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Saturday, April 15, 2006

Law to Segregate Omaha Schools Divides Nebraska - New York Times

Law to Segregate Omaha Schools Divides Nebraska - New York TimesApril 15, 2006

By SAM DILLON

OMAHA, April 14 — Ernie Chambers is Nebraska's only African-American state senator, a man who has fought for causes including the abolition of capital punishment and the end of apartheid in South Africa. A magazine writer once described him as the "angriest black man in Nebraska."

He was also a driving force behind a measure passed by the Legislature on Thursday and signed into law by the governor that calls for dividing the Omaha public schools into three racially identifiable districts, one largely black, one white and one mostly Hispanic.

The law, which opponents are calling state-sponsored segregation, has thrown Nebraska into an uproar, prompting fierce debate about the value of integration versus what Mr. Chambers calls a desire by blacks to control a school district in which their children are a majority.

Civil rights scholars call the legislation the most blatant recent effort in the nation to create segregated school systems or, as in Omaha, to resegregate districts that had been integrated by court order. Omaha ran a mandatory busing program from 1976 to 1999.

"These efforts to resegregate schools by race keep popping up in various parts of the country," said Gary Orfield, director of the Civil Rights Project at Harvard, adding that such programs skate near or across the line of what is constitutionally permissible. "I hear about something like this every few months, but usually when districts hear the legal realities from civil rights lawyers, they tend to back off their plans."

Nebraska's attorney general, Jon Bruning, said in a letter to a state senator that preliminary scrutiny had led him to believe that the law could violate the federal Constitution's equal protection clause, and that he expected legal challenges.

The debate here began when the Omaha district, which educates most of the state's minority students, moved last June to absorb a string of largely white schools that were within the Omaha city limits but were controlled by suburban or independent districts.

"Multiple school districts in Omaha stratify our community," John J. Mackiel, the Omaha schools superintendent, said last year. "They create inequity, and they compromise the opportunity for a genuine sense of community."

Omaha school authorities and business leaders marketed the expansion under the slogan, "One City, One School District." The plan, the district said, would create a more equitable tax base and foster integration through magnet programs to be set up in largely white schools on Omaha's western edge that would attract minority students.

The district had no plans to renew busing, but some suburban parents feared that it might. The suburban districts rebelled, and the unicameral Legislature drew up a measure to blunt the district's expansion.

The bill contained provisions creating a "learning community" to include 11 school districts in the Omaha area operating with a common tax levy while maintaining current borders. It required districts to work together to promote voluntary integration.

But the legislation changed radically with a two-page amendment by Mr. Chambers that carved the Omaha schools into racially identifiable districts, a move he told his colleagues would allow black educators to control schools in black areas.

Nebraska's 49-member, nonpartisan Legislature approved the measure by a vote of 31 to 16, with Mr. Chambers's support and with the votes of 30 conservative lawmakers from affluent white suburbs and ranching counties with a visceral dislike of the Omaha school bureaucracy. Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican facing a tough primary fight, said he did not consider the measure segregationist and immediately signed it.

Dr. Mackiel, the Omaha superintendent, said the school board was "committed to protecting young people's constitutional rights."

"If that includes litigation, then that certainly is a consideration," Dr. Mackiel said.

Some of Nebraska's richest and most powerful residents have also questioned the legislation, including the billionaire investor Warren Buffett as well as David Sokol, the chief executive of MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company, which employs thousands in Nebraska and Iowa.

"This is going to make our state a laughingstock, and it's going to increase racial tensions and segregation," Mr. Sokol said in an interview.

The Omaha district has 46,700 students, 44 percent of them white, 32 percent black, 21 percent Hispanic and 3 percent Asian or Native American. The suburban systems that surround it range in size from the Millard Public School District, with about 20,000 students, 9 percent of whom are members of minorities, to the Bennington district, with 704 students, 4 percent of whom are members of minorities.

Parent reaction is divided. Darold Bauer, a professional fund-raiser who has three children in Millard schools, said he was pleased that the law had eliminated the threat of busing, although he said he was not thrilled about sharing a common tax levy with the Omaha schools.

"What this law does is protect the boundaries of my district," said Mr. Bauer, who is white. "All the districts in the area are now required to work together on an integration plan, and I'm fine with that, because my kids won't be bused."

Brenda J. Council, a prominent black lawyer whose niece and nephew attend Omaha's North High School, said of the law, "I'm adamantly opposed because it'll only institutionalize racial isolation."

Whether the law goes unchallenged is unclear. "We believe the state may face serious risk due to the potential constitutional problems," Attorney General Bruning said in his letter.

But Senator Chambers, a 68-year-old former barber who earned a law degree after his election to the Legislature in 1970, was unmoved. He lists his occupation as "defender of the downtrodden," and suggests that is precisely what he is doing.

"Several years ago I began discussing in my community the possibility of carving our area out of Omaha Public Schools and establishing a district over which we would have control," Mr. Chambers said during the debate on the floor of the Legislature. "My intent is not to have an exclusionary system, but we, meaning black people, whose children make up the vast majority of the student population, would control."

During an interview in his office, Mr. Chambers took time out to answer calls questioning the plan. He told several people bluntly that they were misinformed, but he remained polite.

"You call me anytime, whether you agree with me or not," he signed off one conversation.

He acknowledged that he had nursed a latent fury with the Omaha district since enduring the taunting of schoolmates during classroom readings of "Little Black Sambo" when he attended during the 1940's. He also accused the district of returning to segregated neighborhood schools when it ended busing in 1999, although no high school is more than 48 percent black.

Other black leaders in Omaha criticized the new law.

"This is a disaster," said Ben Gray, a television news producer and co-chairman of the African-American Achievement Council, a group of volunteers who mentor black students. "Throughout our time in America, we've had people who continuously fought for equality, and from Brown vs. Board of Education, we know that separate is not equal. We cannot go back to segregating our schools."

Rumsfeld Gets Robust Defense From President - New York Times

Rumsfeld Gets Robust Defense From President - New York TimesApril 15, 2006

By JIM RUTENBERG and MARK MAZZETTI

WASHINGTON, April 14 — President Bush strongly endorsed Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Friday, in an effort to quell widening criticism from retired generals who have urged Mr. Rumsfeld to resign.

"Secretary Rumsfeld's energetic and steady leadership is exactly what is needed at this critical period," the president's statement read. "He has my full support and deepest appreciation."

The statement, issued as Mr. Bush interrupted a family holiday at Camp David, was part of a strong effort by the White House to fend off criticism of the handling of the war that has come from six retired generals, several of whom were involved in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The generals are weighing in as polls show support for the war waning significantly in an election year.

Mr. Bush's statement was followed hours later by supportive comments from Gen. Richard B. Myers, the retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the retired commander of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both appeared on cable news programs, and General Myers pointedly criticized former colleagues for publicly questioning civilian leadership.

Mr. Rumsfeld appeared Friday on an Al Arabiya television broadcast and said, "Out of thousands and thousands of admirals and generals, if every time two or three people disagreed we changed the secretary of defense of the United States, it would be like a merry-go-round."

It was not clear how far the counterattack by Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld might go to quiet the calls from the generals or to mollify members of Congress who have begun citing the retired officers' complaints as validation of their own critiques of the war.

A request for comment from the office of Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, drew only an equivocal response. "Senator Warner believes that the decision of whether to keep Secretary Rumsfeld is up to the president," said a spokesman for Mr. Warner, John Ullyot.

Senator Jack Reed, the Rhode Island Democrat who is on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he expected more retired officers to speak out against Mr. Rumsfeld.

"Does this chorus become more pronounced? I think that might happen," Mr. Reed said.

The White House has generally tried to avoid commenting on what it refers to as "personnel matters." But Friday was only one of several occasions during Mr. Bush's presidency in which he has gone out of his way to voice support for his defense secretary, who has sparred with segments of the Pentagon establishment virtually from the moment he took office.

In defending Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Bush seemed to have been asserting his standing as commander in chief, sending a signal to the generals that criticizing the defense secretary is the equivalent of criticizing his own stewardship of the war. Administration officials said Mr. Bush took the strong move of issuing the statement from Camp David on Good Friday because he was concerned that the retired generals were sending mixed messages to the battlefield.

Associates of Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Bush said critics would be mistaken to believe that Mr. Rumsfeld would resign in reaction to external pressure, noting that both men had only hardened their positions in the face of vocal opposition in the past.

A senior White House official, who was granted anonymity to speak freely about a highly charged political issue, described Mr. Bush as being "very proactive" in deciding to make a statement, saying that he was prompted to act because he recognized that the prominent backgrounds of the retired generals now leveling the criticism had potentially added heft to their comments.

The official said Mr. Bush called Mr. Rumsfeld about 10 a.m. from Camp David — where the president is with his family, including his parents — telling him of his decision and affirming his support yet again.

The conversation represented familiar ground for the two. Criticism became so heated during the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq during the 2004 presidential election that Mr. Rumsfeld twice offered his resignation, he has said.

Mr. Bush rejected the offers and made a public show of support in June 2004 by telling Mr. Rumsfeld before a group of reporters, "You are a strong secretary of defense, and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude." Military officials have said that Mr. Rumsfeld, 73, has not repeated that offer to resign in response to the retired generals' criticisms.

White House officials again made a concerted effort to show support for Mr. Rumsfeld in December 2004, after Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, said they had no confidence in Mr. Rumsfeld.

Those comments were a blow to the administration because they came from respected members of the president's own party, as opposed to liberal political groups like MoveOn.org, or Democrats, for that matter. But the retired generals now stepping forward represent a whole new class of critic.

Far from being daunted, one of them, Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., who commanded the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq as recently as 2004, went further in his criticisms during a telephone interview on Friday. He said the number of forces that went into Iraq was insufficient for the ultimate task and said of Mr. Rumsfeld, "His arrogance is what will cause us to fail in the future."

But late Friday new allies took to cable news to defend the administration.

On CNN, General Myers said he regretted that the retired generals were speaking out. "My whole perception of this is that it's bad for the military, it's bad for civil-military relations, and it's potentially very bad for the country, because what we are hearing and what we are seeing is not the role the military plays in our society," he said.

General Franks said on MSNBC that Mr. Rumsfeld was a "pretty successful secretary of defense" whose managerial style ruffled feathers.

Administration officials seemed to be hoping that the debate could move to one between generals and cease to be one involving the White House, which has seemed uncomfortable publicly taking on military brass.

But the senior administration official said the president was not deaf to complaints about Mr. Rumsfeld. "He is fully cognizant of the controversy that surrounds Secretary Rumsfeld's tenure," the official said. "But that often happens when you are tasked with doing very difficult things."

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting for this article.

Friday, April 14, 2006

3 Deaths in China Reveal Disparity in Price of Lives - New York Times

3 Deaths in China Reveal Disparity in Price of Lives - New York TimesApril 14, 2006

By JIM YARDLEY

GUOJIATUO, China — He Qingzhi's teenage daughter, Yuan, and her two friends lived on the same street near the Yangtze River, attended the same middle school and were crushed to death in the same traffic accident late last year. After that, the symmetry ended: under Chinese law, Yuan's life was worth less than the others'.

Mr. He, 38, who has lived in this town in central China for 15 years, was told that his neighbors were entitled to roughly three times more compensation from the accident because they were registered urban residents while he was only a migrant worker.

"I was shocked," said Mr. He, as he sorted through legal papers in his apartment recently while his wife sobbed in the next room. "The girls are about the same age. They all went to the same school. Why is our life so cheap?"

Outraged, Mr. He and his lawyer are considering a lawsuit, saying that the decision was discriminatory and that the family was entitled to full compensation under the Chinese Constitution. The problem with that argument is the Chinese Constitution. More Chinese citizens like Mr. He are claiming legal rights and often citing the Constitution, but it is actually a flimsy tool for protecting individual rights.

The problem is not that the document lacks lofty ideals or is considered unimportant. But for citizens in China, the Constitution is largely inaccessible. Even as it describes a broad range of rights, the Chinese legal system essentially does not allow people like Mr. He to use the Constitution as a mechanism to challenge laws or policies that they believe infringe on those rights.

Even so, some legal reformers in China believe that advancing the notion of constitutional law is critical in establishing the rule of law. So, increasingly, reformers are pushing ideas like creating a new and assertive constitutional court. Liberal reformers believe that expanding the reach of the Constitution could ultimately provide a greater check on the Communist Party.

"There is a movement to make the Constitution mean something," said Stanley Lubman, a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, and an expert on Chinese law. But for now, Mr. Lubman added, "the Chinese Constitution is an aspirational document."

The debate is hardly an abstract one for the Chinese government. Top leaders have made reducing the urban-rural income gap a domestic priority and have taken some steps to help migrant workers. They have also stressed the need for a fair and modern legal system to regulate Chinese society and safeguard individual rights.

The Constitution has been rewritten or amended several times over the past half century, most recently in 2004, to include protections for private property rights. Such constitutional amendments are considered guidelines when the government drafts laws or regulations. But the Constitution does not stand above the Communist Party and ultimately, expanding the power of the Constitution or increasing the power of the courts could mean introducing changes in the political system, a move the Communist Party has resisted.

Here in the mountains of the vast Chongqing Municipality, Mr. He's family had been a migrant success story before his daughter's death.

Mr. He grew up in a farming village in the hills surrounding the Yangtze but left in 1991 to take a job in the wholesale meat business. He bought and slaughtered pigs in different villages for a butcher who sold the meat at a shop in Guojiatuo, which has about 29,000 people. Mr. He and his wife, Zhan Denglan, moved into the butcher shop, and Yuan was born that year at a nearby hospital.

By 2000, Mr. He had opened his own meat stand at a nearby market, and his daughter had enrolled in a local school. He still has the temporary residency cards that he updated annually in order to live as a migrant worker. He said he had paid local taxes since opening his stand, and his family also has a small red booklet in recognition of their compliance with the one-child policy.

Last year, on the morning of Dec. 15, Yuan, 14, went by the meat stand early in the morning to get money for school materials. Ten minutes after she left, someone told Mr. He that Yuan had been in an accident. At the scene, he discovered that a truck overloaded with bricks had smashed into the small motorized pedicab carrying Yuan and her two friends to school. The truck had toppled and crushed the three girls beneath several tons of bricks.

"I was so grief-stricken that I could hardly stand," Mr. He said.

Within hours, the families of the three dead girls were taken to a local hotel to meet with an ad hoc compensation board: an official from the local street committee; one from the police station; a local education official and two officials from the middle school; the owner of the truck; and three representatives from the transportation company that had hired the truck to transport the bricks.

Mr. He said the meeting soon seemed like house arrest. He and his wife were kept at the hotel for two days as they argued about the value of their daughter's life. A representative for the transportation company, which was liable for payment, said Chinese law dictated that Mr. He and his wife were entitled to only 50,000 yuan, or about $6,170. But he said the company would give them 70,000 yuan, about $8,640, as an expression of sympathy and to help pay for the funeral. The other families received about 200,000 yuan, or roughly $25,000.

"They said, 'You are a rural resident, and you either take the 70,000 or leave it,' " Mr. He recalled. "They said that if I thought it was too little, I could sell the broken truck."

Finally, he signed the compensation agreement. He received an extra 20,000 yuan from the transportation company and the truck owner, but the payout was still less than half of what was given to the other families.

Western legal systems also place different values on people's lives, depending on the person's earnings history and other factors. But in this case, the families involved lived in the same neighborhood, and Mr. He had established himself as a small merchant, with an income roughly comparable to those of the other families. The main thing that distinguished him was his rural residency status.

Zhou Wei, the family's lawyer, said the compensation disparity illustrated the pervasive discrimination created by China's household registration, or hukou, system, which often still ties individuals and their access to government services to the place where they are registered. The central government has steadily loosened hukou restrictions, but migrant workers still receive far fewer government services.

"It is hard for people to realize that such discrimination and unfairness exists in society against farmers," Mr. Zhou said.

For several years, Mr. Zhou has tested the extent of constitutional rights in China. He has filed cases claiming that government agencies illegally discriminated in hiring policies on the basis of height and gender, as well as against people with hepatitis B. In both the height and hepatitis B cases, the agencies ended up changing their policies. But in none of his cases has he won a judgment on constitutional grounds.

Indeed, China's legal system almost seems designed to avoid such judgments. The authority to make constitutional judgments lies not with the court system but with the leadership of the National People's Congress, the party-run national legislature. And the congress has never publicly issued an opinion clarifying a constitutional dispute.

Mr. He is still pushing for equitable compensation. He has petitioned local officials, courted the Chinese media and written a letter to the National People's Congress and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. There are tentative positive signs, Mr. Zhou said, which helps explain why he has not yet filed a lawsuit.

Two other provincial high courts have recently ruled for equitable compensation in similar cases. Mr. Zhou said he expected the Supreme People's Court in Beijing to review the compensation issue in June. Even if Mr. He eventually gets more money, it is unlikely he will get any validation of his constitutional rights. Still, Mr. Zhou holds out hope for the long term.

"The development of Chinese culture should empower the Constitution to act as a restriction on the government and as a safeguard on citizen rights," he said.

The loss of Yuan has been devastating for Mr. He and his wife. Mr. He said his fight was as much about his child's dignity as about the compensation money. His wife suffered a breakdown and has tried to commit suicide. Because of health problems, she can no longer have children, and the couple are worried about their future. Without social security benefits, the couple have no nest egg and now no child to care for them in their old age.

"She wanted to settle in the city and buy a big house for us when she was older," Mr. He said of his daughter. "She wanted to be a doctor, a teacher or a flight attendant."

More Retired Generals Call for Rumsfeld's Resignation - New York Times

More Retired Generals Call for Rumsfeld's Resignation - New York TimesApril 14, 2006

By DAVID S. CLOUD and ERIC SCHMITT

WASHINGTON, April 13 — The widening circle of retired generals who have stepped forward to call for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's resignation is shaping up as an unusual outcry that could pose a significant challenge to Mr. Rumsfeld's leadership, current and former generals said on Thursday.

Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., who led troops on the ground in Iraq as recently as 2004 as the commander of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, on Thursday became the fifth retired senior general in recent days to call publicly for Mr. Rumsfeld's ouster. Also Thursday, another retired Army general, Maj. Gen. John Riggs, joined in the fray.

"We need to continue to fight the global war on terror and keep it off our shores," General Swannack said in a telephone interview. "But I do not believe Secretary Rumsfeld is the right person to fight that war based on his absolute failures in managing the war against Saddam in Iraq."

Another former Army commander in Iraq, Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who led the First Infantry Division, publicly broke ranks with Mr. Rumsfeld on Wednesday. Mr. Rumsfeld long ago became a magnet for political attacks. But the current uproar is significant because Mr. Rumsfeld's critics include generals who were involved in the invasion and occupation of Iraq under the defense secretary's leadership.

There were indications on Thursday that the concern about Mr. Rumsfeld, rooted in years of pent-up anger about his handling of the war, was sweeping aside the reticence of retired generals who took part in the Iraq war to criticize an enterprise in which they participated. Current and former officers said they were unaware of any organized campaign to seek Mr. Rumsfeld's ouster, but they described a blizzard of telephone calls and e-mail messages as retired generals critical of Mr. Rumsfeld weighed the pros and cons of joining in the condemnation.

Even as some of their retired colleagues spoke out publicly about Mr. Rumsfeld, other senior officers, retired and active alike, had to be promised anonymity before they would discuss their own views of why the criticism of him was mounting. Some were concerned about what would happen to them if they spoke openly, others about damage to the military that might result from amplifying the debate, and some about talking outside of channels, which in military circles is often viewed as inappropriate.

The White House has dismissed the criticism, saying it merely reflects tensions over the war in Iraq. There was no indication that Mr. Rumsfeld was considering resigning.

"The president believes Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a very fine job during a challenging period in our nation's history," the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, told reporters on Thursday.

Among the retired generals who have called for Mr. Rumsfeld's ouster, some have emphasized that they still believe it was right for the United States to invade Iraq. But a common thread in their complaints has been an assertion that Mr. Rumsfeld and his aides too often inserted themselves unnecessarily into military decisionmaking, often disregarding advice from military commanders.

The outcry also appears based in part on a coalescing of concern about the toll that the war is taking on American armed forces, with little sign, three years after the invasion, that United States troops will be able to withdraw in large numbers anytime soon.

Pentagon officials, while acknowledging that Mr. Rumsfeld's forceful style has sometimes ruffled his military subordinates, played down the idea that he was overriding the advice of his military commanders or ignoring their views.

His interaction with military commanders has "been frequent," said Lawrence Di Rita, a top aide to Mr. Rumsfeld.

"It's been intense," Mr. Di Rita said, "but always there's been ample opportunity for military judgment to be applied against the policies of the United States."

Some retired officers, however, said they believed the momentum was turning against Mr. Rumsfeld.

"Are the floodgates opening?" asked one retired Army general, who drew a connection between the complaints and the fact that President Bush's second term ends in less than three years. "The tide is changing, and folks are seeing the end of this administration."

No active duty officers have joined the call for Mr. Rumsfeld's resignation. In interviews, some currently serving general officers expressed discomfort with the campaign against Mr. Rumsfeld, which has been spearheaded by, among others, Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, who headed the United States Central Command in the late 1990's before retiring from the Marine Corps. Some of the currently serving officers said they feared the debate risked politicizing the military and undercutting its professional ethos.

Some say privately they disagree with aspects of the Bush administration's handling of the war. But many currently serving officers, regardless of their views, say respect for civilian control of the military requires that they air differences of opinion in private and stay silent in public.

"I support my secretary of defense," Lt. General John Vines, who commands the Army's 18th Airborne Corps, said when questioned after a speech in Washington on Thursday about the calls for Mr. Rumsfeld to step down. "If I publicly disagree with my civilian leadership, I think I've got to resign. My advice should be private."

Some of the tensions between Mr. Rumsfeld and the uniformed military services date back to his arrival at the Pentagon in early 2001. Mr. Rumsfeld's assertion of greater civilian control over the military and his calls for a slimmer, faster force were viewed with mistrust by many senior officers, while his aggressive, sometimes abrasive style also earned him enmity.

Mr. Rumsfeld's critics often point to his treatment of Gen. Eric Shinseki, then the Army chief of staff, who told Congress a month before the 2003 invasion of Iraq that occupying the country could require "several hundred thousand troops," rather than the smaller force that was later provided. General Shinseki's estimate was publicly dismissed by Pentagon officials.

"Rumsfeld has been contemptuous of the views of senior military officers since the day he walked in as secretary of defense. It's about time they got sick and tired," Thomas E. White, the former Army secretary, said in a telephone interview on Thursday. Mr. White was forced out of his job by Mr. Rumsfeld in April of 2003.

Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold of the Marine Corps, who retired in late 2002, has said he regarded the American invasion of Iraq unnecessary. He issued his call for replacing Mr. Rumsfeld in an essay in the current edition of Time magazine. General Newbold said he regretted not opposing the invasion of Iraq more vigorously, and called the invasion peripheral to the job of defeating Al Qaeda.

General Swannack, by contrast, continues to support the invasion but said that Mr. Rumsfeld had micromanaged the war in Iraq, rather than leaving it to senior commanders there, including Gen. George W. Casey Jr. of the Army, the top American officer in Iraq, and Gen. John P. Abizaid of the Army, the top officer in the Middle East. "My belief is Rumsfeld does not really understand the dynamic of counterinsurgency warfare," General Swannack said.

The string of retired generals calling for Rumsfeld's removal has touched off a vigorous debate within the ranks of both active-duty and retired generals and admirals.

Some officers who have worked closely with Mr. Rumsfeld reject the idea that he is primarily to blame for the inability of American forces to defeat the insurgency in Iraq. One active-duty, four-star Army officer said he had not heard among his peers widespread criticism of Mr. Rumsfeld, and said he thought the criticism from his retired colleagues was off base. "They are entitled to their views, but I believe them to be wrong. And it is unfortunate they have allowed themselves to become in some respects, politicized."

Gen. Jack Keane, who was Army vice chief of staff in 2003 before retiring, said in the planning of the Iraq invasion, senior officers as much as the Pentagon's civilian leadership underestimated the threat of a long-term insurgency.

"There's shared responsibility here. I don't think you can blame the civilian leadership alone," he said.

Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton, a retired Army general, called for Mr. Rumsfeld's resignation in March.

The criticism of Mr. Rumsfeld may spring from multiple motives. General Zinni, for example, is in the middle of a tour promoting a new book critical of the Bush administration.

General Riggs, who called for Mr. Rumsfeld's resignation in an interview on Thursday with National Public Radio, left the Pentagon in 2004 after clashing with civilian leaders and then being investigated for potential misuse of contractor personnel.

But there were also signs that the spate of retired generals calling for Mr. Rumsfeld's departure was not finished. Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper, who is retired from the Marine Corps, said in an interview Thursday he had received a telephone call from another retired general who was weighing whether to publicly join the calls for Mr. Rumsfeld's dismissal.

"He was conflicted, and when I hung up I didn't know which way he was going to go," General Van Riper said.

Thom Shanker contributed reporting for this article.

Monday, April 10, 2006

How AIDS in Africa Was Overstated

How AIDS in Africa Was Overstated

By Craig Timberg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 6, 2006; A01

KIGALI, Rwanda -- Researchers said nearly two decades ago that this tiny country was part of an AIDS Belt stretching across the midsection of Africa, a place so infected with a new, incurable disease that, in the hardest-hit places, one in three working-age adults were already doomed to die of it.

But AIDS deaths on the predicted scale never arrived here, government health officials say. A new national study illustrates why: The rate of HIV infection among Rwandans ages 15 to 49 is 3 percent, according to the study, enough to qualify as a major health problem but not nearly the national catastrophe once predicted.

The new data suggest the rate never reached the 30 percent estimated by some early researchers, nor the nearly 13 percent given by the United Nations in 1998.

The study and similar ones in 15 other countries have shed new light on the disease across Africa. Relying on the latest measurement tools, they portray an epidemic that is more female and more urban than previously believed, one that has begun to ebb in much of East Africa and has failed to take off as predicted in most of West Africa.

Yet the disease is devastating southern Africa, according to the data. It is in that region alone -- in countries including South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland and Zimbabwe -- that an AIDS Belt exists, the researchers say.

"What we know now more than ever is southern Africa is the absolute epicenter," said David Wilson, a senior AIDS analyst for the World Bank, speaking from Washington.

In the West African country of Ghana, for example, the overall infection rate for people ages 15 to 49 is 2.2 percent. But in Botswana, the national infection rate among the same age group is 34.9 percent. And in the city of Francistown, 45 percent of men and 69 percent of women ages 30 to 34 are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Most of the studies were conducted by ORC Macro, a research corporation based in Calverton, Md., and were funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, other international donors and various national governments in the countries where the studies took place.

Taken together, they raise questions about monitoring by the U.N. AIDS agency, which for years overestimated the extent of HIV/AIDS in East and West Africa and, by a smaller margin, in southern Africa, according to independent researchers and U.N. officials.

"What we had before, we cannot trust it," said Agnes Binagwaho, a senior Rwandan health official.

Years of HIV overestimates, researchers say, flowed from the long-held assumption that the extent of infection among pregnant women who attended prenatal clinics provided a rough proxy for the rate among all working-age adults in a country. Working age was usually defined as 15 to 49. These rates also were among the only nationwide data available for many years, especially in Africa, where health tracking was generally rudimentary.

The new studies show, however, that these earlier estimates were skewed in favor of young, sexually active women in the urban areas that had prenatal clinics. Researchers now know that the HIV rate among these women tends to be higher than among the general population.

The new studies rely on random testing conducted across entire countries, rather than just among pregnant women, and they generally require two forms of blood testing to guard against the numerous false positive results that inflated early estimates of the disease. These studies also are far more effective at measuring the often dramatic variations in infection rates between rural and urban people and between men and women.

UNAIDS, the agency headed since its creation in 1995 by Peter Piot, a Belgian physician, produced its first global snapshot of the disease in 1998. Each year since, the United Nations has issued increasingly dire assessments: UNAIDS estimated that 36 million people around the world were infected in 2000, including 25 million in Africa. In 2002, the numbers were 42 million globally, with 29 million in Africa.

But by 2002, disparities were already emerging. A national study in the southern African country of Zambia, for example, found a rate of 15.6 percent, significantly lower than the U.N. rate of 21.5 percent. In Burundi, which borders Rwanda in central East Africa, a national study found a rate of 5.4 percent, not the 8.3 percent estimated by UNAIDS.

In West Africa, Sierra Leone, just then emerging from a devastating civil war, was found to have a national prevalence rate of less than 1 percent -- compared with an estimated U.N. rate of 7 percent.

Such disparities, independent researchers say, skewed years of policy judgments and decisions on where to spend precious health-care dollars.

"From a research point of view, they've done a pathetic job," said Paul Bennell, a British economist whose studies of the impact of AIDS on African school systems have shown mortality far below what UNAIDS had predicted. "They were not predisposed, let's put it that way, to weigh the counterevidence. They were looking to generate big bucks."

The United Nations started to revise its estimates in light of the new studies in its 2004 report, reducing the number of infections in Africa by 4.4 million, back to the total four years earlier of 25 million. It also gradually decreased the overall infection rate for working-age adults in sub-Saharan Africa, from 9 percent in a 2002 report to 7.2 percent in its latest report, released in November.

Peter Ghys, an epidemiologist who has worked for UNAIDS since 1999, acknowledged in an interview from his office in Geneva that HIV projections several years ago were too high because they relied on data from prenatal clinics.

But Ghys said the agency made the best estimates possible with the information available. As better data emerged, such as the new wave of national population studies, it has made revisions where necessary, he said.

"What has happened is we have come to realize that indeed we have overestimated the epidemic a bit," he said.

On its Web site, UNAIDS describes itself as "the chief advocate for worldwide action against AIDS." And many researchers say the United Nations' reliance on rigorous science waned after it created the separate AIDS agency in 1995 -- the first time the world body had taken this approach to tackle a single disease.

In the place of previous estimates provided by the World Health Organization, outside researchers say, the AIDS agency produced reports that increasingly were subject to political calculations, with the emphasis on raising awareness and money.

"It's pure advocacy, really," said Jim Chin, a former U.N. official who made some of the first global HIV prevalence estimates while working for WHO in the late 1980s and early 1990s. "Once you get a high number, it's really hard once the data comes in to say, 'Whoops! It's not 100,000. It's 60,000.' "

Chin, speaking from Stockton, Calif., added, "They keep cranking out numbers that, when I look at them, you can't defend them."

Ghys said he never sensed pressure to inflate HIV estimates. "I can't imagine why UNAIDS or WHO would want to do that," he said. "If we did that, it would just affect our credibility."

Ghys added that studies now show that the overall percentage of Africans with HIV has stabilized, though U.N. models still show increasing numbers of people with the virus because of burgeoning populations.

Many other researchers, including Wilson from the World Bank and two epidemiologists from the U.S. Agency for International Development who wrote a study published last week in the Lancet, a British medical journal, dispute that conclusion, saying that the number of new cases in Africa peaked several years ago.

Some involved in the fight against AIDS say that tallying HIV cases is not nearly as important as finding the resources to fight the disease. That is especially true now that antiretroviral drugs are more affordable, making it possible to extend millions of lives if enough money and health-care workers are available to facilitate treatment.

"It doesn't matter how long the line is if you never get to the end of it," said Francois Venter, a South African doctor and head of Johannesburg General Hospital's rapidly expanding antiretroviral drug program, speaking in an interview in Johannesburg.

But to the researchers who drive AIDS policy, differences in infection rates are not merely academic. They scour the world looking for evidence of interventions that have worked, such as the rigorous enforcement of condom use at brothels in Thailand and aggressive public campaigns that have urged Ugandans to limit their sexual partners to one.

Programs deemed successful are urged on other countries and funded lavishly by international donors, often to the exclusion of other programs.

Rwanda, a mountainous country of about 8.5 million people jammed into a land area smaller than Maryland, has relied on approaches similar to those used in Uganda, and may have produced similar declines in HIV. UNAIDS estimated in 1998 that 370,000 Rwandans were infected, equal to 12.75 percent of all working-age adults and a substantial percentage of children as well. Every two years since, the agency has lowered that estimate -- to 11.2 percent in 2000, 8.9 percent in 2002 and 5.1 percent in 2004.

Dirk van Hove, the top UNAIDS official in Rwanda, said the next official estimate, due in May, would show an infection rate of "about 3 percent," in line with the new national study. He said the U.N. estimate tracked the declining prevalence.

Rwandan health officials say their national HIV infection rate might once have topped 3 percent and then declined. But it's just as likely, they say, that these apparent trends reflected nothing more than flawed studies.

Even so, Rwanda's cities show signs of a serious AIDS problem not yet tamed. The new study found that 8.6 percent of urban, working-age women have HIV. Overall, officials say, 150,000 Rwandans are infected, less than half the number estimated by UNAIDS in 1998.

Bruno Ngirabatware, a physician who has treated AIDS patients in Kigali since the 1980s, said he has seen no evidence of a recent decline in HIV infection rates.

"There's lots of patients there, always," he said.

How AIDS in Africa Was Overstated

How
Reliance on Data From Urban Prenatal Clinics Skewed Early Projections

By Craig Timberg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 6, 2006; A01

KIGALI, Rwanda -- Researchers said nearly two decades ago that this tiny country was part of an AIDS Belt stretching across the midsection of Africa, a place so infected with a new, incurable disease that, in the hardest-hit places, one in three working-age adults were already doomed to die of it.

But AIDS deaths on the predicted scale never arrived here, government health officials say. A new national study illustrates why: The rate of HIV infection among Rwandans ages 15 to 49 is 3 percent, according to the study, enough to qualify as a major health problem but not nearly the national catastrophe once predicted.

The new data suggest the rate never reached the 30 percent estimated by some early researchers, nor the nearly 13 percent given by the United Nations in 1998.

The study and similar ones in 15 other countries have shed new light on the disease across Africa. Relying on the latest measurement tools, they portray an epidemic that is more female and more urban than previously believed, one that has begun to ebb in much of East Africa and has failed to take off as predicted in most of West Africa.

Yet the disease is devastating southern Africa, according to the data. It is in that region alone -- in countries including South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland and Zimbabwe -- that an AIDS Belt exists, the researchers say.

"What we know now more than ever is southern Africa is the absolute epicenter," said David Wilson, a senior AIDS analyst for the World Bank, speaking from Washington.

In the West African country of Ghana, for example, the overall infection rate for people ages 15 to 49 is 2.2 percent. But in Botswana, the national infection rate among the same age group is 34.9 percent. And in the city of Francistown, 45 percent of men and 69 percent of women ages 30 to 34 are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Most of the studies were conducted by ORC Macro, a research corporation based in Calverton, Md., and were funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, other international donors and various national governments in the countries where the studies took place.

Taken together, they raise questions about monitoring by the U.N. AIDS agency, which for years overestimated the extent of HIV/AIDS in East and West Africa and, by a smaller margin, in southern Africa, according to independent researchers and U.N. officials.

"What we had before, we cannot trust it," said Agnes Binagwaho, a senior Rwandan health official.

Years of HIV overestimates, researchers say, flowed from the long-held assumption that the extent of infection among pregnant women who attended prenatal clinics provided a rough proxy for the rate among all working-age adults in a country. Working age was usually defined as 15 to 49. These rates also were among the only nationwide data available for many years, especially in Africa, where health tracking was generally rudimentary.

The new studies show, however, that these earlier estimates were skewed in favor of young, sexually active women in the urban areas that had prenatal clinics. Researchers now know that the HIV rate among these women tends to be higher than among the general population.

The new studies rely on random testing conducted across entire countries, rather than just among pregnant women, and they generally require two forms of blood testing to guard against the numerous false positive results that inflated early estimates of the disease. These studies also are far more effective at measuring the often dramatic variations in infection rates between rural and urban people and between men and women.

UNAIDS, the agency headed since its creation in 1995 by Peter Piot, a Belgian physician, produced its first global snapshot of the disease in 1998. Each year since, the United Nations has issued increasingly dire assessments: UNAIDS estimated that 36 million people around the world were infected in 2000, including 25 million in Africa. In 2002, the numbers were 42 million globally, with 29 million in Africa.

But by 2002, disparities were already emerging. A national study in the southern African country of Zambia, for example, found a rate of 15.6 percent, significantly lower than the U.N. rate of 21.5 percent. In Burundi, which borders Rwanda in central East Africa, a national study found a rate of 5.4 percent, not the 8.3 percent estimated by UNAIDS.

In West Africa, Sierra Leone, just then emerging from a devastating civil war, was found to have a national prevalence rate of less than 1 percent -- compared with an estimated U.N. rate of 7 percent.

Such disparities, independent researchers say, skewed years of policy judgments and decisions on where to spend precious health-care dollars.

"From a research point of view, they've done a pathetic job," said Paul Bennell, a British economist whose studies of the impact of AIDS on African school systems have shown mortality far below what UNAIDS had predicted. "They were not predisposed, let's put it that way, to weigh the counterevidence. They were looking to generate big bucks."

The United Nations started to revise its estimates in light of the new studies in its 2004 report, reducing the number of infections in Africa by 4.4 million, back to the total four years earlier of 25 million. It also gradually decreased the overall infection rate for working-age adults in sub-Saharan Africa, from 9 percent in a 2002 report to 7.2 percent in its latest report, released in November.

Peter Ghys, an epidemiologist who has worked for UNAIDS since 1999, acknowledged in an interview from his office in Geneva that HIV projections several years ago were too high because they relied on data from prenatal clinics.

But Ghys said the agency made the best estimates possible with the information available. As better data emerged, such as the new wave of national population studies, it has made revisions where necessary, he said.

"What has happened is we have come to realize that indeed we have overestimated the epidemic a bit," he said.

On its Web site, UNAIDS describes itself as "the chief advocate for worldwide action against AIDS." And many researchers say the United Nations' reliance on rigorous science waned after it created the separate AIDS agency in 1995 -- the first time the world body had taken this approach to tackle a single disease.

In the place of previous estimates provided by the World Health Organization, outside researchers say, the AIDS agency produced reports that increasingly were subject to political calculations, with the emphasis on raising awareness and money.

"It's pure advocacy, really," said Jim Chin, a former U.N. official who made some of the first global HIV prevalence estimates while working for WHO in the late 1980s and early 1990s. "Once you get a high number, it's really hard once the data comes in to say, 'Whoops! It's not 100,000. It's 60,000.' "

Chin, speaking from Stockton, Calif., added, "They keep cranking out numbers that, when I look at them, you can't defend them."

Ghys said he never sensed pressure to inflate HIV estimates. "I can't imagine why UNAIDS or WHO would want to do that," he said. "If we did that, it would just affect our credibility."

Ghys added that studies now show that the overall percentage of Africans with HIV has stabilized, though U.N. models still show increasing numbers of people with the virus because of burgeoning populations.

Many other researchers, including Wilson from the World Bank and two epidemiologists from the U.S. Agency for International Development who wrote a study published last week in the Lancet, a British medical journal, dispute that conclusion, saying that the number of new cases in Africa peaked several years ago.

Some involved in the fight against AIDS say that tallying HIV cases is not nearly as important as finding the resources to fight the disease. That is especially true now that antiretroviral drugs are more affordable, making it possible to extend millions of lives if enough money and health-care workers are available to facilitate treatment.

"It doesn't matter how long the line is if you never get to the end of it," said Francois Venter, a South African doctor and head of Johannesburg General Hospital's rapidly expanding antiretroviral drug program, speaking in an interview in Johannesburg.

But to the researchers who drive AIDS policy, differences in infection rates are not merely academic. They scour the world looking for evidence of interventions that have worked, such as the rigorous enforcement of condom use at brothels in Thailand and aggressive public campaigns that have urged Ugandans to limit their sexual partners to one.

Programs deemed successful are urged on other countries and funded lavishly by international donors, often to the exclusion of other programs.

Rwanda, a mountainous country of about 8.5 million people jammed into a land area smaller than Maryland, has relied on approaches similar to those used in Uganda, and may have produced similar declines in HIV. UNAIDS estimated in 1998 that 370,000 Rwandans were infected, equal to 12.75 percent of all working-age adults and a substantial percentage of children as well. Every two years since, the agency has lowered that estimate -- to 11.2 percent in 2000, 8.9 percent in 2002 and 5.1 percent in 2004.

Dirk van Hove, the top UNAIDS official in Rwanda, said the next official estimate, due in May, would show an infection rate of "about 3 percent," in line with the new national study. He said the U.N. estimate tracked the declining prevalence.

Rwandan health officials say their national HIV infection rate might once have topped 3 percent and then declined. But it's just as likely, they say, that these apparent trends reflected nothing more than flawed studies.

Even so, Rwanda's cities show signs of a serious AIDS problem not yet tamed. The new study found that 8.6 percent of urban, working-age women have HIV. Overall, officials say, 150,000 Rwandans are infected, less than half the number estimated by UNAIDS in 1998.

Bruno Ngirabatware, a physician who has treated AIDS patients in Kigali since the 1980s, said he has seen no evidence of a recent decline in HIV infection rates.

"There's lots of patients there, always," he said.

How AIDS in Africa Was Overstated

How
Reliance on Data From Urban Prenatal Clinics Skewed Early Projections

By Craig Timberg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 6, 2006; A01

KIGALI, Rwanda -- Researchers said nearly two decades ago that this tiny country was part of an AIDS Belt stretching across the midsection of Africa, a place so infected with a new, incurable disease that, in the hardest-hit places, one in three working-age adults were already doomed to die of it.

But AIDS deaths on the predicted scale never arrived here, government health officials say. A new national study illustrates why: The rate of HIV infection among Rwandans ages 15 to 49 is 3 percent, according to the study, enough to qualify as a major health problem but not nearly the national catastrophe once predicted.

The new data suggest the rate never reached the 30 percent estimated by some early researchers, nor the nearly 13 percent given by the United Nations in 1998.

The study and similar ones in 15 other countries have shed new light on the disease across Africa. Relying on the latest measurement tools, they portray an epidemic that is more female and more urban than previously believed, one that has begun to ebb in much of East Africa and has failed to take off as predicted in most of West Africa.

Yet the disease is devastating southern Africa, according to the data. It is in that region alone -- in countries including South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland and Zimbabwe -- that an AIDS Belt exists, the researchers say.

"What we know now more than ever is southern Africa is the absolute epicenter," said David Wilson, a senior AIDS analyst for the World Bank, speaking from Washington.

In the West African country of Ghana, for example, the overall infection rate for people ages 15 to 49 is 2.2 percent. But in Botswana, the national infection rate among the same age group is 34.9 percent. And in the city of Francistown, 45 percent of men and 69 percent of women ages 30 to 34 are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Most of the studies were conducted by ORC Macro, a research corporation based in Calverton, Md., and were funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, other international donors and various national governments in the countries where the studies took place.

Taken together, they raise questions about monitoring by the U.N. AIDS agency, which for years overestimated the extent of HIV/AIDS in East and West Africa and, by a smaller margin, in southern Africa, according to independent researchers and U.N. officials.

"What we had before, we cannot trust it," said Agnes Binagwaho, a senior Rwandan health official.

Years of HIV overestimates, researchers say, flowed from the long-held assumption that the extent of infection among pregnant women who attended prenatal clinics provided a rough proxy for the rate among all working-age adults in a country. Working age was usually defined as 15 to 49. These rates also were among the only nationwide data available for many years, especially in Africa, where health tracking was generally rudimentary.

The new studies show, however, that these earlier estimates were skewed in favor of young, sexually active women in the urban areas that had prenatal clinics. Researchers now know that the HIV rate among these women tends to be higher than among the general population.

The new studies rely on random testing conducted across entire countries, rather than just among pregnant women, and they generally require two forms of blood testing to guard against the numerous false positive results that inflated early estimates of the disease. These studies also are far more effective at measuring the often dramatic variations in infection rates between rural and urban people and between men and women.

UNAIDS, the agency headed since its creation in 1995 by Peter Piot, a Belgian physician, produced its first global snapshot of the disease in 1998. Each year since, the United Nations has issued increasingly dire assessments: UNAIDS estimated that 36 million people around the world were infected in 2000, including 25 million in Africa. In 2002, the numbers were 42 million globally, with 29 million in Africa.

But by 2002, disparities were already emerging. A national study in the southern African country of Zambia, for example, found a rate of 15.6 percent, significantly lower than the U.N. rate of 21.5 percent. In Burundi, which borders Rwanda in central East Africa, a national study found a rate of 5.4 percent, not the 8.3 percent estimated by UNAIDS.

In West Africa, Sierra Leone, just then emerging from a devastating civil war, was found to have a national prevalence rate of less than 1 percent -- compared with an estimated U.N. rate of 7 percent.

Such disparities, independent researchers say, skewed years of policy judgments and decisions on where to spend precious health-care dollars.

"From a research point of view, they've done a pathetic job," said Paul Bennell, a British economist whose studies of the impact of AIDS on African school systems have shown mortality far below what UNAIDS had predicted. "They were not predisposed, let's put it that way, to weigh the counterevidence. They were looking to generate big bucks."

The United Nations started to revise its estimates in light of the new studies in its 2004 report, reducing the number of infections in Africa by 4.4 million, back to the total four years earlier of 25 million. It also gradually decreased the overall infection rate for working-age adults in sub-Saharan Africa, from 9 percent in a 2002 report to 7.2 percent in its latest report, released in November.

Peter Ghys, an epidemiologist who has worked for UNAIDS since 1999, acknowledged in an interview from his office in Geneva that HIV projections several years ago were too high because they relied on data from prenatal clinics.

But Ghys said the agency made the best estimates possible with the information available. As better data emerged, such as the new wave of national population studies, it has made revisions where necessary, he said.

"What has happened is we have come to realize that indeed we have overestimated the epidemic a bit," he said.

On its Web site, UNAIDS describes itself as "the chief advocate for worldwide action against AIDS." And many researchers say the United Nations' reliance on rigorous science waned after it created the separate AIDS agency in 1995 -- the first time the world body had taken this approach to tackle a single disease.

In the place of previous estimates provided by the World Health Organization, outside researchers say, the AIDS agency produced reports that increasingly were subject to political calculations, with the emphasis on raising awareness and money.

"It's pure advocacy, really," said Jim Chin, a former U.N. official who made some of the first global HIV prevalence estimates while working for WHO in the late 1980s and early 1990s. "Once you get a high number, it's really hard once the data comes in to say, 'Whoops! It's not 100,000. It's 60,000.' "

Chin, speaking from Stockton, Calif., added, "They keep cranking out numbers that, when I look at them, you can't defend them."

Ghys said he never sensed pressure to inflate HIV estimates. "I can't imagine why UNAIDS or WHO would want to do that," he said. "If we did that, it would just affect our credibility."

Ghys added that studies now show that the overall percentage of Africans with HIV has stabilized, though U.N. models still show increasing numbers of people with the virus because of burgeoning populations.

Many other researchers, including Wilson from the World Bank and two epidemiologists from the U.S. Agency for International Development who wrote a study published last week in the Lancet, a British medical journal, dispute that conclusion, saying that the number of new cases in Africa peaked several years ago.

Some involved in the fight against AIDS say that tallying HIV cases is not nearly as important as finding the resources to fight the disease. That is especially true now that antiretroviral drugs are more affordable, making it possible to extend millions of lives if enough money and health-care workers are available to facilitate treatment.

"It doesn't matter how long the line is if you never get to the end of it," said Francois Venter, a South African doctor and head of Johannesburg General Hospital's rapidly expanding antiretroviral drug program, speaking in an interview in Johannesburg.

But to the researchers who drive AIDS policy, differences in infection rates are not merely academic. They scour the world looking for evidence of interventions that have worked, such as the rigorous enforcement of condom use at brothels in Thailand and aggressive public campaigns that have urged Ugandans to limit their sexual partners to one.

Programs deemed successful are urged on other countries and funded lavishly by international donors, often to the exclusion of other programs.

Rwanda, a mountainous country of about 8.5 million people jammed into a land area smaller than Maryland, has relied on approaches similar to those used in Uganda, and may have produced similar declines in HIV. UNAIDS estimated in 1998 that 370,000 Rwandans were infected, equal to 12.75 percent of all working-age adults and a substantial percentage of children as well. Every two years since, the agency has lowered that estimate -- to 11.2 percent in 2000, 8.9 percent in 2002 and 5.1 percent in 2004.

Dirk van Hove, the top UNAIDS official in Rwanda, said the next official estimate, due in May, would show an infection rate of "about 3 percent," in line with the new national study. He said the U.N. estimate tracked the declining prevalence.

Rwandan health officials say their national HIV infection rate might once have topped 3 percent and then declined. But it's just as likely, they say, that these apparent trends reflected nothing more than flawed studies.

Even so, Rwanda's cities show signs of a serious AIDS problem not yet tamed. The new study found that 8.6 percent of urban, working-age women have HIV. Overall, officials say, 150,000 Rwandans are infected, less than half the number estimated by UNAIDS in 1998.

Bruno Ngirabatware, a physician who has treated AIDS patients in Kigali since the 1980s, said he has seen no evidence of a recent decline in HIV infection rates.

"There's lots of patients there, always," he said.

Immigration Advocates Rally Around U.S. - New York Times

Immigration Advocates Rally Around U.S. - New York TimesApril 10, 2006

By MARIA NEWMAN

In rallies appeared to be exceeding the expectations of organizers and the police, hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their supporters marched today in more than 100 cities throughout the country, casting off the old fears of their illegal status to assert that they have a right to a humane life in this country.

The marches took place in big cities like Houston, Los Angeles, Phoenixand Atlanta, and in smaller communities like Hyde Park, N.Y., Garden City, Kan., and Bell Glade, Fla. Some of the marchers invoked the tactics and slogans of the civil rights era, and others were trying out a new voice for an emerging costituency that in the very recent past has hidden from authority because of their lack of papers, afraid to speak up, willing to work for wages that American citizens will not accept.

In Madison, Wis., a rally drew 25,000, organizers said. The police, who estimated the crowd to be closer to 10,000, nevertheless said it was the largest rally they have seen in 10 years there.

One man, Jose Pineda, 30, who works at a doll factory in Madison and was at the rally with his wife and two young children, was asked if they were not afraid to march in a rally where they might be identified as illegal and therefore subject to capture or prosecution by authorities.

"No," Mr. Pineda said. "We are not criminals."

It has become the rallying cry of demonstrations that have grown in size and frequency in the last month, as Congress has considered the thorny issue of immigration legislation.

The rallies, part of what some organizers were calling the National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice, began this morning, with a 9 a.m. demonstration in Atlanta , and continues in more than 100 cities, ending with demonstrations in New York City and Washington.

The numbers such rallies have drawn in the past few weeks have exceeded the expectations of even their organizers, who say immigrants are no longer afraid to speak out about proposed immigration bills in Congress that some of them find unfair to them.

"I think that the incredible turnout in places like Dallas is just reflective of the deeply felt sense in this country that we have a broken immigration system that desperately needs to be fixed," said Eliza Leighton, with Casa of Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group that is one of the organizers of the Washington rally.

"It needs to be fixed in such a way that the millions of immigrants who are in this country now and are strong contributing members of our society and our economy have a clear path toward citizenship and one that unites families and keeps our country strong," she said.

In Atlanta, a sea of demonstrators, most of them dressed in the white T-shirts that have become emblematic of the immigrant rights marches, moved along a two-mile route, with marchers carrying signs about their rights and the competing bills in Congress. Most of the marchers carried American flags, as the word has gone out to demonstrators over the last few weeks over the Internet and flyers that they needed to show more willingness to assimilate, although some carried flags from their home countries of Mexico, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Before the march began, police had said they expected it to draw a crowd of 40,000. Afterward, organizers said they believed the size of the crowd might have reached 80,000.

Most of the participants had taken the day off work to attend the demonstration, leaving chores unattended that they said many people, including some who want undocumented immigrants to be kept out, take for granted. There were house painters walking on the metal stilts they use for their work; there were domestic workers who clean houses or care for children in private homes; there were construction workers and their children.

"We are in a situation that Rosa Parks was in several years ago: enough is enough," said Fabian Rodriguez, 38, who came here from Mexico and now lives in the Atlanta suburb of Norcross and works as a landscaper. "I want things to work out in our favor, or we go back to our country. But we can't keep living the way it is now." They were supporting immigrant rights nationally and protesting state legislation awaiting Gov. Sonny Perdue's signature that would require adults seeking many state-administered benefits to prove they are in the country legally.

There were many signs here that marchers were aware of the South's history as the cradle of the black civil rights movement. At the beginning of the march, demonstrators held a banner that spanned the width of their procession that read, "We have a dream too."

Someone else carried a sign that said, "I eat grits. You eat tacos," a message meant to convey how integral immigrants have become to Atlanta's culture and economy.The rallies today come a day after hundreds of thousands marched in downtown Dallas, San Diego, Miami, Birmingham, Ala., and Boise, Idaho, on Sunday.

Thousands more gathered in Salem, Ore., and other cities in peaceful, forceful displays of support.

The rallies are coming at a time when Congress — and indeed, the nation — seems torn about what to do about the burgeoning numbers of immigrants who are coming into the country every year.

A poll released today by The Washington Post and ABC television showed that 75 percent of Americans believe United States authorities are not doing enough to stop illegal immigration.

In Congress, an effort to enact the most sweeping immigration changes in two decades was derailed on Friday by feuding over amendments and other issues.

This came after a bipartisan Senate compromise last week that Democrats and Republicans hailed as a breakthrough. The Senate bill would open doors to citizenship for most illegal immigrants if they paid fines and learned English. It would also create a guest worker program for 325,000 people a year to meet the needs of business, and would tighten border security to satisfy conservatives.

But the agreement fell apart just before Congress went off on a two week break, casting its future in doubt. Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, pledged in an interview on "Fox News Sunday" to have the measure ready for debate when Congress resumes.

In Atlanta, some of the demonstrators took note of Congress's failure to come to an agreement before members left on vaction.

A woman hoisted a sign that said, "Congress, go back to work."

"I feel very disappointed because they're supposed to work for the people," said Georgina Rodriguez, 33, a domestic worker from Mexico. "Instead of solving this problem of 12 million immigrants, they've gone on vacation."

In Madison, the demonstrators, who marched from Madison Park at Lake Monona to the state capitol about a mile away, were joined by the mayor, David Cieslewicz.

"I want to express support for the Madison Latino community," he said. "And I want to help send a message in opposition to the mean-spiritied immigration bills currently before Congress."

Like many of the undocumented workers who were marching in the rallies, Abel Salgado, 30, who works in a dairy farm in the Madison area, said that most of them are working hard at jobs that Americans clearly want someone to perform for them.

Mr. Salgado said he has a wife and three children in his hometown of Acapulco, Mexico.

"I am here to say that we are not criminals," Mr. Salgado said. "We are here for a better future for ourselves and for our children."

Reporting for this article was contributed by Brenda Goodman from Atlanta, Barbara Minder from Madison, Wis., andLaura Griffin from Dallas.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

NPR : Reports Raise Possibility of U.S. Strike on Iran

NPR : Reports Raise Possibility of U.S. Strike on Iran

Listen to this story...

All Things Considered, April 9, 2006 · Reports this weekend indicate that the Bush administration is stepping up plans for a military strike against Iran. Host Debbie Elliott speaks with Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, about the rhetoric surrounding Iran, and what it all means.