cable surfers have tuned out Iraq for a war with laughs: the battle over Anna Nicole’s decomposing corpse. Set this cultural backdrop against last week’s terrifying but little-heeded front-page Times account of American “intelligence and counterterrorism officials” leaking urgent warnings about Al Qaeda’s comeback, and ask yourself: Haven’t we been here before?

If so, that would be the summer of 2001, when America pigged out on a 24/7 buffet of Gary Condit and shark attacks. The intelligence and counterterrorism officials back then were privately sounding urgent warnings like those in last week’s Times, culminating in the President’s Daily Brief titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” The system “was blinking red,” as the C.I.A. chief George Tenet would later tell the 9/11 commission. But no one, from the White House on down, wanted to hear it.

The White House doesn’t want to hear it now, either. That’s why terrorism experts are trying to get its attention by going public, and not just through The Times. Michael Scheuer, the former head of the C.I.A. bin Laden unit, told MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann last week that the Taliban and Al Qaeda, having regrouped in Afghanistan and Pakistan, “are going to detonate a nuclear device inside the United States” (the real United States, that is, not the fictional stand-in where this same scenario can be found on “24”).

Al Qaeda is “on the march” rather than on the run, the Georgetown University and West Point terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman told Congress. Tony Blair is pulling troops out of Iraq not because Basra is calm enough to be entrusted to Iraqi forces — it’s “not ready for transition,” according to the Pentagon’s last report — but to shift some British resources to the losing battle against the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.


The New York Times

February 25, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
‘They Think They’ve Been Cursed by God’

President Bush’s budget request this month proposes that the U.S. cut spending on global maternal and child health programs to $346 million, or just $1.15 per person in the U.S.

To understand what the cuts mean, meet Simeesh Segaye.

Ms. Simeesh, a warm 21-year-old Ethiopian peasant with a radiant smile, married at 19 and quickly became pregnant. After she had endured two days of obstructed labor, her neighbors carried her to a road and packed her into a bus, but it took another two days to get to the nearest hospital.

By then the baby was dead. And Ms. Simeesh awakened to another horror: She began leaking urine and feces from her vagina, a result of a childbirth injury called obstetric fistula.

Ms. Simeesh’s family paid $10 for a public bus to take her to a hospital that could repair her fistula. But the other passengers took one whiff of her and complained vociferously that they shouldn’t have to share the vehicle with someone who stinks. The bus driver ordered her off.


The New York Times

February 25, 2007
Christian Right Labors to Find ’08 Candidate

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24 — A group of influential Christian conservatives and their allies emerged from a private meeting at a Florida resort this month dissatisfied with the Republican presidential field and uncertain where to turn.

The event was a meeting of the Council for National Policy, a secretive club whose few hundred members include Dr. James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family, the Rev. Jerry Falwell of Liberty University and Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. Although little known outside the conservative movement, the council has become a pivotal stop for Republican presidential primary hopefuls, including George W. Bush on the eve of his 1999 primary campaign.

But in a stark shift from the group’s influence under President Bush, the group risks relegation to the margins. Many of the conservatives who attended the event, held at the beginning of the month at the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island, Fla., said they were dismayed at the absence of a champion to carry their banner in the next election.

Many conservatives have already declared their hostility to Senator John McCain of Arizona, despite his efforts to make amends for having once denounced Christian conservative leaders as “agents of intolerance,” and to former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York, because of his liberal views on abortion and gay rights and his three marriages.

Many were also suspicious of former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts; members have used the council as a conduit to distribute a dossier prepared by a Massachusetts conservative group about liberal elements of his record on abortion, stem cell research and gay rights. (Mr. Romney has worked to convince conservatives that his views have changed.)


The New York Times

February 24, 2007
Pressure on Romney to Firmly Address Mormon Faith
Filed at 8:15 p.m. ET

BOSTON (Reuters) - As he seeks to become the first Mormon U.S. president, Republican Mitt Romney faces a dilemma in courting conservative Christians who often dismiss his religion as a cult but now could decide his political fate.

Should he address his religion head-on in a speech, as John F. Kennedy did in 1960 to Texas Baptists while campaigning to become the first Roman Catholic U.S. president?

Or should he resist debate over a religion that evangelicals, who are key to winning the Republican primaries, often view with suspicion?

``It's a delicate balance, but I don't think the strategy of ignoring this is going to work,'' said Boston University professor Julian Zelizer. ``At the moment he seems not to accept it as a legitimate issue and hopes that it goes away.''

The Harvard-educated former Massachusetts governor has cast himself as a more conservative alternative to favorites John McCain, an Arizona senator, and Rudolph Giuliani, the former New York mayor.

That pitch is complicated by his inconsistency on social issues such as gay rights and abortion rights, which he once supported but now opposes, and misconceptions about Mormonism and its history of racism and polygamy.


The Washington Post

Al Gore, Rock Star
Oscar Hopeful May Be America's Coolest Ex-Vice President Ever

By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 25, 2007; A01

LOS ANGELES -- In the annals of vice presidential history, tonight will be something different. In his black tux, the man known to his most fervent fans as "The Goracle" will arrive by hybrid eco-limo and, surrounded by fellow Hollywood greenies Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio, will stroll down the red carpet at the Academy Awards to answer the immortal question: "Al, who are you wearing?"

What a year it has been for Al Gore and his little indie film.

"An Inconvenient Truth," the 100-minute movie that is essentially Gore giving a slide show about global warming, is the third-highest-grossing documentary ever, with a worldwide box office of $45 million, right behind blockbusters "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "March of the Penguins."

"AIT," as Team Gore calls it, is also the hot pick tonight for Best Documentary, and if its director, Davis Guggenheim, wins an Oscar, he plans to bring Gore along with him to the stage to accept the golden statuette and perhaps say a few words about . . . interstitial glacial melting? (More likely, Gore will deliver a favorite line about "political will being a renewable resource.")

In the year since his film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, to a standing ovation, Gore has gone from failed presidential contender -- and a politician who at times gave new meaning to the word cardboard -- to the most unlikely of global celebrities.


The Washington Post

How to Keep America Competitive

By Bill Gates
Sunday, February 25, 2007; B07

For centuries people assumed that economic growth resulted from the interplay between capital and labor. Today we know that these elements are outweighed by a single critical factor: innovation.

Innovation is the source of U.S. economic leadership and the foundation for our competitiveness in the global economy. Government investment in research, strong intellectual property laws and efficient capital markets are among the reasons that America has for decades been best at transforming new ideas into successful businesses.

The most important factor is our workforce. Scientists and engineers trained in U.S. universities -- the world's best -- have pioneered key technologies such as the microprocessor, creating industries and generating millions of high-paying jobs.

But our status as the world's center for new ideas cannot be taken for granted. Other governments are waking up to the vital role innovation plays in competitiveness.

This is not to say that the growing economic importance of countries such as China and India is bad. On the contrary, the world benefits as more people acquire the skills needed to foster innovation. But if we are to remain competitive, we need a workforce that consists of the world's brightest minds.


The Washington Post

Growing A Third Party

By David S. Broder
Sunday, February 25, 2007; B07

Somewhere in America, there are 35,000 people looking at the preliminaries to the 2008 presidential race from a different perspective than that of millions of their fellow citizens.

They are the people who have signed up so far to participate in Unity08, the effort to launch a bipartisan third-party campaign with the first Internet nominating convention in history. I wrote about this unusual venture when it was launched last year by Hamilton Jordan and Jerry Rafshoon, both formerly of Jimmy Carter's White House; Angus King, the former independent governor of Maine; and Douglas Bailey, a veteran Republican consultant and political adviser.

I contacted Bailey recently to ask what had happened to this bold gamble, and he was the source of that 35,000 figure for the number of people who have lent support to the scheme. They obviously have a long way to go before they can claim to be a viable political force, but they are making slow, steady progress.

When I called Bailey, it had been just a week since the group announced that anyone who was interested could sign up at as a voting delegate to a national convention planned for June 2008. Most of the sign-ups came before that formal start, Bailey said, in response to last year's publicity about the formation of Unity08.

"The need [for a third party] is as great as it's ever been," Bailey said. "The partisan bickering in Washington continues nonstop, and the contest for the nominations in both parties is likely to make it worse."


The Washington Post

One Cold War Was Enough

By Sergei Lavrov
Sunday, February 25, 2007; B07

There has been much misinterpretation in the West since President Vladimir Putin's recent speech at the Munich Conference on Security Policy. From the reaction of some Western journalists and politicians, one would think that the Russian president wished to ignite a blast of anti-American rhetoric to spark another Cold War. Defense Secretary Robert Gates got it right when he responded by asserting that "one Cold War was quite enough." Indeed it was, so let's not declare -- or look for a pretext to declare -- a new one. At a time when Russia is ready and eager to play a positive role in world affairs and integrate into the global economy, it does far more harm than good to treat Russia as a hostile nation whenever Moscow and Washington disagree.

What Putin actually said in Munich was not new. He said nothing that we have not discussed directly with the Bush administration and that is not whispered in political circles in Europe and elsewhere. He made these statements at a conference because he wanted to get the world's attention to begin a dialogue about what kind of world we want for our children and ourselves.

Putin believes, as do many others, that the world cannot be dictated to by a single country. History shows that this has been attempted repeatedly but has never worked. Recent unilateral actions have not resolved problems but actually exacerbated them and created new hotbeds of tension.

If you read the president's entire speech, you will see that Putin was neither attacking the United States nor proposing Russia as a counterbalance to U.S. unilateralism. Instead, he called for a world with many centers of influence where different interests work together, multilaterally, to shape a common denominator on global issues. The recent six-nation agreement on North Korea's nuclear program proves that this pragmatic approach can work.

In fact, Putin offered more instances of mutual agreement between the United States and Russia than examples of discord. As he noted, we are strong partners on counterterrorism and nuclear nonproliferation. We have a commonstake in ensuring global energy security as agreed to at the Group of Eight summit last July in St. Petersburg.

Our American colleagues tell us that the United States needs Russia and other key countries to help resolve numerous regional conflicts. Against this background, America's unilateral actions look puzzling. It's also ironic that Putin's speech was deemed threatening. Russian citizens ask themselves: Who threatens whom? With the Warsaw Pact dissolved for more than 15 years, why does NATO still spread toward Russian borders? What should Russia believe when the United States seeks to place anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe? And instead of joining efforts to counter global threats, should our two countries really be engaged in searching for deficiencies in each other's domestic life?


The Washington Post

Stuck in the Mud
How Can the GOP Get Moving Again? Drop the Dirty Politics and Get Real.

By Frank Luntz
Sunday, February 25, 2007; B01

"Don't be afraid to see what you see," Ronald Reagan once said.

Today, many of his disciples are choosing not to see the obvious. Republicans in Congress cannot regain their majority merely by relying on a coalition of traditional conservatives and evangelicals.

They must reach out to what I call "the fed-ups" -- a large and growing constituency of independent voters who have held the balance of power in every election since 1992, and will hold it again in 2008.

It was only 14 years ago that nearly 20 million voters rejected both Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush in favor of H. Ross Perot, a little man with big ears and a big idea. Perot's principal claim on their allegiance in the presidential election of 1992 was his insistence that government should be competent, sensible and honest about its finances. His supporters were mad as hell and weren't going to take it anymore. Those voters -- 19 percent of the electorate -- demonstrated that there was a potent political movement of fed-up Americans.

Two years later, millions of Perot voters switched to the Republicans and helped them grab control of Congress. They stayed with the GOP for a decade because the party represented "good government." But red ink budgets, earmarked appropriations for bridges to nowhere, endless ethics scandals and a debacle of a war made them mad once again. In 2006 they deserted the GOP in droves and turned control of Congress back to the Democrats.

How incredible that the antidote to what ails the Republicans can be found in the words of a famous Democrat. In his tragic run for the presidency in 1968, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy said, "Some men see things as they are and say, 'Why?' I dream of things that never were and say, 'Why not?' " The magnificent poetry of that challenge -- to do more and to do better -- is at the core of who we are as a society, what we want for America and for ourselves. Here is the reason why the Republican Party has faded from relevance in the past two years.


The New York Times
February 25, 2007
Back at the Brink,
Chrysler Finds Fewer Friends
DAIMLERCHRYSLER always seems to outdo itself at the Detroit auto show, andthis year was no exception. The company showcased celebrities like the popsinger Seal and the chef Bobby Flay, and then generated a fresh round ofbuzz via an artificial ice rink (its surface carefully scuffed to keepvisitors from slipping) that it built to show off its legendaryMercedes-Benz line.For DaimlerChrysler itself, however, the corporate mood was just as cold asthe ice.
Although the German auto giant’s chief executive, Dieter Zetsche,shook hands warmly with each of about two dozen journalists who came to apress briefing at last month’s car fest, he grew unusually frosty when askedabout the future of Chrysler, its struggling American brand. “We are inrecovery mode again,” he acknowledged.Less than six weeks later, on Valentine’s Day, Mr. Zetsche announced thatDaimlerChrysler was keeping all options open as it tries to tackle itsChrysler problems.
At least one of those options involves a possible sale:the company recently retained JPMorgan Chase to scout for a buyer willing totake Chrysler off its hands, most likely at a bargain-basement price.Suddenly, it seems like 1979 all over again: Chrysler is in crisis, withsales falling, costs rising and cars piling up on dealer lots. But thistime, there is one big difference: No one is talking about agovernment-financed bailout to give Chrysler another chance — in partbecause it is no longer an American icon.
Chrysler is not “too big to fail,” as it was described then, its tens ofthousands of well-paying union jobs too vital to lose. It is now a vestigialpart of a sector of the economy — manufacturing — that does not loom aslarge in the nation’s consciousness. “It is a new world,” said Ron Pinelli,the president of Autodata in Woodcliff Lake, N.J., which tracks industrystatistics. “If Chrysler disappeared, would anyone’s life change, except forthe people that work for the company?”
Chrysler’s rebound from its near-death experience of the late ’70s is thestuff of legend. It survived back then by closing plants and persuading itsremaining workers to accept pay cuts, among other things; then it repaid thegovernment aid, with interest, well ahead of schedule. As recently as twoyears ago, the company was the money-spinning master of hot cars like the300C and the PT Cruiser.
The Washington Post
Murtha Stumbles on Iraq Funding Curbs
Democrats Were Ill-Prepared for Unplanned Disclosure,
Republican Attacks
By Jonathan Weisman and Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 25, 2007; A05
The plan was bold: By tying President Bush's $100 billion war request tostrict standards of troop safety and readiness, Democrats believed theycould grab hold of Iraq war policy while forcing Republicans to defendsending troops into battle without the necessary training or equipment.But a botched launch by the plan's author, Rep. John P. Murtha (Pa.), has united Republicans and divided Democrats, sending the latter back to the drawing board just a week before scheduled legislative action, a score ofHouse Democratic lawmakers said last week.
"If this is going to be legislation that's crafted in such a way that holdsback resources from our troops, that is a non-starter, an absolutenon-starter," declared Rep. Jim Matheson (Utah), a leader of theconservative Blue Dog Democrats.Murtha's credentials as a Marine combat veteran, a critic of the war andclose ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) were supposed to make himan unassailable spokesman for Democratic war policy. Instead, he has becomea lightning rod for criticism from Republicans and members of his own party.
Freshman Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), a retired Navy admiral who was propelledinto politics by the Iraq war, said Murtha could still salvage elements ofhis strategy, but Sestak, an outspoken war opponent, is "a bit wary" of aproposal that would influence military operations.
The Miami Herald
Posted on Sun, Feb. 25, 2007
Court decorum falls victim to TV cameras
Anthony Kennedy had only delayed his Senate testimony a few days, a Broward County probate court would have provided the Supreme Court justicewith stupefying evidence: his worst fears come true.Justice Kennedy warned the Senate Judiciary Committee on Valentine's Daythat television cameras in the hallowed chambers of the United StatesSupreme Court ``would not behelpful.
''He worried, ''It would change our dynamic.'' TV would ``alter the way we hear our cases, the way we talk to counsel, the way in which we talk to each other, the way we use that precious [time].
''PROBATE TURNED TABLOID Just a week later, in a less hallowed setting, the nation watched aghast as television demonstrated just how thoroughly it can explode a courtroom dynamic. Into smithereens. The staid, respectable proceeding of probate lawgave way to a TV realityshow governed with less legal rationale than an episode of Jerry Springer.
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