Saturday, January 31, 2004 The Dean Scream: The version of reality that we didn't see on TV:
"It was the scream Howard Dean says became famous after the media played it nearly 700 times in a few days. Not only that, his camp adds, what we heard on the air was not a reflection of the way it sounded in the room. "

After my interview with Dean and his wife in which I played the tape again -- in fact played it to them -- I noticed that on that tape he's holding a hand-held microphone. One designed to filter out the background noise. It isolates your voice, just like it does to Charlie Gibson and me when we have big crowds in the morning. The crowds are deafening to us standing there

But the viewer at home hears only our voice.

So, we collected some other tapes from Dean's speech including one from a documentary filmmaker, tapes that do carry the sound of the crowd, not just the microphone he held on stage. We also asked the reporters who were there to help us replicate what they experienced in the room.

Reena Singh, ABC News Dean campaign reporter: "What the cameras didn't capture was the crowd."

Garance Franke-Ruta, Senior Editor, American Prospect: "As he spoke, the audience got louder and louder and I found it somewhat difficult to hear him."

Dean's boisterous countdown of the upcoming primaries as we all heard it on TV was isolated, when in fact he was shouting over the roaring crowd.

And what about the scream as we all heard it? In the room, the so-called scream couldn't really be heard at all. Again, he was yelling along with the crowd.

Neal Gabler, Senior Fellow, Lear Center USA: "When you're talking about visuals, context is everything. So, you've got a situation in which you have what I'd call the televised version of reality, which is not the same as the actual reality in room. You know in a situation like this, no one takes responsibility."

How do the networks see it? Here are comments from network executives to ABC News:

CBS News: "Individually we may feel okay about our network, but the cumulative effect for viewers with 24-hour cable coverage is -- it may have been overplayed and, in fact, a disservice to Dean and the viewers." -- Andrew Heyward, President - CBS News

ABC News: "It's always a danger that we'll use good video too much." -- David Westin, President - ABC News
Missteps Pulled a Surging Dean Back to Earth:
"… just as Dr. Dean headed onstage, his campaign manager, Joe Trippi, offered a snippet of rocker philosophy: 'Freedom's just another for word for nothing left to lose.'

Actually, Dr. Dean still had plenty to lose that night, when his speech turned his highflying candidacy into late-night joke fodder. "

Above is what passes for objective analysis, and until recently I'd have bought into it too.

Then I saw a four minute story on ABC where they played a recording of the "I have a scream speech" made by people who were actually in the room.

You couldn't even hear Dean, above the cheers of the crowd. He was yelling trying to be heard and failing miserably. Unfortunately, someone, gave him a noise cancelling microphone. Unfortunately it wasn't hokked up to the PA system so his crowd could hear him. Unfortunately, it was connected to the media, who, being there, had to know that the people in the room never heard a scream, but reported it as if they had.

At the time of ABC's "correction" the phony (manipulated) scream had been aired well over 800 times. If you missed the truth on ABC, well, you missed it.

The Dean Scream: The version of reality that we didn't see on TV
The scream that may not have been
Today's Editorials: How to Hack an Election:
"When the State of Maryland hired a computer security firm to test its new machines, these paid hackers had little trouble casting multiple votes and taking over the machines' vote-recording mechanisms. The Maryland study shows convincingly that more security is needed for electronic voting, starting with voter-verified paper trails."

When Maryland decided to buy 16,000 AccuVote-TS voting machines, there was considerable opposition. Critics charged that the new touch-screen machines, which do not create a paper record of votes cast, were vulnerable to vote theft. The state commissioned a staged attack on the machines, in which computer-security experts would try to foil the safeguards and interfere with an election.

They were disturbingly successful. It was an "easy matter," they reported, to reprogram the access cards used by voters and vote multiple times. They were able to attach a keyboard to a voting terminal and change its vote count. And by exploiting a software flaw and using a modem, they were able to change votes from a remote location.

Critics of new voting technology are often accused of being alarmist, but this state-sponsored study contains vulnerabilities that seem almost too bad to be true. Maryland's 16,000 machines all have identical locks on two sensitive mechanisms, which can be opened by any one of 32,000 keys. The security team had no trouble making duplicates of the keys at local hardware stores, although that proved unnecessary since one team member picked the lock in "approximately 10 seconds."

Thursday, January 29, 2004

We Are the Majority | Bernie Sanders | February 2004 Issue:
"So how do the rightwingers get elected if they have nothing to say about the most important issues facing the American people? That is the central question of modern American politics. And the answer is that they work day and night to divide the American people against each other so that they end up voting against their own best interests. That is what the Republican Party is all about.

They tell white workers their jobs are being lost not because corporate America is downsizing and moving to China, but because black workers are taking their jobs--because of affirmative action. White against black."

If you turn on talk radio, what you will hear, in an almost compulsive way, is a hatred of women. And they're telling working class guys, you used to have some power. You used to be the breadwinner. But now there are women running companies, women in politics, women making more money than you. Men against women.

And they're turning straight people against gay people. The homosexuals are taking over the schools! Gay marriage is destroying the country! Straights against gays.

And if you're not for a war in Iraq waged on the dubious and illegal doctrine of "preemptive war," you're somehow unpatriotic. And those of us who were born in America are supposed to hate immigrants. And those of us who practice religion in one way, or believe in the separation of church and state, are supposed to be anti-religious, and trying to destroy Christianity in America--and we get divided up on that. And on and on it goes.

The Republican leadership does all of this in an incredibly cynical, poll-driven way, because they know when you lay out their program about the most important economic issues facing America, it ends up that they are representing the interests of 2 percent of the population. You can't win an election with the support of 2 percent. So they divide us, and the result is that tens of millions of working people vote against their own interests.

We know, that come election time, they will have huge sums of money that we will never come near to having. But we also know something else: that we are the vast majority of the people. We are the middle class and working families, and there are a hell of a lot more of us than there are of them.
Protester=Criminal? | Matthew Rothschild | February 2004 Issue:
"In many places across George Bush's America, you may be losing your ability to exercise your lawful First Amendment rights of speech and assembly. Increasingly, some police departments, the FBI, and the Secret Service are engaging in the criminalization--or, at the very least, the marginalization--of dissent.…"

This crackdown took a violent turn in late November at the Miami protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas and at an anti-war protest at the Port of Oakland last April. In both cases, the police used astonishing force to break up protests. But even when the police do not engage in violence, they sometimes blatantly interfere with the right to dissent by preemptively arresting people on specious grounds.…

It's not every day that a sitting judge will allege he saw the police commit felonies. But that's what Judge Richard Margolius said on December 11 in regard to police misconduct in Miami during the protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in late November.

Judge Margolius was presiding over a case that the protesters brought against the city. In court, he said he saw the police commit at least twenty felonies, Amy Driscoll of the Miami Herald reported. "Pretty disgraceful what I saw with my own eyes," he said, according to the paper. "This was a real eye-opener. A disgrace for the community."

Police used tasers, shock batons, rubber bullets, beanbags filled with chemicals, large sticks, and concussion grenades against lawful protesters. (Just prior to the FTAA protests, the city of Miami passed an ordinance requiring a permit for any gathering of more than six people for longer than twenty-nine minutes.) They took the offensive, wading into crowds and driving after the demonstrators. Police arrested more than 250 protesters. Almost all of them were simply exercising their First Amendment rights. Police also seized protest material and destroyed it, and they confiscated personal property, demonstrators say.

"How many police officers have been charged by the state attorney so far for what happened out there during the FTAA?" the judge asked in court, according to the Herald. The prosecutor said none. "Pretty sad commentary, at least from what I saw," the judge retorted.

Even for veterans of protests, the police actions in Miami were unlike any they had encountered before. "I've been to a number of the anti-globalization protests--Seattle, Cancún, D.C.--and this was different," says Norm Stockwell, operations coordinator for WORT, the community radio station in Madison, Wisconsin. "At previous events, the police force was defensive, with heavy armor hoping to hold back protests. In Miami, police were in light armor and were poised to go after the protesters, and that's what they did. They actually went into the crowds to divide the protesters, then chased them into different neighborhoods."

Stockwell says some reporters were mistreated, especially if they were not "embedded" with the Miami police.

"I got shot twice [with rubber projectiles], once in the back, another time in the leg," reported Jeremy Scahill of Democracy Now! "John Hamilton from the Workers Independent News Service was shot in the neck by a pepper-spray pellet." Ana Nogueira, Scahill's colleague from Democracy Now!, was videotaping some of the police mayhem when she was arrested, Scahill said. "In police custody, the authorities made Ana remove her clothes because they were pepper sprayed. The police forced her to strip naked in front of male officers."

John Heckenlively, former head of the Racine County Democratic Party in Wisconsin, says he was cornered by the police late in the afternoon of November 20. Heckenlively and a few companions were trying to move away from the protest area when "a large cordon of police, filling the entire block edge to edge, was moving up the street," he says. "As they approached, an officer told us that we should leave the area. We informed him that was precisely what we were attempting to do, and seconds later, he placed us under arrest."

Police kept Heckenlively in tight handcuffs behind his back for more than six hours, he says, adding that he was held for a total of sixty hours.

Trade unionists were particularly outraged at the treatment they received in Miami. John Sweeney, head of the AFL-CIO, wrote Attorney General John Ashcroft on December 3 to urge the Justice Department to investigate "the massive and unwarranted repression of constitutional rights and civil liberties that took place in Miami."

Sweeney wrote that on November 20, police interfered with the federation's demonstration "by denying access to buses, blocking access to the amphitheater where the rally was occurring, and deploying armored personnel carriers, water cannons, and scores of police in riot gear with clubs in front of the amphitheater entrance. Some union retirees had their buses turned away from Miami altogether by the police, and were sent back home."

Blocking access to the rally was the least of it. After the march, "police advanced on groups of peaceful protesters without provocation," Sweeney wrote. "The police failed to provide those in the crowd with a safe route to disperse, and then deployed pepper spray and rubber bullets against protesters as they tried to leave the scene. Along with the other peaceful protesters, AFL-CIO staff, union peacekeepers, and retirees were trapped in the police advance. One retiree sitting on a chair was sprayed directly in the face with pepper spray. An AFL-CIO staff member was hit by a rubber bullet while trying to leave the scene. When the wife of a retired Steelworker verbally protested police tactics, she was thrown to the ground on her face and a gun was pointed to her head."

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Op-Chart: The Medicare Index:
"Last month, President Bush signed into law Republican-sponsored legislation that adds a prescription drug benefit to Medicare and invests billions of dollars in an effort to lure the elderly away from the government program and into private health insurance plans. Last week, in his State of the Union address, President Bush said the new measure 'kept a basic commitment to our seniors.' By approving the legislation, the president may have fulfilled a commitment or two, but not to the nation's elderly. Here are some key details omitted from President Bush's speech …"

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Citing Free Speech, Judge Voids Part of Antiterror Act:
"For the first time, a federal judge has struck down part of the sweeping antiterrorism law known as the USA Patriot Act, joining other courts that have challenged integral parts of the Bush administration's campaign against terrorism.

In Los Angeles, the judge, Audrey B. Collins of Federal District Court, said in a decision made public on Monday that a provision in the law banning certain types of support for terrorist groups was so vague that it risked running afoul of the First Amendment.…"

At issue was a provision in the act, passed by Congress after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that expanded previous antiterrorism law to prohibit anyone from providing "expert advice or assistance" to known terrorist groups. The measure was part of a broader set of prohibitions that the administration has relied heavily on in prosecuting people in Lackawanna, N.Y., Portland, Ore., Detroit and elsewhere accused of providing money, training, Internet services and other "material support" to terrorist groups.

Monday, January 26, 2004

ZDNet AnchorDesk: Security breach on Capitol Hill: It's criminal:
"Let's say you happen to gain access to confidential information, either on a Web site or another individual's system. Do you report it? Do you read the confidential information yet not act on any of it? Or do you read the information and immediately use it to your own personal advantage?

It's question of ethics, really, one that speaks to the integrity of the individual involved and the security policy in place in a given environment.

IF YOU ARE a certain Republican staff member for the politically divisive U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, apparently you choose that last option. According to the Boston Globe and other news sources, GOP committee members gained access to computers used by their Democratic colleagues and, from the spring of 2002 well into 2003, both monitored communications and leaked info to the press.

The material obtained through this breach has already been used by columnists and talk show hosts, who offered their audiences unprecedented insight into the inner workings of the Democratic party. "

This is as wrong as a criminal hacker breaking into a corporation's Web site. If these allegations hold up under investigation, those responsible should be punished just as a criminal would.

It could happen in the private sector as easily as in the public. Many corporate employees work on shared networks and systems that contain plenty of confidential materials, everything from corporate strategy to trade secrets. Can you imagine the financial losses and legal repercussions had this same thing happened between competing businesses?
Economic View: Time to Slay the Inequality Myth? Not So Fast:
"In recent weeks, a new book has challenged this conventional wisdom, calling it a statistical mirage, and its striking claim has begun to receive national attention. Among native-born Americans, lower- and middle-income families have actually received proportionately bigger raises than the wealthy, according to 'The Progress Paradox' (Random House), written by Gregg Easterbrook, a Washington journalist. Only a great influx of immigrants - many of them poor, but richer than they were in their home countries - has made inequality appear to widen in the statistics, Mr. Easterbrook says. "

"Factor out immigration," he writes, "and the rise in American inequality disappears."

The idea has echoed from the book into the pages of The Washington Post, The Chicago Sun-Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Times of London and BusinessWeek magazine, among other publications. It seems like one of those facts that could rewrite conventional wisdom about the American economy.

It happens, however, not to be true. - Web Guide to U.S. Supreme Court Research:
"The Web Guide to U.S. Supreme Court Research is intended to facilitate the convenience and speed that we expect when turning to the Internet for our research needs. Often, we are unimpressed by the performance of search engines primarily because of problems with the quantity or relevancy of the results. This Web Guide attempts to overcome the shortcomings of general web searching by providing a selection of annotated links to the most reliable, substantive sites for U.S. Supreme Court research. The sites mentioned here focus predominantly on information that is freely, or inexpensively, available on the Internet. "

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Sluggish Start for Offer of Tax Credit for Insurance:
"A program offering tax credits to jobless workers to buy health insurance has gotten off to a slow, sputtering start, despite energetic efforts by Bush administration officials who want the program to succeed as a model for a much more ambitious effort to help the uninsured.

The program, the Health Coverage Tax Credit, was created in 2002 to aid workers who lose jobs because of foreign imports.… "

But the results to date are modest, in part because displaced workers are still required to spend substantial amounts of money on insurance premiums before they can get the benefits of the tax credit.

At the end of December, the Bush administration said, only 8,374 workers were receiving tax credits for health insurance under the program. The total number of people taking advantage of the program, including dependents, is perhaps 25,000, or 5 percent of those expected to benefit.…

Under the existing program, tax credits will pay 65 percent of the premium for health insurance bought by a displaced worker. The individual must pay the other 35 percent, and that has proved an insurmountable hurdle for some workers.

"The tax credit would help if the insurance rates were affordable, but the rates were so high that I couldn't afford it," said Gloria J. Craven, 51, of Eden, N.C. "Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina stepped forward to help the textile workers here. But when people started getting price quotes, we realized that we could not pay our share of the premiums."

Mrs. Craven said she and her 61-year-old husband had lost their jobs in a Pillowtex mill where they worked for three decades. She has asthma. He is diabetic and has had a heart attack. Mrs. Craven said the premiums for the insurance offered to them ranged from $1,700 to $5,400 a month. Their share of the premiums would be $595 to $1,890 a month.

The couple, drawing $416 a month in unemployment benefits, was in no position to pay such costs, Mrs. Craven said.
The Tyranny of Copyright?:
"Last fall, a group of civic-minded students at Swarthmore College received a sobering lesson in the future of political protest. They had come into possession of some 15,000 e-mail messages and memos -- presumably leaked or stolen -- from Diebold Election Systems, the largest maker of electronic voting machines in the country. The memos featured Diebold employees' candid discussion of flaws in the company's software and warnings that the computer network was poorly protected from hackers. In light of the chaotic 2000 presidential election, the Swarthmore students decided that this information shouldn't be kept from the public. Like aspiring Daniel Ellsbergs with their would-be Pentagon Papers, they posted the files on the Internet, declaring the act a form of electronic whistle-blowing. "

Unfortunately for the students, their actions ran afoul of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (D.M.C.A.), one of several recent laws that regulate intellectual property and are quietly reshaping the culture. Designed to protect copyrighted material on the Web, the act makes it possible for an Internet service provider to be liable for the material posted by its users -- an extraordinary burden that providers of phone service, by contrast, do not share. Under the law, if an aggrieved party (Diebold, say) threatens to sue an Internet service provider over the content of a subscriber's Web site, the provider can avoid liability simply by removing the offending material. Since the mere threat of a lawsuit is usually enough to scare most providers into submission, the law effectively gives private parties veto power over much of the information published online -- as the Swarthmore students would soon learn.

Not long after the students posted the memos, Diebold sent letters to Swarthmore charging the students with copyright infringement and demanding that the material be removed from the students' Web page, which was hosted on the college's server. Swarthmore complied. The question of whether the students were within their rights to post the memos was essentially moot: thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, their speech could be silenced without the benefit of actual lawsuits, public hearings, judges or other niceties of due process.
Op-Ed Contributor: Single and Paying for It:
"Married couples can receive thousands of dollars in benefits and discounts unavailable to single Americans, including extra tax breaks, bankruptcy protections and better insurance rates. Why, for example, should a married poet whose wife pays the bills get tax breaks that are unavailable to a single poet who struggles to write between telemarketing jobs? Why should all workers be required to make the same Social Security contributions if retirees with non-wage-earning spouses get more back from the system? If we force single mothers off welfare on the theory that they should pay their own way, why don't we require married stay-at-home moms to pay market prices for health insurance?

Though most people would agree that these distinctions are arbitrary and unfair, as a society we tend not to notice that breaks for people who are married translate into penalties for those of us who are not.…"

Singles' rights advocates face an uphill battle because their demands for equality are easily mistaken for anti-marriage assaults. Furthermore, because most Americans, myself included, believe that marriage provides a valuable social framework, many are quick to dismiss challenges to marriage-based benefits as a threat to the institution. Though well intentioned, this impulse makes no sense in the face of current realities.

Many marriage-based benefits, for instance, are seen as proxies for helping families with children. Yet marriage is no longer a good indicator of parenthood. As of 2000, one in three children were born to unmarried parents. Distributing benefits intended to support child rearing on the basis of marital status gives a windfall to childless married couples while leaving empty handed single parents and their children — who as a group already face harsher realities.

Benefits are also defended as vehicles for promoting marriage. Their effectiveness in achieving this goal is dubious at best, counterproductive at worst. Common sense says that couples who are otherwise unprepared to take on the obligations of marriage and who do so for financial reasons only are prime candidates for divorce.

Finally, marriage benefits may be seen as a way to reward citizens who take on the weighty obligations of wedlock. But if 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, 50 percent of marriage-based "rewards" are nothing but an expensive mistake. The marriage dole also subsidizes a growing number of unions governed by prenuptial agreements. Such pacts are usually intended to protect the assets of moneyed spouses, effectively undoing the very protections that, in part, make marriage worth defending in the first place.

Saturday, January 24, 2004 / News / Nation / Infiltration of files seen as extensive:
"From the spring of 2002 until at least April 2003, members of the GOP committee staff exploited a computer glitch that allowed them to access restricted Democratic communications without a password. Trolling through hundreds of memos, they were able to read talking points and accounts of private meetings discussing which judicial nominees Democrats would fight -- and with what tactics."
California 'disempowered' by federal spam law - News - ZDNet:
"'Thirty-four million people were disempowered by the enactment of that act and left only the small resources of my office,' Lockyer, a Democrat, told a group of attorneys and antispam executives at the 'Spam and the Law' conference in San Francisco on Thursday morning. "

"It is ironic, with an antigovernment federal government that tells us they trust us and want us to take our own action, that the only thing they did was give the government the right to take action," against spammers, Lockyer said of the Republican administration.

The group convened 21 days after the nation's first federal antispam law was enacted to discuss the law's affect on the industry. In a morning keynote address, Stanford University Law School professor Lawrence Lessig called the Can-Spam Act a milestone in the industry's 8-year fight against spam but also a "total failure."

Lockyer and Lessig both said the influence of special interests weakened antispam laws. Once the Direct Marketing Association awoke to California's new enforcement powers with an opt-in law and 37 other state laws, it likely affected a change in the political mood for a federal law that could overpower it, Lockyer said. Until politicians are unguided by business interests and can create regulations in the interests of consumers, the climate likely won't change, they said.

"Because we have let the problem grow for the last eight years, we have built an industry around the opportunity for spam to propagate," Lessig said.&hellip:

Friday, January 23, 2004

Mars Exploration Rover Mission: Press Releases:
"The flight team for NASA's Spirit received data from the rover in a communication session that began at 13:26 Universal Time (5:26 a.m. PST) and lasted 20 minutes at a data rate of 120 bits per second.

'The spacecraft sent limited data in a proper response to a ground command, and we're planning for commanding further communication sessions later today,' said Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager Pete Theisinger at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.… "

Meanwhile, the other Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity is on course to land halfway around Mars from Spirit, in a region called Meridiani Planum, on Jan. 25 (Universal Time and EST; Jan. 24 at 9:05 p.m. PST).

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Ex-C.I.A. Aides Ask for Leak Inquiry by Congress:
"It is unusual for former intelligence officers to petition Congress on a matter like this. The unmasking of Ms. Plame is viewed within spy circles as an unforgivable breach of secrecy that must be exhaustively investigated and prosecuted, current and former intelligence officials say. Anger over the matter is especially acute because of the suspicion, under investigation by the Justice Department, that the disclosure may have been made by someone in the White House to punish Ms. Plames's husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, for opposing administration policy on Iraq.

Attorney General John Ashcroft disqualified himself last month from any involvement in the inquiry, and Justice Department officials have named Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the United States attorney in Chicago, as a special prosecutor in the case. Mr. Ashcroft's decision to step aside came after months of criticism from Democrats in the Senate who complained that the attorney general could not impartially lead an investigation that focused in part on his political patrons and friends at the White House.

Justice Department officials have said almost nothing in public about the status of the investigation. But they have said they are focusing on conversations between White House officials and reporters that both sides might try to cast as private.…"

The 10 former intelligence officers who signed the letter include respected intelligence analysts and retired case officers, including at least two, John McCavitt and William Wagner, who were C.I.A. station chiefs overseas. The former analysts include Larry C. Johnson, a former analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department's intelligence branch, and Ray Close and Ray McGovern, former C.I.A. analysts in the agency's Near East division.

"The disclosure of Ms. Plame's name was an unprecedented and shameful event in American history and, in our professional judgment, has damaged U.S. national security, specifically the effectiveness of U.S. intelligence-gathering using human sources," the group wrote in the two-page letter.…

"For this administration to run on a security platform and allow people in the administration to compromise the security of intelligence assets, I think is unconscionable," Mr. Johnson said.

In addition to Mr. Hastert, the letter was sent to Representatives Tom DeLay, the House Republican leader; Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader; Porter J. Goss, a Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee; and Jane Harman, the top Democrat on the panel. A copy was made available to The New York Times by a Congressional official who received one.

Current and former intelligence officials have felt particularly bruised in recent months as the C.I.A. and other agencies have come under criticism from some in Congress and the public as having underestimated the danger of attacks on the United States like those on Sept. 11, 2001, and having overestimated the dangers posed by Iraq's alleged stockpiles of illicit weapons.

In the letter, the former officers called on Congress to act "for the good of the country" and said it was time to "send an unambiguous message that the intelligence officers tasked with collecting or analyzing intelligence must never be turned into political punching bags."
2 G.I.'s Killed as Security Is Seen as Obstacle to Iraq Vote:
"For months, the Bush administration has resisted Iraqi calls for direct elections by June 30, citing the need for a census to compile voter rolls and other measures to ensure fair voting but too cumbersome to complete in time.

But some experts say that many of these conditions could be met. Another obstacle, perhaps greater and largely unacknowledged, according to the military, the United Nations and outside election experts, is the continuing violence in Iraq. To argue that security is a serious impediment, however, would be to admit that American forces are unable to quell the running war with the insurgents.…"

Some American generals now say privately that the continuing attacks, especially those against Iraqi civilians, present a daunting obstacle to holding the direct elections demanded by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's most powerful cleric among the majority Shiites.

Even those outside experts who say that there are practical ways to hold a quick vote say that turnout could be suppressed by violence, and that protecting the polls with soldiers or policemen, too, may keep people away.

"I guess you could devise mechanisms to make it possible, security permitting," said Joost R. Hiltermann, a Middle East expert at the International Crisis Group, a conflict-prevention organization, who visited Iraq this week to research the prospects for elections here. "But security permitting' is a big if. The risk is that if you go ahead, the results could be seriously skewed, even dangerously skewed."

If bombings or other attacks like those that occurred this week in Baghdad, Karbala and Mosul take place in one section of the country or another during balloting, the resulting disparities in security might badly reduce turnout in certain areas and render the election unfair, election experts say. Iraq's ethnic divisions, mirrored imperfectly in its politics, tend to follow rough geographic lines that define the largely Kurdish north, the central Sunni Arab heartland and the overwhelmingly Shiite Arab south.

It would be especially dangerous if security is weak in Sunni Arab areas and consequently depressed turnout among that group, which makes up a fifth of the country's 25 million people. Sunnis formed the core of Saddam Hussein's government, and it is in the so-called Sunni Triangle that violence against the American military is fiercest. Many Sunnis already feel disenfranchised, and their anger will only grow if security problems keep them from voting and skew the election results, Mr. Hiltermann said.

Under the current plan, a transitional assembly several hundred Iraqis from every region and social sector will be chosen in caucus-style elections from the country's 18 provinces. That assembly is to choose an interim government in June, and that indirectly elected interim government is to draft a constitution.

But shortly after the November agreement, Ayatollah Sistani came out against the caucus plan and for direct balloting. A direct ballot would give the Shiites, who account for 60 percent of the population, a clear advantage, while the caucus plan is more likely to give moderate politicians a leg up.

On Monday, 100,000 supporters of Ayatollah Sistani marched through Baghdad protesting the coalition's plans. Because the issue of violence would lend weight to the arguments of those who oppose a direct election, the ayatollah's supporters generally avoid the issue of security.

"Grand Ayatollah Sistani insisted on direct elections, and it's a sort of obligation," said Muhammad Alaaowi al-Shameri, a representative of Ayatollah Sistani at the Khadimiya mosque in Baghdad, in an interview this week. "It must be done. The picture of real democracy will not be achieved unless we have direct elections."

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Chicago Tribune | Democratic response to Bush's speech:
"Democrats have an unwavering commitment to ensure that America's armed forces remain the best trained, best led, best equipped force for peace the world has ever known. Never before have we been more powerful militarily. But even the most powerful nation in history must bring other nations to our side to meet common dangers.

The president's policies do not reflect that. He has pursued a go-it-alone foreign policy that leaves us isolated abroad and that steals the resources we need for education and health care here at home."

The president led us into the Iraq war on the basis of unproven assertions without evidence; he embraced a radical doctrine of pre-emptive war unprecedented in our history; and he failed to build a true international coalition.

Therefore, American taxpayers are bearing almost all the cost, a colossal $120 billion and rising. More importantly, American troops are enduring almost all the casualties -- tragically, 500 killed and thousands more wounded.…Instead of alienating our allies, let us work with them and international institutions so that together we can prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and keep them out of the hands of terrorists.

Instead of billions of dollars in no-bid contracts for politically connected firms such as Halliburton, and an insistence on American dominance in Iraq, let us share the burden and responsibility with others, so that together we can end the sense of American occupation and bring our troops home safely when their mission is completed.

Instead of the diplomatic disengagement that almost destroyed the Middle East peace process and aggravated the danger posed by North Korea, let us seek to forge agreements and coalitions so that, together with others, we can address challenges before they threaten the security of the world.

We must remain focused on the greatest threat to the security of the United States, the clear and present danger of terrorism. We know what we must do to protect America, but this Administration is failing to meet the challenge. Democrats have a better way to ensure our homeland security.

One-hundred percent of containers coming into our ports or airports must be inspected. Today, only 3 percent are inspected. One-hundred percent of chemical and nuclear plants in the United States must have high levels of security. Today, the Bush administration has tolerated a much lower standard.

One-hundred percent communication in real time is needed for our police officers, firefighters and all our first responders to prevent or respond to a terrorist attack. Today, the technology is there, but the resources are not. One-hundred percent of the enriched uranium and other material for weapons of mass destruction must be secured. Today, the Administration has refused to commit the resources necessary to prevent it from falling into the hands of terrorists.

America will be far safer if we reduce the chances of a terrorist attack in one of our cities than if we diminish the civil liberties of our own people.,1,5098513.story?coll=chi-news-hed

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

If a hero like Max Cleland, can be made to appear unpatriotic, what will Bush do to an actual war criminal?

The Iowa Surprise:

Neither Mr. Kerry nor Mr. Edwards has yet gone through the kind of withering scrutiny that Dr. Dean endured in Iowa.

"John Kerry, who came in first last night, and John Edwards, who scored a surprising second, appeared to be the men voters thought looked most electable. That throws cold water, at least temporarily, on the long-held theory that primary voters favor candidates who are too far to the left or right to win in the fall. In this era of attack-dog politics, it's nice to have a moment of pragmatism.

The fact that the two senators did so well in Iowa is, however, no proof that either would be the best Democratic nominee. Neither Mr. Kerry nor Mr. Edwards has yet gone through the kind of withering scrutiny that Dr. Dean endured in Iowa. Senator Kerry has at least demonstrated that he knows how to take some knocks and stage a comeback. The early months of his candidacy were a disaster of disorganization and a message void. But he regrouped and convinced Iowa voters that he had the military record and foreign affairs background necessary to take on President Bush. Senator Edwards, who once seemed doomed to spend the entire election season smiling sunnily and being ignored, is now going to find himself near the front of the pack, a place that Dr. Dean and Representative Gephardt found extremely uncomfortable."
Charities Raised More Money in '03, but Costs Grew Even Faster:
"While 64 percent of the 236 organizations across the country that responded reported more income, 66 percent said they had higher costs for health and liability insurance as well as for wages and salaries and other expenses."

More than half of the respondents reported being in "severe" or "very severe" financial stress.

"The nonprofit sector has been successful in coping, reducing its costs at the same time it has increased its service offerings, but it is under incredible pressure from things it cannot control," said Lester M. Salamon, director of the Center for Civil Society Studies at Johns Hopkins University, which conducted the survey as part of a new partnership with seven umbrella groups for nonprofit organizations.

The partnership, the Listening Post Project, has enlisted more than 500 nonprofit organizations working in five service areas — children and family services, elderly services, community development, museums and theaters — that have agreed to participate in Internet-based surveys about trends that affect them.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

O'Neill Says Bush Was Set on Cutting Taxes, Too:
"Mr. O'Neill has provoked a political firestorm with his contention that President Bush tilted toward war with Iraq almost as soon as he took office; the administration has vigorously denied that. But the former Treasury secretary described a similar pattern in Mr. Bush's push to cut taxes by at least $1.7 trillion over 10 years.

Mr. O'Neill was openly skeptical about the need for big tax cuts and expressed concern about frittering away what were then huge budget surpluses.

In hindsight, he may have been too sanguine about the economy's prospects in early 2001 and too dismissive of the value in cutting taxes as a way to soften the downturn. But Mr. O'Neill may also prove to have been prescient about other issues that are likely to have long-lasting significance. One was the idea of building 'triggers'' into Mr. Bush's tax cuts, provisions that would prevent some of the cuts from becoming effective if budget surpluses evaporated."

Behind the scenes, Mr. O'Neill described how he quietly collaborated with Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve, to press for such triggers.

As recounted by Mr. O'Neill, the president and his top advisers wanted no part in such precautions.

Though the Treasury secretary had one-on-one meetings with Mr. Bush almost once a week, Mr. O'Neill said the president listened to him in stony silence. And when Mr. Greenspan testified in favor of making future tax cuts conditional on the government's fiscal health, the White House balked.

There were questions about whether the triggers would have done any good. Congress, in theory, operated under "pay-as-you-go'' rules in the last years of the Clinton administration, under which any spending growth above the rate of inflation was supposed to be offset by budget cuts or tax increases. But tax revenue soared so quickly as a result of the stock market bubble and the booming economy that spending increased much faster than inflation.

Tax-cut advocates like R. Glenn Hubbard, then chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, argued that the tax cuts had to be predictable and permanent to achieve their intended impact. If people thought the cuts would expire, he and others argued, they would have less confidence about spending their extra cash.

Shortly after the tax cuts, the government's seemingly inexhaustible surpluses evaporated. Revenues plunged as the economy slid into a recession and the stock market endured a three-year plunge that wiped out investment profits. Then came the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, followed by huge increases in spending on domestic security and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Projections by Congress and the Bush administration of surpluses of $5.6 trillion over 10 years, the outlook in 2001, have turned into estimated deficits of at least $1.4 trillion and possibly as much as $5 trillion.

Mr. O'Neill strongly suggests that Mr. Bush worried little about budget deficits and did not want advice about them.
Fixing Democracy:
"The morning after the 2000 election, Americans woke up to a disturbing realization: our electoral system was too flawed to say with certainty who had won. Three years later, things may actually be worse. If this year's presidential election is at all close, there is every reason to believe that there will be another national trauma over who the rightful winner is, this time compounded by troubling new questions about the reliability of electronic voting machines.

This is no way to run a democracy."

Americans are rightly proud of their system of government, and eager to share it with the rest of the world. But the key principle behind it, that our leaders govern with the consent of the governed, requires a process that accurately translates the people's votes into political power. Too often, the system falls short. Throughout this presidential election year, we will be taking a close look at the mechanics of our democracy and highlighting aspects that cry out for reform. Among the key issues:

Voting Technology An accurate count of the votes cast is the sine qua non of a democracy, but one that continues to elude us. As now-discredited punch-card machines are being abandoned, there has been a shift to electronic voting machines with serious reliability problems of their own. Many critics, including computer scientists, have been sounding the alarm: through the efforts of a hacker on the outside or a malicious programmer on the inside, or through purely technical errors, these machines could misreport the votes cast.…

…There is a fast-growing list of elections in which electronic machines have demonstrably failed, or produced dubious but uncheckable results. One of the most recent occurred, fittingly enough, in Palm Beach and Broward Counties in Florida just this month. Touch-screen machines reported 137 blank ballots in a special election for a state House seat where the margin of victory was 12 votes. The second-place finisher charged that faulty machines might have cost him the election. "People do not go to the polls in a one-issue election and not vote," he said. But since the machines produce no paper record, there was no way to check.
Theocracy and Democracy: The Cleric Spoiling U.S. Plans:
"The most important political figure in Iraq today is Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, an elderly Shiite Muslim cleric. He has not set foot outside his home in six years, yet the white-bearded ayatollah has effectively commandeered the Bush administration's planning for postwar democracy."

His pronouncement on who may write a new constitution (only Iraqis elected by Iraqis) forced Washington to upend its timetable for granting the country its independence. Last week, the ayatollah rejected the American proposal for choosing an interim legislature through caucuses, immobilizing the transition. His backers took to the streets to support him.

The ayatollah's influence recalls that of another once-reclusive Shiite cleric, Ruhollah Khomeini, who 25 years ago took the helm of the Iranian revolution and created an Islamic republic implacably hostile to the United States.

Ayatollah Sistani, though, is no Khomeini. At least that is what his own background and the recent history of Iraq's Shiites would indicate. His teachings have always reflected what is often called the quietist school of thought in modern Shiism, one that says that clerics should not run governments. Iran's system, the diametric opposite, invests clerics with absolute legal and political authority.…

In Iran, reformers have boldly challenged the Khomeini legacy by demanding that clerics accept truly free elections by giving up their power to disqualify candidates for the coming parliamentary vote. At the same time, in Iraq, where the long-oppressed Shiite majority is clamoring for power, Ayatollah Sistani is being drawn deeper and deeper into the fray.

"Sistani is incredibly sensitive to public opinion and what people say about him," said a Shiite member of the Iraqi Governing Council. "He renounces political power and yet, at the same time, he has to respond to the fact that people are hungry for a leader."

Although most of Iran's Shiites are of Persian descent and Iraq's are Arabs, religious teachers and students flowed back and forth between the two countries for centuries. Ayatollah Sistani, for example, was born in Iran but pursued his religious studies in Iraq. Until the Iranian revolution in 1979, Iranian pilgrims came to Iraq in droves to visit the Shiite shrines in Najaf and Karbala.

Ayatollah Khomeini himself spent the 15 years before the revolution in Najaf, and it was there that he refined his theory of "wilayat al-faqih," or the rule of the jurist. The theory, that an eminent Shiite cleric can be the absolute legal authority, is the foundation of Iran's present political system.

Even then, in his adopted city, his was the minority view. Ayatollah Sistani's teacher and the highest-ranking cleric in Iraq at the time, Grand Ayatollah Abu al Qassim al-Khoei, firmly believed that even the most learned of Shia scholars have no right to rule.

Still, many religious Iraqi Shiites, denied political power for more than 500 years by the Sunni minority, recall feeling thrilled at the birth of Iran's Islamic government.

The feeling did not last long. Fearing for his rule, Saddam Hussein intensified his persecution of Iraq's Shiites, imprisoning and executing anyone suspected of sympathizing with Iran. With the Iran-Iraq war in 1980, the image of Iran's mullahs was further poisoned.

As a result, many Iraqis say, the Iranian experience with clerical rule never developed a real following, except as a theory.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Study: Most Spam Not Compliant With Law:
"Only 10 percent of junk e-mails comply with a new federal anti-spam law, according to two days' worth of messages analyzed by a spam filtering vendor."

The law, which took effect Jan. 1, does not prohibit unsolicited commercial e-mail as long as senders follow a set of rules, including using a correct subject line, a physical mailing address and a way to decline future mailings.

But most senders failed to do even that, Audiotrieve LLC said.,4149,1440234,00.asp?kc=EWNWS011604DTX1K0000599 Crypto-Gram: January 15, 2004 — Color-Coded Terrorist Threat Levels:
"… the threat levels are largely motivated by politics. There are two possble reasons for the alert.

Reason 1: CYA. Governments are naturally risk averse, and issuing vague threat warnings makes sense from that perspective. Imagine if a terrorist attack actually did occur. If they didn't raise the threat level, they would be criticized for not anticipating the attack. As long as they raised the threat level they could always say 'We told you it was Orange,' even though the warning didn't come with any practical advice for people. "

Reason 2: To gain Republican votes. The Republicans spent decades running on the "Democrats are soft on Communism" platform. They've just discovered the "Democrats are soft on terrorism" platform. Voters who are constantly reminded to be fearful are more likely to vote Republican, or so the theory goes, because the Republicans are viewed as the party that is more likely to protect us.

(These reasons may sound cynical, but I believe that the Administration has not been acting in good faith regarding the terrorist threat, and their pronouncements in the press have to be viewed under that light.)

I can't think of any real security reasons for alerting the entire nation, and any putative terrorist plotters, that the Administration believes there is a credible threat.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Op-Ed Columnist: Who Gets It?:
"Wesley Clark had some strong words about the state of the nation. 'I think we're at risk with our democracy,' he said. 'I think we're dealing with the most closed, imperialistic, nastiest administration in living memory. They even put Richard Nixon to shame.'

In other words, the general gets it: he understands that America is facing what Kevin Phillips, in his remarkable new book, 'American Dynasty,' calls a 'Machiavellian moment.' Among other things, this tells us that General Clark and Howard Dean, whatever they may say in the heat of the nomination fight, are on the same side of the great Democratic divide. "

Most political reporting on the Democratic race, it seems to me, has gotten it wrong. Some journalists do, of course, insist on trivializing the whole thing: what I dread most, in the event of an upset in Iowa, is the return of reporting about the political significance of John Kerry's hair.

But even those who refrain from turning political reporting into gossip have used the wrong categories. Again and again, one reads that it's about the left wing of the Democratic party versus the centrists; but Mr. Dean was a very centrist governor, and his policy proposals are not obviously more liberal than those of his rivals.

The real division in the race for the Democratic nomination is between those who are willing to question not just the policies but also the honesty and the motives of the people running our country, and those who aren't.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Study Disputes View of Costly Surge in Class-Action Suits:
"A new study has concluded that both the average price of settling class-action lawsuits and the average fee paid to lawyers who bring them have held steady for a decade, even though companies have said the suits are driving up the cost of doing business, hurting the economy and lining lawyers' pockets."

The issue is a fiercely divisive one that has fueled a heated debate over whether to place limits on class-action lawsuits. Legislation to curb class actions is a priority of President Bush and many Republicans in Congress.

The two law school professors who conducted the study, which was not financed by corporations or by trial lawyers, expressed surprise themselves over the results. "We started out writing an article about fees," said Theodore Eisenberg, a law professor at Cornell and one author of the study, "but the shocking thing was that recoveries weren't up."

Senator Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican and the chief sponsor of a bill that died in October in the Senate, has attacked the current system of class-action litigation as "jackpot justice, with attorneys collecting the windfall." Thomas J. Donohue, president and chief executive of the United States Chamber of Commerce, has complained that "companies spend millions of dollars each year to defend against class-action lawsuits - money that should be used to expand, develop new products and create jobs."

But the new study undermines some of those criticisms. It covers the biggest sample to date of class-action cases, ranging from civil rights violations to securities fraud. Its results, published in a new law publication, the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, and already circulating, will certainly be used by lawyers trying to head off such legislation.

"This empirical study comes out and says the system is working correctly," said David S. Casey Jr., president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, who was in Washington last week meeting with officials planning the body's legislative strategy for 2004. "I'm glad there are empirical studies being done," Mr. Casey said. "The whole effort by what I call the tort reform industry is based on myth and fabrication."…

Reliable data on the total number of class-action lawsuits filed or settled in a given year do not exist. Such data could bolster corporate defendants' arguments that even if the size of settlements is not increasing, the number of cases is rising. The number of suits filed in federal court has risen steadily, roughly doubling from 1997 to 2002, according to the Administrative Office of United States Courts. But state courts probably oversee the most class-action suits, and they produce the least data, said Nicholas M. Pace, a researcher at the Rand Institute for Civil Justice, which studies legal issues for the RAND Corporation.

"People will continue to research this thing for years - and fight about it," Mr. Pace said.

In their article, Mr. Eisenberg and his co-author, Geoffrey P. Miller, a New York University law professor, write that if the effects of inflation are taken into account, then from 1993 through 2002, "contrary to popular belief, we find no robust evidence that either recoveries for plaintiffs or fees for their attorneys as a percentage of the class recovery increased."

According to the study, the average settlement over the 10-year period was $100 million in inflation-adjusted 2002 dollars. It rose as high as $274 million in 2000 - a result of four settlements that year for more than $1 billion each - and fell as low as $25 million in 1996. "The mean client recovery has not noticeably increased over the last decade," the professors wrote.

The study also found that "neither the mean nor the median level of fee awards has increased over time." The average fee rose as high as $31 million in 2000, but exceeded $10 million in only two other years. The professors also report that as one might expect, the larger a settlement, the smaller the percentage allocated to legal fees. For the largest 10 percent of settlements, which averaged $929 million, lawyers received an average of 12 percent. For the smallest 10 percent, which averaged $800,000, lawyers received nearly 30 percent. Fees were higher in cases that were more risky and were higher in federal court cases than in state courts.

"No real-dollar increase in the level of fee awards in major cases over the course of a decade is not the sort of fact we are accustomed to hearing," the professors wrote in the report.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Market Watch: The No-Bang, All-Whimper Recovery:
"Economists had forecast an increase of 150,000 jobs in December. They were off by a mere 149,000."

Other aspects of the employment figures disappointed, too. More than 300,000 people dropped out of the job pool and the index of hours worked fell below the level of 1998. The manufacturing sector shed jobs, as it had for the previous 40 months, but so did the retail and financial service industries. Finally, November's upbeat job report was revised downward.

One economist who was unsurprised by the figures is Stephen S. Roach, chief economist at Morgan Stanley. Arguing for months that a lasting recovery cannot be built on an increasingly indebted consumer, a declining savings rate and widening current-account and trade deficits, Mr. Roach's has been a voice in the wilderness.

Bulls on the economy have snickered at his warnings that, contrary to some of the data, the domestic labor market was not rebounding. Now he looks prescient.

"We had a spectacular second half of '03 in G.D.P. because of tax cuts, the last-gasp spending of the refinance cycle and price cuts on motor vehicles," Mr. Roach said. "But we haven't had job growth and income generation. Consumers can't continue to carry the ball with their incomes lagging."

The consumer, of course, has been a stalwart spender for years in spite of significant job losses, a nonexistent savings rate and increasing personal debt. Counting out the consumer has been folly.

"I think the 90's taught people to spend not just out of their paychecks but also out of their assets," Mr. Roach said. First, the stock market, then their homes.

But the unpleasant reality remains that private-sector payrolls are now 7.5 million workers below the level that would be typical 25 months into an economic recovery, he said. This trend may well continue, he said, and for several troubling reasons.

They all have to do with the outsourcing phenomenon that has swept through the manufacturing world and is now threatening service jobs. Thanks to the Internet and the continued push for productivity, more American companies are turning to offshore workers.

And Mr. Roach sees no reason for that to change.
Op-Ed Columnist: The Awful Truth:
"Ron Suskind's new book 'The Price of Loyalty' is based largely on interviews with and materials supplied by Mr. O'Neill. It portrays an administration in which political considerations — satisfying "the base" — trump policy analysis on every issue, from tax cuts to international trade policy and global warming. The money quote may be Dick Cheney's blithe declaration that "Reagan proved deficits don't matter." But there are many other revelations.

One is that Mr. O'Neill and Alan Greenspan knew that it was a mistake to lock in huge tax cuts based on questionable projections of future surpluses. In May 2001 Mr. Greenspan gloomily told Mr. O'Neill that because the first Bush tax cut didn't include triggers — it went forward regardless of how the budget turned out — it was "irresponsible fiscal policy." This was a time when critics of the tax cut were ridiculed for saying exactly the same thing."

Another is that Mr. Bush, who declared in the 2000 campaign that "the vast majority of my tax cuts go to the bottom end of the spectrum," knew that this wasn't true. He worried that eliminating taxes on dividends would benefit only "top-rate people," asking his advisers, "Didn't we already give them a break at the top?"

Most startling of all, Donald Rumsfeld pushed the idea of regime change in Iraq as a way to transform the Middle East at a National Security Council meeting in February 2001.

There's much more in Mr. Suskind's book. All of it will dismay those who still want to believe that our leaders are wise and good.

The question is whether this book will open the eyes of those who think that anyone who criticizes the tax cuts is a wild-eyed leftist, and that anyone who says the administration hyped the threat from Iraq is a conspiracy theorist.

The point is that the credentials of the critics just keep getting better. How can Howard Dean's assertion that the capture of Saddam hasn't made us safer be dismissed as bizarre, when a report published by the Army War College says that the war in Iraq was a "detour" that undermined the fight against terror? How can charges by Wesley Clark and others that the administration was looking for an excuse to invade Iraq be dismissed as paranoid in the light of Mr. O'Neill's revelations?

So far administration officials have attacked Mr. O'Neill's character but haven't refuted any of his facts. They have, however, already opened an investigation into how a picture of a possibly classified document appeared during Mr. O'Neill's TV interview. This alacrity stands in sharp contrast with their evident lack of concern when a senior administration official, still unknown, blew the cover of a C.I.A. operative because her husband had revealed some politically inconvenient facts.
What Price Security? US-VISIT:
"Attention taxpayers: The United States government is about to spend at least $10 billion to build a state-of-the-art nationwide computer system that will use biometrics to track the comings and goings of visitors to this country.

Hang on to your wallets and a copy of the Bill of Rights.…"

This system is supposed to enable the government to effectively check in and check out every non-citizen on arrival and departure. Presumably the government will also be able to use it to check out and check in every U.S. citizen who visits foreign lands. If it works, US-VISIT will link up federal law enforcement and intelligence databases to automatically identify suspected terrorists or common criminals who are wanted for arrest in the United States or overseas.

The designers are going to have to build massive databases to store and process the biometric data and link them to a variety of existing law enforcement agency databases. This alone will be a remarkable achievement considering that inter-agency rivalries helped ensure information wasn't shared in a highly automated fashion.

In short, building US-VISIT will be like building a new space shuttle from scratch. Delays and cost overruns are a virtual certainty.…

The problem is that when it comes to connecting biometrics to a global data processing system, nobody knows what is the state of the art. The government is going to have to pay somebody to invent it.

Late last year DHC asked Accenture LLP, Computer Sciences Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp. to submit bids based on proposals the companies had submitted earlier. The government plans to choose one of these companies to be the lead contractor for US-VISIT by next May.

When the government tells you that it might cost as much as $10 billion to design, build and deploy such a system, increase that figure two or three times because US-VISIT is as complex and risky a project as some of the biggest weapons procurement programs in the country's history.

Just how risky can be judged from the federal government's atrocious record of trying to deploy modern and efficient data processing systems for fundamental public service agencies, such as the Social Security Administration or the Internal Revenue Service. The record is full of accounts about delays, cost overruns and outright failures in a multitude of government computer procurement programs.

Even with all of the engineering and computer science talent on their payrolls, neither the government nor the contractor candidates can be absolutely certain that they can successfully assemble this system—no matter what they might say publicly.…

It is a sad fact of history that most of the great advances in science and technology have been achieved only because governments are prepared to spend huge sums to build new weapons and defense systems.

The atomic bomb, nuclear submarines and the nascent U.S. antimissile system are just a few examples of the lengths that the government is prepared to go in the name of national security.

An early successful example of the government harnessing computer technology for national defense is a 1960s era museum piece called SAGE (Semi Automatic Ground Environment) developed by IBM based on research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It used radar and computer power to allow air defense controllers to track intruding aircraft. It was a precursor of the current civil air traffic control systems used worldwide.

It was also nowhere near as complex as the US-VISIT system.

Even so, it is entirely possible with massive investments of money, time and human resources the government will actually deploy a US-VISIT system that reliably performs what it was designed to do. But that doesn't mean we will be one iota safer from attack by determined terrorists.

If we are very lucky, the nation will somewhat be less blind to terrorist threats than we were before 2001. We will have also paid a heavy price beyond the yet uncounted billions to build the system.,3048,a=116163,00.asp

Monday, January 12, 2004

Bush Sought to Oust Hussein From Start, Ex-Official Says:
"President Bush was focused on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq from the start of his administration, more than seven months before the terrorist attacks that he later cited as the trigger for a more aggressive foreign policy, Paul H. O'Neill, Mr. Bush's first Treasury secretary, said in an interview broadcast on Sunday.

'From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,' Mr. O'Neill said in an interview with the CBS program '60 Minutes.'"

Mr. O'Neill, who was dismissed by Mr. Bush more than a year ago over differences on economic policy, said Iraq was discussed at the first National Security Council meeting after Mr. Bush's inauguration. The tone at that meeting and others, Mr. O'Neill said, was "all about finding a way to do it," with no real questioning of why Mr. Hussein had to go or why it had to be done then. "For me, the notion of pre-emption, that the U.S. has the unilateral right to do whatever we decide to do, is a really huge leap," Mr. O'Neill said.

Mr. O'Neill gave the interview to "60 Minutes" to promote a new book, "The Price of Loyalty," by Ron Suskind. Mr. O'Neill cooperated extensively on the book, turning over 19,000 documents from his two years as Treasury secretary, including transcripts of National Security Council meetings, Mr. Suskind told "60 Minutes."

Mr. O'Neill also gave an interview to Time magazine, which quoted him as casting doubt on the strength of the evidence Mr. Bush cited in making the case for war with Iraq.

"In the 23 months I was there, I never saw anything that I would characterize as evidence of weapons of mass destruction," Mr. O'Neill told Time, speaking of his tenure in the administration. "There were allegations and assertions by people. But I've been around a hell of a long time, and I know the difference between evidence and assertions and illusions or allusions and conclusions that one could draw from a set of assumptions.

"To me there is a difference between real evidence and everything else," he continued. "And I never saw anything in the intelligence that I would characterize as real evidence."
By accepting the government's vague, poorly explained allegations, and by filling in the gaps in the government's case with its own assumptions about facts absent from the record, this court has converted deference into acquiescence.

Justices Refuse to Review Case on Secrecy and 9/11 Detentions:
"The justices let stand a ruling by a federal appeals court, which concluded last June that the Justice Department was within its rights when it refused to release the names of more than 700 people, most of them Arabs or Muslims, arrested for immigration violations in connection with the attacks.

Many of those arrested have been deported. Some were charged with crimes and others were held as witnesses. But so far only one person, Zacarias Moussaoui, is being prosecuted in connection with the attacks, and he was detained before Sept. 11."

The case that the justices declined today to review, Center for National Security Studies v. Justice Department, 03-472, pitted two fundamental values against each other — the right of the public to know details of how its government operates versus the government's need to keep some information secret to protect national security.

With today's refusal by the justices, the last word in the case apparently belongs to Judge David B. Sentelle of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In his opinion for the 2-to-1 majority on June 17, he noted that courts had always shown deference to executive branch officials in the field of national security.

Judge David S. Tatel offered a blistering dissent last June. "By accepting the government's vague, poorly explained allegations, and by filling in the gaps in the government's case with its own assumptions about facts absent from the record, this court has converted deference into acquiescence," he asserted.…

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Op-Ed Contributor: Call It the Family Risk Factor:
"On the heels of Friday's glum Labor Department report, Americans have a right to be confused. Soaring growth, stocks and consumer confidence have heartened investors. And yet, the country remains mired in a jobless recovery. The reality is that the economy has become more uncertain and anxiety-producing for most of us — not just over the past three years, but over the past 30. But by fixating on the day-to-day ups and downs, analysts have largely missed the more telling trend: an increasing shift of economic risk from government and corporations onto workers and their families.

Signs of this transformation are everywhere: in the laid-off programmer whose stock options are suddenly worthless, in the former welfare mom who can get a job but not health care or day care, in the family forced into bankruptcy by the sickness of a child. But these episodes, while viewed with sympathy, are usually seen in isolation, rather than as parts of a larger problem. This blinkered view stands in the way of both diagnoses of the causes of the new economic insecurity and prescriptions for its cure.…"

Optimists point out that Americans are much richer than they were in the 1970's. But while they are as a whole, incomes have grown little for the middle class and working poor — even as wages have become more unstable, the financial effects of losing a job have worsened, and the cost of things families need, from housing to education, has ballooned. Yet government and the private sector aren't just ignoring these problems, they are making them worse. Many programs for the poor, for example, have been substantially cut. And middle-class programs like Social Security have steadily eroded.

The truly staggering changes, however, are taking place in the private sector. The number of Americans without employment-based health benefits has been rising for decades. Employers are also restructuring workplace benefits to impose more risk on workers. Once, for instance, workers lucky enough to have a pension enjoyed a guaranteed benefit. Now, with so-called defined-contribution plans like 401(k)'s, workers have to put away their own wages and the returns of the plan depend entirely on their own investments.

What might be done to help families cope with the new economic insecurity? The essential first step is to shore up existing policies to ensure broad-based and secure unemployment, pension and health benefits.

Yet simply upgrading present efforts is not enough. I believe we need a new, flexible universal insurance program to protect families against catastrophic expenses and drops in income, before families fall into poverty. Universal insurance would, in turn, be coupled with tax-subsidized savings accounts that would help middle and lower-income families manage these expenses before they reached catastrophic levels.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

News Analysis: Bush Seeks Ways to Create Jobs, and Fast:
"With a phalanx of women entrepreneurs at his side and a billboard covered with the word 'Jobs!' behind him, President Bush proclaimed his confidence about the economy here on Friday. But he made only passing reference to the latest news about employment.

The reason was clear: Friday's report on unemployment in December was much weaker than either the administration or most independent economists had predicted. Job creation was virtually nil, and the unemployment rate declined only because the labor force shrank by 309,000 workers. Many of those were people who had simply become too discouraged to keep looking for work."

The problem confronting Mr. Bush is that there is little he can do between now and the elections except wait and hope that the employment picture improves. And the administration is not likely to get much more help from the Federal Reserve, which has already reduced short-term interest rates to just 1 percent.

"In terms of big levers to pull, they don't have anything," said Pierre Ellis, a senior economist at Decision Economics, a forecasting company.…

Both the White House and the Fed are confronted by a recovery unlike any other in modern history. Economic growth has been soaring for months, corporate profits have shot up and the stock market has regained much of its old ebullience.

Yet job creation has been slower than in almost any previous recovery, and wage growth has slowed to a crawl. That appears to reflect another big new element that lies entirely outside the president's control: the enormous increases in productivity, which have made it possible for companies to squeeze more output from each worker.

"The evidence is powerful that we can have 4 or 5 percent growth without hiring much," said John Makin, a senior economist at the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Makin has long been among the more pessimistic economic forecasters, but the employment and wage data on Friday came in far worse than even he had expected. "I was stunned, quite frankly," he said.
Editorial Observer: Coming to Terms With the Problem of Global Meat:
"Industrial agriculture is indeed industrial. It is designed to move parts along a conveyor belt, no matter where the parts come from. And if one of the parts proves to be fatally defective — a dairy cow with the staggers, for instance — then shutting down the conveyor nearly always comes far too late.

It has been instructive watching American agriculture respond to this minicrisis. The usual players have retreated to their usual corners. Some cattle growers have publicly praised the beef checkoff program, which collects a small percentage of the sales from every producer for advertising, because it creates the illusion of a unified voice in a time of trouble. Supporters of country-of-origin labeling, which would identify the source of every cut of meat, have promoted its potential virtues, while opponents argue that it would make no difference or be too expensive. The real necessity is to provide accurate, detailed tracking of every individual animal, though the United States Department of Agriculture is poorly equipped to make it happen anytime soon. The inherent logic of all these positions is simply to make the status quo safer, so global meat can go about its business uninterrupted."

But what is needed to avert a major crisis is real change, from the bottom up. The global meat system is broken, as a machine and as a philosophy. In America, meatpacking has gone from being a widely distributed, widely owned web of local, independent businesses into a tightly controlled, cruelly concentrated industry whose assumptions are utterly industrial.

Modern meatpacking plants are enormous automated factories, as void of humans as possible. The machinery, like the now-notorious automated meat-recovery system, is very expensive. Profitability requires an uninterrupted flow of carcasses. To packers, that means that they, rather than independent farmers, should own the cattle, hogs and poultry moving through the line. The federal government agrees. Every effort to outlaw packers' ownership of livestock has failed.

The result is a system in which the average drives out the excellent, and the international drives out the local. I know a large-scale rancher in north-central Wyoming who does everything he can to raise beef cattle of the highest quality. That means good genetics, good grass and as few chemical and pharmaceutical inputs as he can possibly manage. But then the cattle are loaded onto trucks, shipped to feedlots and hauled to slaughter, where they merge with the great river of American meat, indistinguishable from all the rest. There is no real alternative to the concentrated meatpacking and distribution system. Any alternative — grass-fed, organic beef, separately slaughtered, separately marketed — is merely a niche so far.

In science fiction movies, there is often a moment when space colonists talk about "terra-forming" a suitable planet. They mean giving it a breathable atmosphere and terrestrial flora and fauna. We are going through a different process on the one planet we have. We are agri-forming it.
Mars Exploration Rover Mission: Press Release Images

Friday, January 09, 2004

Supreme Court Expands Review of 'Enemy Combatant' Cases:
"The Supreme Court stepped squarely into a momentous debate over national security and personal liberty today by agreeing to consider the case of a man who has been held without charges by the United States military since he was captured in the fighting in Afghanistan."

The justices agreed to hear the appeal of the captive, Yaser Esam Hamdi, who is believed to hold both American and Saudi citizenship and who is in a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C.

The Bush administration had urged the Supreme Court not to hear the Hamdi case, so the announcement today represented a sharp rebuff to the president, Attorney General John Ashcroft and other architects of administration policy.

In agreeing to hear the case, probably in April, the justices have decided in effect to subject the Bush's administration's antiterrorism policies to a close examination that could have consequences for decades to come.

The administration has argued that the threat of terrorism justifies some tough measures in dealing with suspected enemies of the United States — holding such people without specific charges in some cases or denying them access to counsel if such tactics can prevent more attacks like those of Sept. 11, 2001.

But some civil libertarians have expressed fears that in so doing the government, and the American people, may make mistakes that will be regretted many years from now, much as the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II is today.

The justices' decision to take the Hamdi case appeared to increase the likelihood that they would also take another case that pits national security considerations against issues of personal freedom. That case comes from New York City, where the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled on Dec. 18 that President Bush lacks the authority to detain indefinitely a United States citizen arrested on American soil on suspicion of terrorism simply by declaring him "an enemy combatant." The authorities say that suspect, José Padilla, plotted with Al Qaeda to detonate a so-called "dirty bomb" in the United States.…
The Alert Level is Yellow

The Mirror is Smoking,
reflecting nearly everything,
but not, the weapons
of Mass Distraction.

The Alert is Yellow,
So Cheney is in some
undisclosed location,
and the Resident,
still pretends
to be President.
APHIS | Hot Issues Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE):
"Current BSE Situation"

01-08-04 BSE Update

Previous Updates

01/07/04 BSE Chronology
01/06-04 Transcript of USDA technical briefing and Webcast On BSE with Canadian and U.S. Officials including Dr. Ron DeHaven, Chief Veterinary Officer, USDA and Dr. Brian Evans, Chief Veterinary Officer, Canadian Food Inspection Agency
Phishing: Spam that can’t be ignored:
"If you haven’t already heard about phishing, then get ready. Like a lot spam, phishing is a form of unsolicited commercial email. Whereas all spam is not a scam, all attempts at phishing are scams, and the potential losses to corporations and consumers alike is stunning"

Phishing: Spam that can’t be ignored
By David Berlind, Tech Update
January 7, 2004

If you haven’t already heard about phishing, then get ready. Like a lot spam, phishing is a form of unsolicited commercial email. Whereas all spam is not a scam, all attempts at phishing are scams, and the potential losses to corporations and consumers alike is stunning.

Phishing, as the name implies, is when spam is used as means to “fish” for the credentials that are necessary to access and manipulate financial accounts. Invariably, the e-mail will ask the recipient for an account number and the related password using an explanation that their records need updating or a security procedure is being changed that requires confirming an account. Unsuspecting e-mail recipients that supply the information don’t know it, but within hours or even minutes, unauthorized transactions will begin to appear on whatever account was compromised.

By now, most people know that giving this information away on the Internet is a no-no. With phishing, however, it’s almost impossible to tell that the e-mail is a fraud. Like spam, e-mail from phishers usually contains spoofed FROM or REPLY TO addresses to make the e-mail look as though it came from a legitimate company.

In addition to the spoofed credentials, the e-mail is usually HTML-based. To an undiscerning eye, the e-mail bears the authentic trademarks, logos, graphics, and URLs of the spoofed company. In many cases, the HTML page is coded to retrieve and use the actual graphics of the site being spoofed. Most of the phishing I’ve received pretends to come from PayPal and contains plainly visible URLs that make it look as though clicking on them will take me to PayPal’s domain. Upon quick examination of the HTML tags behind the authentic looking link, the actual URL turns out to be an unrecognizable and cryptic looking IP address rather than an actual page within PayPal’s domain.

PayPal, the payment subsidiary of EBay, is a common target of phishing. If you get one and you’ve never joined PayPal, then you obviously know it’s a fraud. But if you are a PayPal member, as I am, the phisher has at that point broken through the unofficial security-by-obscurity layer that once protected you. It not difficult to see how PayPal members could be victimized by this technique.

According to Antiphishing Working Group Chairman David Jevans, PayPal isn’t the only target of phishers. “In about 35 percent of all reported phishing attacks, Ebay’s PayPal service is the biggest victim. But just about any financial institution, credit card issuer, retailer, or other business can be targeted. UK-based NatWest was phished badly in October 2003 and then even worse in December. The December attack was so bad that NatWest had to take down its site. Visa was another organization that was targeted over the holidays.”

At first blush, phishing appears to be sort of buyer-beware consumer issue since the e-mails themselves are prospecting for potential account holders to the spoofed institutions. Indeed, depending on the spoofed institution’s policies, a consumer could end up eating a loss. “So far,” said Jevans, “most of the transgressions against individuals have been in the hundreds of dollars because smaller transactions will sometimes go unnoticed for a while. But they go higher. The largest one on record so far is for $16,000. If the credentials obtained by a phisher are for a credit card account, then the risk is usually absorbed by either card issuer or a merchant.” This is when the hard dollar cost of phishing, which Jevans considers a form of identity theft, begins to be recognized by corporations and businesses instead of individuals.
con·cept: January 2004