Friday, December 14, 2007

NATIONAL & WORLD DIGEST December 14, 2007

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So Many Presidential Debates, So Little Concern Shown for Cities

December 14, 2007

In mid-October, I noted that the Democrats and Republicans had held 17 or sopresidential debates (the number can vary, depending on who's counting), butthat with all the gabbing they managed not to focus on America's cities.

Well, two months have passed, and that observation is no longer valid.

The candidates have now held 25 or so debates without talking about urbanissues.

Someone ought to alert the Guinness people. For sidestepping matters ofdirect concern to more than 80 percent of the population - people living inmetropolitan areas - this has to be some kind of record.

The grievance is hardly new. But it is glaring this time around because ofthe large number of candidates who you'd think would have cities and theirsuburbs high in their minds. Look at them: former mayors of New York Cityand Cleveland, a senator from New York, a former community organizer out ofChicago.

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Vatican defends duty to evangelize and accept converts

By Philip Pullella
Friday, December 14, 2007; 8:22 AM

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Church on Friday defended its"right and duty" to spread its message to non-believers and to welcomeconverts, particularly from other Christian churches.

A document from the Vatican's doctrinal department also rejected chargesfrom some quarters that spreading the faith and receiving converts amountedto proselytism, or seeking new members aggressively or through coercion.

The document comes after the Russian Orthodox Church accused Catholics oftrying to poach souls in the former Soviet Union and as a growing number ofAnglicans are converting to Catholicism following deep divisions in theirown Church.

The 19-page "Note on Some Aspects of Evangelisation," was written by theVatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Pope Benedictheaded until his election as pontiff in 2005.

Evangelisation, the document said, was "an inalienable right and duty, anexpression of religious liberty ...," adding that the right to share one'sown faith with others is not respected in some countries.

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Archbishop: No change over gay bishop

Posted on Fri, Dec. 14, 2007

The archbishop of Canterbury said Friday he will not reverse his decision toexclude a gay U.S. bishop from joining other bishops at a global Anglicangathering next year.

Archbishop Rowan Williams' office said he had also not changed his mindabout refusing an invitation to Martyn Minns, a traditionalist U.S. priestwho was consecrated as a bishop in the Church of Nigeria.

Williams said he has also recruited professional help in trying to reachgreater understanding between the U.S. Episcopal Church and its critics bothat home and abroad. Williams' office was unable to say immediately whetherany invitations had been extended or accepted.

In his Advent message to leaders of Anglican national churches, Williamssaid Episcopal Church pledges of a moratorium on confirming any more gaybishops or on approving blessings of homosexual unions have not beenaccepted by all parts of the communion.

"Given the differences in response to the Episcopal Church revealed in theresponses of the primates, we simply cannot pretend that there is now aready-made consensus on the future of relationships between (the EpiscopalChurch) and other provinces," Williams said. "Much work remains to be done."

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The last Iowa debate (Thank God!)

The Democrats have their final pre-caucus debate, and it's just as dull asWednesday's Republican dud. When Mike Huckabee tells Elizabeth Edwards adebate is boring, it's boring.

By Walter Shapiro
Dec. 14, 2007

When Elizabeth Edwards arrived at the private jet terminal here Thursdaymorning for the last Democratic debate before the Iowa caucuses, she raninto Mike Huckabee waiting to take off after having survived Wednesday'sRepublican face-off. Chatting with the Iowa Republican front-runner, sheasked what to expect, since both debates, sponsored by the Des MoinesRegister, had the same moderator. Huckabee responded with an impolitic buton-target description: "It's pretty boring."

With America locked in pit-bull political polarization, there are few topicsthat can unite the parties other than a shared agreement that both DesMoines Register debates were duds. The mid-afternoon Democratic main eventwas less a clash of issues and images than an opportunity for all sixcandidates to recite their favorite lines from their stump speeches and TVcommercials. It was déjà vu time even though the caucuses are still threeweeks away.

To anyone who has been listening -- and that group decidedly includes IowaDemocrats who plan to attend the caucuses -- there was little that was new.Hillary Clinton, practicing the politics of empathy, talked about how Iowans"feel as though they're standing on a trap door. They are one pink slip, onemissed mortgage payment, one medical diagnosis away from falling through."Barack Obama called the struggle to halt global warming "a moralimperative." And John Edwards brandished a disarming smile as he railedagainst "corporate power and greed."

A long-term ripple effect from a debate can be significant even if thereporters huddled in the press room are baffled about what should be theheadline of the day. But monitoring Thursday's 5 p.m. local newscasts on WOI(ABC) and KCCI (CBS) failed to reveal a sound-bite consensus. The onlymemorable line shown at the top of the hour on either station was BillRichardson's paean to the first caucus state: "What I like best about Iowansis that you like underdogs. And you like to shake things up. You don't likethe national media and the smarty-pants set telling you who's going to bethe next president."

Audible on the tape of Richardson's "underdog" crack was Clinton's signaturelaugh. But judging from the news coverage of her own campaign on WOI,Clinton may have little to laugh about. The debate recap segued into an ABCreport about divisions in the Clinton camp over whether to become moreaggressive toward Obama and Edwards. This was followed by the news that BillShaheen, the husband of former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, resignedas national co-chair of the Clinton campaign after suggesting that Obama'syouthful cocaine usage would be a political liability if he were thenominee.

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The New York Times

At Bali Climate Conference, Signs of Compromise

December 15, 2007

NUSA DUA, Indonesia - Countries gathering at a United Nations conference onclimate change looked to be heading for a landmark agreement Friday on adeadline for negotiations to reduce the world's greenhouse gases, officialssaid.

The tenor of the conference improved markedly from Thursday when, amidgrowing frustration with the United States, European nations threatened toboycott separate talks proposed by the Bush administration in Hawaii nextmonth.

Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the United Nations FrameworkConvention on Climate Change, which is playing host to the meeting, and whoon Thursday raised serious concerns about the slow pace of the talks, saidthat countries were "on the brink of agreement."

"It's not actually all that much that is outstanding," he said. "People areworking very hard to resolve outstanding issues."

The countries seemed to be nudging toward a deal on the plan for furthernegotiations over the next two years, although a final agreement was notexpected until later Friday or in the early hours of Saturday morning.

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The New York Times

Editorial: Notes From the Global War on Terror

December 14, 2007

During the presidential campaign, candidates from both parties will warn ofthe risk of another terrorist attack on this country. Americans shouldinsist that they also explain how they will repair the damage President Bushhas done to America's intelligence-gathering capabilities in the name offighting terrorism.

Congress certainly has not done the job. For six years, it stood by mutelyor actively approved as President Bush's team cooked the books to justifywar, drew the nation's electronic spies into illegal wiretapping and turnedintelligence agents and uniformed soldiers into torturers at outlaw prisons.

Now, with the opposition party in control on Capitol Hill, lawmakers have achance to start setting right some wrongs in these areas. But there aredisturbing signs that they will once again fail to do what is needed.

EAVESDROPPING After the disclosure that Mr. Bush had authorized the NationalSecurity Agency to eavesdrop on Americans' international phone calls ande-mail messages without a court warrant, Congress has been struggling towrite a law that does three important things: force the president to obeythe 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA; preserve the powerof judges to approve and monitor surveillance of Americans; and update FISAto keep pace with technology. Last summer, Congress gave Mr. Bush a billthat had the needed updates but made it easier to spy on Americans.

That law expires in February, and the House has passed a bill that updatesFISA while doing a great deal to ensure real judicial and Congressionaloversight of any eavesdropping. The Senate Judiciary Committee also wrote abill that does those things - with a sensible two-year expiration date.

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The New York Times

Op-Ed Columnist: After the Money's Gone

December 14, 2007

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve announced plans to lend $40 billion tobanks. By my count, it's the fourth high-profile attempt to rescue thefinancial system since things started falling apart about five months ago.Maybe this one will do the trick, but I wouldn't count on it.

In past financial crises - the stock market crash of 1987, the aftermath ofRussia's default in 1998 - the Fed has been able to wave its magic wand andmake market turmoil disappear. But this time the magic isn't working.

Why not? Because the problem with the markets isn't just a lack ofliquidity - there's also a fundamental problem of solvency.

Let me explain the difference with a hypothetical example.

Suppose that there's a nasty rumor about the First Bank of Pottersville:people say that the bank made a huge loan to the president's brother-in-law,who squandered the money on a failed business venture.

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The New York Times

Editorial: Say It Ain't So, Roger, and Barry, and . . .

December 14, 2007

Yesterday's report from the former Senator George Mitchell makes itinescapably clear that major league baseball is permeated with awin-at-all-costs drug culture that has spread far beyond a handful ofall-star performers. Most everyone knew that Barry Bonds, holder of thecareer home-run record, was being tried for perjury after denying that heused steroids. But it is dismaying to find that dozens of other players werealso implicated in the report as users of performance-enhancing drugs,including the redoubtable Roger Clemens, who won the Cy Young award a recordseven times, and seven winners of baseball's most valuable player award.

Only the most die-hard devotee of superhuman records can fail to recognizethe damage done by steroids, human growth hormone and other drugs to thesport of baseball and to individual players. There is the health toll, asbodies break down after prolonged drug usage. There is the unfairness, aschemically enhanced athletes compete against those who rely solely on theirown abilities. There is the perversion of baseball heroes as role models,with the tragic result that hundreds of thousands of high school athleteshave been taking steroids, believing that they are the road to fame andriches.

And for legions of history-minded fans, there is the increasing meaninglessof baseball records. How does one compare the apparently drug-enhancedproduction of home runs by Mr. Bonds and Mark McGwire with the likelycleaner achievements of Babe Ruth, Roger Maris or Hank Aaron? Is Mr.Clemens, who denies the allegations, to be considered, not an iron man, buta sorry amalgam of chemicals?

There is plenty of blame to go around for this travesty. Commissioners andowners desperate to attract fans were far too willing to look the other way.Players intent on gaining an edge were all too eager to turn to chemicals.And their players' union adamantly opposed rigorous testing and penaltiesfor two decades.

Only in recent years, as the extent of the scandal began to emerge, hasbaseball adopted penalties that seem stronger than those in otherprofessional sports, though far weaker than the Olympic standards.

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The New York Times

Editorial Observer: Campaigns Like These Make It Hard to Find a Reason toBelieve

December 14, 2007

As I watched Mitt Romney tie himself into a constitutional knot as he arguedthat religion should provide a guide for public policy but not be used tochoose a president, it made me suspect that all the candidates in the race -republican and Democratic - must believe that I lack some essential virtue.

I'm an atheist. When people trot out the well-worn John Adams quote, "OurConstitution was made only for a moral and religious people," I can't helpfeeling squeezed out of the polity. Mr. Romney was trying to soundecumenical. But speeches like his confirm the impossibility for an atheistto be elected to national office in this country. Any atheist with politicalambitions would have to drop the atheism first.

Atheists have solid reasons not to believe. We don't need a divine being toexplain the natural world, and don't know why we should trust claims abouthumankind's divine origins because they are in religious texts. Give "2001:A Space Odyssey" a thousand years and who knows what might happen.

Yet believing for tactical reasons has a long intellectual pedigree.

It is a variation of Pascal's wager - one of the most famous arguments inthe philosophy of religion. Articulated by the 17th-century Frenchphilosopher and gambler Blaise Pascal, it posits that rational people shouldbelieve in God even if it is impossible to prove whether He exists, simplybecause it is a better bet.

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The New York Times

Holier Than They
Tags: Christianity, politics and religion

December 13, 2007, 9:09 pm

For years, the left - and moderates - permitted the right to frame itself asthe sole custodian of "family values" in the United States. It was only whenvast numbers of American families woke up to the fact that they were notbeing valued at all - that, in fact, they were being fleeced - thatnon-conservatives shook themselves into a sentient state and began to talkabout replacing empty words with substantive promises about health care,child care and college aid.

Now a similar thing is happening with religion. We are, we've repeatedlybeen told in the past week, in the grip of a faith war. There has been a lotof interesting discussion of Mormonism and Evangelical Protestantism, aboutMitt Romney and Mike Huckabee outdoing themselves to appeal to Christianconservatives, and about John McCain's belief in a "Christian nation." Therehas been dismay about a political moment in which it seems a candidate mustpass a religious litmus test to gain national viability. There have beencomparisons to John F. Kennedy, talk of the Founding Fathers, of theseparation of church and state, and of how the Puritans' rather intolerantvision of religious freedom continues to trickle down to our day.

But one line of questioning, it seems to me, is missing. One point of viewis inexpressible, taboo. I am not referring to atheism - the one beliefsystem that clearly had no place in the vision of America Romney painted inhis much-anticipated speech on faith last week. Rather, I'm thinking of thenow entirely muted issue of whether the basic ethical foundations of Romney,Huckabee et al's political views truly are "Christian" - in thegood-neighborly sense of the word.

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The New York Times

U.S. Falters in Terror Case Against 7 in Miami

December 14, 2007

MIAMI - One of seven indigent men charged with plotting to blow up the SearsTower in Chicago as part of an Islamic jihad was acquitted on Thursday, anda mistrial was declared in the prosecution of the six others after the jurysaid it was hopelessly deadlocked.

The outcome was a significant defeat for the Bush administration, which haddescribed the case as a major crackdown on homegrown terrorists.

Officials had acknowledged that the defendants, known as the Liberty CitySeven for the depressed section of Miami where they frequently gathered in arundown warehouse, had never acquired weapons or equipment and had posed noimmediate threat. But, the officials said, the case underscored a need forpre-emptive terrorism prosecutions.

In acquitting Lyglenson Lemorin, 32, a Haitian immigrant who was cast by theprosecution as a junior foot soldier in the group, the jurors were compelledby evidence that suggested he had tried "to distance himself" from theothers, Jeffrey Agron, the jury foreman, said outside the courthouse.

Mr. Lemorin had split with the group's leader, Narseal Batiste, 33, andmoved to Atlanta months before the seven were arrested last year, accordingto The Associated Press.

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The New York Times

School Recess Gets Gentler, and the Adults Are Dismayed

December 14, 2007

MONTVILLE, Conn. - Children at the Oakdale School here in southeasternConnecticut returned this fall to learn that their traditional recess hadgone the way of the peanut butter sandwich and the Gumby lunchbox.

No longer could they let off their youthful energy - pent up from hours oflong division - by cavorting outside for 22 minutes of unstructured play, orperhaps with a vigorous game of tag or dodgeball. Such games had beenvirtually banned by the principal, Mark S. Johnson, along with kickball,soccer and other "body-banging" activities, as he put it, where knees - andfeelings - might get bruised.

Instead, children are encouraged to jump rope, play with Hula Hoops orgently fling a Frisbee. Balls are practically controlled substances,parceled out under close supervision by playground monitors.

The traditional recess, a rite of grade school, is endangered not only inthe Oakdale School here in Montville, a town of 18,500. From Cheyenne, Wyo.,to Wyckoff, N.J., recess - long seen as a way for children to develop socialcompetence, recharge after long lessons, and resist obesity - is beingrethought and pared down.

In the face of this, a national campaign called Rescuing Recess, sponsoredby such organizations as the Cartoon Network, the National Parent TeacherAssociation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the NationalEducation Association, has taken hold at many schools where parents andchildren fear that recess will go the way of the one-room schoolhouse.

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The Washington Post

Plan B For Pelosi And Reid

By E. J. Dionne Jr.
Friday, December 14, 2007; A39

Congressional Democrats need a Plan B.

Republicans chortle as they block Democratic initiatives -- and accuse themajority of being unable to govern. Rank-and-filers are furious that theirleaders can't end the Iraq war. President Bush sits back and vetoes at will.

Worse, Democrats are starting to blame each other, with those in the Housewondering why their Senate colleagues don't force Republicans to engage ingrueling, old-fashioned filibusters. Instead, the GOP kills bills by comingup with just 41 votes. Senators defend themselves by saying that their Housecolleagues don't understand how the august "upper" chamber works these days.

If Bush's strategy is to drag Congress down to his low level of publicesteem, he is succeeding brilliantly. A Post-ABC News poll released thisweek found that only 33 percent of Americans approved of Bush's handling ofhis job -- and just 32 percent felt positively about Congress's performance.The only comfort for Democrats: The public dislikes Republicans in Congress(32 percent approval) even more than it dislikes congressional Democrats (40percent approval).

The Democrats' core problem is that they have been unable to place blame forgridlock where it largely belongs, on the Republican minority and thepresident.

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The Washington Post

Code Huckabee

By Eugene Robinson
Friday, December 14, 2007; A39

Is the thought of Mike Huckabee as president just vaguely scary? Or have welearned enough about the man that we should be hair-on-fire alarmed at theprospect, still pretty remote, that he could actually win?

True, none of his opponents for the Republican nomination inspires muchconfidence. And it's amusing to see how thoroughly Huckabee vexes, confoundsand unnerves the Republican establishment. You could even argue that theparty deserves him. But the nation doesn't.

Rudy Giuliani, who has led in the national polls for most of the year, seemsto want to deal with the rest of the world the way he dealt with thesqueegee men and crackhead muggers who once plagued New York; potentially --and this is hard to believe -- he could lower our standing in the worldbeyond even the depths to which George W. Bush has brought us. But at leastGiuliani, when pressed, admits to harboring fairly cosmopolitan andenlightened views on domestic issues such as abortion, immigration and guncontrol.

Mitt Romney, who led in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire for months, hasdisavowed the moderate positions he took on those wedge issues when he wasgovernor of Massachusetts. And down at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson -- whofamously distrusted organized religion -- must have been whirring like aturbine at Romney's declaration that "freedom requires religion." But all ofRomney's pandering still hasn't managed to dispel the notion that, beneaththe rhetoric, he's probably a pretty reasonable guy.

Not so with Huckabee, who has defined himself, basically, as anti-reason.

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The Washington Post

Crackup in Bolivia?
Evo Morales's attempt to push through a constitutional rewrite threatens tosplit the country.

Friday, December 14, 2007; A38

VENEZUELAN President Hugo Ch¿vez may have been forced to concede defeat ina constitutional referendum this month, but his eccentric project toaccumulate power lives on. Mr. Ch¿vez, who according to multipleindependent reports announced the vote against his "Bolivarian revolution"only under pressure from the Venezuelan military, has already said he willtry again. Meanwhile, two of his populist followers, in Bolivia and Ecuador,are pressing ahead with copycat constitutional coups. Ecuador's RafaelCorrea and Bolivia's Evo Morales both say their aim is to give more powerand resources to poor and indigenous people. As with Mr. Ch¿vez, thattranslates in practice into the aggregation of presidential powers and theremoval of current limits on their tenures in office.

The power grabs were breeding stiff resistance even before Venezuelansdemonstrated that Mr. Ch¿vez's "21st-century socialism" could be rebuffed.Now the focus has shifted to Bolivia -- where Mr. Morales has provoked aprovincial rebellion that some fear could lead to a civil war.

A former coca farmer who has allowed himself to be overtly tutored by Mr.Ch¿vez, Mr. Morales convened a constitutional convention 16 months ago,only to see it stall because of strong opposition to his radical proposalsto redistribute property and wealth and to potentially make himselfpresident-for-life. Last month, his followers responded by voting through aconstitutional draft at a meeting that excluded the opposition; the actionprovoked demonstrations in which at least three people died. On Sunday, thedocument was given final approval by another rump session that ignored alegal requirement that a two-thirds majority of the convention vote infavor.

Leaders of four of the six Bolivian provinces with elected oppositiongovernors responded by announcing a plan to declare autonomy tomorrow. Theresistance is centered in Santa Cruz, Bolivia's richest city and the centerof the country's energy industry. Having just presented the opposition witha fait accompli, Mr. Morales had the nerve to call the autonomy proposals"illegal, unconstitutional and separatist," and his interior ministerthreatened to use force against the provinces.

Mr. Morales would be better off absorbing the lesson just taught to Mr.Ch¿vez -- that Latin Americans aren't willing to give up their freedoms fora strongman's socialism. He has proposed holding a referendum on his owntenure in power next month; he should hold it, and put his divisiveconstitution on hold.


The Washington Post

House Passes Bill to Ban CIA's Use of Harsh Interrogation Tactics

By Joby Warrick and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 14, 2007; A07

The House approved legislation yesterday that would bar the CIA from usingwaterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics, drawing an immediateveto threat from the White House and setting up another political showdownover what constitutes torture.

The measure, approved by a largely party-line vote of 222 to 199, wouldrequire U.S. intelligence agencies to follow Army rules adopted last yearthat explicitly forbid waterboarding. It also would require interrogators toadhere to a strict interpretation of the Geneva Conventions on the treatmentof prisoners of war. The rules, required by Congress for all DefenseDepartment personnel, also ban sexual humiliation, "mock" executions and theuse of attack dogs, and prohibit the withholding of food and medical care.

The passage of the bill, which must still win Senate approval, fulfills apromise by House Democratic leaders to seek a ban on interrogation practicesthat have prompted the condemnation of human rights groups and manygovernments around the world. It comes amid a furor over the CIA'sannouncement a week ago that it destroyed in 2005 videotapes showing the useof harsh interrogation tactics on two terrorism suspects.

The White House vowed to veto the measure. Limiting the CIA to interrogationtechniques authorized by the Army Field Manual "would prevent the UnitedStates from conducting lawful interrogations of senior al Qaeda terroriststo obtain intelligence needed to protect Americans from attack," the Officeof Management and Budget said in a statement.

Key Republicans also opposed the measure. Rep. Peter Hoekstra (Mich.), theHouse intelligence committee's ranking GOP member, said applying theunclassified Army Field Manual to all interrogations would give terroristgroups full knowledge of U.S. interrogation techniques.

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The Washington Post

Bali Talks Yield Some Progress on Global Climate Pact

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 14, 2007; 11:34 AM

NUSA DUA, Indonesia, Dec. 14 -- International negotiators continued to meetaround the clock Friday, making some headway in their effort towardachieving a new global climate pact by the end of 2009, including agreementon a deal to protect the world's tropical forests.

In an evening press conference, U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer toldreporters that delegates were "on the brink of agreement," havingestablished what developed countries must do to confront a warming earth.Negotiators were still exploring how to define the role of developingcountries in the upcoming climate negotiations, which will culminate inCopenhagen two years from now.

"People are working very hard to resolve outstanding issues," de Boer said."The only question is how long is it going to take to get, how long we willhave to stay up to wait for it."

While negotiators have not fully resolved whether industrialized countriesshould pledge to aim for a 25 to 40 percent emissions cut by 2020, accordingto participants in the talks, they made initial progress today byestablishing a process to help compensate poor nations for preserving theirtropical forests. Without divulging the details, European Union environmentminister Stavros Dimas said of the forest package, "It is a good balance,and is one of the substantial achievements of this conference."

While aides continued to finalize the text of the forest package throughoutthe day, officials said it would ensure the next climate agreement -- whichwill run between 2012 and 2016 -- would aim to reduce the greenhouse gasemissions that arise from the burning and logging of forests worldwide.

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The Washington Post

Forwarded from Ron Mills

Lawmakers vote to hold Bolten and Rove in contempt

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted on Thursday to hold two top aides toPresident George W. Bush in contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperatein its probe of fired federal prosecutors. On a largely party-line vote of11-7, the Democratic-led panel sent contempt citations against White HouseChief of Staff Josh Bolten and former Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove to thefull Senate for consideration.

For Updates Check:


Pew Research center

Go to the website, above, for the following articles:

As Controversy Heats Up, Hispanics Feel a Chill
The 2007 National Survey of Latinos finds that Hispanics in the U.S. arefeeling a range of negative effects from increased public attention andstepped up enforcement measures. Just over half of all Hispanic adults inthe U.S. worry that they, a family member or a close friend could bedeported, and nearly two-thirds say the failure of Congress to enact animmigration reform bill has made life more difficult for all Latinos.

With Feds Stuck, States Tackle Immigration
If you need any proof of how divided America is on immigration, look at itsstate capitols. State lawmakers have taken widely divergent approaches todealing with an influx of immigrants; some are rolling out welcome matswhile others are slamming shut their doors.

How the World Sees China
Rising anti-Americanism in recent years has given China a decided imageadvantage over the U.S. But Pew polling suggests that perceptions of China'sincreasing military and economic power could boost anti-Chinese sentiment inyears to come.

Health Problems, Priorities and Donors Worldwide
The new Kaiser/Pew Global Health Survey compares the health priorities ofpeople in developing nations with those of their governments and theinternational organizations that work in global health.

Oprah Boosts Obama's Visibility; Republicans Applaud Romney Speech
This week's News Interest Index survey finds that awareness of Oprah Winfrey's
support for Barack Obama is equally high across parties, genders and racialgroups. The leading Republican candidates continue to lag behind Obama andClinton in public visibility, while Mitt Romney's speech about his faith andpolitics draws mixed reviews overall but generally favorable views amongRepublicans and GOP-leaners.

South Korea's Coming Election Highlights Christian Community
The fact that the presidential frontrunner is a Protestant Church leaderhighlights the growing numbers, influence and religious intensity of SouthKorea's Christians. Some 30% of South Korea's population now identifies asChristian, and growth in South Korean Christianity has been fueled at leastin part by the rapid spread of pentecostal varieties of Protestantism.

83%: Support Public Christmas Displays
More than eight-in-ten Americans say that displays of Christmas symbols suchas nativity scenes and Christmas trees should be allowed on governmentproperty -- as long as they are part of a display that includes symbols ofother faiths and holiday traditions. Check back every weekday for anothernumber in the news.


NEW from DIRELAND, December 13

Iowa's leading newspaper excluded both Congressman Dennis Kucinich andSenator Mike Gravel from the debate among the Democratic presidentialcandidates it sponsored today. I told them off -- to read my Letter to theEditor, and find out how you can protest too, click on:


December 13, 2007

Mark Elliott: 727-215-9646


Today, the New Jersey State Legislature voted to repeal that state'sDeath Penalty. "This vote is a victory for law enforcement officers,prosecutors, crime victim's advocates and taxpayers," states MarkElliott, Executive Director of Floridians for Alternatives to the DeathPenalty.

The overwhelming and bipartisan vote to repeal New Jersey's DeathPenalty came after study, discussion and deliberation - and afterhundreds and hundreds of hours of testimony from police, prosecutors,murder victims' family members and others.

Their testimony was heard by a special commission, appointed tothoroughly study the pros and cons of the Death Penalty - and torecommend what measures could be taken to fix the state's Death Penaltystatutes. The commission was made up of victims' rights advocates,county prosecutors and other members of law enforcement, a retired NewJersey Supreme Court justice and many others.

The study found that there was no "fix" for the Death Penalty. It foundthat it is a deeply flawed public policy. The commission further foundthat the Death Penalty squanders millions in tax dollars, does notserve a legitimate purpose such as crime deterrence, delays healing forthe loved ones of murder victims and, despite many safeguards, carriesno guarantee against our worst nightmare - the execution of an innocentperson.

After reviewing testimony of colossal costs (over $10 million a year),lack of deterrence, risk of executing innocents and detrimental effectson murder victims families, the New Jersey Legislature decided to shiftthe valuable resources spent pursuing executions over to programs forthe survivors of homicide victims and support for law enforcement.



The Washington Post

OPEC sees risks to economy, easing pressure on oil prices

Friday, December 14, 2007; 6:46 AM

LONDON (Reuters) - OPEC said on Friday there were risks an economic slowdowncould worsen in 2008 and forecast that weaker growth and easing politicaltension could take the heat out of near-record oil prices.

OPEC, in its December Monthly Oil Market Report, estimated world economieswill grow by 4.8 percent next year, down from 5.2 percent in 2007, and saidthere were "considerable downside risks" to the outlook.

"Prospects for 2008 are increasingly clouded by the expected slowdown in theU.S. economy and other OECD regions, and by continued turbulence infinancial markets in the wake of the deepening subprime mortgage crisis,"the report said.

"The improving geopolitical situation and slowing economic outlook shouldhelp to further ease the pressure on the market."

OPEC also forecast world oil demand would grow by 1.3 million barrels perday next year, steady from the previous estimate and much lower than someprojections.

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Boston Globe

Some voters hear body language of candidates clearly
Hints of intent, character can be communicated

By Joanna Weiss, Globe Staff | December 14, 2007

The talking heads gab about front-runners and wannabes, attacks made anddeflected, answers carefully parsed. But when Newbury Street hairstylistMario Russo watches the Democratic presidential debates, he looks atsomething different: body language.

Senator Hillary Clinton carries herself with an uncanny stillness, Russosaid: "She pretty much keeps the same stance all the way through. It'salmost as if she's set in clay." Senator Barack Obama, now rising in thepolls, "is much more animated and open . . . He gestures with his wholeupper body." It's a sign of personality and confidence, Russo said. "I thinkit influences people a great deal."

In Kingston, N.H., retired engineer Bob Morse said he has watched Republicandebates with a similar goal: finding subtle signals of character and intent.He thinks Rudy Giuliani seems to want the job of president, that FredThompson seems to want it handed to him, that Mitt Romney wants it so badlythat it's becoming a bit of a problem.

"I feel a little disconnected," Morse said of Romney's debate performances."I feel like I'm getting a political, well-thought-out, politically correctanswer or statement, rather than what's on his mind."

It goes to show what challenges the candidates have faced as they haveapproached each presidential debate: They've had to hone their messages,stake out their positions, but also come across as accessible and human. Andin this candidate-filled, schedule-challenged political season, they've hadto do it more often than usual. Between the two political parties,candidates have taken part in 22 debates this year, including this week'smidday debates in Johnston, Iowa, sponsored by the Des Moines Register - thefinal two debates before the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3.

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Boston Globe

NEWS ANALYSIS: At final outing, a reluctance to sling mud

By Peter S. Canellos, Globe Staff | December 14, 2007

WASHINGTON - Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, who rose to the top of theIowa caucus polls by preaching change and uplift, dialed himself down a bityesterday in the last debate before the voting starts on Jan. 3.

Obama was thoughtful and presidential, offering wonky details on the "capand trade" plan to fight carbon emissions, the potential savings to Medicareof bringing obesity back to 1980 levels, and how many US corporationsregister in the Cayman Islands to avoid taxes.

He also struck a judicious tone, warning that parents should play a role ineducation by turning off TVs and telling their children to "put down thevideo game"; he later attested to his colleague Joe Biden's commitment tocivil rights after Biden got hit with a question about some insensitivestatements about race.

Obama has never been a particularly vivid presence in the debates, butyesterday he was boring with a purpose: convincing voters he was no flash inthe pan, no meteor headed for a crash landing. His sober, seriousperformance did him no harm.

His main rival, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, had a complementaryagenda, seeking to add a little more inspiration and uplift to her campaign,which has been sagging in some polls.

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The Washington Post

An Overdose of Public Piety

By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, December 14, 2007; A39

Mitt Romney declares, "Freedom and religion endure together, or perishalone." Barack Obama opens his speech at his South Carolina Oprah rally with"Giving all praise and honor to God. Look at the day that the Lord hasmade." Mike Huckabee explains his surge in the polls thus: "There's only oneexplanation for it, and it's not a human one. It's the same power thathelped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000people."

This campaign is knee-deep in religion, and it's only going to get worse.I'd thought that the limits of professed public piety had already beenachieved during the Republican CNN-YouTube debate when some squirrellylooking guy held up a Bible and asked, "Do you believe every word of thisbook?" -- and not one candidate dared reply: None of your damn business.

Instead, Giuliani, Romney and Huckabee bent a knee and tried appeasementwith various interpretations of scriptural literalism. The right answer, theonly answer, is that the very question is offensive. The Constitutionprohibits any religious test for office. And while that proscribes onlygovernment action, the law is also meant to be a teacher. In the same waythat civil rights laws established not just the legal but also the moralnorm that one simply does not discriminate on the basis of race -- changingthe practice of one generation and the consciousness of the next -- so theconstitutional injunction against religious tests is meant to make citizensunderstand that such tests are profoundly un-American.

Now, there's nothing wrong with having a spirited debate on the place ofreligion in politics. But the candidates are confusing two arguments. Thefirst, which conservatives are winning, is defending the legitimacy ofreligion in the public square. The second, which conservatives are bound tolose, is proclaiming the privileged status of religion in political life.

A certain kind of liberal argues that having a religious underpinning forany public policy is disqualifying because it is an imposition of religionon others. Thus, if your opposition to embryonic stem cell research comesfrom a religious belief in the ensoulment of life at conception, you'resomehow violating the separation of church and state by making other peoplebend to your religion.

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The Washington Post

Labor Board Under Attack
Democratic Critics Allege Anti-Worker Stance

By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 14, 2007; D01

Democrats escalated attacks on the National Labor Relations Board at acongressional hearing yesterday, accusing the panel's Republican majority ofturning the nation's labor laws "inside out" by making it harder for workersto form unions.

In an unusual public airing of ideological differences, NLRB Chairman RobertJ. Battista, a Republican appointed by President Bush, sparred withDemocrats, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and fellowboard member Wilma B. Liebman, over interpretation of the nation's NewDeal-era labor laws.

Battista was challenged to defend a string of decisions that have favoredmanagement. The rulings cover technical procedures that unions use toorganize, as well as remedies, such as back pay, that the board can orderwhen companies illegally try to stop union campaigns.

"Our critics' prognostications that the NLRB system is broken and has becomea tool of corporate interest are simply false," Battista said in preparedremarks. "Unions are winning a majority of representation elections." Underquestioning, Battista said the board was focusing on what employees want,not on the demands of unions or companies.

Labor unions have become increasingly frustrated with the NLRB's rulingssince Bush took office. They say the board, made up of three Republicans andtwo Democrats, has removed large categories of workers from coverage by theNational Labor Relations Act, including nurses, teaching assistants atprivate colleges and temporary employment agency employees. They say theboard has made it more difficult for workers to win back pay or otherremedies when employers unlawfully try to block organizing drives.

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The Washington Post

Hispanics Feeling Heat Of Immigration Debate
Survey Finds Majority Feel Vulnerable

By N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 14, 2007; A22

Regardless of their immigration status, Hispanics across the United Statesare feeling anxious and discriminated against amid the intensifying debateover immigration and stepped-up enforcement by authorities, according to astudy of the nation's largest minority group released yesterday.

More than half of the 2,003 Hispanic adults surveyed by the nonpartisan PewHispanic Center said they worry that they or a close friend or family membermight be deported, and nearly two-thirds believed that Congress's failure topass a bill restructuring immigration law this year has made life moredifficult for all Latinos.

"What we have here is a portrait of a population that is feeling vulnerablein the current political and policy climate," said Paul Taylor, actingdirector of the Pew Hispanic Center. "And what's interesting is that it'snot just true of the foreign born but of the native born, including manypeople who have been here for generations."

Though the federal government has substantially increased enforcementactions such as workplace raids over the past five years, the numbersarrested through such actions remain infinitesimal compared to the almost 8million undocumented immigrants in the workforce.

Nonetheless, noted Taylor, "as part of tried and true enforcement policy, anumber of raids in the last year or so have been very high profile. . . . Soin some ways, the actual numbers [arrested] may underestimate the changedreality as it is perceived by people in the Latino community."

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