Sunday, January 30, 2005

Give a Blood Chit to the Confusion Agent


“TO civilians, the language of war is poetry, or at least poetic: "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers," or "Half a league, half a league/ Half a league onward." Even "War is hell," Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's terse repudiation of the whole thing, has its own hard-bitten grace.

But to the military professional, war is associated less with the martial cadences of Tennyson than with bland bureaucratese. This makes intuitive sense. A nation's military establishment requires an emotionally neutral, descriptively precise vocabulary to track and control its endlessly branching organizational tree, and to occasionally fight a war - an extraordinarily complex undertaking.

The United States may have the greatest need for a military operating language, because it has by far the largest military to operate. Such a language exists, and much of it, the unclassified part, is collected in the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, a 742-page and growing work, most recently amended in November. Since 1989, its use has been mandatory for the armed forces and the Defense Department.

The dictionary (online at: is striking for the resourcefulness of the compilers - who must describe a wide array of arcane objects, activities and institutions - for their lack of affect and for the surreal humor that is the occasional product of unswerving literalism. In a book whose ultimate subject is weapons and war, there is hardly a whiff of smoke or powder. Excerpts follow.


absolute dud A nuclear weapon which, when launched at or emplaced on a target, fails to explode.

antemortem identification media Records, samples and photographs taken prior to death. These include (but are not limited to) fingerprints, dental X-rays, body tissue samples, photographs of tattoos or other identifying marks. These "predeath" records would be compared against records completed after death to help establish a positive identification of remains.


back tell The transfer of information from a higher to a lower echelon of command. See also track telling. (See also: cross tell; forward tell; lateral tell; overlap tell; and relateral tell.)

blood chit A small sheet of material depicting an American flag and a statement in several languages to the effect that anyone assisting the bearer to safety will be rewarded.


catalytic attack An attack designed to bring about a war between major powers through the disguised machinations of a third power.

cloud amount The proportion of sky obscured by cloud, expressed as a fraction of sky covered.

confusion agent An individual who is dispatched by the sponsor for the primary purpose of confounding the intelligence or counterintelligence apparatus of another country rather than for the purpose of collecting and transmitting information.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Security Nominee Gave Advice to the C.I.A. on Torture Laws


“Michael Chertoff, who has been picked by President Bush to be the homeland security secretary, advised the Central Intelligence Agency on the legality of coercive interrogation methods on terror suspects under the federal anti-torture statute, current and former administration officials said this week.

Depending on the circumstances, he told the intelligence agency, some coercive methods could be legal, but he advised against others, the officials said.

Mr. Chertoff's previously undisclosed involvement in evaluating how far interrogators could go took place in 2002-3 when he headed the Justice Department's criminal division. The advice came in the form of responses to agency inquiries asking whether C.I.A. employees risked being charged with crimes if particular interrogation techniques were used on specific detainees.

Asked about the interaction between the C.I.A. and Mr. Chertoff, now a federal appeals court judge in Newark, Erin Healy, a White House spokeswoman, said, "Judge Chertoff did not approve interrogation techniques as head of the criminal division."

Ms. Healy added, "We're not aware that anyone in the criminal division was involved in approving techniques because that responsibility would have belonged in the Office of Legal Counsel," another Justice Department unit.

One current and two former senior officials with firsthand knowledge of the interaction between the C.I.A. and the Justice Department said that while the criminal division did not explicitly approve any requests by the agency, it did discuss what conditions could protect agency personnel from prosecution.

Mr. Chertoff's division was asked on several occasions by the intelligence agency whether its officers risked prosecution by using particular techniques. The officials said the C.I.A. wanted as much legal protection as it could obtain while the Justice Department sought to avoid giving unconditional approval.”

One technique that C.I.A. officers could use under certain circumstances without fear of prosecution was strapping a subject down and making him experience a feeling of drowning. Other practices that would not present legal problems were those that did not involve the infliction of pain, like tricking a subject into believing he was being questioned by a member of a security service from another country.

But Mr. Chertoff left the door open to the use of a different set of far harsher techniques proposed by the C.I.A., saying they might be used under certain circumstances. He advised that they could be used depending on factors like the detainee's physical condition and medical advice as to how the person would react to some practices, the officials said.

In responding, Mr. Chertoff's division said that whether the techniques were not allowed depended on the standards outlined in an August 2002 memorandum from the Office of Legal Counsel that has since been disclosed and which defined torture narrowly. That memorandum, signed by Jay S. Bybee, then the head of the legal counsel's office, said inflicted pain, for example, qualified as torture only if it was of a level equivalent to organ failure or imminent death.

The officials said that when the agency asked about specific practices, Mr. Bybee responded with a second memorandum, which is still classified. They said it said many coercive practices were permissible if they met the narrow definition in the first memorandum.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Little Black Lies

“President Bush's claim that we must privatize Social Security to avert an imminent crisis has evidently fallen flat. So now he's playing the race card.

This week, in a closed meeting with African-Americans, Mr. Bush asserted that Social Security was a bad deal for their race, repeating his earlier claim that "African-American males die sooner than other males do, which means the system is inherently unfair to a certain group of people." In other words, blacks don't live long enough to collect their fair share of benefits.

This isn't a new argument; privatizers have been making it for years. But the claim that blacks get a bad deal from Social Security is false. And Mr. Bush's use of that false argument is doubly shameful, because he's exploiting the tragedy of high black mortality for political gain instead of treating it as a problem we should solve.

Let's start with the facts. Mr. Bush's argument goes back at least seven years, to a report issued by the Heritage Foundation - a report so badly misleading that the deputy chief actuary (now the chief actuary) of the Social Security Administration wrote a memo pointing out "major errors in the methodology." That's actuary-speak for "damned lies."

In fact, the actuary said, "careful research reflecting actual work histories for workers by race indicate that the nonwhite population actually enjoys the same or better expected rates of return from Social Security" as whites.

Social Security privatization really is like tax cuts, or the Iraq war: the administration keeps on coming up with new rationales, but the plan remains the same.

Mr. Bush's remarks on African-Americans perpetuate a crude misunderstanding about what life expectancy means. It's true that the current life expectancy for black males at birth is only 68.8 years - but that doesn't mean that a black man who has worked all his life can expect to die after collecting only a few years' worth of Social Security benefits. Blacks' low life expectancy is largely due to high death rates in childhood and young adulthood. African-American men who make it to age 65 can expect to live, and collect benefits, for an additional 14.6 years - not that far short of the 16.6-year figure for white men.

Second, the formula determining Social Security benefits is progressive: it provides more benefits, as a percentage of earnings, to low-income workers than to high-income workers. Since African-Americans are paid much less, on average, than whites, this works to their advantage.

Finally, Social Security isn't just a retirement program; it's also a disability insurance program. And blacks are much more likely than whites to receive disability benefits.

Put it all together, and the deal African-Americans get from Social Security turns out, according to various calculations, to be either about the same as that for whites or somewhat better. Hispanics, by the way, clearly do better than either.

So the claim that Social Security is unfair to blacks is just false. And the fact that privatizers keep making that claim, after their calculations have repeatedly been shown to be wrong, is yet another indicator of the fundamental dishonesty of their sales pitch.

What's really shameful about Mr. Bush's exploitation of the black death rate, however, is what it takes for granted.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Some Tyrants Are Elected

Before we declare victory on the basis of an election, on this Holocaust Remembrance Day, we should remember that Hitler came to power by the ballot. It was the government of Rwanda that incited their genocide. Vladimir Putin won election by a landslide and is using his popularity to democratically restrict human rights. Democracy requires knowledge, vigilance and courage. Inattention, ignorance and fear lead to disaster that sometimes may be worse because of Democracy's potential for good.

Elections: Bush Portrays Iraq Vote as Step in a Global March to Freedom

Washington Memo: Communicator in Chief Keeps the Focus on Iraq Positive

A Speech About Nothing, Something, Everything

Iraqi ex-pat organization overestimates voter enthusiasm

No one was more surprised by President Bush's sweeping view of America's mission in the world in his Inaugural Address Thursday than some of the conservatives who supported him precisely because of his Reaganesque vision. During the campaign, they cheered wildly when Mr. Bush talked about "the transformational power of liberty."

But on Thursday he went far beyond campaign fare, leaving Teddy Roosevelt's big stick and Woodrow Wilson's idealism in the dust as he said, "It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."

What he didn't say, in a speech that used the word freedom 27 times in about 20 minutes, was exactly when, where and how he would intervene on liberty's behalf. Exceptionally vague and without a time frame, the standards Mr. Bush set Thursday allow him enormous running room. The White House declined the next day to put specific countries into ther speech's specific categories, saying only that Mr. Bush was laying down broad goals and hoping other nations would conduct some self-examination.

It was too much for some of Mr. Bush's supporters: Peggy Noonan, the former Reagan speechwriter who worked for the Bush campaign, called it "mission inebriation."

Indeed, any tyrant left untoppled in the next four years can be described as what the president called the "work of generations." Meanwhile, the goal of ending tyranny is available as a retroactive rationale for the war in Iraq, where Americans were originally told that weapons stocks were the primary justification for war. It can also be the predicate, should Mr. Bush need one, for action in Iran or North Korea, where even many critics of the Iraq war acknowledge there is a real nuclear threat.…

Iraq election log:

“What is the effect of the intensified violence surrounding the election on ordinary Iraqis? What does it mean to be holding this election after decades of tyranny? Is it right to be going ahead with the elections at this time? Will the election bring a brighter future for Iraq or will it bring yet more strife?

We will also publish contributions from non-Iraqis to find out about their lives in Iraq.

The log will run for two weeks starting on 24 January, with new contributors joining the log as it progresses.

The BBC Host in this log is the BBC News website's Middle East team. The role of the host is to add context and explanation where necessary and point readers to external sites that add to the picture of life in Iraq.

This is not a weblog or blog in the pure sense. The log is mediated in that an editor, the BBC Host, will read all posts and the comments they generate before publication.

An RSS feed for the log is available here:

The Iraq log RSS feed
A help page on RSS feeds

27 January 2005
26 January 2005
25 January 2005
24 January 2005

Send 'free' to work: Creative Commons brings copyrights into the digital age

Creative Commons' copyright protections are perfect for digital age pioneers looking for new ways to distribute their creative work.
By Linda Seebach

“Some rights reserved.

That's the watchword of Creative Commons, a non-profit organization dedicated to building an alternative framework for copyright protection. A Creative Commons license, which allows the creator of original work to specify how it can be used, is both more faithful to the purpose of copyright than current law and better suited to the realities of a digital age.

Creative Commons, established in 2001, is based at Stanford University, where it shares "space, staff and inspiration" with the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society. Its first project, released in December 2002, was a set of free copyright licenses. Copyright holders -- since 1978, copyright in the United States has been automatic -- choose what uses of their work they want to allow and then issue their work under a Creative Commons license spelling out those uses.

As the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) puts it, the licenses "will help people tell the world that their copyrighted works are free for sharing -- but only under certain conditions."

For example, one photographer might opt for "attribution" -- do anything you like with my pictures, just credit them to me. A professor might choose "non-commercial" for a paper he hopes will be widely used in course packs. A songwriter may be happy to have her work performed as she wrote it but not want it used in derivative works.

Or, as the Web site explains, people can choose the "share alike" option, which allows others "to distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs [the original] work."

Anyone familiar with the Free Software Foundation's General Public License will recognize the model and also knows how powerful it can be when a large number of creative people freely contribute to a commons. Creative Commons designed its licenses for people "who understand that innovation and new ideas come from building off existing ones," it says in one of the Web site's instructional cartoons.

The purpose of copyright, according to the Constitution, is to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” To that end, the first copyright law in 1790 set the term of copyright at 14 years with the possibility of one 14-year extension.

Authors who believe that's sufficient can make use of another Creative Commons project, the Founders' copyright, available since 2003. Within existing law, it mimics the state of affairs at the country's birth. One of the first publishers to sign on was the technical publisher O'Reilly and Associates. The decision was both "pragmatic and symbolic," said founder and CEO Tim O'Reilly. "It lets publishers like us free up great books after they've lost profitability. And it lets us cast a virtual vote for a more reasonable, moderate form of copyright."

But Congress has been moving in exactly the opposite direction. Lawrence Lessig, Creative Commons chairman of the board and law professor at Stanford, wrote in his January column for Wired magazine that in the last 40 years, Congress has extended the term of copyright for existing works 11 times. The most recent extension, the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, tacked on an extra 20 years so that some copyrights in the United States reach back as far as 1923 and won't expire before 2019.”

In a op-ed that appeared in the Los Angeles Times Jan. 12, Lessig explained that in 1930 there were 10,027 books published in the United States, and by 2001 only 174 of them were still in print. The other 9,853 could still be under copyright, but there is essentially no way to find out. First, a book had to be registered to be copyrighted, and then the copyright had to be renewed. "At least half of all works published historically never took the first step; almost 90 percent never took the second," Lessig said.

It is largely the owners of huge blocks of copyright material -- record companies, movie studios -- that push for ever longer periods of protection. Maybe most of what they own is worthless, but the few gems that remain valuable are motivation enough.

But the combination of digital reproduction and the Internet has doomed that way of doing business. The entertainment industry's business model consists of persuading Congress to pass harsh laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 and then suing a few of their best customers in hopes of terrifying the rest. That doesn't sound like a plan with a future.

It would be much more public-spirited, and ultimately more profitable as well, to figure out new ways to sell people what they want to buy.

Songs, for example. In 2004, more than 140 million individual songs were sold by iTunes and similar services, according to Nielsen SoundScan. A year earlier, it was less than 20 million, and given how many people unwrapped iPods or their cousins this holiday season, the number will undoubtedly rise. If the song you want costs 99 cents or less, it's hardly worth the trouble of stealing it.

Full CDs? That might be more of a problem, but it has always been possible to borrow recordings from the library or from your friends and copy them. Digital copying offers better quality, and file-sharing offers more convenience, but it also saves money throughout the distribution chain. More than five million albums were sold through downloads in 2004, a category that wasn't even tracked in 2003.

There's no way to estimate how many sales are lost when people share files of copyright material. Even if pirating copies is wrong, it doesn't follow that every pirated copy represents a legitimate copy that would have been sold but wasn't. Maybe the theoretical purchaser has already maxed out her credit card or her music budget for the month. Or another is checking out an unfamiliar artist whose work he might buy in the future if he discovers he likes it.

In addition to asking, "What would people buy if we offered it for sale?" the owners of intellectual property should also ask, "What could we give away that would increase sales of what we sell?" If you think that's a silly question, consider the alternative weeklies that flourish in most cities. They give away the tangible product, the newspaper, to create an audience that their real customers, advertisers, will pay for.

Across Baghdad, Security Is Only an Ideal


“On the bright spring day in April 2003 when marines helped topple Mr. Hussein's statue in Firdos Square, Baghdad, more than any other place in Iraq, was the place American commanders hoped to make a showcase for the benefits the invasion would bring.

Instead, daily life here has become a deadly lottery, a place so fraught with danger that one senior American military officer acknowledged at a briefing last month that nowhere in the area assigned to his troops could be considered safe.

"I would definitely say it's enemy territory," said Col. Stephen R. Lanza, the commander of the Fifth Brigade Combat Team, a unit of the First Cavalry Division that is responsible for patrolling a wide area of southern Baghdad with a population of 1.3 million people.

In the week that ended Sunday, according to figures kept by Western security companies with access to data compiled by the American command, Baghdad was hit by 7 suicide car bombings, 37 roadside bombs and 52 insurgent attacks involving automatic rifles or rocket-propelled grenades. The suicide bombs alone killed at least 60 people and injured 150 others.

… When American troops entered Baghdad and overthrew the government of Saddam Hussein 21 months ago, Raad al-Naqib felt free at last.

But Dr. Naqib, a 46-year-old Sunni dentist who opposed Mr. Hussein, will not vote Sunday when Iraqis will have their first opportunity in a generation to participate in an election with no predetermined outcome. It is, he said, far too dangerous when insurgent groups have warned that they will kill anybody who approaches a polling station.

Although the American military command has cited surveys purportedly showing 80 percent of Baghdad's residents are eager to vote, many people interviewed by reporters are like Dr. Naqib who say they will stay away.

"Every day, when you leave your home, you don't know what will happen - bombs, bullets, kidnapping," Dr. Naqib said as he braced himself against the near-freezing cold in the garden of the private sports club where he had taken his wife and three children for lunch, their first family outing in months. "You ask me about hope - there is no hope. On ordinary days, I cannot even allow my children to play in the garden. To them, a garden is something they only see through windows."

In one Baghdad office, only one of 20 people who were asked said he intended to vote; the others, all citing the fear of being attacked by insurgents, either as they walk to the polls - all civilian vehicle traffic has been banned on election day - or after they return home. American commanders have included Baghdad among four Iraqi provinces where they say security issues pose a major threat to the voter turnout.

The other 14 provinces, all with heavy Sunni Muslim populations, are Anbar, which includes the cities of Ramadi and Falluja; Salahadin, with the troubled cities Samarra and Bakuba; and Nineveh, whose capital is Mosul.

But for the elections' credibility, Baghdad may matter most, because it is the nation's capital, and because, with its intermingled population of Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and other groups, it is Iraq's most cosmopolitan city and thus, American officials believe, the most promising place for the civic norms represented by the election to take root.

If any one area demonstrates just how out of control parts of Baghdad are, it is along Haifa Street, two miles of tree-lined boulevard that run down the west bank of the Tigris River right to the Assassin's Gate, the northern entry to the vast command center for the American and Iraqi officials who now, together, effectively govern Iraq. Any journey on Haifa Street - as central to Baghdad as Fifth Avenue is to Manhattan - is fraught with the risk of ambush by insurgent groups from the dun-colored office and apartment buildings that flank it.

It was on Haifa Street that masked insurgents with drawn pistols ambushed three Iraqi election workers last month, forcing them from their vehicle, making them kneel in the road and shooting them in the head. Dozens of other attacks have made the street synonymous among the people of Baghdad with imminent death.

Every American attempt to root out the insurgents has failed, and their dominion is written loudly in graffiti on freshly painted, and repainted, walls. "Long live the resistance!" they say. "There is no God but Allah and his Prophet!"; "Death to the Americans and their Iraqi lackeys!"

American military units travel in heavily armed convoys, gunners in helmets and goggles swiveling 50-caliber machine guns on expressways and along inner-city shopping streets to ward off attacks, and not infrequently opening fire, with civilian casualties.…

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

It's Time To Call It Murder

this is an audio post - click to play

The Bush administration is an Accessory Before the Fact to Murder.
If we don't act on this we're Accessories after the fact.

The Natural Talent of a Burning Bush

The Natural Talent of a Burning Bush
this is an audio post - click to play
I think we all know a “Mr. Fix-it.” You know the type. They're the guys (and yes, they always seem to be guys) who'll burn down the house lighting the stove. They've got a million and one ideas for improving the world (all wrong), and they're natural born salesmen.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Overstating of Assets Is Seen to Cost U.S. Billions in Taxes

“The Internal Revenue Service has no effective means to determine the price, known as the basis, paid for an asset that has been sold.

Capital gains and losses are reported on an honor system, unlike the rigorous verification regimes that Congress has imposed for wages, home mortgage interest deductions and tax breaks for parents.

Workers have their wages reported to the I.R.S. by their employer. Banks tell the I.R.S. how much people paid in tax-deductible mortgage interest. Congress requires parents to give a Social Security number for each child claimed as a dependent. The working poor are sometimes required to do much more, like producing report cards from schools and affidavits from landlords, to qualify for the Earned Income Tax credit.

Congress has cut overall financing for audits except for the Earned Income Tax credit for the working poor, which critics have said is rife with fraud. But the estimated $29 billion that is lost because of cheating on capital gains is more than four times the highest estimate cited by Congressional lawmakers for losses in the Earned Income Tax credit, most of which the National Taxpayer Advocate has shown is not related to cheating. Math errors and disputes between estranged parents over who may claim a child for the credit account for most of the disputes, and most of those who challenge denials eventually receive the credit.

Since 1997, Congress has given the I.R.S. additional funds to audit the working poor even as it has cut money for other audits. As a result, according to I.R.S. data, the working poor are about eight times more likely to be audited than investment partnerships.

A verification regime for capital gains would end most cheating, the authors say.

In the case of stocks, the authors say, it would be easy for brokerages to keep records of purchases prices. And Congress can build in practical incentives for such record retention, they argue.

The argument that cheating is rampant comes after Congress has nearly halved the maximum tax on long-term capital gains, to 15 percent today from 28 percent in 1997. The Bush administration has said it believes the proper tax rate on capital gains is zero but has not yet proposed elimination of the tax.

Lower tax rates are usually seen as reducing incentives to cheat. The professors say, however, that in the absence of any effective means to detect inflated prices, and with audits a rarity, there is little to prevent cheating beyond the integrity of individual taxpayers.

Investors, entrepreneurs and landlords annually avoid paying at least $29 billion in taxes by overstating the price of stocks, businesses and real estate, two professors say in an article being published today in Tax Notes, an influential tax policy journal.

Claiming to have paid more than the actual price for a stock, business, apartment building or piece of art results in a smaller profit being reported when the asset is sold, and a lower tax on that profit.…”

Pentagon Sends Its Spies to Join Fight on Terror

“The Pentagon has created battlefield intelligence units that for the first time have been assigned to work directly with Special Operations forces on secret counterterrorism missions, tasks that had been largely the province of the Central Intelligence Agency, senior Defense Department officials said Sunday.

The small clandestine teams, drawn from specialists within the Defense Intelligence Agency, provide the military's elite Special Operations units with battlefield intelligence using advanced technology, recruit spies in foreign countries, and scout potential targets, the officials said.

The teams, which officials say have been operating in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries for about two years, represent a prime example of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's desire to expand the Pentagon's ability to collect human intelligence - information gathered by spies rather than by technological means - both within the military services and the Defense Intelligence Agency, whose focus is on intelligence used on the battlefield.”

Some intelligence experts said the creation of the units was the latest chapter in a long-running battle for intelligence dominance between Mr. Rumsfeld's Defense Department and the C.I.A., a battle that has only intensified since the 9/11 commission recommended creating the job of national intelligence director to oversee all intelligence programs.

"This is really a giant turf battle," said Walter P. Lang, a former head of the Defense Human Intelligence Service, a branch of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Among the C.I.A.'s concerns, former intelligence officials have said, are that an expanded Pentagon role in intelligence-gathering could, by design or effect, escape the strict Congressional oversight imposed by law on such operations when they are carried out by intelligence agencies.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Inaugural Address Post-Mortem

Fallows@large by James Fallows
  • “Because it was so much like a campaign speech, the address contained numerous "Hey, wait a minute!" moments for anyone who didn't start out on the President's side. "Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen, and defended by citizens, and sustained by the rule of law and the protection of minorities." Hey, wait a minute! Isn't absence of the "rule of law" at Guantanamo and in the "torture memos" the main item on Europeans' list of complaints about the Administration? "Division among free nations is a primary goal of freedom's enemies. The concerted effort of free nations to promote democracy is a prelude to our enemies' defeat." Hey, wait a minute—these same Europeans would say—you mean, if we're not with you on any detail, we're doing the terrorists' work? "America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains, or that women welcome humiliation and servitude, or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies." Hey, wait a minute! What about all the dissident-jailing, women-oppressing regimes that are our allies right now?

  • The speech actually made one or two allusions to the "other side's" symbols and heroes. For instance, praise for the era "when citizens marched in peaceful outrage under the banner 'Freedom Now.'" And it included a list of important spiritual sources of American strength, which started with "the truths of Sinai [and] the Sermon on the Mount" but—whew!—then mentioned "the words of the Koran." But there were more, and more varied, signals to the "community of faith" that has largely supported the President. ("History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty," among many others.)

  • Most impressive yet strange allusion: "By our efforts, we have lit a fire as well—a fire in the minds of men." On the good side: a reference to James Billington's book by that name, about the intellectual and spiritual origins of the American Revolution. Strange aspect: the phrase itself comes from Dostoevsky's The Possessed”.

  • Final reading assignment: it's worth taking a few minutes to read this speech side-by-side with John Kennedy's venerated inaugural address. In their central theme, the two speeches are surprisingly similar. Bush's is half again as long as Kennedy's—2000-plus words, versus about 1350—and to that extent windier, but sentence by sentence each is well composed. The difference, in my view, is that Kennedy's sounds as if it comes from a man with a tragic imagination, while Bush's sounds ... like something else. Read them both and see for yourself.

    Training of Iraq Soldiers Up to Luck, that is General Luck

    The retired four-star Army general who was sent to Iraq two weeks ago to assess operations there has concluded that American troops must speed up and strengthen the training of Iraqi security forces, by assigning thousands of additional military advisers to work directly with Iraqi units, said senior defense and military officials here and in Iraq.

    The officer, Gen. Gary E. Luck, largely endorses a plan by American commanders in Iraq to shift the military's main mission after the Jan. 30 elections from fighting the insurgency to training Iraq's military and police forces to take over those security and combat duties and become more self-reliant, eventually allowing American forces to withdraw, the officials said.

    The aim would be to double or even triple the number of trainers now at work with Iraqi security forces, up to as many as 8,000 or 10,000, though General Luck has not mentioned a specific number. A senior defense official who has been briefed on General Luck's initial conclusions and recommendations said the plan would draw on a mix of officers and senior enlisted troops from Army and Marine units already in Iraq.

    Many commanders say that providing more trainers is meant to bolster the Iraqi will to fight, help train officers who would lead, curb desertion and provide Iraqi forces with the confidence that American units would back them up - in some cases fighting alongside them if needed, military and Pentagon officials said. Two American advisers have died fighting with Iraqi units.

    But the training would follow a step-by-step approach that would take months if not years, proceeding at different paces in different parts of the country, depending on the troops' performance. American forces would work closely with Iraqis in the most dangerous parts of the country, but would still take the lead combat role there.

    At her confirmation hearings this week, Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's nominee to be secretary of state, was repeatedly asked to defend the training program. Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the Foreign Relations Committee's ranking Democrat, dismissed as "malarkey" Ms. Rice's assertion, backed by commanders in Iraq, that 120,000 Iraqi troops had been trained.

    General Luck is emphasizing that Americans tailor their assistance or partnership to an array of Iraqi security forces. Some need more advanced weapons and soldier training. Junior Iraqi officers in more capable units may need to hone leadership skills. The best Iraqi troops may need Americans to call in airstrikes, much as American Special Forces did for Afghan allies to help defeat the Taliban.

    "Luck and the commanders are looking across this spectrum to see over time how do you start providing that enabling capability to make the Iraqis more self-reliant," said a senior defense official who has been briefed on General Luck's initial conclusions and recommendations.

    As Iraqis take on more security responsibilities, General Luck is recommending that American troops be freed up to be quick-reaction forces to back up the Iraqis or to help tighten Iraq's borders, especially with Syria and Saudi Arabia, where foreign fighters and couriers carrying cash for the insurgency often cross with impunity. Ultimately, as overall security improved, American forces could draw down, officials said.

    General Luck is also expected to recommend that American and other allied military officials fill several adviser positions in the Iraqi defense and interior ministries, that those ministries' responsibilities for various security forces be reassessed to ensure effective operations, and that American commanders be given greater flexibility on spending their budgets, defense officials said.

    Saturday, January 22, 2005

    The Speech Misheard Round the World

    The Speech Misheard Round the World:
    “…If America were to make the global diffusion of freedom a central pillar of its foreign policy, it would be cause for joy. The way the present administration has gone about this task, however, is likely to have the opposite effect. Moreover, what the president means by freedom may get lost in translation to the rest of the world.

    The administration's notion of freedom has been especially convenient, and its promotion of it especially cynical. In the first place, there is no evidence to support, and no good reason to believe, that Al Qaeda's attack on America was primarily motivated by a hatred of freedom. Osama bin Laden is clearly no lover of freedom, but this is an irrelevance. The attack on America was motivated by religious and cultural fanaticism.

    Second, while it may be implicitly true that all terrorists are tyrants, it does not follow that all tyrants are terrorists. The United States, of all nations, should know this. Over the past century it has supported a succession of tyrannical states with murderous records of oppression against their own people, none of which were terrorist states - Argentina and Brazil under military rule, Augusto Pinochet's Chile, South Africa under apartheid, to list but a few. Today, one of America's closest allies in the fight against tyranny is tyrannical Pakistan, and one of its biggest trading partners is the authoritarian Communist regime of China.

    Third, while the goal of promoting democracy is laudable, there is no evidence that free states are less likely to breed terrorists. Sadly, the very freedoms guaranteed under the rule of law are likely to shelter terrorists, especially within states making the transition from authoritarian to democratic rule. Transitional democratic states, like Russia today, are more violent than the authoritarian ones they replaced.

    And even advanced democratic regimes have been known to breed terrorists, the best example being the United States itself. For more than half a century a terrorist organization, the Ku Klux Klan, flourished in this country. According to the F.B.I., three of every four terrorist acts in the United States from 1980 to 2000 were committed by Americans.

    The president speaks eloquently and no doubt sincerely of freedom both abroad and at home. But it is plain for the world to see that there is a discrepancy between his words and his actions.

    Freedom, in this conception, means doing what one wants and getting one's way. It is measured in terms of one's independence and autonomy, on the one hand, and one's influence and power, on the other. It is experienced most powerfully in mobility - both socioeconomic and geographic

    He claims that freedom must be chosen and defended by citizens, yet his administration is in the process of imposing democracy at the point of a gun in Iraq. At home, he seeks to "make our society more prosperous and just and equal," yet during his first term there has been a great redistribution of income from working people to the wealthy as well as declining real income and job security for many Americans. Furthermore, he has presided over the erosion of civil liberties stemming from the Patriot Act.

    Is this pure hypocrisy - or is there another explanation for the discrepancy, and for Mr. Bush's perplexing sincerity? There is no gainsaying an element of hypocrisy here. But it is perhaps no greater than usual in speeches of this nature. The problem is that what the president means by freedom, and what the world hears when he says it, are not the same.

    In the 20th century two versions of freedom emerged in America. The modern liberal version emphasizes civil liberties, political participation and social justice. It is the version formally extolled by the federal government, debated by philosophers and taught in schools; it still informs the American judicial system. And it is the version most treasured by foreigners who struggle for freedom in their own countries.

    But most ordinary Americans view freedom in quite different terms. In their minds, freedom has been radically privatized. Its most striking feature is what is left out: politics, civic participation and the celebration of traditional rights, for instance. Freedom is largely a personal matter having to do with relations with others and success in the world.

    Distorting the Law and Facts in the Torture Debate

    Distorting the Law and Facts in the Torture Debate :
    by Stuart Taylor Jr.
    A fog of confusion surrounds the question of what can be done to extract potentially lifesaving information.

    Many human-rights groups and other critics of Bush administration policy on squeezing information out of captured terrorism suspects would have you believe that even mildly coercive "stress" interrogation methods are clearly illegal and indistinguishable from torture.

    This is false.

    Meanwhile, many champions of the administration would have you believe that President Bush, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, and other top officials have been unfairly pilloried merely for denying terrorists the kid-glove treatment provided by the 1949 Geneva Conventions for legitimate prisoners of war.

    This, too, is false. So are the competing claims that these top officials bear no responsibility—or all of the responsibility—for the illegal torture of prisoners not only in Iraq but also (it has been plausibly alleged) at prisons in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay.

    The problem is that the administration has not been content to make such reasonable arguments for coercive interrogation. Top officials have also:

  • Disdained due process by repeatedly tarring all detainees at Guantanamo (and, by implication, elsewhere) as "bad people," in Bush's words—despite massive evidence that many are innocent noncombatants—while spurning the Third Geneva Convention's requirement (in Article 5) that "should any doubt arise" as to the status of captives, they should be treated as POWs "until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal."

  • Gratuitously disparaged the Geneva Conventions' protections of POWs as "obsolete" and even (in some respects) "quaint," as Gonzales said in his leaked memo to Bush of January 25, 2002.

  • "Play[ed] cute with the law," in the words of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., by adhering for nearly two years to an August 1, 2002, Justice Department-to-Gonzales memo making the legally indefensible claims that 1) even infliction of severe physical pain does not amount to torture unless "equivalent in intensity to organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death"; and 2) the president has virtually unlimited power to authorize use of torture in wartime interrogations.

    These high-level pronouncements appear to have helped spawn some of the torture at Abu Ghraib prison—which administration defenders wrongly dismiss as nothing but aberrational sadism by a few bad apples—and the suspected torture at Guantanamo and in Afghanistan.

    The August 1, 2002, Justice Department torture memo was adopted almost verbatim by a March 2003 Pentagon "working group" memo; this, in turn, circulated in the military and helped shape the interrogation methods approved for use in Guantanamo, which later migrated to Afghanistan and Iraq. More broadly, notwithstanding Bush's vague order that all detainees be treated "humanely," his rhetorical suggestions that they are all terrorists are surely seen by some in the military and the CIA as a tacit message that they all deserve very harsh treatment.

    Most important, perhaps, the administration has provided very little policy guidance on what interrogation methods short of torture should be used in Iraq or Afghanistan. This invites indiscriminate use against Taliban dishwashers and others who have no important information of methods every bit as harsh as those deemed appropriate for Qaeda leaders who may have detailed knowledge of planned attacks. As an independent panel headed by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger found last August, "The number and severity of abuses would have been curtailed had there been early and consistent guidance from higher levels."

  • Thursday, January 20, 2005

    Must Reads and Must Speak

    Must Reads:
    “Imperial Hubris
    (Why the West is Losing the war on Terror)

    by Anonymous from Brassey's Inc.

    Will They Ever trust Us Again?
    (Letters From The War Zone)

    by Michael Moore from Simon and Schuster

    Chain of Command
    by Seymour Hersh from HarperCollins”

    And I Must Speak

    Is everything the media tells us about Al Qaeda and Bin Ladin wrong?

    Is Iraq destroying our troops morale?

    Does responsibility go far beyond a few enlisted personnel?

    The author of ‘Imperial Hubris’ quotes John Quincy Adams when he was secretary of State —

    “Whenever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will be America's heart, her benedictions and her prayers. But she does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the wellwisher to freedom and independence for all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She well knows that by once enlisting other banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extridition, in all wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy and ambition which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom....She might become the dictress of the world but would no longer be ruler of her own spirit....Americans should not go abroad to slay dragons they do not understand in the name of spreading democracy.”

    We heard the opposite yesterday, from an administration that wants to pick and choose which dragons, or is it tyrants, to cozy up to and which to slay.

    On Television, Torture Takes a Holiday

    On Television, Torture Takes a Holiday:

    “Maybe we don't want to know that the abuses were widespread and systematic, stretching from Afghanistan to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to unknown locales where "ghost detainees" are held. Or that they started a year before the incidents at Abu Ghraib. Or that they have been carried out by many branches of the war effort, not just Army grunts. Or that lawyers working for Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales gave these acts a legal rationale that is far more menacing to encounter in cold type than the photo of Prince Harry's costume-shop armband.

    As Mr. Danner shows in his book, all this and more can be discerned from a close reading of the government's dense investigative reports and the documents that have been reluctantly released (or leaked). Read the record, and the Fort Hood charade is unmasked for what it was: the latest attempt to strictly quarantine the criminality to a few Abu Ghraib guards and, as Mr. Danner writes, to keep their actions "carefully insulated from any charge that they represent, or derived from, U.S. policy - a policy that permits torture."

    The abuses may well be going on still. Even as the Graner trial unfolded, The New York Times reported that a secret August 2002 Justice Department memo authorized the use of some 20 specific interrogation practices, including "waterboarding," a form of simulated drowning that was a torture of choice for military regimes in Argentina and Uruguay in the 1970's. This revelation did not make it to network news.

    "Nobody seems to be listening," Mr. Danner said last week, as he prepared to return to Iraq to continue reporting on the war for The New York Review. That so few want to listen may in part be a reflection of the country's growing disenchantment with the war as a whole. (In an inauguration-eve Washington Post-ABC News poll, only 44 percent said the war was worth fighting.) The practice of torture by Americans is not only ugly in itself. It conjures up the specter of defeat. We can't "win" the war in Iraq if we lose the battle for public opinion in the Middle East. At the gut level, Americans know that the revelations of Abu Ghraib coincided with - and very likely spurred - the ruthlessness of an insurgency that has since taken the lives of many brave United States troops who would never commit the lawless acts of a Charles Graner or seek some ruling out of Washington that might countenance them.”

    Despite the dereliction of network news and the subterfuge of the Bush administration, the information is all there in black and white, if not in video or color, for those who want to read it, whether in the daily press or in books like Seymour Hersh's "Chain of Command" and Mark Danner's "Torture and Truth." The operative word, however, may be "want."

    The minimizing - and in some cases outright elimination - of Abu Ghraib and its aftermath from network news coverage is in part (but only in part) political. Fox News, needless to say, has trivialized the story from the get-go, as hallmarked by Bill O'Reilly's proud refusal to run the photos of Graner & Company after they first surfaced at CBS. (This is in keeping with the agenda of the entire Murdoch empire, whose flagship American paper, The New York Post, twice ran Prince Harry's Nazi costume as a Page 1 banner while relegating Specialist Graner's conviction a day later to the bottom of Page 9.) During the presidential campaign, John Kerry barely mentioned Abu Ghraib, giving TV another reason to let snarling dogs lie. Senator John Warner's initially vigilant Congressional hearings - which threatened to elevate the craggy Virginia Republican to a TV stardom akin to Sam Ervin's during Watergate - mysteriously petered out.

    Since the election, some news operations, most conspicuously NBC, have seemed eager to rally around the winner and avoid discouraging words of any kind. A database search of network transcripts finds that NBC's various news operations, in conscious or unconscious emulation of Fox, dug deeper into the Prince Harry scandal than Specialist Graner's trial. "NBC Nightly News" was frequently turned over to a journalism-free "Road to the Inauguration" tour that allowed the new anchor to pose in a series of jus'-folks settings.

    But not all explanations for the torture story's downsizing have to do with ideological positioning and craven branding at the networks. The role of pictures in TV news remains paramount, and there has been no fresh visual meat from the scene of the crime (or the others like it) in eight months. The advances in the story since then, many of which involve revelations of indisputably genuine Washington memos, are not telegenic. Meanwhile, the recycling of the original Abu Ghraib snapshots, complemented by the perp walks at Fort Hood, only hammers in the erroneous notion that the story ended there, with the uncovering of a few bad apples at the bottom of the Army's barrel.

    There were no cameras at Specialist Graner's trial itself. What happened in the courtroom would thus have to be explained with words - possibly more than a few sentences of words - and that doesn't cut it on commercial television. It takes a televised judicial circus in the grand O. J. Simpson tradition or a huge crew of supporting players eager (or available) for their 15 minutes of TV fame to create a mediathon. When future historians try to figure out why a punk like Scott Peterson became the monster that gobbled up a mother lode of television time in a wartime election year, their roads of inquiry will all lead to Amber Frey.

    A more sub rosa deterrent to TV coverage of torture is the chilling effect of this administration's campaign against "indecency" through its proxy, Michael Powell, at the Federal Communications Commission. If stations are fearful of airing "Saving Private Ryan" on Veterans Day, they are unlikely to go into much depth about war stories involving forced group masturbation, electric shock, rape committed with a phosphorescent stick, the burning of cigarettes in prisoners' ears, involuntary enemas and beatings that end in death. (At least 30 prisoner deaths have been under criminal investigation.) When one detainee witness at the Graner trial testified in a taped deposition that he had been forced to eat out of a toilet, that abuse was routinely cited in newspaper accounts but left unreported on network TV newscasts. It might, after all, upset viewers nearly as much as Bono's expletive at the 2003 Golden Globes.

    Even so, and despite the dereliction of network news and the subterfuge of the Bush administration, the information is all there in black and white, if not in video or color, for those who want to read it, whether in the daily press or in books like Seymour Hersh's "Chain of Command" and Mark Danner's "Torture and Truth." The operative word, however, may be "want."

    Less Government Better for Business? Not if History Provides a Guide

    Less Government Better for Business? Not if History Provides a Guide:
    “WHAT is the purpose of government in the American economy? To many people these days, it is axiomatic that less government is invariably better for the economy and the nation. In this way, tax cut after tax cut is justified despite a growing federal budget deficit. Such thinking also lies behind the efforts to privatize Social Security.

    But it is hard to square this view that government is always an economic menace with the long history of capitalist development. Going back in time, every successful capitalist economy in the world has had an active partnership between government and business. Even when the United States government was small in the nineteenth century, it built the canals, subsidized the railroads, made private ownership of land accessible, and developed a widely envied public education system.

    Consider how the role of government changed in America as the economy and society changed. The presidency of Thomas Jefferson is a good example. Jefferson is criticized today because he feared the encroachment of manufacturing on what he considered an American agricultural utopia. Jefferson fought against the establishment of American tariffs and promoted free trade, so farmers could easily sell their produce to Europe. He favored a small government and discouraged the public financing of internal improvements like roads.

    It was Alexander Hamilton, the favorite founding father of business, who wanted to protect domestic manufacturing from foreign competition by imposing tariffs. Hamilton also wanted a powerful central federal government, which could sell its own bonds and build the roads the nation badly needed.

    As the economy evolved, however, even Jefferson began to change his tune, accepting modest tariffs. More to the point, his followers became government activists. In the nation's early years, they began to support manufacturers and tariffs. In particular, the Jeffersonians in New York used government money to build the great public project of the day, the Erie Canal. Jeffersonians in other states followed suit.

    The United States economy is still changing radically. Consider the last 30 years. The two-worker family is now the norm, largely because a single wage can no longer support a family. The quality of public education is highly unequal, depending more than ever on how upscale one's neighborhood is. Health care costs are rising much faster than typical family incomes. Computers and the Internet have become necessities not luxuries.

    More use of the markets may help solve some of these problems. But judicious and imaginative use of government will also be necessary. Government, however, is being shut out as an alternative. ”

    Consider an index of economic freedom published annually by the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal, which ranks more than 150 nations largely on the level of government interference in the economy. The lower the taxes, the lower the barriers to free trade and the smaller the government share of gross domestic product, for example, the higher the nation's ranking on the index. Limited social programs, of course, also improve the freedom quotient. The editors of the report contend that such economic freedom is the "universal" key to prosperity.

    But compare those top 10 countries to the 10 most competitive countries on a list compiled by an international business group, the World Economic Forum. The forum's growth competitive index is based heavily on an opinion survey of business executives, as well as measures of technological sophistication and other factors.

    Only 3 of the 10 most competitive nations are among the Heritage Foundation's index of the world's 10 freest nations. They are Singapore, Denmark, and Iceland. In fact, some countries like Finland, Sweden and Norway, all with high taxes and generous welfare systems, are considered by business executives among the 10 most competitive nations. Why? Because they use their government spending to improve education, for example.

    Indeed, Norway, which has the second highest gross domestic product per capita in the world, ranks 29 on the index of economically free nations. The Chinese economic miracle has occurred even though China ranks 112 on the index of economically free nations.

    Such attitudes that less government is invariably better have restricted this nation's vision, compared with the bold efforts of the past. Education is a good example. It has become as difficult to live a middle-class life today without a college degree as it was to lead a decent life without a high school education 100 years ago. One hundred years before that, the same was true for a primary school education.

    In the early 1900's, a dynamic nation built the free high schools it needed and hired the teachers. In the preceding century, it built a free primary school system that by 1850 was more widely attended than the system of any other nation.

    Government did all this. But if we ask the nation to consider financing a four-year college education for everyone today, neither Republicans nor Democrats will entertain the idea. They even find it quaint and naïve. We are mostly told that we cannot afford this and that individuals should fend for themselves.

    Wednesday, January 19, 2005

    U.S. Intelligence Says Iraqis Will Press for Withdrawal

    U.S. Intelligence Says Iraqis Will Press for Withdrawal:
    “The Iraqi government that emerges from elections on Jan. 30 will almost certainly ask the United States to set a specific timetable for withdrawing its troops, according to new American intelligence estimates described by senior administration officials.

    The reports also warn that the elections will be followed by more violence, including an increased likelihood of clashes between Shiites and Sunnis, possibly even leading to civil war, the officials said.

    This pessimism is consistent with other assessments over the past six months, including a classified cable sent in November by the Central Intelligence Agency's departing station chief in Baghdad. But the new assessments, from the C.I.A. and the Defense and State Departments, focus more closely on the aftermath of the election, including its potential implications for American policy, the officials said.

    The assessments are based on the expectation that a Shiite Arab coalition will win the elections, in which Shiites are expected to make up a vast majority of voters, the officials said. Leaders of the coalition have promised voters they will press Washington for a timetable for withdrawal, and the assessments say the new Iraqi government will feel bound, at least publicly, to meet that commitment.

    Such a request would put new pressure on the Bush administration, which has said it would honor an Iraqi request but has declined to set a timetable for withdrawing the 173,000 American and other foreign troops now in Iraq. Officials, including Colin L. Powell, the secretary of state, have said such decisions should be based on security needs, which include training more Iraqis.

    "Nobody wants to withdraw in such a way as to leave Iraq ill prepared to confront an insurgency which is not going to disappear," a senior administration official said. "So the focus is, how can we maximize our training program to get as many Iraqis out there as quickly as possible."

    The official said the United States was hoping that the new Iraqi government would settle for a schedule based on the military situation, not the calendar. But the official said there was uncertainty about how vigorously the new Iraqi government would press for a reduction of American forces.”

    In an interview with The Washington Post published over the weekend, Mr. Bush declined to be specific about any kind of a timetable for a withdrawal. But administration officials said that in a meeting last Thursday, Mr. Bush's principal national security advisers had discussed how the United States might respond if the new Iraq government put forward such a request.

    The grim tone of the new intelligence assessments was first reported by Knight Ridder newspapers in articles that appeared Monday in The Miami Herald and elsewhere.

    In recent days, Mr. Powell and others among Mr. Bush's senior advisers have become more direct in acknowledging that the anti-American insurgency is not likely to fade soon.

    The Great Domain Robbery of '05

    The Great Domain Robbery of '05:
    By Larry Seltzer
    Have the new rules already failed, or have the registrars failed their customers?
    A lot of people lost e-mail, access to Web administration and even their porno accounts over the weekend. Yes, it was a momentous and stressful couple of days.

    Several domains were stolen, including, the home domain of Internet service provider Panix, the oldest ISP in the New York area (or so they say about themselves). This particular thievery is what raised most of the attention, because Panix customers who use a e-mail address stopped getting their mail.

    According to this message on ICANN's message boards by George Kirikos, and (both of which, I think, are car-related sites), as well as, appear to have been stolen as well. In fact, all three of these domains seem now to have the same whois data and point to the same Web site. Some serious traffic was diverted, and the new sites are spyware-infected. (Perhaps the old ones were too, I can't say.)

    It may be the first great test of the response of ICANN and the domain registrar industry to a violation of their new policies implemented late in 2004. I expressed concern about these new policies at the time, but was reassured that one of the strengths of the new system was the well-defined mechanism for dealing with disputes.

    But there's a good chance here that the central issue is not so much disputes between registrars but sloppy procedures at some registrars that allowed an unverified transfer through. Panix says on its home page (as of Monday morning, EST) that Melbourne IT, the Aussie registrar to whom the domain was illegitimately transferred, has reverted the domain back to them. This does indicate that there was no real dispute once Melbourne IT woke up Monday morning and realized what had happened. Incredibly, Melbourne IT, not a teeny company, has no support available over the weekend. The hijackers may have counted on this fact.

    The motivation behind the ICANN rule changes was actually to streamline domain transfers between registrars. Some registrars (cough! Verisign! cough!) had a reputation for sitting on valid requests for transfers to other, almost certainly less-expensive registrars. The new rules create a presumption that the transfer will proceed after some period of time unless it is denied for some valid reason. The registrars still have to contact the owner of the domain, presumably through the whois records was concerned on two fronts: 1) that a "rogue registrar" could more easily steal domains this way, and 2) that so much data in whois is inaccurate, intentionally on the part of the owners, that notifications could go unnoticed by legitimate owners.

    I still think phony whois data is a problem in this regard, but I was assured that the rogue registrar scenario wasn't credible, and this incident doesn't seem to be an example of it. On the other hand, it does appear to me that at least one registrar was delinquent in some way, in that I can't believe that all these domain owners didn't see a notification of a transfer request, not to mention changes in the whois records themselves.,1759,1751981,00.asp?kc=ewnws011805dtx1k0000599

    Sunday, January 16, 2005

    Social Security Agency Pushes Its Own Revision Over Objections Its Employees

    Social Security Agency Pushes Its Own Revision Over Objections Its Employees:
    “Over the objections of many of its own employees, the Social Security Administration is gearing up for a major effort to publicize the financial problems of Social Security and to convince the public that private accounts are needed as part of any solution.

    The agency's plans are set forth in internal documents, including a "tactical plan" for communications and marketing of the idea that Social Security faces dire financial problems requiring immediate action.

    Social Security officials say the agency is carrying out its mission to educate the public, including more than 47 million beneficiaries, and to support President Bush's agenda.

    But agency employees have complained to Social Security officials that they are being conscripted into a political battle over the future of the program. They question the accuracy of recent statements by the agency, and they say that money from the Social Security trust fund should not be used for such advocacy.

    "Trust fund dollars should not be used to promote a political agenda," said Dana C. Duggins, a vice president of the Social Security Council of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than 50,000 of the agency's 64,000 workers and has opposed private accounts.

    Deborah C. Fredericksen of Minneapolis, who has worked for the Social Security Administration for 31 years, said, "Many employees believe that the president and this agency are using scare tactics to promote private accounts."

    Social Security trustees say the program's financial problems will grow as baby boomers retire. The program will pay out more in benefits than it collects in revenue in 2018, they say. By 2042, they say, the trust fund will be exhausted, and tax income will be sufficient to pay only 73 percent of scheduled benefits. ”

    In campaign-style speeches, Mr. Bush and other officials have said that Social Security is headed for bankruptcy, and that workers should be allowed to divert some of their payroll taxes into private accounts, as a way to build wealth for themselves and their heirs.

    Such comments have prompted inquiries from the public to Social Security offices. Agency managers said they expected a torrent of calls after Mr. Bush's Inaugural Address on Thursday and his State of the Union speech two weeks later.

    Mark R. Lassiter, a spokesman for the Social Security Administration, said he could not discuss the agency's communications plans because they were "internal documents." The agency, he said, has a duty "to educate the public about the financial challenges facing Social Security," but has not prepared a script for employees to use in answering questions from the public.

    The Bush administration ran afoul of a ban on "covert propaganda" when it used tax money to promote the new Medicare drug benefit and to publicize the dangers of drug abuse by young people. The administration acknowledged paying a conservative commentator, Armstrong Williams, to promote its No Child Left Behind education policy. But on Social Security, unlike those issues, the government has not concealed its role.

    The agency's strategic communications plan says the following message is to be disseminated to "all audiences" through speeches, seminars, public events, radio, television and newspapers: "Social Security's long-term financing problems are serious and need to be addressed soon," or else the program may not "be there for future generations."

    The plan says that Social Security managers should "discuss solvency issues at staff meetings," "insert solvency messages in all Social Security publications" and spread the word at nontraditional sites like farmers' markets and "big box retail stores."

    Also, the document says, agency managers should observe and measure how much their employees know about the solvency of the program.

    Mr. Bush has created a sense of urgency by declaring that "the crisis is now."

    A policy brief prepared by the agency says those benefit cuts "would double the poverty rate of Social Security beneficiaries aged 64 to 78," increasing the number of indigent people in that age bracket to 1.8 million, from 875,000.

    Witold R. Skwierczynski, president of the Social Security Council of the federation of government employees, said: "Some of the information being imparted by agency officials is not factual, not accurate. There is no immediate crisis."

    In interviews, other Social Security employees expressed similar views. But council members were more willing to allow use of their names because a federal law generally protects them against "penalty or reprisal" when they speak publicly or testify before Congress.

    Social Security employees denied that their concerns were motivated by a bureaucratic mentality, a fear of change or a desire to protect their jobs.

    Friday, January 14, 2005

    Snapshots in Time

    Snapshots in Time:

    “One of the most sweeping changes of the past 50 years has been in race relations. But while the victories of the civil rights movement may seem inevitable now, they certainly didn't seem so at the time. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling and the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, Public Agenda looks back at what the public believed as history was being made.”

    In the America of the 1950s, surveys found the public did not rush to embrace Brown vs. Board of Education. The Gallup poll found a majority (55 percent) approved of the Supreme Court's decision to strike down segregation in public schools, but a substantial 40 percent did not. Over the next few years the number who approved increased a little, to about six in 10. Five years later, in 1959, half the public told Gallup that they didn't believe Southern states would integrate schools without the Brown ruling (only 35 percent said they would). But Gallup also found more than half (53 percent) who said the Brown decision “caused a lot more trouble than it was worth.”

    That view may have been partly based on the 1957 Little Rock crisis, where the federal government sent the Army to integrate schools over the resistance of Arkansas leaders. Some 58 percent approved of President Eisenhower's handling of the situation. But the public was divided on whether the federal government was putting too much pressure on school integration: 33 percent said too much, 34 percent said it was about right and 19 percent said the government wasn't doing enough…

    Thursday, January 13, 2005

    Nomination May Revisit Case of Citizen Seized in Afghanistan

    Nomination May Revisit Case of Citizen Seized in Afghanistan:
    “Newly disclosed documents in the John Walker Lindh case appear to conflict with assertions made to Congress by Michael Chertoff, nominated this week as homeland security secretary, about the Justice Department's handling of ethics concerns in the high-profile prosecution.

    The conviction in 2002 of Mr. Lindh, an American who admitted joining the Taliban in Afghanistan, represented one of Mr. Chertoff's biggest triumphs as head of the criminal division in the department. But the case resurfaced in Senate confirmation hearings after Mr. Chertoff was nominated to be a federal appellate judge in 2003.

    At that time, Senate Democrats questioned him extensively about concerns in the department that the F.B.I. might have improperly questioned Mr. Lindh in Afghanistan even though his family had hired a lawyer for him. The questioning yielded potentially damaging admissions from Mr. Lindh that factored into his decision in July 2002 to plead guilty to felony charges, resulting in his 20-year prison sentence.

    Mr. Chertoff, chosen this week by President Bush to succeed Tom Ridge as homeland security secretary, earned strong endorsements from important lawmakers in both parties and appears quite likely to be confirmed. Some Senate Democrats said they wanted to examine his counterterrorism record at the Justice Department closely before voting to confirm, and he is likely to face fresh scrutiny over the Lindh case then.

    At his confirmation hearing in 2003, Mr. Chertoff said he and his deputies in the criminal division did not have an active role in discussions about ethics warnings in the case from lawyers elsewhere in the department.

    But in previously undisclosed department documents, provided to The New York Times by a person involved in the case who insisted on anonymity, a longtime lawyer in the division who worked under Mr. Chertoff detailed numerous contacts he had with lawyers inside and outside the division on Mr. Lindh's questioning.”

    The lawyer, John De Pue, cautioned in one e-mail message that questioning a suspect represented by a lawyer could be perceived as "an ethical violation." Mr. De Pue told investigators from the inspector general's office of the department that his superiors were upset that he had sought the advice of the department's Professional Responsibility Advisory Office, or P.R.A.O., about Mr. Lindh's questioning.

    A supervisor "informed me that the criminal division's leadership was disturbed that I had sought P.R.A.O.'s advice in this matter," Mr. De Pue said in his statement, which was included in an inspector general's investigation into a leak in the case. The supervisor also asked him to search his e-mail "trash" files to determine what internal discussions had occurred on the issue, he said.

    Mr. De Pue said on Wednesday that the inspector general's report had accurately quoted his concerns.

    "The front office was unhappy with the fact that I had gone to P.R.A.O. with my inquiry," he said. "I was more or less told that I was out of line in making that inquiry. It was not a popular thing to do, but I thought at the time it was the reasonable thing to do. We'd been told time after time that if an ethics issue arose, the people in that office were the ones to see."

    A supervisor in the counterterrorism section of the criminal division who expressed the division's displeasure "did not use Chertoff's name, but I certainly inferred from what he said that the unhappiness was coming from Chertoff" and his top deputy, Mr. De Pue said.

    At his confirmation hearing for the appellate judgeship, Mr. Chertoff said he was not aware of the dissent among department lawyers on the case, including an opinion from an ethics lawyer, Jesselyn Radack, saying an F.B.I. interview of Mr. Lindh would not be authorized under the law.

    Mr. Chertoff said, "I was not consulted with respect to this matter," and he said he was unaware that the office that handled ethics issues had given an official opinion on interviewing Mr. Lindh without his lawyer.…

    Information about more than 100 of the agencies collecting aid

    Information about more than 100 of the agencies collecting aid.:
    Hundreds of organizations are collecting money for
    tsunami aid, but how do you know if they're trustworthy, or how much
    of the money they're collecting they'll spend on aid versus
    administration? I highly recommend researching nonprofit companies
    before listing them in your publication. Readers may assume any
    charities listed are trustworthy, so it's up to us to check them out
    first. ”

    184 organizations were found on January 12,2005.

    Guidestars information is invaluable. Thanks to Jonathan Dube at Poynter and

    Wednesday, January 12, 2005

    Health Care? Ask Cuba

    Health Care? Ask Cuba:
    “If the U.S. had an infant mortality rate as good as Cuba's, we would save an additional 2,212 American babies a year.

    Yes, Cuba's. Babies are less likely to survive in America, with a health care system that we think is the best in the world, than in impoverished and autocratic Cuba. According to the latest C.I.A. World Factbook, Cuba is one of 41 countries that have better infant mortality rates than the U.S.

    Even more troubling, the rate in the U.S. has worsened recently.

    In every year since 1958, America's infant mortality rate improved, or at least held steady. But in 2002, it got worse: 7 babies died for each thousand live births, while that rate was 6.8 deaths the year before.

    Those numbers, buried in a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, didn't get much attention. But they are part of a pattern of recent statistics dribbling out of the federal government suggesting that for those on the bottom in America, life in our new Gilded Age is getting crueler.

    "America's children are at greater risk than they've been in for at least a decade," said Dr. Irwin Redlener, associate dean at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and president of the Children's Health Fund. "The rising rate of infant mortality is an early warning that we're headed in the wrong direction, with no relief in sight."

    It's too early to know just what to make of the increase in infant mortality in 2002 for American babies. Reliable data for 2003 and 2004 are not out yet. Sandy Smith of the Centers for Disease Control says that the statisticians are pretty sure there was not a further deterioration in 2003, but that it's too soon to know whether there was an improvement or just a leveling off at the higher rate.”

    Singapore has the best infant mortality rate in the world: 2.3 babies die before the age of 1 for every 1,000 live births. Sweden, Japan and Iceland all have a rate that is less than half of ours.

    If we had a rate as good as Singapore's, we would save 18,900 babies each year. Or to put it another way, our policy failures in Iraq may be killing Americans at a rate of about 800 a year, but our health care failures at home are resulting in incomparably more deaths - of infants. And their mothers, because women are 70 percent more likely to die in childbirth in America than in Europe.

    Of course, deaths in maternity wards occur one by one, and don't generate the national attention, grief and alarm of an explosion in Falluja or a tsunami in Sri Lanka. But they are far more frequent: every day, on average, 77 babies die in the U.S. and one woman dies in childbirth.

    Bolstering public health isn't as dramatic as spending $300 million for a single F/A-22 Raptor fighter jet, but it can be a far more efficient way of protecting Americans.

    Tuesday, January 11, 2005

    Parts of Iraq May Not Be Secure Enough to Vote, Like Baghdad?

    Parts of Iraq May Not Be Secure Enough to Vote, Like Baghdad?:
    “Some areas of Iraq will probably not be secure enough to take part in the Jan. 20 elections, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said today, even as he announced plans to increase the size of Iraq's army from 100,000 to more than 150,000 amid continuing attacks by insurgents.

    Hostile forces are trying to hinder the security situation and hamper the "guarantee for the participation of all in the election," Dr. Allawi said.

    "Certainly there are some pockets that will not be able to participate, but we do not think it will be widespread."

    It was a frank admission about the security situation by Dr. Allawi, who has insisted that the elections will go ahead as scheduled, although a telephone call the prime minister made to President Bush on Jan. 3 was interpreted by some officials in Washington as possibly preparing to make the case for delay. Senior American officials, however, insisted that was not the case.

    Dr. Allawi did not specify which parts of the country might not be able to vote, but Anbar Province and the area around Mosul in the north have been subject to continuing attacks that might make voting there particularly difficult.

    Those areas are mainly inhabited by Sunni Muslims, many of whose leaders have expressed opposition to the vote. Under Saddam Hussein, the minority Sunnis controlled Iraq and dominated the majority Shiites.

    Dr. Allawi spoke in Baghdad after six Iraqi policemen were killed when a suicide car bomb exploded at or near a police checkpoint in northern Tikrit, and after reports that seven Iraqi civilians died in a roadside bomb blast south of Baghdad.

    Mr. Allawi, who said Iraq would spend about $2 billion on increasing the size of the Iraqi Army, said the Iraqi Defense Ministry had re-established a military academy "and other institutions to deal with training issues."

    The Iraqi police have been a repeated target of attacks by insurgents, and Iraqi forces, which are scheduled to take over when coalition troops leave the country, have struggled to make an impact on the rebels.

    In Tikrit, a Sunni Muslim city that is the hometown of Mr. Hussein and one of the centers of the insurgency in Iraq, police patrols were leaving their headquarters today when the suicide bomber attacked, said a spokesman for the First Infantry Division in Tikrit, Master Sgt. Robert Powell.

    In a separate attack, seven Iraqi civilians were reported killed when a roadside bomb missed a passing American convoy and exploded next to a minibus in Yussifiya, 10 miles south of Baghdad, police and hospital officials told The Associated Press.

    There was no immediate confirmation by the military, and the press office of the interim Iraqi government could not be reached for comment.

    The militant group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility in an Internet statement for the Tikrit attack, in which one policeman was critically wounded and three others were treated in a hospital and released, Sergeant Powell said.

    "A lion from the martyrs brigade of Al Qaeda Organization of Holy War in Iraq launched an attack on the cowardly mercenary police in Tikrit this morning," the statement said, Reuters reported.”

    Today's attacks follow the killing on Monday of the deputy police chief of Baghdad and his son and the death of two American soldiers in an unusually powerful roadside bombing that destroyed a Bradley fighting vehicle, one of the American military's most heavily armored troop carriers.

    The assassinations marked the second killing of a senior Baghdad official in five days and came less than three weeks before the national elections, scheduled for Jan. 30, that the insurgents have said they will disrupt.

    If they can't secure the Capitol, how on earth are they ready for an election? Al Ingram

    Monday, January 10, 2005



    “RealClimate is a commentary site on climate science by working climate scientists for the interested public and journalists. We aim to provide a quick response to developing stories and provide the context sometimes missing in mainstream commentary. The discussion here is restricted to scientific topics and will not get involved in any political or economic implications of the science.”

    The contributors to this site do so in a personal capacity during their spare time and their posts do not represent the views of the organizations for which they work. The contributors are solely responsible for the content of the site and receive no remuneration for their contributions.

    Sunday, January 09, 2005

    Tsunamihelp from WikiNews

    Tsunamihelp from WikiNews:
    “This Indian Ocean Disaster Relief Portal lists humanitarian aid resources to help victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami

    Note: Please be aware that due to the nature of wiki ( technology and that anybody may edit the information on any of these pages, the information here comes without any kind of warranty, explicit or implied. Information provided here is often not verified by others, and scams involving donations are a problem in general. Please use the information carefully and at your own risk.


    Most of the pages of this wiki have been initially hosted over at
    con·cept: January 2005