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Friday, April 07, 2006

At Least 71 Die as Bombers Hit Mosque in Baghdad - New York Times

At Least 71 Die as Bombers Hit Mosque in Baghdad - New York TimesApril 7, 2006
At Least 71 Die as Bombers Hit Mosque in Baghdad
By EDWARD WONG

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 7 — Three suicide bombers, including at least one woman, set off their charges in a sea of Friday worshippers at the head mosque of the most powerful Shiite political party in Iraq, killing at least 71 people and injuring at least 140.

The attack came as the American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, said in a televised interview that a sectarian war in Iraq could erupt if a unified government is not formed soon, and that such a war could engulf the entire Middle East.

"That's a possibility if we don't do everything we can to make this country work," the ambassador told the BBC. "What's happening here has huge implications for the region and the world."

The explosions at Baratha Mosque, in northern Baghdad, took place just minutes after a prominent imam, Sheik Jalaladin al-Sagheir, delivered a searing speech demanding that the incumbent prime minister step down. The blasts scattered pieces of flesh across the courtyard, decimated stalls of vendors selling religious texts and ripped turquoise tiling from the walls.

The mosque loudspeaker blared a message beseeching people to donate blood, while policemen piled charred bodies into pickup trucks as if they were stacking logs. A white blanket covering one body was so soaked through with blood that someone tossed a black cloth over it.

"I was inside, so I fell to the ground," Nadhum al-Bahadeli, 44, a businessman whose white shirt was splattered with blood across one shoulder, said as he helped to clear debris. "Other people were beneath me. When I stood up, I saw lots of dead people scattered across the courtyard, both men and women."

A guard showed a reporter a piece of scalp with long brown hair that he said came from the first bomber, a woman in black robes who had detonated her bomb at the outer gate. Panic erupted, and worshippers who had been trying to leave streamed back towards the main courtyard. Two other bombers slipped in during the chaos and exploded their bombs by the separate prayer areas for men and women, mosque and security officials said.

Shiite and Sunni leaders, as well as Mr. Khalilzad, called for restraint, fearful that the attack would unleash a wave of sectarian violence like the one that left hundreds dead following the bombing of a Shiite shrine in February. The well-guarded Baratha Mosque is the main religious center for the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, an Iranian-backed party that heads the Shiite bloc.

It was clear that the explosions went to the very heart of the Shiites' sense of victimhood, as have scores of other major attacks during the past three years of civil strife. On Thursday, a car bomb exploded just hundreds of yards from the golden-domed Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, killing at least 10 people.

"The Shia are being targeted in this dirty sectarian war," Sheik Sagheir said in a raspy voice during a telephone interview with the Al Arabiya network. "The world is watching as if what is happening means nothing."

In his Friday prayer speech just before the explosions, the white-turbaned sheik had called for the prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, to withdraw his bid to hold onto his job in the next government.

"There are rules in the political game, and he who can't read them will lose," Sheik Sagheir said. Last Sunday, the sheik said in a telephone interview that Mr. Jaafari should abdicate to break the deadlock in forming a new government, a demand that fractured the religious Shiite bloc, which dominates the Parliament.

Mr. Sagheir's party, the Supreme Council, is offering one of its deputies, Vice-President Adel Abdul Mahdi, as the new nominee for prime minister. Mr. Abdul Mahdi lost to Mr. Jaafari by one vote in a secret ballot in February among the 130 members of the Shiite bloc. Mr. Jaafari has the backing of Moktada al-Sadr, the rebellious cleric who despises the Supreme Council. Both Mr. Sadr and the Supreme Council have formidable militias that have clashed in open street battles.

But it appeared that the mosque attack was the work of jihadists aligned with the Sunni-led insurgency rather than that of Mr. Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army. Sadr followers were at the compound talking politics with mosque officials right after Friday prayers and may well have ended up among the dead or injured. In addition, the tactic of suicide bombings in Iraq is traditionally associated with Sunni extremists.

"Those who did this are trying to bend our people from continuing on their course," Maj. Gen. Muhammad Neima, the head of the operations room at the Interior Ministry, said as he stood in the wreckage. "But the people of this country have grown accustomed for a while now to being slaughtered, and we feel proud that we're sacrificing ourselves and are getting closer to God."

"The suicide bombers have turned themselves into gatekeepers to heaven," he added.

Talks to form a full, four-year government have been stalled for months, with the main Sunni Arab, Kurdish and secular blocs in the 275-member Parliament demanding that the Shiites force Mr. Jaafari to withdraw. The American and British governments have also increased the pressure, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Jack Straw, the British foreign minister, visiting last weekend to demand a resolution soon. But in recent days, Mr. Jaafari has insisted that he will stay in power because he was chosen in a democratic process.

In his interview, Mr. Khalilzad said that although politicians from different groups were opening up to each other, the general population was increasingly moving toward "polarization along sectarian lines."

An Iraqi employee of The New York Times contributed reporting for this article.

Condoleezza Rice on Piano - New York Times


By ANTHONY TOMMASINI

WASHINGTON — Two weeks ago on Sunday, Condoleezza Rice got up at 4 a.m. so she could fit in her daily exercise regimen — weights and the treadmill — and still have time to prepare for interviews on three morning news programs. Just a few hours later, on "Meet the Press," Tim Russert confronted her with recent reports that shortly after the invasion of Iraq, the Russians had given intelligence on American troop movements to the Iraqis. Even on the normally sympathetic "Fox News Sunday," Chris Wallace asked her why Americans should not be outraged that United States troops continue to fight and die while Iraqi politicians haggle over jobs.

Toward the end of the program, questions about her future plans predictably arose. Just as predictably, she stated that despite urgings from highly placed Republicans, thank you, no, she would not pursue the presidency.

For most people, let alone a secretary of state grappling with an increasingly unpopular war, this would have been enough exertion for the traditional day of rest.

But late that afternoon, Ms. Rice was back home in her comfortable apartment in the Watergate complex for one of her frequent sessions of chamber music with four friends, lawyers by profession and dedicated amateur string players.

Ms. Rice is an accomplished pianist. At 15 she performed Mozart's Piano Concerto in D minor with the Denver Symphony Orchestra, her prize for winning a student competition. Until college she intended to pursue music professionally. Now 51, she plays as often as every other week with this group, which convened three years ago. Until now it was a realm of her very public life that she kept private.

People often ask her, Ms. Rice said that day, whether playing chamber music is relaxing. "It's not exactly relaxing if you are struggling to play Brahms," she explained. "But it is transporting. When you're playing there is only room for Brahms or Shostakovich. It's the time I'm most away from myself, and I treasure it."

She is not the only secretary of state to pursue amateur music-making. Thomas Jefferson, the first to hold the office, was an excellent violinist who played chamber music, especially Baroque trio sonatas, throughout his political career. But back then, playing music at home was commonplace.

Not so today, in the era of recording technology, when you can hear almost any piece from the entire history of music by switching on an iPod. The trade-off is that so few people know the personal joy of making music. Whatever else she is to political supporters and opponents, Ms. Rice may be the most prominent amateur musician in the world right now, which is big news for classical music.

THE amateurs in Ms. Rice's ensemble do have some professional credentials. Two of the players had successful musical careers before switching to law. Soye Kim, the first violinist, who has two degrees from the Juilliard School, spent busy years studying in Europe and freelancing in New York before she entered law school at 39. Robert Battey was a professor of cello at the University of Missouri for 12 years, and still sometimes coaches.

Though Lawrence Wallace, the violist, now retired, is a former law school professor who served as a deputy solicitor general under eight presidents, he used to moonlight as a musician. Joshua Klein, the second violinist and the youngest member of the ensemble, who clerked for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor last term, studied violin seriously during college and law school.

"I don't make money playing the piano," Ms. Rice said, with the pride of a honorable amateur.

"No," Mr. Battey replied, "though you have gotten some pretty nice dinners out of it."

He was referring to a concert the group played two years ago at the British Embassy for an audience of 100. After the performance, which lasted just over an hour, the British ambassador presented an elegant dinner.

In 2003, the group also gave a private concert at Ms. Rice's apartment, which attracted an overflow bipartisan audience, including Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court, Alan Greenspan and Harriet Miers, classical music lovers all. Ms. Rice's ample living room has a nook in a corner, which accommodates her midsize grand piano, a Chickering, a cherished gift from her parents when she was a teenager.

On this Sunday, once the musicians had settled down and tuned up, they began by playing through the ebullient first movement of Schumann's Piano Quintet in E flat. The piano part has fancy runs and elaborate flourishes, especially in a tempestuous contrasting development section, alive with intricate counterpoint.

"We generally like to start off with a nice finger-buster for the secretary," Mr. Battey said. That way, he explained, she's warmed up when they really get to work.

Ms. Rice's long, thin fingers are nimble indeed, especially for someone who doesn't have much time to practice. Her touch has lightness and subtlety, yet she plays with crisp clarity and, when called for, robust sound.

They played right through the first movement. When things got a little tangled in the difficult development section, they had the collective wit to forge ahead and let things untangle.

It was wonderful to hear chamber music as it was meant to be: played by friends for their own enjoyment, in the confines of a living room, which makes the sound seem enveloping. Playing chamber music is a bonding experience. During an earlier interview at the State Department, Ms. Rice said the members of her group had become "like my best friends."

"We are like family," she added.

Traditionally, playing chamber music has also been a great equalizer. But do these string players really feel free to critique their pianist? Mr. Wallace answered, "I just assumed from the beginning that it wouldn't be any fun for her if we were deferential."

Though the Schumann went well, Ms. Rice felt that things had become shaky in the exuberant push to the coda. "Can we try the ending again," she asked, "just for our pride?" So they did, and they played it with more solidity and just as much spirit.

But the real give-and-take began when they turned to the first movement of Shostakovich's Piano Quintet in G minor, a piece they are still learning. The music is episodic, moody and — as so often in Shostakovich — elusive. Are the evocations of Bach-like counterpoint to be taken at face value? Are the grim outbursts ironic?

The players began the somberly oracular opening section and soon fell out of sync. "My tempo is not your tempo," Ms. Rice told her colleagues, when they stopped to regroup. As a musician she is a palpably attentive listener. As they tried again, the opening section emerged in a more cohesive arc, and they segued smoothly into a faster episode with curious triplet figures in the piano, which Ms. Rice infused with a stealthy character.

When they failed to coalesce in an up-tempo section of the movement, Ms. Rice blamed herself. "I don't know this passage coming up," she said. "So I hesitated to turn the page." She stared at her printed score and said, almost to herself, "I'll get that fixed." There was no doubting it.

Ms. Kim commented on the articulate way Ms. Rice played a series of thick chords. "You're playing them really short, Condi," she said. "I hadn't thought of that," she added, warming to the idea.

"I like them separated," Ms. Rice replied. "Not too short, maybe kind of sticky." Everyone knew what she meant.

After the Shostakovich, they turned to Brahms's Piano Quintet in F minor: "Condi's piece," as Mr. Battey called it. This intense, intricate and extremely difficult work is one of Ms. Rice's favorites. She reveres Brahms, she said, because the music is "passionate but not sentimental." In the scherzo, the players set a breakneck pace. Sometimes notes splattered and coordination teetered on the brink. It hardly mattered. The music-making was risky and vital.

MS. RICE, an only child, is a fourth-generation pianist on her mother's side. Her mother, Angelena Rice, who died of cancer in 1985, taught music and science at an industrial high school in a black suburb of Birmingham, Ala. "My mother was a church musician, and she read music beautifully, but she didn't play classically that much," Ms. Rice said during the earlier interview. "But she had a marvelously improvisational ear, which I don't have."

Her father, John Rice, who succeeded his father, a son of slaves, as minister at a Presbyterian church in Birmingham, also loved music, especially big-band jazz. (John Rice died on Christmas Eve in 2000, days after learning that Ms. Rice had been appointed national security adviser.) When she was an infant, Ms. Rice's parents gave her a tiny toy piano. "They had a plan," she said. Today that gift is prominently displayed on the coffee table in her apartment.

But it was her maternal grandmother, Mattie Ray, who proved the decisive musical influence in her life. Because both Ms. Rice's parents worked, she was dropped off each day at the house of her grandmother, who taught piano privately and sensed her eagerness and talent. Lessons started when she was 3. "I don't remember learning to read music — you know, the lines and spaces and all that," Ms. Rice said. "From my point of view I could always read music."

Classical music became her passion from the day her mother bought her a recording of Verdi's "Aida," and she listened, "my little eyes like saucers," she said, to the brassy and stirring "Triumphal March."

Ms. Rice, not quite 9, was sitting in her father's church on the Sunday morning in 1963 when, two miles away, bombs went off at a Baptist church and four black girls were killed, one of them a childhood playmate of hers. During this period of protests, fire hoses and bombs in Birmingham, she found comfort taking music classes at a local conservatory that had boldly opened its doors to black children. In 1969, the family moved to Denver, and Ms. Rice, having skipped the first and seventh grades, entered the University of Denver at 15 as a music major.

At 17, she attended the prestigious summer school at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado and came to believe that though she was a very good pianist, she was "not great," she said. "That was the really the revelation," she added. "And it wasn't just that experience. You start noticing prodigies, and you realize that I'm never going to play that way." There is "just some intangible" in music, she said. Whatever it was, she said she felt she didn't have it. She decided to major in international relations instead, focusing on the Soviet Union.

As her career in higher education and government prospered, she began to let her music slip. Feeling the loss in 1993, when she became the youngest provost in the history of Stanford University, she applied herself again on the piano and took regular lessons with a faculty member, George Barth. It was he who encouraged her to immerse herself in chamber music.

A couple of times in recent years she has ventured onto a concert stage for special occasions. In 2002, when the cellist Yo-Yo Ma received a National Medal of the Arts, he requested that Ms. Rice accompany him in a piece during the ceremony at Constitution Hall. They played the slow movement of Brahms's Violin Sonata in D minor in an arrangement for cello and piano. A photo showing her playing with Mr. Ma that night has pride of place in her living room.

Ms. Rice has only just begun to see the potential of music as a diplomatic tool, notably last February, when she delivered a speech in Paris about American rapprochement with Europe in the face of vehement disagreements over the invasion of Iraq. During the trip, she visited the Hector Berlioz Conservatory in Paris, where she attended a children's music class and watched young ensembles perform. As cameras caught her listening, she seemed deeply affected by the fledgling musicians.

At the time, there were "whole questions about U.S.-French relations and so forth," she said, "and I think it was just nice to connect with the French kids." Asked to play something, she declined, but promised to come back sometime with her chamber group.

Her fellow players would surely be eager to go. At the Sunday session, after their hellbent rendition of the Brahms scherzo, they segued without a break from the fortissimo final chords of that movement to the mysterious introductory section of the finale, a minor-mode Allegro with a touch of a Gypsy dance. Connecting these two movements is a bold interpretive stroke.

"The scherzo has such an odd and abrupt ending," Mr. Rice said. So plunging right into the slow introduction that follows "seemed like a good idea," she said. Wanting credit, Mr. Battey said, "It was my idea." His colleagues laughed and said, "Yeah, yeah."

As the session ended, the string players packed up their instruments and took places around the coffee table for their traditional postrehearsal reward: white wine and cheese. As they chatted, Ms. Rice's friends spoke of how touched they had been to be invited to her swearing-in as secretary of state and to her 50th-birthday celebration, attended by President and Mrs. Bush.

Ms. Rice, who lives a short walk from the Kennedy Center, said she was looking forward to attending the Washington National Opera's new production of Wagner's "Rheingold" when she returned from an overseas trip. In February she took in the Kirov's production of Puccini's "Turandot," when the company visited the capital. She spoke of how impressed she had been by the innovative staging. By the music, too.

"That's about the only Puccini opera I can take," she said. A couple of us, led by this Puccini lover, stuck up for him. But Ms. Rice is not alone in her opinion.

Her favorite opera is Mussorgsky's epic "Khovanshchina," not surprising, given her expertise in Russian culture, language and history. It may have special resonance today: it tells of bloody factional strife at the time of the ascension of Peter the Great, made worse by the intransigence of the Old Believers, a fundamentalist Orthodox group opposed to reform.

These days, Ms. Rice finds chamber music so fulfilling that she has almost no desire to play solo works, she said. But she does have her eyes on a particular prize of the piano repertory.

"Before I leave this earth, I'm somehow going to learn the Brahms Second Piano Concerto," she said, "which is the most beautiful piece of music." It is also dauntingly hard.

Whether Condoleezza Rice some day becomes commissioner of the National Football League, president of Stanford or president of whatever is anyone's guess. But don't bet against her learning Brahms's Second Concerto.

Condoleezza Rice on Piano - New York Times


By ANTHONY TOMMASINI

WASHINGTON — Two weeks ago on Sunday, Condoleezza Rice got up at 4 a.m. so she could fit in her daily exercise regimen — weights and the treadmill — and still have time to prepare for interviews on three morning news programs. Just a few hours later, on "Meet the Press," Tim Russert confronted her with recent reports that shortly after the invasion of Iraq, the Russians had given intelligence on American troop movements to the Iraqis. Even on the normally sympathetic "Fox News Sunday," Chris Wallace asked her why Americans should not be outraged that United States troops continue to fight and die while Iraqi politicians haggle over jobs.

Toward the end of the program, questions about her future plans predictably arose. Just as predictably, she stated that despite urgings from highly placed Republicans, thank you, no, she would not pursue the presidency.

For most people, let alone a secretary of state grappling with an increasingly unpopular war, this would have been enough exertion for the traditional day of rest.

But late that afternoon, Ms. Rice was back home in her comfortable apartment in the Watergate complex for one of her frequent sessions of chamber music with four friends, lawyers by profession and dedicated amateur string players.

Ms. Rice is an accomplished pianist. At 15 she performed Mozart's Piano Concerto in D minor with the Denver Symphony Orchestra, her prize for winning a student competition. Until college she intended to pursue music professionally. Now 51, she plays as often as every other week with this group, which convened three years ago. Until now it was a realm of her very public life that she kept private.

People often ask her, Ms. Rice said that day, whether playing chamber music is relaxing. "It's not exactly relaxing if you are struggling to play Brahms," she explained. "But it is transporting. When you're playing there is only room for Brahms or Shostakovich. It's the time I'm most away from myself, and I treasure it."

She is not the only secretary of state to pursue amateur music-making. Thomas Jefferson, the first to hold the office, was an excellent violinist who played chamber music, especially Baroque trio sonatas, throughout his political career. But back then, playing music at home was commonplace.

Not so today, in the era of recording technology, when you can hear almost any piece from the entire history of music by switching on an iPod. The trade-off is that so few people know the personal joy of making music. Whatever else she is to political supporters and opponents, Ms. Rice may be the most prominent amateur musician in the world right now, which is big news for classical music.

THE amateurs in Ms. Rice's ensemble do have some professional credentials. Two of the players had successful musical careers before switching to law. Soye Kim, the first violinist, who has two degrees from the Juilliard School, spent busy years studying in Europe and freelancing in New York before she entered law school at 39. Robert Battey was a professor of cello at the University of Missouri for 12 years, and still sometimes coaches.

Though Lawrence Wallace, the violist, now retired, is a former law school professor who served as a deputy solicitor general under eight presidents, he used to moonlight as a musician. Joshua Klein, the second violinist and the youngest member of the ensemble, who clerked for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor last term, studied violin seriously during college and law school.

"I don't make money playing the piano," Ms. Rice said, with the pride of a honorable amateur.

"No," Mr. Battey replied, "though you have gotten some pretty nice dinners out of it."

He was referring to a concert the group played two years ago at the British Embassy for an audience of 100. After the performance, which lasted just over an hour, the British ambassador presented an elegant dinner.

In 2003, the group also gave a private concert at Ms. Rice's apartment, which attracted an overflow bipartisan audience, including Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court, Alan Greenspan and Harriet Miers, classical music lovers all. Ms. Rice's ample living room has a nook in a corner, which accommodates her midsize grand piano, a Chickering, a cherished gift from her parents when she was a teenager.

On this Sunday, once the musicians had settled down and tuned up, they began by playing through the ebullient first movement of Schumann's Piano Quintet in E flat. The piano part has fancy runs and elaborate flourishes, especially in a tempestuous contrasting development section, alive with intricate counterpoint.

"We generally like to start off with a nice finger-buster for the secretary," Mr. Battey said. That way, he explained, she's warmed up when they really get to work.

Ms. Rice's long, thin fingers are nimble indeed, especially for someone who doesn't have much time to practice. Her touch has lightness and subtlety, yet she plays with crisp clarity and, when called for, robust sound.

They played right through the first movement. When things got a little tangled in the difficult development section, they had the collective wit to forge ahead and let things untangle.

It was wonderful to hear chamber music as it was meant to be: played by friends for their own enjoyment, in the confines of a living room, which makes the sound seem enveloping. Playing chamber music is a bonding experience. During an earlier interview at the State Department, Ms. Rice said the members of her group had become "like my best friends."

"We are like family," she added.

Traditionally, playing chamber music has also been a great equalizer. But do these string players really feel free to critique their pianist? Mr. Wallace answered, "I just assumed from the beginning that it wouldn't be any fun for her if we were deferential."

Though the Schumann went well, Ms. Rice felt that things had become shaky in the exuberant push to the coda. "Can we try the ending again," she asked, "just for our pride?" So they did, and they played it with more solidity and just as much spirit.

But the real give-and-take began when they turned to the first movement of Shostakovich's Piano Quintet in G minor, a piece they are still learning. The music is episodic, moody and — as so often in Shostakovich — elusive. Are the evocations of Bach-like counterpoint to be taken at face value? Are the grim outbursts ironic?

The players began the somberly oracular opening section and soon fell out of sync. "My tempo is not your tempo," Ms. Rice told her colleagues, when they stopped to regroup. As a musician she is a palpably attentive listener. As they tried again, the opening section emerged in a more cohesive arc, and they segued smoothly into a faster episode with curious triplet figures in the piano, which Ms. Rice infused with a stealthy character.

When they failed to coalesce in an up-tempo section of the movement, Ms. Rice blamed herself. "I don't know this passage coming up," she said. "So I hesitated to turn the page." She stared at her printed score and said, almost to herself, "I'll get that fixed." There was no doubting it.

Ms. Kim commented on the articulate way Ms. Rice played a series of thick chords. "You're playing them really short, Condi," she said. "I hadn't thought of that," she added, warming to the idea.

"I like them separated," Ms. Rice replied. "Not too short, maybe kind of sticky." Everyone knew what she meant.

After the Shostakovich, they turned to Brahms's Piano Quintet in F minor: "Condi's piece," as Mr. Battey called it. This intense, intricate and extremely difficult work is one of Ms. Rice's favorites. She reveres Brahms, she said, because the music is "passionate but not sentimental." In the scherzo, the players set a breakneck pace. Sometimes notes splattered and coordination teetered on the brink. It hardly mattered. The music-making was risky and vital.

MS. RICE, an only child, is a fourth-generation pianist on her mother's side. Her mother, Angelena Rice, who died of cancer in 1985, taught music and science at an industrial high school in a black suburb of Birmingham, Ala. "My mother was a church musician, and she read music beautifully, but she didn't play classically that much," Ms. Rice said during the earlier interview. "But she had a marvelously improvisational ear, which I don't have."

Her father, John Rice, who succeeded his father, a son of slaves, as minister at a Presbyterian church in Birmingham, also loved music, especially big-band jazz. (John Rice died on Christmas Eve in 2000, days after learning that Ms. Rice had been appointed national security adviser.) When she was an infant, Ms. Rice's parents gave her a tiny toy piano. "They had a plan," she said. Today that gift is prominently displayed on the coffee table in her apartment.

But it was her maternal grandmother, Mattie Ray, who proved the decisive musical influence in her life. Because both Ms. Rice's parents worked, she was dropped off each day at the house of her grandmother, who taught piano privately and sensed her eagerness and talent. Lessons started when she was 3. "I don't remember learning to read music — you know, the lines and spaces and all that," Ms. Rice said. "From my point of view I could always read music."

Classical music became her passion from the day her mother bought her a recording of Verdi's "Aida," and she listened, "my little eyes like saucers," she said, to the brassy and stirring "Triumphal March."

Ms. Rice, not quite 9, was sitting in her father's church on the Sunday morning in 1963 when, two miles away, bombs went off at a Baptist church and four black girls were killed, one of them a childhood playmate of hers. During this period of protests, fire hoses and bombs in Birmingham, she found comfort taking music classes at a local conservatory that had boldly opened its doors to black children. In 1969, the family moved to Denver, and Ms. Rice, having skipped the first and seventh grades, entered the University of Denver at 15 as a music major.

At 17, she attended the prestigious summer school at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado and came to believe that though she was a very good pianist, she was "not great," she said. "That was the really the revelation," she added. "And it wasn't just that experience. You start noticing prodigies, and you realize that I'm never going to play that way." There is "just some intangible" in music, she said. Whatever it was, she said she felt she didn't have it. She decided to major in international relations instead, focusing on the Soviet Union.

As her career in higher education and government prospered, she began to let her music slip. Feeling the loss in 1993, when she became the youngest provost in the history of Stanford University, she applied herself again on the piano and took regular lessons with a faculty member, George Barth. It was he who encouraged her to immerse herself in chamber music.

A couple of times in recent years she has ventured onto a concert stage for special occasions. In 2002, when the cellist Yo-Yo Ma received a National Medal of the Arts, he requested that Ms. Rice accompany him in a piece during the ceremony at Constitution Hall. They played the slow movement of Brahms's Violin Sonata in D minor in an arrangement for cello and piano. A photo showing her playing with Mr. Ma that night has pride of place in her living room.

Ms. Rice has only just begun to see the potential of music as a diplomatic tool, notably last February, when she delivered a speech in Paris about American rapprochement with Europe in the face of vehement disagreements over the invasion of Iraq. During the trip, she visited the Hector Berlioz Conservatory in Paris, where she attended a children's music class and watched young ensembles perform. As cameras caught her listening, she seemed deeply affected by the fledgling musicians.

At the time, there were "whole questions about U.S.-French relations and so forth," she said, "and I think it was just nice to connect with the French kids." Asked to play something, she declined, but promised to come back sometime with her chamber group.

Her fellow players would surely be eager to go. At the Sunday session, after their hellbent rendition of the Brahms scherzo, they segued without a break from the fortissimo final chords of that movement to the mysterious introductory section of the finale, a minor-mode Allegro with a touch of a Gypsy dance. Connecting these two movements is a bold interpretive stroke.

"The scherzo has such an odd and abrupt ending," Mr. Rice said. So plunging right into the slow introduction that follows "seemed like a good idea," she said. Wanting credit, Mr. Battey said, "It was my idea." His colleagues laughed and said, "Yeah, yeah."

As the session ended, the string players packed up their instruments and took places around the coffee table for their traditional postrehearsal reward: white wine and cheese. As they chatted, Ms. Rice's friends spoke of how touched they had been to be invited to her swearing-in as secretary of state and to her 50th-birthday celebration, attended by President and Mrs. Bush.

Ms. Rice, who lives a short walk from the Kennedy Center, said she was looking forward to attending the Washington National Opera's new production of Wagner's "Rheingold" when she returned from an overseas trip. In February she took in the Kirov's production of Puccini's "Turandot," when the company visited the capital. She spoke of how impressed she had been by the innovative staging. By the music, too.

"That's about the only Puccini opera I can take," she said. A couple of us, led by this Puccini lover, stuck up for him. But Ms. Rice is not alone in her opinion.

Her favorite opera is Mussorgsky's epic "Khovanshchina," not surprising, given her expertise in Russian culture, language and history. It may have special resonance today: it tells of bloody factional strife at the time of the ascension of Peter the Great, made worse by the intransigence of the Old Believers, a fundamentalist Orthodox group opposed to reform.

These days, Ms. Rice finds chamber music so fulfilling that she has almost no desire to play solo works, she said. But she does have her eyes on a particular prize of the piano repertory.

"Before I leave this earth, I'm somehow going to learn the Brahms Second Piano Concerto," she said, "which is the most beautiful piece of music." It is also dauntingly hard.

Whether Condoleezza Rice some day becomes commissioner of the National Football League, president of Stanford or president of whatever is anyone's guess. But don't bet against her learning Brahms's Second Concerto.

Condoleezza Rice on Piano - New York Times


By ANTHONY TOMMASINI

WASHINGTON — Two weeks ago on Sunday, Condoleezza Rice got up at 4 a.m. so she could fit in her daily exercise regimen — weights and the treadmill — and still have time to prepare for interviews on three morning news programs. Just a few hours later, on "Meet the Press," Tim Russert confronted her with recent reports that shortly after the invasion of Iraq, the Russians had given intelligence on American troop movements to the Iraqis. Even on the normally sympathetic "Fox News Sunday," Chris Wallace asked her why Americans should not be outraged that United States troops continue to fight and die while Iraqi politicians haggle over jobs.

Toward the end of the program, questions about her future plans predictably arose. Just as predictably, she stated that despite urgings from highly placed Republicans, thank you, no, she would not pursue the presidency.

For most people, let alone a secretary of state grappling with an increasingly unpopular war, this would have been enough exertion for the traditional day of rest.

But late that afternoon, Ms. Rice was back home in her comfortable apartment in the Watergate complex for one of her frequent sessions of chamber music with four friends, lawyers by profession and dedicated amateur string players.

Ms. Rice is an accomplished pianist. At 15 she performed Mozart's Piano Concerto in D minor with the Denver Symphony Orchestra, her prize for winning a student competition. Until college she intended to pursue music professionally. Now 51, she plays as often as every other week with this group, which convened three years ago. Until now it was a realm of her very public life that she kept private.

People often ask her, Ms. Rice said that day, whether playing chamber music is relaxing. "It's not exactly relaxing if you are struggling to play Brahms," she explained. "But it is transporting. When you're playing there is only room for Brahms or Shostakovich. It's the time I'm most away from myself, and I treasure it."

She is not the only secretary of state to pursue amateur music-making. Thomas Jefferson, the first to hold the office, was an excellent violinist who played chamber music, especially Baroque trio sonatas, throughout his political career. But back then, playing music at home was commonplace.

Not so today, in the era of recording technology, when you can hear almost any piece from the entire history of music by switching on an iPod. The trade-off is that so few people know the personal joy of making music. Whatever else she is to political supporters and opponents, Ms. Rice may be the most prominent amateur musician in the world right now, which is big news for classical music.

THE amateurs in Ms. Rice's ensemble do have some professional credentials. Two of the players had successful musical careers before switching to law. Soye Kim, the first violinist, who has two degrees from the Juilliard School, spent busy years studying in Europe and freelancing in New York before she entered law school at 39. Robert Battey was a professor of cello at the University of Missouri for 12 years, and still sometimes coaches.

Though Lawrence Wallace, the violist, now retired, is a former law school professor who served as a deputy solicitor general under eight presidents, he used to moonlight as a musician. Joshua Klein, the second violinist and the youngest member of the ensemble, who clerked for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor last term, studied violin seriously during college and law school.

"I don't make money playing the piano," Ms. Rice said, with the pride of a honorable amateur.

"No," Mr. Battey replied, "though you have gotten some pretty nice dinners out of it."

He was referring to a concert the group played two years ago at the British Embassy for an audience of 100. After the performance, which lasted just over an hour, the British ambassador presented an elegant dinner.

In 2003, the group also gave a private concert at Ms. Rice's apartment, which attracted an overflow bipartisan audience, including Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court, Alan Greenspan and Harriet Miers, classical music lovers all. Ms. Rice's ample living room has a nook in a corner, which accommodates her midsize grand piano, a Chickering, a cherished gift from her parents when she was a teenager.

On this Sunday, once the musicians had settled down and tuned up, they began by playing through the ebullient first movement of Schumann's Piano Quintet in E flat. The piano part has fancy runs and elaborate flourishes, especially in a tempestuous contrasting development section, alive with intricate counterpoint.

"We generally like to start off with a nice finger-buster for the secretary," Mr. Battey said. That way, he explained, she's warmed up when they really get to work.

Ms. Rice's long, thin fingers are nimble indeed, especially for someone who doesn't have much time to practice. Her touch has lightness and subtlety, yet she plays with crisp clarity and, when called for, robust sound.

They played right through the first movement. When things got a little tangled in the difficult development section, they had the collective wit to forge ahead and let things untangle.

It was wonderful to hear chamber music as it was meant to be: played by friends for their own enjoyment, in the confines of a living room, which makes the sound seem enveloping. Playing chamber music is a bonding experience. During an earlier interview at the State Department, Ms. Rice said the members of her group had become "like my best friends."

"We are like family," she added.

Traditionally, playing chamber music has also been a great equalizer. But do these string players really feel free to critique their pianist? Mr. Wallace answered, "I just assumed from the beginning that it wouldn't be any fun for her if we were deferential."

Though the Schumann went well, Ms. Rice felt that things had become shaky in the exuberant push to the coda. "Can we try the ending again," she asked, "just for our pride?" So they did, and they played it with more solidity and just as much spirit.

But the real give-and-take began when they turned to the first movement of Shostakovich's Piano Quintet in G minor, a piece they are still learning. The music is episodic, moody and — as so often in Shostakovich — elusive. Are the evocations of Bach-like counterpoint to be taken at face value? Are the grim outbursts ironic?

The players began the somberly oracular opening section and soon fell out of sync. "My tempo is not your tempo," Ms. Rice told her colleagues, when they stopped to regroup. As a musician she is a palpably attentive listener. As they tried again, the opening section emerged in a more cohesive arc, and they segued smoothly into a faster episode with curious triplet figures in the piano, which Ms. Rice infused with a stealthy character.

When they failed to coalesce in an up-tempo section of the movement, Ms. Rice blamed herself. "I don't know this passage coming up," she said. "So I hesitated to turn the page." She stared at her printed score and said, almost to herself, "I'll get that fixed." There was no doubting it.

Ms. Kim commented on the articulate way Ms. Rice played a series of thick chords. "You're playing them really short, Condi," she said. "I hadn't thought of that," she added, warming to the idea.

"I like them separated," Ms. Rice replied. "Not too short, maybe kind of sticky." Everyone knew what she meant.

After the Shostakovich, they turned to Brahms's Piano Quintet in F minor: "Condi's piece," as Mr. Battey called it. This intense, intricate and extremely difficult work is one of Ms. Rice's favorites. She reveres Brahms, she said, because the music is "passionate but not sentimental." In the scherzo, the players set a breakneck pace. Sometimes notes splattered and coordination teetered on the brink. It hardly mattered. The music-making was risky and vital.

MS. RICE, an only child, is a fourth-generation pianist on her mother's side. Her mother, Angelena Rice, who died of cancer in 1985, taught music and science at an industrial high school in a black suburb of Birmingham, Ala. "My mother was a church musician, and she read music beautifully, but she didn't play classically that much," Ms. Rice said during the earlier interview. "But she had a marvelously improvisational ear, which I don't have."

Her father, John Rice, who succeeded his father, a son of slaves, as minister at a Presbyterian church in Birmingham, also loved music, especially big-band jazz. (John Rice died on Christmas Eve in 2000, days after learning that Ms. Rice had been appointed national security adviser.) When she was an infant, Ms. Rice's parents gave her a tiny toy piano. "They had a plan," she said. Today that gift is prominently displayed on the coffee table in her apartment.

But it was her maternal grandmother, Mattie Ray, who proved the decisive musical influence in her life. Because both Ms. Rice's parents worked, she was dropped off each day at the house of her grandmother, who taught piano privately and sensed her eagerness and talent. Lessons started when she was 3. "I don't remember learning to read music — you know, the lines and spaces and all that," Ms. Rice said. "From my point of view I could always read music."

Classical music became her passion from the day her mother bought her a recording of Verdi's "Aida," and she listened, "my little eyes like saucers," she said, to the brassy and stirring "Triumphal March."

Ms. Rice, not quite 9, was sitting in her father's church on the Sunday morning in 1963 when, two miles away, bombs went off at a Baptist church and four black girls were killed, one of them a childhood playmate of hers. During this period of protests, fire hoses and bombs in Birmingham, she found comfort taking music classes at a local conservatory that had boldly opened its doors to black children. In 1969, the family moved to Denver, and Ms. Rice, having skipped the first and seventh grades, entered the University of Denver at 15 as a music major.

At 17, she attended the prestigious summer school at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado and came to believe that though she was a very good pianist, she was "not great," she said. "That was the really the revelation," she added. "And it wasn't just that experience. You start noticing prodigies, and you realize that I'm never going to play that way." There is "just some intangible" in music, she said. Whatever it was, she said she felt she didn't have it. She decided to major in international relations instead, focusing on the Soviet Union.

As her career in higher education and government prospered, she began to let her music slip. Feeling the loss in 1993, when she became the youngest provost in the history of Stanford University, she applied herself again on the piano and took regular lessons with a faculty member, George Barth. It was he who encouraged her to immerse herself in chamber music.

A couple of times in recent years she has ventured onto a concert stage for special occasions. In 2002, when the cellist Yo-Yo Ma received a National Medal of the Arts, he requested that Ms. Rice accompany him in a piece during the ceremony at Constitution Hall. They played the slow movement of Brahms's Violin Sonata in D minor in an arrangement for cello and piano. A photo showing her playing with Mr. Ma that night has pride of place in her living room.

Ms. Rice has only just begun to see the potential of music as a diplomatic tool, notably last February, when she delivered a speech in Paris about American rapprochement with Europe in the face of vehement disagreements over the invasion of Iraq. During the trip, she visited the Hector Berlioz Conservatory in Paris, where she attended a children's music class and watched young ensembles perform. As cameras caught her listening, she seemed deeply affected by the fledgling musicians.

At the time, there were "whole questions about U.S.-French relations and so forth," she said, "and I think it was just nice to connect with the French kids." Asked to play something, she declined, but promised to come back sometime with her chamber group.

Her fellow players would surely be eager to go. At the Sunday session, after their hellbent rendition of the Brahms scherzo, they segued without a break from the fortissimo final chords of that movement to the mysterious introductory section of the finale, a minor-mode Allegro with a touch of a Gypsy dance. Connecting these two movements is a bold interpretive stroke.

"The scherzo has such an odd and abrupt ending," Mr. Rice said. So plunging right into the slow introduction that follows "seemed like a good idea," she said. Wanting credit, Mr. Battey said, "It was my idea." His colleagues laughed and said, "Yeah, yeah."

As the session ended, the string players packed up their instruments and took places around the coffee table for their traditional postrehearsal reward: white wine and cheese. As they chatted, Ms. Rice's friends spoke of how touched they had been to be invited to her swearing-in as secretary of state and to her 50th-birthday celebration, attended by President and Mrs. Bush.

Ms. Rice, who lives a short walk from the Kennedy Center, said she was looking forward to attending the Washington National Opera's new production of Wagner's "Rheingold" when she returned from an overseas trip. In February she took in the Kirov's production of Puccini's "Turandot," when the company visited the capital. She spoke of how impressed she had been by the innovative staging. By the music, too.

"That's about the only Puccini opera I can take," she said. A couple of us, led by this Puccini lover, stuck up for him. But Ms. Rice is not alone in her opinion.

Her favorite opera is Mussorgsky's epic "Khovanshchina," not surprising, given her expertise in Russian culture, language and history. It may have special resonance today: it tells of bloody factional strife at the time of the ascension of Peter the Great, made worse by the intransigence of the Old Believers, a fundamentalist Orthodox group opposed to reform.

These days, Ms. Rice finds chamber music so fulfilling that she has almost no desire to play solo works, she said. But she does have her eyes on a particular prize of the piano repertory.

"Before I leave this earth, I'm somehow going to learn the Brahms Second Piano Concerto," she said, "which is the most beautiful piece of music." It is also dauntingly hard.

Whether Condoleezza Rice some day becomes commissioner of the National Football League, president of Stanford or president of whatever is anyone's guess. But don't bet against her learning Brahms's Second Concerto.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

AlterNet: Who Is Killing New Orleans?

AlterNet: Who Is Killing New Orleans?
By Mike Davis, The Nation
Posted on April 4, 2006, Printed on April 4, 2006
http://www.alternet.org/story/34119/

A few blocks from the badly flooded and still-closed campus of Dillard University, a wind-bent street sign announces the intersection of Humanity and New Orleans. In the nighttime distance, the downtown skyscrapers on Poydras and Canal Streets are already ablaze with light, but a vast northern and eastern swath of the city, including the Gentilly neighborhood around Dillard, remains shrouded in darkness.

The lights have been out for six months now, and no one seems to know when, if ever, they will be turned back on. In greater New Orleans about 125,000 homes remain damaged and unoccupied, a vast ghost city that rots in darkness while les bon temps return to a guilty strip of unflooded and mostly affluent neighborhoods near the river. Such a large portion of the black population is gone that some radio stations are now switching their formats from funk and rap to soft rock.

Mayor Ray Nagin likes to boast that "New Orleans is back," pointing to the tourists who again prowl the French Quarter and the Tulane students who crowd Magazine Street bistros; but the current population of New Orleans on the west bank of the Mississippi is about the same as that of Disney World on a normal day. More than 60 percent of Nagin's constituents -- including an estimated 80 percent of the African-Americans -- are still scattered in exile with no obvious way home.

In their absence, local business elites, advised by conservative think tanks, "New Urbanists" and neo-Democrats, have usurped almost every function of elected government. With the City Council largely shut out of their deliberations, mayor-appointed commissions and outside experts, mostly white and Republican, propose to radically shrink and reshape a majority-black and Democratic city.

Without any mandate from local voters, the public-school system has already been virtually abolished, along with the jobs of unionized teachers and school employees. Thousands of other unionized jobs have been lost with the closure of Charity Hospital, formerly the flagship of public medicine in Louisiana. And a proposed oversight board, dominated by appointees of President Bush and Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, would end local control over city finances.

Meanwhile, Bush's pledge to "get the work done quickly" and mount "one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen" has proved to be the same fool's gold as his earlier guarantee to rebuild Iraq's bombed-out infrastructure. Instead, the Administration has left the residents of neighborhoods like Gentilly in limbo: largely without jobs, emergency housing, flood protection, mortgage relief, small-business loans or a coordinated plan for reconstruction.

With each passing week of neglect -- what Representative Barney Frank has labeled "a policy of ethnic cleansing by inaction" -- the likelihood increases that most black Orleanians will never be able to return.

Lie and Stall

After his bungling initial response to Katrina, Bush impersonated FDR and Lyndon Johnson when he reassured the nation in his September 15 Jackson Square speech that "we have a duty to confront [New Orleans's] poverty with bold action… We will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives."

In the event, the White House sat on its pledges all autumn, mumbling homilies about the limits of government, while its conservative attack dogs in Congress offset Gulf relief with $40 billion worth of cutbacks in Medicaid, food stamps and student loans. Republicans also rebelled against aid for a state that was depicted as a venal Third World society, a failed state like Haiti, out of step with national values. "Louisiana and New Orleans," according to Idaho Senator Larry Craig, "are the most corrupt governments in our country and they always have been… Fraud is in the culture of Iraqis. I believe that is true in the state of Louisiana as well."

Democrats, apart from the Congressional Black Caucus, did pathetically little to counter this backlash or to hold Bush's feet to the fire over his Jackson Square pledge. The promised national debate about urban poverty never took place; instead, New Orleans, like a great derelict ship, drifted helplessly in the treacherous currents of White House hypocrisy and conservative contempt.

An early, deadly blow was Treasury Secretary John Snow's refusal to guarantee New Orleans municipal bonds, forcing Mayor Nagin to lay off 3,000 city employees on top of the thousands of education and medical workers already jobless. The Bush Administration also blocked bipartisan measures to increase Medicaid coverage for Katrina evacuees and to give the State of Louisiana -- facing an estimated $8 billion in lost revenues over the next few years -- a share of the income generated by its offshore oil and gas leases.

Even more egregious was the flagrant redlining of black neighborhoods by the Small Business Administration (SBA), which rejected a majority of loan applications by local businesses and homeowners. At the same time, a bipartisan Senate bill to save small businesses with emergency bridge loans was sabotaged by Bush officials, leaving thousands to face bankruptcy and foreclosure.

As a result, the economic foundations of the city's African-American middle class (public-sector jobs and small businesses) have been swept away by deliberate decisions made in the White House. Meanwhile, in the absence of federal or state initiatives to employ locals, low-income blacks are losing their niches in the construction and service sectors to more mobile outsiders.

In stark contrast to its neglect of neighborhood relief, the White House has made herculean efforts to reward its own base of large corporations and political insiders. Representative Nydia Velazquez, who sits on the House Small Business Committee, pointed out that the SBA has allowed large corporations to get $2 billion in federal contracts while excluding local minority contractors.

The paramount beneficiaries of Katrina relief aid have been the giant engineering firms KBR (a Halliburton subsidiary) and the Shaw Group, which enjoy the services of lobbyist Joe Allbaugh (a former FEMA director and Bush's 2000 campaign manager). FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers, while unable to explain to Governor Blanco last fall exactly how they were spending money in Louisiana, have tolerated levels of profiteering that would raise eyebrows even on the war-torn Euphrates. (Some of this largesse, of course, is guaranteed to be recycled as GOP campaign contributions.)

FEMA, for example, has paid the Shaw Group $175 per square (100 square feet) to install tarps on storm-damaged roofs in New Orleans. Yet the actual installers earn as little as $2 per square, and the tarps are provided by FEMA. Similarly, the Army Corps pays prime contractors about $20 per cubic yard of storm debris removed, yet some bulldozer operators receive only $1.

Every level of the contracting food chain, in other words, is grotesquely overfed except the bottom rung, where the actual work is carried out. While the Friends of Bush mine gold from the wreckage of New Orleans, many disappointed recovery workers -- often Mexican or Salvadoran immigrants camped out in city parks and derelict shopping centers -- can barely make ends meet.

The Big Kiss-Off

In the fractious, take-no-prisoners world of Louisiana politics, broad solidarity of interest is normally as rare as a boulder in a bayou. Yet Katrina created an unprecedented bipartisan consensus around twin demands for Category five hurricane protection and mortgage relief for damaged homes.

From conservative Republicans to liberal Democrats, there has been unanimity that the region's recovery depends on federal investment in new levees and coastal restoration, as well as financial rescue of the estimated 200,000 homeowners whose insurance coverage has failed to cover their actual damage. (There has been no equivalent consensus and little concern for the right of renters -- who constituted 53 percent of the population before Katrina -- and of public-housing tenants to return to their city.)

Yet by early November it was clear that saving New Orleans was no longer high on the Bush agenda, if it had ever been. As Congress headed toward its Christmas adjournment, the Louisiana delegation was in panic mode: A Category 5 plan had disappeared from serious discussion, and there were doubts about whether the damaged levees would be repaired before hurricane season returned. (In early March engineers monitoring the progress of the Army Corps's work complained that the use of weak, sandy soils and the lack of concrete "armoring" insured that the levees would again fail in a major storm.)

Congress ultimately voted to provide $29 billion for Gulf Coast relief. Yet as the Washington Post reported, "All but $6 billion of the measure merely reshuffled some of the $62 billion in previously approved Hurricane Katrina aid. The rest was funded by a one percent across-the-board cut of non-emergency, discretionary programs."

The Pentagon won approval for a whopping $4.4 billion in base repairs and other professed Katrina-related needs, but Congress cut out the $250 million allocated to combat coastal erosion. Meanwhile, Mississippi's powerful Republican troika -- Governor Haley Barbour and Senators Trent Lott and Thad Cochran -- persuaded fellow Republicans to support $6.2 billion in discretionary housing aid for Louisiana and $5.3 billion for Mississippi, with red-state Mississippi getting five times as much aid per distressed household as pink-state Louisiana.

Louisiana received another blow on January 23, when Bush rejected GOP Representative Richard Baker's plan calling for a federally guaranteed Louisiana Reconstruction Corporation, which would bail out homeowners by buying distressed properties and packaging them in larger parcels for resale to developers. Local Republicans as well as Democrats howled in rage, and the future of southern Louisiana was again thrown into chaos. Although the Administration eventually promised an additional $4.2 billion in housing aid, the appropriation continues to be fought over by Texas and other jealous states.

The Republican hostility to New Orleans, of course, runs deeper and is nastier than mere concern with civic probity (America's most corrupt city, after all, is located on the Potomac, not the Mississippi). Underlying all the circumlocutions are the same antediluvian prejudices and stereotypes that were used to justify the violent overthrow of Reconstruction 130 years ago.

Usually it is the poor who are invisible in the aftermath of urban disasters, but in the case of New Orleans it has been the African-American professional middle class and skilled working class. In the confusion and suffering of Katrina -- a Rorschach test of the American racial unconscious -- most white politicians and media pundits have chosen to see only the demons of their prejudices.

The city's complex history and social geography have been reduced to a cartoon of a vast slum inhabited by an alternately criminal or helpless underclass, whose salvation is the kindness of strangers in other, whiter cities. Inconvenient realities like Gentilly's red-brick normalcy -- or, for that matter, the pride of homeownership and the exuberance of civic activism in the blue-collar Lower Ninth Ward -- have not been allowed to interfere with the belief, embraced by New Democrats as well as old Republicans, that black urban culture is inherently pathological.

Such calumnies reproduce ancient caricatures -- blacks running amok, incapable of honest self-government -- that were evoked by the murderous White League when it plotted against Reconstruction in New Orleans in the 1870s. Indeed, some civil rights veterans fear that the 1874 Battle of Canal Street, a bloody League-organized insurrection against a Republican administration elected by black suffrage, is being refought -- perhaps without pikes and guns, but with the same fundamental aim of dispossessing black New Orleans of economic and political power. Certainly, a sweeping transformation of the racial balance-of-power within the city has been on some people's agenda for a long time.

The Krewe of Canizaro

Power and status in New Orleans have always been defined by membership in secretive Mardi Gras "krewes" and social clubs. In the early 1990s civil rights activists, led by feisty Councilmember Dorothy Mae Taylor, forced the token desegregation of Mardi Gras, and some of the clubs reluctantly admitted a few African-American millionaires. Despite some old-guard holdouts, Uptown seemed to be adjusting, however grudgingly, to the reality of black political clout.

But as post-Katrina events have brutally clarified, if the oligarchy is dead, then long live the oligarchy. While elected black officials protest impotently from the sidelines, a largely white elite has wrested control over the debate about how to rebuild the city. This de facto ruling krewe includes Jim Amoss, editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune; Pres Kabacoff, developer-gentrifier and local patron of the New Urbanism; Donald Bollinger, shipyard owner and prominent Bushite; James Reiss, real estate investor and chair of the Regional Transit Authority (i.e., the man responsible for the buses that didn't evacuate people); Alden McDonald Jr., CEO of one of the largest black-owned banks; Janet Howard of the Bureau of Government Research (originally established by Uptown elites to oppose the populism of Huey Long); and Scott Cowen, the aggressively ambitious president of Tulane University.

But the dominating figure and kingpin is Joseph Canizaro, a wealthy property developer who is a leading Bush supporter with close personal ties to the White House inner circle. He is also the power behind the throne of Mayor Nagin, a nominal Democrat (he supported Bush in 2000) who was elected in 2002 with 85 percent of the white vote. Finally, as the former president of the Urban Land Institute, Canizaro mobilizes the support of some of the nation's most powerful developers and prestigious master planners.

In a city where old money is often as reclusive as Anne Rice's vampires, Canizaro poses as a brave civic leader unafraid to speak bitter but necessary truths. As he told the Associated Press about the Katrina diaspora last October: "As a practical matter, these poor folks don't have the resources to go back to our city just like they didn't have the resources to get out of our city. So we won't get all those folks back. That's just a fact."

Indeed, it is a "fact" that Canizaro has helped shape into reigning dogma. The number of displaced residents returning to the city is obviously a highly variable function of the resources and opportunities provided for them, yet the rebuilding debate has been premised on suspicious projections -- provided by the RAND Corporation and endlessly repeated by Nagin and Canizaro -- that in three years the city would recover only half of its August 2005 population.

Many Orleanians cynically wonder whether such projections aren't actually goals. For years Reiss, Kabacoff and others have complained that New Orleans has too many poor people. Faced with the dire fiscal consequences of white flight to the suburbs, as well as three decades of deindustrialization (which has given New Orleans an economic profile closer to Newark than to Houston or Atlanta), they argue that the city has become a soul-destroying warehouse for underemployed and poorly educated African-Americans, whose real interests -- it is claimed -- might be better served by a Greyhound ticket to another town.

Kabacoff's 2003 redevelopment of the St. Thomas public housing project as River Garden, a largely market-rate faux Creole subdivision, has become the prototype for the smaller, wealthier, whiter city that Mayor Nagin's Bring New Orleans Back commission (with Canizaro as head of the crucial urban planning committee) proposes to build.

BNOB is perhaps the most important elite initiative in New Orleans since the famous "Cold Water Committee" (which included Kabacoff's father) mobilized in 1946 to overthrow the "Old Regulars" and elect reformer deLesseps Morrison as mayor. BNOB grew out of a notorious meeting between Mayor Nagin and New Orleans business leaders (dubbed by some "the forty thieves") that Reiss organized in Dallas twelve days after Katrina devastated the city. The summit excluded most of New Orleans's elected black representatives and, according to Reiss as characterized in the Wall Street Journal, focused on the opportunity to rebuild the city "with better services and fewer poor people."

Fears that a municipal coup d'etat was in progress were scarcely mollified when at the end of September the mayor charged BNOB with preparing a master plan to rebuild the city. Although the seventeen-member commission was racially balanced and included City Council president Oliver Thomas as well as jazz musician Wynton Marsalis (telecommuting from Manhattan), the real clout was exercised by committee chairs, especially Canizaro (urban planning), Cowen (education) and Howard (finance), who lunched privately with the mayor before the group's weekly meeting. This inner sanctum was reportedly necessary because the full-panel meetings did not allow a frank discussion of "tough issues of race and class."

BNOB might have quickly imploded but for a shrewd outflanking movement by Canizaro, who persuaded Nagin to invite the Urban Land Institute to work with the commission. Although the ULI is the self-interested national voice of corporate land developers, Nagin and Canizaro welcomed the delegation of developers, architects and ex-mayors as a heroic cavalry of expertise riding to the city's rescue.

In a nutshell, the ULI's recommendations reframed the historic elite desire to shrink the city's socioeconomic footprint of black poverty (and black political power) as a crusade to reduce its physical footprint to contours commensurate with public safety and a fiscally viable urban infrastructure.

Upon these suspect premises, the outside "experts" (including representatives of some of the country's largest property firms and corporate architects) proposed an unprecedented triage of an American city, in which low-lying neighborhoods would be targeted for mass buyouts and future conversion into a greenbelt to protect New Orleans from flooding. As a visiting developer told BNOB: "Your housing is now a public resource. You can't think of it as private property anymore."

Keenly aware of inevitable popular resistance, the ULI also proposed a Crescent City Rebuilding Corporation, armed with eminent domain, that would bypass the City Council, as well as an oversight board with power over the city's finances. With control of New Orleans schools already usurped by the state, the ULI's proposed dictatorship of experts and elite appointees would effectively overthrow representative democracy and annul the right of local people to make decisions about their lives. For veterans of the 1960s civil rights movement, especially, it reeked of disenfranchisement pure and simple, a return to the paternalism of plantation days.

The City Council, supported by a surprising number of white homeowners and their representatives, angrily rejected the ULI plan. Mayor Nagin -- truly a cat on a hot tin roof -- danced anxiously back and forth between the two camps, disavowing abandonment of any area while at the same time warning that the city could not afford to service every neighborhood. But state and national officials, including HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson, applauded the ULI scheme, as did the editorial page of the Times-Picayune and the influential Bureau of Government Research.

The BNOB recommendations presented by Canizaro in January faithfully hewed to the ULI framework: They included an appointed redevelopment corporation, outside the control of the City Council, that would act as a land bank to buy out heavily damaged homes and neighborhoods with federal funds, wielding eminent domain as needed to retire low-lying areas to greenbelt ("black people's neighborhoods into white people's parks," someone commented) or to assemble "in-fill" tracts for mixed-income development a la River Garden. Other committees recommended a radical diminution of the power of elected government.

On the crucial question of how to decide which neighborhoods would be allowed to rebuild and which would be bulldozed, BNOB endorsed the concept of forced buyouts but equivocated over process. Instead of the ruthless map that the Bureau of Government Research wanted, Canizaro and colleagues proposed a Rube Goldberg-like temporary building moratorium in tandem with neighborhood planning meetings that would poll homeowners about their intentions. Only those neighborhoods where at least half of the pre-Katrina residents had made a committment to return would be considered serious candidates for Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs) and other financial aid.

Canizaro presented the report to Nagin in front of a public audience on January 11. The mayor said, "I like the plan," and he complimented the commissioners for "a job well done." But most locals found little charm in the Canizaro report. "I will sit in my front door with my shotgun," one resident warned at a jammed meeting in the Council chambers on January 14, while another demanded, "Are we going to allow some developers, some hustlers, some land thieves to grab our land, grab our homes, to make this a Disney World version of our homes, our lives?"

Predictably, Nagin panicked and eventually disavowed the building moratorium. Soon afterward the White House torpedoed the Baker plan and left BNOB with only the state-controlled CDBG appropriation to finance its ambitious vision of New Orleans regrouped around a dozen new River Gardens linked by a high-speed light-rail line.

But Canizaro doesn't seem unduly worried. He has reassured supporters that the ULI/BNOB plan can go forward with CDBGs alone if necessary; in addition, he knows that independent of the local political weather, there are powerful external forces -- lack of insurance coverage, new FEMA flood maps, refusal of lenders to refinance mortgages and so on -- that can make permanent the exodus from redlined neighborhoods. Moreover, as anyone versed in the realpolitik of modern Louisiana knows, nothing is finally decided in New Orleans until some good ol' boys (and girls) in Baton Rouge have their say.

Power Shift

Even before the last bloated body had been fished out of the fetid waters, conservative political analysts were writing gleeful obituaries for black Democratic power in Louisiana. "The Democrats' margin of victory," said Ronald Utt of the Heritage Foundation, is "living in the Astrodome in Houston."

Thanks to the Army Corps's defective levees, the Republicans stand to gain another Senate seat, two Congressional seats and probably the governorship. The Democrats would also find it impossible to reproduce Bill Clinton's 1992 feat, when he carried Louisiana by almost exactly his margin of victory in New Orleans. With a ruthless psephologist like Karl Rove in the White House, it is inconceivable that such considerations haven't influenced the shameless Bush response to the city's distress.

New Orleans has always vied with Detroit when it comes to the violent antipathy of white-flight suburbs toward its black central city, so it is not surprising that representatives from Jefferson Parish (which elected Klan leader David Duke to the state legislature in 1989) and St. Tammany Parish have particularly relished the post-Katrina shift in metropolitan population and electoral power. Both parishes are in the midst of housing booms that may consolidate the hollowing out and decline of New Orleans.

For her part, Governor Blanco, a Democrat, has expressed little concern about this fundamental reconfiguration of Louisiana's major metropolitan area. Indeed, her immediate, Bush-like responses to Katrina were to help engineer a state takeover of New Orleans schools and to slash $500 million in state spending while sponsoring tax breaks (in the name of economic recovery) for oil companies awash in profits.

The Legislative Black Caucus was outraged at Blanco's "complete lack of vision and leadership" and went to court to challenge her right to make cuts without consulting lawmakers. But Blanco, supported by rural conservatives and corporate lobbyists, remained intransigent, even openly hostile, to black Democrats whose support she had previously courted.

Poor people have no voice inside the Louisiana Recovery Authority, whose gaggle of university presidents and corporate types appointed by Blanco is even less beholden to black New Orleans voters and their representatives than the Canizaro krewe. The twenty-nine-member LRA board, dominated by representatives of big business, has only one trade unionist and not a single grassroots black representative. Moreover, in contrast to Nagin's commission, the LRA has the power to decide, not merely advise: It controls the allocation of the FEMA funds and CDBGs that Congress has provided for reconstruction.

According to interviews in the Times-Picayune, leading members of the LRA believe that the sheer force of economic disincentives will shrink the city around the contours proposed by the Urban Land Institute. The authority has thus refused to disburse any of its hazard mitigation funds to areas considered unsafe, and presumably will be equally hardheaded in the allocation of CDBG spending.

At a special session of the legislature Governor Blanco emphasized that the state, not local government or neighborhood planning committees, will retain control over where grants and loans go. But Blanco and the elites may have overlooked the Fats Domino factor.

'No Bulldozing!'

Like hundreds of other flood-damaged but structurally sound homes, Fats Domino's house wears a defiant sign: Save Our Neighborhood: No Bulldozing! The r&b icon, who has always stayed close to his roots in working-class Holy Cross, knows his riverside neighborhood and the rest of the Lower Ninth Ward are prime targets of the city-shrinkers.

Indeed, on Christmas Day the Times-Picayune -- declaring that "before a community can rebuild, it must dream" -- published a vision of what a smaller-but-better New Orleans might look like: "Tourists and schoolchildren tour a living museum that includes the former home of Fats Domino and Holy Cross High School, a multiblock memorial to Katrina that spans the devastated neighborhood."

"Living museum" (or "holocaust museum," as a black friend bitterly observed) sounds like a bad joke, but it is the elite view of what African-American New Orleans should become. In the brave New Urbanist world of Canizaro and Kabacoff, blacks (along with that other colorful minority group, Cajuns) will reign only as entertainers and self-caricatures. The high-voltage energy that once rocked juke joints, housing projects and second-line parades will now be safely embalmed for tourists in a proposed Louisiana Music Experience in the Central Business District.

But this minstrel-show version of the future must first defeat a remarkable local history of grassroots organization. The Crescent City's best-kept secret -- in the mainstream press, at least -- has been the resurgence of trade-union and community organizing since the mid-1990s.

Indeed, New Orleans, the only Southern city in which labor was ever powerful enough to call a general strike, has become an important crucible of new social movements. In particular, it has become the home base of ACORN, a national organization of working-class homeowners and tenants that counts more than 9,000 New Orleans member-families, mostly in triage-threatened black neighborhoods.

ACORN's membership has been the engine behind the tumultuous, decade-long struggle to unionize downtown hotels as well as the successful 2002 referendum to legislate the nation's first municipal minimum wage (later overthrown by a right-wing state Supreme Court). Since Katrina, ACORN has emerged as the major opponent of the ULI/BNOB plan for shrinking the city. Its members find themselves again fighting many of the same elite figures who were opponents of hotel unionization and a living wage.

ACORN founder Wade Rathke scoffs at the RAND Corporation projections that portray most blacks abandoning the city. "Don't believe those phony figures," he told me over beignets at Cafe du Monde in January. "We have polled our displaced members in Houston and Atlanta. Folks overwhelmingly want to return. But they realize that this is a tough struggle, since we have to fight simultaneously on two fronts: to restore people's homes and to bring back their jobs. It is also a race against time. The challenge is, You make it, you take it. So our members are voting with their feet."

Not waiting for CDBGs, FEMA flood maps or permission from Canizaro, ACORN crews and volunteers from across the country are working night and day to repair the homes of 1,000 member-families in some of the most threatened areas. The strategy is to confront the city-shrinkers with the incontestable fact of reoccupied, viable neighborhood cores.

ACORN has allied with the AFL-CIO and the NAACP to defend worker rights and press for the hiring of locals in the recovery effort. Rathke points out that Katrina has become the pretext for the most vicious government-supported attack on unions since President Reagan fired striking air-traffic controllers in 1981.

"First, suspension of Davis-Bacon [federal prevailing wage law], then the state takeover of the schools and the destruction of the teachers' union, and now this." He points to a beat-up green garbage truck rattling by Jackson Square. "Trash collection in the French Quarter used to be a unionized city job, SEIU members. Now FEMA has contracted the work to a scab company from out of state. Is this what Bring New Orleans Back means?"

ACORN also went to court to insure that New Orleans's displaced, largely black population would have access to out-of-state polling places, especially in Atlanta and Houston, for the scheduled April 22 city elections. When a federal judge rejected the demand, ACORN organizer Stephen Bradberry said it's "so obvious that there's a concerted plan to make this a whiter city." The NAACP agrees, but the Justice Department denied its request to block an election that is likely to transfer power to the artificial white majority created by Katrina.

It would be inspiring to see in this latest battle of New Orleans the birth pangs of a new or renewed civil rights movement, but gritty local activism has yet to be echoed in meaningful solidarity by the labor movement, so-called progressive Democrats or even the Congressional Black Caucus. Pledges, press statements and occasional delegations, yes; but not the unfaltering national outrage and sense of urgency that should attend the attempted murder of New Orleans on the fortieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.

In 1874, as historian Ted Tunnell has pointed out, the failure of Northern Radicals to launch a militant, armed riposte to the white insurrection in New Orleans helped to doom the first Reconstruction. Will our feeble response to Hurricane Katrina now lead to the rollback of the second?

Mike Davis is author, most recently, of the kids' adventure, 'Land of the Lost Mammoths' (Perceval Press, 2003) and co-author of 'Under the Perfect Sun: the San Diego Tourists Never See' (New Press, 2003). He is currently working on a book about the recent political earthquake in California, 'Heavy Metal Freeway' (to be published by Metropolitan Books).

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

DeLay Is Quitting Race and House, Officials Report - New York Times

DeLay Is Quitting Race and House, Officials Report - New York TimesApril 4, 2006

By CARL HULSE

WASHINGTON, April 3 — Representative Tom DeLay, the relentless Texan who helped lead House Republicans to power but became ensnared in a corruption scandal, has decided to leave Congress, House officials said Monday night.

Mr. DeLay, who abandoned his efforts to hold onto his position as majority leader earlier this year after the indictment of the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a former ally, was seeking re-election as vindication. But he told selected colleagues that, facing the possibility of defeat, he had decided not to try to hold on to his House seat.

"He just decided that the numbers and the whole political climate were against him and that it was time to step aside," said one Congressional official with knowledge of Mr. DeLay's plans. The official did not want to be identified because Mr. DeLay's formal announcement was scheduled for Tuesday in Houston.

His decision was first reported Monday by MSNBC and by Time magazine on its Web site, which posted an interview with Mr. DeLay, as did The Galveston County Daily News. "I'm very much at peace with it," Mr. DeLay told Time of his decision.

Mr. Delay, who is serving his 11th term in Congress, told the Galveston paper he planned to step down from his seat by late May or June.

Congressional aides said Mr. DeLay had informed his Texas colleagues and other Republican leaders, including Representative Thomas M. Reynolds of New York, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, as well as President Bush.

One DeLay ally said that the lawmaker had been considering leaving Congress since he gave up his leadership post in January and that he had been persuaded to make the break last week, when his former deputy chief of staff, Tony Rudy, pleaded guilty to corruption charges. He was also said to have been influenced by troubling poll numbers in his district in the Houston area.

Though Mr. DeLay had moved into the background since leaving the majority leader's office, his decision to leave Congress could rattle House Republicans already anxious about their prospects in November, partly because of the cloud of ethics problems caused by the scandal involving Mr. Abramoff and Mr. DeLay's former inner circle.

The decision also threw into turmoil the 22nd Congressional District, where Mr. DeLay convincingly won a primary contest by a margin of better than 2 to 1 against three Republican rivals less than a month ago.

Monday night, with the news ricocheting around Texas and Washington, the mayor of Mr. DeLay's hometown, Sugar Land, David G. Wallace Jr., said he would seek the seat. Asked in an interview if he was running, he said, "I am."

Mr. Wallace, 44, an investment banker and real estate developer serving his second two-year-term in the part-time City Hall position, said he had not talked to Mr. DeLay about a vacancy but had been hearing "rumors in the last couple of days."

"Our understanding is that if Tom vacates the seat, there will be a special election called," Mr. Wallace said.

Mike Stanley, campaign manager for Tom Campbell, a lawyer who led the Republican challengers to Mr. DeLay in the primary March 7, said he believed Mr. Campbell would now seek to reenter the race.

"He had already decided to run in two years if Mr. DeLay still held the seat," Mr. Stanley said. Mr. Campbell drew just under 10,000 votes, or about 30 percent, with Mr. DeLay winning 20,558 or 62 percent.

Bill Miller, a leading Austin lobbyist close to the Republican leadership, said Mr. DeLay called Gov. Rick Perry Monday night. Mr. Miller quoted Mr. DeLay as saying "I don't want to be a distraction" and said he had maintained that his decision to drop out of the race had nothing to do with any pending criminal action.

In an interview Monday night, Richard Cullen, Mr. DeLay's principal criminal defense lawyer, said that his client had been pondering a withdrawal from the race for some time and that "it had nothing to do with any criminal investigation."

"The decision had absolutely nothing to do with the investigation," Mr. Cullen said. "It was a very personal decision and a political one."

Mr. DeLay is under indictment in Texas on campaign-finance related charges for his role in a state redistricting plan that gained Republican House seats in the state but focused national scrutiny on his political tactics.

The indictment forced him to step aside from his leadership post, but he had intended to return if he beat the charges.

Mr. Delay told the Galveston County paper that he decided last week after speaking to the Christian group Vision America that he could be more effective pushing the conservative cause if he left Congress.

"I can continue to be a leader of the conservative cause," he said. "I can do more to grow the Republican majority, rather than spend the next eight months locked down in running a campaign."

Bill Burton, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Mr. DeLay's decision was "just the latest piece of evidence that the Republican Party is a party in disarray, a party out of ideas and out of energy."

Mr. DeLay, 58, who served most of his time in the leadership as the whip, was known for his ability to deliver Republican votes on contentious issues and for fund-raising power that helped Republicans hold the majority for the past decade.

In 1994, as Republicans battled Democrats for control of the house, Mr. DeLay joined Representative Newt Gingrich and others in developing the so-called Contract With America and arguing that after 40 years in power, the Democratic Party had become corrupt and arrogant. He became majority leader in 2002, serving alongside Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, the man Mr. DeLay helped ascend to the speaker's position in 1998.

Representative John A. Boehner, the occasional DeLay rival who won the internal election to replace him as majority leader, on Monday called his predecessor one of the "most effective and gifted leaders the Republican party has ever known."

"He was a tireless advocate for his constituents, the state of Texas, and all Americans who shared a commitment to the principles of smaller government, more freedom, and family values," Mr. Boehner said.

With Mr. Rudy's guilty plea last Friday, he became the second former DeLay aide to admit wrongdoing in the corruption investigation centered on Mr. Abramoff, who has also pleaded guilty to conspiring to corrupt public officials, including members of Congress.

Mr. Abramoff, Mr. Rudy and the other aide, Michael Scanlon, who had been Mr. DeLay's press secretary in the House, are all cooperating with the Justice Department, which is investigating whether Mr. DeLay and other members of Congress accepted travel, gifts or money from Mr. Abramoff and his associates in return for legislative favors.

Mr. Rudy's plea agreement, which covers actions he took on Mr. Abramoff's behalf both while on Mr. DeLay's staff and after leaving the House to work as a lobbyist, did not allege any wrongdoing by Mr. DeLay or say that Mr. DeLay knew of any criminal activities by Mr. Rudy.

Mr. DeLay was indicted last September in Texas on unrelated charges involving violations of state election laws including money laundering and conspiring to funnel illegal corporate contributions to Republican statehouse candidates in 2002. The charges were later scaled back by a state judge to the money-laundering counts and remain the subject of an appeal.

In the fall of 2004, Mr. DeLay was admonished by the House ethics committee on three issues involving misuse of his influence, including an offer to support the House candidacy of the son of a former Republican representative from Michigan, Nick Smith, in return for Mr. Smith's vote for a Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Mr. DeLay, a one-time pest exterminator, was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1978, where he helped ignite a Republican resurgence in long-Democratic Texas.

Ralph Blumenthal contributed reporting from Houston for this article, and Philip Shenon from Washington.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Justices, 6-3, Sidestep Ruling on Padilla Case - New York Times

Justices, 6-3, Sidestep Ruling on Padilla Case - New York TimesApril 3, 2006

By DAVID STOUT

WASHINGTON, April 3 — A sharply split Supreme Court today rejected an appeal from the terrorism suspect Jose Padilla, leaving undecided for now deeper questions about the Bush administration's handling of detainees since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Six justices were apparently persuaded, at least for the time being, that Mr. Padilla's appeal is moot, since he was transferred from military custody to a civilian jail several months ago and is to go on trial. The federal government indicted him last fall on terrorism charges that could bring him a sentence of life in prison if he is convicted.

The administration had argued that since Mr. Padilla was going to get a trial, there was no need for the Supreme Court to rule on his appeal of a lower court order upholding the administration's authority to keep him in open-ended military detention as an enemy combatant.

The six justices who agreed today to defer consideration of the finding of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit were Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices John Paul Stevens, Anthony M. Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

But there were hints of an internal struggle among the justices. For one thing, several justices took the somewhat unusual step of issuing opinions related to the court's order not to take a case. More commonly, when refusing to take a case, the court simply issues an order without comment.

The three justices who said the Supreme Court should have taken the case were Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David H. Souter and Stephen G. Breyer.

Justice Ginsburg said the underlying issues are "of profound importance to the nation," and that it was high time the court ruled on the executive branch's power to hold a United States citizen after declaring him an "enemy combatant."

"Although the government has recently lodged charges against Padilla in a civilian court, nothing prevents the executive from returning to the road it earlier constructed and defended," Justice Ginsburg wrote.

The case the court declined to hear is titled Padilla v. Hanft, No. 05-533. (C.T. Hanft is listed as the commander of the Navy brig at Charleston, S.C.)

Even in voting not to hear the case, at least for now, Justice Kennedy wrote, for himself, the chief justice and Justice Stevens, "In light of the previous changes in his custody status and the fact that nearly four years have passed since he was first detained, Padilla, it must be acknowledged, has a continuing concern that his status might be altered again."

"In the court of its supervision over Padilla's custody and trial, the district court will be obliged to afford him the protection, including the right to a speedy trial, guaranteed to all federal criminal defendants," Justice Kennedy wrote on behalf of himself and his two colleagues.

And even though Justice Stevens found today that the Padilla case need not be considered now, he declared at an earlier stage in the case that "at stake in this case is nothing less than the essence of a free society."

An American citizen and a former Chicago gang member, Mr. Padilla was arrested in May 2002 when he arrived at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. He was soon declared an "enemy combatant," and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that he had planned to detonate a radioactive bomb in the United States.

The administration long resisted charging Mr. Padilla in a civilian court, preferring to hold him without charges in the Navy brig. Finally, last fall, the administration did bring charges, accusing him of being part of a terrorist cell. But those charges contained no mention of a radioactive-bomb plot.

The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, a Richmond-based tribunal widely regarded as the most conservative of the circuits, ruled last September that President Bush had the authority to detain as an enemy combatant an American citizen who fought the United States on foreign soil. (The Pentagon has asserted that Mr. Padilla fought alongside Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan.)

But the Fourth Circuit was still critical of the administration, voicing its suspicion that it had decided to move Mr. Padilla to civilian custody to evade a Supreme Court ruling on the president's authority in incarcerating "enemy combatants."

The Supreme Court sidestepped a comprehensive ruling on government authority in January, when it granted the administration's request to transfer Mr. Padilla to civilian custody. Today's refusal by the justices to take Mr. Padilla's case means that the questions about government authority will have to wait for still another day.

Blix: Iran Years Away From Nuclear Bomb on Yahoo! News


Blix said there is still time for dialogue over Iran's nuclear enrichment program, which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes but the West fears is part of a secret nuclear weapons program.

"We have time on our side in this case. Iran can't have a bomb ready in the next five years," Blix was quoted as saying.

Blix, also a former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, urged the United States to take its time, as it is doing in a similar nuclear standoff with North Korea.

"The U.S. has given itself time and is negotiating with North Korea, while Iran got a very short deadline," he was quoted as saying.