Monday, February 28, 2005

today's blogs The latest chatter in cyberspace.

GOP Master Plan Revealed!
By Bidisha Banerjee

The Anarchist Cookbook, GOP edition: Republican spin doctor Frank Luntz examines the lessons learned from last year's GOP victory in a playbook that the "non-partisan research and educational institute" Center for American Progress is dissecting in a series of blog posts. (You can download the entire 160-page book as a Zip file here.) "It's probably the only thing that couldn't be found on the internet...until now," gushes a commentator at liberal blog Political Strategy. Another outraged left-wing blogger calls the book "How to Lie and Win," while yet another says "[I]t's like reading 1984. He literally tells you how to use words to manipulate people into being in favor of stuff that does them harm!" (As of late this afternoon(Posted Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2005, at 5:12 PM PT) , conservative bloggers haven't started to respond.)


Luntz’s playbook is full of things people should never say if they don’t want to undermine the right-wing agenda. Here’s how you can be Frank Luntz’s worst nightmare:


• Talk about the economy using “facts and figures.”

• Talk about the overall size of Bush’s proposed tax cut.

• Describe how repealing the estate tax protects America’s wealthiest families.

• Talk about the economy without bringing up 9/11.

• Recall how Bill Clinton produced balanced budgets in the late 1990s.


• Remind people that conservatives want to make painful cuts in vital government services.

• Talk about the deficit without bringing up 9/11.

Social Security

• Remind people that the financial services industry has been embroiled in scandal and corruption.

• Note that money contributed to private accounts will “go into the hands of greedy Wall Street fat cats.”

• Point out that proponents of Social Security privatization “lack factual discipline.”

• Tell people that the push to privatize Social Security is about partisan politics.


• Tell people what ANWR stands for.

• Say, “We should rely on American ingenuity and not the Saudi Royal Family.”

• Talk about how drilling for oil harms the environment.

• Always say “Drilling for oil"; Never say “Exploring for energy.”

• Give specific examples of safety and security problems at nuclear power plants.

Patients’ Rights

• When talking about trial lawyers don’t use words like “creeps, bottom-feeds, overpaid and evil.”

• Say, “When innocent people who are injured seek compensation from those who cause their injuries it’s anything but frivolous. When a preventable careless medical error forces a child into a wheelchair for the rest of his life, it’s anything but frivolous. And when someone close to you suffers due to doctor negligence, their right to a day in court is anything but frivolous.”

Posted by Judd February 24th, 2005 11:19 amPermalink

When identity thieves strike data warehouses

By Robert Vamosi
“ChoicePoint was not hacked
Several media accounts described the data breach at ChoicePoint as a computer hack. It wasn't. At this time, details are still emerging on what really happened at ChoicePoint, but the customer data was obtained through fraudulent accounts, and the practice appears to have spanned more than one year. There was no database compromise involved. Instead, it appears that an individual or group of individuals fraudulently created accounts with ChoicePoint, then obtained personal data from those accounts and used it to defraud people whose profiles are stored in ChoicePoint's data warehouse by changing billing addresses, then opening up credit accounts under a victim's name. So far, only one person has been charged in the fraud, a 41-year-old Nigerian man living in Los Angeles named Olatunji Oluwatosin, who now faces six felony counts including identity theft.

Ironically, ChoicePoint is a business that provides identification and credential verification for others, yet initial reports suggest a breakdown in ChoicePoint's own client-authentication process that allowed this fraud to occur.

Thank goodness for California laws
Fortunately, California has an identity theft law on the books, SB 1386. Because ChoicePoint retains information about residents in California, ChoicePoint is required by law to disclose any breach of information, which the company did. In fact, we might not have known about the ChoicePoint breach without SB 1386. Soon after the media learned of the initial breach, ChoicePoint felt compelled to notify as many affected individuals as it could, opening a tidal wave of disclosures that now includes more than 140,000 people in nearly all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and at least one class-action lawsuit.

So why don't more states have these laws? Some state houses across the country are considering identity-theft disclosure laws similar to California's. Then why isn't there a federal law? Good question.

After the success of the California law, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) introduced national legislation, SB 115, modeled after the California law, requiring all companies doing business in the United States to notify their customers whenever there's a breach of customer data including first and last names, date of birth, social security number, and address. Unfortunately, the Feinstein bill has no cosponsors in Congress.

As I write, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlan Spector (R-Pennsylvania) has announced plans to hold Senate hearings to examine the privacy, security, and civil liberty implications involved with the sale of personal information. And Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida) has started studying additional legislation. Nelson should be familiar with ChoicePoint: In 2000, a subsidiary of ChoicePoint, DBT, was hired by the state of Florida to remove felons from the voter registration lists, but the company ended up deleting legitimate voters as well.

Which gets us to next problem: accuracy
If you live in the western United States, you can now request once-a-year free access to your credit history via the big three credit agencies (the Midwest and East Coast will follow suit shortly). The idea is to spot identity theft and also to give you the ability to clarify any errors (yes, the credit agencies sometimes make costly errors). But how do you spot and correct inaccurate information contained by ChoicePoint and others? At the moment, you can't.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Bush's Next Target: Malpractice Lawyers

“The work, time, risk and potential rewards in complex malpractice suits are illustrated by a $20 million settlement Mr. Smith won last June. The origins of the case go back to 1997, when Huong Nguyen, then a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was experiencing shortness of breath doing ordinary things like climbing stairs. She was diagnosed as having a faulty mitral valve, a pair of triangular flaps that regulate blood flow between two of the heart's chambers. The valve had to be repaired or replaced.

The surgery lasted more than eight hours, though the procedure usually takes about half that long, Mr. Smith said. The next morning, Ms. Nguyen could squeeze her right hand, but she was otherwise paralyzed and could not speak. She had suffered severe brain damage.

A lawyer referred the family to Mr. Smith, who began investigating. After an initial screening by Mr. Smith's firm, the family filed suit against the surgeon, Dr. Bradley S. Allen. Over the next several years, in preparation for trial, the law firm spent $375,000, much of it for the work of specialists like a cardiothoracic surgeon, neurologists, economists and a forensic videographer.

Mr. Smith contended that Dr. Allen did not properly remove air from the patient's heart during the procedure and that the resulting air embolus caused brain damage. Dr. Allen's lawyer, Kevin T. Martin, said Ms. Nguyen's resulting disability was a risk in this kind of surgery and "very unfortunate, but not a medical error."

The surgery had been videotaped, but when a court ordered Dr. Allen to produce the tape, there was a lengthy gap that included brief segments of television commercials. Had the case gone to trial, Mr. Smith would have contended that the defendant tampered with evidence, an assertion denied by Mr. Martin, who said the gap in the tape had resulted from a mechanical malfunction.

Ms. Nguyen is unable to move her arms or legs and cannot sit up or speak on her own. She communicates by tapping her right forefinger on a special keyboard. She suffers from depression and seizures but is cognitively intact. “She is totally aware of her desperate straits,” Mr. Smith said. “This is as bad as it gets and she knows it.”

Mr. Smith's economists estimated that lifetime care for her would cost up to $20 million. The settlement talks, Mr. Smith said, began a few months before the trial was scheduled to start, with the defense offers starting at $5 million and the Nguyen family deciding to settle at $20 million. ‘It was entirely the family's decision,’ Mr. Smith said. ‘I think we could have gotten more in trial.’ ”

THE medical liability system, health care analysts agree, is deeply flawed. But they also generally agree that the solution offered by the administration and the Republican Congress - putting a ceiling on damages - addresses only one aspect of the problem.

Medical liability policy, said Dr. William M. Sage, a physician and a law professor at Columbia University, should seek three goals: restraining overall costs, compensating the victims of medical mistakes and providing incentives for doctors and hospitals to reduce medical errors.

"There is a strong consensus among people who have really studied the issue that caps on damages would tend to keep costs down and make liability insurance more affordable for doctors," Dr. Sage said. "And there is a universal consensus that caps would do absolutely nothing to reduce medical errors or to compensate injured patients. If anything, caps on damages would make those problems worse."

Medical malpractice laws vary state by state. But California offers a glimpse of a future preferred by the administration and many Republicans in Congress. In 1975, California passed the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, which included a cap of $250,000 for damages like pain and suffering in malpractice cases. It did not limit economic damages for things like the cost of continuing care for a person disabled or wages lost because of medical errors. The law also curbed attorneys' fees on a sliding scale that prohibited them from collecting more than 15 percent on award amounts over $600,000, with higher percentages for the amounts below that sum. (In states without limits on fees, contingency payments to malpractice lawyers are typically about one-third of awards.)

Research varies on the likely impact of curbs on awards and fees, but a RAND Corporation study last year concluded that the California law had reduced the net recoveries for plaintiffs by 15 percent and had cut attorneys' fees by far more, an estimated 60 percent. Defendant liabilities, it calculated, were trimmed 30 percent because of the law.

California malpractice lawyers say the law also discourages them from taking wrongful-death cases if the victims are children or retirees. Those groups have no economic value by the cold logic of the courtroom because they are not earning salaries, so the maximum award would be $250,000. Complex cases, which often require many expert witnesses and years of research, can cost that much to bring to trial.

Linda Fermoyle Rice, a medical malpractice lawyer in Woodland Hills, Calif., said she recently told the family of a 14-year-old boy who died unexpectedly in a hospital - apparently from medical negligence, Ms. Rice said - that she could not afford to pursue the case. "The law has made it impossible for many victims to get access to the court," she said.

Even plaintiffs who get to court often come away empty-handed. Nationally, defendants prevail in nearly 80 percent of the medical malpractice cases that go to trial. Many malpractice suits, legal analysts say, are filed by personal-injury lawyers, accustomed to handling simpler cases like those involving auto accidents, but not as experienced in medical negligence work. In a 2002 survey by the trial lawyers association, only 11 percent of its 60,000 members said medical malpractice was their primary area of practice; 40 percent replied that medical negligence cases were some part of their practice....

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Utah May Be Future for Medicaid


Mr. Leavitt asked in a speech this month. "Wouldn't it be better to give Chevies to everyone rather than Cadillacs to a few?"

The truth is that everyone gets a bicyle, including the folks with one leg. A.I.

“Anyone looking for clues as to how the Bush administration might overhaul the Medicaid system should come to Utah and read the fine print of Tony Martinez's health insurance plan.

Mr. Martinez, 56, was homeless and without any health coverage a year ago. Now, under an experimental plan of partial insurance devised under Michael O. Leavitt when he was governor of Utah, Mr. Martinez can see a doctor or go to the emergency room for only a small fee.

But he and his wife, Lisa, are not covered at all for the potentially catastrophic costs of extended hospitalization or specialty medical treatment, from dermatology to oncology. For those services, they must rely, as they did when they were homeless, on charity.

And that brings the story back to Mr. Leavitt, who as President Bush's new secretary of health and human services is now leading a drive to change how Medicaid works and often points to Utah as an illuminating example that other states might consider - although it is an innovation that policy experts, doctors and advocates for the poor are deeply ambivalent about.

In Utah, Mr. Leavitt's plan departs from the traditional Medicaid program on two main fronts. First, it spreads out a lower, more basic level of care to more people, and reduces coverage for some traditional beneficiaries by imposing co-payments for services. And second, it relies on the generosity of doctors and hospitals to provide specialty services free of charge.

In doing so, the state has in many ways reframed and reshaped the national debate over Medicaid and health care for the indigent, experts say, broadening the focus from the question of who does and does not have health insurance, to what constitutes basic health coverage.”

…substantial state-by-state Medicaid experiments could fracture and fragment a system that while never without its critics, has evolved into an anchor of health coverage for the poor since its introduction in the 1960's. Medicaid could create a landscape of winners and losers determined largely by whether they are lucky enough not to become seriously ill.

Mr. Martinez, for one, considers himself a winner. From no insurance, he now has some, and he considers that a victory. "We can go to sleep at night and not worry," Mr. Martinez said. "For me it's been great because I'm healthy and not on a lot of meds."

While Mr. Martinez sees the glass as half full, Wudeh Noba, a day care worker in the same Utah program, the Primary Care Network, sees the glass as half empty. The convoluted rules and co-payment schedules frighten her so much that she has ignored her doctor's advice to have a mammogram and find treatment for her migraine headaches because she is so worried about running up costs that she cannot afford on her $7-an-hour salary. Ms. Noba, a refugee from Senegal, might have insurance on paper, but she does not remotely receive the care her plan supposedly provides.

Instead of trying to destroy AARP…

Swifties Slime Again
“Instead of trying to destroy AARP, Republicans should be signing up the seniors' lobby to find Osama.

AARP's super-relentless intelligence network is certainly better than that doddering C.I.A's. Osama has to have turned 50, and AARP somehow knows where everyone who has turned 50 lives.”

But no. The same Republicans who used to love AARP when it helped them pass the president's prescription drug plan now hate AARP because it is against the president's plan to privatize Social Security.

"They are the boulder in the middle of the highway to personal savings accounts," said Charlie Jarvis, the president of USA Next, a conservative lobbying group. "We will be the dynamite that removes them." He sounded more like Wile E. Coyote than a former interior official in the Reagan and Bush I administrations. "They can run, but they can't hide," he said. But the walker-and-cane set is hard to picture in the Road Runner role.

The Washington Monthly called USA Next's United Seniors Association, a self-styled AARP rival, "a soft-money slush fund for a single G.O.P.-friendly industry: pharmaceuticals."

Certainly, AARP, the gigantic special interest flush with money, probably does wield undue influence and certainly can be an obstacle to public policy, sticking up too much for what their critics call "greedy geezers."

But AARP doesn't deserve this treatment from the "Swift Boat" political demolition team. As Glen Justice reported in The Times, USA Next, which has spent millions on Republican policy fights, has pledged to spend as much as $10 million on ads and other tactics to "dynamite" AARP and get Americans to rip up Social Security. It's hiring some of the same consultants who helped the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who dynamited John Kerry, a war hero, by sliming him as a war criminal.

Once again, just as W. runs into political trouble, he floats above the fray while the help takes out his opponents. Just as John McCain was smeared by Bush supporters in 2000, Swift Boat assassins can rid the president of any meddlesome adversaries now.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Chicago Tribune | A White House plant?

By Charlie Madigan
“What did the White House know and when did it know it on the question of the kinky bald guy with the stinky Web sites who got to pose as a 'daily pass' reporter in the White House press corps?

He got to help the White House wiggle out of unpleasant moments by asking questions worthy of a doofus, which drew the attention of the blogosphere, which shifted into 'high proctology' mode in a recent hot pursuit of the caper.

Bingo, another media incident explodes.

Well, good for the bloggers.

But there's one problem left, and that is the big question: Did the White House knowingly plant this lap doof in the press corps or, as indicated in many White House comments, was it just something that happened over time despite lots of scrutiny that led them to conclude he was legit, sort of?”

First, some history.

James Guckert was his name and Talon News was the game.

If this were the old TV Untouchables, Walter Winchell would be shouting, "Talon....a conservative front organization masquerading as an innocent news website...was water boy for the right people...if you get my was a plane with one wing...and it always turned to the right...."

And so on.

Talon was connected to a decidedly partisan something called GOPUSA. Letterheads went to the White House, the minions in the press office "checked it out" and concluded Talon was actually a news organization and it was legit, we have been told.

Anyhow, for a couple of years, this Guckert guy, masquerading as reporter Jeff Gannon, got to be in the White House press corps because the White House decided to let him in. Lots of Talon stories, we are told, looked a lot like White House and Republican Party handouts.

During the campaign last year, I made an attempt to get a ticket as a normal person, not as a reporter writing the Gleaner, to a Bush rally in Holland, Mich. I made exactly one call to an old guy at the local Republican committee to cop a ticket.

Before you knew it, local Republicans, regional Republicans and National Republicans were all over me. No! You can't go as a normal person. You must go as a reporter and sit where the reporters sit.

You may not ramble around.

Well, what fun is that?

I made a half-hearted attempt to follow the rules, got my credentials and went to the event outside of Holland. Once I cleared security, I dashed off to freedom to ask a guy in a funny hat what he was up to.

It took less than two minutes for a woman in a nice blue suit to rush up to me with some "security" in tow and announce I couldn't do that, that I had to sit in the press section and stay there.

Since the "press" wasn't even going to arrive for another two hours, I thought that would be kind of limiting, so I respectfully said, "No @#$%#$ way in hell."

They held a meeting and affixed a tour guide to my side, a nice young woman who turned out to be a good interview because of the details of her life and why they made her think like a Republican.

Soon, she was withdrawn, probably for being too communicative, and was replaced by a fat guy who spent the entire event following me around and asking me if I was "getting what I needed."

That, I thought, was a very personal question.

Think about it this way. The Bush people were so efficient and focused they could reach all the way out to Holland, Mich. and try to put a choke collar on an innocent Rambling Gleaner.

Given that, can there be any doubt about what they knew about the ringer sitting in the middle of the press room for the briefings just about every day?,1,1375290.story?ctrack=1&cset=true

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Iraq: Winning the Unwinnable War

James Dobbins
“Summary: By losing the trust of the Iraqi people, the Bush administration has already lost the war. Moderate Iraqis can still win it, but only if they wean themselves from Washington and get support from elsewhere. To help them, the United States should reduce and ultimately eliminate its military presence, train Iraqis to beat the insurgency on their own, and rally Iran and European allies to the cause.

James Dobbins is Director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at Rand. He was a U.S. Special Envoy in Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti, Somalia, and Afghanistan.

In the eyes of the Iraqi people and of all the neighboring populations, the U.S. mission in Iraq lacks legitimacy and credibility. Only by dramatically recasting the American role in the region can such perceptions begin to be changed. Until then, U.S. military operations in Iraq will continue to inspire local resistance, radicalize neighboring populations, and discourage international cooperation.


American forces have lost the support of the Iraqi population and probably cannot regain it. The insurgency can be defeated only by Iraqi forces under Iraqi leadership, and only to the degree that those forces can dramatically reduce their dependence on the United States. Military operations should be governed by a counterinsurgency strategy emphasizing pacification--that is to say, priority should be given to securing the civilian population, not hunting down insurgents. In the end, insurgencies are defeated not by killing insurgents, but by winning the support of the population and thus denying the insurgents both refuge and recruits.

Counterinsurgency campaigns require the close integration of civil and military efforts, moreover, with primacy given to political objectives over military goals. They require detailed tactical intelligence, which can be developed only by Iraqis and is best gathered by a police force in daily contact with the population. Training the Iraqi police and building a counterterrorist "special branch" within it should take priority over all other capacity-building programs, including the creation of an Iraqi military. Given the United Kingdom's superior experience in domestic terrorism and counterinsurgency, Washington should ask London to take the lead in creating special units within the Iraqi police.

No population will support a force that cannot protect it, so enhancing the Iraqi people's security should take priority over other military and civil objectives. Doing so will require freeing the population from intimidation by the insurgents, and that will require military action. Yet if such action is U.S.-led, employs heavy ordinance, produces large-scale collateral damage, and inflicts numerous innocent casualties, it could be counterproductive. In the end, the success or failure of an offensive such as the November assault on Falluja must be measured not according to body counts or footage of liberated territory, but according to Iraqi public opinion. If the Iraqi public emerges less supportive of its government, and more supportive of the insurgents, then the battle, perhaps even the war, will have been lost.

Pulverizing cities to root out insurgents may restore some control to the Iraqi government, but the benefits are unlikely to last long if the damage also alienates the population. Sacrificing innocent Iraqi lives to save American ones is a difficult tradeoff. Using better-calibrated warfare tactics--manpower instead of firepower, snipers and special forces instead of tanks and artillery--could mean saving innocent Iraqi lives at the cost of more U.S. casualties. Of course, the U.S. government must concern itself with American as well as Iraqi public support for the war. But for now, Washington should be especially mindful of the losses it inflicts on Iraqi civilians, because today the lack of support for its efforts among them is a far more immediate threat than the lack of support at home.

Such caution is all the more warranted because, in one important respect, the Iraqi insurgency is very different from the communist and nationalist insurgencies of the Cold War: it lacks unity of command and an overarching ideology. The only factor that unites Muslim fundamentalist mujahideen, secular Baathist holdouts, and Shiite extremists is their desire to expel American forces--a goal that a majority of the Iraqi people seems to share, too. If that rallying cause can be weakened by diminishing Washington's involvement, the Iraqi government should be able to play on divisions among the rebels, steering some of them away from violence and toward the political mainstream, while marginalizing or dividing the rest. Washington should encourage the Iraqi regime in such efforts, including by offering amnesty to those prepared to renounce violence and enter the political process. The United States never sought to try German, Japanese, Korean, or Vietnamese soldiers for shooting at Americans. Washington is currently backing the Colombian government's plan to offer amnesty to right-wing paramilitaries and should encourage a similar effort in Iraq.

Audit Faults U.S. for Its Spending on Port Defense

The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general has concluded that it has allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to protect ports since Sept. 11 without sufficiently focusing on those that are most vulnerable, a policy that could compromise the nation's ability to better defend against terrorist attacks.

“Hundreds of thousands of dollars has been invested in redundant lighting systems and unnecessary technical equipment, the audit found, but ‘the program has not yet achieved its intended results in the form of actual improvement in port security.’

In addition, less than a quarter of the $517 million that the department distributed in grants between June 2002 and December 2003 had been spent as of September 2004, the inspector general found. The report also questioned whether grants allocated for small projects in resort areas and some remote locations should have been considered as critical to national security needs as larger projects at ports that are more vital to the national economy.

The findings, released earlier this week, were the latest to criticize the Homeland Security Department's antiterrorism grant program, which has come under attack by people who say it has set poor priorities. For example, Wyoming received four times as much antiterrorism money per capita as New York did last year, according to a Congressional report.

A Department of Homeland Security spokesman, citing the department's defense of the port grants that was included in the audit, declined requests for further comment. In remarks included in the audit, a Homeland Security official said the department had taken the higher risk factor of larger ports into account.”

Ninety-five percent of all international commerce enters the United States through its roughly 360 public and private ports. But nearly 80 percent of that trade moves through only 10 ports, with the biggest loads passing through Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland in California and New York. That is why the nation's biggest ports are seen as particularly attractive as terrorist targets. Severely damaging one would not only cause deaths, injuries and property damage, but could also disrupt the flow of many basic goods into and out of the country, port officials say.

Part of the problem, the audit found, is that the annual grants were given out based on applications submitted by individual ports and then awarded even when department staff members found that many of the submissions lacked merit. Instead of withholding money because of a shortage of viable projects, the department disbursed the money to finance dubious security initiatives, many of which are detailed in the 70-page report. The grants are described in some detail, but the names of the winners and losers are not disclosed.

The grant program was intended to limit awards to what were considered strategic ports, meaning terminals that handle a large volume of cargo or a high number of passengers, are next to military facilities, or handle hazardous cargo.

After examining four separate rounds of port grants, the inspector general found that the department appeared to be intentionally distributing the money as widely as possible across the country, instead of focusing it on the biggest ports or on other locations that intelligence reports suggested were most likely to be future targets.

Major ports like New York, Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland received large allocations. But smaller grants went to ports in places like St. Croix in the Virgin Islands, Martha's Vineyard, Mass., Ludington, Mich., and six locations in Arkansas, none of which appeared to meet the grant eligibility requirements, the audit said. The department, as a result, "had no assurance that the program is protecting the nation's most critical and vulnerable port infrastructure and assets," the audit said.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Administration Is Warned About Its 'News' Videos

It is illegal for the government to produce or distribute such publicity material domestically without disclosing its own role.

“The comptroller general has issued a blanket warning that reminds federal agencies they may not produce newscasts promoting administration policies without clearly stating that the government itself is the source.

Twice in the last two years, agencies of the federal government have been caught distributing prepackaged television programs that used paid spokesmen acting as newscasters and, in violation of federal law, failed to disclose the administration's role in developing and financing them.

And those were not isolated incidents, David M. Walker, the comptroller general, said in a letter dated Thursday that put all agency heads on notice about the practice.

In fact, it has become increasingly common for federal agencies to adopt the public relations tactic of producing "video news releases" that look indistinguishable from authentic newscasts and, as ready-made and cost-free reports, are sometimes picked up by local news programs. It is illegal for the government to produce or distribute such publicity material domestically without disclosing its own role.

"While agencies generally have the right to disseminate information about their policies and activities, agencies may not use appropriated funds to produce or distribute prepackaged news stories intended to be viewed by television audiences that conceal or do not clearly identify for the television viewing audience that the agency was the source of those materials."

‘It is not enough,’ he added, ‘that the contents of an agency's communication may be unobjectionable.’”

The two best-known cases of such video news releases - one concerning the new Medicare law, the other an antidrug campaign by the Bush administration - drew sharp rebukes from the G.A.O. after separate investigations last year found that the agencies involved had violated the law.

Those cases were followed by disclosures that the government had paid at least one conservative commentator, Armstrong Williams, to promote the administration's No Child Left Behind education measure and had put two other conservative writers on the federal payroll to help develop programs. These episodes have prompted calls from Democrats for stricter oversight of the administration's publicity practices, which have cost millions of dollars of federal revenue.

In the Medicare case, a video made in the style of a newscast featured a spokeswoman named Karen Ryan who claimed to be reporting from Washington on Medicare law changes strongly backed by the administration but opposed by many Democrats, who consider them a windfall for the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. In part of one script, she said that "all people with Medicare will be able to get coverage that will lower their prescription drug spending."

Often there is an intermediary in the process: a public relations firm hired by a government agency to produce a polished video and direct other aspects of a publicity drive.

One centrally involved firm is Ketchum, a giant in the public relations industry whose representatives arranged for both the Medicare video and the contract with Mr. Williams, a pact that is now under investigation by three government agencies. Ketchum has received $97 million in government public relations contracts since 2001.

The G.A.O. letter did not caution agencies to curtail their publicity practices, telling them simply to adhere to disclosure requirements.

"Prepackaged news stories," Mr. Walker wrote, "can be utilized without violating the law, so long as there is clear disclosure to the television viewing audience that this material was prepared by or in cooperation with the government department or agency."

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

We May Actually Begin Fighting For What We Believe

The Republicans know the America they want, and they are not afraid to use any means to get there,” Howard Dean said in accepting the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. “But there is something that this administration and the Republican Party are very afraid of. It is that we may actually begin fighting for what we believe.”

Those words tell us what the selection of Mr. Dean means. It doesn't represent a turn to the left: Mr. Dean is squarely in the center of his party on issues like health care and national defense. Instead, Mr. Dean's political rejuvenation reflects the new ascendancy within the party of fighting moderates, the Democrats who believe that they must defend their principles aggressively against the right-wing radicals who have taken over Congress and the White House.

It was always absurd to call Mr. Dean a left-winger. Just ask the real left-wingers. During his presidential campaign, an article in the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch denounced him as a "Clintonesque Republicrat," someone who, as governor, tried "to balance the budget, even though Vermont is a state in which a balanced budget is not required."

Even on Iraq, many moderates, including moderate Republicans, quietly shared Mr. Dean's misgivings - which have been fully vindicated - about the march to war.

But Mr. Dean, of course, wasn't quiet. He frankly questioned the Bush administration's motives and honesty at a time when most Democrats believed that the prudent thing was to play along with the war partyvery afraid of. It is that we may actually begin fighting for what we believe.

We'll never know whether Democrats would have done better over the past four years if they had taken a stronger stand against the right. But it's clear that the time for that sort of caution is past.

For one thing, there's no more room for illusions. In 2001 it was possible for some Democrats to convince themselves that President Bush's tax cuts were consistent with an agenda that was only moderately conservative. In 2002 it was possible for some Democrats to convince themselves that the push for war with Iraq was really about eliminating weapons of mass destruction.

But in 2005 it takes an act of willful blindness not to see that the Bush plan for Social Security is intended, in essence, to dismantle the most important achievement of the New Deal. The Republicans themselves say so: the push for privatization is following the playbook laid out in a 1983 Cato Journal article titled "A 'Leninist' Strategy," and in a White House memo declaring that "for the first time in six decades, the Social Security battle is one we can win - and in doing so, we can help transform the political and philosophical landscape of the country."

Monday, February 14, 2005

It's Not Exactly Class Warfare

by Alfred Ingram
“As much as I agree with Paul Krugman's assessment of Bush's motives. What's going on isn't exactly class warfare. Unfortunately, people have to be believed to be heard. You have to believe people have status. You have to see them as players in the game, before you can see them as an enemy. ”

Professor Yoshi Tsurami (as of last fall at C.U.N.Y) vividly remembers George Bush at Harvard business School in 1973, because he was always making statements denouncing the New Deal as socialist, calling the S.E.C. an impediment to business, calling the civil rights movement “socialist/communist” and declaring that “people are poor because they're lazy.” An aide (Dan Bartlett) denied he ever made those statements, but those type of statements were at one time surrounded him like the air he breathed. In the 1960's they were totally typical of the conservative wing of his social class.

How would I know? I got to hear it over and over again, not in the classrooms, but in the dorms, at meals in the commons, at YAF (Young Americans for Freedom) meetings, at Phillips Academy in Andover Massachusetts. What I don't know is if he picked up these ideas at Andover or, like other very well off conservative kids, brought them from home. I have a hard time believing that his father or mother taught anything close to this.

Can you imagine people who'd never labored in their lives being absolutely convinced that people who did back-breaking work were lazy? Can you seriously envision people who could call FDR a “traitor to his class,” with a straight face. Can you imagine a person who would tell an African-American that the basic problem of black people was their inability to handle hard work (present company exluded), then complain because a farmer who'd traded them firewood (the older dorms had fireplaces) had him working like a nigger.

How did I get in a position where they felt safe making statements like that in front of me? It was a position I took in a debate on the war. The war in Viet Nam. I was firmly anti-communist. I had a cousin flying missions in Viet Nam. There were, though there should have been, no questions about the validity of the Gulf of Tonkin incident. The opposition argued an emotional position, I argued from history. The facts as we knew them favored my position and I demolished the antiwar proposition.

I think I was something of an anomaly to them. They never understood how I could agree on some things, and totally disagree with them on others. In fact, their positons were as emotionally based as the other sides. When the facts contradicted them, they ignored the facts. Confronted with anything that differed from their beliefs, they'd say “You're making that up.” The point is that the rest of us aren't quite real to Mr. Bush. Reality isn't quite real to Mr. Bush. He's fond of us, but he and people like him are going to fix America. They're goingto make us more self-reliant. Teach us not to go to the doctor so often. They know better after all, and if things don't work out, well they tried.

Study Looks at Local Political News


“In the month leading up to last year's presidential election, local television stations in big cities devoted eight times as much air time to car crashes and other accidents than to campaigns for the House of Representatives, state senate, city hall and other local offices, according to a new study to be released tomorrow.

The study - which was carried out by researchers at the University of Wisconsin and Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., and led by the Norman Lear Center at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California - analyzed more than 4,000 local newscasts that were broadcast in 11 major markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Miami, in the four weeks before the election.

It found that 8 percent of those broadcasts included a report about a local race. By contrast, more than half those broadcasts contained a report on the presidential race.

The apparent disparity between local and national political coverage at the local level is being added to the debate over how many television stations a company may own. Last week, the researchers filed their report with the Federal Communications Commission, which is in the midst of an inquiry into easing local ownership rules. ”

The study will be formally presented tomorrow at a news conference hosted by Senator John McCain of Arizona, a critic of efforts to ease restrictions on media ownership.

"I think most stations fear that covering politics is ratings poison," said Martin Kaplan, associate dean of the Annenberg School and one of the lead authors of the study. "Interestingly, they don't seem to fear that running a torrent of political ads hurts them with their audience."

Mr. Kaplan, who hosts a weekly program on "Air America," a liberal talk radio network, and his colleagues found that in the 11 markets studied, the hours of advertising by House candidates eclipsed actual coverage of those races by a ratio of 5 to 1.

Among the study's most jarring findings was in the Seattle market, where in the month before the gubernatorial election, which would turn out to be razor thin, 95 percent of the newscasts analyzed by the researchers had no reports on the race.

"Time spent on teasers, bumpers and intro music in Seattle outnumbered time covering the Washington gubernatorial race by 14 to 1," the researchers wrote.

NYTimes: Bush's Class-War Budget

“It may sound shrill to describe President Bush as someone who takes food from the mouths of babes and gives the proceeds to his millionaire friends. Yet his latest budget proposal is top-down class warfare in action. And it offers the Democrats an opportunity, if they're willing to take it.

First, the facts: the budget proposal really does take food from the mouths of babes. One of the proposed spending cuts would make it harder for working families with children to receive food stamps, terminating aid for about 300,000 people. Another would deny child care assistance to about 300,000 children, again in low-income working families.

And the budget really does shower largesse on millionaires even as it punishes the needy. For example, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities informs us that even as the administration demands spending cuts, it will proceed with the phaseout of two little-known tax provisions - originally put in place under the first President George Bush - that limit deductions and exemptions for high-income households.

More than half of the benefits from this backdoor tax cut would go to people with incomes of more than a million dollars; 97 percent would go to people with incomes exceeding $200,000.

It so happens that the number of taxpayers with more than $1 million in annual income is about the same as the number of people who would have their food stamps cut off under the Bush proposal. But it costs a lot more to give a millionaire a break than to put food on a low-income family's table: eliminating limits on deductions and exemptions would give taxpayers with incomes over $1 million an average tax cut of more than $19,000.

The question is whether the relentless mean-spiritedness of this budget finally awakens the public to the true cost of Mr. Bush's tax policy.

It's like that all the way through. On one side, the budget calls for program cuts that are small change compared with the budget deficit, yet will harm hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable Americans. On the other side, it calls for making tax cuts for the wealthy permanent, and for new tax breaks for the affluent in the form of tax-sheltered accounts and more liberal rules for deductions.

The question is whether the relentless mean-spiritedness of this budget finally awakens the public to the true cost of Mr. Bush's tax policy.

Until now, the administration has been able to get away with the pretense that it can offset the revenue loss from tax cuts with benign spending restraint. That's because until now, "restraint" was an abstract concept, not tied to specific actions, making it seem as if spending cuts would hurt only a few special interest groups.

But here we are with the first demonstration of restraint in action, and look what's on the chopping block, selected for big cuts: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health insurance for children and aid to law enforcement. (Yes, Mr. Bush proposes to cut farm subsidies, which are truly wasteful. Let's see how much political capital he spends on that proposal.)

Until now, the administration has also been able to pretend that the budget deficit isn't an important issue so the role of tax cuts in causing that deficit can be ignored. But Mr. Bush has at last conceded that the deficit is indeed a major problem.

Why shouldn't the affluent, who have done so well from Mr. Bush's policies, pay part of the price of dealing with that problem?

Thursday, February 10, 2005

9/11 Report Cites Many Warnings About Hijackings

“In the months before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal aviation officials reviewed dozens of intelligence reports that warned about Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, some of which specifically discussed airline hijackings and suicide operations, according to a previously undisclosed report from the 9/11 commission.

But aviation officials were "lulled into a false sense of security," and "intelligence that indicated a real and growing threat leading up to 9/11 did not stimulate significant increases in security procedures," the commission report concluded.

The report discloses that the Federal Aviation Administration, despite being focused on risks of hijackings overseas, warned airports in the spring of 2001 that if "the intent of the hijacker is not to exchange hostages for prisoners, but to commit suicide in a spectacular explosion, a domestic hijacking would probably be preferable."

The report takes the F.A.A. to task for failing to pursue domestic security measures that could conceivably have altered the events of Sept. 11, 2001, like toughening airport screening procedures for weapons or expanding the use of on-flight air marshals. The report, completed last August, said officials appeared more concerned with reducing airline congestion, lessening delays, and easing airlines' financial woes than deterring a terrorist attack.

The Bush administration has blocked the public release of the full, classified version of the report for more than five months, officials said, much to the frustration of former commission members who say it provides a critical understanding of the failures of the civil aviation system. The administration provided both the classified report and a declassified, 120-page version to the National Archives two weeks ago and, even with heavy redactions in some areas, the declassified version provides the firmest evidence to date about the warnings that aviation officials received concerning the threat of an attack on airliners and the failure to take steps to deter it.”

leaders of the F.A.A. received 52 intelligence reports from their security branch that mentioned Mr. bin Laden or Al Qaeda from April to Sept. 10, 2001. That represented half of all the intelligence summaries in that time.

Five of the intelligence reports specifically mentioned Al Qaeda's training or capability to conduct hijackings, the report said. Two mentioned suicide operations, although not connected to aviation, the report said.

The report, like previous commission documents, finds no evidence that the government had specific warning of a domestic attack and says that the aviation industry considered the hijacking threat to be more worrisome overseas.

"The fact that the civil aviation system seems to have been lulled into a false sense of security is striking not only because of what happened on 9/11 but also in light of the intelligence assessments, including those conducted by the F.A.A.'s own security branch, that raised alarms about the growing terrorist threat to civil aviation throughout the 1990's and into the new century," the report said.

In its previous findings, including a final report last July that became a best-selling book, the 9/11 commission detailed the harrowing events aboard the four hijacked flights that crashed on Sept. 11 and the communications problems between civil aviation and military officials that hampered the response. But the new report goes further in revealing the scope and depth of intelligence collected by federal aviation officials about the threat of a terrorist attack.

The F.A.A. "had indeed considered the possibility that terrorists would hijack a plane and use it as a weapon," and in 2001 it distributed a CD-ROM presentation to airlines and airports that cited the possibility of a suicide hijacking, the report said. Previous commission documents have quoted the CD's reassurance that "fortunately, we have no indication that any group is currently thinking in that direction."

Aviation officials amassed so much information about the growing threat posed by terrorists that they conducted classified briefings in mid-2001 for security officials at 19 of the nation's busiest airports to warn of the threat posed in particular by Mr. bin Laden, the report said.

Still, the 9/11 commission concluded that aviation officials did not direct adequate resources or attention to the problem.

"Throughout 2001, the senior leadership of the F.A.A. was focused on congestion and delays within the system and the ever-present issue of safety, but they were not as focused on security," the report said.

The F.A.A. did not see a need to increase the air marshal ranks because hijackings were seen as an overseas threat, and one aviation official told the commission said that airlines did not want to give up revenues by providing free seats to marshals.

The F.A.A. also made no concerted effort to expand their list of terror suspects, which included a dozen names on Sept. 11, the report said. The former head of the F.A.A.'s civil aviation security branch said he was not aware of the government's main watch list, called Tipoff, which included the names of two hijackers who were living in the San Diego area, the report said.

Nor was there evidence that a senior F.A.A. working group on security had ever met in 2001 to discuss "the high threat period that summer," the report said.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Bush Budget Slashes Spending

It's a lot like your bank's president embezzling your account, partying with his rich friends, and then calling in your loan while threatening to reposses your car.
“President Bush sent Congress a 2006 budget of just under $2.6 trillion today, laying out a politically ambitious blueprint for slashing many domestic programs while raising spending on the military and homeland security.

The president said his budget would further his goal of cutting the federal deficit in half, as a percentage of the gross domestic product, by 2009, while promoting prosperity and entrepreneurial principles. He said that it would do that while continuing to strengthen the military so that it could win "the global war on terror" and spread freedom around the world.

The president has already vowed to cut or eliminate entirely about 150 nonmilitary programs, including 48 in the Department of Education, that he says have become ineffective. The White House has estimated that this trimming and consolidation can save $20 billion a year.

But some politically popular programs are intact. For example, Head Start, the program for poor children that was begun under President Lyndon B. Johnson's "Great Society" vision, is to receive $6.9 billion, about the same as in the current budget.

Mr. Bush's spending plan, which has already sparked opposition on Capitol Hill as details have leaked out, is certain to be furiously debated in the months ahead, and not just on strict party lines.

The Senate minority leader, Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada,quickly issued a statement calling Mr. Bush's package "the most irresponsible and misleading budget in our nation's history."

The House minority leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, told The Associated Press that she thought Mr. Bush's blueprint was "a hoax on the American people."

Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York declared the president's plan "the worst budget for New York that I've seen in my 26 years in the Congress." Mr. Schumer, who sits on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, added that the president's budget "breaks promises to New Yorkers and to the entire country."

Complaining that veterans, the elderly, children, students and sick people would be short-changed, Mr. Schumer said, "It is now up to the Congress to make sure that ideological cuts to critical programs survive this budget meat ax."

The budget does not provide for money to finance military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are covered by separate legislation. The White House has signaled that it will soon ask Congress for $75 billion to $80 billion more in the current fiscal year for those operations, and in all probability a similar, or larger, sum will be requested once the 2006 fiscal year is under way.”

Budget of the United States Government: Browse Fiscal Year 2006
Bush Budget Raises Drug Prices for Many Veterans

The budget does not include a separate financial and political issue of enormous importance that Mr. Bush will be negotiating with Congress: his plan to revamp Social Security, chiefly by allowing younger workers to set up private accounts within the retirement system.

If the past is any guide, the final budget for the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1 will look much different from the one the president sketched today. But the annual midwinter budget presentation to Congress is important politically, as the White House lays out its goals, and 535 members of the House and Senate counter with theirs.

Mr. Bush did not back off his oft-stated position that the "temporary" tax cuts enacted over the past several years should be made permanent as their expiration dates come up over the next several years. In fact, his proposed budget assumes that the tax cuts will remain in effect, and that inflation will continue at its moderate pace.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Bush Faces a Tough Sell on Social Security

“BILLINGS, Montana, Feb. 4 - Nowhere is the challenge facing President Bush on Social Security more apparent than here, at an open meeting held by Senator Max Baucus on Friday, the day after the White House road show rolled through Montana.

Mr. Baucus, the senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, was sounding the alarm against Mr. Bush's core idea - allowing younger workers to divert part of their payroll taxes into private investment accounts. "All this talk you hear about private accounts," he told a standing-room-only audience of several hundred here, "it really has nothing to do with the solvency of the Social Security trust fund. In fact, it makes the solvency of the Social Security trust fund much worse. Much worse."

Sylvia Stugelmeyer, a retired courthouse worker, declared: "I'm against the privatization of Social Security. It was put into a trust for us many years ago, and I hope to God it stays that way."

The anxiety and confusion were palpable in the crowd, which was composed mostly of retirees - the very group assured by Mr. Bush, again and again, that they would not be affected. Why change the program so fundamentally, several asked. Sylvia Stugelmeyer, a retired courthouse worker, declared: "I'm against the privatization of Social Security. It was put into a trust for us many years ago, and I hope to God it stays that way."

Doris Lundin, 77, asked, "How much money has the government spent from Social Security and put in i.o.u.'s?" As the audience applauded, she added, "And why can't they pay it back?"

More than 4,000 people went to hear Mr. Bush speak on Thursday, and many others wanted to but could not get in. Cheers rocked the convention hall as he described the war against terror and his commitment to national security. They also cheered his jokes, his declaration that he was thrilled to be in a place where there were more cowboy hats than ties. It was, politicians in both parties said, a powerful performance.

But Social Security has a power of its own. Mr. Baucus said his constituents were generally "very nervous" about private investment accounts in Social Security, and retirees, who are most likely to vote on the issue, "are quite opposed." He added, "It's new, it's radical, and it's so different from Social Security as they know it."

In fact, the front page of The Great Falls Tribune that greeted Mr. Bush on Thursday with the headline "Bush Arrives with Bold Plan" also included a statewide poll conducted for the paper, that declared, "Montanans oppose switching to personal Social Security investment accounts by a nearly 2-to-1 margin."

Montana's Congressional delegation reflects that skittishness. Senator Conrad Burns, a Republican, gave Mr. Bush a warm and rousing introduction on Thursday as "a bold leader" and a "man who earned his spurs."

But after the speech, when asked where he stood on the Bush plan, Mr. Burns said he was still "crunching numbers" and was worried about the deficit. Critics have asserted that the transition costs to create a system of private accounts would significantly worsen an already serious deficit.

The headline in The Tribune on Friday, right under "Bush Sells With Charm," said, "Montana's Lawmakers Still Aren't Convinced."”

Mr. Baucus provided essential support to Mr. Bush on two of his most important domestic initiatives in his first term, the 2001 tax cut and the sweeping overhaul of Medicare. But not this time. "You've got to call them as you see them," Mr. Baucus says, and he seems comfortable in his opposition to the Bush plan, even in a state that Mr. Bush carried by 20 percentage points last fall.

Doris Lundin, 77, asked, "How much money has the government spent from Social Security and put in i.o.u.'s?" As the audience applauded, she added, ‘And why can't they pay it back?’

Almost no one underestimates the power of the presidency to go directly to the people and sell a proposal - certainly not Mr. Baucus, who has often felt the heat of presidential persuasion. Mr. Bush's visit to Great Falls on Thursday generated proud and glowing coverage in the local news media and enormous excitement. It was the first presidential visit to Great Falls since October 1982, when President Ronald Reagan campaigned on behalf of Republicans before the midterm elections. (He defended his administration against Democratic charges that he would cut Social Security benefits, the local paper reported.)

For now, the struggle for public opinion is escalating at the grass roots. Even as Mr. Bush dominated news coverage,, the liberal advocacy group, was running television commercials in Montana that warned Mr. Bush's plan would slash benefits and create a new "working retirement." AARP, an ally of the Republicans on the Medicare bill, was busily working against Mr. Bush on private accounts. And Mr. Baucus, after assailing the Bush plan, asked for a show of opinion at the end of his public meeting here. A few hands rose in support of the Bush plan, while an overwhelming majority rose in opposition.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Bush Budget Calls for Cuts in Health Services

“President Bush's budget for 2006 cuts spending for a wide range of public health programs, including several to protect the nation against bioterrorist attacks and to respond to medical emergencies, budget documents show.

Faced with constraints on spending caused by record budget deficits and the demands of the war in Iraq, administration officials said on Friday that they had increased the budget for some health programs but cut many others, including some that address urgent health care needs.

The documents show, for example, that Mr. Bush would cut spending for several programs that deal with epidemics, chronic diseases and obesity. His plan would also cut the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by 9 percent, to $6.9 billion, the documents show.

The cuts are part of an attempt to control the federal deficit, while increasing spending on certain priority programs. Administration officials have said that in the budget, to be unveiled on Monday, Mr. Bush will propose that overall domestic spending, aside from entitlements, grows less than the rate of inflation next year.

But the administration is proposing to increase the Pentagon budget by 4.8 percent, to $419.3 billion in the 2006 fiscal year, according to Defense Department budget documents obtained by The New York Times. That sum does not include the costs of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, now running about $5 billion a month. Within a few weeks, the administration is expected to request about $80 billion to cover those costs.

The president's approach to domestic programs is illustrated in the way he balances competing claims at the Centers for Disease Control.

Mr. Bush requests money to expand a national stockpile of vaccines and antibiotics. But the public health emergency fund of the centers, which helps state and local agencies prepare for bioterror attacks, would be cut 12.6 percent, to $1 billion.”

Kim A. Elliott, deputy director of the Trust for America's Health, a nonprofit advocacy group, said, "It's robbing Peter to pay Paul when you build up the national stockpile at the expense of bioterrorism preparedness activities at the state and local level."

Administration officials acknowledged that some of the proposed cuts would affect high-priority programs. But they said that the budget this year was exceptionally tight and that, in some cases, several programs served the same basic purpose.

Over all, the president's budget would reduce the Department of Health and Human Services' discretionary spending - the amounts subject to annual appropriations - by 2.4 percent, to $68 billion. According to documents, obtained from budget analysts who opposed the cuts, those figures do not include Medicare costs, which will increase sharply with the addition of a prescription drug benefit in 2006.

A Public Health Service program for "chronic disease prevention and health promotion" would be cut by 6.5 percent, to $841 million in 2006. The program finances efforts to prevent and control obesity, which federal health officials say has reached epidemic proportions.

The president's budget would also eliminate a block grant that provides $131 million for preventive health services. Under federal law, the money is used to "address urgent health problems," which vary from state to state.

Under the president's request, the budget of the National Institutes of Health, which doubled from 1998 to 2003, would rise by 0.7 percent, to $28.7 billion next year. That is much less than what would be needed to keep pace with the costs of biomedical research, which are rising more than 3.5 percent a year.…

Friday, February 04, 2005

The Constitution? Forget about it.

Our Battered Constitution
A government with the power to spirit people away and declare that's the end of the matter is exactly the kind of government the United States has always claimed to oppose, and has sometimes fought. For the United States itself to become that kind of government is spectacularly scary.

“Only about half of America's high school students think newspapers should be allowed to publish freely, without government approval of their stories. And a third say the free speech guarantees of the First Amendment go "too far."

This has thrown a lot of noses out of joint. Hodding Carter III, president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which financed a two-year study of high school attitudes about First Amendment freedoms, said, "These results are not only disturbing - they are dangerous."

But maybe we shouldn't be so hard on the youngsters. After all, they've been set a terrible example by a presidential administration that has left no doubt about its contempt for a number of our supposedly most cherished constitutional guarantees.”

In an important decision on Monday, a federal judge in Washington ruled that the Bush administration cannot be allowed to defy the Constitution and an order of the Supreme Court in its treatment of the hundreds of prisoners it is holding at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The judge, Joyce Hens Green, said the administration must permit the detainees it is holding as "enemy combatants" to challenge their detention in federal courts.

The administration has tried mightily to establish its right to treat anyone who it determines is an "enemy combatant" any way it chooses. It has argued that it can hold such detainees for a lifetime - without charging them, without giving them access to lawyers, without showing them the evidence against them and without allowing them to challenge their detention.

Administration officials are adamant on this matter, and yesterday they were granted a stay of Judge Green's decision, pending an appeal.

The Supreme Court ruled last June that the administration was acting illegally in depriving the detainees of their liberty without allowing them to challenge the cases against them. The administration responded bizarrely. Its lawyers argued, with "Alice in Wonderland" logic, that, yes, in accordance with the Supreme Court's ruling, the detainees can challenge their detention. But since (in the administration's view) they don't actually possess any rights to support the challenges, the courts must necessarily reject the challenges.

The administration is fighting for nothing less than the death of due process for anyone it rounds up, no matter how arbitrarily, in its enemy combatant sweeps. Such tyrannical powers should offend anyone who cares about such old-fashioned notions as the rule of law, checks and balances, and constitutional guarantees.

Under the procedures set up by the administration for dealing with the detainees, we have no way of distinguishing between a terrorist committed to mass murder and someone who is completely innocent.

In her decision, Judge Green wrote, "Although this nation unquestionably must take strong action under the leadership of the commander in chief to protect itself against enormous and unprecedented threats, that necessity cannot negate the existence of the most basic fundamental rights for which the people of this country have fought and died for well over 200 years."

The fundamental right in the case of the Guantánamo detainees is the right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law. A government with the power to spirit people away and declare that's the end of the matter is exactly the kind of government the United States has always claimed to oppose, and has sometimes fought. For the United States itself to become that kind of government is spectacularly scary.

In seeking the stay of Judge Green's ruling, the administration showed yesterday that it is committed to being that kind of government.

"It's not a nest egg. It's a loan."

Gambling With Your Retirement

“Before President Bush's big speech, a background briefing by a "senior administration official" made it clear that the plan calls for exactly the "borrow, speculate and hope" strategy I described - not just for the system as a whole, but for each individual.

Here's the money quote: "In return for the opportunity to get the benefits from the personal account, the person forgoes a certain amount of benefits from the traditional system. Now, the way that election is structured, the person comes out ahead if their personal account exceeds a 3 percent rate of return" - after inflation - "which is the rate of return that the trust fund bonds receive. So, basically, the net effect on an individual's benefits would be zero if his personal account earned a 3 percent rate of return."

Translation: If you put part of your payroll taxes into a personal account, your future benefits will be reduced by an amount equivalent to the amount you would have had to repay if you had borrowed the money at a real interest rate of 3 percent.

Peter Orszag of the Brookings Institution got it exactly right: ‘It's not a nest egg. It's a loan.’ ”

For years, privatizers - including Mr. Bush - have claimed that people would do better with private accounts than with traditional Social Security even if they played it safe and invested in U.S. government bonds (which yield 3 percent after inflation).

But the official at the briefing made it clear that his boss was fibbing: if you invested your private account in government bonds, you would face benefit cuts equal in value to your investment, so you would be no better off than under the current system.

The only way to get ahead would be to invest in risky assets like stocks, and hope for higher yields. But if the investment went wrong and you earned less than 3 percent after inflation, your benefit cuts would leave you poorer than if you had never opened that private account.

So people are expected to take a loan from the government and use it to buy stocks, and if that turns out to have been a mistake - well, too bad.

Experts usually tell people to plan for their retirement by investing in a mix of stocks and bonds. They disapprove strongly of speculation on margin: borrowing to buy stocks. Yet Mr. Bush wants tens of millions of Americans to do exactly that.

Meanwhile, what does any of this have to do with the ostensible purpose of the whole thing: saving Social Security?

Here's the senior official again: "In a long-term sense, the personal accounts would have a net neutral effect on the fiscal situation of Social Security." The government would have to borrow huge sums up front to create the personal accounts - $4.5 trillion in the first two decades - but it would supposedly make up for all that borrowing with offsetting cuts in account holders' benefits many decades later.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

BlogPulse analysis of tsunami crisis

BlogPulse has released an in-depth analysis of tsunami-related coverage in the blogsphere. Most of the findings are obvious, but a few, such as the visual patterns in the Blogosphere, are interesting. BlogPulse's analytical tools tracked the coverage of the tsunami and relief efforts and the site produced maps showing how discussion spiked considerably in the affected countries and the Southern Asia region.

“The world watched in horror and awe on Dec. 26, 2004 as an earthquake and tsunami devastated wide areas of Southern Asia.

As neighboring nations and relief agencies began organizing to help, so did another group of people: bloggers. Unlimited by geography and powered by easy blog-publishing tools, bloggers quickly sprang into action to provide information that was otherwise impossible or extremely difficult to find or disseminate.

In a remote part of the world, where traditional news crews wouldn't arrive for several days, bloggers provided some of the first eyewitness accounts, news of relief efforts, videos, still photographs, lists of victims and missing persons, and other helpful disaster aid and coordination information. Over a period of days and weeks, blogging would move yet another notch from novelty to acceptability.

BlogPulse's analysis of tsunami-related coverage in the blogsphere follows.”

Key BlogPulse Findings


Tsunami-Related Buzz Spiked Starting Dec. 26, 2004 and into 2005


New Tsunami-Dedicated Blogs Entered the Blogosphere


The Rise of Regional Blogs


Visual Patterns in the Blogosphere


Group Blogs Mobilized Quickly…and across International Borders


Blogs Embraced Video Capabilities


Bloggers Provided Eyewitness Accounts


Bloggers Tracked Relief Efforts


Bloggers Focused on Disaster Relief Accountability


"Disasters" in Context: What Other World Regions Need Help? Bloggers Asked

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Bush should address the one thing on people's minds

Economy weighs them down
By Charlie Madigan
Tribune senior correspondent

“State of the Union Time again, a job President Bush has to do under a law that used to be accomplished by a simple progress report to Congress in a letter. Now it's a grand event and a bully pulpit for an incumbent. You'll be hearing lots about Iraq and the spectacular election experience had there just a few days ago.

Bully for Bush, actually, because it was a great thing to see, a budding democracy in such a difficult place. Maybe the election will speed up the return home for our troops. We can only hope.

However, the title of the speech is "State of the Union."

Presidents rarely actually discuss that subject. Instead, they talk about what they want to talk about, their agenda, their proposals, their triumphs (but never much about their failures). There's lots of applause and then a rebuttal from some Democrats, who try to get in their shots early by agitating for some comment from Bush on how he plans to extract U.S. troops from the war zone.

But here's another measure that is very telling.

Life in America is still very much about the economy, the stupid economy.

It's not the Alan Greenspan economy that gets so much attention in the media, or the monthly reports that create the statistical shape of how some parts of the economy look, or promises of tax cuts.

Down home in America, it seems, it's all about money. Or worse, it's all about the lack of money.”

On the eve of the State of the Union address, the Gallup Organization released the results of one of its latest measures of how people feel about the nation's economy. Gallup specialist David W. Moore did the analysis. He says the dominant concerns in America these days are not the war or the debate over Social Security. The big problems are health care and money.

Away from Washington, reality dictates the agenda.

The daily grind sends important messages.

Gallup asked 1,005 adults to name the most important financial problem they face today. Then it just let them say what they wanted instead of prompting them.

Almost one in three formed the group that said "not enough money, low wages and the high cost of living." Breaking that down, 13 percent said they didn't have enough money to pay their debts and 12 percent said they were short of cash or were not being paid enough. Eight percent cited unemployment, the same number who said "college expenses" were at the top of the list.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


“Will You Be LiveBlogging the State of the Union Address Wednesday night? On Wednesday TCS will be highlighting the LiveBlogging phenomenon and we'd like you to be a part of it. So Click Here and Let Us Know

Live-blogging Bush's State of the Union speech says it will serve as "the gateway to bloggers who will be analyzing and commenting on the president's speech in real time." The site says it will be a "one-stop shop" of links to live-bloggers posting their personal views, knowledge and perspectives on their Web sites as the speech unfolds.

Chertoff Denies Advising C.I.A. on Torture

“The White House defended Homeland Security Secretary designee Michael Chertoff on Tuesday, saying the former Justice Department official did not advise the CIA on using specific torture techniques on terror suspects.

Chertoff, who goes before lawmakers Wednesday for confirmation hearings, didn't approve any interrogation techniques, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. Chertoff simply told intelligence officials that interrogators should know the line between which techniques they are allowed to use and which they aren't and ``not get close to that line,'' McClellan said.

``Any assertion that he approved or pre-authorized or otherwise approved the use of certain techniques is simply false,'' McClellan said. ``That wouldn't have been appropriate for him to do as head of the criminal division.''

The Justice Department's office of legal counsel -- not the criminal division -- would have been responsible for interpreting the law, McClellan said.

Meeting with Republican and Democratic staff members Monday, Chertoff said any legal advice he gave the CIA was broad and generalized -- and merely from the viewpoint of ``what a prosecutor would look for,'' one aide said.

The Capitol Hill meeting, which lasted several hours, was described as cordial. Several aides who spoke on condition on anonymity said Chertoff grew slightly exasperated after repeated questioning over whether he had any role in approving techniques that critics said violated the Geneva Conventions prohibiting violence, torture and humiliating treatment.

Chertoff is a former federal prosecutor who is now a federal appeals court judge in Newark. He was chief of the Justice Department's criminal division when he was asked for guidance on whether CIA agents could be charged for using specific interrogatory techniques on terror suspects. Chertoff repeatedly told aides he gave only basic and generalized advice as ``how a prosecutor would approach the statute.''

``He said that's something he said consistently to anyone and everyone that's asked,'' said an aide who attended the meeting.

The meeting came as the American Civil Liberties Union urged lawmakers to press Chertoff during the Wednesday hearing in front of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on the extent he helped craft and supported several other controversial anti-terror policies.

Although the group said Chertoff ``has an accomplished record as a jurist and attorney,'' it charged him with supporting ``national security policies that push, or breach, the outer limits of what is permissible under the Bill of Rights.''

The ACLU specifically homed in on policies allowing the detention of hundreds of Arab and Muslim men for minor immigration violations during the 9/11 investigations, and on the USA Patriot Act, which gives the government broad surveillance and law enforcement powers in terror cases.
con·cept: February 2005