Shiite Muslim Leader Changes His Mind About an Islamic State in Iraq

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Demanding a Democracy
Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, the powerful Shiite Muslim leader who called over the weekend for an Islamic state in Iraq and touched off alarm bells in the West, has changed his mind. The Associated Press quotes him as now saying Iraq should be a democratic state, adding, "Iraq needs a civil society and a popularly elected government that represents all ethnic, racial and religious groups." In addition, al-Hakim says women "should be given an essential role to play in elections and reconstruction of the country."

Editors Accepting Responsibility?
An unnamed New York Times reporter is calling Sunday's front-page account of former Times reporter Jayson Blair's deception a "whitewash" that "downplayed" management's "culpability." Another unnamed Times staffer told the New York Post, "Heads should roll.… It happened on their watch and because of their watch." The Post says that perhaps sensing the discontent, three top Times executives sent an internal memo to employees saying the editors "accept the responsibility" for not establishing sufficient safeguards against the "unethical journalistic conduct" of Blair. The memo further says the "unfettered account" on the front page was a "first step…to repair the damage done to the bond of trusts that exists between The Times and its readers."

Spate of Hate
A U.N. meeting in Paris has been told that anti-Semitism is at its highest levels since the end of World War II. Jewish leaders have told them that the surge of hate sites on the Internet is partially responsible for the rise in anti-Semitism. A report by Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, for example, notes there was one hate site in 1985 and 4,000 today. Hier says it is just a "ruse" to blame poverty or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the new wave of Jewish hate, adding, "I believe you have a new generation of professional haters who are serving as leaders, demagogues, and they're inspiring young people to do their bidding while they often hide."

Marshmallow Matter
New York Gov. George Pataki has been pushing for higher taxes, but it seems there is one tax increase he is willing to avoid: the tax on big marshmallows. Up until 1998 big marshmallows were classified as candy and subject to sales tax, while their smaller counterparts, mini-marshmallows, were classified as food and have long been tax exempt. But Albany's Times Union says that was all changed five years ago when big marshmallows were also tax exempted, and Pataki now says he'll leave it that way.