Sunday, February 29, 2004

The Social Security Promise Not Yet Kept:
"SOCIAL Security retirement benefits are going to have to be cut, Alan Greenspan announced last week, because there just is not enough money to pay the promised benefits. President Bush said those already retired or "near retirement age'' should not worry. They will get their promised benefits.…

Since 1983, American workers have been paying more into Social Security than it has paid out in benefits, about $1.8 trillion more so far. This year Americans will pay about 50 percent more in Social Security taxes than the government will pay out in benefits.

Those taxes were imposed at the urging of Mr. Greenspan, who was chairman of a bipartisan commission that in 1983 said that one way to make sure Social Security remains solvent once the baby boomers reached retirement age was to tax them in advance."

On Mr. Greenspan's recommendation Social Security was converted from a pay-as-you-go system to one in which taxes are collected in advance. After Congress adopted the plan, Mr. Greenspan rose to become chairman of the Federal Reserve.

This year someone making $50,000 will pay $6,200 in Social Security taxes, half deducted from their paycheck and half paid by their employer. That total is about $2,000 more than the government needs in order to pay benefits to retirees, widows, orphans and the disabled, government budget documents show.

So what has happened to that $1.8 trillion?

The advance payments have all been spent.

Congress did not lock away the Social Security surplus, as many Americans believe. Instead, it borrowed the surplus, replacing the cash with Treasury notes, and spent the loan proceeds paying the ordinary expenses of running the federal government.

Only twice, in 1999 and 2000, did Congress balance the federal budget without borrowing from the surplus.

Both parties have treated the surplus Social Security taxes as "cash flow to the government," which has been allowable since the Johnson administration started counting Social Security as part of the federal budget, not as a separate budget, said C. Eugene Steuerle, a tax policy advisor to President Reagan.

He said that voters were promised in 1983 that the federal debt would be paid off with the surplus Social Security taxes. The fact that this has not happened and the debt has soared shows that "government usually can only deal with one objective at a time,'' Mr. Steuerle said. Back then, he added, the prime objective was to settle on a Social Security tax rate that would back the system and not have to be tinkered with for decades - not how the surplus would be handled.
Op-Ed Contributor: A Wall as a Weapon:
"Few would question Israel's right to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks like the one yesterday, even to build a security wall if that were an appropriate means. It is also clear where such a wall would be built if security were the guiding concern: inside Israel, within the internationally recognized border, the Green Line established after the 1948-49 war. The wall could then be as forbidding as the authorities chose: patrolled by the army on both sides, heavily mined, impenetrable. Such a wall would maximize security, and there would be no international protest or violation of international law.

This observation is well understood. While Britain supports America's opposition to the Hague hearings, its foreign minister, Jack Straw, has written that the wall is 'unlawful.' Another ministry official, who inspected the 'security fence,' said it should be on the Green Line or 'indeed on the Israeli side of the line.' A British parliamentary investigative commission also called for the wall to be built on Israeli land, condemning the barrier as part of a 'deliberate' Israeli 'strategy of bringing the population to heel.'

What this wall is really doing is taking Palestinian lands. It is also — as the Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling has described Israel's war of "politicide" against the Palestinians — helping turn Palestinian communities into dungeons, next to which the bantustans of South Africa look like symbols of freedom, sovereignty and self-determination."

Even before construction of the barrier was under way, the United Nations estimated that Israeli barriers, infrastructure projects and settlements had created 50 disconnected Palestinian pockets in the West Bank. As the design of the wall was coming into view, the World Bank estimated that it might isolate 250,000 to 300,000 Palestinians, more than 10 percent of the population, and that it might effectively annex up to 10 percent of West Bank land. And when the government of Ariel Sharon finally published its proposed map, it became clear the the wall would cut the West Bank into 16 isolated enclaves, confined to just 42 percent of the West Bank land that Mr. Sharon had previously said could be ceded to a Palestinian state.

The wall has already claimed some of the most fertile lands of the West Bank. And, crucially, it extends Israel's control of critical water resources, which Israel and its settlers can appropriate as they choose, while the indigenous population often lacks water for drinking.

Palestinians in the seam between the wall and the Green Line will be permitted to apply for the right to live in their own homes; Israelis automatically have the right to use these lands. "Hiding behind security rationales and the seemingly neutral bureaucratic language of military orders is the gateway for expulsion," the Israeli journalist Amira Hass wrote in the daily Haaretz. "Drop by drop, unseen, not so many that it would be noticed internationally and shock public opinion." The same is true of the regular killings, terror and daily brutality and humiliation of the past 35 years of harsh occupation, while land and resources have been taken for settlers enticed by ample subsidies.

It is misleading to call these Israeli policies. They are American-Israeli policies — made possible by unremitting United States military, economic and diplomatic support of Israel. This has been true since 1971 when, with American support, Israel rejected a full peace offer from Egypt, preferring expansion to security. In 1976, the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for a two-state settlement in accord with an overwhelming international consensus. The two-state proposal has the support of a majority of Americans today, and could be enacted immediately if Washington wanted to do so.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

A Day of Israeli-Palestinian Violence; Civil Disorder in Nablus:
"In Nablus, on the West Bank, the long-serving mayor, Ghassan W. Shakah, abruptly announced his resignation in protest against what he said was Palestinian leaders' failure to stop his city's slide into chaos.

In Nablus, the Palestinians' commercial center and home of their stock exchange, armed men presenting themselves as freedom fighters are establishing control as the governing Palestinian Authority crumbles. They have taken to seizing hostages for ransom and extorting money from local businessmen.

Last fall, gunmen killed the brother of Mr. Shakah, who once said in an interview that he had dreamed, before this conflict began more than three years ago, that his city would rank with Paris, London, or Washington. Nablus is ancient, built by Romans near the remains of a Canaanite city."

"I see my city collapsing, and I don't want to stand idly by and watch this collapse," Mr. Shakah told The Associated Press on Friday. He was also quoted as referring to the Israelis, saying, "I don't deny the role of the occupation in destroying the city through the frequent invasions, but we as an Authority and as citizens are doing nothing to protect the city."

For most of the last two years, Israeli forces have prevented armed, uniformed Palestinian policemen from working in cities like Nablus, saying they often proved to be terrorists.

Mr. Shakah is a senior member of Yasir Arafat's Fatah movement and has been a close ally of Mr. Arafat in the past. He said he would remain in his job until May 1 to finish several projects, including a shopping mall.
Treasury Department Is Warning Publishers of the Perils of Criminal Editing of the Enemy:
"Writers often grumble about the criminal things editors do to their prose. The federal government has recently weighed in on the same issue — literally.

It has warned publishers they may face grave legal consequences for editing manuscripts from Iran and other disfavored nations, on the ground that such tinkering amounts to trading with the enemy.

Anyone who publishes material from a country under a trade embargo is forbidden to reorder paragraphs or sentences, correct syntax or grammar, or replace "inappropriate words," according to several advisory letters from the Treasury Department in recent months.

Adding illustrations is prohibited, too. To the baffled dismay of publishers, editors and translators who have been briefed about the policy, only publication of "camera-ready copies of manuscripts" is allowed.

The Treasury letters concerned Iran. But the logic, experts said, would seem to extend to Cuba, Libya, North Korea and other nations with which most trade is banned without a government license.

Laws and regulations prohibiting trade with various nations have been enforced for decades, generally applied to items like oil, wheat, nuclear reactors and, sometimes, tourism. Applying them to grammar, spelling and punctuation is an infuriating interpretation, several people in the publishing industry said.

"It is against the principles of scholarship and freedom of expression, as well as the interests of science, to require publishers to get U.S. government permission to publish the works of scholars and researchers who happen to live in countries with oppressive regimes," said Eric A. Swanson, a senior vice president at John Wiley & Sons, which publishes scientific, technical and medical books and journals."

Friday, February 27, 2004

Fed Chief Urges Cut In Social Security (
"Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan warned Congress yesterday that the federal government has promised more retirement benefits than it can pay for and must consider scaling back those commitments soon to avoid damaging the economy in the future.

"I am just basically saying that we are overcommitted at this stage," Greenspan told members of the House Budget Committee as they discussed the future costs of the Social Security and Medicare systems.

Greenspan, who supported President Bush's 2001 tax cuts, again endorsed Bush's proposal to make the cuts permanent. However, he said in response to questions that raising taxes would inevitably be part of any successful effort to reduce the growing federal budget deficit. He stressed that he prefers cutting government spending as much as possible before increasing taxes."
Social Security: Red Flags:
"Lack of Realism?

Many experts would argue that the public's views on Social Security are unrealistic. Unlike most experts, the public attributes the program's problems more to waste and mismanagement than to demographics. Half of Americans mistakenly believe poverty among the elderly has increased. While few think the government now spends too much on Social Security, only about one in five know how much of the federal budget is devoted to Social Security. "

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Chicago Tribune | Here's why there is no `White History Month':
"Black History Month was never intended to make people uncomfortable--unless maybe they ought to be.

Nevertheless, despite the best of intentions, a misunderstanding of what the month is all about can lead sometimes to a whopper of an embarrassment.

That's sort of what happened recently at Connecticut's Suffield High School when a group of sociology students decided to hang posters around the school to promote April as 'White History Month.'"

…The students had been assigned to "explore the effect of rumors." They decided the posters would be a real nifty way to do that. Needless to say, their experiment triggered a lot of rumors, especially in the school's small but understandably alarmed black student population.

The principal scolded the white students for their insensitivity and turned them over to a teacher who reportedly specializes in civil rights and cultural sensitivity issues. In this way, the school at large was able to turn the incident into what one school board official called a "teachable moment," an opportunity to educate both offenders and the offended about differences in how the world looks through each other's eyes.

Good for them. No long-term harm done, I hope. This particular high school poster flap is the most embarrassing incident related to Black History Month that I can recall since early 2001. That was when then-Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore revoked a proclamation declaring May to be "European Heritage and History Month." The governor had learned to his deep dismay that the request for the commemoration had come from a white separatist group headed by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Such an embarrassment.

…"Why don't we have a White History Month?" I've heard that question quite a few times over the years. So have other black people I know. Some of us have come up with a list of appropriate responses to it, such as:

1."Because every month is white history month."

2."Because white history has not been lost, stolen or suppressed over the years as much as black history has."

3."Yo' mama!"

4."History is taught so poorly in our schools these days that maybe we should have a white history month."

5."That's right. I said, `Yo' mama'!!!"

Now, now. We should all try to manage our anger at such moments. Such encounters reveal precisely what Black History Month was intended to remedy: an ignorance about history--black and otherwise. That's why I oppose so-called "political correctness." We need more dialogue, not less.

For example, when someone asks "Why is there a Black Entertainment Television network? Wouldn't all hell break loose if somebody started a White Entertainment Television?," simply respond, "There is. It is called ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox ...",1,5901589.column

Monday, February 23, 2004

In Hague, Israeli Barrier Proves Divisive Issue:
"The Israelis sent grieving parents and the singed shell of a bombed bus. The Palestinians sent farmers cut off from their land.

They have come for an International Court of Justice hearing that started today on a planned 450-mile barrier of ditches, watch posts and concrete walls that Israel is erecting in and around the West Bank. The hearing, expected to last three days, was requested by the United Nations General Assembly, which sought an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of the barrier.

The Israeli government calls the barrier a defense against suicide bombers, an argument it repeated on Sunday when a Palestinian suicide bomber attacked a bus in Jerusalem, killing at least eight other passengers. The Palestinian Authority calls it a deceptive land grab, a violation of international law and a new form of apartheid that further oppresses Palestinians on the West Bank.… "

"This wall, if completed, will leave the Palestinian people with only half of the West Bank within isolated, non-contiguous, walled enclaves," Nasser al-Kidwa, the Palestinians' permanent observer to the United Nations, told the 15-judge panel today, according to Reuters.

Officially, Israel contends that the court has no jurisdiction. But symbolically, the hearing has become an important variable that could complicate the stalled Middle East peace talks. A ruling that the barrier is illegal, while nonbinding, could be a public relations disaster for Israel.

The Israeli delegation at The Hague said that the Palestinians were using the court to attack Israel for building a fence that could have saved the lives of those killed in the bombing on Sunday.…

The United States and the European Union have criticized the barrier's planned path, which includes the protection of some Jewish settlements. But they prefer to see a diplomatic rather than a legal solution, a position that is closer to the Israeli view of the hearing.

"This is not the place to solve the conflict," said Gideon Meir, leader of the Israeli delegation in The Hague.

Palestinian representatives disagree. "They have no case," said Mr. Kidwa.…

"This is an attempt to de facto annex big areas of the Palestinian territory," Mr. Kidwa said. "This is something that, if allowed to continue, will create a walled-in Palestinian population in two or three enclaves or ghettos."

Israel has challenged the court's jurisdiction in a written submission but has decided not to appear at the hearing. Israel says its only concern is the safety of Israeli citizens.,1,5556747.story?coll=chi-newsopinionperspective-hed

Qalqilya is on what is known as the green line, the border between what became Israeli in 1948 and the Palestinian territory Israel occupied in 1967.…

a rare oasis of co-existence where Israelis came to buy our fruit, eat in our restaurants and visit our zoo. More than 40 Palestinian-Israeli business ventures…

Then came Sharon's wall--a wall of concrete coupled with a regime of razor wire, sniper towers, trenches and electric fences.

Israel allows very few people to enter Qalqilya, thereby cutting us off from family and friends in 32 neighboring villages and devastating our local businesses. More than 75 percent of our citizens are unemployed and our tax revenues are a mere trickle.

Meanwhile, the Israel Electric Co., which provides our electricity, has threatened to cut off electric power to Qalqilya if I cannot come up with $1.5 million to pay our municipal electric bill.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Taking Spin Out of Report That Made Bad Into Good Health:
"The original version of the report included these statements, which were dropped from the final version:

¶'We aspire to equality of opportunities for all our citizens. Persistent disparities in health care are inconsistent with our core values.'

¶'Disparities come at a personal and societal price.'

¶'Compared with whites, blacks experience longer waits in emergency departments and are more likely to leave without being seen.'"

The Bush administration says it improperly altered a report documenting large racial and ethnic disparities in health care, but it will soon publish the full, unexpurgated document.

"There was a mistake made," Tommy G. Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, told Congress last week. "It's going to be rectified."

Mr. Thompson said that "some individuals took it upon themselves" to make the report sound more positive than was justified by the data.

The reversal comes in response to concerns of Democrats and the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee. They are pushing separate bills to improve care for members of minorities.

"African-Americans and Native Americans die younger than any other racial or ethnic group," Dr. Frist said. "African-Americans, Native Americans and Hispanic Americans are at least twice as likely to suffer from diabetes and experience serious complications. These gaps are unacceptable."

President Bush's budget would cut spending for the training of health professionals and would eliminate a $34 million program that recruits blacks and Hispanics for careers as doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

On Wednesday, more than 60 influential scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, issued a statement criticizing what they described as the misuse of science by the administration to bolster its policies on the environment, arms control and public health.

Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, said the changes in the report on health disparities were "another example of the administration's manipulation of science to fit its political goals."

…The report, the first of its kind, was prepared under a 1999 law that requires officials to issue such reports every year.

The theme of the original report was that members of minorities "tend to be in poorer health than other Americans" and that "disparities are pervasive in our health care system," contributing to higher rates of disease and disability.

By contrast, the final report has an upbeat tone, beginning, "The overall health of Americans has improved dramatically over the last century."
Op-Ed Columnist: Meet the Zippies:
"Taking all this in, two things strike me about this outsourcing issue: One, economists are surely right: the biggest factor eliminating old jobs and churning new ones is technological change — the phone mail system that eliminated your secretary. As for the zippies who soak up certain U.S. or European jobs, they will become consumers, the global pie will grow, and ultimately we will all be better off. As long as America maintains its ability to do cutting-edge innovation, the long run should be fine. Saving money by outsourcing basic jobs to zippies, so we can invest in more high-end innovation, makes sense.

But here's what I also feel: this particular short run could be a real bear — and politically explosive. The potential speed and scale of this outsourcing phenomenon make its potential impact enormous and unpredictable. As we enter a world where the price of digitizing information — converting it into little packets of ones and zeros and then transmitting it over high-speed data networks — falls to near zero, it means the vaunted "death of distance" is really here. And that means that many jobs you can now do from your house — whether data processing, reading an X-ray, or basic accounting or lawyering — can now also be done from a zippie's house in India or China."

And as education levels in these overseas homes rise to U.S. levels, the barriers to shipping white-collar jobs abroad fall and the incentives rise. At a minimum, some very educated Americans used to high salaries — people who vote and know how to write op-ed pieces — will either lose their jobs, or have to accept lower pay or become part-timers without health insurance.

"The fundamental question we have to ask as a society is, what do we do about it?" notes Robert Reich, the former labor secretary and now Brandeis University professor. "For starters, we're going to have to get serious about some of the things we just gab about — job training, life-long learning, wage insurance. And perhaps we need to welcome more unionization in the personal services area — retail, hotel, restaurant and hospital jobs which cannot be moved overseas — in order to stabilize their wages and health care benefits." Maybe, as a transition measure, adds Mr. Reich, companies shouldn't be allowed to deduct the full cost of outsourcing, creating a small tax that could be used to help people adjust.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

The New York Times: National Special Mad Cow Disease in the United States
C.I.A. Admits It Didn't Give Weapon Data to the U.N.:
"The Central Intelligence Agency has acknowledged that it did not provide the United Nations with information about 21 of the 105 sites in Iraq singled out by American intelligence before the war as the most highly suspected of housing illicit weapons.

The acknowledgment, in a Jan. 20 letter to Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, contradicts public statements before the war by top Bush administration officials. "

Both George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, and Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, said the United States had briefed United Nations inspectors on all of the sites identified as "high value and moderate value" in the weapons hunt.

The contradiction is significant because Congressional opponents of the war were arguing a year ago that the United Nations inspectors should be given more time to complete their search before the United States and its allies began the invasion. The White House, bolstered by Mr. Tenet, insisted that it was fully cooperating with the inspectors, and at daily briefings the White House issued assurances that the administration was providing the inspectors with the best information possible.

In a telephone interview on Friday, Senator Levin said he now believed that Mr. Tenet had misled Congress, which he described as "totally unacceptable."

Senior administration officials said Friday night that Ms. Rice had relied on information provided by intelligence agencies when she assured Senator Levin, in a letter on March 6, 2003, that "United Nations inspectors have been briefed on every high or medium priority weapons of mass destruction, missile and U.A.V.-related site the U.S. intelligence community has identified." Mr. Tenet said much the same thing in testimony on Feb. 12, 2003.

U.A.V.'s are unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly called drones.

Asked about the contradiction between the C.I.A.'s current account and Ms. Rice's letter, the spokesman for the national security council, Sean McCormack, said, "Dr. Rice provided a good-faith answer to Senator Levin based on the best information that was made available to her."

This is not the first time the White House and the C.I.A. have engaged in finger-pointing about the quality of the intelligence that formed the basis of administration statements.

Last summer, Dr. Rice noted that Mr. Tenet had not read over the State of the Union address in which Mr. Bush said Saddam Hussein had attempted to buy uranium from Africa, a statement the White House later acknowledged was based on faulty intelligence. That began a prolonged period of tension between the agency and the White House that has never fully abated, and may be inflamed by the C.I.A.'s acknowledgment to Senator Levin.

The letter to Senator Levin, from Stanley M. Moskowitz, the agency's director of Congressional affairs, disclosed that the agency had shared information on only 84 of the 105 suspected priority weapons sites.

Friday, February 20, 2004 Crypto-Gram: February 15, 2004:
"Identification and Security

In recent years there has been an increased use of identification checks as a security measure. Airlines always demand photo IDs, and hotels increasingly do so. They're often required for admittance into government buildings, and sometimes even hospitals. Everywhere, it seems, someone is checking IDs. The ostensible reason is that ID checks make us all safer, but that's just not so. In most cases, identification has very little to do with security.

Let's debunk the myths one by one. First, verifying that someone has a photo ID is a completely useless security measure. All the 9/11 terrorists had photo IDs. Some of the IDs were real. Some were fake. Some were real IDs in fake names, bought from a crooked DMV employee in Virginia for $1,000 each. Fake driver's licenses for all fifty states, good enough to fool anyone who isn't paying close attention, are available on the Internet. Or if you don't want to buy IDs online, just ask any teenager where to get a fake ID.

Harder-to-forge IDs only help marginally, because the problem is not making sure the ID is valid. This is the second myth of ID checks: that identification combined with profiling can be an indicator of intention.… "

Profiling has two very dangerous failure modes. The first one is obvious. The intent of profiling is to divide people into two categories: people who may be evildoers and need to be screened more carefully, and people who are less likely to be evildoers and can be screened less carefully. But any such system will create a third, and very dangerous, category: evildoers who don't fit the profile.

Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, DC sniper John Allen Muhammed, and many of the 9/11 terrorists had no previous links to terrorism. The Unabomber taught mathematics at Berkeley. The Palestinians have demonstrated that they can recruit suicide bombers with no previous record of anti-Israeli activities. Even the 9/11 hijackers went out of their way to establish a normal-looking profile; frequent-flier numbers, a history of first-class travel, etc. Evildoers can also engage in identity theft, and steal the identity-and profile-of an honest person. Profiling can actually result in less security by giving certain people an easy way to skirt security.

There's another, even more dangerous, failure mode for these systems: honest people who fit the evildoer profile. Because actual evildoers are so rare, almost everyone who fits the profile will turn out to be a false alarm. This not only wastes investigative resources that might be better spent elsewhere, but it causes grave harm to those innocents who fit the profile. Whether it's something as simple as "driving while black" or "flying while Arab," or something more complicated like taking scuba lessons or protesting the current administration, profiling harms society because it causes us all to live in fear...not from the evildoers, but from the police. Crypto-Gram: February 15, 2004:
"The Politicization of Security

Since 9/11, security has become an important political issue. The Bush administration has seized on terrorism as a means to justify its policies. Bush is running for re-election on a 'strong on security' platform. The Democrats are attacking the administration's record on security. Congress has voted on, and will continue to vote on, security countermeasures. And the FBI and the Justice Department are implementing others, even without Congressional approval. "

…the Bush administration is using the fear of terrorism as a political tool. That being said, I'm not sure a Democrat would do anything different in Bush's place. Fear is a powerful motivator, and it takes strong ethics to resist the temptation to abuse it. I believe the real problem with America's national security policy is that the police are in charge; that's far more important than which party is in office.

Some of the Democratic presidential candidates for president have been more rational about security, but none have discussed security in terms of trade-offs. On the Republican side, I've read some criticisms of Bush's heavy-handed security policies. Certainly the traditional Republican ideals of personal liberty and less government intervention are in line with smart security. And have the people who accuse me of hating Republicans forgotten that the Clipper Chip initiative was spearheaded by the Clinton administration?

The Republicans don't have a monopoly on reducing civil liberties in the United States.

Rational security is not the sole purview of any political party. Fighting stupid security does not have to be partisan. Bush's White House has done more to damage American national security than they have done to improve it. That's not an indictment of the entire Republican party; it's a statement about the current President, his Attorney General, and the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. It's a statement about the current political climate, where the police -- and I use this term to encompass the FBI, the Justice Department, the military, and everyone else involved in enforcing order -- and their interests are put ahead of the interests of the people.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

VoIP: It's not so easy to listen in - News - ZDNet:
"Jeff Pulver, founder of Free World Dialup, said Friday that if law enforcement officials asked him to wiretap one of his subscribers' Internet phone calls he would need a 'few months science project' to see if it could be done.

Meanwhile, Niklas Zennstrom, founder of Skype, also a free Internet phone service, said that even if his company could tackle the arduous task of pulling a Skype call from the Internet, police would 'only hear gibberish' because the data bits are encrypted."

The two providers are prime examples of a problem the Federal Communications Commission now faces after voting Thursday to investigate whether Internet phone providers should rewire their networks to government specifications to provide police with guaranteed access for wiretaps.

While many voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) providers are more than willing to hand over whatever information they can about subscribers, they can't reliably, if at all, get what police really want: the content of the calls they make. Difficulties lie in gathering the millions of bits of information that represent a voice call as well as the fact that there is no standardized way for distinguishing voice calls from the terabits of other data on the Internet.

The issue affects a broad range of VoIP providers, including FWD and Skype, and commercial services such as Vonage and 8x8 that offer calls to traditional phone lines. Many of these commercial services say a sizable percentage of their calls never touch the traditional phone network and, as a result, cannot be tapped.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

In Haze of Guard Records, a Bit of Clarity:
"Until this month, the Republican defense of Mr. Bush's military record, sticking to the bare essentials, had successfully neutralized a succession of newspaper articles that raised questions about Mr. Bush's service. But now, with Iraq casualties mounting, with angry Democrats coalescing behind a decorated Vietnam veteran and with credibility questions dogging Mr. Bush, the broad-brush defense has been abandoned.

Still, even through the fog of political combat it is possible from an examination of Mr. Bush's military records to get a firm fix on several important points along the path of his National Guard service. It is also possible to identify the areas that remain in dispute and the questions that have yet to be fully answered.… "
How America Doesn't Vote:
"One outcome of this year's presidential election is already certain: people will show up to vote and find they have been wrongly taken off the rolls. The lists of eligible voters kept by localities around the country are the gateway to democracy, and they are also a national scandal. In 2000, the American public saw, in Katherine Harris's massive purge of eligible voters in Florida, how easy it is for registered voters to lose their rights by bureaucratic fiat. Missouri's voting-list problems received far less attention, but may have disenfranchised more eligible voters."

It's hard to judge where voting lists are being mishandled, since the procedures by which they are kept and corrected are shrouded in secrecy. That's the beginning of the problem. The public has a right to know that the rolls are being properly maintained — and to know it before the election. As became clear in 2000, after the fact is too late.

Federal law provides some general guidelines about keeping voting rolls, but the basic decisions about who is eligible to vote are largely left to local officials. City and county election offices are responsible for adding new registrants to the voting rolls, and purging voters who die, move away or are convicted of felonies. If election offices had adequate resources and precise rules, voting lists might accurately reflect who is entitled to vote. But the reality is far more chaotic, and errors abound.

Ms. Harris's 2000 purge in Florida is a classic case. Before it began, Ms. Harris cast a cloud of suspicion over the process by signing on as co-chairwoman of the Florida Bush campaign while she also served as the state's top election official. The purge itself required sensitive judgment calls, notably when to regard a name on a list of convicted felons as a valid match with a name on the voting rolls. According to post-election testimony before the United States Commission on Civil Rights, Ms. Harris's office overruled the advice of the private firm that compiled the felon list and called for removing not just names that were an exact match, but ones that were highly inexact. Thousands of Florida voters ended up being wrongly purged.

After a federal lawsuit that followed the infamous 2000 election, Florida restored some voters to the rolls, and agreed to start using more precise identification methods. But there is still no reliable system, and Florida voting rights advocates are bracing for a rerun of the mistakes of 2000.…

The sad state of voting rolls may be due to underfunding and mismanagement, but it can create an appearance of ulterior motives. The voters wrongly removed by Ms. Harris's purge were disproportionately black — African-Americans make up one of the strongest Democratic voting groups in the state — as were the voters on the St. Louis inactive voters list. For years, partisan "ballot security" programs in the South singled out tens of thousands of black voters for removal from the voting rolls. Just this month, civil rights groups sued a Texas district attorney who threatened, in violation of the law, to prosecute students at Prairie View A&M University, a predominantly black school, if they register using their school addresses.

Election officials have a duty to remove voters from the rolls when they have become ineligible, and to guard against voter fraud. But it must be done in a manner that takes great care to avoid preventing eligible voters from casting a ballot. Officials cannot allow vague rumors or reckless allegations about voter fraud to stampede them into overkill. In Missouri, elected officials have charged for years that large numbers of St. Louis residents were casting votes from vacant lots. A study conducted by The Post-Dispatch in 2001 found that in the vast majority of cases, the voters lived in homes that had been wrongly classified by the city.

The Help America Vote Act, passed after the 2000 election, will eventually computerize voting rolls at the state level. Most of the decisions about who is eligible to vote, however, will still be made by the officials who are making them now. The new law also requires that when there is a dispute about whether someone is eligible to vote, he or she must be given a "provisional" ballot, whose status will be determined later. But the ultimate decision about whether to count the ballot will remain with local election officials.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Stung by Exiles' Role, C.I.A. Orders a Shift in Procedures:
"American intelligence officials who before the war were sifting through claims that Iraq had illicit weapons were generally not told that much of the information came from defectors linked to exile organizations that were promoting an American invasion, according to senior United States intelligence officials.

The claims, which have largely proved to be unsubstantiated, included those from a defector who was identified as early as May 2002 as a fabricator by the Defense Intelligence Agency. Nevertheless, reports based on his debriefings arranged by the Iraqi National Congress found their way into documents and speeches used by the Bush administration to justify the war.

The nondisclosure of the source's connection to an exile organization was 'standard practice' under the procedures in place at the time, intelligence officials said on Thursday. But that episode and others have prompted the Central Intelligence Agency to order a major change in its procedures. Operations officers will now be required to tell analysts more about sources' identities and possible motivations.…"

So deeply held was the view that Iraq possessed illicit weapons — within the intelligence community and beyond — that it took American interrogators several months to concede that Iraqi prisoners who repeatedly said Iraq did not have such arsenals might be telling the truth, current and former intelligence officials said in recent interviews.

"They denied that there were weapons, and so we polygraphed them," a senior intelligence official said. "And even when they passed, our first response was to say, wow, they really are good at deception."

As early as May of last year, the month that major combat operations ceased, senior Iraqi officials and scientists in American custody were uniformly denying knowledge of any chemical or biological weapons production or reconstituted nuclear program, senior intelligence officials said. But the administration gave its first public hint that the suspected weapons stockpiles might not exist only in October, in an interim report by David A. Kay.
Bush's Duty, and Privilege:
"Mr. Bush has been nothing if not consistent. He has always been about the privileged few. And that's an attitude that flies in the face of the basic precepts of an egalitarian society. It's an attitude that fosters, that celebrates, unfairness and injustice.

More than 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam, another war of choice that was marketed deceitfully to the American people.

Mr. Bush's experience in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam years is especially relevant today because it throws a brighter spotlight on who he really is. He has walked a charmed road, with others paying the price of his journey, every step of the way."
Op-Ed Columnist: The Real Man:
"To understand why questions about George Bush's time in the National Guard are legitimate, all you have to do is look at the federal budget published last week. No, not the lies, damned lies and statistics — the pictures.

By my count, this year's budget contains 27 glossy photos of Mr. Bush. We see the president in front of a giant American flag, in front of the Washington Monument, comforting an elderly woman in a wheelchair, helping a small child with his reading assignment, building a trail through the wilderness and, of course, eating turkey with the troops in Iraq. Somehow the art director neglected to include a photo of the president swimming across the Yangtze River."

It was not ever thus. Bill Clinton's budgets were illustrated with tables and charts, not with worshipful photos of the president being presidential.

The issue here goes beyond using the Government Printing Office to publish campaign brochures. In this budget, as in almost everything it does, the Bush administration tries to blur the line between reverence for the office of president and reverence for the person who currently holds that office.

Operation Flight Suit was only slightly more over the top than other Bush photo-ops, like the carefully staged picture that placed Mr. Bush's head in line with the stone faces on Mount Rushmore. The goal is to suggest that it's unpatriotic to criticize the president, and to use his heroic image to block any substantive discussion of his policies.

In fact, those 27 photos grace one of the four most dishonest budgets in the nation's history — the other three are the budgets released in 2001, 2002 and 2003. Just to give you a taste: remember how last year's budget contained no money for postwar Iraq — and how administration officials waited until after the tax cut had been passed to mention the small matter of $87 billion in extra costs? Well, they've done it again: earlier this week the Army's chief of staff testified that the Iraq funds in the budget would cover expenses only through September.

But when administration officials are challenged about the blatant deceptions in their budgets — or, for that matter, about the use of prewar intelligence — their response, almost always, is to fall back on the president's character. How dare you question Mr. Bush's honesty, they ask, when he is a man of such unimpeachable integrity? And that leaves critics with no choice: they must point out that the man inside the flight suit bears little resemblance to the official image.
Trippi's Two Americas:
"In this political season, technology keeps cutting both ways. Productivity is up, keeping the market moving forward, corporate profits up and interest rates down. But that same efficiency also maintains the jobless recovery. So too does broadband, virtualization and outsourcing.

Where Edwards' Two Americas are classic Democratic haves and have-nots, Trippi's are The Onlines and The Offlines. And the same dynamics that brought Dean to prominence also served to accelerate his decline. The transparency of the network that allowed rapid fundraising and bubble-up communications within the campaign also allowed Kerry, Edwards and Clark to cherry-pick voter lists and redirect them to their own volunteer corps of handwritten letter authors.… "

Trippi didn't have the luxury of waiting out the down cycle. The Dean campaign was primed to counter the front-loaded primary schedule designed by DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe to wrap up the nomination by early spring. If anything, Trippi was too successful, peaking too soon. Though an experienced operative, he violated the fundamental rule of salesmanship: Once you've closed the sale, shut up.

We all know how quickly things fell apart once the campaign went off the rails. But Trippi made it clear he understood from the beginning the fundamental disconnect between the Internet and political crowds. "The Internet community doesn't understand the hard realities of American politics," he said, and the political press doesn't get the Internet.

Of course, Trippi then tarred the mainstream media with the "broadcast-politics" brush, charging the networks with purveying entertainment, not information, with 933 replays of Dean's infamous scream speech. To Trippi, what the media did in taking the speech out of context was damaging—"not what the Governor did.",3048,a=118842,00.asp
Study: Spammers turning blind eye to the law - News - ZDNet:
"Only 3 percent of bulk commercial e-mail includes a valid U.S. postal mail address and a valid link to opt out of future messages, according to data released on Tuesday by MX Logic, a maker of mail-filtering software. Those requirements are part of the Can-Spam Act, short for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing, the nation's first federal spam law.

What's more, the amount of spam has continued to grow since the law went into effect at the beginning of the year. As much as 60 percent of the e-mail sent in January was spam, up from 58 percent in December, according to San Francisco-based Brightmail, one of the largest spam-filtering companies."
The President's Guard Service:
"The payroll records released yesterday document that he performed no guard duties at all for more than half a year in 1972 and raise questions about how he could be credited with at least 14 days of duty during subsequent periods when his superior officers in two units said they had not seen him.

Investigative reporting by The Boston Globe, our sibling newspaper, revealed in 2000 that Mr. Bush had reported for duty and flown regularly in his first four Texas Guard years but dropped off the Guard's radar screen when he went to Alabama to work on a senatorial campaign. The payroll records show that he was paid for many days of duty in the first four months of 1972, when he was in Texas, but then went more than six months without being paid, virtually the entire time he was working on the Senate campaign in Alabama. That presumably means he never reported for duty during that period"

Mr. Bush was credited with 14 days of service at unspecified locations between Oct. 28, 1972, and the end of April 1973. The commanding officer of the Alabama unit to which Mr. Bush was supposed to report long ago said that he had never seen him appear for duty, and Mr. Bush's superiors at the Texas unit to which he returned wrote in May 1973 that they could not write an annual evaluation of him because he had not been seen there during that year. Those statements are so jarringly at odds with the payroll data that they demand further elaboration..…

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Chicago Tribune | Bush releases military records:
"But the documents also show gaps of weeks and months in Bush's service record that the White House could not explain, making it unlikely that these records will resolve a heated election-year debate over whether Bush fulfilled his commitment to the Guard or received special treatment from military officials.…"

No records prove Bush showed up for duty in Alabama, and the commanding officer of that unit, retired Gen. William Turnipseed, maintains that he never saw Bush.

The documents released Tuesday included pay records that spelled out which days Bush reported for duty in 1972 and 1973. But they do not indicate where Bush worked on those days.

The White House said it has not been able to find anyone who served with Bush who could verify that he worked at the Alabama unit.,1,3170943.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

An Antiwar Forum in Iowa Brings Federal Subpoenas: "To hear the antiwar protesters describe it, their forum at a local university last fall was like so many others they had held over the years. They talked about the nonviolent philosophies of Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., they said, and how best to convey their feelings about Iraq into acts of civil disobedience."

But last week, subpoenas began arriving seeking details about the forum's sponsor — its leadership list, its annual reports, its office location — and the event itself. On Monday, lawyers for the sponsor, the Drake University chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, went to court in an effort to block the federal prosecutors' demands.

Those who attended the forum, at least four of whom said they had received subpoenas to appear before a federal grand jury on Tuesday, said that they did not know what to make of the inquiry and that they feared it was intended to quash protest.

Late on Monday, prosecutors in the United States attorney's office for the southern district of Iowa took the unusual step of issuing a confirmation of the investigation, stressing that its scope was limited to learning more about one person who had tried to scale a security fence at an Iowa National Guard base in a protest a day after the forum.

"The United States attorney's office does not prosecute persons peacefully and lawfully engaged in rallies which are conducted under the protection of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States," a written statement issued by the prosecutor here, Stephen Patrick O'Meara, said.

Prosecutors also delayed the grand jury appearances by a month, a move local civil liberties officials interpreted as a sign that the government might be backing away from the investigation.

"I'd say the prosecutors are recognizing the groundswell of reaction that has happened in the face of this extraordinary thing they've done," said R. Ben Stone, executive director of the Iowa Civil Liberties Union.

Still, the protesters, their lawyers and some national civil liberties advocates described the investigation into the attendance rolls and leadership lists of the lawyers' group as highly unusual in recent years. Some said it could send a chilling message far beyond Iowa, leaving those who consider voicing disapproval of the administration's policy in Iraq, or anywhere else, wondering whether they too might receive added scrutiny.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Op-Ed Columnist: Lost in Credibility Gulch:
"Samuel Butler said, 'I care about truth not for truth's sake but for my own.'

Mr. Bush presented himself in 2000 as an honest, straight-shooting Texan, an aw-shucks kind of guy whose word, unlike that of the sitting president ('I did not have sexual relations . . .'), could always be trusted."

The credibility that he enjoyed during that campaign, and which reached a peak in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, has steadily eroded since then. He said he was a compassionate conservative, but he has hammered programs designed to assist the poorest and most vulnerable among us. His administration has taken a blowtorch to the environment. And his fiscal policies are so outlandish that liberals, moderates and conservatives are asking if he's taken leave of his senses.

During the run-up to war, the public heard ominous references to mushroom clouds and was encouraged to believe there was a link between Saddam Hussein and Sept. 11.

It's time to put an end to the fantasies and the deceit, which have landed us in a quagmire overseas and the equivalent of fiscal quicksand at home.

It's not too much to ask that the president of the United States speak the clear truth about his policies and their implications.
Total surveillance becoming reality - News - ZDNet:
"Combined with the government's power to designate foreign prisoners of war as 'enemy combatants' in order to ignore international treaties regulating their incarceration, and their power to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens without charge or access to an attorney, the United States is looking more and more like a police state. "

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Making the Facts Fit the Case for War:
"In 1846 President James Polk announced that Mexican troops had fired on American soldiers on American soil, and he took the country to a war that eventually gained it California, New Mexico and Arizona. Was the disputed soil ours? Probably not. Did Polk distort the information he had? Almost certainly. He wanted the territory, and he needed a war to get it.

A first-term representative warned that if you 'allow the president to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion . . . you allow him to make war at pleasure.' For these words, Abraham Lincoln received the usual reward of political courage: he forfeited any chance of a return to Congress and was retired to private life for more than a decade. (Although he would do quite well after that.)

Our current dispute over the intelligence that led to the invasion of Iraq seems to be yet another illustration of this eternal principle: presidents and other decision makers usually get the intelligence they want. This doesn't mean that intelligence reports should be ignored, but that they must be viewed with skepticism.…"

Friday, February 06, 2004

Geeks Put the Unsavvy on Alert: Learn or Log Off:
"The tension over the MyDoom virus underscores a growing friction between technophiles and what they see as a breed of technophobes who want to enjoy the benefits of digital technology without making the effort to use it responsibly.

The virus spreads when Internet users ignore a basic rule of Internet life: never click on an unknown e-mail attachment. Once someone does, MyDoom begins to send itself to the names in that person's e-mail address book. If no one opened the attachment, the virus's destructive power would never be unleashed."

"It takes affirmative action on the part of the clueless user to become infected," wrote Scott Bowling, president of the World Wide Web Artists Consortium, expressing frustration on the group's discussion forum. "How to beat this into these people's heads?"

Many of the million or so people who have so far infected their computers with MyDoom say it is not their fault. The virus often comes in a message that appears to be from someone they know, with an innocuous subject line like "test" or "error." It is human nature, they say, to open the mail and attachments.

But computer sophisticates say it reflects a willful ignorance of basic computer skills that goes well beyond virus etiquette. At a time when more than two-thirds of American adults use the Internet, they say, such carelessness is no longer excusable, particularly when it messes things up for everyone else.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Op-Ed Columnist: Purity of the Powells:
"The younger Powell failed to appreciate the consequences of not curbing big media companies gobbling up rivals. Colin Powell failed to appreciate the consequences of not curbing Dick Cheney, Rummy and Wolfie as they gobbled up foreign policy.

The son vowed in 2001 that he would be patient with cultural excesses: 'I don't want the government as my nanny. I still have never understood why something as simple as turning it off is not part of the answer.'

But here he is, the biggest nanny in government since William Bennett, starting a little culture war to improve his ratings. The F.C.C. asked CBS for a Super Bowl halftime tape to determine whether standards were violated. What, the F.C.C. can't pop for a TiVo? Next, the F.C.C. will ask the C.I.A. to provide satellite photography of the rogue bustier."
Chicago Tribune | Rumsfeld to bolster overtasked military:
"The emergency increase of 33,000 troops, which Schoomaker predicted could last four or five years, is intended to ease the strains of the huge rotation and maintaining Iraq security, as well as to assist in Rumsfeld's plan to transform the military from a heavily equipped, Cold War force to a lighter, more flexible one.

The Pentagon already has instituted 'stop-loss' and 'stop-move' orders to maintain U.S. troop strength in Iraq and Afghanistan. A 'stop-loss' order prevents troops from retiring or leaving the service at the end of their enlistments, while 'stop-move' holds them overseas beyond the original end of their tours.

About 40,000 servicemen and women have been affected by the 'stop-loss' and 'stop-move' orders. Of these, about 16,000 are Reservists.",1,4743811.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Shift on Settlements: Sharon's 'Painful' Course:
"Mr. Sharon recently said that unlike many other Israeli leaders, he foresaw no threat that Arabs might do by demography and democracy what they had been unable to do by force: overwhelm Israel's Jewish character. But his plan suggests that he is worried about exactly that.

The Gaza Strip is home to more than one million Palestinians, and by unloading it Mr. Sharon would postpone the possibility of an Arab majority in Israel and its occupied land. Further, Mr. Sharon told the daily Maariv that he had requested a legal analysis about transferring a large Israeli Arab town, Umm al Fahm, and its surrounding villages from Israel to the Palestinian Authority.

Doing so would further diminish Arabs' presence in Israel, and the idea was angrily rejected by Israeli Arab leaders. 'It is a very racist proposal,' said Hashem Mahameed, an Israeli Arab politician from Umm al Fahm. 'We never looked at Jews as a problem. I look at those who want to transfer me as a problem.'"
Chicago Tribune | Ripped bodice just an act, but violence isn't:
"There's one thing worse than having had to watch the Janet & Justin Super Bowl Peep Show on Sunday. That's having to endure the social predicament of not having watched it.

'What did you think of Janet's bared breast?' is the question of the week, and if you want to stay socially afloat, you have to muster an opinion, preferably an indignant one, even if you missed the show altogether."

Actually, I and the 200 million other Americans who didn't watch the halftime strip show didn't miss it altogether. We couldn't. The unilateral exposure of Janet Jackson's pierced breast has gotten the kind of publicity you'd think would be reserved for finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.,1,5704981.column

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Total surveillance becoming reality - News - ZDNet:
"Last week the Supreme Court let stand the Justice Department's right to secretly arrest noncitizen residents.

Combined with the government's power to designate foreign prisoners of war as 'enemy combatants' in order to ignore international treaties regulating their incarceration, and their power to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens without charge or access to an attorney, the United States is looking more and more like a police state.… "

In December, a provision slipped into an appropriations bill allowing the FBI to obtain personal financial information from banks, insurance companies, travel agencies, real estate agents, stockbrokers, the U.S. Postal Service, jewelry stores, casinos and car dealerships without a warrant--because they're all construed as financial institutions. Starting this year, the U.S. government is photographing and fingerprinting foreign visitors coming into this country from all but 27 other countries.

The litany continues. CAPPS-II, the government's vast computerized system for probing the backgrounds of all passengers boarding flights, will be fielded this year. Total Information Awareness, a program that would link diverse databases and allow the FBI to collate information on all Americans, was halted at the federal level after a huge public outcry, but is continuing at a state level with federal funding. Over New Year's, the FBI collected the names of 260,000 people staying at Las Vegas hotels. More and more, at every level of society, the "Big Brother is watching you" style of total surveillance is slowly becoming a reality.

Security is a trade-off. It makes no sense to ask whether a particular security system is effective or not--otherwise you'd all be wearing bulletproof vests and staying immured in your home. The proper question to ask is whether the trade-off is worth it. Is the level of security gained worth the costs, whether in money, in liberties, in privacy or in convenience?
Man Who Killed the Mad Cow Has Questions of His Own:
"On Dec. 9, at Vern's Moses Lake Meats in Moses Lake, Wash., Mr. Louthan killed the only mad cow found in the United States.

Two weeks later, he says, he was dismissed after four years as Vern's slaughterer when he talked to the television crews outside and told them he was sure the cow, ground into hamburger, had already been eaten. The plant's owners did not return calls seeking comment.

'I got a big mouth,' he said in a telephone interview."

Contrary to reports from the federal Department of Agriculture, he asserts that the cow he killed was not too sick to walk. And it was caught not by routine surveillance, he says, but by "a fluke": he killed it outdoors because he feared it would trample other cows lying prostrate in its trailer, and the plant's testing program called for sampling cows killed outside only.

"Mad cows aren't downers," he said. "They're up and they're crazy." The Agriculture Department disputes his account. Dr. Kenneth Petersen, a food safety official, faxed copies of the Dec. 9 inspector's report saying the cow was "sternal," or down on its chest.

Mr. Louthan said he believed the government changed the report on Dec. 23, during the panic at Vern's when a positive test was found. The "smoking gun," he said, is that it is the only one on the page marked "unable to get temp" while other cows' temperatures were recorded. It is easy, he said, to get a rectal temperature from a downed cow but hard from a jumpy one.
Politics & Science - Investigating the State of Science Under the Bush Administration:
"In a June 2003 draft report, HHS scientists found that racial and ethnic disparities in health care are “national problems” that are “pervasive in our health care system” and carry a significant “personal and societal price” After review by political appointees, however, the final version contained none of these conclusions. Released December 23, 2003, the National Healthcare Disparities Report is a case study in the manipulation of science."

Changes to the National Healthcare Disparities Report: A Politics and Science Case Study(pdf)

Monday, February 02, 2004

Voices from the Days of Slavery: Former Slaves Tell Their Stories:
"Voices from the Days of Slavery: Former Slaves Tell Their Stories provides the opportunity to listen to former slaves describe their lives. These interviews, conducted between 1932 and 1975, capture the recollections of twenty-three identifiable people born between 1823 and the early 1860s and known to have been former slaves. Several of the people interviewed were centenarians, the oldest being 130 at the time of the interview. The almost seven hours of recordings were made in nine Southern states and provide an important glimpse of what life was like for slaves and freedmen. The former slaves discuss how they felt about slavery, slaveholders, how slaves were coerced, their families, and, of course, freedom. It is important to keep in mind, however, that all of those interviewed spoke sixty or more years after the end of their enslavement, and it is their full lives, rather than their lives during slavery, that are reflected in their words. They have much to say about living as African Americans from the 1870s to the 1930s, and beyond. As part of their testimony, several of the ex-slaves sing songs, many of which were learned during the time of their enslavement. "

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Op-ed Columnist: Budgets of Mass Destruction:
"It should be clear to all by now that what we have in the Bush team is a faith-based administration. It launched a faith-based war in Iraq, on the basis of faith-based intelligence, with a faith-based plan for Iraqi reconstruction, supported by faith-based tax cuts to generate faith-based revenues. This group believes that what matters in politics and economics are conviction and will — not facts, social science or history.…"

… Too many Americans, including me, believe in their guts that removing Saddam was the right thing to do, even if the W.M.D. intel was wrong.

The Bush team's real vulnerability is its B.M.D. — Budgets of Mass Destruction, which have recklessly imperiled the nation's future, with crazy tax-cutting and out-of-control spending. The latest report from the Congressional Budget Office says the deficit is expected to total some $2.4 trillion over the next decade — almost $1 trillion more than the prediction of just five months ago. That is a failure of intelligence and common sense that threatens to make us all insecure — and people also feel that in their guts.
Dispatches: Looking for Intel on the Intel:
"Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, a burning question here is how the C.I.A. could have gotten the intelligence about Iraq so wrong.

While American inspectors have yet to wrap up their work in Iraq, there is already an enormous gap between the alarming intelligence assessments prepared before the war and the more modest weapons programs the inspectors have actually uncovered so far."

This is not a dispute among specialists but an issue that raises fundamental questions about the quality of American intelligence and its role in shaping foreign policy. A nation that has embarked on a policy of military pre-emption to neutralize new dangers requires the most reliable and accurate intelligence. It can literally be a matter of war and peace.

Regardless of when the Bush administration made up its mind that Saddam Hussein had to go, it was able to bring the country and Congress along because of intelligence assessments indicating that Iraq was making chemical and biological weapons and actively pursuing nuclear arms.

Despite the secrecy that cloaks American intelligence, much of the material that is needed to evaluate the Central Intelligence Agency's performance is readily available on the Web.

Start with the unclassified version of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which circulated within the administration and was made available to lawmakers before the war. It can be found on the Web site of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which has done a stellar job of compiling government reports and expert assessments on the subject. The report is posted at

The estimate not only asserts that Iraq had programs to develop weapons of mass destruction — or, as President Bush put it in this year's State of the Union address, "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities" — it also says that Iraq actually possessed stockpiles of chemical and germ weapons and was manufacturing more.

"We assess that Baghdad has begun renewed production of mustard, sarin, cyclosarin and VX," said the estimate, which asserted that Iraq had stockpiled at least 100 tons of chemical agents, and as much as 500 tons, adding much of it over the previous year.

The estimate noted that there were important differences within the intelligence community over Iraq's nuclear efforts: the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research was so dubious about the nuclear claims, including the assertion that aluminum tubes sought by Iraq were for a nuclear program, that it stated a vigorous dissent.

While that view was included in the National Intelligence Estimate, the document also noted that most American intelligence organizations believed that there was compelling evidence that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program. The estimate stated that it had "high confidence" that "Iraq is continuing, and in some areas expanding, its chemical, biological, nuclear and missile programs contrary to U.N. resolutions."

The estimate also offered this ominous warning: "We judge that we are seeing only a portion of Iraq's W.M.D. efforts, owing to Baghdad's vigorous denial and deception efforts." In other words, it is probably worse than we think.

The agency says that it is now reviewing this prewar intelligence, but so far it has provided little indication that it understands where it went wrong. Its analysts still insist that their method was solid, even though it appears to have yielded some seriously wrong answers.&helliip;
con·cept: February 2004