The violence at the U.S. embassy in Belgrade that left one person dead and parts of the building damaged by fire on Thursday has provoked a furious reaction in Washington. Speaking at the United Nations, U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad called the attack an “outrage,” and the Security Council passed a resolution reminding the Serb government “of its responsibility to protect diplomatic facilities.”

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The violence came in the wake of a peaceful demonstration by hundreds of thousands of Serbs condemning this week’s Western-backed declaration of independence by Kosovo, which has until now been a Serbian province governed under U.N. auspices.

U.S. officials openly questioned the Serbian government’s lax security measures at the U.S. and other embassies, several of which have been attacked in the past week and suggested that some government ministers were inciting Serbs to violence. “We have made known to the Serbian government our concern and displeasure that their police force did not prevent this incident,” Dana Perino , spokesperson for President George W. Bush said, while other U.S. officials blasted Belgrade’s “completely inadequate” security precautions.

Several hundred hooded protesters broke away from the 500,000-strong crowd at the rally, throwing rocks and molotov cocktails at the Croatian and U.S. embassies. Flames licked up to the second floor of the old brick building which is located in the heart of the capital. Serbian paramilitary police, arriving in Humvees, dispersed the crowd using tear gas. But firefighters later discovered a charred body in a lower room. The embassy had been largely empty at the time and US officials say all employees have since been accounted for; the body is believed to be that of a protester.

While Serb officials expressed regret over the incident, and some have criticized Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica for inciting violence, their focus remains on challenging Kosovo’s secession. Branislav Ristivojevic, spokesman for Kostunica’s Democratic Party of Serbia, accused the U.S. of violating the U.N. Charter and Resolution 1244 (which ended the Kosovo war but stipulated that Kosovo was still part of Serbia) by recognizing Kosovo’s unilateral independence declaration, calling that, rather than the events at the embassy, “the deepest violation of international law”. And U.N. troops used teargas to disperse some 5,000 Serb demonstrators trying to cross into the Albanian side of the divided northern Kosovo city of Mitrovica.

At Thursday’s rally, the sharp divisions that typify Serbian politics were nowhere to be seen, as leaders from across the spectrum united in a massive show of force to protest Kosovo’s secession from Serbia. As banners bearing messages such as “Kosovo is Serbia” were hoisted, the country’s leading politicians were joined by the likes of filmmaker Emir Kusturica. Even Australian open tennis champion Novak Djokovic beamed his support via video link.

Thursday’s demonstration follows a week of orchestrated outrage that has singled out those countries that have recognized Kosovo’s declaration of independence . In addition to stone – throwing incidents at several embassies in Belgrade, no fewer than ten McDonald’s outlets were vandalized. A local Slovenian supermaket chain was targeted as were Albanian sweet shops and bakeries. (Slovenia currently holds the rotating EU presidency while Albania has consistently supported the secession struggle of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority.) Serbian state television pulled American movies and sitcoms off the air and replaced them with Russian and Spanish dramas. (Spain and Russia have refused to recognize Kosovo).

In the Serb-dominated north of Kosovo, meanwhile, Kosovo Serbs descended on two border posts, torching one and blowing up the other, before NATO troops from the territory’s 16,000-strong peacekeeping force arrived to take control of the posts. There were no casualties.

“We are struggling for what is legitimately ours. We will not tolerate this illegal act of secession,” Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic told European lawmakers in the French city of Strasbourg.

Many Serbs see Kosovo as their ancestral homeland . They believe they are being unfairly punished for the sins of one man, Slobodan Milosevic, the former strongman who died in 2006 while facing war crimes charges in the Hague. And they blame the U.S. in particular for backing Kosovo Albanians drive to independence. U.S. warplanes bombed Belgrade in 1999 at the height of the campaign to stop Milosevic’s “ethnic cleansing” campaign in Kosovo.

At Thursday’s rally, Prime Minister Kostunica asked the crowd: “Is there anyone here who is not from Kosovo? Is there anyone here who’s ready to give Kosovo away?” The crowd cheered. No one volunteered. “They want us to give away our Serbian identity, our origins, our Kosovo, our ancestors, and our history. They say we’d be better off without these things, as a nation without memory and history. They say we will live better if we just forget we’re Serbs and agree to be humiliated.”

“Without Kosovo, there is no Serbia,” Tomislav Nikolic, a leader of the Serbian Radical Party said later. “Today we’re all the same. Today we are one.”

* By Andrew Purvis (TIME; Friday, Feb. 22, 2008)
With reporting by Dejan Anastasijevic/Belgrade

BERKELEY, California, 6 Feb (IPS) – Jaded toward their government back home and cynical of the current U.S. administration and the Republicans they historically supported, a new generation of Iranian-Americans appears to be looking to Barack Obama to bring about change, especially with regards to U.S. foreign policy toward Iran.

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Many observers believe the refusal by the other leading Democrat for the presidential nomination, Senator Hillary Clinton, to rule out force against Iran in campaign statements, paired with her strong support of Israel, has substantially weakened her support in the community.

What troubles Iranian-American voters is the uncertainty about Senator Clinton’s position on employing military force against Iran. At least with the leading Republican presidential contender, the option is clear: John McCain believes that Iran is resolute on the destruction of Israel and favours sanctions and military action against Tehran.

‘Every option must remain on the table. Military action isn’t our preference. It remains, as it always must, the last option,’ said McCain during a speech to the group Christians United for Israel last July. Unfortunately, his rendition of the Beach Boys song entitled ‘Barbara Ann’, i.e. ‘bomb, bomb, bomb, (pause), bomb, bomb Iran’ earlier this year clearly depicted his frame of mine.

Other Republican contenders, such as Mitt Romney, hold a similar stance: ‘There is one place of course where I’d welcome [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad with open arms: and that’s in a court where he would stand trial for incitement to genocide, under the terms of the Genocide Convention,’ Romney said.

The 2000 census estimates the number of Iranians in the United States at 330,000, more than half of them living in California. This figure reflects a major wave of immigration in the years immediately following the 1979 revolution. Iranian-American political and community groups believe the estimate is vastly understated and that the population in fact may be as high as one million.

‘We are witnessing a rather stark shift in the Iranian-American community,’ Trita Parsi, director of National Iranian American Council, a nationwide non-partisan institute based in Washington, told IPS. ‘The Republican Party has lost much support in the community, and it doesn’t help that McCain is the likely Republican candidate, mindful of his singing about bombing Iran. This breaks a pattern in which the community has tended to support the Republican Party for fiscal reasons.’

‘Obama’s momentum seems to be even stronger in the community than in the country in general. Many people I’ve spoken to tend to believe that the difference between Clinton and Bush isn’t great enough,’ Parsi said. ‘Her vote in favour of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment [which threatens to ‘combat, contain and (stop)’ Iran] has particularly hurt her in the community, and reinforced the perception of her proximity to the Bush foreign policy.’

Traditionally, Iranian-Americans who left Iran during or just after the revolution, and have fostered hopes of government change since then, vote Republican. However, almost 30 years later, Iranian-Americans seem to be shifting towards a candidate who will take a less hawkish position on U.S. policy toward Iran.

While they have little sympathy for, and indeed are deeply suspicious of the hardliner government of President Ahmadinejad, polls show that they are nonetheless strongly opposed to any kind of military action against Iran. Most say the last thing they favour is a U.S. invasion or bombing of Iran, and to see the country follow a fate similar to Afghanistan or Iraq, and endure the destruction that ensued its neighbors and bear millions of homeless and refugees.

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Dr. Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies Programme at Stanford University, co-director of the Iran Democracy Project at the Hoover Institution in Palo Alto, and an influential figure among Iranian-Americans in San Francisco’s Bay Area, where Obama just won an endorsement from an Iranian American Democrats, finds the difference in popularity of Clinton and Obama to be minimal.

‘They both said that they are willing to negotiate. Obama has been more forceful and categorical and here, based on the empirical evidence that we have, the diaspora overwhelmingly wants principal dialogue, and both of these people seem to confirm that desire.’

He believes Clinton’s harsher rhetoric stems from the fact that she represents New York, a state with a relatively large Jewish population that is inclined toward Israel and prefers a tougher stance on Iran.

Although it was during her husband’s presidency that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright apologised to Iranians for the U.S. involvement in the 1953 coup, which overthrew one of Iran’s most popular and democratic governments, Senator Clinton’s harsh rhetoric against Iran scares many Iranian-Americans who have family and deep cultural roots back home.

Last February, Clinton spoke at a Manhattan dinner held by the largest pro-Israel lobbying group in the U.S., the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, calling Iran a danger to the U.S. and one of Israel’s greatest threats. She mimicked President Bush when telling a crowd of Israel supporters that ‘U.S. policy must be clear and unequivocal: we cannot, we should not, we must not permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons. In dealing with this threat … no option can be taken off the table.’

Even if Senator Clinton has no serious intention of striking Iran, her rhetoric during the last year has made her unpopular among the new generation of Iranian-Americans.

Additionally, unlike Obama, she voted in favour of the Iran Counter Proliferation Act, calling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a ‘terrorist organisation’. She has defended her position, stating, ‘This resolution in no way authorises or sanctions military action against Iran and instead seeks to end the Bush administration’s diplomatic inaction in the region.’

The editor of one of the most popular websites among the Iranian-American community, Jahanshah Javid, said that, ‘among those who have blogged on Iranian.com in recent weeks, (they) have mostly supported democratic candidates, especially because of their positions on foreign policy which appears to be less militaristic.’

However, he was also feeling the winds of change are blowing toward Obama, ‘because he has clearly stated that he favours negotiations with Iran.’

Author: Omid Memarian is a peace fellow at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. He has won several awards, including Human Rights Watch’s highest honour in 2005, the Human Rights Defender Award.

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I am Independent politically. But, now, I consider the best political option, for USA and the world, will be to have a president democrat.
In politics do not exist pure, perfect or free errors candidates.

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The actual world to govern had a lot people complicated and variable in extreme.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are two excellent candidates. According the history and politics characteristics of USA; in my opinion, Hillary Clinton, with her errors included, she can be a real option to improve the national and international politics of USA.

Nevertheless, I do not rule out to Obama. Also, he is a good option to be president of USA.

In reality all it depends on what they do (both candidates) in next days. The fight is very hard. But, at the end, I will support to the best: Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

See You Later.
CARLOS Tiger without Time

Here’s a quick rundown of the many advantages the Democrats enjoy at this stage of the 2008 campaign. Voter turnout in most states is running well ahead of that for the GOP.

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Democratic fund-raising continues to break all records—even those set previously by Republicans. The Democrats’ issues cupboard is fuller than it has been in a decade and a half. And voters have narrowed the field to two wildly popular candidates, either of whom would make history if nominated, much less elected.

Given the embarrassment of riches, it was only a matter of time before Democratic voters looked at the choice between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and asked the question, Why not both?

That idea had been on some voters’ minds even before the dream was made flesh two weeks ago in Los Angeles, where, at the end of the Kodak Theatre debate, Obama and Clinton smiled, embraced each other for more than the usual nanosecond and then seemed to whisper something knowing in each other’s ear.

After weeks of hand-to-hand combat and rumors of tiffs that may or may not have been real, the Hug rightly or wrongly got even more people thinking about the power of two.

Even if their act was dutiful, evanescent and faked for the cameras, party regulars seemed to eat it up. It was all there: the visionary and the technician, the candidate who could inspire the masses and the candidate who could get under the sink and fix the plumbing.

For Clinton, pairing with Obama would repair some of the damage with African Americans brought on by her campaign and, at least in theory, push her husband to the sidelines. Obama, in turn, would get a mechanic to match his magic, someone who could turn his poetry into governing prose.

A new TIME poll reveals that 62% of Democrats want Clinton to put Obama on the ticket; 51% want Obama to return the favor if he is the nominee. The party’s right brain and left brain, dancing together at last, right?

Unlikely Partners—for Now
Well, not exactly. It’s far too early to know if Obama and Clinton could work together, though there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. While the Clinton camp saw an opportunity in the general longing of the audience—Clinton fund raiser Terry McAuliffe said on the morning of Super Tuesday that Obama has generated so much excitement, he would have to be considered for the party’s vice-presidential nomination—the Obama people saw a trap.

If Obama and his aides lent any credence now to the dangled notion of a partnership, they know that some of his voters might peel off, thinking a vote for Clinton was, in effect, a twofer. And that could drive down Obama’s turnout. “We’re not running for Vice President,” said Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs.
No, and as long as Obama has a real shot at the top spot, there’s no need to entertain the Veep talk. As a top Obama aide said, “That’s not where this campaign’s head is at.” Instead, the Obama camp had been expecting the Veep proffer for weeks, just as it had expected the Clinton campaign to play the race card after New Hampshire.

Obama headquarters was fully aware that the Clintons had badly overplayed their hand in the days leading up to South Carolina—so badly that Bill or Hillary would have to make some peace offering to Obama’s supporters, if not to Obama himself, to heal the breach. But forgiveness, while long a staple of the Clinton narrative, isn’t something the Obama team is ready to embrace.

An Obama adviser put it this way: “One could argue that the Senator should not even agree to discuss an offer of the vice presidency until Senator Clinton agrees to bar her husband from the West Wing for the duration of the first term. And then once she agrees to that, he should turn it down.”

More to the point, is the job of Vice President to a Clinton worth having? Al Gore learned that being No. 2 to Bill was really more like being No. 3 after you factored in Hillary, who had an office in the West Wing and a larger suite of rooms down the hall from the Veep in the Old Executive Office Building. Gore watched his priorities often take a backseat to hers in the first term—and his future run aground as they fought successfully to avoid impeachment and conviction.

While she joked with David Letterman on his show that there is no doubt “who wears the pantsuits” in her house, there is little doubt that the Clintons intend to work as a team if Hillary is elected. “I’ll be there, talking her through everything,” Bill said in Napa Valley, Calif., last month, “like she did with me.” One unaligned party wise man said, “Obama may look at the Clintons, at both of them—at that whole thing they have—and say, ‘Jeez, that’s just way too [messed] up to be a part of. That’s just no place I want to be.'”

If Obama becomes the nominee, the arguments against teaming with the Clintons might be even stronger.Obama’s defining issue in the race is not health care or the economy or even the war, where he is most distinct from his rival. It’s about being new and different and not from the past; in short, about not being a Clinton.

For months he has attacked Clinton for taking money from lobbyists, for flimflamming voters on her war votes and for playing race and gender cards when she fell behind. To reverse all that and join forces with the Clintons would be seen as a huge betrayal of his most galvanizing argument—as well as his character—by many of his followers. The numbers back this up.

In Time’s poll, 58% of Clinton backers favor bringing Obama onto the ticket; nearly the same percentage (56%) of Obama supporters favor choosing someone else.
The Shadow of History

It would be wrong to suggest that the pro-Obama sentiment is universal inside the Clinton camp. It isn’t difficult to find those allied with Clinton who believe that Obama would make an underwhelming vice-presidential nominee. Clinton, they say, will want an attack dog both on the trail and as Vice President—a role Obama is ill suited for and uncomfortable assuming. Plus, the states he could deliver she could win on her own.

But what really worries Clinton loyalists is that Obama lacks their, well, loyalty. Running her campaign are a host of aides who have worked for the Clintons before, been fired or been kicked aside and yet keep coming back, decade after decade, to help. That’s how the Clintons define loyalty. That pattern may explain why there are those in Clintonland who think Obama has wronged her over the course of the campaign simply because he took her on.

Against all the mutual animus and anger, however, stands a lot of history. And history suggests a deal later is possible, if not likely, whatever the insiders may think now. More often than not, winners in both parties reach out to losers—or at least contemplate an overture—when the time comes to put a broken party back together. John Kennedy tapped Lyndon Johnson in 1960, though the two men were like oil and water. Ronald Reagan named George H.W. Bush in 1980, though they never became very close.

Walter Mondale gave a man he resented, Gary Hart, a good look in 1984, before choosing Geraldine Ferraro. And John Kerry recruited his former rival John Edwards in 2004, though the hard feelings on both sides never went away. Whoever wins these primaries may have no choice but to offer it to the also-ran.

So perhaps it is wisest now to think of the Democratic primary campaign not as one race but two: the one for the delegates and the other for reconciliation. We will probably know who wins the delegate race before school is out. But it might be late summer before the parleys and the peacemaking that lead to a partnership get under way. A lot can happen in six months. The party’s fortunes could dim; the hard feelings could soften. And by August, who knows? There is no telling what a Democratic nominee will need in a running mate—and vice versa.

* By Michael Duffy Wednesday, Feb. 06, 2008

SHANGHAI — China’s latest export is inflation. After falling for years, prices of Chinese goods sold in the United States have risen for the last eight months.

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Soaring energy and raw material costs, a falling dollar and new business rules here are forcing Chinese factories to increase the prices of their exports, according to analysts and Western companies doing business here.

The rise was a modest 2.4 percent over the last year. But even that small amount, combined with higher energy and food costs that also reflect China’s growing demands on global resources, contributed to a rise in inflation in the United States. Inflation in the United States was 4.1 percent in 2007, up from 2.5 percent in 2006.

Because of new cost pressures here, American consumers could see prices increase by as much as 10 percent this year on specific products — including toys, clothing, footwear and other consumer goods — just as the United States faces a possible recession.

In the longer term, higher costs in China could spell the end of an era of ultra-cheap goods, as well as the beginning of China’s rise from the lowest rungs of global manufacturing.

Economists have been warning for months that this country’s decade-long role of keeping a lid on global inflation was on the wane.

“China has been the world’s factory and the anchor of the global disconnect between rising material prices and lower consumer prices,” said Dong Tao, an economist for Credit Suisse. “But its heyday is over. We’re going to see higher prices.”

Chinese imports constitute 7.5 percent of spending by Americans on consumer goods, but they make up much bigger shares of several popular categories, including about 80 percent of toys, 85 percent of footwear, and 40 percent of clothing.

Even when the market share held by Chinese goods is relatively small, their low prices put pressure on other producers to keep costs down.

Whether Chinese factories will succeed in making wholesalers pay more for their goods and whether retailers will be able to pass much of their higher costs on to American consumers is unclear, analysts say.

But companies that operate in China or buy from here are already reeling from mounting cost pressures that they say will weaken their profits and could disrupt their supply chains.

Those supply lines were already called into question by large-scale recalls of Chinese exports last year, involving everything from toys to pet food to tires.

“This is what I call the perfect storm,” said Alan G. Hassenfeld, the chairman of Hasbro, one of the world’s largest toy makers, during a recent visit to China. “We’ve got higher labor costs and labor shortages, plastic prices have gone way up and we’re doing more safety testing.”

While no reliable figures exist on average Chinese wages, experts say that factory wages have risen 80 percent or more in many coastal areas in recent years, with the lowest wage about $125 a month.

Some of the current cost pressures are actually by design — Beijing’s design.

After years of complaints from the United States and Europe about China’s growing trade surplus, authorities here have removed incentives that once favored exporters of cheap goods.
Starting last June, for instance, China removed or reduced tax rebates on hundreds of items for export, including toys, apparel, leather, wood and other goods, effectively taxing those industries.

But the actions are also part of Beijing’s desire to move China higher up the global manufacturing chain — away from the least- finished products, like plastic children’s toys, toward more advanced exports that require skilled labor, like small electronics and even automobiles.

Whatever the government’s motivation, many Chinese exporters say the timing of the rebate cut was disastrous. Their factories had been struggling to cope with problems that included power shortages, higher raw material costs, rising wages and inflation in other areas.

For instance, the cost of some types of plastic has risen more than 30 percent in the last few years because of higher oil or petroleum costs. Plastic is a major component in toys and other consumer goods.

Many Chinese factory owners say a tough new labor law, which went into effect on Jan. 1, complicates the hiring and firing process and threatens to raise labor costs even more, at a time when parts of the country are already plagued with labor shortages. Some factory owners say there have already been strikes and other turmoil over the interpretation of the new law and how it should be applied.

“We have seen lots of brawls between employees and employers,” said Hong Jiasheng, vice president of the Taiwan Merchant Association, which represents investors in China. “We think the enactment of the new labor law is too hasty.”

Analysts say Beijing is also stepping up its enforcement of environmental laws, putting added pressure on factories that had long skirted regulations. Adhering to those often ignored rules increases cost, too.

These changes take place against the backdrop of a dollar falling modestly against the Chinese currency. The dollar is down about 7.6 percent in the last year against the yuan and is expected to fall further this year.

The weaker the dollar, the more expensive Chinese and other goods become when their prices are converted to dollars.
All in all, toy producers are among the hardest hit by the changes in law and prices. They rely on large quantities of plastic. They face heightened regulatory scrutiny after the product safety scandals last year.

Indeed, some toy factories went bankrupt, squeezed between rising local costs and pressures from foreign customers to deliver a better product at an even lower price.

“I’ve been in the toy industry for almost 20 years, but these past two years have been the hardest time,” said Guo Jinshen, manager of the Fenggang Fengyuan Plastic Toys Company.

“Costs are rising, there are recalls, stricter regulation, more complicated inspection — all these things make it difficult.”
To reduce costs, some factory owners are considering moving to inland China, where wages are lower, or to other parts of Asia, like Vietnam and Indonesia.

Li & Fung, one of the biggest companies for supplying products worldwide, says its customers are already responding to Chinese inflation.

“There’s a shift in sourcing driven by higher prices in China,” says Bruce Rockowitz, president at Li & Fung. “We’ve already seen a big move in furniture to Indonesia.”

But while relocating production to cheaper countries could keep prices low for Western consumer goods, moving factories and complex supply chains is difficult. Such changes can take years and cost millions of dollars.

In the meantime, makers of toys, apparel and footwear — highly labor-intensive industries — are being forced to consider raising prices even as growth in the United States slows, a rare confluence of events not seen in decades.

Companies that began outsourcing production to China in the 1990s mostly benefited from lower costs, which translated into both higher corporate profits and lower consumer prices. Now, many Western companies have to rethink pricing.

“Companies are now ordering for the spring of 2009,” says Nate Herman, director of international trade at the American Apparel and Footwear Association, based in Arlington, Va., that represents some big clothing and footwear makers. “Factories are coming back and asking for 20, 30, 40, 50 percent price increases.”

Will importers pass those costs on to consumers? “It’s going to be hard to avoid some increase,” he said.

* By DAVID BARBOZA (February 1, 2008)

So John Edwards has dropped out of the race for the presidency. By normal political standards, his campaign fell short.

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But Mr. Edwards, far more than is usual in modern politics, ran a campaign based on ideas. And even as his personal quest for the White House faltered, his ideas triumphed: both candidates left standing are, to a large extent, running on the platform Mr. Edwards built.

To understand the extent of the Edwards effect, you have to think about what might have been.
At the beginning of 2007, it seemed likely that the Democratic nominee would run a cautious campaign, without strong, distinctive policy ideas. That, after all, is what John Kerry did in 2004.

If 2008 is different, it will be largely thanks to Mr. Edwards. He made a habit of introducing bold policy proposals — and they were met with such enthusiasm among Democrats that his rivals were more or less forced to follow suit.

It’s hard, in particular, to overstate the importance of the Edwards health care plan, introduced in February.

Before the Edwards plan was unveiled, advocates of universal health care had difficulty getting traction, in part because they were divided over how to get there. Some advocated a single-payer system — a k a Medicare for all — but this was dismissed as politically infeasible. Some advocated reform based on private insurers, but single-payer advocates, aware of the vast inefficiency of the private insurance system, recoiled at the prospect.

With no consensus about how to pursue health reform, and vivid memories of the failure of 1993-1994, Democratic politicians avoided the subject, treating universal care as a vague dream for the distant future.

But the Edwards plan squared the circle, giving people the choice of staying with private insurers, while also giving everyone the option of buying into government-offered, Medicare-type plans — a form of public-private competition that Mr. Edwards made clear might lead to a single-payer system over time. And he also broke the taboo against calling for tax increases to pay for reform.

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Suddenly, universal health care became a possible dream for the next administration. In the months that followed, the rival campaigns moved to assure the party’s base that it was a dream they shared, by emulating the Edwards plan. And there’s little question that if the next president really does achieve major health reform, it will transform the political landscape.

Similar if less dramatic examples of leadership followed on other key issues. For example, Mr. Edwards led the way last March by proposing a serious plan for responding to climate change, and at this point both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are offering far stronger measures to limit emissions of greenhouse gases than anyone would have expected to see on the table not long ago.

Unfortunately for Mr. Edwards, the willingness of his rivals to emulate his policy proposals made it hard for him to differentiate himself as a candidate; meanwhile, those rivals had far larger financial resources and received vastly more media attention. Even The Times’s own public editor chided the paper for giving Mr. Edwards so little coverage.
And so Mr. Edwards won the arguments but not the political war.
Where will Edwards supporters go now? The truth is that nobody knows.

Yes, Mr. Obama is also running as a “change” candidate. But he isn’t offering the same kind of change: Mr. Edwards ran an unabashedly populist campaign, while Mr. Obama portrays himself as a candidate who can transcend partisanship — and given the economic elitism of the modern Republican Party, populism is unavoidably partisan.

It’s true that Mr. Obama has tried to work some populist themes into his campaign, but he apparently isn’t all that convincing: the working-class voters Mr. Edwards attracted have tended to favor Mrs. Clinton over Mr. Obama.

Furthermore, to the extent that this remains a campaign of ideas, it remains true that on the key issue of health care, the Clinton plan is more or less identical to the Edwards plan. The Obama plan, which doesn’t actually achieve universal coverage, is considerably weaker.


One thing is clear, however: whichever candidate does get the nomination, his or her chance of victory will rest largely on the ideas Mr. Edwards brought to the campaign.

Personal appeal won’t do the job: history shows that Republicans are very good at demonizing their opponents as individuals. Mrs. Clinton has already received the full treatment, while Mr. Obama hasn’t — yet. But if he gets the nod, watch how quickly conservative pundits who have praised him discover that he has deep character flaws.

If Democrats manage to get the focus on their substantive differences with the Republicans, however, polls on the issues suggest that they’ll have a big advantage. And they’ll have Mr. Edwards to thank.

* By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: February 1, 2008

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President George W. Bush called on Congress on Friday to give the U.S. economy a “shot in the arm” with an election-year package of temporary tax cuts and other measures worth up to $150 billion.

Bush said the United States, where share markets have slumped and unemployment is rising, faced the risk of an economic downturn but that his advisers still expected continued growth, albeit at a slower pace.

He said he wanted Congress to move quickly on a stimulus package that would focus on tax rebates for families and incentives to encourage business investment. The White House said the package could create about 500,000 new jobs.

“This growth package must be built on broad-based tax relief that will directly affect economic growth and not the kind of spending projects that would have little immediate impact on our economy,” Bush said at the White House.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said the administration hoped for a package worth about $140 billion to $150 billion, which is a little more than 1 percent of the economy’s size.

Financial markets are reeling amid bleak reports of declining retail sales and rising unemployment on top of soaring oil prices and a credit crunch brought on by a crisis in subprime mortgages.

Bush’s plan failed to reassure investors on Friday as world stock prices fell again, with U.S. stocks tumbling to close out the worst week for the benchmark S&P 500 index in 5 years on fears the White House effort will not be enough to avoid recession.

Economists are talking of a possible recession taking hold before presidential and congressional elections in November and the debate over an economic stimulus has been taken up by candidates campaigning to succeed Bush in the White House.

Bush and the Democratic-led Congress are in rare agreement that a stimulus is needed. But they are still hammering out the details of a plan that is likely to include tax rebates of several hundred dollars each to help spur consumers as well as temporary tax breaks for businesses.

TAX REBATES

Under discussion are proposals to trim the lowest income tax rate and give the money back in a rebate. Lawmakers are also considering allowing businesses to immediately write off 50 percent of their new investments.

Democrats are looking to provide states with some financial aid, extend unemployment benefits beyond the 26 weeks offered by most states and to get some more money for food stamps.

For now, lawmakers are putting aside the bitter partisanship that dominated last year’s session and which resulted in near-gridlock over spending, taxes, health care and the Iraq war.

“I am encouraged and share the president’s view that we need prompt bipartisan action to strengthen our economy,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Only a day earlier, the Nevada Democrat had expressed some disappointment with the results of a telephone conference between Bush and congressional leaders.

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said after Bush’s remarks on Friday that the president needed to accept some spending as part of the package.

“We want a balanced package of tax rebates for the middle class and spending stimulus that jump-starts the economy quickly,” Schumer said at a news conference.

Bush predicted that an agreement could be worked out soon. The administration and lawmakers say the outlines of plan could be clear by Bush’s State of the Union address to Congress on January 28.

“I believe we can come together on a growth package very quickly,” Bush told reporters as he visited a lawn mower factory in Maryland on Friday.

Most of the major White House contenders have unveiled proposals for the economy but they differ widely on specifics, highlighting the challenges in getting a bipartisan agreement.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, who has proposed a $110 billion plan that would target poor and middle-class people, said Bush’s approach would shortchange struggling families.

“I don’t think it does enough,” she said in Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, Republican Sen. John McCain, campaigning in South Carolina, expressed wariness about some Democratic ideas for a stimulus, especially those focusing on spending.

“I want to see where that money is going to come from,” said McCain, who laid out a proposal on Thursday for cuts in corporate tax rates and incentives for companies to invest in new equipment and research.

(Reporting by Caren Bohan and Donna Smith, additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; editing by Kristin Roberts and Stuart Grudgings)

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has called on the US and European governments to stop treating Colombian left-wing rebel groups as terrorists.

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Mr Chavez said the Farc and ELN guerrilla movements were armies with a political project and should be recognised as such.

He was speaking a day after helping manage the Farc’s release of two hostages held for more than five years.

The Colombian president swiftly rejected Mr Chavez’s idea.

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Just a day after helping to broker the liberation of two high-profile hostages, Clara Rojas and Consuelo Gonzalez, Mr Chavez used his annual state of the nation speech to make the appeal, addressing himself to Colombia’s conservative President Alvaro Uribe.

“I ask you (Uribe) that we start recognising the Farc and the ELN as insurgent forces in Colombia and not terrorist groups, and I ask the same of the governments of this continent and the world,” Mr Chavez said.

‘Pain and poverty’

But Mr Uribe quickly rejected the idea.

He said the insurgents were terrorists who funded their operations with cocaine smuggling, recruited children and planted land mines in their effort to topple a democratically elected government.

“The only thing they have produced is displacement, pain, unemployment and poverty,” Mr Uribe said.

The Colombian and Venezuelan presidents have been squabbling for months over Mr Chavez’s role in trying to mediate swap of hostages for guerrilla prisoners held by Colombia’s government.

The release of Ms Rojas and Ms Gonzalez was the most important handover in the Colombian conflict since 2001.

The Farc said the unilateral move showed its willingness to negotiate over remaining hostages.

Correspondents say it was a triumph for Mr Chavez, who greeted the women in Caracas on Thursday following their release.

The Venezuelan president has said he wants to repeat the success with dozens of other captives.

But Mr Uribe has been wary of his Venezuelan counterpart’s involvement.

The Farc and the smaller ELN say they are fighting for a fairer distribution of wealth.

In 2002 the EU joined the US in classifying the Farc as a terrorist group.

* BBC NEWS:

KOLKATA, India (Reuters) – Authorities in eastern India have teamed up with prostitutes as the officials accelerate a drive against the trafficking of girls into the trade.

It is a rare display of official approval for the efforts of prostitutes in West Bengal’s Sonagachhi area, one of Asia’s largest red-light districts.

In the past year alone a prostitutes’ organization has rescued more than 550 women and girls from brothels and from traffickers, the state’s social welfare department officials said.

“The state government had no choice but to join hands with the sex workers as they seem to be doing a better job in tackling trafficking,” said Samarajit Jana, an official from India’s AIDS control program, which helps run the project.

Younger girls are usually helped to get back to their home village. Adults are usually given housing and job training.

“I was kidnapped and forced to entertain old men, but now all that is past as I am trying to make a new beginning in life,” said Anjali, a 16-year-old girl who was rescued last month by prostitutes from one of the brothels crammed into Sonagacchi’s crowded maze of alleyways.

Anjali is among hundreds of poor girls shifted to one of six new government-sponsored rescue centers across the state. They learn embroidery and sewing among other crafts.

This has been possible after the government formed an alliance last month with the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya (DMSC), an organization founded in 1995 that now represents 65,000 sex workers in West Bengal.

DMSC focuses its rescue efforts on minors entering the trade and those who were deceived into joining it.

“We have realized that we are the most effective weapon against this social evil that forces minor girls into sex trade,” said Bharati Dey, a former prostitute, who leads the campaign.

At least 20,000 women and girls are kidnapped and forced into prostitution in India every year, the government said.

Many pass through West Bengal on their way to Mumbai, Delhi and other cities in India, as well as the United Arab Emirates, police said.

Most of these girls are from India’s northeast and neighboring Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, they said.

In India, trafficking and profiting by selling a person for sex is illegal, but paying for sex with an adult prostitute is not.

India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development wants to change the laws to allow police take stern action against clients, but critics have stalled the plan.

Prostitutes and groups working with them fear such a move would force the trade deeper into the shadows.

The DMSC now plans to spread its campaign across the state and elsewhere in India.

(Editing by Jonathan Allen and Jerry Norton)

Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama have won the Iowa caucuses – the first nominating contest of the 2008 US presidential election.
Mr Huckabee won for the Republicans, defeating Mitt Romney.

At the Democratic caucuses, Mr Obama won by a clear margin, defeating John Edwards, who edged Hillary Clinton into third place.

The Iowa caucuses can give big boosts to candidates’ campaigns. The next contest is on Tuesday in New Hampshire.
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IOWA RESULTS
DEMOCRATS (official)
Barack Obama – 37.6%
John Edwards – 29.7%
Hillary Clinton – 29.5%
Bill Richardson – 2.1%
REPUBLICANS (96% complete)
Mike Huckabee – 34.3%
Mitt Romney – 25.3%
Fred Thomson – 13.4%
John McCain – 13.1%
Ron Paul – 10.0%
Rudy Giuliani – 3.5%

Turnout in Thursday’s caucuses rose markedly, particularly for the Democrats, with more than 220,000 Democrats taking part – up from 124,000 in 2004.

With nearly all of the results from more than 1,780 caucuses (or public meetings) counted, Mr Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister, polled 34% of the vote.

Mr Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, secured 25% support.

“Tonight what we have seen is a new day in American politics. Tonight we proved that American politics is still in the hands of people like you,” Mr Huckabee told his cheering supporters.

The victory for Mr Huckabee is seen as a blow for Mr Romney, who has spent tens of millions of dollars more on his campaign.

However, Mr Romney said the battle for the nomination was far from being lost. “This is obviously a bit like a baseball game, first inning. Well, it’s a 50-inning ball game. I’m going to keep on battling all the way and anticipate I get the nomination when it’s all said and done,” he told Fox News.

In the Democratic race, Mr Obama won 38% of the vote.

Mr Edwards and Mrs Clinton were almost level on around 30% with Mr Edwards just ahead.

“We are choosing hope over fear, we are choosing unity over division and sending a powerful message that change is coming to America,” Mr Obama, who is vying to become the first black US president, told his supporters.

Mr Obama, a senator from Illinois, will now be hoping to build momentum for the rest of the race, the BBC’s Kevin Connolly in Iowa says.

However, both Mr Edwards and Mrs Clinton vowed to continue the fight for the Democratic nomination.

“We have always planned to run a national campaign all the way through the early contests,” said Mrs Clinton, flanked by her husband – former President Bill Clinton.

‘Fantastic’

Jubilant crowds celebrated Mr Huckabee’s victory at a party in a Des Moines hotel.

Among them was Mary Duggar, a volunteer who had travelled from Mr Huckabee’s home state of Arkansas to help his campaign.

KEY DATES
3 Jan: Iowa caucuses
8 Jan: New Hampshire primary
15 Jan: Michigan primary
19 Jan: Nevada caucuses; South Carolina primary (Rep)
26 Jan: South Carolina primary (Dem)
29 Jan: Florida primary
5 Feb: some 20 states including California, New York, New Jersey

“He’s a fantastic candidate. I thought he would win but I didn’t know it was going to be quite this good,”

A few blocks away, Obama supporters held their own party at Des Moines’s Hyvee Hall.

“We are ecstatic,” said 16-year-old Jenny Ajluni, who was too young to take part in a caucus but joined the victory rally.

Eighteen-year-old brother Chris said: “He really made history tonight.”

While the Democrats’ participation rose most substantially, turnout was also up on the Republican side, with more than 110,000 people taking part – up from fewer than 90,000 in the last contested Republican caucuses in 2000.

Bowing out

Similar caucuses or primaries will take place across all American states before each party backs a single candidate to contest the November election for the White House.

The Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary on 8 January are regarded as key for building momentum in the state-by-state process of winning the presidential nomination.

Candidates who do poorly tend to drop out of the race. Democratic veterans Chris Dodd and Joe Biden said late on Thursday they were bowing out after poor showings in Iowa.

Polls from New Hampshire have indicated that the Republican contest is between Mr Romney and Senator John McCain, while for the Democrats Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama lead the field.

Story from BBC NEWS

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on Thursday as she left an election rally in the city of Rawalpindi, putting January 8 polls in doubt and sparking anger in her native Sindh province.

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State media and her party confirmed Bhutto’s death from a gun and bomb attack.

“She has been martyred,” said party official Rehman Malik.

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Bhutto, 54, died in hospital in Rawalpindi. Ary-One Television said she had been shot in the head.

News of her death brought a swift and angry reaction from supporters in Sindh and its capital, Karachi, where fires were set, shots fired and stones thrown.

“Police in Sindh have been put on red alert,” said a senior police official. “We have increased deployment and are patrolling in all the towns and cities, as there is trouble almost everywhere.”

President Pervez Musharraf condemned “in strongest possible terms the terrorist attack that resulted in the tragic death of Bhutto and many other innocent Pakistanis”, the state news agency said.

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“The president convened a high-level emergency meeting … soon after the tragic development.

“He urged the people to stay calm to face this tragedy and grief with a renewed resolve to continue the fight against terror,” the APP news agency said.

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HUGE QUESTIONS

The assassination, 13 days before an election which Bhutto had hoped to win, throws up huge questions for this nuclear-armed U.S. ally already struggling to contain Islamist violence.

Musharraf, whose popularity has slumped this year, could decide to postpone the vote and reimpose a state of emergency that was only lifted on December 15 after six weeks.

“It does cast a shadow over the election and it raises some concerns over how the government might deal with any popular reaction to this,” said Jennifer Harbison, head of Asia Desk at Control Risks, London.

“There is the potential that her supporters could take to the streets and that is something that will be difficult for the government to address without at least considering a return to emergency rule.”

Police said a suicide bomber fired shots at Bhutto as she left the rally venue in a park before blowing himself up.

“The man first fired at Bhutto’s vehicle. She ducked and then he blew himself up,” said police officer Mohammad Shahid.

Police said 16 people had been killed in the blast, which occurred during campaigning for the national election. A Bhutto party spokeswoman, Sherry Rehman, was hurt in the attack.

“It is the act of those who want to disintegrate Pakistan because she was a symbol of unity. They have finished the Bhutto family. They are enemies of Pakistan,” senior Bhutto party official Farzana Raja told Reuters.

Bhutto’s father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was Pakistan’s first popularly elected prime minister. He was executed in Rawalpindi in 1979 after being deposed in a military coup.

A Reuters witness at the scene of the attack said he had heard two shots moments before the blast. Another Reuters witness saw bodies and a mutilated human head strewn on a road outside the park where she held her rally.

“TERRIBLE BLOW” – INDIA

India, Pakistan’s giant neighbor and rival, said Bhutto’s assassination was a terrible blow to the democratic process.

“In her death the subcontinent has lost an outstanding leader who worked for democracy and reconciliation in her country,” said a spokesman for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

U.S. President George W. Bush condemned Bhutto’s killing. A spokesman said he would make a statement at 1600 GMT. A State Department official said: “The attack shows that there are still those in Pakistan trying to undermine reconciliation and democratic development in Pakistan.”

In France, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner condemned what he called “this odious act” and paid tribute to Bhutto as an eminent figure in Pakistani political life.

It was the second murderous attack on Bhutto in under three months. On October 19 a suicide bomber killed nearly 150 people as she paraded through Karachi on her return from eight years in self-imposed exile.

Islamist militants were blamed for that attack but Bhutto had said she was prepared to face the danger to help the country.

Speaking on Thursday, Bhutto had told of the risks she faced.

“I put my life in danger and came here because I feel this country is in danger. People are worried. We will bring the country out of this crisis,” Bhutto told the Rawalpindi rally.

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TEARS, SHOTS

People cried and hugged each other outside the hospital where she died. Some shouted anti-Musharraf slogans.

Another former prime minister and opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, spoke to the crowd.

“My heart is bleeding and I’m as grieved as you are,” Sharif said.

On international financial markets, gold and government bonds rose while U.S. stocks fell in part on news of the assassination.

Analysts say the shock of the Bhutto news triggered a classic capital flight to assets which are considered as safe havens in times of geopolitical stress.

Bhutto became the first female prime minister in the Muslim world when she was elected in 1988 at the age of 35. She was deposed in 1990, re-elected in 1993, and ousted again in 1996 amid charges of corruption and mismanagement.

She said the charges were politically motivated but in 1999 chose to stay in exile rather than face them.

Bhutto’s family is no stranger to violence.

Apart from her father’s execution, both of her brothers died in mysterious circumstances and she had said al Qaeda assassins tried to kill her several times in the 1990s.

Intelligence reports have said al Qaeda, the Taliban and Pakistani jihadi groups had all sent suicide bombers after her.

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* Thu Dec 27, 2007 12:10pm EST
 By Augustine Anthony (Reuters)

At a Veterans Day naturalization ceremony at Camp Anaconda, north of Baghdad, the Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff, led 178 troops in the oath of allegiance. Each new American received a certificate, a flag and the hearty praise of Brig. Gen. Gregory Couch, who hailed them as “these wonderful warriors.”About 40,000 non-citizens are serving in the United States military, continuing a tradition of immigrant soldiering that dates to the dawn of the republic. About 4,000 troops since 2004 have earned citizenship while stationed abroad.

Presumably all of them were legal residents, since the military does not knowingly accept the undocumented. But some who entered the country illegally do manage to enlist — including soldiers like Lance Cpl. Jose Antonio Gutierrez, a Marine who was one of the first killed in the early hours of the Iraq war in March 2003. He was from Guatemala, and won his American citizenship posthumously.

There is an irony to the Pentagon’s policies toward the undocumented. The military’s ranks and morale have been ruinously sapped by the misadventure in Iraq. To keep the recruiting pipeline filled, it has repeatedly lowered its standards on things like candidates’ aptitude, education and health, and granted “moral waivers” to tens of thousands of recruits with criminal records.

But while the military has been taking a gamble, a la “The Dirty Dozen,” on the potential for ex-convicts — including some violent felons — to redeem themselves, a pool of highly motivated and well-qualified candidates lies out of reach: men and women like Corporal Gutierrez.

The Pentagon has been more progressive about immigration than the rest of the federal government. Many military leaders supported a bill to give a select group of young immigrants — high school graduates who were brought here illegally by their parents, grew up here, had exemplary records and were eager to serve — the chance to enlist and become legalized after two years in uniform.

That was the Dream Act, but it died because Congress, under ferocious pressure from the hard-line right, refused to grant “amnesty” in any form to the blameless children of “illegal aliens.”

The message was clear — Uncle Sam may want you, and you may want Uncle Sam, but you cannot serve. If you are undocumented there is no redemption for you — not even in Iraq.

That’s pretty hard core. It’s a good example of how self-defeating the restrictions orthodoxy can be. But that’s where the national debate is stuck.

  • I think that it is the height of racism, ignorance and hypocrisy for this government to simultaneously round up immigrants of any status at the same time that it forces them into harm’s way. Those who VOLUNTARILY give their lives, or risk their lives, for a country that they are told doesn’t want them, deserve our utmost respect and yes, even amnesty. Putting your neck on the line for the United States should earn you your citizenship and everything else that this nation has to offer.
    While I believe that the innocent children of illegal immigrants deserve a break and all of the benefits of citizenship, I think that it should go double for those who enter the military and volunteer for a doomed operation that even current enlistees are abandoning in droves. I just read a separate article about how desertion rates are at an all-time high, and as the deaths in Iraq continue with no end to this illegal war in sight, how can we NOT afford to honor immigrants who are willing to fight for this country? — Posted by Hillary
  • Let’s get past the immigrant paranoia and recognize the potential this sort of system could have. The army desperately needs front-line bodies in Iraq and their crumbling recruitment standards are proof. Immigrants need a way to prove themselves worthy of citizenship that makes sense and is actually attainable to the masses. Allowing immigrants, especially illegal ones, the opportunity to earn citizenship through fighting for this country seems like the best idea to deal with the immigration “issue” that I’ve heard. Our country gains a larger and more motivated military, and immigrants gain a straightforward yet not-in-the-least-bit easy path to citizenship. And perhaps best of all, for those consumed by the immigration witchhunt, aliens who are living in the country undocumented will volunteer themselves to BECOME documented in order to serve. It’s so painfully obvious I can’t believe we haven’t been doing this since 9/12
    — Posted by Mike Jewell

  • Humans Are People Too
    by Christopher Jon Batis
    To label, designate, view, consider, describe or otherwise regard any human being as illegal or alien is fundamentally, inherently, patently, basically, and vehemently offensive, disgusting, evil, abhorrent, humiliating, inhumane, oppressive, derisive, and completely, universally devoid of any possible recognition of the divine, corrupting of the spirit, and absent of any decency or morality, and defamatory of creation.

    Do we really consider ourselves so distinct from one another to the manner in which we breathe, bleed, feel and occupy space on this planet and our place in the universe?

    Is it so difficult to recognize in each other the divinity from which we all emanate?; that we are all drops from the same ocean?; that we are all running out of the precious time we all have on this plane of existence and chose to waste it in the futility of micro-detailing our differences, focusing on the banality of our external traits, concentrating on the irrelevance of our geographical origins when most of us love our children, long for purpose, and, at one point or another, will exhale one last time?

    National sovereignty is important, but must we approach the issues of immigration with such personal anger and hatred toward one another? Can we not approach the issues of our nation with the dignity this country should be recognized for?

    Surely, as Americans, as leaders of freedom, we can approach the issues that affect us with personal integrity, intelligent discourse, and respectful regard for all lives, foreign or domestic, with the same respect we demand for ourselves?

    The jury is out. May the verdict be fitting of the fair, the just, and the pursuers of happiness

    — Posted by Christopher Jon Batis

  • We need to do some serious thinking and discussing about “illegal” immigrants. We also need hard data.
    We need reliable information on:1. Total number of illegal immigrants.
    2. How many are working?
    3. What kinds of work they do.
    4. How much they are being paid.
    5. Amount of taxes they pay, classified by Social Security, Medicare, Federal income tax, state and local income tax.

    I suspect that “illegal” immigrants fill very important needs in our economy at a very low cost. In other words, they are extremely valuable to the rest of us.

    If that is true, we should stop saying nasty things about them and accept them as valuable members of our society and legalize them. What’s the problem with that?

    — Posted by Realist

  • I am a freshman at Hunter College and is writing a paper: “Viva La American Dream.” Please excuse my naiveness due to my youth, but whatever happened to human decency that America is so well known by? It seems to me that anyone, illegal or not, should be able to dream the American dream, especially those who are willing to die for that dream.
    I had my own dream the other night and dreamed that we lived in a different world; one with an Orwellian reality and that we (Americans)were all excluded from the American dream. With globalization now confronting us, I imagine a world without borders and that some world leader have excluded us from cross over the global borders to seek a better life. I woke up in a sweat and hurriedly, to the computer to write the NY Times. — Posted by lucia bruni
  • So the NY Times thinks it’s terrible that the “hard-line” right refuses to offer amnesty to “blameless children of illegal aliens?”
    I note how the Times conveniently neglected to mention some of the logic of those who might oppose the “Dream Act.” For one, wouldn’t it be more than awkward to have a young person fighting for us while our laws demand that the illegal parents and extended family be kicked out of the country? I think we all know the public demonstrations and hoopla that would surround any effort to export any illegal family member of such service people. So realistically, in a country like ours, we must face the fact that this would be an “all or none” deal. We either accept the illegal soldier into our armed forces and allow his parents and extended family to stay or we kick all of them out.

    If the NY Times is prepared to advocate that it would allow illegal alien soldiers into our military while simultaneously kicking the soldiers’ extended family out of the country, then I’d love to read about it. But I think most readers know that the NY Times would never advocate such a position.

    I’m afraid that this issue is simply more nuanced than the NY Times would like us to believe.

    — Posted by Bill Carson

  • I doubt this post will ever make it past the censors, (they never do when the topic is illegal immigration) but I have to say I’m surprised by the tone of my fellow Americans.
    Tell me, my fellow citizen…why should I have to obey the laws that foreign aliens don’t? If I steal someone’s identity and use it to perpetuate fraud, should it be condoned and I be allowed to keep my ill-gotten goods? There are some very nice condo’s sitting empty in an adjacent building, much nicer than the ratty old studio I currently rent. If I were to break into one and squat there, should I be allowed to remain for as long as I like? These questions may sound illogical, but they exactly mirror what has been posted here. An American citizen convicted of any of the crimes illegals commit as a matter of course would be, at the least, sent to jail. Jail for a citizen, fortune for the illegal. How is that fair?You people just don’t get it. You may believe that you are championing the underdog, the helpless, the downtrodden but what you are actually doing is advocating AGAINST “equal under the law”, one of the basic tenets of democracy. If you are so contemptuous of that democratic process, of the rule of law, of our sovereignty…just be honest and say so. If you don’t believe that America has a right to decide who can come here and who we don’t want…say so. Don’t be a coward. Stand up and declare that there’s nothing wrong with criminality and that the law is only for those stupid enough to obey it. If we follow the path of the open-borders, pro-illegal crowd we’ll end up with either Anarchy or a World Government. After all, without borders there are no separate countries. Don’t be afraid to say that you WANT to see a World Government. Just be honest and quit trying to couch it as anything BUT a willingness to see the United States as a subject state.

    No amnesty. Build the fence. Enforce the law.

    — Posted by Mara

  • I was a commanding officer and in my unit I had men from various countries. No one asked them if they wanted to die, just give us your best effort. It is a shame that our President doesn’t step in and let illegal immigrants serve, then give them citizenship. I believe we all are brothers and sisters, not spurious beings. I haven’t seen any immigrants provoke a crime, just the opposite. They take jobs that have not been outsourced and add to our society. When will the American people stop listening to the right wing and consider what they are preaching? Remember when we lived in a free society? Have you ever read the writings on the Statue of Liberty. I have!
    — Posted by J. Harry Sutherland  

  • In all foreign wars, and even in the civil war, the rich in America have used substitutes to do the real fighting. Making the immigrants – legal or illegal – fight is nothing new under the sun. If you don’t like this, then stop this imperial hubris. — Posted by Julia
  • I suppose the commonly-used phrase “they do jobs that ordinary Americans don’t want to do” includes being willing to fight and even die for our country. As a veteran, I am ashamed that we have so many who are willing to go to war, but so few who are willing to do the fighting. Of course, an illegal occupation of Iraq is not exactly a traditional “war” is it?
    — Posted by Don Skillin
  • I agree with the first post by Hillary. The undocumented should be allowed to serve and their families should be allowed to stay here. This whole “illegal immigrant” war is a way of distracting Americans from the real problems created and nurtured by the ruling oligarchy. And a way for Lou Dobbs to increase his ratings and sell more cars. And yes, do remember the words on the Statue of Liberty. My ancestors were illegal immigrants in the 1620s when they came over here and killed the people who were living here. The undocumented work, pay taxes, and also DRIVE here (and so should prove they know how to drive and have insurance — we think if we don’t allow them to have driver’s licenses they will decide to go home?). Biometrics would be helpful in preventing document forgeries..the technology exists and we should use it. We need to rethink this issue and not be duped into thinking that our problems are due to the undocumented. The problem is with our devious, greedy rulers and not with undocumented people joining our armed forces.
    — Posted by Bev

Time magazine’s rationale for naming Russian President Vladimir Putin “Man of the Year” is heavy with caveats. Those subtleties have largely been ignored by the Russian media, much of it Kremlin-controlled.

In numerous dispatches last week, Russian newspapers and wire services enthused about what they — and most of the country, apparently — seem to like about their president.

Pravda reported (correctly) that the magazine credited Mr. Putin with “bringing political and economic stability to Russia after an extremely hard period of the 1990s” and noted, approvingly, how he had given a “sincere” interview to the magazine’s journalists.

The Moscow News observed that Time’s choice “underscores the importance that Russia has gained on the international stage since Putin came to power.” Meanwhile, RIA-Novosti, the state-run news service, ran several stories trumpeting Mr. Putin’s comments to the magazine, such as “Putin says Russia’s revival is focus of his life” and “Russia will not allow foreign states to alter its course.”

Given short-shrift — and likely unnoticed by most Russian readers — were the more critical aspects of Time’s analysis: “Putin is not a boy scout. He is not a democrat in any way the West would define. He is not a paragon of free speech.” The stability he has imposed on Russia has come “at significant cost to the principles that free nations prize.”


Mr. Putin may have given his country short-term stability but unless something changes he’ll just go down in history as another authoritarian Russian ruler. That will be true for 2007 and years to come, since Mr. Putin has now made clear that he plans to stay in power–as prime minister–when his term ends next year.

* By The Editorial Board (New York Times; 26 Dec. 2007)

American consumers, uneasy about the economy and unimpressed by the merchandise in stores, delivered the bleak holiday shopping season retailers had expected, if not feared, according to one early but influential projection.

Spending between Thanksgiving and Christmas rose just 3.6 percent over last year, the weakest performance in at least four years, according to MasterCard Advisors, a division of the credit card company. By comparison, sales grew 6.6 percent in 2006, and 8 percent in 2005.
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“There was not a recipe for a pick up in sales growth,” said Michael McNamara, vice president of research and analysis at MasterCard Advisors, citing higher gas prices, a slowing housing market and a tight credit market.

Strong demand at the start of the season for a handful of must-have electronics, like digital frames and portable GPS navigation systems trailed off in December. And robust sales of luxury products could not make up for sluggish sales of jewelry and women’s clothing.

What did eventually sell was generally marked down — once, if not twice — which could hurt retailers’ profits in the final three months of year. “Stores are buying those sales at a cost,” said Sherif Mityas, a partner at the consulting firm A.T. Kearney, who specializes in retailing.

MasterCard’s SpendingPulse data, scheduled to be released Wednesday, cover the 32-day period between Nov. 23 and Dec. 24. It is based on purchases made by more than 300 million MasterCard debit and credit card users and broader estimates of spending with cash and checks. It encompasses sales at stores, on the Internet, of gift cards, gasoline and meals at restaurants.

The final numbers are in line with MasterCard’s already modest expectations, which were reduced in the middle of the season. But retail analysts and economists, who scrutinize holiday spending for clues about the health of the American economy, are unlikely to be impressed by the results.

Eboni Jones, 32, of Windsor, Conn., epitomized the problem for stores.

A phone company manager, she waited until this past weekend to make a single purchase at a major chain store this season, favoring Web retailers and designer outlet stores with deeper bargains.

“I am on a tighter budget that I’ve ever been,” said Ms. Jones, who walked into the Macy’s at Westfarms Mall in Farmington, Conn., on Sunday morning to take advantage of a sale.

In the past, she easily spent $100 each on her six nieces and nephews. This year, it was more like $50. “If it’s not on sale, I won’t buy it,” Ms. Jones said.

MasterCard found that online spending rose 22.4 percent, a healthy, if not robust, showing, given fears that Web purchases would slow after a decade of impressive growth.

Clothing sales rose a meager 1.4 percent, but there was a stark split between genders. Sales for women’s apparel dropped 2.4 percent. Sales for men’s apparel rose 2.3 percent. Analysts said women complained of dreary fashions.

“Even when the dust settles, women’s clothing is likely to be one of the weakest categories in retail this season,” said John D. Morris, senior retail analyst at Wachovia Securities.

Luxury purchases rose 7.1 percent, as the nation’s well-heeled splurged on $600 Marc Jacobs trench coats and $800 Christian Louboutin shoes. Footwear, at all prices, proved a bright spot for the clothing industry, with sales surging 6 percent.

Weak sales of clothing left retailers jostling for the deepest if not most desperate discounts over the last weekend to drum up interest from consumers. Martin & Osa knocked 50 percent off women’s wool sweaters. Gymboree issued $25 coupons to shoppers who spent $50 on its children’s clothing. Even the markdown-averse Abercrombie & Fitch dusted off its clearance signs, selling $99 faux-fur trimmed-down coats for $79.

The American consumer has perplexed analysts this season. Retail experts confidently predicted that shoppers, uneasy about the economy, would trade down from mid-price chains, like Macy’s and Nordstrom, to discounters with steeper discounts.

To a certain degree, they did, mobbing low-priced chains like T.J Maxx, and Marshall’s. But the discount retailer Target has struggled this season. On Tuesday, it said its sales could fall by 1 percent in December compared with last year, an anomaly for a retailer accustomed to at least 4 percent monthly sales growth over the last three years.

In the end, analysts said, the biggest winners are likely to be Wal-Mart, which emerged as the undisputed low-price leader this season, and Best Buy, which became the destination for competitively priced electronics.

Much of this season’s action appeared to unfold on the Web, which spared consumers a $3-a-gallon drive to the mall. Like MasterCard, ComScore, a research firm, found that online spending rose steadily to $26.3 billion.

ComScore measured spending during the 51 days between Nov. 1 and Dec. 21. The biggest day for online shopping was Monday, Dec. 10 ($881 million), not the Monday after Thanksgiving ($733 million), known as Cyber Monday in the retail world, because consumers typically flock to the Web at work after a holiday weekend of browsing.

Unsatisfied with sales so far, dozens of retailers, from the high-end to the low, will start slashing prices Wednesday morning. Kohl’s is scheduled to hold a 60- to 70-percent off sale; Macy’s is knocking down prices by 50 to 70 percent, and dangling a $10 coupon for purchases of $25 or more; clothing will be 50 percent off at Saks Fifth Avenue between 8 a.m. and noon; and Toys “R” Us is offering a buy-one-get-one-half-off promotion.

* By MICHAEL BARBARO (New York Times; 26 Dec. 2007)

Since the 1990s, popular Mexican singers have been increasingly crooning about Kalashnikovs and cocaine alongside their traditional ballads of hard work and lost love. Take “Contraband in the Border” by Valentin Elizalde, one of the thousands of drug ballads or narco corridos that are played in cantinas and parties from the mountains of Mexico to the immigrant ghettos of Los Angeles. “There was a big shoot-out/With 14 bullet-filled bodies/And the American government,/took away the marijuana” go the lyrics, as tubas and accordions drone out the melody to the rhythm of a German polka.

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In November 2006, gunmen ambushed and killed Elizalde and took out his manager and driver while injuring his cousin outside a cockfighting ring in the border city of Reynosa.

Elizalde’s murder is not an isolated incident. Singers have not just been chanting about the bloody drug violence ravaging their country; they have also been among its most prominent victims. At least 13 musicians have been killed — gunned down, burned or suffocated to death — since June 2006. The violence gained international attention earlier this month when three entertainers were killed in a week: a male singer was kidnapped, throttled and dumped on a road; a trumpeter was found with a bag on his head; and a female singer was shot dead in her hospital bed. (She was being treated for bullet wounds from an earlier shooting.)

The Mexican public was particularly shocked by the slaying of singer Sergio Gomez, who founded his band K Paz de la Sierra while he was an immigrant in Chicago. He had scored a recent hit with Pero Te Vas a Repentir, or “But You Will Have Regrets,” a love song so catchy that half the country was humming it. Gomez was abducted after a concert in his native Michoacan state, beaten and burned and then strangled with a plastic cord.

Thousands mourned him at sprawling wakes in Michoacan, Mexico City and Chicago, where he was finally laid to rest. “Being a fan of Gomez, this news really makes me sad,” Mexico City Police Chief Joel Ortega said during the wake here. “These things shouldn’t happen in our country. Whatever the causes were, it is very sad. He was an extraordinary vocalist.”

Investigators have yet to solve any of the 13 musician killings. Nor have they revealed any suspects, although they have said that drug gangs could be responsible. The same murkiness clouds most of the 2,500 slayings in Mexico this year that have been tallied by the leading Mexican newspapers in what they call “execution-meters.” Those killings involve ambushes or abductions and appear to bear to marks of organized crime.

The federal government has held back from giving any hard numbers on drug-related murders. However, President Felipe Calderon insists he is winning the war against the trafficking cartels by making record cocaine seizures, extraditing kingpins to the United States and putting soldiers on the streets of the worst-hit towns and cities.

The slain entertainers all played related styles of music. Hailing from ranches and small towns in northern Mexico, the genre (which includes Banda, Nortena, Grupero and Durangense) combines Mexican folk melodies with the marching band ryhthms of German immigrants. The music has now evolved to include electric guitars and keyboards and is as popular in big Mexican and U.S. cities as it is in the countryside.

The musicians of these styles grew up in communities rife with drug traffickers, who often pay the entertainers to play at their parties and to write songs about them. The singers perform the drug ballads along with their love songs: the narco corridos have been among the biggest-selling records in the country.

The managers, fellow musicians and loved ones of the slain entertainers have been mum about pointing the finger at any suspects or motives. Some have said they fear for their own safety. Elijah Wald, author of a recent book on narco corridos, argues that entertainers are not being specifically targeted. They are just in the same circles as many drug traffickers and are caught up in the jealousies and arguments that afflict everyone in that world. “If you were to drop a bomb on a random party of drug traffickers you would always get a few musicians,” Wald says. “Singers also attract the attention of people’s wives and girlfriends, which could be enough to get them killed. The rising gangsters gain their reputation by proving how much they are cold-blooded psychos.”

The real=life bloodshed has not damaged the posthumous popularity of the entertainers. Sales of Elizalde and Gomez records have rocketed since their deaths. This month, they were both nominated for 2008 Latin Grammys, which will be awarded in February.

* By Ioan Grillo/Mexico City (Dec. 2007)