Saturday, January 19, 2008



Bay Area United Against War Statement in Response to IVAW

"In response to the Iraq Veterans Against the War Open Letter to the antiwar movement: We oppose any demand on the movement to refrain from mobilizing against the war. This demand has hurt the struggle in the United States to end the war. We support all actions of the movement to end the U.S. war on, and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. We urge the whole movement to come together to organize unified protest actions."


2017 Mission St (@ 16th), San Francisco


**Please circulate this message widely**

Take action right now to defend free speech rights!

Dear Linda,

At a public meeting called by the National Park Service on Saturday, January 12 in Washington, D.C., representatives from the Partnership for Civil Justice, ANSWER Coalition, Nicaragua Network, Grassroots America, and others demanded that there be no new restrictions placed on the right of the people to access the National Mall for free speech activities.

The National Park Service (NPS) is undertaking an initiative similar to that launched to exclude protests from New York City's Great Lawn. It will be used to further restrict or ban protest on the Mall from current levels. This is a component of a nationwide campaign of corporate-sponsored organizations working in partnership with government entities that claim that protests, rallies and demonstrations harm grass or "green space" or "natural resources" and must therefore be restricted or banned or shunted off to designated protest pits.


Right now, you can email the National Park Service demanding that there be no restrictions on the right of the people to assemble. We have set up an easy to use mechanism that will allow your message to be sent to the National Parks Service:

United States Government: National Park Service
614 H St NW, Washington, DC 20024 - (202) 619-7159

It is urgent that people around the country take action to stop the plan of the Bush Administration's Interior Department to obstruct free speech rights for mass assembly protest in Washington, D.C. The Bush White House plans to complete this process and deliver a knockout punch to free speech rights by January, 2009, the very last month that Bush will remain in office.

The National Mall has been associated for decades as the site for mass assembly protest and gatherings. On January 18, 2003, the ANSWER Coalition organized a demonstration of 500,000 prior to the invasion of Iraq. The Nation of Islam led the Million Man March in 1995 on the Mall. The National Organization for Women sponsored the March for Women's Lives bringing more than a million people to the Mall in 2004. A huge gathering for immigrant rights took place on the Mall in 2006 as part of a nation-wide outpouring. From the Bonus Marchers of the early 1930s, to Dr. King's Poor People's March of 1968, and the anti-war Moratorium of 1969, the Mall is the historic anchor for the exercise of free speech rights in the United States.

A lawsuit filed by the Partnership for Civil Justice on behalf of the National Council of Arab Americans and the ANSWER Coalition successfully overturned regulations in New York City that were used to prevent mass assembly protest in the Great Lawn of Central Park during the Republican National Convention. Those planning changes to the use and access to the National Mall have stated that they see structure used to restrict use of the Great Lawn as a model for their activities.

The NPS has set up a "public-private" partnership that allows business interests and real estate developers -- in coordination with the government -- to determine the future of the National Mall.

The Jan. 12 public meeting was intended to have low attendance to allow the government to claim public involvement while simultaneously excluding it. When confronted with the fact that they had done no legitimate outreach about the public meeting to the hundreds of thousands of people who have actually used the National Mall, the President of the Trust for the National Mall responded that she had sent notice to the Board of Trade! The NPS issues 3,000 permits a year for the use of the National Mall, but there has been no effort to notify any of those organizations about the proposed changes. Their attempt to exclude people from this process could not be more clear.

At the hearing the officials tried to quiet the outraged voices of the people, to change the topic of discussion, and to dismiss their concerns. They did, however, keep saying, just send us a message on-line. That is what we are asking everyone to do today.

The government is trying to end the public "comment" period by February 1, 2008. The ANSWER Coalition also demanded at the hearing that the sham process of the NPS be halted. We demanded that a moratorium be declared so that the people of this country can be able and informed to weigh in with their opinion. The National Mall belongs to the people. Click this link to send your message to the National Park Service

Please tell a friend about this important fight for free speech by forwarding this email by clicking this link.


Help us in this fight to keep the National Mall open for the exercise of free speech. We are undertaking a major organizing initiative to counter the government's plans. The ANSWER Coalition has an unwavering commitment to defend the free speech rights and civil liberties of the people of this country. But this challenge, which ranges from the streets to the courtrooms, requires significant funds, and we simply cannot do it without your help. Please click this link to make your donation right now


A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition
National Office in Washington DC: 202-544-3389
New York City: 212-694-8720
Los Angeles: 213-251-1025
San Francisco: 415-821-6545
Chicago: 773-463-0311


Support GI Resistance!
Help stop the war... Support of U.S. war resisters currently seeking sanctuary Canada. What you can do today:
1. Attend or organize an event on January 25-26
2. Sign the "Dear Canada" letter (if you have not already)
3. Hold a house party to show "Breaking Ranks"
4. Use these resources to get friends involved
January 25-26 U.S.-Canada Actions
Courage to Resist

On Friday, Jan. 25, community members will hold vigils and delegations to Canadian Consulates in Washington D.C., NYC, Seattle, SF, LA and elsewhere.

"Army of None" Pacific Northwest Tour
Co-author David Solnit and Seattle Chapter President of Iraq Veterans Against the War Chanan Suarez Diaz at events this week in Tacoma, Olympia, and Vancouver BC.

Oakland, CA Benefit Book Release Event Jan. 17
Col. Ann Wright (ret.) presents her new book "Dissent: Voices of Conscience" with special guests Daniel Ellsberg and Cindy Sheehan at Oakland, CA Courage to Resist benefit.

Sign the letter "Dear Canada: Let U.S. War Resisters Stay!" at:

January 25-26 Events: "Let Them Stay!"

There is still time to organize a delegation to a Canadian Consulate near you or hold vigils or other public events that day, or the following day Saturday, January 26 in support of war resisters.

Let us know what you are planning. Send events to

Friday January 25

Keith Mather, David Solnit, Father Louis Vitale, Steve Grossman, Gerry Condon, Jacqueline Cabasso, Jeff Paterson, Evangeline Mix comprise similar delegation to Canadian Consulate on 5/15/06 in San Francisco. Photo Bill Carpenter

Consulate General of Canada
580 California Street, San Francisco
(four blocks north of Montgomery St BART)
Noon to 1 pm vigil, 1 pm delegation
Sponsored by Courage to Resist
Info: , 510-488-3559



For more information contact:
Robert Manning (925)787-3354

BlogFest to Memorialize Molly Ivins and Demand an End to War in Iraq

WHAT: Raise Hell for Molly Ivins BlogFest.

WHERE: Grace Cathedral, 1100 California Street in San Francisco.

WHEN: Thursday, January 31st, 2008, from 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM. (the one-year anniversary of Molly Ivins' passing.)

WHO: The BlogFest is being produced by The Raise Hell for Molly Ivins Campaign ( The campaign was inspired by Molly Ivins' words about the war in Iraq, in her last column before her passing. - "Raise hell...Hit the streets...We need people in the streets banging pots and pans and demanding END IT, NOW!"

PURPOSE: This special event will honor the memory of Molly Ivins and carry on her legacy of activism through the Raise Hell for Molly Ivins Campaign, which is organizing people across the United States to demand that Congress act to end the war in Iraq and stop an attack on Iran.

PROGRAM: The BlogFest will feature continuous blogging by activist bloggers and the public, the signing of an on-line petition, and a live netcast of the event. The evening's program will begin with an Interfaith Ceremony, followed by a Labyrinth Walk for Peace, the announcement of the Winner of "The Ballad of Molly Ivins" Songwriting Contest, a video presentation on Molly Ivins' life, a Memorial Pledge to Molly Ivins, by the event's participants, to work tirelessly to end the war in Iraq and stop an attack on Iran, and music and poetry performances.

HOW: People can participate in the BlogFest by adding their comments to the activist blogs during the event. They can also sign the on-line petition and participate in the "Pots and Pans Protests" on the third Friday of the month, to tell their local representatives and senators who voted for the surge and the on-going funding for the war in Iraq to change their vote or lose at the ballot box. The "Pots and Pans Protests" are held on the third Friday of the month to coincide with the monthly events of the Iraq Moratorium.

TICKETS: Tickets are $10.00 with no one turned away for lack of funds. Tickets are available at the door beginning at 5:45 PM. Advanced tickets are available by calling The Raise Hell for Molly Ivins Campaign at (925) 787-3354.


Honoring Mumia Abu-Jamal and His Friends - Fighters for Freedom
Dennis Bernstein, Lynne Stewart, Michael Franti,and others...
Sunday, February 3, at 2:00pm
ILWU Local 34 Hall, 4 Berry Street, San Francisco

Dear Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal,

The struggle to Free Mumia is in high gear. With considerable media coverage and interest being generated with the showing of the interview on The Today Show with Maureen Faulkner and the mobilization of Mumia's supporters to ensure the truth about the case was televised, to the amazing new evidence of crime scene manipulation (all of which is viewable on the Mobilization's website), we think 2008 has the potential of making real gains in winning Mumia's freedom.

We proudly announce a very special event: On Sunday, February 3, at 2:00pm the Mobilization is sponsoring a gathering: Honoring Mumia Abu-Jamal and His Friends - Fighters for Freedom, with Dennis Bernstein, producer of KPFA's Flashpoints, Lynne Stewart, attorney falsely convicted of conspiracy to aid and abet terrorism, Michael Franti, performing artist and a founder of Power to the Peaceful concert festivals, International Longshore and Warehouse Union, who shut down the West Coast ports to free Mumia, Barbara Lubin, Director, Middle East Children's Alliance, Jonathan Richmond, singer/songwriter and Aundre Herron, attorney and comedienne - "Wonderwoman", and many others. The event will take place at the ILWU Local 34 Hall, 4 Berry Street, San Francisco, just to the left (East) of the Pac Bell/Monster Baseball Stadium (plenty of free parking and Muni Metro accessible). The event will start at 2:00pm, sliding scale of $10-$15, no on turned away for lack of funds. We will show The Today Show program and people can stay afterwards for an information gathering (and Super Bowl watching).

We don't have much time to building the event - please post to your email lists and tell everyone you know.

Please attend the next Mobe meeting, which is on Saturday, January 12, 2008, 10:30 am at 625 Larkin near Eddy, San Francisco. Remember to press #202 to be buzzed in. That's the office of the Freedom Socialist Party.

We will be organizing for several important upcoming events at which we'll pass out leaflets for our February 3rd meeting, include the Demonstration to Defend Reproductive Rights and Roe v. Wade (Saturday, January 19th, 10:30am at Justin Herman Plaza, Market and Embarcadero in San Francisco) and at the annual Martin Luther King Day events (Monday, January 21).

See you at the Mobe meeting this Saturday, January 12th at 10:30 am, 625 Larkin Street, at Eddy in San Francisco.

End the Death Penalty!

Laura Herrera and Jeff Mackler, Co-coordinators
The Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
[ The Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal is supporting this event and encourages you to publicize it and attend. - Howard Keylor (for the LAC) ]


2017 Mission St (@ 16th), San Francisco





A ruling by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on Mumia's case, based on the hearing in Philadelphia on May 17th 2007, is expected momentarily. Freeing Mumia immediately is what is needed, but that is not an option before this court. The Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal calls on everyone who supports Mumia‚s case for freedom, to rally the day after a decision comes down. Here are Bay Area day-after details:


14th and Broadway, near the Federal Building
4:30 to 6:30 PM the day after a ruling is announced,
or on Monday if the ruling comes down on a Friday.

Oakland demonstration called by the Partisan Defense Committee and Labor Black Leagues, to be held if the Court upholds the death sentence, or denies Mumia's appeals for a new trial or a new hearing. info at (510) 839-0852 or


Federal Courthouse, 7th & Mission
5 PM the day after a ruling is announced,
or Monday if the decision comes down on a Friday

San Francisco demo called by the Mobilization To Free Mumia,
info at (415) 255-1085 or

Day-after demonstrations are also planned in:

Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver
and other cities internationally.

A National Demonstration is to be held in Philadelphia, 3rd Saturday after the decision

For more information, contact: International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal,;
Partisan Defense Committee,;
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition (NYC),;


World-renowned journalist, death-row inmate and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal is completely innocent of the crime for which he was convicted. Mountains of evidence--unheard or ignored by the courts--shows this. He is a victim, like thousands of others, of the racist, corrupt criminal justice system in the US; only in his case, there is an added measure of political persecution. Jamal is a former member of the Black Panther Party, and is still an outspoken and active critic of the on-going racism and imperialism of the US. They want to silence him more than they want to kill him.

Anyone who has ever been victimized by, protested or been concerned about the racist travesties of justice meted out to blacks in the US, as well as attacks on immigrants, workers and revolutionary critics of the system, needs to take a close look at the frame-up of Mumia. He is innocent, and he needs to be free.




In 1995, mass mobilizations helped save Mumia from death.

In 1999, longshore workers shut West Coast ports to free Mumia, and teachers in Oakland and Rio de Janeiro held teach-ins and stop-works.

Mumia needs powerful support again now. Come out to free Mumia!

- The Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
PO Box 16222, Oakland CA 94610




1) On Education
A Queens High School With 3,600 Students, and Room for Just 1,800
January 16, 2008

2) Square Feet
Worry in Michigan as Forests Change Hands
January 16, 2008

3) Genetic Study Bolsters Columbus Link to Syphilis
January 15, 2008

4) Anti-war groups retreat on funding fight
By: Ryan Grim
Jan 17, 2008 06:03 AM EST

5) Israel Closes Gaza Borders
January 19, 2008

6) Gates Seeks Troop Estimates
January 18, 2008

7) Facing Deportation but Clinging to Life in U.S.
January 18, 2008

8) Ex-Hospital Patients File Lawsuit Over the Status of Health Care Services in New Orleans
January 18, 2008

9) Legal Immigrants Facing a Longer Wait
January 18, 2008

10) Antidepressant Studies Unpublished
January 17, 2008

11) Deal Fees Under Fire
Amid Mortgage Crisis
By Liam Pleven and Susanne Craig
From The Wall Street Journal Online

12) Mortgage Company Exec Jumps to Death
Friday, January 18, 2008
(01-18) 17:20 PST Marlton, N.J. (AP) --

13) Good Jobs Are Where the Money Is
Op-Ed Columnist
January 19, 2008

14) Fixing a Budget at the Toll Booth
January 19, 2008

15) Israeli Strike Kills 2 Hamas Members
January 20, 2008

16) Detainee’s Lawyers Rebut C.I.A. on Tapes
January 19, 2008

17) The Food Chain
A New, Global Oil Quandary: Costly Fuel Means Costly Calories
January 19, 2008

18) Work Is Afoot to Take the Free Out of Freeway
January 19, 2008

19) Job Data Passes Threshold Where Recessions Dwell
January 19, 2008


1) On Education
A Queens High School With 3,600 Students, and Room for Just 1,800
January 16, 2008

From its brass entry doors to its rooftop observatory to the intricate oak paneling of the principal’s office, Richmond Hill High School in Queens was built to inspire something like awe for public education. The only discordant response during the structure’s dedication in 1923 was whether, with a capacity for 1,800 students, it was too large.

Nobody asks that question anymore. Over the past dozen years, Richmond Hill’s most notable architectural accouterment has been the quote-unquote temporary classroom. Twenty-two of these red metal trailers, encased within chain-link fencing, occupy the school’s former yard, evoking the ambience of the Port Elizabeth container-ship terminal.

As for the cargo, that would be the students, faculty members and staff. Richmond Hill currently holds more than 3,600 pupils, twice its supposed limit, and could have 4,000 next fall as other neighborhood high schools in Queens are broken into mini-schools with smaller, more selective enrollments. Andrew Jackson, Springfield Gardens and Franklin K. Lane have already closed; next year, Far Rockaway will, too.

These days at Richmond Hill, the first lunch period starts at 8:59 a.m., class sizes routinely exceed city and state averages and students have four minutes to negotiate hallways that one biology teacher at the school likens to clotted arteries.

The classroom trailers, never meant for more than a decade of nonstop use, need new walls, ceilings and plumbing. One social studies teacher, Peter McHugh, was reduced last year to conducting class while holding an umbrella against a leaky roof.

To a certain extent, the growing enrollment at the school reflects the influx of immigrants from Guyana and the Dominican Republic to the neighborhood. But more broadly, the problem is the outcome of Department of Education decisions to open scores of small, niched schools in the area, close large ones perceived as academic failures and leave the excess students to land in traditional schools like Richmond Hill that, while relatively successful academically, were often overcrowded to begin with. In this version of education reform, it is never hard to tell the winners from the losers.

City education officials do not dispute that Richmond Hill is severely overcrowded. But they predict that as the department builds and opens new small schools, including several in the Queens neighborhood of Corona next fall, students who might otherwise attend Richmond Hill will choose these options, gradually reducing the overcrowding.

Yet Garth Harries, chief executive for portfolio development for the school system, also said the department was “not in a position to say there is a specific target number, but it is a priority to reduce enrollment at Richmond Hill.”

The students and staff at Richmond Hill painstakingly calibrate their own comments. They cite the school’s myriad classes and clubs as a strength; they do not lay blame on the principal, Frances DeSanctis; and they hold Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein responsible for the situation.

“Who decides to treat people this way?” asked Brian Sutton, a dean and special education teacher and a 16-year veteran at Richmond Hill. “You don’t build a school for 1,800 students and stick nearly 4,000 in it. Why? Who would want to do something like that to other human beings? On purpose.”

When Christine Dayao entered Richmond Hill as a freshman in September 2005, she thought the 8:59 a.m. lunch period on her schedule had to be a misprint. “I was freaking out,” said Christine, 16, a junior. “My parents called up the school and said, ‘Is it normal for someone to have lunch that early?’ And they said, ‘At Richmond Hill, yeah.’ ”

To make it through her day, which ended just short of 3:30 p.m., Christine said she “drank a lot of water.” That way, her stomach at least felt full.

THE crowding has only grown worse since 2005. Freshmen take virtually all their classes in the trailers, separating them from the school’s community. When they do walk to and from the main building — for lunch, physical education and science labs — they can easily slip away to cut class.

Within the permanent building, the crowding has created a disciplinary headache. Ninety seconds after each new period begins, deans or teachers make a “hallway sweep” to catch the stragglers. Many of them wind up in detention for little more than having been caught in a human traffic jam.

“Students just have to cope with it,” said Shelleaza Ramdass, 18, a senior. “They don’t feel like they have a choice. That’s what they have to do.”

Richmond Hill received a C grade on its Department of Education report card, and its pupils perform decently on standardized tests. But daily attendance remains at about 80 percent, and the attrition rate from freshman year to senior year is more than 50 percent. It is only fair to wonder how much those numbers reflect the disenchantment or disengagement of students who begin their high school careers in trailers.

Ms. DeSanctis, the principal, has increased team-teaching, particularly in English as a Second Language classes, and has asked the education department to build a direct corridor from the main building to the trailer yard. (She is still waiting for an answer.) It is also possible, however, that next year Richmond Hill will have to extend its class day by one more period so that it will run 7:19 a.m. to roughly 4:15 p.m.

“What I’d love is a brand-new building,” said Ms. DeSanctis, offering her opinion. “What I know is that nobody who has trailers has ever had them removed.”

Samuel G. Freedman is a professor of journalism at Columbia University. His e-mail is


2) Square Feet
Worry in Michigan as Forests Change Hands
January 16, 2008

MARQUETTE, Mich. — Last summer, as land and housing values crumbled in much of Michigan, Northern Michigan Land Brokers and a group of investors completed a $7.3 million deal to buy 7,300 acres of forest and undeveloped land — 80 parcels in all — along several rivers in the Upper Peninsula.

The sale of such a sizable expanse of forest and the modest price per acre were part of an enormous, and for some, worrisome transformation in timberland ownership and use throughout the Upper Peninsula, a territory twice as large as New Jersey, with 312,000 residents, more than 400 wolves and roughly as many counties (15) as stoplights.

Since 2005, more than a million acres of timberland have changed hands, most of it bought by just two owners. The investment firm GMO, based in Boston, purchased 440,000 acres from International Paper, and a Seattle real estate investment trust, the Plum Creek Timber Company, spent $345 million to buy 650,000 acres, the largest sale of timberland ever in the Midwest. Another big owner is the Forestland Group, which entered the Upper Peninsula in 2003 and now owns 550,000 acres.

The big land sales, and hundreds of smaller transactions, have caused many people in the Upper Peninsula to be concerned about changes in their ability to hunt and fish, and thousands of workers in forest product industries worry for their jobs. Others recognize the opportunity to expand the nearly $1 billion annual recreation economy in a region that is steadily losing jobs and nearly 1,000 residents annually.

Forest industry analysts, among them Steven Chercover of D. A. Davidson & Company, a brokerage firm in Portland, Ore., say that trends in the timber industry, land markets and tax policy are promoting the conversion of timberland to development.

Growing numbers of wealthy professionals and baby boomers from Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, Grand Rapids and Traverse City are seeking land for second homes or for relocation, according to an analysis of census and land records by Eric Anderson, a senior Marquette County planner. In addition, buyers are eager to capitalize on the attractive land prices and the near certainty that they will continue climbing steadily.

“People are looking for and finding their slice of heaven,” Mr. Anderson said. “They are willing to come a long way to get it.”

Since Northern Michigan Land Brokers and investors bought the expanse of riverfront from We Energies, a Wisconsin utility, in June, the broker has sold 22 parcels, including a 200-acre block, at roughly $2,000 an acre — twice as much an acre as the company paid — according to Robert Sullivan, the firm’s principal owner.

“There’s been no downturn in land values in this market,” he said in an interview in his downtown office here, while trucks loaded with freshly cut logs rolled by. “We’re different from the rest of the state.”

Indeed, Naterra Land Inc., a recreational land development company, sold five heavily forested lots last year in the Cataract Basin, a wide bend in the Escanaba River about 40 miles south of here.

The company, which has offices in Michigan and four other states, bought 1,360 acres in 2005 from the Upper Peninsula Power Company for an estimated $1,100 an acre. It sold riverfront lots in December in the Cataract Basin for more than $10,000 an acre, and lots off the river for $4,000 to $5,000 an acre, according to county property records.

“The market is strong,” said Scott Cisney, vice president in Naterra’s Marquette office. “People want something in the north woods. They’ve got the funds to do it.”

The biggest landowners are also starting to quietly sell land. Plum Creek sold 1,060 acres last year in Marquette County to 10 buyers. Plum Creek said the sales prices ranged from $800 to $1,400 an acre, for land bought for just over $530 an acre.

“It’s a beautiful business model,” said Kathy Budinick, director for communications at Plum Creek, which owns 8.2 million acres nationwide, more than any other timberland company.

In the first three quarters of 2007, it sold more than 92,000 acres. “We recognize when we buy timberland that the trees and the land are growing in value,” she said. “How many other industries have inventory that appreciates in value?”

A report on corporate land ownership in the Upper Peninsula, published last month by a consortium of universities and nonprofit conservation groups, found that much of the 8.2 million acres of forest owned by big timber management companies, as well as by the state and the federal government, is likely to remain in traditional use for producing lumber and paper and for recreation and wildlife conservation.

But the report, “Large-tract Forestland Ownership Change,” also concluded that the day is approaching when a portion — probably 10 to 20 percent of the 2.1 million acres of commercial forest land owned by corporations — could be developed for housing or recreational use.

Those lands lie along the thousands of wild streams and untouched lakes in the Upper Peninsula, close to existing communities, or near the shore of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.

In other words, those are the places that people want to buy for camps and cabins. Jackie Lykins, an assessment official in Marquette County, booted up her computer and displayed some of the dozens of sizable tracts of timberland — parcels ranging from 40 acres to 400 — that were sold last year to buyers from other states. Most were along streams and around lakes.

Michigan, moreover, has made it economically practical for timberland management companies to plan for development. Its Commercial Forest Act requires companies to pay just $1.20 an acre annually in taxes as long as they manage for timber harvest and allow fishing and hunting.

Mr. Chercover, the industry research analyst, said he was sympathetic to those worried about changes in land use, but he also said that executives were maximizing value for their shareholders. “It’s the future of timberland management,” Mr. Chercover said. “I understand why people who live there don’t like getting priced out of the market by some rich guy from Chicago who can buy 1,000 acres.

“But in the end, the Upper Peninsula will be what it’s always been. A place to hunt and fish and hike and have fun.”


3) Genetic Study Bolsters Columbus Link to Syphilis
January 15, 2008

Columbus, it seems, made another discovery of something that he was not looking for.

In a comprehensive genetic study, scientists have found what they say is the strongest evidence yet linking the first European explorers of the New World to the origin of sexually transmitted syphilis.

The research, they say, supports the hypothesis that returning explorers introduced organisms leading, in probably modified forms, to the first recorded syphilis epidemic, beginning in Europe in 1493.

The so-called Columbus hypothesis had previously rested on circumstantial evidence, mainly the timing of the epidemic. It was further noted that earlier traces of syphilis or related diseases had been few and inconclusive in Europe. Yet nonvenereal forms of the diseases were widespread in the American tropics.

Leaders of the new study said the most telling results were that the bacterium causing sexually transmitted syphilis arose relatively recently in humans and was closely related to a strain responsible for the nonvenereal infection known as yaws. The similarity was especially evident, the researchers said, in a variation of the yaws pathogen isolated recently among afflicted children in a remote region of Guyana in South America.

Researchers who conducted the study and others familiar with it said the findings suggested Columbus and his men could have carried the nonvenereal tropical bacteria home, where the organisms may have mutated into a more deadly form in the different conditions of Europe.

In the New World, the infecting organisms for nonvenereal syphilis, known as bejel, and yaws were transmitted by skin-to-skin and oral contact, more often in children. The symptoms are lesions primarily on the legs, not on or near the genitals.

Kristin N. Harper, a researcher in molecular genetics at Emory University who was the principal investigator in the study, said the findings supported “the hypothesis that syphilis, or some progenitor, came from the New World.”

The examination of the evolutionary relatedness of organisms associated with syphilis was reported on Monday in the online journal Public Library of Science/Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Ms. Harper, a doctoral student in the Emory department of population biology, ecology and evolution, was the lead author. Her co-authors included George J. Armelagos, an Emory anthropologist who has studied the origins of syphilis for more than 30 years, and Dr. Michael S. Silverman, a Canadian infectious diseases physician who collected and tested specimens from yaws lesions in Guyana, the only known site today of yaws infections in the Western Hemisphere.

The researchers said their study “represents the first attempt to address the problem of the origin of syphilis using molecular genetics, as well as the first source of information regarding the genetic makeup of nonvenereal strains from the Western Hemisphere.”

They applied phylogenetics, the study of evolutionary relationships between organisms, in examining 26 geographically disparate strains in the family of Treponema bacteria. Treponema pallidum subspecies pallidum is the agent for the scourge of venereal syphilis. The subspecies endemicum causes bejel, usually in hot, arid climates, and pertenue spreads yaws in hot, humid places.

Della Collins Cook, a paleopathologist at Indiana University who did not participate in the study but specializes in treponemal diseases, praised the research as a “very, very interesting step” advancing understanding of syphilis. “They have looked at a wider range of the genome” of these bacteria, Dr. Cook said, “and have scared up some new samples from parts of the world and the group of related diseases that hadn’t been available to researchers before.”

But she recommended an even broader investigation of the natural history of these diseases, making an effort to find more people with active treponemal cases where they probably still exist in parts of South America. Cases of yaws in Africa and Asia are periodically reported.

John W. Verano, an anthropologist at Tulane, said the findings would “probably not settle the debate” over the origins of venereal syphilis, though most scientists had become convinced that the disease was not transmitted sexually before Europeans made contact with the New World.

Donald J. Ortner, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution, questioned whether the organisms causing the first European epidemic were actually distinct from others in the treponemal family. “What we are seeing is an organism with a long history, and it is very adaptable to different modes of transmission that produce different manifestations,” Dr. Ortner said.

Three medical scientists, responding to the new study, pointed out what they considered shortcomings in its methods and interpretations.

In a critique also published by the online journal, Connie J. Mulligan of the University of Florida, Steven J. Norris of the University of Texas at Houston and Sheila A. Lukehart of the University of Washington wrote that caution “must be used in drawing conclusions about the evolution of ‘subspecies’ that may represent a biological continuum, rather than discrete agents.”

“Firm conclusions should not be based,” for example, on the two samples from one location in Guyana, they added.

But scientists generally agreed that the molecular approach would overcome some limitations of other investigations.

Paleopathologists like Dr. Cook have for years analyzed skeletons for the bone scars from lesions produced by treponemal diseases, except for the mild form called pinta. In this way, they traced the existence of these infections in the New World back at least 7,000 years. But it has often been difficult to determine the age of the bones and distinguish the different diseases that share symptoms but have different modes of transmission.

Dr. Cook said the skeletal evidence for treponemal disease in pre-Columbian Europe and Africa was sketchy and even more ambiguous than in the New World. In the 1990s, scientists reported finding bones in Italy and England, from before Columbus’s return, that bore lesion scars that they said appeared to have been caused by venereal syphilis.

Scientists remain skeptical of this interpretation. If highly contagious venereal syphilis had existed in Europe in antiquity, said Dr. Armelagos, the Emory anthropologist, there should be more supporting epidemiological evidence than two or three skeletons bearing suggestive scars.

In her investigation, Ms. Harper studied 22 human Treponemal pallidum strains. The DNA in their genes was sequenced in nearly all cases, examined for changes and eventually used in constructing phylogenetic trees incorporating all variations in the strains.

An Old World yaws subspecies was found to occupy the base of the tree, indicating its ancestral position in the treponemal family, she said. The terminal position of the venereal syphilis subspecies on the tree showed it had diverged most recently from the rest of the bacterial family.

Specimens from two Guyana yaws cases were included in the study, after they were collected and processed by Dr. Silverman. Genetic analysis showed that this yaws strain was the closest known relative to venereal syphilis.

Ms. Harper’s team concluded that New World yaws belonged to a group distinct from Old World strains, thus occupying the place on the tree more likely to be intermediate between the nonvenereal strains previously existing in Europe and the one for modern syphilis.

If this seemed to solidify the Columbus hypothesis, the researchers cautioned that a “transfer agent between humans and nonhuman primates cannot be ruled out using the available genetic data.”

Dr. Armelagos said research into the origins of syphilis would continue, because “understanding its evolution is important not just for biology, but for understanding social and political history.”

Noting that the disease was a major killer in Renaissance Europe, he said, “It could be argued that syphilis is one of the important early examples of globalization and disease, and globalization remains an important factor in emerging diseases.”


4) U.S. Boosts Its Use of Airstrikes In Iraq
Strategy Supports Troop Increase
By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 17, 2008; A01

The U.S. military conducted more than five times as many airstrikes in Iraq last year as it did in 2006, targeting al-Qaeda safe houses, insurgent bombmaking facilities and weapons stockpiles in an aggressive strategy aimed at supporting the U.S. troop increase by overwhelming enemies with air power.

Top commanders said that better intelligence-gathering allows them to identify and hit extremist strongholds with bombs and missiles, and they predicted that extensive airstrikes will continue this year as the United States seeks to flush insurgents out of havens in and around Baghdad and to the north in Diyala province.

The U.S.-led coalition dropped 1,447 bombs on Iraq last year, an average of nearly four a day, compared with 229 bombs, or about four each week, in 2006.

"The core reason why we see the increase in strikes is the offensive strategy taken by General [David H.] Petraeus," said Air Force Col. Gary Crowder, commander of the 609th Combined Air Operations Center in Southwest Asia. Because the United States has sent more troops into areas rife with insurgent activity, he said, "we integrated more airstrikes into those operations."

The greater reliance on air power has raised concerns from human rights groups, which say that 500-pound and 2,000-pound munitions threaten civilians, especially when dropped in residential neighborhoods where insurgents mix with the population. The military assures that the precision attacks are designed to minimize civilian casualties -- particularly as Petraeus's counterinsurgency strategy emphasizes moving more troops into local communities and winning over the Iraqi population -- but rights groups say bombings carry an especially high risk.

"The Iraqi population remains at risk of harm during these operations," said Eliane Nabaa, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq. "The presence of individual combatants among a great number of civilians does not alter the civilian character of an area."

UNAMI estimates that more than 200 civilian deaths resulted from U.S. airstrikes in Iraq from the beginning of April to the end of last year, when U.S. forces began to significantly increase the strikes to coordinate with the expansion of ground troops.

The strategy was evident last week, as U.S. forces launched airstrikes across Iraq as part of Operation Phantom Phoenix. On Thursday morning in Arab Jabour, southeast of Baghdad, the U.S. military dropped 38 bombs with 40,000 pounds of explosives in 10 minutes, one of the largest strikes since the 2003 invasion. U.S. forces north of Baghdad employed bombs totaling more than 16,500 pounds over just a few days last week, according to officers there.

"The purpose of these particular strikes was to shape the battlefield and take out known threats before our ground troops move in," Army Col. Terry Ferrell, commander of the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, said at a news conference in Baghdad last Friday, describing the Arab Jabour attacks. "Our aim was to neutralize any advantage the enemy could claim with the use of IEDs and other weapons," he said, referring to improvised explosive devices.

Counterinsurgency experts said the greater use of airstrikes meshes with U.S. strategy, which calls for coalition troops to clear hostile areas before holding and then rebuilding them. U.S. forces have put the new counterinsurgency efforts into play by using their increased numbers to home in on insurgent strongholds.

Colin Kahl, a professor of security studies at Georgetown University who studies the Iraq war, said airstrikes rose in 2007 because of a combination of increased U.S. operations and a realization that air power can have a strong psychological effect on the enemy.

"Part of this is announcing our presence to the adversary," said Kahl, who recently returned from a trip to the air operations center. "Across this calendar year you will see a reduction in U.S. forces, so there will be fewer troops to support Iraqi forces. One would expect a continued level of airstrikes because of offensive operations, and as U.S. forces begin to draw down you may see even more airstrikes."

Senior Air Force officials said the greater use of airstrikes stems from better intelligence that provides a clearer picture of the battlefield. Commanders said the additional U.S. forces in Iraq over the past year have pushed insurgents out of urban areas and into places that are easier to target.

"You see an increase in the number of kinetic strikes because we have found the enemy, we are finding the enemy's emplacement sites, manufacturing facilities for IEDs and caches of weapons," said Air Force Lt. Gen. Gary L. North, the U.S. Central Air Forces and Combined Forces Air Component commander. "And we're striking them."

The Marine Corps keeps its own statistics for airstrikes in western Iraq but could not provide 2007 data.

In Afghanistan, where U.S. and NATO bombings picked up in the middle of 2006, coalition airstrikes reached 3,572 last year, more than double the total for 2006 and more than 20 times the number in 2005. Many of the strikes have targeted the Taliban and other extremists in Helmand province, and military officials said they have been able to use air power to support small Special Forces units that engage the enemy in remote locations.

Human rights groups estimate that Afghan civilian casualties caused by airstrikes tripled to more than 300 in 2007, fueling fears that such aggressive bombardment could be catastrophic for the innocent.

Marc Garlasco, a military analyst at Human Rights Watch who tracks airstrikes in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the strikes carry unique risks. "My major concern with what's going on in Iraq is massive population density," he said. "You have the potential for very high civilian casualties, so you need really granular intelligence on what you're going to hit. But I don't think they're being careless."

In preparation for last week's major airstrikes near Baghdad, North said, he met two weeks ago with Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division and U.S. forces in Baghdad, to walk through the plans.

"What you're seeing in the last few days is a very deliberate process honed by intelligence, targeted and aligned to get the desired effect in a particular area," North said.

Commanders also said they are using air power more creatively, in some cases dropping bombs that explode in the air to detonate insurgent roadside bombs. Other U.S. munitions have cut off small bridges or roads to isolate insurgent movement. As seen in Air Force videos, some attacks have been extremely precise, such as when a Predator unmanned aircraft fired an AGM-114P Hellfire missile to kill three extremists who were setting up a mortar attack on Nov. 7 in Balad.

North said the Air Force has used concrete-filled bombs to detonate IED sites and is using 250-pound GBU-39 small-diameter bombs to make blasts safer for civilians. Commanders also have been using airstrikes on houses suspected to be rigged with explosives, called "house-borne IEDs."

Such a strike occurred Jan. 6, when soldiers with the 2nd Battalion, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team spotted five suspected insurgents with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 rifles apparently rigging a house with explosives near Khan Bani Saad, northeast of Baghdad. Lt. Col. Stuart Pettis, air liaison officer for Multinational Division North, said the unit asked for airstrikes.

"After doing a show of force to get civilians out of the area, they engaged the house and the fighters with a 500-pound bomb," he said of the attack by two British Tornado GR4 jets. "They took the fighters out."


4) Anti-war groups retreat on funding fight
By: Ryan Grim
Jan 17, 2008 06:03 AM EST

After a series of legislative defeats in 2007 that saw the year end with more U.S. troops in Iraq than when it began, a coalition of anti-war groups is backing away from its multimillion-dollar drive to cut funding for the war and force Congress to pass timelines for bringing U.S. troops home.

In recognition of hard political reality, the groups instead will lower their sights and push for legislation to prevent President Bush from entering into a long-term agreement with the Iraqi government that could keep significant numbers of troops in Iraq for years to come.

The groups believe this switch in strategy can draw contrasts with Republicans that will help Democrats gain ground in November and bring the votes to pass more dramatic measures. But it is a long way from the early months of 2007, when Democrats were freshly in power and momentum for a dramatic shift in Iraq policy seemed overpowering.

“There was a consensus that last year was not productive,” John Isaacs, executive director of Council for a Livable World, said of a meeting attended by a coalition of anti-war groups last week. “Our expectations were dashed.”

The meeting, held at an office on K Street, was attended by around 20 representatives of influential anti-war groups, including and Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, which spent $12 million last year opposing the war.

Isaacs said he thought the meeting would be a difficult one, with an adamant faction pressing for continued focus on timelines and funding. It wasn’t to be.

“We got our heads together and decided to go a different way,” Isaacs said. “The consensus was not to keep beating our heads against the wall trying to block every funding bill — not because we don’t agree with it, but because we don’t have the votes.”

Moira Mack, a spokeswoman for AAEI, was also at the meeting. “There was a lot of agreement that this is really the way that we can best get our message across about endless war versus end-the-war and draw clear distinctions between anti-war Democrats and pro-war Republicans. They really don’t want to end the war. This is the perfect legislative opportunity.”

An additional factor: The failure of last year’s end-of-the-session efforts to oppose the war convinced some in the movement that the numbers just weren’t there. “At the end of the year, Congress went out with a whole bunch more votes on Iraq with the same result. Some of the [news] stories were saying that members of Congress were getting tired of it,” Isaacs said.

The new strategy doesn’t mean that the groups won’t be active during budget battles. “The budget debates provide an enormously rich opportunity to engage the public,” said former Maine Rep. Tom Andrews of the group Win Without War. “We’re spending $8 [billion] to $10 billion a month.”

During Tuesday night’s presidential debate, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) referenced the kind of legislation that the anti-war crowd will be backing when she asked Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) if he would co-sponsor a bill to prevent the president from entering into any long-term agreements with the Iraqi government without consulting Congress.

Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said Obama will “support all common-sense efforts to ensure that President Bush does not tie the hands of future presidents through agreements with the Iraqi government.”

In December, Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) sent a strongly worded letter to Bush asking for information about what types of agreements the president planned to enter into and urging that he consult with Congress first. It was signed by Clinton and Democratic Sens. Robert P. Casey Jr. (Pa.), Robert C. Byrd (W.Va.), Carl Levin (Mich.) and Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.).

“The feeling is that Clinton’s too hot to handle for legislation right now, so we’re hoping somebody like Casey will carry it,” Isaacs said, expressing concern that Clinton’s presidential run could give the bill too much partisan edge to get through the Senate.

In the House on Tuesday, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced a bill that would make clear that no federal money could be spent to implement an agreement Bush reaches with Iraq unless it’s in the form of a congressionally approved treaty.

Members of the anti-war coalition say they are working to gather co-sponsors for the bill but that they will also attempt to insert similar language in the upcoming supplemental spending bill. Late last year, Bush requested nearly $200 billion for the war effort; Democrats gave $70 billion and will be revisiting further funding soon.

For Mack, the logic of the argument seems straightforward. “Maliki is talking about getting congressional approval on the Iraq side,” Mack said, referring to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. “It’s absurd that Bush wouldn’t go to the U.S. Congress.”

The anti-war movement also thinks it has a winning argument when it comes to the length of time Americans are willing to see U.S. forces in Iraq. Roughly half of Americans recently surveyed by CBS News want most U.S. troops out within a year, and more than half think it was a mistake to invade in the first place. Every Democratic candidate for president has promised to withdraw almost all troops from Iraq within the first year of his or her presidency.

Earlier this week, Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qadir said U.S. troops might need to remain in Iraq until 2018, which could cost the United States $1 trillion or more between now and then, according to Congressional Budget Office projections. Bush said recently that it is “fine with me” if U.S. troop levels remain the same in Iraq, if Army Gen. David Petraeus recommends such a deployment.

Bush also said last week that U.S. troops “could easily” be in Iraq for a decade or more.

AAEI will have a budget roughly as large as it had last year, Mack said, and the new focus should be seen as an addition to its strategy, rather than as a retreat from a previous position. “Clearly, folks continue to oppose any more money for the war, and that was discussed as well. Our groups are still going to actively oppose any more funding,” she said.


5) Israel Closes Gaza Borders
January 19, 2008

JERUSALEM — Israel closed all border crossings with the Gaza Strip on Friday, cutting off at least one aid shipment, and bombed the empty Interior Ministry building of the Palestinian Authority, which was already a ruin from a previous Israeli bombing.

Israel said it was acting to try to halt Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza, while Hamas and other Palestinian militants said that they had increased their rocket fire in retaliation against intensified Israeli raids.

In the bombing of the empty ministry building, which is in the crowded Al-Rimal neighborhood of western Gaza City, one woman, Haniah Abd-el Jawad, 52, was killed and up to 46 people injured by blast and shrapnel, some of them children, according to medical officials at Gaza’s Al Shifa hospital.

Israel has declared Gaza, run by Hamas, a “hostile entity” and has tried to convince its leaders to stop rocket fire by reducing supplies of gasoline, diesel fuel and electricity, a move that has brought challenges in the Israeli Supreme Court by Israeli nongovernmental organizations.

The Israeli military has been operating nearly every day inside Gaza, luring Hamas and allied gunmen into firefights, and 35 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since Monday — 18 of them on Tuesday and another five on Thursday — and 80 people wounded, according to Dr. Muawiya Hassanein, director of the emergency medical service in Gaza.

After Tuesday, Hamas resumed firing Qassam rockets toward the Israeli border town of Sderot, along with other militant groups like Islamic Jihad and Fatah’s Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades. On Thursday, at least 40 rockets were launched, half of them landing in Israel, hitting two houses in Sderot and lightly wounding four Israelis, with a dozen more treated for shock.

On Friday, at least 31 more rockets were fired toward Israel and 16 landed, the Israeli army said, but no one was wounded.

But one rocket landed within 40 yards of a nursery school, which was in session, according to an Israeli spokesman, David Baker. Since Tuesday, the army said, 130 Qassams were launched; in general, about half land in Israel and the remainder land in Gaza.

The cycle of retaliation and response was described the other day by Yair Lapid, a well-known Israeli journalist, in the daily Yediot Aharonot: “The objective of the operation in Gaza is to prevent the Qassam fire. But the operation in Gaza is causing Qassams to be fired. The Qassam fire will, in turn, bring about the next operation in Gaza, which will lead to the next round of Qassam fire.”

Mr. Lapid continued: “Everyone is playing his role; each side pretends to be the initiator, while well aware in its heart of hearts that it is just as trapped as the other side is.”

On Friday, in the Jabaliya refugee camp, north of Gaza City-, Israel fired a rocket at a car killing a member of the Hamas military wing and another man whom Israel said were part of a rocket squad, and Israel also bombed a Hamas police facility in central Gaza.

In the West Bank city of Nablus, in the Balata refugee camp, Israeli commandos killed Ahmed Muhamad Ibrahim Sanakra, 21, a wanted gunman who was carrying a rifle, Israel said, and arrested four associates.

The Israeli decision to close border crossings is another attempt to pressure Hamas in Gaza, and at least one United Nations aid shipment was not allowed through on Friday.

The Defense Ministry said that all imports will have to be approved by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and would be limited to “humanitarian supplies” that are judged to be running low, like milk or cooking oil. Israel has already sharply restricted imports to Gaza since the Hamas takeover in June. The closure will likely be reviewed on Sunday in the weekly cabinet meeting.

Christopher Gunness, spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency that helps Palestinian refugees, said: “This situation in Gaza is dire and the continued closures, in the context of closures since June, only makes the situation of people of Gaza more perilous.”

His agency had been getting in 15 trucks of aid a day until Wednesday, he said, and while it has two months of stocks in Gaza, aid recipients still need fresh food to supplement the aid. He said Israel should broaden its definition of “humanitarian imports” to include schoolbooks, cement for needed health projects and chlorine for water purification.

In Sderot, Avi Barssessat, the president of a high-end mattress factory, Hollandia International, said he would now relocate his plant and its 120 employees to central Israel, exhausted by seven years of rocket attacks. “I hope it will be a warning light for the government,” he told the Jerusalem Post.

Separately, a study of the psychological impact of the rockets has found a very high incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder in Sderot, according to Dr. Rony Berger of the Natal Trauma Center.

In a survey of more than 500 adults in Sderot and an Israeli town of similar size, Ofakim, the survey found 28.4 percent of those in Sderot with the disorder, compared to 5.2 percent in Ofakim. The disorder means “functional impairment” and not just symptoms, Dr. Berger said in a telephone interview.

Some 44.9 percent of Sderot residents reported persistent symptoms of post-traumatic stress, including inability to sleep or concentrate, depression and anxiety, but without functional impairment, compared to 16.3 percent in Ofakim. New immigrants to Sderot have twice the frequency of symptoms compared to those born in Israel, who have become “more habituated to this kind of security pressure,” he said.

In Sderot, 91.9 percent said that a rocket had fallen on their street or an adjacent one, 55.8 percent have had their homes hit or hit by shrapnel from a Qassam and 48.4 percent said they knew someone killed by a Qassam. Thirteen Israelis, including eight from Sderot, have been killed by the rockets since 2001.

Dr. Berger and his colleagues treat families as a whole, he said. “It’s better to work with families, because those who learn ‘active coping’ are more resilient,” he said. “If they know what to do between alerts, whether it’s effective protection or not, they are better off than those who panic. It’s the helplessness that damages as much as the fear.”

Taghreed El-Khodary contributed reporting from Gaza City.


6) Gates Seeks Troop Estimates
January 18, 2008

WASHINGTON — When they decided last September to begin a slow withdrawal of troops from Iraq, the White House, Pentagon and senior military officers put off a harder decision about how long those withdrawals should continue.

Now, that battle is beginning again.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates disclosed on Thursday that he had instructed the top officer in Iraq, those responsible for the broader Middle East and those back at the Pentagon in charge of worldwide deployments to prepare to make their cases about the best way to proceed.

The process is meant to allow President Bush to balance troop requests from Gen. David H. Petraeus, the senior American commander in Iraq, against other pressing national security needs, whether in Afghanistan or for a crisis elsewhere.

The overwhelming question is whether Mr. Bush will decide to halt the drawdown in July, when the number of troops is scheduled to revert to the 130,000 or so in place before the current troop “surge” began, or instead decide to order that the reductions continue, which would help ease strain on the overall force.

The answer will influence both the level of American commitment to Iraq and the future shape of the Army.

At a session on Wednesday sponsored by the Association of the United States Army, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, made clear his service’s desire to reduce those burdens, which have forced the lengthening of Army tours in Iraq to 15 months, three months longer than the service would like.

General Casey, who was General Petraeus’s predecessor in Iraq, said the ground force was “being so consumed” by deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan that the Army was having “difficulty sustaining the all-volunteer force.”

By contrast, General Petraeus’s principal goal no doubt will be to seek sufficient troops to guarantee that security gains under the surge do not slip away, even as he reshapes the military commitment to focus more on training, supplying and otherwise helping Iraqi forces take over the country’s security.

Some outside experts have begun to warn in stark terms that to continue the drawdown beyond July could put at risk what the surge has accomplished.

Gen. Jack Keane, a retired Army vice chief of staff, said in Congressional testimony on Wednesday that it would be “an unacceptable risk” to reduce troop levels in Iraq below the cuts currently planned.

“We should not squander the gains that we’ve made,” he said.

Senior American commanders in Iraq declined to predict what troop levels might be at the end of the year, stating that their recommendations to the president would be based on security conditions on the ground.

“Everything I see now is, we will continue to make progress going down to 15 brigades,” Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the No. 2 commander in Iraq, said Thursday, referring to the level of combat troops now planned for July. “But to predict now whether we can go lower or not is difficult, and I would not want to make that prediction right now.”

The process that Mr. Gates outlined on Thursday would precede Congressional testimony that General Petraeus is scheduled to deliver in March or April, when his next troop request is due. It is similar to what Mr. Gates put in place last fall, before General Petraeus announced the decision to reduce troop levels from their peak of 20 brigades.

“I want to make sure that the president has the opportunity to hear from these different perspectives and to ensure that his senior military advisers and commanders have the opportunity to present their views directly and unvarnished to the president,” Mr. Gates said at a Pentagon news conference.

Among others who will present their views to the president are Adm. William J. Fallon, the overall American commander in the Middle East, who is being asked to assess military challenges and force requirements across the region.

That includes the current mission in Afghanistan as well as readiness for potential turmoil in Pakistan or hostile action by Iran.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, representing the institutional armed services, which provide trained forces for military operations, will also weigh in.

The Joint Chiefs, Mr. Gates said, “will look at the situation in Iraq and the situation in the region against the backdrop of our global requirements, stress on the force and all these other considerations.”

Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, acknowledged the differences among commanders trying to balance the demands of the current mission in Iraq, preparing for unexpected contingencies and relieving stress on the force. But he said there was no major rift.

At the briefing with Mr. Gates, General Cartwright said that when the Iraq force levels were debated last fall, all the senior officers in the discussion “came very, very close.”

“We had very few issues that we disagreed on,” he said, “and we worked through those issues to consensus to understand how we wanted to move forward.”

Both Mr. Gates and Mr. Bush have said that they want General Petraeus, when he puts forth his troop request, to think only of how to succeed in Iraq.

“I’ve asked General Petraeus to make his evaluation of the situation in Iraq and what he needs, and the situation on the ground, completely based on what’s going on in Iraq,” Mr. Gates said. “He doesn’t need to look over his shoulder, think about stress on the force or anything else.”

Mr. Bush spoke addressed the issue in a direct manner after meeting with General Petraeus and Ryan C. Crocker, the United States ambassador to Iraq, during his recent visit to the region.

After their closed-door discussion in Kuwait, Mr. Bush offered General Petraeus any support he might need for deciding that troop levels in Iraq could drop no further at this time.

“My attitude is, if he didn’t want to continue the drawdown, that’s fine with me, in order to make sure we succeed, see,” Mr. Bush said. “I said to the general, ‘If you want to slow her down, fine; it’s up to you.’ ”


7) Facing Deportation but Clinging to Life in U.S.
January 18, 2008

WAUKEGAN, Ill. — She is a homeowner, a taxpayer, a friendly neighbor and an American citizen. Yet because she is married to an illegal immigrant, these days she feels like a fugitive.

Whenever her Mexican husband ventures out of the house, “it makes me sick to my stomach,” said the woman, who insisted on being identified only by a first name and last initial, Miriam M.

“I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, he took too long,’ ” she said. “I’ll start calling. I go into panic.”

Over the last year, thousands of illegal immigrants and their families who live here have retreated from community life in Waukegan, a microcosm of a growing underground of illegal immigrants across the country who are clinging to homes and jobs despite the pressure of tougher federal and local enforcement.

From Illinois to Georgia to Arizona, these families are hiding in plain sight, to avoid being detected by immigration agents and deported. They do their shopping in towns distant from home, avoid parties and do not take vacations. They stay away from ethnic stores, forgo doctor’s visits and meetings at their children’s schools, and postpone girls’ normally lavish quinceañeras, or 15th birthday parties.

They avoid the police, even hesitating to report crimes.

“When we leave in the morning we know we are going to work,” said Elena G., a 47-year-old illegal Mexican immigrant and Waukegan resident of eight years who works in a factory near here. “ But we don’t know if we will be coming home.”

Last year, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested more than 35,000 illegal immigrants, including unauthorized workers and immigration fugitives, more than double the number in 2006. They sent 276,912 immigrants back to their home countries, a record number.

Since about three-quarters of an estimated 11.3 million illegal immigrants nationwide are from Latin America, and many have spouses, children or other relatives who are legal immigrants and citizens, the sense of alarm has spread broadly among Hispanics.

A survey by the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, found in December that 53 percent of Hispanics in the United States worry that they or a loved one could be deported.

Stores catering to Hispanic immigrants in places like Atlanta and Cincinnati have closed because of the drop in customers. Michael L. Barrera, president of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said anecdotal reports had indicated that small storefront businesses had been the hardest hit by a sharp decline in spending by immigrants.

“The raids have really spooked them in a big way,” said Douglas S. Massey, a Princeton demographer who has studied Mexican immigrants for three decades.

Based on his own surveys and recent reports from other scholars doing field research in the Southwest and in North Carolina and other states, Professor Massey said the “palpable sense of fear and of traumatization” in immigrant communities was more intense than at any other time since the mass deportations of Mexican farm workers in 1954.

Federal immigration officials say that stepped-up enforcement over the last year by the Bush administration and some local authorities has persuaded growing numbers of illegal immigrants to return home. But in places like Waukegan, a racially mixed middle-class suburb north of Chicago, most have chosen to stay, held by families and jobs.

This city has been an immigrant landing for generations. Latinos have been coming since the 1960s and now are 40 percent of the population of 91,000. The number of illegal immigrants among them swelled in the last decade.

Despite their illegal status, those immigrants found steady jobs in factories and landscaping. Lacking Social Security numbers, they used Internal Revenue Service taxpayer numbers to open stores and businesses, enroll in the community college and take out bank loans to buy cars and homes.

The welcome began to fade four years ago, when the city government increased fines and penalties for driving without a license. Since Illinois requires a valid Social Security number for a license, many illegal immigrants lost their cars when they could not afford the fees for impounded vehicles.

Last summer the City Council voted to enter an agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency, to train Waukegan police officers to initiate deportations of immigrants who were convicted felons. While city officials insisted the officers would handle only cases of imprisoned criminals, rumors spread that the traffic police would check the immigration status of anyone they stopped.

Also, in recent months federal immigration agents conducted two big raids nearby.

“People came to me and said, ‘Father, when did we become the enemy?’ ” said the Rev. Gary M. Graf, a Roman Catholic priest whose Waukegan parish includes many Latino immigrants.

City officials said that the tougher traffic ordinances were not intended to single out illegal immigrants or Hispanics, but to reduce accidents with uninsured drivers.

“The only reason we did it was for safety,” Mayor Richard H. Hyde said. “We don’t want anybody on the road that doesn’t have a license.”

Nonetheless, for many residents fear has become a daily companion. One woman, a 37-year-old naturalized citizen who was born in Central America but grew up in Waukegan, has decided to stay away from the city even though her mother still lives here. The woman, a lawyer practicing in the Chicago area, fell in love with an illegal immigrant from Guatemala.

After they were married in 2004, she realized that under immigration law it would be difficult for him to become legal, even though she is a citizen. Because he had crossed the border illegally, seeking legal status would require him to return to Guatemala for years of separation, with no guarantee of success. She abandoned plans to move back to Waukegan. She and her husband feel safer in Chicago, with its large Hispanic population.

“I know everything about Waukegan; it’s my town,” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous because of her husband’s status. “I know the high school, the first Mexican restaurant. I should feel free to go in and out whenever I want to. But it’s not the same freedom anymore.”

Raimundo V., 30, an illegal Mexican immigrant who has lived here for 13 years, said he canceled repairs on his home, which he owns, stopped buying in local stores, and was trying to save as much money as he could in case he should be arrested and deported.

“My expectation here is to be prepared for anything that comes,” Raimundo said.

Miriam M. and her husband, married in 2004, own a tidy house on a peaceful street and are raising four children from previous marriages, all United States citizens. He runs his own landscaping company, paying business and property taxes.

Even though Miriam M. is a citizen, it is difficult for her husband to obtain legal papers, since he entered illegally from Mexico 12 years ago. She did not focus on her husband’s illegal status when she first met him.

“Boyfriend and girlfriend, you don’t think much about it,” she said. “All right, maybe I didn’t want to think much about it.”

Now he stays close to home and avoids downtown Waukegan, driving around the city limits when he can.

Another immigrant, L. Gómez, 36, a Colombian recently on her way to becoming legal, said she had gone to the police and the courts in years past for protection from a violent husband. Since the crackdown, she said, she has avoided the authorities, even when her husband threatened her.

Hispanic business owners in Waukegan complain of a sales slump that they said went beyond the effects of a sluggish national economy.

“People are turning away from Waukegan business and going elsewhere to invest or to buy,” said Porfirio García, a Mexican-American who is president of Exit/Re-Gar Realty, a real estate brokerage firm.

At the Belvidere Mall, which caters to Hispanic customers, María Sotelo, a legal Mexican immigrant, said she was closing her store there after 17 years because her sales dropped in the last six months to $500 a week from $5,000. She sold satin and voile dresses for quinceañera parties and T-shirts from Mexican soccer teams.

“Since it all started with immigration, people don’t come here anymore,” Ms. Sotelo said.

Mr. Hyde and other city officials said they expected to wait several years before Congress adopted new laws to control illegal immigration. Meanwhile, the mayor said, he will do what he can by enforcing local law.

“Do I believe in closing the borders?” Mr. Hyde said. “Do I believe in putting troops down there? You bet your life. Illegal is illegal, and that’s the end of the conversation, really.”


8) Ex-Hospital Patients File Lawsuit Over the Status of Health Care Services in New Orleans
January 18, 2008

A group of former patients of New Orleans’s shuttered public hospital filed a lawsuit on Thursday in a Louisiana state court, saying that medical care for the poor is still woefully inadequate in the city and asking for a return to the level of services the hospital provided before Hurricane Katrina.

Before the storm, Charity Hospital provided nearly all the basic, specialty and emergency care and mental health services for low-income residents. Louisiana State University, which operated the hospital, did not reopen it after the levees failed and the hospital’s basement flooded.

Instead, the state reopened the smaller University Hospital, which has an emergency room for trauma cases, but has many fewer beds and clinics than the larger hospital, known as Big Charity and built in the 1930s.

The plaintiffs, some of whom were born at the hospital, said in the lawsuit, which was filed in New Orleans, that they must travel hundreds of miles for care or incur big bills for treatment that had been free at Charity.

The lawsuit, which has been supported by some local politicians, doctors and law enforcement officials, argues that the university’s closing of the hospital was illegal without specific approval from the Legislature.

But Dr. Fred P. Cerise, vice president for health affairs at the university, said the state buildings department had made the decision to close the building.

“We happened to agree with it,” Dr. Cerise said, adding that university officials had planned to replace the building well before the storm and is pushing for a new, state-of-the-art hospital.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs, who are seeking class-action status to represent what they estimate are 100,000 uninsured residents in and near New Orleans, said they would ask a judge to require an evaluation of the old building.

But S. Stephen Rosenfeld, a Massachusetts lawyer who is working with local lawyers on the case, said the goal was not so much to reopen the building as to impel the state to develop a plan to restore medical services.

“This is about investing money in a system that works,” Mr. Rosenfeld said.

Dr. Cerise acknowledged that reopening clinics had gone much more slowly than the state had hoped, but he said that by the end of February the university would open three neighborhood clinics, a large clinic in a former department store downtown and a mental health emergency room.


9) Legal Immigrants Facing a Longer Wait
January 18, 2008

Because of an unprecedented surge in immigration applications last summer, legal immigrants will have to wait much longer during the next two years to receive visas or naturalization papers, the top official of the federal agency that issues those documents said Thursday.

In a statement before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, the official, Emilio T. Gonzalez, the director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, said that from now until 2010 the agency would take an average of 18 months to process petitions from legal immigrants for citizenship, up from 7 months or less last year. Visas for permanent residents sponsored by relatives in the United States will take one year, up from the current average of six months or less, he said.

The announcement was awkward for Mr. Gonzalez, whose agency has long been criticized as a slow and confounding bureaucracy. In January 2007, when he announced a midyear fee increase of 66 percent for handling immigration documents, Mr. Gonzalez pledged to use the money to reduce the waiting time for naturalization to five months and for permanent resident visas to four months by the end of 2008.

He also promised that the higher fees, which took effect July 30, would allow the agency to “prevent future backlogs.”

But at the hearing on Thursday, Mr. Gonzalez said the prospect of higher fees had helped prompt a crush of more than three million applications of all types in June, July and spilling into August, a surge that he called “unprecedented in the history of immigration services of our nation.”

In June and July, he said, naturalization petitions spiked by nearly 350 percent compared with the same two months in 2006.

In the 2007 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, the agency received 1.4 million citizenship applications, nearly double the number in the previous fiscal year. In the past, naturalization applications dropped off soon after surges provoked by fee increases, Mr. Gonzalez said.

Under questioning from subcommittee members, Mr. Gonzalez said he could not guarantee that immigrants who applied to become citizens last summer would be naturalized in time to vote in the November elections.

“It is really going to depend on where they filed and how clean their file is,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “There are a lot of moving parts,” he said, adding, “We are working this as quickly as possible.”

He said some offices had been overwhelmed by “a deluge.” According to agency figures, 145,251 naturalization applications were received by December in Los Angeles and 94,213 in Miami.

Representative Zoe Lofgren, the California Democrat who leads the subcommittee, said she was frustrated with the waits for immigrants eager to become citizens. “We are not accepting that at this point,” she said.

Ms. Lofgren agreed with Mr. Gonzalez that delays for citizenship applicants were caused by, among other things, criminal background checks required by the F.B.I., which has a backlog of more than 300,000 such inquiries, including about 150,000 of more than six months, immigration officials said.

Jonathan Scharfen, the deputy director of the immigration agency, said the F.B.I. at one time had only 20 workers assigned to the checks, which often require manual review of paper records. The agency has since added 20 staff members and 220 contract workers to the task, Mr. Scharfen said.

By the end of last year, officials said, Citizenship and Immigration Services had sent receipt notices for all but a handful of the applications that arrived during the year. At one point last fall, the agency was struggling just to confirm that applications had been received.

Mr. Gonzalez said the agency planned to spend up to $480 million in fees from the recent applications to hire 1,800 employees in addition to 1,500 new workers who were already being selected and trained. The immigration agency pays for its operations almost entirely from fees.

Another witness at the hearing, Rosemary Jenks, said she had “come to dread the phrase ‘backlog reduction.’ ” Ms. Jenks, the director of government relations for NumbersUSA, a group that favors reduced immigration, said previous efforts by immigration agencies to handle surges like the recent one led officials to take “risky shortcuts.”

Mr. Gonzalez said on the whole, however, that the agency viewed the surge as good news. Immigrants are “demonstrating a deep desire to participate fully in this country’s civic life,” he said.


10) Antidepressant Studies Unpublished
January 17, 2008

The makers of antidepressants like Prozac and Paxil never published the results of about a third of the drug trials that they conducted to win government approval, misleading doctors and consumers about the drugs’ true effectiveness, a new analysis has found.

In published trials, about 60 percent of people taking the drugs report significant relief from depression, compared with roughly 40 percent of those on placebo pills. But when the less positive, unpublished trials are included, the advantage shrinks: the drugs outperform placebos, but by a modest margin, concludes the new report, which appears Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Previous research had found a similar bias toward reporting positive results for a variety of medications; and many researchers have questioned the reported effectiveness of antidepressants. But the new analysis, reviewing data from 74 trials involving 12 drugs, is the most thorough to date. And it documents a large difference: while 94 percent of the positive studies found their way into print, just 14 percent of those with disappointing or uncertain results did.

The finding is likely to inflame a continuing debate about how drug trial data is reported. In 2004, after revelations that negative findings from antidepressant trials had not been published, a group of leading journals agreed to stop publishing clinical trials that were not registered in a public database. Trade groups representing the world’s largest drug makers announced that members’ companies would begin to release more data from trials more quickly, on their own database,

And last year, Congress passed legislation that expanded the type of trials and the depth of information that must be submitted to, a public database operated by the National Library of Medicine. The Food and Drug Administration’s Web site provides limited access to recent reviews of drug trials, but critics say it is very hard to navigate.

“This is a very important study for two reasons,” said Dr. Jeffrey M. Drazen, editor in chief of The New England Journal. “One is that when you prescribe drugs, you want to make sure you’re working with best data possible; you wouldn’t buy a stock if you only knew a third of the truth about it.”

Second, Dr. Drazen continued, “we need to show respect for the people who enter a trial.”

“They take some risk to be in the trial, and then the drug company hides the data?” he asked. “That kind of thing gets us pretty passionate about this issue.”

Alan Goldhammer, deputy vice president for regulatory affairs at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said the new study neglected to mention that industry and government had already taken steps to make clinical trial information more transparent. “This is all based on data from before 2004, and since then we’ve put to rest the myth that companies have anything to hide,” he said.

In the study, a team of researchers identified all antidepressant trials submitted to the Food and Drug Administration to win approval from 1987 to 2004. The studies involved 12,564 adult patients testing drugs like Prozac from Eli Lilly, Zoloft from Pfizer and Effexor from Wyeth.

The researchers obtained unpublished data on the more recently approved drugs from the F.D.A.’s Web site. For older drugs, they tracked down hard copies of unpublished studies through colleagues, or using the Freedom of Information Act. They checked all of these studies against databases of published research, and also wrote to the companies that conducted the studies to ask if specific trials had been published.

They found that 37 of 38 trials that the F.D.A. viewed as having positive results were published in journals. The agency viewed as failed or unconvincing 36 other trials, of which 14 made it into journals.

But 11 of those 14 journal articles “conveyed a positive outcome” that was not justified by the underlying F.D.A. review, said the new study’s lead author, Dr. Erick H. Turner, a psychiatrist and former F.D.A. reviewer who now works at Oregon Health and Sciences University and the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center. His co-authors included researchers at Kent State University and the University of California, Riverside.

Dr. Turner said the selective reporting of favorable studies sets up patients for disappointment. “The bottom line for people considering an antidepressant, I think, is that they should be more circumspect about taking it,” he said, “and not be so shocked if it doesn’t work the first time and think something’s wrong with them.”

For doctors, he said, “They end up asking, ‘How come these drugs seem to work so well in all these studies, and I’m not getting that response?’ ”

Dr. Thomas P. Laughren, director of the division of psychiatry products at the F.D.A., said the agency had long been aware that favorable studies of drugs were more likely to be published.

“It’s a problem we’ve been struggling with for years,” he said in an interview. “I have no problem with full access to all trial data; the question for us is how do you fit it all on a package insert,” the information that accompanies many drugs.

Dr. Donald F. Klein, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Columbia, said drug makers were not the only ones who can be reluctant to publish unconvincing results. Journals, and study authors, too, may drop studies that are underwhelming.

“If it’s your private data, and you don’t like how it came out, well, we shouldn’t be surprised that some doctors don’t submit those studies,” he said.


11) Deal Fees Under Fire
Amid Mortgage Crisis
By Liam Pleven and Susanne Craig
From The Wall Street Journal Online

To understand a root cause of the financial crisis shaking global markets, take a look at Kevin Schmidt's paycheck.

Mr. Schmidt arranges mortgages in Shreveport, La. He earns his money upfront, taking a percentage of each loan once papers are signed. "We don't get paid unless we can say YES" to loans, his firm's Web site says.

The problem, which Mr. Schmidt says he sees clearly: Brokers have little incentive to say "no" to someone seeking a loan. If a borrower defaults several months later -- as Americans increasingly are doing -- it's someone else's problem.

At every level of the financial system, key players -- from deal makers on Wall Street and in the City of London to local brokers like Mr. Schmidt -- often get a cut of what a transaction is supposed to be worth when first structured, not what it actually delivers in the long term. Now, as the bond market wobbles, takeover deals unravel and mortgages sour, the situation is spurring a re-examination of how financiers get paid and whether the incentives the pay structure creates need to be modified. This week, Congress asked three prominent executives to testify about their pay packages.

Upfront commissions and fees are well established on Wall Street. Investment banks get paid when billion-dollar mergers are inked. Firms that create complex new securities are paid a percentage off the top. Rating services assess the risk of a new bond in return for fees on the front end.

Critics argue this system can give people a vested interest in closing a deal, regardless of whether it turns out to be a good idea over time.

"It is not clear that existing compensation mechanisms effectively ensure that traders take into account the long-term interests of the bank for which they work -- i.e. its survival," Pierre Cailleteau, the chief international economist for Moody's Investors Service, wrote in a report released last week.

In various forms, a similar pay structure exists at the top of the financial world, where executives can reap lucrative pay packages, even if deals made on their watch later go south.

Merrill Lynch & Co.'s former chief executive, Stan O'Neal, left in October after the firm's $8.4 billion write-down. He didn't get a bonus or severance, but he retained $161.5 million in previously earned benefits and compensation because he met the age and service requirement for collecting those benefits. Charles Prince, Citigroup Inc.'s former CEO, lost his job, too. He left Citigroup in November with stock and other compensation valued at the time at $29.5 million, as well as a bonus. He didn't get severance.

Tuesday, Citigroup reported a fourth-quarter loss of $9.83 billion.

Testifying on Pay Packages

Mr. O'Neal and Mr. Prince -- along with Angelo Mozilo, chief executive officer of Countrywide Financial Corp., the nation's largest home-mortgage lender by loan volume -- have been asked to testify about their pay packages on Feb. 7 before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

"You should plan to address how it aligns with the interests of...shareholders and whether this level of compensation is justified in light of your company's recent performance and its role in the national mortgage crisis," Committee Chairman Henry Waxman wrote in similar letters to the three men.

Mr. O'Neal declined to comment. Countrywide declined to comment. Mr. Prince couldn't be reached for comment.

The financial world's pay structures are also at the center of the market for new investment products, which grew rapidly in recent years.

Wall Street came up with ways to repackage mortgages and other debts into securities that could be traded much like regular bonds. These, in turn, could be sold to new clients -- such as mutual funds -- that would have had little appetite for the original debts.

It enabled financial houses to sell off mortgages and other debts that previously might have remained on their own books. This meant the people who originated the loans often didn't have much of a direct financial stake in whether the loans are eventually paid off.

"As soon as you're out of the deal, you've made your profit," says Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D., Pa.), who heads a House subcommittee overseeing markets. Last year, the House adopted a series of changes to the mortgage market. The Senate is considering its next step.

The new securities are tradable, so they can routinely be sold to others. That has led to the revival of an old one-liner on Wall Street: "A rolling loan gathers no loss."

Financial innovations like these helped spur the lending boom of recent years, by spreading risk more broadly. Along the way, they also boosted profits for Wall Street firms, which typically pocketed fees of around 1% on certain securities they underwrote, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

All this worked as long as home prices kept rising: Easy access to borrowing, aided by historically low interest rates, helped millions of Americans buy homes. That demand helped spur prices upward. Low-cost borrowing also let corporate executives pull off multibillion-dollar mergers and acquisitions.

Now, as the housing market tanks, some of these same financial innovations are spreading the pain further than expected. That's triggered unusual fallout, such as local governments in Australia and a regional bank in Germany facing potential losses from investments tied to subprime mortgages in the U.S.

Some say the compensation of deal makers should be tied to the long-term performance of their deals. In November, a high-profile panel issued a report -- known as the Geneva Report -- calling on governments to consider requiring financial firms to hold on to some of the bonds they issue that are backed by loans they made.

The panel that authored the report, published by two European think tanks, included Roger Ferguson, former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve and now head of financial services with Swiss Reinsurance Co.

On Nov. 19, Swiss Re said it faced an $876 million after-tax loss due to subprime-mortgage-related holdings.

Taking Steps

Some Wall Street firms are taking steps to tie compensation to longer-term performance. Senior traders at Credit Suisse, for example, set aside part of their compensation -- the firm declines to say how much -- for a number of years. That can be taken back to cover losses in future years.

"We have put in place compensation programs that ensure that our peoples' interests are directly aligned with our shareholders over a multiyear horizon," says Brady Dougan, Credit Suisse's chief executive.

Still, there are significant obstacles to change. While banks may want to curb risky pay incentives, they don't want to discourage risk taking altogether. Nor do they want to lose top producers to firms offering richer packages.

In good times, the pressure to abandon such restrictions could intensify, the Moody's report noted. "A recent policy announced by several banks to cap wages at a 'moderate' level and pay the rest of the compensation in the form of stock is an acknowledgment of this problem. However, such 'good intentions' do not generally survive a boom period, and in any event typically have unintended consequences of their own," the report said.

The Federal Reserve, which oversees the U.S. banking system, recently proposed rules that would tighten requirements for lenders to assess borrowers' ability to repay mortgage loans.

Mr. Schmidt, the Louisiana mortgage broker on the front lines of the mortgage mess, has a more far-reaching idea: "There needs to be a broker score card," he says, a way to tally how many of a broker's loans later get into trouble. The current pay structure has "a lot to do" with America's housing problems, he says.

Mr. Schmidt, who with his wife runs a four-person mortgage-brokerage shop, says it's impossible for him to know what percentage of the loans he brokered have soured, because of rules that protect borrowers' privacy.

The 36-year-old cigar-lover also operates a gravel-and-sand mine, which makes for a stark comparison: In the gravel business, he delivers materials to a customer, but the customer pays later. He has a direct stake in his judgment of a customer's ability to follow through.

Mortgage brokers like Mr. Schmidt are basically independent middlemen who make money only if their clients get loans. In 2006, Mr. Schmidt's firm arranged loans of $11 million on 126 housing units, according to Mortgage Originator, a trade publication. He says he earned an average of 1.5% on those loans, which calculates to about $165,000.

Brokers do have an incentive to have happy customers. They often rely on referrals. And, they note, it is the lenders -- not the brokers -- who decide whether to make the loan.

Strong Motivation

Until the past couple of decades, most mortgage lenders had a strong motivation to avoid having loans go bad: They carried the loans on their own books. Sometimes they still do. When lenders sell loans to packagers of securities, the lenders often keep the riskiest slices of those securities. However, even that slice was "increasingly traded away" in recent years, according to the Geneva Report.

The market for trading credit risk expanded during the housing boom, through the use of instruments such as collateralized debt obligations. These are securities that can be backed by a mix of assets ranging from mortgages to credit-card receivables.

Even when lenders sell all of their loans, poor lending decisions can come back to haunt them. If loans default soon after they are sold or otherwise fail to meet promises made by a lender, that company can be forced to buy back the loan, often resulting in a huge loss. Such losses have forced some subprime lenders out of business over the past year.

Subprime loans, those given to people with low credit scores, grew from $160 billion in 2001 (or 7.2% of new mortgages) to $600 billion in 2006 (or 20.6% of new mortgages), according to Inside Mortgage Finance, an industry newsletter.

"In the past, banks making loans would have a strong incentive to work with borrowers to prevent them from defaulting," the report said. "Today, a lender can hedge its credit-risk exposure...reducing or eliminating this incentive to stave off defaults."

Measuring Risk

Investors who buy mortgage-backed bonds need some way to measure the risk of these investments. Many turn for guidance to Wall Street rating services, which assess bonds and other investments.

Many of the new securities -- even some backed by mortgage loans to borrowers with low credit scores -- were able to earn top "triple-A" ratings, due to the complex ways in which they attempted to divide the risk.

In recent months, many of those ratings have fallen sharply, making the bonds far less valuable. That's sparking a debate over the role played by rating services in developing the market for securities like these. An issue: the way in which rating companies are paid for their opinion of a bond's risk.

Rating services such as Moody's, Standard & Poor's and Fitch Ratings are typically paid upfront for their assessment of a bond. Later on, if the rating is downgraded, a rating service doesn't have to give back any of those fees. Rating services can also receive fees for monitoring the bonds they've rated.

Of course, a rating service's reputation is on the line each time it issues its opinion on a security, and a damaged reputation can be costly. And representatives of the firms say their aim is to keep ratings and fees independent of one another.

Otherwise, for instance, a rating service could have an incentive not to downgrade a security, even if that seemed necessary, says Anthony Mirenda, a spokesman for Moody's. S&P said, in a statement, that ratings are adjusted when "unforeseen and often unforeseeable events lead us to change those opinions" and added that a change doesn't mean "an earlier opinion was necessarily 'wrong.'"

Upgrades and downgrades of ratings are common, even when the market is much quieter than it's been recently. More than one in four of all corporate bonds rated triple-A between 1981 and 2006 by S&P fell to double-A or lower over the next five years, on average.

For structured products such as mortgage-backed securities, downgrades traditionally are rarer. From 1981 to 2006, just over 2% of top-rated triple-A bonds fell to double-A or below, on average, over the next five years.

Last year, rating services downgraded thousands of mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations. Some of those downgraded securities had received top-ranking triple-A ratings when they were issued in early 2007, but ended the year downgraded to "junk" status, a fall of at least 10 notches.

One striking thing about the current situation is that some of the investors getting burned worst by the recent market turmoil are among the biggest names on Wall Street and the most sophisticated industry veterans.

Consider, for instance, the market for collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs. Merrill Lynch and Citigroup were the two largest underwriters of CDOs in much of the past three years, according to Thomson Financial. The firms also played the role of investors, and held onto significant slices of the CDOs they underwrote.

Those holdings have proved disastrous for the firms and their shareholders. The stock prices of Merrill and Citigroup lost more than 40% of their value last year.

Today's Rates
30 yr fixed mtg 5.43% 30 yr fixed jumbo mtg 6.48%
15 yr fixed mtg 4.93% $30K home equity loan 8.23%
7/1 ARM 5.35% $30K HELOC 7.40%

--Serena Ng and James R. Hagerty contributed to this article.

Email your comments to


12) Mortgage Company Exec Jumps to Death
Friday, January 18, 2008
(01-18) 17:20 PST Marlton, N.J. (AP) --

An executive of a collapsed subprime mortgage lender jumped to his death from a bridge Friday, shortly after his wife's body was found inside their New Jersey home, authorities said.

The deaths of Walter Buczynski, 59, and his wife, Marci, 37 — the parents of two boys — were being investigated as a murder-suicide, according to the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office.

Prosecutor Robert Bernardi said Evesham Township police went to the couple's home in the Marlton section of the township around noon after a male caller asked them to check on Marci Buczynski. Her body was found in a bedroom.

Authorities would not provide further details on her death, saying only that she was pronounced dead at the scene and that the county medical examiner's office would perform an autopsy Saturday.

About 20 minutes after her body was found, officers from the Delaware River and Bay Authority Police Department received reports that a man — later identified as Walter Buczynski — had parked his car on Delaware Memorial Bridge and jumped from the span.

Crews were searching for his body Friday night.

Bernardi said a motive for the apparent murder-suicide was not immediately clear. The couple's children were being cared for by family members, Bernardi said.

Walter Buczynski was a vice president of Columbia, Md.-based Fieldstone Mortgage Co., a high-flying subprime mortgage lender that made $5.5 billion in mortgage loans and employed about 1,000 people as late as 2006.

However, it has since filed for bankruptcy and now has fewer than 20 employees. The company had recently filed court papers seeking approval to pay about $1.1 million in bonuses that would be divided among Buczynski and other staffers so the company could wind down its lending operations and go out of business.


13) Good Jobs Are Where the Money Is
Op-Ed Columnist
January 19, 2008

I think of the people running this country as the mad-dashers, a largely confused and inconsistent group lurching ineffectively from one enormous problem to another.

They’ve made a hash of a war that never should have been launched. They can’t find bin Laden. They’ve been shocked by the subprime debacle. They’re lost in a maze on health care.

Now, like children who have eaten too much sugar, they are frantically trying to figure out how to put a few dollars into the hands of working people to stimulate an enfeebled economy.

They should stop, take a deep breath and acknowledge the obvious: the way to put money into the hands of working people is to make sure they have access to good jobs at good wages. That has long been known, but it hasn’t been the policy in this country for many years.

Big business and the federal government have worked hand in hand to squeeze the daylights out of working people, stripping them (in an era of downsizing and globalization) of much of their bargaining power while ferociously pursuing fiscal policies that radically favored the privileged few.

My colleague at The Times, David Cay Johnston, took a look at income patterns in the U.S. over the past few decades in his new book, “Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You With the Bill).”

From 1980 to 2005 the national economy, adjusted for inflation, more than doubled. (Because of population growth, the actual increase per capita was about 66 percent.) But the average income for the vast majority of Americans actually declined during that period. The standard of living for the average family has improved not because incomes have grown, but because women have gone into the workplace in droves.

The peak income year for the bottom 90 percent of Americans was way back in 1973 — when the average income per taxpayer (adjusted for inflation) was $33,001. That is nearly $4,000 higher than the average in 2005.

It’s incredible but true: 90 percent of the population missed out on the income gains during that long period.

Mr. Johnston does not mince words: “The pattern here is clear. The rich are getting fabulously richer, the vast majority are somewhat worse off, and the bottom half — for all practical purposes, the poor — are being savaged by our current economic policies.”

His words are echoed in a proposed stimulus plan currently offered by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington. (The plan is available on its Web site, Stressing that any stimulus package should be “fair,” the authors of the institute’s proposal wrote:

“The distribution of wages, income and wealth in the United States has become vastly more unequal over the last 30 years. In fact, this country has a more unequal distribution of income than any other advanced country.”

Economic alarm bells have been ringing in the U.S. for some time. There was no sense of urgency as long as those in the lower ranks were sinking in the mortgage muck and the middle class was raiding the piggy bank otherwise known as home equity.

But now that the privileged few are threatened (Merrill Lynch took a $9.8 billion fourth-quarter hit, and the stock market has spent the first part of the year behaving like an Olympic diving champion), it’s suddenly time to take action.

There is no question that some kind of stimulus package geared to the needs of ordinary Americans is in order. But that won’t begin to solve the fundamental problem.

Good jobs at good wages — lots of them, growing like spring flowers in an endlessly fertile field — is the absolutely essential basis for a thriving American economy and a broad-based rise in standards of living.

Forget all the CNBC chatter about Fed policy and bargain stocks. For ordinary Americans, jobs are the be-all and end-all. And an America awash in new jobs will require a political environment that respects and rewards work and aggressively pursues creative policies designed to radically expand employment.

I’d start with a broad program to rebuild the American infrastructure. This would have the dual benefit of putting large numbers of people to work and answering a crying need. The infrastructure is in sorry shape. New Orleans comes to mind, and the tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis.

The country that gave us the Marshall Plan to rebuild postwar Europe ought to be able, 60 years later, to reconstitute its own sagging infrastructure.

There are also untold numbers of jobs and myriad societal benefits to be reaped from a sustained, good-faith effort to achieve energy self-sufficiency. Think Manhattan Project.

The possibilities are limitless. We could create an entire generation of new jobs and build a bigger and fairer economy for the 21st century. If only we were serious.


14) Fixing a Budget at the Toll Booth
January 19, 2008

As states and cities look to their roadways to generate badly needed money, the state of New Jersey is offering an approach worth studying. Gov. Jon Corzine wants to shore up his state’s troubled finances by sharply raising tolls. If he gets his way, the cost of driving most of the turnpike could eventually rise from $5.85 to $48, providing money for both debt reduction and public transportation. The plan has potential pitfalls, but it may well be the best solution to a difficult problem.

New Jersey is drowning in $32 billion in debt, a legacy in large part of previous governors and legislators who approved generous public-employee contracts, and other costly programs, without paying for them. The state also faces critically important transportation needs, including widening the traffic-clogged New Jersey Turnpike. In a high-tax state like New Jersey, coming up with additional revenue is never easy.

Mr. Corzine has called for raising tolls by 50 percent every four years between 2010 and 2022. One mitigating factor for New Jersey residents is that about half of the turnpike’s drivers are from out of state. The average drive on the turnpike is only two or three exits and far cheaper than the full fare. There also may be discounts for low-income drivers and commuters who use the highways frequently. Still, it is a whopper of a toll increase.

New Jersey is hardly the only cash-starved jurisdiction to look on tolls as a possible salvation. Indiana and Chicago have leased some toll roads to private companies. Pennsylvania is considering such an arrangement, and California is scrambling to find revenue sources to repair its highways and bridges. Mr. Corzine is avoiding the mistakes of the worst of these plans.

Rather than handing the state’s roads to an unaccountable private entity, as Indiana did in a hugely controversial 75-year lease, he is proposing to turn the highways over to a highly regulated public corporation. It would sell $38 billion in bonds, which would be paid off by toll revenue. Almost half the money would pay down the state’s debt. The rest would go to transportation, including a large chunk for mass transit.

Mr. Corzine says the legislation, which has yet to be unveiled, would prohibit governors from meddling in operations or reducing the toll increases. These are necessary safeguards. The proposal also calls for a public oversight board — to be appointed by the governor, with input from the State Legislature.

The Legislature, controlled by Mr. Corzine’s fellow Democrats, will have to sign off. Legislators need to make sure that there are sufficient guarantees that the public corporation will work in the public interest. They should also work with Mr. Corzine on the other part of his proposal: putting in place measures to end the irresponsible spending that produced this financial mess.

The toll increases will hit many residents of New Jersey hard. But if the details of the plan come out right, including the protections for those least able to pay, they will be worth the pain, and New Jersey’s remedy could become a standard for other fiscally troubled states.


15) Israeli Strike Kills 2 Hamas Members
January 20, 2008

JERUSALEM — An Israeli airstrike killed two members of the Hamas military wing in the northern Gaza Strip early on Saturday, and three Qassam rockets fired by militants from Gaza landed in and around the Israeli border town of Sderot, causing no casualties.

The Israeli Army said another airstrike was aimed at a vehicle carrying weapons in northern Gaza early on Saturday, but no casualties were reported, and that a small ground force entered Gaza and arrested four armed Hamas militants, taking them to Israel for questioning.

The relative calm followed four days of heightened violence during which 39 Palestinians, including at least six civilians, were killed by Israeli fire, hospital officials in Gaza said, and militants from Gaza fired scores of rockets at Israel.

The Israeli military said its actions were aimed at distancing “terrorist organizations, particularly Hamas,” from the border fence, and at reducing rocket fire into Israel. More than 130 rockets were fired at Israel since Tuesday, the army said, with about half landing in Israel.

A United Nations official in Geneva on Saturday condemned Israel’s actions, particularly the bombing on Friday of an empty Hamas Interior Ministry building in a Gaza City neighborhood. Shrapnel from the missile strike killed a woman and wounded up to 46 people, some of them children, who were celebrating at a wedding party next door.

The official, John Dugard, who works on human rights in the Palestinian territories, said the Israelis who were responsible “for such cowardly action” resulting in civilian casualties “are guilty of serious war crimes and should be prosecuted and punished for their crimes.” He said that the attack on the building “near a wedding party venue” was carried out “with what must have been foreseen loss of life and injury to many civilians.”

An Israeli Army spokeswoman said that Israel “had attacked a Hamas headquarters,” and nothing else, in the raid. In response to some of the earlier civilian deaths, military officials said that Israel attacked only militants, but that they often operated from civilian areas in Gaza, while the rocket fire from Gaza was directed at Israeli civilian centers.

Mr. Dugard also criticized Israel’s closing of its border crossings with Gaza as a violation of “the strict prohibition on collective punishment contained in the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, said late on Thursday that the crossings between Gaza and Israel would be sealed for a few days to all traffic, except for essential supplies and emergency cases, as an additional measure to press Hamas into stopping the rocket fire.

Gaza’s population of 1.5 million depends on imports for most basic supplies, and on Saturday, Hamas called on Egypt to open the Rafah crossing on its border with Gaza to allow in goods. The Rafah crossing has been officially closed since Hamas seized control of the strip in June, after the European mission monitoring the area left.

The Rafah crossing had previously been used for passenger traffic only. Hamas and Egypt have opened the crossing briefly on a few occasions, most recently to permit about 2,000 Palestinians to make the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. Israeli officials said Hamas exploited such occasions to bring weapons and money into Gaza. International aid officials have warned that the situation in the already impoverished Gaza Strip could become perilous as a result of the closure.

A spokesman for the Israeli Defense Ministry, Shlomo Dror, said Saturday that “there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza and there won’t be one.”

“It won’t get to that stage,” he said. But he added, “It doesn’t mean that we will make an easy life” for Hamas.

Mr. Dror noted that merchandise passes from Egypt into Gaza “all the time” through tunnels under the border.

At a news conference in Gaza on Saturday, Said Siam, a senior Hamas official who oversees security forces in Gaza, did not address the hostilities with Israel, but announced instead that a young man from Fatah, the main rival of Hamas, had been arrested for plotting to assassinate Ismail Haniya, the Hamas leader in Gaza.

Mr. Siam said the man had been planning to blow himself up in a mosque while Mr. Haniya prayed, and accused senior Fatah officials in the West Bank of involvement in the plot. Fatah officials denied the accusations.

Last week, Hamas said it caught a young man with a bag of explosives heading for a sports stadium in Gaza where Mr. Haniya was appearing before a crowd.

In recent days, there had been indications of a slight thaw in the enmity between Hamas and Fatah. President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah had phoned a Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar, in Gaza to offer his condolences after Mr. Zahar’s son, a militant, was killed in one of the Israeli strikes. And on Friday, several Fatah figures were interviewed on the Hamas-run television station for the first time since June.

But some analysts see Mr. Siam’s announcement as a sign that a rapprochement between the groups is still far off. Late on Friday, Mr. Abbas condemned Israel’s actions in Gaza as “brutal,” but also said the Hamas takeover of Gaza had “destroyed” Palestinian dreams.

Taghreed El-Khodary contributed reporting from Gaza.


16) Detainee’s Lawyers Rebut C.I.A. on Tapes
January 19, 2008

WASHINGTON — Lawyers for Majid Khan, a detainee at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have challenged the Central Intelligence Agency’s assertion that videotaping of interrogations stopped in 2002, saying that Mr. Khan’s interrogations after that time were recorded on videotape.

In papers filed Jan. 4, Mr. Khan’s lawyers challenged a Dec. 6 statement by the C.I.A. director, Gen. Michael V. Hayden. General Hayden, addressing agency employees after being told that The New York Times was about to publish an article about the tapes, wrote that the taping stopped in 2002.

Intelligence officials have said the tapes showed the questioning of just two detainees suspected of being operatives for Al Qaeda, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. The tapes were destroyed in 2005, and Congress and the Justice Department are investigating their destruction.

The filing by Mr. Khan’s lawyers was released Thursday, with heavy redactions by the government. A spokesman for the Justice Department, Erik Ablin, declined to comment because the case was in litigation. A C.I.A. spokesman, Paul Gimigliano, said the agency stood by General Hayden’s statement.

Mr. Khan, a Pakistani who moved to the United States with his family and attended high school outside Baltimore, was captured in 2003 and held at a secret C.I.A. interrogation site overseas. He was one of 14 men suspected of being high-level members of Al Qaeda who were moved to Guantánamo in September 2006.

In a 2006 statement, the government said Mr. Khan was directed by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the chief organizer of the Sept. 11 plot, to conduct research on poisoning reservoirs and blowing up gas stations in the United States. The statement also said Mr. Khan had delivered money for terrorist attacks to another Qaeda operative and discussed a plan to smuggle explosives into the United States.

In an earlier petition to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Mr. Khan’s lawyers in August challenged a finding by a military panel at Guantánamo that he was being properly held as an “enemy combatant.” They have also said he was tortured, though details of the claims have been redacted by the government from the court papers. The C.I.A. has denied torturing anyone.

Attached to Mr. Khan’s new filing are handwritten letters he sent to the appeals court on Dec. 17 and Dec. 21, also with deletions by the government. The letters, in serviceable English, offer a rare direct statement from a so-called high-level detainee.

“Why would I ever want to harm U.S.A., who has never done anything but good to me and my family?” he asks in one letter.

In their motion, Mr. Khan’s lawyers say that Bush administration officials who authorized “state-sanctioned torture” of Mr. Khan and others “have done far greater harm to our nation than any of the unproven allegations against Majid Khan.”


17) The Food Chain
A New, Global Oil Quandary: Costly Fuel Means Costly Calories
January 19, 2008

KUANTAN, Malaysia — Rising prices for cooking oil are forcing residents of Asia’s largest slum, in Mumbai, India, to ration every drop. Bakeries in the United States are fretting over higher shortening costs. And here in Malaysia, brand-new factories built to convert vegetable oil into diesel sit idle, their owners unable to afford the raw material.

This is the other oil shock. From India to Indiana, shortages and soaring prices for palm oil, soybean oil and many other types of vegetable oils are the latest, most striking example of a developing global problem: costly food.

The food price index of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, based on export prices for 60 internationally traded foodstuffs, climbed 37 percent last year. That was on top of a 14 percent increase in 2006, and the trend has accelerated this winter.

In some poor countries, desperation is taking hold. Just in the last week, protests have erupted in Pakistan over wheat shortages, and in Indonesia over soybean shortages. Egypt has banned rice exports to keep food at home, and China has put price controls on cooking oil, grain, meat, milk and eggs.

According to the F.A.O., food riots have erupted in recent months in Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen.

“The urban poor, the rural landless and small and marginal farmers stand to lose,” said He Changchui, the agency’s chief representative for Asia and the Pacific.

A startling change is unfolding in the world’s food markets. Soaring fuel prices have altered the equation for growing food and transporting it across the globe. Huge demand for biofuels has created tension between using land to produce fuel and using it for food.

A growing middle class in the developing world is demanding more protein, from pork and hamburgers to chicken and ice cream. And all this is happening even as global climate change may be starting to make it harder to grow food in some of the places best equipped to do so, like Australia.

In the last few years, world demand for crops and meat has been rising sharply. It remains an open question how and when the supply will catch up. For the foreseeable future, that probably means higher prices at the grocery store and fatter paychecks for farmers of major crops like corn, wheat and soybeans.

There may be worse inflation to come. Food experts say steep increases in commodity prices have not fully made their way to street stalls in the developing world or supermarkets in the West.

Governments in many poor countries have tried to respond by stepping up food subsidies, imposing or tightening price controls, restricting exports and cutting food import duties.

These temporary measures are already breaking down. Across Southeast Asia, for example, families have been hoarding palm oil. Smugglers have been bidding up prices as they move the oil from more subsidized markets, like Malaysia’s, to less subsidized markets, like Singapore’s.

No category of food prices has risen as quickly this winter as so-called edible oils — with sometimes tragic results. When a Carrefour store in Chongqing, China, announced a limited-time cooking oil promotion in November, a stampede of would-be buyers left 3 people dead and 31 injured.

Cooking oil may seem a trifling expense in the West. But in the developing world, cooking oil is an important source of calories and represents one of the biggest cash outlays for poor families, which grow much of their own food but have to buy oil in which to cook it.

Few crops illustrate the emerging problems in the global food chain as well as palm oil, a vital commodity in much of the world and particularly Asia. From jungles and street markets in Southeast Asia to food companies in the United States and biodiesel factories in Europe, soaring prices for the oil are drawing environmentalists, energy companies, consumers, indigenous peoples and governments into acrimonious disputes.

The oil palm is a stout-trunked tree with a spray of frilly fronds at the top that make it look like an enormous sea anemone. The trees, with their distinctive, star-like patterns of leaves, cover an eighth of the entire land area of Malaysia and even greater acreage in nearby Indonesia.

An Efficient Producer

The palm is a highly efficient producer of vegetable oil, squeezed from the tree’s thick bunches of plum-size bright red fruit. An acre of oil palms yields as much oil as eight acres of soybeans, the main rival for oil palms; rapeseed, used to make canola oil, is a distant third. Among major crops, only sugar cane comes close to rivaling oil palms in calories of human food per acre.

Palm oil prices have jumped nearly 70 percent in the last year because supply has grown slowly while demand has soared.

Farmers and plantation companies are responding to the higher prices, clearing hundreds of thousands of acres of tropical forest to replant with rows of oil palms. But an oil palm takes eight years to reach full production. A drought last year in Indonesia and flooding in Peninsular Malaysia helped constrain supply. Worldwide palm oil output climbed just 2.7 percent last year, to 42.1 million tons.

At the same time, palm oil demand is growing steeply for a variety of reasons around the globe. They include shifting decisions among farmers about what to plant, rising consumer demand in China and India for edible oils, and Western subsidies for biofuel production.

American farmers have been planting more corn and less soy because demand for corn-based ethanol has pushed up corn prices. American soybean acreage plunged 19 percent last year, producing a drop in soybean oil output and inventories.

Chinese farmers also cut back soybean acreage last year, as urban sprawl covered prime farmland and the Chinese government provided more incentives for grain.

Yet people in China are also consuming more oils. China not only was the world’s biggest palm oil importer last year, holding steady at 5.2 million tons in the first 11 months of the year, but it also doubled its soybean oil imports to 2.9 million tons, forcing buyers elsewhere to switch to palm oil.

Concerns about nutrition used to hurt palm oil sales, but they are now starting to help. The oil was long regarded in the West as unhealthy, but it has become an attractive option to replace the chemically altered fats known as trans fats, which have lately come to be seen as the least healthy of all fats.

New York City banned trans fats in frying at food service establishments last summer and will ban them in bakery goods this summer. Across the country, manufacturers are trying to replace trans fats. American palm oil imports nearly doubled in the first 11 months of last year, rising by 200,000 tons.

“Four years ago, when this whole no-trans issue started, we processed no palm here," said Mark Weyland, a United States product manager for Loders Croklaan, a Dutch company that supplies palm oil. “Now it’s our biggest seller.”

Last year, conversion of palm oil into fuel was a fast-growing source of demand, but in recent weeks, rising prices have thrown that business into turmoil.

Here on Malaysia’s eastern shore, a series of 45-foot-high green and gray storage tanks connect to a labyrinth of yellow and silver pipes. The gleaming new refinery has the capacity to turn 116,000 tons a year of palm oil into 110,000 tons of a fuel called biodiesel, as well as valuable byproducts like glycerin. Mission Biofuels, an Australian company, finished the refinery last month and is working on an even larger factory next door at the base of a jungle hillside.

But prices have spiked so much that the company cannot cover all its costs and has idled the finished refinery while looking for a new strategy, such as asking a biodiesel buyer to pay a price linked to palm oil costs, and someday switching from palm oil to jatropha, a roadside weed.

“We took a view that palm oil prices were already high; we didn’t think they could go even higher, and then they did,” said Nathan Mahalingam, the company’s managing director.

Growth in Biofuels

Biofuels accounted for almost half the increase in worldwide demand for vegetable oils last year, and represented 7 percent of total consumption of the oils, according to Oil World, a forecasting service in Hamburg, Germany.

The growth of biodiesel, which can be mixed with regular diesel, has been controversial, not only because it competes with food uses of oil but also because of environmental concerns. European conservation groups have been warning that tropical forests are being leveled to make way for oil palm plantations, destroying habitat for orangutans and Sumatran rhinoceroses while also releasing greenhouse gases.

The European Union has moved to restrict imports of palm oil grown in unsustainable ways. The measure has incensed the Malaysian palm oil industry, which had plunged into biofuel production in part to satisfy European demand.

Another controversy involves the treatment of indigenous peoples whose lands have been seized by oil plantations. This has been a particular issue on Borneo.

Anne B. Lasimbang, executive director of the Pacos Trust in the Malaysian state of Sabah in northern Borneo, said that while some indigenous people had benefited from selling palm oil that they grow themselves, many had lost ancestral lands with little to show for it, including lands that used to provide habitats for endangered orangutans.

“Finally, some of the pressures internationally have trickled down. Some of the companies are more open to dialogue; they want to talk to communities,” said Ms. Lasimbang, a member of the Dusun indigenous group. “On our side, we are still suspicious.”

Demand Outstrips Supply

As the multiple conflicts and economic pressures associated with palm oil play out in the global economy, the bottom line seems to be that the world wants more of the oil than it can get.

Even in Malaysia, the center of the global palm oil industry for half a century, spot shortages have cropped up. Recently, as wholesale prices soared, cooking oil refiners complained of inadequate subsidies and cut back production of household oil, sold at low, regulated prices.

Street vendors in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, complain that they cannot find enough cooking oil to prepare roti canai, the flatbread that is the national snack. “It’s very difficult; it’s hard to find,” said one vendor who gave only his first name, Palani, after admitting that he was secretly buying cooking oil intended for households instead of paying the much higher price for commercial use.

Many of the hardest-hit victims of rising food prices are in the vast slums that surround cities in poorer Asian nations. The Kawle family in Mumbai’s sprawling Dharavi slum, a household of nine with just one member working as a laborer for $60 a month, is coping with recent price increases for palm oil.

The family has responded by eating fish once a week instead of twice, seldom cooking vegetables and cutting its monthly rice consumption. Next to go will be the weekly smidgen of lamb.

“If the prices go up again,” said Janaron Kawle, the family patriarch, “we’ll cut the mutton to twice a month and use less oil.”

Contributing reporting were Andrew Martin in New York, Anand Giridharadas in Kale, India, and Michael Rubenstein in Mumbai.


18) Work Is Afoot to Take the Free Out of Freeway
January 19, 2008

DELAWARE WATER GAP, Pa. — Hundreds of cars and trucks scream past Chris Howsare and Laren Myers in the half-hour they spend examining the hodgepodge of wetlands, historic landmarks and utility lines on the stretch of Interstate 80 that bisects this town on the New Jersey border.

Except for a small culvert unearthed by these two environmental planners, everything matches their maps.

So goes the laborious surveying needed to find 10 sites for tollbooths that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission wants to install by 2010 along the 311-mile stretch of I-80 that spans the state.

“It’s a process of elimination,” said Ms. Howsare, who works with Mr. Myers at McCormick Taylor, a Philadelphia engineering firm hired by the commission to come up with a list of possible sites. “We’ll tell them that if they want to build here, they’ll need to get x, y and z permits.”

The new tolls, a particularly controversial part of Pennsylvania’s plans to meet its growing transportation needs, are an unpopular idea among users of I-80, long a free alternative to the Pennsylvania Turnpike for truckers, tourists and residents alike. But with Pennsylvania’s budgets stretched, like those of many other states, the legislature approved the proposal last July.

The tolls — which still face hurdles, notably a need for approval from the federal government — would provide a substantial share of the hundreds of millions of dollars a year that the state says it needs to repair and expand its roads and bridges and so keep up with traffic growth.

“The wish list is extensive,” said Chuck Ardo, a spokesman for Gov. Edward G. Rendell. “We have the highest number of structurally deficient bridges in the country, miles and miles of highway that need repair and public transit systems that need support.”

The transportation squeeze is hardly unique to Pennsylvania.

“There is a perfect storm,” said Phineas Baxandall, an analyst at the United States Public Interest Research Group. “States have had a hard time facing up to their shortfalls in their transportation programs, gas taxes haven’t kept up with inflation, and there’s all these bridges and roads that haven’t been maintained.”

The push to charge tolls along I-80 followed legislators’ rejection of Mr. Rendell’s proposal to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to private investors, an approach taken in Illinois, Indiana and Virginia. Lawmakers were wary that the investors might raise tolls too quickly.

The governor continues to support that idea, though, because the proceeds could be used for more than highway repairs alone. Under the bill passed last July, as well as federal rules, revenue from tolls on I-80 can be spent only on that Interstate.

As in other states, Pennsylvania lawmakers have been reluctant to raise their gasoline tax, the fourth-highest in the country, because fuel prices are so high. The tax would need to rise by 13 cents a gallon to meet the state’s transportation needs, the turnpike commission estimates. (In neighboring New Jersey, where the gas tax is the third-lowest in the country, Gov. Jon S. Corzine introduced a proposal last week to raise tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike, the Garden State Parkway and the Atlantic City Expressway as much as 700 percent by 2022.)

Under Pennsylvania’s plan, drivers on I-80 would pay the same as on the turnpike. Cars crossing the entire state would be charged $25, trucks $93.

“We’re working to solve the state’s transportation-funding crisis to ensure we have a vibrant, growing economy across the I-80 corridor and the entire commonwealth,” said the commission’s chief executive, Joseph G. Brimmeier.

But Mike Biondi, owner of a trucking company that hauls produce, said that he considered the new tolls, combined with fuel taxes, akin to “double taxation” and that the higher costs would be passed on to consumers. “These trucking companies cannot absorb that,” he said.

“It couldn’t come at a worse time,” Mr. Biondi, of Moscow, Pa., near Scranton, said at a commission hearing in East Stroudsburg. “We’re getting whacked.”

Yet the growing burden on I-80 and other roads in Pennsylvania has outpaced the financing for them. According to the commission, the state needs $1.04 billion a year for paving and repair of its Interstate roads and bridges. Currently, only $380 million a year is available.

The state wants to spend $2.1 billion in toll revenue over 10 years to improve I-80. Contrary to the claims of some critics, none of that money could be used to pay for mass transit in Philadelphia and other cities.

States need federal approval to collect tolls on Interstate highways, and the Bush administration has been making it easier for private investors and states to play a greater role in managing those roads. “The nature of highway funding is changing,” said Ian M. Grossman, a spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration. “We are encouraging innovative approaches.”

In October, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and the state’s Department of Transportation applied to the federal agency for the last of three slots in a program that allows states to charge tolls on federally financed highways as long as the money is used to make repairs that could not be made otherwise. (Missouri and Virginia have received the two other slots for their portions of I-70 and I-81, respectively.)

In December, the highway agency requested more information of Pennsylvania, which is preparing a response that includes the data being compiled by Ms. Howsare and Mr. Myers, the environmental planners. The turnpike commission must work quickly, though, because it has already issued bonds in anticipation of starting to collect toll revenue by 2010 to pay them off.

“When you are talking about 300 miles, trying to get it done in three years is mind-boggling,” Ms. Howsare said of the survey work.

Thorny negotiations over where to put the 10 tollbooths are certain once a short list of potential sites is released in a few months. I-80 has 59 interchanges in Pennsylvania, so tollbooths would be placed every six exits or so. To assuage many drivers, the commission is considering keeping the tollgates away from towns where lots of commuters use I-80, so that people in places like Clarion, State College and Wilkes-Barre can avoid paying tolls for local trips.

But residents worry that I-80 tolls would nonetheless be so expensive that drivers would opt for nearby roads instead, creating heavy traffic there.

Of Route 611, which runs near I-80, Peggy Craft of Stroudsburg said: “You get a half a dozen trucks on there and it takes forever to get through town. It’s going to impair us local folks who use that road for errands.”

Nate Schweber contributed reporting from East Stroudsburg, Pa.


19) Job Data Passes Threshold Where Recessions Dwell
January 19, 2008

When the number of Americans out of work starts to rise sharply, a recession occurs.

By that token, the latest figure for unemployed workers is, at the least, a danger sign.

The Labor Department reported that in December some 7,655,000 people were unemployed, meaning they were both without a job and looking for one. That figure was 13.2 percent higher than the 6,760,000 figure in the previous December. In the past, a 13 percent annual rise has been the sign of a recession every time.

Before December, there have been nine cycles in the United States since 1950 in which the annual change in unemployment rose to 13 percent or higher.

In eight of those cases, by the time the rise got to 13 percent, the recession had already begun, according to later conclusions by the National Bureau of Economic Research. In the other one, the recession began three months later, as depicted in the accompanying charts, which show the year-over-year change in the number of unemployed workers from one year before the increase hit 13 percent until one year after the recession ended. (In the case of the early 1980s, when there were two recessions close together, the chart shows both of them.)

The bureau does not, by the way, define a recession as two quarters of decline in the real gross domestic product, although that is a widely used shorthand. Instead, it says “a recession is a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real G.D.P., real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales.”

The fact that employment is one of the indicators helps to explain the close correlation historically, but it would not be there if there had been surges in unemployment that did not correspond with broader economic slowdowns.

The idea that a recession is now here, when the unemployment rate is only 5 percent, may seem odd to anyone who lived through recent decades. That figure is less than half the high reached in 1982, and below the average rate of the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s. But sometimes it is the trend that counts, more than the absolute level.

In earlier decades, there was nothing unusual in a recession starting with an unemployment rate of 5 percent or less. Of the nine recessions since 1950 listed by the economic research bureau, five began with unemployment lower than that. They were the downturns in 1953, 1957, 1969, 1973 and 2001.

The normal pattern is for the 13 percent annual increase in the number of unemployed to come a few months after the recession began, although usually well before it was clear to economists that the downturn had arrived, and then to go much higher. The annual gains in joblessness usually stay above 13 percent until several months after the recession is over.

The only time the unemployment rise came before the recession actually started was in 1969, when the increase hit the 13 percent mark in September but the recession’s official starting date was later determined to be in December. That was also a rare instance where the annual change, after rising to 13 percent, slipped below that level for a couple of months. It did not move above 13 percent to stay until January 1970, a month after the recession began.

Employment is traditionally seen as a lagging economic indicator, because companies can be reluctant to lay off workers when demand first starts to slip, waiting until the bad news is clear. When the recession ends, there is a similar reluctance to hire until it is clear that a pickup in business is not temporary.

There is, of course, no guarantee that a recession is coming. In 1956 and again in 1967 there were 12 percent increases in the number of unemployed people, but the rate of gain fell back quickly and no recession quickly ensued. But the figure has never risen to 13 percent without a downturn being imminent or already under way.





World Briefing | Asia
India: Bird Flu Spread ‘Alarming’
India’s third outbreak of avian flu among poultry is the worst it has faced, the World Health Organization said. The chief minister of West Bengal State, which is trying to cull 400,000 birds, called the virus’s spread “alarming.” Uncooperative villagers, angry at being offered only 75 cents a chicken by the government, have been selling off their flocks and throwing dead birds into waterways, increasing the risk. New outbreaks were also reported this week in Iran and Ukraine.
January 19, 2008

National Briefing | West
California: Thermostat Plan
After an outcry of objections, the California Energy Commission withdrew its proposal to require new buildings in the state to have radio-controlled thermostats that, in a power emergency, could be used to override customers’ temperature settings. Instead of making the proposal part of new state building requirements, the commissioners will discuss the use of the “programmable communicating thermostats” when considering how to manage electrical loads — with the understanding that customers would have the right to refuse to allow the state to override their wishes.
January 16, 2008

PDC Fact Sheet
Murdered by Mumia: Big Lies in the Service of Legal Lynching
Mumia is Innocent! Free Him Now!

Britain: Lethal Bird Flu at Famed Swan Reserve
World Briefing | Europe
The deadly H5N1 strain of avian flu has reached one of England’s most famous swan breeding grounds, the Abbotsbury Swannery on the Dorset coast. Tests on three dead mute swans confirmed the virus, spread by wild birds. The manager said he was working to determine how many swans might be affected.
January 11, 2008

Utah: Cholera Suspected in Bird Deaths
National Briefing | Rockies
About 1,500 dead birds that washed up on the southern shore of the Great Salt Lake may have been killed by avian cholera, an expert said. Dead grebes, ducks and gulls were being sent to the National Wildlife Health Center of the United States Geological Survey in Madison, Wis., for examination. “If I was a betting man,” said the expert, Tom Aldrich of the State Division of Wildlife Resources, “I would bet it was cholera.” The disease, which poisons the blood, spreads when birds are overcrowded and food supplies are short. It does not affect humans. [Doesn't affect humans? How does the death of birds not affect humans?]
January 5, 2008

United Nations: Assembly Calls for Freeze on Death Penalty
In a vote that made for unusual alliances, the General Assembly passed, 104 to 54 with 29 abstentions, a nonbinding resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. Among the countries joining the United States in opposition to the European-led measure were Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan and Zimbabwe. Opponents argued that the resolution undermined their national sovereignty. Two similar moves in the 1990s failed, and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the new vote was “evidence of a trend toward ultimately abolishing the death penalty.”
December 19, 2007

Carbon Dioxide Threatens Reefs, Report Says
National Briefing | Science and Health
Carbon dioxide in the air is turning the oceans acidic, and without a reduction in emissions, coral reefs may die away by the end of the century, researchers warn in Friday’s issue of the journal Science. Carbon dioxide dissolves into ocean water, changes to carbonic acid, and carbonic acid dissolves the calcium carbonate in the skeletons of corals. Laboratory experiments have shown that corals possess some ability to adapt to warmer waters but no ability to adapt to the higher acidity. “Unless we reverse our actions very quickly, by the end of the century, reefs could be a thing of the past,” said Ken Caldeira, a scientist at the Carnegie Institution’s department of global ecology and an author of the Science paper.
December 14, 2007

Iraq: Marine Discharged Over Killing
World Briefing | Middle East
A Marine reservist, Lance Cpl. Delano Holmes, 22, of Indianapolis, was sentenced to a bad-conduct discharge and reduced in rank to private, a day after being convicted at Camp Pendleton, Calif., of negligent homicide in the 2006 stabbing death of an Iraqi soldier he stood watch with at a guard post in Falluja. He has served 10 months in a military prison and will not spend any more time in custody. The lance corporal’s lawyer has said that the killing was in self-defense. Prosecutors contended that he killed the Iraqi and then set up the scene to support his story. He was also found guilty of making a false official statement.
December 15, 2007

Canada: Mounties Urged to Restrict Taser Use
In a report, the watchdog commission that oversees the Royal Canadian Mounted Police recommended that Taser stun guns be used only on people who are “combative or posing a risk of death or grievous bodily harm,” much like a conventional firearm rather than a nightstick or pepper spray. The report was ordered by the government after a confused and angry Polish immigrant, Robert Dziekanski, left, died at the airport in Vancouver after being stunned at least twice by Mounties. The report found that Tasers were increasingly being used against people who were merely resistant rather than dangerous.
December 13, 2007

Greece: Tens of Thousands March in Strike
A one-day strike by unions representing 2.5 million workers brought Athens to a standstill. Protesting planned government changes to the state-financed pension system, an estimated 80,000 people marched through central Athens. In Thessaloniki, 30,000 people rallied, the police said. The strike shut down hospitals, banks, schools, courts and all public services. Flights were canceled, and public transportation, including boats connecting the mainland with the islands, ground to a halt. More strikes are expected next week.
December 13, 2007




Russell Means Speaking at the Transform Columbus Day Rally
"If voting could do anything it would be illegal!"


Stop the Termination or the Cherokee Nation


We Didn't Start the Fire

I Can't Take it No More

The Art of Mental Warfare

http://video. videoplay? docid=-905047436 2583451279




Port of Olympia Anti-Militarization Action Nov. 2007


"They have a new gimmick every year. They're going to take one of their boys, black boys, and put him in the cabinet so he can walk around Washington with a cigar. Fire on one end and fool on the other end. And because his immediate personal problem will have been solved he will be the one to tell our people: 'Look how much progress we're making. I'm in Washington, D.C., I can have tea in the White House. I'm your spokesman, I'm your leader.' While our people are still living in Harlem in the slums. Still receiving the worst form of education.

"But how many sitting here right now feel that they could [laughs] truly identify with a struggle that was designed to eliminate the basic causes that create the conditions that exist? Not very many. They can jive, but when it comes to identifying yourself with a struggle that is not endorsed by the power structure, that is not acceptable, that the ground rules are not laid down by the society in which you live, in which you are struggling against, you can't identify with that, you step back.

"It's easy to become a satellite today without even realizing it. This country can seduce God. Yes, it has that seductive power of economic dollarism. You can cut out colonialism, imperialism and all other kind of ism, but it's hard for you to cut that dollarism. When they drop those dollars on you, you'll fold though."

—MALCOLM X, 1965


A little gem:
Michael Moore Faces Off With Stephen Colbert [VIDEO]


LAPD vs. Immigrants (Video)


Dr. Julia Hare at the SOBA 2007


"We are far from that stage today in our era of the absolute
lie; the complete and totalitarian lie, spread by the
monopolies of press and radio to imprison social
consciousness." December 1936, "In 'Socialist' Norway,"
by Leon Trotsky: “Leon Trotsky in Norway” was transcribed
for the Internet by Per I. Matheson [References from
original translation removed]


Wealth Inequality Charts


MALCOLM X: Oxford University Debate


"There comes a times when silence is betrayal."
--Martin Luther King


YouTube clip of Che before the UN in 1964


The Wealthiest Americans Ever
NYT Interactive chart
JULY 15, 2007


New Orleans After the Flood -- A Photo Gallery
This email was sent to you as a service, by Roland Sheppard.
Visit my website at:


[For some levity...Hans Groiner plays Monk]


Which country should we invade next?


My Favorite Mutiny, The Coup


Michael Moore- The Awful Truth


Morse v. Frederick Supreme Court arguments


Free Speech 4 Students Rally - Media Montage


'My son lived a worthwhile life'
In April 2003, 21-year old Tom Hurndall was shot in the head
in Gaza by an Israeli soldier as he tried to save the lives of three
small children. Nine months later, he died, having never
recovered consciousness. Emine Saner talks to his mother
Jocelyn about her grief, her fight to make the Israeli army
accountable for his death and the book she has written
in his memory.
Monday March 26, 2007
The Guardian,,2042968,00.html


Introducing...................the Apple iRack


"A War Budget Leaves Every Child Behind."
[A T-shirt worn by some teachers at Roosevelt High School
in L.A. as part of their campaign to rid the school of military
recruiters and JROTC--see Article in Full item number 4,]




George Takai responds to Tim Hardaway's homophobic remarks




Another view of the war. A link from Amer Jubran


A Girl Like Me
7:08 min
Youth Documentary
Kiri Davis, Director, Reel Works Teen Filmmaking, Producer
Winner of the Diversity Award
Sponsored by Third Millennium Foundation


Film/Song about Angola


"200 million children in the world sleep in the streets today.
Not one of them is Cuban."
(A sign in Havana)
View sign at bottom of page at:
[Thanks to Norma Harrison for sending]



"Cheyenne and Arapaho oral histories hammer history's account of the
Sand Creek Massacre"

CENTENNIAL, CO -- A new documentary film based on an award-winning
documentary short film, "The Sand Creek Massacre", and driven by
Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho people who tell their version about
what happened during the Sand Creek Massacre via their oral
histories, has been released by Olympus Films+, LLC, a Centennial,
Colorado film company.

"You have done an extraordinary job" said Margie Small, Tobient
Entertainment, " on the Colorado PBS episode, the library videos for
public schools and libraries, the trailer, etc...and getting the
story told and giving honor to those ancestors who had to witness
this tragic and brutal is one of the best ways."

"The images shown in the film were selected for native awareness
value" said Donald L. Vasicek, award-winning writer/filmmaker, "we
also focused on preserving American history on film because tribal
elders are dying and taking their oral histories with them. The film
shows a non-violent solution to problem-solving and 19th century
Colorado history, so it's multi-dimensional in that sense. "

Chief Eugene Blackbear, Sr., Cheyenne, who starred as Chief Black
Kettle in "The Last of the Dogmen" also starring Tom Berenger and
Barbara Hershey and "Dr. Colorado", Tom Noel, University of Colorado
history professor, are featured.

The trailer can be viewed and the film can be ordered for $24.95 plus
$4.95 for shipping and handling at

Vasicek's web site,, provides detailed
information about the Sand Creek Massacre including various still
images particularly on the Sand Creek Massacre home page and on the
proposal page.

Olympus Films+, LLC is dedicated to writing and producing quality
products that serve to educate others about the human condition.


Donald L. Vasicek
Olympus Films+, LLC
7078 South Fairfax Street
Centennial, CO 80122,+Don


Join us in a campaign to expose and stop the use
of these illegal weapons


You may enjoy watching these.
In struggle


FIGHTBACK! A Collection of Socialist Essays
By Sylvia Weinstein


[The Scab
"After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad,
and the vampire, he had some awful substance left with
which he made a scab."
"A scab is a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul,
a water brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue.
Where others have hearts, he carries a tumor of rotten
principles." "When a scab comes down the street,
men turn their backs and angels weep in heaven, and
the devil shuts the gates of hell to keep him out."
"No man (or woman) has a right to scab so long as there
is a pool of water to drown his carcass in,
or a rope long enough to hang his body with.
Judas was a gentleman compared with a scab.
For betraying his master, he had character enough
to hang himself." A scab has not.
"Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage.
Judas sold his Savior for thirty pieces of silver.
Benedict Arnold sold his country for a promise of
a commision in the british army."
The scab sells his birthright, country, his wife,
his children and his fellowmen for an unfulfilled
promise from his employer.
Esau was a traitor to himself; Judas was a traitor
to his God; Benedict Arnold was a traitor to his country;
a scab is a traitor to his God, his country,
his family and his class."
Author --- Jack London (1876-1916)...Roland Sheppard]


Stop funding Israel's war against Palestine
Complete the form at the website listed below with your information.


Sand Creek Massacre
(scroll down when you get there])

On November 29, 1864, 700 Colorado troops savagely slaughtered
over 450 Cheyenne children, disabled, elders, and women in the
southeastern Colorado Territory under its protection. This act
became known as the Sand Creek Massacre. This film project
("The Sand Creek Massacre" documentary film project) is an
examination of an open wound in the souls of the Cheyenne
people as told from their perspective. This project chronicles
that horrific 19th century event and its affect on the 21st century
struggle for respectful coexistence between white and native
plains cultures in the United States of America.

Listed below are links on which you can click to get the latest news,
products, and view, free, "THE SAND CREEK MASSACRE" award-
winning documentary short. In order to create more native
awareness, particularly to save the roots of America's history,
please read the following:

Some people in America are trying to save the world. Bless
them. In the meantime, the roots of America are dying.
What happens to a plant when the roots die? The plant dies
according to my biology teacher in high school. American's
roots are its native people. Many of America's native people
are dying from drug and alcohol abuse, poverty, hunger,
and disease, which was introduced to them by the Caucasian
male. Tribal elders are dying. When they die, their oral
histories go with them. Our native's oral histories are the
essence of the roots of America, what took place before
our ancestors came over to America, what is taking place,
and what will be taking place. It is time we replenish
America's roots with native awareness, else America
continues its decaying, and ultimately, its death.

READY FOR PURCHASE! (pass the word about this powerful
educational tool to friends, family, schools, parents, teachers,
and other related people and organizations to contact
me (, 303-903-2103) for information
about how they can purchase the DVD and have me come
to their children's school to show the film and to interact
in a questions and answers discussion about the Sand
Creek Massacre.

Happy Holidays!

Donald L. Vasicek
Olympus Films+, LLC,+Don

(scroll down when you get there])

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