Wednesday, March 31, 2004

I.R.S. Request for More Terrorism Investigators Is Denied:
"The Bush administration has scuttled a plan to increase by 50 percent the number of criminal financial investigators working to disrupt the finances of Al Qaeda, Hamas and other terrorist organizations to save $12 million, a Congressional hearing was told on Tuesday."

The Internal Revenue Service had asked for 80 more criminal investigators beginning in October to join the 160 it has already assigned to penetrate the shadowy networks that terrorist groups use to finance plots like the Sept. 11 attacks and the recent train bombings in Madrid. But the Bush administration did not include them in the president's proposed budget for the 2005 fiscal year.

The disclosure, to a House Ways and Means subcommittee, came near the end of a routine hearing into the I.R.S. budget after most of the audience, including reporters, had left the hearing room.

It comes as the White House is fighting to maintain its image as a vigorous and uncompromising foe of global terrorism in the face of questions about its commitment and competence raised by the administration's former terrorism czar, Richard A. Clarke, and its first Treasury secretary, Paul H. O'Neill.

Representative Earl Pomeroy, a North Dakota Democrat whose question to a witness about one line on the last page of a routine report to Congress prompted the disclosure, said he was dumbfounded at the budget decision.

"The zeroing out of resources here made my jaw drop open," Mr. Pomeroy said. "It just leaps out at you."

"There are some very tough questions that have to be answered about why the decision was made to eliminate these positions because going after the financial underpinnings of terrorist activity is crucial to rooting terrorism out and defeating it," Mr. Pomeroy said.
Q&A: Lindsay on Bush vs. Clarke:
"James M. Lindsay, who worked at the National Security Council (NSC) in 1996-97 where he was a colleague of Richard A. Clarke, says the Bush administration overemphasized the role of 'rogue' states in promoting terrorism. The argument Clarke made in testimony last week before the 9/11 commission and in his new book, 'Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror,' is that al Qaeda is not connected to any state. Lindsay shares that view: 'The administration's diagnosis on the war on terrorism is mistaken,' he says. 'And I think, using Clarke's argument, that the way the administration has approached it has actually made our battle against al Qaeda more difficult.'

Lindsay is vice president, Maurice R. Greenberg chair, and director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and the co-author of 'America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy,' which received the 2003 Lionel Gelber Prize. He was interviewed by Bernard Gwertzman, consulting editor for, on March 29, 2004.

There have been charges back and forth in the 9/11 commission last week, in the new book by Richard A. Clarke, and from the White House. What should the public think about all this? "

There are two separate questions. One is the question of what was new that we learned last week. The answer is, not much. Most of what Dick Clarke attested to before the 9/11 commission was already in the public domain. It had been reported, among other places, in The New York Times and The Washington Post and, interestingly enough, in the Bob Woodward book, "Bush at War." In that book, Bush confirms much of what Dick Clarke said, particularly on the question of the relative priority his administration gave to al Qaeda before September 11. Bush's own statement was that he knew it was an issue, he knew they were a menace, but it wasn't "boiling in his blood."

The second question is, what should Americans take away from the work of the 9/11 commission at this point? I think the broadest lesson is that before September 11, there wasn't a great deal of enthusiasm in the American political system for taking aggressive actions against al Qaeda. In the Clinton administration, for which al Qaeda was a priority--there is ample evidence that the administration mobilized at various times when it feared that an attack was about to be mounted--there was an inhibition as to how much it could do. There was only so much that the political environment would tolerate, in terms of what the president could do. And indeed, Sandy Berger [Clinton's national security adviser] was accused of being too aggressive on terrorism issues.
When Goals Meet Reality: Bush's Reversal on 9/11 Testimony:
"When George W. Bush and Dick Cheney took office three years ago, they made no secret of their intention to restore presidential powers and prerogatives that they believed had withered under the onslaught of Washington's cycle of televised, all-consuming investigations.

But time and again, that effort by the Bush White House has fallen victim to political reality. It did so once more on Tuesday, when the president made a four-minute appearance in the White House press room to announce that he was giving in to demands from the 9/11 commission that he had resisted for months."

His decision to reverse course, dropping his claim of executive privilege preventing public, sworn testimony by his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, was part of a distinct pattern that has emerged inside this highly secretive White House.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Online Merchants Find Problems With Google:
"Google may be popular, but it gets its share of complaints. Merchants quibble when their sites rank poorly, while some users say the popularity-based ranking system shuts out useful, but little-known sites. "

Because a site scores higher the more other sites link to it—an indication of popularity—independent films are less likely than Hollywood blockbusters to appear in results, said Dragomir Radev, an information studies professor at the University of Michigan.

Newer and foreign sites may also be difficult to find because they are not as well known by the U.S.-centric Internet population.…

as Google's popularity grew, so did attempts to fool it. A cottage industry developed around search engine optimization to share tricks for ranking higher.

One early trick involved buying hundreds of domain names and having them link to one another to mimic popularity. As Google closed one loophole, webmasters found others.

Pranksters have figured out that they, too, could game the system, so that typing "miserable failure" gets you President Bush's biography, even though neither word appears on the page.…,1759,1556008,00.asp?kc=EWNWS032904DTX1K0000599

Monday, March 29, 2004

Censored Study on Bioterror Doubts U.S. Preparedness:
"Two years after a report on the 2001 anthrax attacks was completed, the Pentagon has released parts of the unclassified document, which concludes that the nation is woefully ill-prepared to detect and respond to a bioterrorist assault.

In a sweeping assessment, the report identifies weaknesses in 'almost every aspect of U.S. biopreparedness and response.' But perhaps equally significant is the two-year battle over the Pentagon's refusal to release the study. That struggle highlights the growing tension between public access to information and the government's refusal to divulge anything it says terrorists could use to attack Americans."

The dispute has pitted the Pentagon against the center that released the study, advocates of openness in government like the Federation of American Scientists, public health officials and even current and former emergency response officials of the Bush administration.

The dispute revolves around a 44-page analysis titled "Lessons from the Anthrax Attacks: Implications for U.S. Bioterrorism Preparedness." It was written by a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research center in Washington that conducts only nonsecret research for the government and other clients. The report was based largely on discussions among some 40 government and private experts on public health, national security and law enforcement who attended a meeting the center sponsored in December 2001.

The report was written by David Heyman, director of the homeland security program at the center. It documents many systemic weaknesses in the nation's response to the October 2001 anthrax letter attacks that killed five people. The study also makes recommendations about how to prevent, detect and respond to such attacks. Many of those recommendations have been or are being adopted by the Bush administration.

Since then, the center and the Project on Government Secrecy, part of the scientists' group, have been trying to get Pentagon permission to publish the complete report. But the Defense Department has refused.

In a statement issued Friday, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the Pentagon unit that commissioned the $150,000 study, said it had initially refused to release the document and was still preventing parts of it from being distributed. The statement said the study could "circumvent" Pentagon "rules and practices established to prevent the spread of information associated with W.M.D.," referring to nuclear, biological, chemical and other weapons of mass destruction.

But several civil libertarians, scientists, public health officials and emergency response experts challenged the Pentagon's position.

"This study was based on discussions that were held in an unclassified setting," said Jerome M. Hauer, a former assistant secretary for public health emergency preparedness in the Department of Health and Human Services in the Bush administration, who attended the December meeting. "To close the results of that forum is myopic and does nothing to better prepare this country to deal with those threats."

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Some Believers Cringe at 'Under God' Defense:
"Americans who take religion seriously must surely have winced this week at some of the defenses mounted of the phrase 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Please don't imagine, for example, that pledging allegiance to a nation 'under God' is meant to suggest that God actually exists. "

Don't imagine that the phrase suggests that God watches over the nation, blessing and judging it, or that the nation is accountable to God, if that God exists. Certainly the pledge's wording doesn't imply that the nation's indivisibility and promise of liberty and justice for all is somehow tied up with that condition of being "under God."

No, nothing like that. At least, not for the phrase's defenders at Wednesday's oral arguments before the Supreme Court. For them, "under God" only means that once upon a time the nation's leaders thought things along those lines.…

the solicitor general, Theodore B. Olson, said the phrase was not a prayer or a ritual. It was only one of the constitutionally permissible "civic and ceremonial acknowledgments" of the religious heritage on which the nation was founded.

The government's brief to the Supreme Court spells this out in its analysis of the pledge's current wording: "What it really means is, I pledge allegiance to one nation, founded by individuals whose belief in God gave rise to the governmental institutions and political order they adopted, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

During the oral argument, Justice David H. Souter brought up a similar defense, the conclusion from a lower court that the pledge's words about God were merely an example of "ceremonial deism" useful for "solemnizing public occasions."


Were the citizens and legislators who created an uproar over the Ninth Circuit's ruling upset because students might lose out on a historical reminder or a moment of "ceremonial" deism?

And why aren't more believers distressed when language that pretty clearly affirms an existing, active, transcendental God must be defended as nothing more than language about what the nation's framers thought two centuries ago?…

In fact: The Pledge dates from the Civil War, and did not then have the words 'under God'; in it. A.I.
Public Opinion: The Home Front and the Election:
"Half of Americans say it's likely that terrorist attacks will be timed to influence this fall's elections, much as the Madrid bombings affected the Spanish elections. Still, recent surveys indicate terrorism is still second to the economy as an election issue. And solid majorities say it's inappropriate for political campaigns to use Sept 11 images in their TV commercials - although they're somewhat more willing to let President Bush do so.

Since Sept. 11, terrorism and the economy have consistently been the top issues for the public in surveys. As of March 2004, the economy is leading. The March 7 ABC/Washington Post poll found that 36 percent said the economy would be the 'single most important issue' in the election, while 17 percent said terrorism and 10 percent said the war in Iraq. When asked to choose between a hypothetical candidate who would do a good job on the economy versus one who would do well on terrorism, 51 percent chose the economy while 42 percent voted for the better candidate on terrorism, according to Gallup's March 5-7 poll.

In the wake of the Madrid bombings, 48 percent told Newsweek it's likely that terrorist attacks will be carried out close to Election Day in an attempt to influence the presidential election. Two-thirds of those surveyed in the March 18-19 Newsweek poll said it was very (26 percent) or somewhat likely (40 percent) that terrorist attacks would be carried out against 'major U.S. cities."

Friday, March 26, 2004

Chicago Tribune | Big mistakes in the war on terror:
"In President Bush's handling of the war on terror, two facts stand out: Before Sept. 11, he failed to take military action against an enemy that had attacked us, and later, he took military action against an enemy that had not attacked us.

He has a rejoinder for anyone who accuses him of failing to move against Al Qaeda early in his term. He said Tuesday, 'George Tenet briefed me on a regular basis about the terrorist threat to the United States of America, and had my administration had any information that terrorists were going to attack New York City on Sept. 11, we would have acted.'"

We would have acted? What a relief. Unfortunately, Osama bin Laden was not kind enough to phone the Oval Office with a schedule of events planned for New York and Washington that day.,1,2161454.column

Sunday, March 21, 2004

When a Dissertation Makes a Difference:
"For Devah Pager, a young sociologist from Honolulu, 'kulia i ka nu'u' — "to strive for the summit" — means to do research that can influence policy, a realistic quest for her if the last few years are any indication.

As a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, she studied the difficulties of former prisoners trying to find work and, in the process, came up with a disturbing finding: it is easier for a white person with a felony conviction to get a job than for a black person whose record is clean."

Ms. Pager's study won the American Sociological Association's award for the best dissertation of the year in August, prompting a Wall Street Journal columnist to write about it. Howard Dean repeated her main finding in stump speeches and interviews throughout his glory days as the front-runner.

Then, addressing the overall problem convicted felons have re-entering the job market, President Bush announced in the State of the Union message a $300 million program to provide mentoring and help them get work. Jim Towey, the director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, said that Ms. Pager's study was one of the many sources of information that helped shape the administration's four-year plan.…

Initially Ms. Pager's interest was race, stirred by her move from Hawaii to Los Angeles to attend the University of California. "I was struck by the level of separation between racial groups on campus, throughout the city," she said. "Race seemed to define space. Hawaii, by contrast, has the highest rate of intermarriage in the country. Growing up, every other person, it seemed, was hapa, or half, the term used to describe someone multiracial or mixed." She added, "When you grow up with that being normal, everything else seems strange — and wrong."…

Though her family is "solidly upper middle class," she said, her parents obliged her and her two older brothers to work to pay part of their college expenses. "I resented it initially," she said, "but in fact it ended up being a great way for me to get involved in things I wouldn't have been involved with otherwise."

The interest in released prisoners arose while she was studying for her doctorate in Madison, Wis. She organized a karaoke night for the sociology department ("I'm a diva," she wrote in an e-mail message, playing off the pronunciation of her given name. "I love to sing."), and she volunteered for an organization that provides services and shelter to homeless men. There she met many black men with prison records. "It was a nice break to get out and do some direct service," she said. She spent time with the men, distributed their mail and made herself available "as a resource, to allow them to unload." Those who had served jail time often talked about how it complicated the job search. "That was one of the first things that clued me into what an immutable barrier it was standing in their way," she said.

At about this time Human Rights Watch and the Sentencing Project reported that in seven states felony convictions had permanently disenfranchised one in four African-American men. An innovative but difficult research plan began to take shape.

Both of her main advisers, Robert M. Hauser and Erik Olin Wright, tried to dissuade her, gently suggesting how hard it is for graduate students to obtain financial support, manage complicated field work and end up with meaningful results.…

To isolate the effect of a criminal record on the job search, Ms. Pager sent pairs of young, well-groomed, well-spoken college men with identical résumés to apply for 350 advertised entry-level jobs in Milwaukee. The only difference was that one said he had served an 18-month prison sentence for cocaine possession. Two teams were black, two white.

A telephone survey of the same employers followed. For her black testers, the callback rate was 5 percent if they had a criminal record and 14 percent if they did not. For whites, it was 17 percent with a criminal record and 34 percent without.

"I expected there to be an effect of race, but I did not expect it to swamp the results as it did," Ms. Pager said. "It really was a surprise."

Saturday, March 20, 2004

The On-Line Conference On Community Organizing and Development: Web advice:
"Using the Internet for Activism "

The Activist Toolkit by ONE/Northwest (ONLINE NETWORKING for the ENVIRONMENT) will help with all kinds of technical advice for using the Internet in activism.

Benton's Best Practices Toolkit, designed to help nonprofits make effective use of communications and information technologies.

Contentbank, an online resource for information, tools and people dedicated to building Internet content that works for low-income and underserved communities by the Children's Partnership.

Designing Effective Action Alerts for the Internet by Phil Agre, Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles

On-Line Advocacy provides a variety of resources for those thinking about an on-line advocacy program.

The Institute for Global Communications maintains EcoNet, PeaceNet, ConflictNet, LaborNet, and WomensNet, with lots of on-line resources.

NetAction shows ways that the Internet can support grass-roots activism, with a great deal of information resources and an on-line cyberactivism training course

Organizers' Collaborative, harnessing the collaborative potential of the Internet and working to making computers accessible as a tool in support of community-based, social change organizing.

Organizing on the Internet, a COMM-ORG list-serv message from Larry Yates with insights and links about Internet activism.

Progressive Technology Project Resources for Organizers has technology assessment and planning tools.

Technology Resources for Non-Profit Organizations provides web hosting, Internet Service Provide, hardware, and technology assistance links.

Using the Internet for Organizing and Advocacy, by Dirk Slater of the LINC Project.

The Virtual Volunteering Project, with advice, links, and resources supporting Internet activism.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Deficit Study Disputes Role of Economy:
"When President Bush and his advisers talk about the widening federal budget deficit, they usually place part of the blame on economic shocks ranging from the recession of 2001 to the terrorist attacks that year.

But a report released on Monday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that economic weakness would account for only 6 percent of a budget shortfall that could reach a record $500 billion this year."

Next year, the agency predicted, faster economic growth will actually increase tax revenues even as the deficit remains at a relatively high level of $374 billion.

The new numbers confirm what many analysts have predicted for some time: that budget deficits in the decade ahead will stem less from the lingering effects of the downturn and much more from rising government spending and progressively deeper tax cuts.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Op-Ed Columnist: An Insult to Our Soldiers:
"As we mobilize troops from around the country and send them off to fight and possibly die in that crucible of terror known as combat, is it too much to ask that they be paid in a timely way?

Researchers from the General Accounting Office, a nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, studied the payroll processes of six Army National Guard units that were called up to active duty. What they found wasn't pretty.

There were significant pay problems in all six units. A report released last November said, 'Some soldiers did not receive payments for up to six months after mobilization and others still had not received certain payments by the conclusion of our audit work.'

This is exactly the kind of thing that servicemen and women, especially those dealing with the heightened anxiety of life in a war zone, do not need. Maj. Kenneth Chavez of the Colorado National Guard told a Congressional committee of the problems faced by the unit he commanded:"

"All 62 soldiers encountered pay problems. . . . During extremely limited phone contact, soldiers called home only to find families in chaos because of the inability to pay bills due to erroneous military pay."

These problems are not limited to the National Guard. But one of the reasons the Guard has been especially hard hit is that, in the words of another congressman, Christopher Shays, its payroll system is "old and leaky and antiquated," designed for an era when the members of the Guard were seen as little more than weekend warriors.

That system has been unable to cope with widespread call-ups to extended periods of active duty and deployment to places in which personnel qualify for a variety of special pay and allowances, particularly in combat zones.

The G.A.O. report said, "Four Virginia Special Forces soldiers who were injured in Afghanistan and unable to resume their civilian jobs experienced problems in receiving entitled active duty pay and related health care."

The country is asking for extraordinary — in some cases, supreme — sacrifices from the military, and then failing to meet its own responsibility to provide such basic necessities as pay and health care.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Research Panel Warns Mexico of Threat From Modified Corn:
"Genetically engineered corn has made its way into Mexican fields from modified American seeds and could ultimately displace native corn varieties unless the government moves to protect them, a multinational panel of researchers warned Thursday. "

So little is known about the potential effect of altered corn in Mexico — where maize was first domesticated 9,000 years ago — that risks to the country's 60 corn varieties and the larger ecosystem are unpredictable, said the panel, convened by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation set up under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"One thing is clear," the study's coordinator, Chantal Line Carpentier, said in a telephone interview from Oaxaca, where the panel was meeting. "The huge diversity in Mexico should be protected in situ and in gene banks. And Mexico does not have the money."

Much of the concern is that contamination of native varieties would limit future possibilities of developing improved crop lines from corn that is now completely free of genetic modification.

The commission will present a final report and recommendations to the American, Mexican and Canadian governments in June.
A Student Aid Ban for Past Drug Use Is Creating a Furor:
"If Ms. Melendez had been an armed robber, a rapist, even a murderer, she would not be in the same predicament. Once out of prison, she would have been entitled to government grants and loans, no questions asked.

But under a contentious provision of federal law, tens of thousands of would-be college students have been denied financial aid because of drug offenses, even though the crimes may have been committed long ago and the sentences already served.…"

The aid prohibition has been a sore point since its enactment in 1998, inciting debate and recriminations all around. Members of Congress have accused the Clinton and Bush administrations of distorting the law's intent. The Education Department has fired back, saying Congress handed it a vague and sloppy law — one referring simply to "a student who has been convicted" of a drug offense — that the department is faithfully enforcing.

Students are equally perplexed. After serving almost 10 years in prison for attempted murder, Jason Bell went straight to college on federal grants and loans. Now a senior at San Francisco State University, he helps other ex-convicts enroll in the university but often has the hardest time assisting drug offenders whose crimes were minor, certainly a lot less serious than his.

"It's a form of double jeopardy," said Mr. Bell, 32. "They do the time, but then there are still roadblocks when they finish. I don't believe people should be punished twice."

Some members of Congress say they are pushing to rewrite the law for precisely that reason. And, for the first time since the prohibition took effect, the president's budget includes a commitment to revise it — not to throw it out, but to narrow its scope so that students like Ms. Melendez get a second chance.
Op-Ed Columnist: The Politics of Self-Pity:
"Republicans relished their philosophy of personal responsibility last week with John Belushi's famous mantra: Cheeseburgercheeseburgercheeseburger.

When the House passed the 'cheeseburger bill' to bar people from suing fast food joints for making them obese, Republican backers of the legislation scolded Americans, saying the fault lies not in their fries, but in themselves.

'Look in the mirror, because you're the one to blame,' said F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, home of brats and beer bellies."

So it comes as something of a disappointment that the leader of the Republican Party, the man who epitomizes the conservative ideal, is playing the victim. President Bush has made the theme of his re-election campaign a whiny "not my fault."

His ads, pilloried for the crass use of the images of a flag-draped body carried from ground zero and an Arab-looking everyman with the message, "We can fight against terrorists," actually have a more fundamental problem. They try to push off blame for anything that's gone wrong during Mr. Bush's tenure on bigger forces, supposedly beyond his control.

One ad cites "an economy in recession. A stock market in decline. A dot-com boom gone bust. Then a day of tragedy. A test for all Americans."

Mr. Bush's subtext is clear: If it weren't for all these awful things that happened, most of them hangovers from the Clinton era, I definitely could have fulfilled all my promises. I'm still great, but none of my programs worked because, well, stuff happens."

It's as if his inner fat boy is complaining that a classic triple cheeseburger from Wendy's (940 calories and 56 grams of fat, 25 of them saturated, and 2,140 milligrams of sodium) jumped out of its wrapper and forced its way down his unwilling throat, topped off by a pushy Frosty (540 calories and 13 grams of fat, 8 of them saturated).
Democrats Demand Inquiry Into Charge by Medicare Officer:
"Democrats called Saturday for an investigation of charges that the Bush administration threatened to fire a top Medicare official if he gave data to Congress showing the high costs of hotly contested Medicare legislation.

The official, Richard S. Foster, chief actuary of the Medicare program, said he had been formally told not to provide the information to Congress. Moreover, he said, he was told that 'the consequences of insubordination would be very severe.'"

Senior officials at the Medicare agency made it clear that "they would try and fire me" for responding directly to inquiries from Congress, Mr. Foster said in an interview on Saturday.

Mr. Foster said he had received that message from Thomas A. Scully, who was then administrator of the Medicare program. Mr. Scully denies threatening Mr. Foster but confirms having told him to withhold certain information from Congress.…

The Senate and the House approved different Medicare bills on June 27, after being assured that the cost would not exceed $400 billion over 10 years, the amount proposed by President Bush.

Just two weeks earlier, Mr. Foster estimated that the drug benefits in a bill very similar to the Senate measure would cost $551.5 billion.

Mr. Foster said he prepared "dozens and dozens of analyses and estimates" of the cost of the legislation last year. "All our estimates showed that the cost of the drug benefit, through 2013, would be in the range of $500 billion to $600 billion," he said.

The cost estimates were all provided to Mr. Scully, and some were also sent to the White House, the Office of Management and Budget and top officials at the Department of Health and Human Services, Mr. Foster said. For example, he said, "some cost estimates were sent directly to Doug Badger," the White House official who coordinates health policy for the administration.

Mr. Duffy confirmed that the White House had received the actuary's cost estimates for parts of the bill. But he said the administration had relied on the Congressional Budget Office as "the primary authority" on the overall cost.

"For many years," Mr. Foster said, "my office has provided technical assistance to the administration and Congress on a nonpartisan basis.

"But in June 2003, the Medicare administrator, Tom Scully, decided to restrict the practice of our responding directly to Congressional requests and ordered us to provide responses to him so he could decide what to do with them. There was a pattern of withholding information for what I perceived to be political purposes, which I thought was inappropriate."

Mr. Foster, 55, was an actuary at the Social Security Administration from 1973 to 1995, when he became chief Medicare actuary.
Dual Use: Buy a Golf Club, Build a Bomb:
"Sometimes, it seems that any piece of modern technology can, with a few turns of a screw, be transformed into a weapon of mass destruction. Federal agents arrested Asher Karni, an Israeli businessman living in South Africa, on Jan. 1 for exporting parts that Mr. Karni said were destined for machines that break apart kidney stones. Federal agents say the parts, known as triggered spark gaps, were actually destined to be triggers for nuclear bombs in Pakistan."

The triggered spark gaps - precision switches that send short, large bursts of electricity - are in fact used by a machine called a lithotripter to break up kidney stones. But the same device can also serve as the trigger for detonating the cocoon of conventional explosives that surrounds the uranium in an atomic bomb, starting the chain reaction that creates the much larger nuclear explosion.

The triggered spark gap is a classic example of a so-called dual-use technology, which cannot be exported without permission from the Department of Commerce.

"A dual-use item by definition can be perfectly innocent or it could have military applications," said Kenneth I. Juster, the under secretary of commerce who oversees the export control program.

Mr. Karni invited suspicion by ordering 200 spark gaps from PerkinElmer Optoelectronics of Salem, Mass., far more than the handful of spares a hospital would need. PerkinElmer notified governmental officials and, at their request, sent a shipment of 66 triggers, secretly disabled.

The list of dual-use technologies, largely drawn from international agreements, also includes some other items not obviously deadly. Carbon fibers, the stuff of tennis rackets and golf clubs, are ideal for the nose cones of intercontinental ballistic missiles, because they resist the heat of re-entry through the atmosphere.

A type of extremely hard steel, known as maraging steel, , is useful for bombs (and golf clubs, too). The element beryllium, used in high performance aircraft and furnace linings, can be shaped into reflectors of neutrons, necessary to make sure a nuclear explosion doesn't peter out.

Aluminum tubes can be used in centrifuges that separate out the rare form of uranium used in atomic bombs. And many ingredients in common insecticides can be made into deadly human poisons as well. Also regulated are high-precision scientific equipment needed to assemble bombs.

The law regulating dual-use technologies, the Export Administration Act, expired three years ago, but remains in force by presidential executive order. The Senate passed a new version in 2001, but it stalled in the House because of concern that the new version weakened controls on potentially dangerous technologies. Even if controls on American exports were airtight, however, they would be of no use if a country or terrorist could buy what they needed elsewhere.
U.S. Set to Ease Some Provisions of School Law:
"Education Secretary Rod Paige says the Bush administration is working to soften the impact of important provisions of its centerpiece school improvement law that local educators and state lawmakers have attacked as arbitrary and unfair.

Tomorrow, the Education Department will announce policies relaxing a requirement that says teachers must have a degree or otherwise certify themselves in every subject they teach, Dr. Paige said in an interview on Friday. Officials are also preparing to offer new flexibility on regulations governing required participation rates on standardized tests, he said."

Those changes would follow the recent relaxation of regulations governing the testing of special education students and those who speak limited English. They appear devised to defuse an outcry against the law, known as No Child Left Behind, in thousands of local districts, especially in Western states where powerful Republican lawmakers have called the law unworkable for tiny rural schools.

Legislatures in Utah, Virginia and a dozen other states, many controlled by Republicans, are up in arms about what they see as the law's intrusion on states' rights. They have approved resolutions in recent weeks protesting or challenging the law.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Op-Ed Columnist: Our Wounded Warriors:
"Thousands of U.S. troops have been wounded and injured in Iraq. They have been paralyzed, lost limbs, suffered blindness, been horribly burned and so on. They are heroes, without question, but their stories have largely gone untold."
Op-Ed Columnist: No More Excuses on Jobs:
"It's true that there are two employment surveys, which have been diverging lately. The establishment survey, which asks businesses how many workers they employ, says that 2.4 million jobs have vanished in the last three years. The household survey, which asks individuals whether they have jobs, says that employment has actually risen by 450,000. The administration's supporters, understandably, prefer the second number."

But the experts disagree. According to Alan Greenspan: "I wish I could say the household survey were the more accurate. Everything we've looked at suggests that it's the payroll data which are the series which you have to follow." You may have heard that the establishment survey doesn't count jobs created by new businesses; not so. The bureau knows what it's doing — conservative commentators are raising objections only because they don't like the facts.

And even the less reliable household survey paints a bleak picture of an economy in which jobs have lagged far behind population growth. The fraction of adults who say they are employed fell steeply between early 2001 and the summer of 2003, and has stagnated since then.

But wait — hasn't the unemployment rate fallen since last summer? Yes, but that's entirely the result of people dropping out of the labor force. Even if you're out of work, you're not counted as unemployed unless you're actively looking for a job.

We don't know why so many people have stopped looking for jobs, but it probably has something to do with the fact that jobs are so hard to find: 40 percent of the unemployed have been out of work more than 15 weeks, a 20-year record. In any case, the administration should feel grateful that so many people have dropped out. As the Economic Policy Institute points out, if they hadn't dropped out, the official unemployment rate would be an eye-popping 7.4 percent, not a politically spinnable 5.6 percent.

In short, things aren't as bad as they seem; they're worse. But should we blame the Bush administration? Yes — because it refuses to learn from experience.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

C.I.A. Chief Says He's Corrected Cheney Privately:
"George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, told a Senate committee on Tuesday that he had privately intervened on several occasions to correct what he regarded as public misstatements on intelligence by Vice President Dick Cheney and others, and that he would do so again.…"

Mr. Tenet identified three instances in which he had already corrected public statements by President Bush or Mr. Cheney or would do so, but he left the impression that there had been more.

His comments, in testimony before the Armed Services Committee, came under sharp questioning from some Democrats on the panel, who have criticized him and the White House over prewar intelligence on Iraq. He insisted that he had honored his obligation to play a neutral role as the top intelligence adviser.

In response to a question, he said he did not think the administration had misrepresented facts to justify going to war.

Mr. Tenet said he planned to call Mr. Cheney's attention to a recent misstatement, in a Jan. 9 interview, when the vice president recommended as "your best source of information" on links between Iraq and Al Qaeda the contents of a disputed memorandum by a senior Pentagon official, Douglas J. Feith.

That memorandum, sent last October to the Senate Intelligence Committee, portrayed what was presented as conclusive evidence of collaboration between Saddam Hussein's government and Al Qaeda, but it was never endorsed by intelligence agencies, who objected to Mr. Feith's findings.

Mr. Tenet said he was not aware of Mr. Cheney's comments in that interview, published in The Rocky Mountain News, until Monday night.…

According to government officials who have seen copies of the briefing documents, the information was presented to Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, and I. Lewis Libby, Mr. Cheney's chief of staff, and included slides that were strongly disparaging of C.I.A. analyses.

The other two instances in which Mr. Tenet said he had acted to correct administration statements involved the State of the Union address in January 2002, when he objected after the fact to Mr. Bush's inclusion of disputed intelligence about Iraq's seeking to obtain uranium from Africa, and a Jan. 22 radio interview in which Mr. Cheney portrayed trailers found in Iraq as being for biological weapons, and thus "conclusive evidence" that Iraq "did in fact have programs for weapons of mass destruction."

That was the conclusion initially reached by American intelligence agencies last spring, and it is still on the C.I.A.'s Web site. But it has been disputed since last summer within intelligence agencies, and Mr. Tenet said he had told Mr. Cheney there was "no consensus" among American analysts, with those at the Defense Intelligence Agency in particular arguing that the trailers were for producing hydrogen.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Op-Ed Columnist: The Unrecognizable Recovery:
"The Bush crowd couldn't have been more pleased with the timing of the Martha Stewart verdict on Friday afternoon.

The big news heading into the weekend was almost guaranteed to be the awful jobs report released by the Labor Department Friday morning. The White House needed a world-class distraction and the Stewart jury, eager to wrap things up before the weekend, obliged. It strolled in, as if on cue, with a verdict of guilty on all counts. Distractions don't get much bigger.

The Labor Department report was as grim as faces on a bread line. Despite all the president's promises, the economy added just 21,000 jobs last month. No jobs were added by the private sector. The 21,000 additional jobs were all government hires."

The report also showed that job growth in December and January was worse than previously believed. The January tally was revised from 112,000 to 97,000. The December count dropped from 16,000 to a pathetic 8,000.

A number of demographic groups are getting absolutely hammered. A new study by Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, found historic lows in the reported labor force participation of 16- to 19-year-olds. According to the study, "The estimated 36.8 percent employment rate for the nation's teens was the lowest ever recorded since 1948."

A more ominous finding was that over the past three calendar years the number of people aged 16 to 24 who are both out of work and out of school increased from 4.8 million to 5.6 million, with males accounting for the bulk of the increase.

The Economic Policy Institute and the National Employment Law Project, in a joint analysis of newly released data, reported a disturbing increase in long-term joblessness. Unemployment lasting half a year or longer grew to 22.1 percent of all unemployment in 2003. That was an increase from 18.3 percent in 2002, and the highest rate since 1983.

Among those having a particularly hard time finding work, according to the report, are job seekers with college degrees and people 45 and older.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

If You're a Waiter, the Future Is Rosy:
"'To be competitive and to maintain and improve American living standards, we have to move up the technology food chain,' said Craig R. Barrett, chief executive of the Intel Corporation, the computer chip giant. Worried that young Americans are shunning careers in computer engineering, a development that could threaten the country's technological supremacy, Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman, recently made campaign-style visits to Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other universities to urge students to embrace the field.… "

…some economists point to those same federal forecasts to poke holes in the argument that the key to job creation is more sophisticated education and knowledge. Yes, the greatest increase is expected to be for registered nurses (an increase of 623,000 jobs) and college and university teachers (an increase of 603,000).

But according to forecasts issued last month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 7 of the 10 occupations with the greatest growth through 2012 will be in low-wage, service fields requiring little education: retail salesperson, customer service representative, food-service worker, cashier, janitor, waiter and nursing aide and hospital orderly. Many of these jobs pay less than $18,000 a year. Forecasting an increase of 21 million jobs from 2002 to 2012, the bureau predicted 596,000 more retail sales jobs, 454,000 more food-service jobs and 454,000 more cashier positions.
U.S. Lags in Recovering Fuel Suitable for Nuclear Arms:
"As the United States presses Iran and other countries to shut down their nuclear weapons development programs, government auditors have disclosed that the United States is making little effort to recover large quantities of weapons-grade uranium — enough to make roughly 1,000 nuclear bombs — that the government dispersed to 43 countries over the last several decades.

Among the countries that received the highly enriched uranium, generally with the expectation that it would be returned, were Iran and Pakistan. The chief nuclear weapons expert in Pakistan recently made the stunning disclosure that his network had secretly sold uranium and nuclear technology to Libya, Iran and North Korea."

The auditors said they found that "large quantities of U.S.-produced highly enriched uranium were out of U.S. control."

The bomb-grade uranium was loaned, leased or sold to dozens of countries starting in the 1950's under the Eisenhower administration's Atoms for Peace program, which was intended to help other countries develop nuclear energy facilities or pursue scientific or medical initiatives. The dispersals continued until 1988. But the government's effort to recover the uranium, either in the form in which it was delivered or as spent fuel, was lackadaisical, the report suggests.

In the last 50 years, the report says, the government has recovered approximately 2,600 kilograms (about 5,700 pounds) of 17,500 kilograms dispersed, leaving almost 15,000 kilograms still in foreign hands. That remains true even as the Bush administration warns that Al Qaeda and possibly other terrorist organizations are trying to obtain nuclear materials to make a bomb.

In general, it takes about 10 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium to make a bomb.

Nuclear weapons experts say most of the exported uranium was weapons grade, and Thomas B. Cochran, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, estimated that the exported uranium material could make "about a thousand nuclear" weapons.

"It could be hundreds if the design was unsophisticated, or thousands if it was more advanced," he added.
The C.E.O.'s Mad, Mad World:
"Many companies have not yet filed their reports detailing executive pay. But the reports of 57 that have done so show just how good it is to be a chief executive.

Base salaries and bonuses have climbed, and the value of unexercised options has rocketed, largely because of a rising market. Salaries at the companies rose 8.3 percent last year, to an average of $818,000. Annual bonuses climbed 13 percent, to $1.06 million. But the median value of stock options that were exercisable surged 53 percent, to $8.3 million, from $5.4 million in 2002.

Indefensible pay patterns are sure to be Topic A among irate shareholders this year. TIAA-CREF, the giant pension fund, is in discussions with 50 companies it has tagged for board independence issues. 'Every one of those companies has an executive compensation problem,' said Peter Clapman, chief counsel for corporate governance at the fund. 'Executive comp is going to be the hot button going forward. The numbers always look bad, but the process that got us there has a totally wrong smell about it.'"

What chief executives cannot seem to get through their skulls is that they do not act in isolation, that they are not boys in a luxurious bubble.

For example, many chief executives take big pay increases happily, while in the real world their stocks are languishing and thousands are losing their jobs.
The Detainees: As U.S. Detains Iraqis, Families Plead for News:
"The American authorities say they are trying to help people locate detained relatives, even posting prisoner lists on the Internet.

But computers are strange things to most Iraqis, and many families still have no idea where their men are. Often they were led away in the middle of the night, with bags over their heads and no explanation. Many people have said that when they asked soldiers where their family members were being taken, they were told to shut up. A few hundred women have also been detained. And complicating the families' searches, there are several major prisons and hundreds of smaller jails and bases across Iraq.

'It took the Americans five minutes to take my son,' said Fadil Abdulhamid. 'It has taken me more than three weeks to find him.'"

Adil Allami, a lawyer with the Human Rights Organization of Iraq, said security detainees had essentially no rights. None have lawyers, and most are denied visits.

"Iraq has turned into one big Guantánamo," Mr. Allami said, referring to the United States military prison in Cuba where hundreds of terrorism suspects are being held, mostly without charges.

Several men recently released from American jails in Iraq have said they were kicked in the head, choked and put in cold, wet rooms for days at a time. The American authorities declined to comment on the charges, pending the outcome of an investigation. Last month, they suspended 17 enlisted men and officers, including a battalion commander and a company commander, after abuse allegations surfaced at Abu Ghraib prison, where thousands of prisoners are being held.

The prison, west of Baghdad, is a nucleus of despair. Every day, crowds of women in black shrouds jam the front gates, squinting up at the guard towers, clutching worn pieces of paper, pleading with guards to see their missing men.
Kerry Condemns Bush for Failing to Back Aristide:
"'I would have been prepared to send troops immediately, period,' Mr. Kerry said on Friday, expressing astonishment that President Bush, who talks of supporting democratically elected leaders, withheld any aid and then helped spirit Mr. Aristide into exile after saying the United States could not protect him.

'Look, Aristide was no picnic, and did a lot of things wrong,' Mr. Kerry said. But Washington 'had understandings in the region about the right of a democratic regime to ask for help. And we contravened all of that. I think it's a terrible message to the region, democracies, and it's shortsighted.'…"

In his first in-depth interview on foreign affairs since effectively winning the Democratic nomination, Mr. Kerry hop-scotched around the world in the course of an hour. He took issue with Mr. Bush's judgment beyond their well-aired differences on Iraq, questioning his handling of North Korea, the Mideast peace process and the spread of nuclear weapons and arguing that he would rewrite the Bush strategy that makes pre-emption a declared, central tenet of American policy.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Is it just me, or is Ashcroft hospitalised for "unmitigated gall"

First Monday March 2004:
"Volume 9, Number 3 ?4 March 1st 2004"
Public Agenda: First Choice 2004:
"First Choice 2004

Know What You Want Before You Choose Who You Want"

Most voters' guides compare the candidates. That's useful, but how can you decide who you want in office until you're sure about what you want that politician to do? And these days that's harder to figure out than it should be, particularly for young or first-time voters.

When politicians present their plans, they naturally play up the quick, easy, cheap part of their program and downplay the messy, expensive, risky parts. In reality, however, many problems don't get solved without facing harsh choices; the government can't avoid pleasing some people and offending others.

First Choice 2004 is designed to help you make the most of your vote by having strong, informed opinions about what those choices might be. With these guides, you can find out more about the problems facing the nation and be better armed when considering the plans politicians put forward.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Official Tells of Investigation Into Mad Cow Discrepancies: "
The government has begun a criminal investigation into whether documents were falsified in the lone case of mad cow disease found in the United States, the Agriculture Department's inspector general said yesterday."

The official, Phyllis K. Fong, told a House appropriations subcommittee that the investigation focused on whether the Holstein dairy cow was a "downer" — a cow too sick or injured to walk — when it was slaughtered on Dec. 9 at Vern's Moses Lake Meats in Washington State.

The inquiry was "based on allegations that were reported in the media in early February concerning possible alteration of official records," Ms. Fong said. She declined to identify any targets of the investigation.

The official records of the veterinarian at the slaughterhouse, released by the Agriculture Department in January, said the animal was "sternal, alert," meaning that it was conscious but down on its sternum, or chest, before it was killed.

But three witnesses — the worker who killed the animal, the trucker who hauled it to the slaughterhouse and an owner of the slaughterhouse — have all said publicly that it was walking.

Dave Louthan, the slaughterer at Vern's, said in a February interview that the cow walked to the edge of the truck when he killed it with a "knocking gun" to keep it from doubling back and trampling the downed cattle inside.

At the time, Mr. Louthan said he believed that the slaughterhouse veterinarian had falsified the records. He repeated that assertion yesterday in more detail.…

The Agriculture Department tested fewer than 21,000 cows last year — compared with millions in Europe — but Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman has repeatedly said that amount is enough to assure that the country's beef is safe because it focuses on downers, which were more likely to be diseased. If the disease was found in a walking cow, the premise behind the testing system would be undermined.

Asked yesterday whether it was possible that someone in the top ranks of the department could have ordered Dr. Thompson to forge a report, Alisa Harrison, the department's chief spokeswoman, repeated five times: "I cannot fathom that that would happen."

Asked several times if she was saying it did not happen, Ms. Harrison said Ms. Veneman did not order it. Asked if someone else in the top ranks could have, she repeated, "I'm saying I cannot fathom it."
con·cept: March 2004