Friday, December 21, 2007

Alan Shrugged, Economy Shook

Blindly Into the Bubble - New York Times:
Mr. Greenspan dismissed as a “collectivist” myth the idea that businessmen, left to their own devices, “would attempt to sell unsafe food and drugs, fraudulent securities, and shoddy buildings.”

“So where were the regulators as one of the greatest financial disasters since the Great Depression unfolded? They were blinded by ideology.

“Fed shrugged as subprime crisis spread,” was the headline on a New York Times report on the failure of regulators to regulate. This may have been a discreet dig at Mr. Greenspan’s history as a disciple of Ayn Rand, the high priestess of unfettered capitalism known for her novel “Atlas Shrugged.”

In a 1963 essay for Ms. Rand’s newsletter, Mr. Greenspan dismissed as a “collectivist” myth the idea that businessmen, left to their own devices, “would attempt to sell unsafe food and drugs, fraudulent securities, and shoddy buildings.” On the contrary, he declared, “it is in the self-interest of every businessman to have a reputation for honest dealings and a quality product.”

It’s no wonder, then, that he brushed off warnings about deceptive lending practices, including those of Edward M. Gramlich, a member of the Federal Reserve board. In Mr. Greenspan’s world, predatory lending — like attempts to sell consumers poison toys and tainted seafood — just doesn’t happen.

But Mr. Greenspan wasn’t the only top official who put ideology above public protection. Consider the press conference held on June 3, 2003 — just about the time subprime lending was starting to go wild — to announce a new initiative aimed at reducing the regulatory burden on banks. Representatives of four of the five government agencies responsible for financial supervision used tree shears to attack a stack of paper representing bank regulations. The fifth representative, James Gilleran of the Office of Thrift Supervision, wielded a chainsaw.

Also in attendance were representatives of financial industry trade associations, which had been lobbying for deregulation. As far as I can tell from press reports, there were no representatives of consumer interests on the scene.

Two months after that event the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, one of the tree-shears-wielding agencies, moved to exempt national banks from state regulations that protect consumers against predatory lending. If, say, New York State wanted to protect its own residents — well, sorry, that wasn’t allowed.

In Mr. Greenspan’s world, predatory lending — like attempts to sell consumers poison toys and tainted seafood — just doesn’t happen.

Of course, now that it has all gone bad, people with ties to the financial industry are rethinking their belief in the perfection of free markets. Mr. Greenspan has come out in favor of, yes, a government bailout. “Cash is available,” he says — meaning taxpayer money — “and we should use that in larger amounts, as is necessary, to solve the problems of the stress of this.”

Given the role of conservative ideology in the mortgage disaster, it’s puzzling that Democrats haven’t been more aggressive about making the disaster an issue for the 2008 election. They should be: It’s hard to imagine a more graphic demonstration of what’s wrong with their opponents’ economic beliefs. ”

Will Bernanke shrug?

Will sick people fix the medical system by going to their doctors less often?

Will phone companies that broke the wiretap laws stop lobying for immunity?

Will pigs fly?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Gloomy Forecast for IT Work Force

Gloomy Forecast for IT Work Force:

"WASHINGTON—The topic was education and the talk was not optimistic at the Institute for a Competitive Workforce's Sept. 25 workshop. A part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, ICW drew several hundred participants to its event, held with the goal of promoting effective and sustainable business and education/work force partnerships.

'Our continued leadership is not inevitable and may not be sustainable,' Fred Tipson, Microsoft's senior policy counsel, said in an afternoon panel discussion focused on upgrading the current and future work force's digital literacy and math and science skills. 'The question is whether
our work force or some other country's will be beneficiaries of new technology.'"

Judy Moog, national program director of the Verizon Foundation, gave the panel participants little reason to question Tipson or Whaley's statements. According to Moog, 70 percent of the nation's eighth graders are below sufficient levels in reading skills and "might well never catch up."

Moog also pointed out that in terms of "quality" of high school graduates, America has fallen to 19th out of 26 nations surveyed. Moreover, she said, nearly half the U.S. adult population—some 93 million people—have very poor or marginal literacy skills.

"Literacy is the price of admission for competitiveness," she said. "People need to access a torrent of information over a vast array of devices. America isn't succeeding fast enough."

Tipson said Microsoft breaks down the issue into three phases: digital literacy, in which a person learns basic skills, digital fluency, meaning the skills are applied, and digital mastery, in which the first two steps are translated into advanced skills.

"We have a [digital] mastery gap, which is why we keep going outside the country to hire," he said. Microsoft is one of largest users of H-1B visas, a specialized-occupation temporary worker visa.

As for the future, only panelist Robert Leber of Northrop Grumman seemed optimistic, and then only if the business community gets behind efforts to support schools and training programs that emphasize digital literacy, math and science skills.

Business Traces Work Force Gaps to Education

"The future is not young people, it's keeping the business community involved," Leber said. "Young people need a global view of what's coming, not a xenophobic view about what's happening in other countries."

An education crisis looms, and if it is not addressed promptly and effectively it could undermine the prosperity of future generations of Americans.

This was the message from the U.S. Chamber's ICW (Institute for a Competitive Workforce) at its annual Education and Workforce Summit, Sept. 24 - 26 in Washington, D.C.

The event was part of the group's national effort to promote effective and sustainable business and education/work force partnerships. Now, more than ever, speakers said, the future of business in the United States depends on its educational and work force systems' ability to adapt to changes in technology, demographics, globalization and other forces affecting society and economy.

To create and sustain regional economic development, communities has to bridge gaps between education, training and employment, but research indicates that the United States is struggling to do so.

"For the last part of the 20th century, the U.S. has had the most highly educated work force in the world," said Martha Lamkin, president of the Lumina Foundation for Education, a private foundation based in Indianapolis. "This is evident today in the 55 to 65 age range. But this picture is less optimistic for our younger adults, as other countries are exceeding us in two and four-year education completion."

Notice that no one except, maybe, Microsoft is putting any real resources towards solutions. What we have instead is the moral equivalent of telling the suicidally depressed to just snap out of it.

The real education crisis in America is that we don't really value education. We only value its supposed end results.

A couple of millenia ago a guy from Nazareth said that where a man's treasure was his heart would be also. We don't treasure public schools or the teachers who work in them. We certainly don't treasure the children who attend them.

If you want to know what we really treasure, examine what we spend our money and time on.,1895,2188813,00.asp?kc=EWKNLNAV092707STR4,1895,2188796,00.asp

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Big Gifts, Tax Breaks and a Debate on Charity - New York Times

Big Gifts, Tax Breaks and a Debate on Charity - New York Times

“A common perception of philanthropy is that one of its central purposes is to alleviate the suffering of society’s least fortunate and therefore promote greater equality, taking some of the burden off government. In exchange, the United States is one of a handful of countries to allow givers a tax deduction. In essence, the public is letting private individuals decide how to allocate money on their behalf.

What qualifies for that tax deduction has broadened over the 90 years since its creation to include everything from university golf teams to puppet theaters — even an organization established after Hurricane Katrina to help practitioners of sadomasochism obtain gear they had lost in the storm.

Roughly three-quarters of charitable gifts of $50 million and more from 2002 through March 31 went to universities, private foundations, hospitals and art museums, according to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

Of the rest, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation accounted for half on the center’s list. That money went primarily to improve the lives of the poor in developing countries. Valuable as that may be, it also meant that the American public effectively underwrote several billion dollars worth of foreign aid by private individuals, even though poll after poll shows Americans are at best ambivalent about using tax dollars in such assistance.

In contrast, few gifts of that size are made to organizations like the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity and America’s Second Harvest, whose main goals are to help the poor in this country. Research shows that less than 10 percent of the money Americans give to charity addresses basic human needs, like sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry and caring for the indigent sick, and that the wealthiest typically devote an even smaller portion of their giving to such causes than everyone else.”

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Safety Agency Faces Scrutiny Amid Changes - New York Times

Safety Agency Faces Scrutiny Amid Changes - New York Times:

"Under the Bush administration, which promised to ease what it viewed as costly rules that placed unnecessary burdens on businesses, industry-friendly officials have been installed at agencies that oversee the nation’s workplaces, food suppliers, environment and consumer goods.

Top officials at the Consumer Product Safety Commission say they have enhanced protections for the American public in recent years. But they have also blocked enforcement actions, weakened industry oversight rules and promoted voluntary compliance over safety mandates, according to interviews with current and former senior agency officials and consumer groups and a review of commission documents.

At a time when imports from China and other Asian countries surged, creating an ever greater oversight challenge, the Bush-appointed commissioners voiced few objections as the already tiny agency — now just 420 workers — was pared almost to the bone.

At the nation’s ports, the handful of agency inspectors are hard pressed to find dangerous cargo before it enters the country; instead, they rely on other federal agents, who mostly act as trademark enforcers, looking for counterfeit Nike sneakers or Duracell batteries.

At the agency’s cramped laboratory, a lone employee is charged with testing suspected defective toys from across the nation. At the nearby headquarters, safety initiatives have been stalled or dropped after dozens of jobs were eliminated in budget cutbacks.

Other workers quit in frustration. The head of the poison prevention unit, for example, resigned when efforts to require inexpensive child-resistant caps on hair care products that had burned toddlers were delayed so industry costs could be weighed against the potential benefit to children.…

Congress intended the agency to protect the public by working with the industry and others to establish voluntary standards. Ms. Nord and industry executives say that system is largely effective, in no small measure because it is in companies’ self-interest to avoid turning out products that cause harm. When hazards arise, Ms. Nord says, she is confident that the agency acts to deal with them appropriately.

For the first time in years, the commission has drawn sustained attention because of the headlines generated in recent months by the seemingly endless recalls of Chinese-made products: Thomas & Friends toy trains, Mattel Sesame Street toys, propane grills, high chairs, computer batteries, lawn trimmers, children’s jewelry and tool kits.

But the agency has hardly been a priority of the Bush administration. The commission’s shrinking budget is just $62 million this year, even though the agency regulates an industry that sells $1.4 trillion annually. The Food and Drug Administration, with a $2 billion budget, spends nearly twice as much monitoring the safety of animal feed and drugs than the Consumer Product Safety Commission spends to ensure the safety of products as diverse as toys, tools and televisions used every day by millions of Americans.…

Speaking to lawmakers earlier this year, Thomas H. Moore, that commissioner, said, “The commission can either continue to decline in staff, resources and stature to the point where it is no longer an effective force in consumer protection, or with the support of Congress, it can regain the important place in American society that it was originally designed to have.”

Mr. Moore, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton, has often found himself outvoted in recent years as he pushed for tougher standards or more aggressive enforcement. In his appearance before Congress, he argued that the need for government protection of consumers is greater than ever before.

“It is suggested in some circles that the modern, sophisticated marketplace of today can effectively regulate itself for product safety,” Mr. Moore said. But, he added, “competition and voluntary actions of today’s businessmen do not always suffice to safeguard the public interest.”

Mr. Bush began delivering on his deregulatory agenda soon after arriving in Washington. He named Harold D. Stratton, a former attorney general of New Mexico, to head the consumer protection agency. Created by Congress in 1972 in the fervor of Ralph Nader’s consumer movement, the agency was long seen as an irritant by manufacturers and business groups.

A conservative Republican and a Bush campaign volunteer, Mr. Stratton strongly objected when he was an attorney general to counterparts in other states bringing consumer protection cases, saying they were trying “to impose their own antibusiness, pro-government regulation views.” Later, he was co-founder of a nonprofit group, the Rio Grande Foundation, which says it promotes “individual freedom, limited government, and economic opportunity.”

Soon after becoming commission chairman in 2002, Mr. Stratton told the National Association of Manufacturers that he was determined to “break the barrier of fear” by assuring industry leaders — whose political action committees and executives had just donated millions of dollars to Mr. Bush’s campaign — that a consumer complaint would not automatically result in a product recall. The era of the “federal nanny,” as a Republican commissioner described the agency during the Clinton years, was over.…

In 2003, Mr. Stratton moved to reverse an enforcement action started two years earlier against the Daisy Manufacturing Company that sought to force it to remove 7.2 million air-powered BB guns from the market.

The guns were flawed, the agency staff had argued, because a BB could become lodged within the barrel even when the chamber appeared to be empty, a condition that agency research showed had caused at least 15 deaths and 171 serious injuries, most of them involving children.

Citing Daisy’s “precarious financial condition,” Mr. Stratton rejected the recall plan — and the court proceeding that is necessary any time the commission wants to force a company to accept a recall — saying, “I consider this administrative legal proceeding to be burdensome and inefficient.”

In an unusual step, he personally negotiated an agreement with the company to put a bigger warning label on its guns and spend $1.5 million on a safety education campaign. William B. Moran, the administrative law judge hearing the case, condemned Mr. Stratton’s alternative as toothless and said the deal would “create the risk that the public could perceive its decision as driven by its political makeup.” But the commission approved the settlement in a two-to-one vote in November 2003.

Several months later, Mr. Stratton appointed Mr. Mullan the agency’s general counsel. He came from Kirkland & Ellis, a Chicago law firm with a large office in Washington. Under Kenneth W. Starr, the independent counsel who investigated President Clinton, the firm’s Washington office became a magnet for members of the conservative Federalist Society and a hiring pool for the Bush administration.

Among the firm’s lobbying clients was the National Association of Manufacturers. Mr. Mullan had represented General Motors, which he helped defend against claims that fuel tanks on its pickup trucks were flawed and led to side-impact explosions. He also helped represent Polaris, a maker of A.T.V.’s, against consumer commission accusations that it failed to report safety defects in two of its vehicles that had resulted in hundreds of complaints and at least 25 injuries.

Roy Deppa, an engineer who retired last year, said it was a little odd at first to work with Mr. Mullan as a colleague.

“It is like having someone you fought against what you are trying to do then come to your side,” he said.

Not long after Mr. Mullan arrived, he became the agency’s director of compliance. It is one of the safety commission’s highest-profile posts, with oversight of all investigations and enforcement actions.

In that role, he argued against a ban on sales of A.T.V.’s for use by children, and a staff report concurred. Adults could still buy the machines and permit children to ride them, Mr. Mullan said, and the agency did not have enough staff to enforce the mandate. Agreeing, the commission rejected a ban.

Mr. Mullan said he is permitted to participate in agency debates over A.T.V. rules or even enforcement matters related to Polaris, his former client, as long as he was not involved in that specific matter when he represented the company.

“The ethical rules are pretty clear on this,” he said in an interview. “And I think I have been far beyond reproach on these issues.”

Reporting Defects

Once in his new post, Mr. Mullan helped narrow the requirements for reporting safety defects to the commission, a move long sought by manufacturers. Companies are obligated to notify the agency within 24 hours if they learn that their products could pose a substantial threat to the public. Seeking to better balance industry interests with safeguards for consumers, the commission, with Mr. Mullan’s support, adopted new rules.

Companies would no longer be required to report a product if the risk of injury was considered obvious or predictable, or if misuse played a role. They could also weigh whether the product was no longer in wide use or had not been sold for many years.

Consumer advocates, the nation’s fire marshals and even some former agency employees had objected to the change, citing flawed baby cribs as an example of when a manufacturer improperly blamed misuse or improper assembly for several deaths. The new rules, they said, would let companies hide evidence about such defects.

“I find these proposed revisions not only unnecessary, but potentially dangerous for consumers,” wrote Catherine E. Downs, a former senior official at the agency. “Many in management positions at C.P.S.C. have lost their contact with the consuming public who they intended to serve.”

Agency officials, including Mr. Mullan, rejected those claims, saying all they were doing was clarifying the rules, not relaxing them.

Other agency officials, including Ms. Barone, the project manager for poison prevention, and Art McDonald, the director of the hazard and injury data section, found that priorities had shifted. A database of burns caused by consumer products was closed. And agency officials stopped asking for regular briefings on emerging product hazards, Mr. McDonald said. “There was just a lack of interest,” said Mr. McDonald, who retired in 2004.…"

Monday, August 20, 2007

The War as We Ought to See It - New York Times

The War as We Saw It - New York Times:
Washington’s insistence that the Iraqis correct the three gravest mistakes we made — de-Baathification, the dismantling of the Iraqi Army and the creation of a loose federalist system of government — places us at cross purposes with the government we have committed to support.

"…it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.

Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.

Coupling our military strategy to an insistence that the Iraqis meet political benchmarks for reconciliation is also unhelpful. The morass in the government has fueled impatience and confusion while providing no semblance of security to average Iraqis. Leaders are far from arriving at a lasting political settlement. This should not be surprising, since a lasting political solution will not be possible while the military situation remains in constant flux.

The Iraqi government is run by the main coalition partners of the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, with Kurds as minority members. The Shiite clerical establishment formed the alliance to make sure its people did not succumb to the same mistake as in 1920: rebelling against the occupying Western force (then the British) and losing what they believed was their inherent right to rule Iraq as the majority. The qualified and reluctant welcome we received from the Shiites since the invasion has to be seen in that historical context. They saw in us something useful for the moment.

Now that moment is passing, as the Shiites have achieved what they believe is rightfully theirs. Their next task is to figure out how best to consolidate the gains, because reconciliation without consolidation risks losing it all. Washington’s insistence that the Iraqis correct the three gravest mistakes we made — de-Baathification, the dismantling of the Iraqi Army and the creation of a loose federalist system of government — places us at cross purposes with the government we have committed to support.

Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.

At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal. "

Buddhika Jayamaha is an Army specialist. Wesley D. Smith is a sergeant. Jeremy Roebuck is a sergeant. Omar Mora is a sergeant. Edward Sandmeier is a sergeant. Yance T. Gray is a staff sergeant. Jeremy A. Murphy is a staff sergeant.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

U.S. Attack Kills 32 in Sadr City - New York Times

U.S. Attack Kills 32 in Sadr City - New York Times:
Residents describe some or all of the victims as innocent, while American military statements typically describe those killed by American weapons as militants.

"The American attack coincided with an expanded curfew across Baghdad for a Shiite religious festival welcoming tens of thousands to the capital, and with a trip to Iran by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki for discussions about security.
Hospital officials in the Sadr City district of Baghdad said that the American airstrike had killed or wounded several civilians, including a child, though the military disputed that account.

Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, an American military spokesman here, said the airstrike was called in against suspected gunmen who were surrounding a vehicle and who were moving toward American troops who had been taking fire. He said 30 people around the vehicle were killed, and 2 more died during the raid, all of them combatants.

“They called in an airstrike on a tactical formation of individuals, on people who were operating as a tactical unit,” Colonel Garver said. “Those are the ones who were hit.”

American military raids causing Iraqi deaths, particularly in Sadr City, frequently lead to conflicting stories. Residents describe some or all of the victims as innocent, while American military statements typically describe those killed by American weapons as militants. In most cases, neither side can provide definitive proof. "

“Early Release for 2 Marines

The Iraqi civilian was pulled from his Hamdaniya home and shot in April 2006. An AK-47 and shovel were placed nearby to make him look like an insurgent planting a bomb. After a mere 17 months in military prison both marines were released four months early “ensure fair treatment,” the Marines said. Not bad for premeditated murder, plead down to aggravated assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif., Aug. 8 (AP) — Two marines who pleaded guilty in the case of a slain Iraqi civilian have been released from military prison four months early.

The two, Tyler A. Jackson and Jerry E. Shumate Jr., had been demoted from corporal to private and sentenced to 21 months in prison as part of plea deals in which they admitted to aggravated assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Both were released Monday to “ensure fair treatment,” the Marines said in a statement.

Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, who is overseeing the case, weighed their “military experience, relative rank and position of authority and their specific involvement in the death of the Iraqi man,” the statement said.

The Iraqi civilian was pulled from his Hamdaniya home and shot in April 2006. An AK-47 and shovel were placed nearby to make him look like an insurgent planting a bomb, according to the prosecution. ”

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

FCC Commissioner: US playing "Russian roulette with broadband and Internet"

FCC Commissioner: US playing "Russian roulette with broadband and Internet":
By Nate Anderson Published: August 03, 2007 - 09:20AM CT
"a small number of corporate gatekeepers" now control the public's access to information, an arrangement that threatens to "invert the democratic genius of the Internet."

"FCC Commissioner Michael Copps is on a tear. He grudgingly accepted the agency's 700MHz auction rules earlier this week after initially lobbying for more open access. The next day, he lashed out at the News Corp. deal to acquire the Wall Street Journal, saying: 'It's interesting to hear the 'experts' claim the transaction faces no regulatory hurdles... I hope nobody views this as a slam-dunk.' And yesterday in Chicago, he issued one of his bluntest assessments yet of current FCC policy. America, he said, is playing 'Russian roulette with broadband and Internet and more traditional media.'

…at the YearlyKos convention, Copps spoke like a man with a fire in his guts. He's proud of America but "worried" by the path that it has gone down with respect to broadband Internet and media consolidation, which he sees as ideas joined at the hip.

In both cases, "a small number of corporate gatekeepers" now control the public's access to information, an arrangement that threatens to "invert the democratic genius of the Internet." When the Internet first exploded onto the scene, people hailed it as a revolutionary communications tool that would allow for the creation of a truly democratic media in which anyone with a message could get the word out to others. Now, Copps notes that most connections to the Internet are controlled by massive corporations who seem eager to prevent any neutrality safeguards from being placed on the networks they manage.

That assumes that people can actually get such connections. While the FCC has for years sung hallelujahs to the idea of a "light regulatory touch," Copps has no truck with the mantra, "Deregulate everything, the market will cure all evil." But he's not in love with FCC regulation for the sake of regulation. He made clear in his speech that he would actually welcome a truly competitive market in which the government could step aside. The reality, though, is that this competitive market is largely a myth when it comes to broadband access. More than 90 percent of all Americans get their broadband from a powerful cable/DSL duopoly.

The issue of broadband access is an important one—in fact, it's the "great infrastructure challenge of our time." Every other industrialized country in the world has a national broadband policy, except for the US, and a majority of FCC Commissioners aren't interested in formulating one. In fact, some of them think everything is hunky-dory.

Commissioner Robert McDowell published a WSJ op-ed called "Broadband Baloney" last week in which he argued that "alarmists have ignored cold, hard facts in pursuit of bad policy." He spent much of the piece criticizing a recent OECD report that ranks the US at 15th in the world when it comes to broadband penetration, a rank that has dropped significantly over the last five years. The Phoenix Center has argued that this is due to flawed methodology, but Free Press debunks those claims, saying they have no effect on the US ranking.

In his speech, Copps didn't mention McDowell by name, but he did claim that broadband in the US is "so poor that every citizen in the country ought to be outraged." Back when then OECD said that we were number four in the world, he said, no one objected to its methodology. Copps also had fighting words for those who blame the US broadband problems on our less-dense population; Canada, Norway, and Sweden are ranked above us, but all are less dense than the US. Besides, this argument implies that broadband is absolutely super within American urban areas. Copps noted, though, that his own broadband connection in Washington, DC was "nothing compared to Seoul." "

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Was Tillman Murdered? AP Gets New Documents

Was Tillman Murdered? AP Gets New Documents

! Army medical examiners were suspicious about the close proximity of the three bullet holes in Pat Tillman's forehead and tried without success to get authorities to investigate whether the former NFL player's death amounted to a crime, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

"The medical evidence did not match up with the, with the scenario as described," a doctor who examined Tillman's body after he was killed on the battlefield in Afghanistan in 2004 told investigators.

The doctors - whose names were blacked out - said that the bullet holes were so close together that it appeared the Army Ranger was cut down by an M-16 fired from a mere 10 yards or so away.

The medical examiners' suspicions were outlined in 2,300 pages of testimony released to the AP this week by the Defense Department in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Among other information contained in the documents:

-- In his last words moments before he was killed, Tillman snapped at a panicky comrade under fire to shut up and stop "sniveling."

-- Army attorneys sent each other congratulatory e-mails for keeping criminal investigators at bay as the Army conducted an internal friendly-fire investigation that resulted in administrative, or non-criminal, punishments.

-- The three-star general who kept the truth about Tillman's death from his family and the public told investigators some 70 times that he had a bad memory and couldn't recall details of his actions

-- No evidence at all of enemy fire was found at the scene - no one was hit by enemy fire, nor was any government equipment struck.

The Pentagon and the Bush administration have been criticized in recent months for lying about the circumstances of Tillman's death. The military initially told the public and the Tillman family that he had been killed by enemy fire. Only weeks later did the Pentagon acknowledge he was gunned down by fellow Rangers.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Ex-Qwest CEO fined, sentenced to prison, retribution?

Ex-Qwest CEO fined, sentenced to prison:

"A federal judge on Friday ordered former Qwest Communications chief executive officer Joe Nacchio to pay $70 million and serve six years in prison as part of his punishment for insider trading in the spring of 2001.

Nacchio was convicted in April of improperly selling $52 million in Qwest stock in 2001 while he failed to tell investors of the financial risks facing the company. The court on Friday ordered Nacchio to surrender that $52 million and fined him an additional $19 million."

This is the same man who refused to participate in the administrations secret wiretapping of American citizens.

Were any of the other Bells CEOs transactions investigated so thoroughly? Was this retribution?

Monday, July 23, 2007

The French Connections - New York Times

The French Connections - New York Times: (TimeSelect Subscription Required)

"The numbers are startling. As recently as 2001, the percentage of the population with high-speed access in Japan and Germany was only half that in the United States. In France it was less than a quarter. By the end of 2006, however, all three countries had more broadband subscribers per 100 people than we did.

Even more striking is the fact that our “high speed” connections are painfully slow by other countries’ standards. According to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, French broadband connections are, on average, more than three times as fast as ours. Japanese connections are a dozen times faster. Oh, and access is much cheaper in both countries than it is here.

As a result, we’re lagging in new applications of the Internet that depend on high speed. France leads the world in the number of subscribers to Internet TV; the United States isn’t even in the top 10.

What happened to America’s Internet lead? Bad policy. Specifically, the United States made the same mistake in Internet policy that California made in energy policy: it forgot — or was persuaded by special interests to ignore — the reality that sometimes you can’t have effective market competition without effective regulation.

You see, the world may look flat once you’re in cyberspace — but to get there you need to go through a narrow passageway, down your phone line or down your TV cable. And if the companies controlling these passageways can behave like the robber barons of yore, levying whatever tolls they like on those who pass by, commerce suffers.

America’s Internet flourished in the dial-up era because federal regulators didn’t let that happen — they forced local phone companies to act as common carriers, allowing competing service providers to use their lines. Clinton administration officials, including Al Gore and Reed Hundt, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, tried to ensure that this open competition would continue — but the telecommunications giants sabotaged their efforts, while The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page ridiculed them as people with the minds of French bureaucrats.

And when the Bush administration put Michael Powell in charge of the F.C.C., the digital robber barons were basically set free to do whatever they liked. As a result, there’s little competition in U.S. broadband — if you’re lucky, you have a choice between the services offered by the local cable monopoly and the local phone monopoly. The price is high and the service is poor, but there’s nowhere else to go."

(Time Select Subscription Required)

The Foetus of Monarchy is Slouching Toward Bethlehem

Just What the Founders Feared: An Imperial President Goes to War - New York Times:

The Constitution cannot enforce itself. It is, as the constitutional scholar Edwin Corwin famously observed, an “invitation to struggle” among the branches, but the founders wisely bequeathed to Congress some powerful tools for engaging in the struggle. It is no surprise that the current debate over a deeply unpopular war is arising in the context of a Congressional spending bill. That is precisely what the founders intended.

"Given how intent the president is on expanding his authority, it is startling to recall how the Constitution’s framers viewed presidential power. They were revolutionaries who detested kings, and their great concern when they established the United States was that they not accidentally create a kingdom. To guard against it, they sharply limited presidential authority, which Edmund Randolph, a Constitutional Convention delegate and the first attorney general, called “the foetus of monarchy.”

The founders were particularly wary of giving the president power over war. They were haunted by Europe’s history of conflicts started by self-aggrandizing kings. John Jay, the first chief justice of the United States, noted in Federalist No. 4 that “absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal.”

Many critics of the Iraq war are reluctant to suggest that President Bush went into it in anything but good faith. But James Madison, widely known as the father of the Constitution, might have been more skeptical. “In war, the honors and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed,” he warned. “It is in war, finally, that laurels are to be gathered; and it is the executive brow they are to encircle.”

When they drafted the Constitution, Madison and his colleagues wrote their skepticism into the text. In Britain, the king had the authority to declare war, and raise and support armies, among other war powers. The framers expressly rejected this model and gave these powers not to the president, but to Congress.

The Constitution does make the president “commander in chief,” a title President Bush often invokes. But it does not have the sweeping meaning he suggests. The framers took it from the British military, which used it to denote the highest-ranking official in a theater of battle. Alexander Hamilton emphasized in Federalist No. 69 that the president would be “nothing more” than “first general and admiral,” responsible for “command and direction” of military forces.

The founders would have been astonished by President Bush’s assertion that Congress should simply write him blank checks for war. They gave Congress the power of the purse so it would have leverage to force the president to execute their laws properly. Madison described Congress’s control over spending as “the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.”

The framers expected Congress to keep the president on an especially short leash on military matters. The Constitution authorizes Congress to appropriate money for an army, but prohibits appropriations for longer than two years. Hamilton explained that the limitation prevented Congress from vesting “in the executive department permanent funds for the support of an army, if they were even incautious enough to be willing to repose in it so improper a confidence.”

As opinion turns more decisively against the war, the administration is becoming ever more dismissive of Congress’s role. Last week, Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelman brusquely turned away Senator Hillary Clinton’s questions about how the Pentagon intended to plan for withdrawal from Iraq. "Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq,” he wrote. Mr. Edelman’s response showed contempt not merely for Congress, but for the system of government the founders carefully created."

Since no center was built, nor plans made to hold, things have fallen apart. The gyre isn't widening, but converging into a death spiral. The dying, unfortunately, have no say. In any case, the executive, believing itself to be the state, isn't listening.

The foetus of monarchy is nearing term. It's the result of a raped constitution. The founders gave us tools to abort this monstrosity. It's time to use them

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Reuters: Attacks in Iraq Have Surged During 'Surge'

Reuters: Attacks in Iraq Have Surged During 'Surge'

Reuters reports today that attacks in Iraq last month "reached their highest daily average since May 2003, showing a surge in violence as President George W. Bush completed a buildup of U.S. troops, Pentagon statistics show."

The data, obtained by Reuters from the Defense Department, showed an upward trend in daily attacks over the past four months. Pentagon officials were not immediately available to comment on the statistics.

The June numbers showed 5,335 attacks against coalition troops, Iraqi security forces, civilians and infrastructure. "The Pentagon statistics, which come as pressure mounts in the U.S. Congress for a troop withdrawal from Iraq, depicted the most intensive month for daily attacks since Bush declared major combat operations at an end in May 2003," Reuters relates.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Black Holes of Tech

“We've all experienced technical conundrums—bizarre behavior exhibited by our computers, or MP3 players, our phones, or some other piece of electronic wizardry. By all rights, technical stuff is rooted in logic, so strange things shouldn't happen, but they do. We're not talking about stuff that happens to everyone; a bad device driver, for instance, can ruin life for every user who owns the affected part. We mean stuff that only happens to the few, the ones who call tech support and baffle everyone to whom they speak from the lowly key puncher to the senior geek in charge.

We're here to tell you that you're not alone. We've been baffled, too. Read on, to delve into times when the armies of ExtremeTech and Ziff-Davis itself—known the world over for technical proficiency—thought they woke up in the Bermuda Triangle.”


Saturday, June 09, 2007

Gates Champions 'Creative Capitalism' to End Inequity

Gates Champions 'Creative Capitalism' to End Inequity:
"'If we can find approaches that meet the needs of the poor in ways that generate profits for business and votes for politicians, we will have found a sustainable way to reduce inequity in the world. This task is open-ended. It can never be finished. But a conscious effort to answer this challenge will change the world.' "

Gates, in a prepared address at Harvard's 356th Commencement, focused on the inequities of the world and challenged students to find new ways that would encourage business leaders and governments to apply the wealth of discoveries and technology at our disposal to the people and places it fails to reach.

"We can make market forces work better for the poor if we can develop a more creative capitalism—if we can stretch the reach of market forces so that more people can make a profit, or at least make a living, serving people who are suffering from the worst inequities," he said.

Gates also said we can press governments around the world to spend taxpayer money in ways that better reflect the values of the people who pay the taxes.

"If we can find approaches that meet the needs of the poor in ways that generate profits for business and votes for politicians, we will have found a sustainable way to reduce inequity in the world. This task is open-ended. It can never be finished. But a conscious effort to answer this challenge will change the world."

Gates also declared that the spread of the global information network to emerging markets and underserved regions of the world is an imperative to sustain humanity's demand for innovation and discovery.

"The magical thing about this network is…it also dramatically increases the number of brilliant minds we can have working together on the same problem…" he said. "But, for every person in the world who has access to this technology, five people don't. That means many creative minds are left out of this discussion—smart people with practical intelligence and relevant experience who don't have the technology to hone their talents or contribute their ideas to the world.",1895,2143272,00.asp?kc=EWKNLNAV06082007STR2

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Archetypes Come in Stereo

Poynter Online - Writing Tools:

"'The Ugly Duckling' has become the dominant story form of American popular culture, especially so-called 'reality' television shows, perhaps because the narrative fits snugly into a celebrity culture in which every person dreams of being a star. "

  • Think of the ways in which "American Idol" has dominated the entertainment industry. Consider how character story lines generate interest in the show. Yes, Simon, it is a singing competition. But it helps that Kelly Clarkson was a cocktail waitress in Texas, that Fantasia was a single mom, that Taylor Hicks sang in college bars and honky tonks.

  • A more subtle example, but proof of the pervasive power of the form, can be found in the 11-year PBS series "Antiques Roadshow." Folks line up at regional antiques fairs to have their old stuff appraised. First, the owner tells a story about how the object was obtained: "It's been in our attic since Aunt Bessie died in 1959." Or, better still, "I bought it at a garage sale for $30." Then the expert tells the story of the provenance of the antique and opines: "Would it surprise you to learn that this ashtray would go conservatively at auction for $30,000? That $30 was a good investment." The piece of junk is now treasure, the duckling a swan.
    It turns out that, whatever their personal stories, American political figures need to establish their duckling credibility (call it "duck-cred" for short) in order to qualify for swan status in the eyes of gullible voters. In other words, Lincoln probably cursed American politics forever by being born in a log cabin.

For every build-me-up story, there is a tear-me-down narrative. It turns out that the antidote to "The Ugly Duckling" is another ancient story form, "The Emperor's New Clothes."

In the coming months, journalists will encounter competing stories about the presidential candidates. Are they swans, or are they naked? Is Rudy Giuliani America's mayor, a hero of Sept. 11, or someone, in the counter narrative, responsible for his city's vulnerability? Is John Edwards an advocate for the common person or an unscrupulous ambulance chaser?

That's the problem with ancient story forms. They have strict requirements that force us to select some details but reject others. Real life -- unlike reality television -- is not scripted and staged. In real life, the swan was pretty cute as a duckling, and the emperor may not be dressed in gold, but at least he's wearing a golf shirt and Bermuda shorts.

The main stream media will fall into both archetypes through sheer laziness.

Today's paradigm isn't stereo. It's 5-1 surround sound. This longest ever presidential campaign deserves nothing less. Somebody needs to say that we're not choosing between war and peace, but between war and chaos or peace and chaos. Pretending that there are easy answers got us into this mess. No matter what happens, someone will offer a solution that is simple straightforward and dead wrong. Boy will it be tempting.

My profound thanks to Roy Peter Clark

Thursday, May 31, 2007

What Would Americans Tell President Bush to Do About Iraq?

What Would Americans Tell President Bush to Do About Iraq?:

"There are several conclusions from these data:

  • The largest category of responses from the public -- offered by a majority of 54% -- would be to advise President Bush to focus on removing the troops from Iraq and exiting the country, leaving the situation in the control of the Iraqis. This includes 39% of Americans who would advise Bush to simply get U.S. troops out of Iraq now.
  • A second group, representing one-fourth of Americans, would advise the president to essentially "stay the course" or to be even more aggressive in the country's military actions.
  • A smaller category would advise the president to work with others in finding a solution, including an advisory board or the United Nations.
  • Six percent would advise the president to admit his past mistakes and apologize.

Partisan Differences

There are significant differences by partisan orientation in the responses to this question in the current data:

If you could talk with President Bush for fifteen minutes about the situation in Iraq, what would you, personally, advise him to do? [OPEN-ENDED]









Pull the troops out and come home/end it





Finish what was started/be more aggressive





Doing a good job/continue with your actions





Come up with and execute a well thought-out exit strategy





Get them trained and let them run their own country





Build up the military/send more troops





Keep the public informed/be honest/explain actions





Join in and work with the United Nations





Admit to past mistakes/apologize





Take care of our own problems





Work with and improve advisory board





Improve the homeland security










Nothing/Don't know





* = Less than 0.5%

There are also a couple conclusions from these data:

  • More than half of Democrats would tell President Bush to pull the troops out and/or to execute a well thought-out exit strategy. Another 8% would tell the president to admit his past mistakes.
  • Republicans, not surprisingly, are much more likely to say they would tell the president that he is doing a good job and to continue, and to be more aggressive in finishing what he has started. Still, 21% of Republicans would tell the president to pull the troops out, and another 9% would tell him to focus on an exit strategy.

Bottom Line

The majority of Americans, as measured in a number of Gallup Poll surveys this year, believe the initial decision for the United States to become involved in Iraq was a mistake. Research also shows a majority of Americans favor a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that Americans -- if given the chance to talk with President Bush about Iraq -- would be most likely to tell him to figure out a way to withdraw U.S. troops from there.

The president maintains the loyalty of a smaller group of Americans -- one in four -- who are supportive of his current actions or would even want him to be more aggressive.

The administration argues that the war in Iraq is a necessary part of the war on terror, and that it is imperative to succeed. The president and members of his administration have said repeatedly that any type of discussion of withdrawal or the setting of a timetable is unacceptable at this time and would be tantamount to failure. These arguments notwithstanding, however, the majority of the American public would instruct their president to focus on withdrawal of troops and the development of an exit strategy. "

Citizens Lose Access, Court Says Suck Cess

Oral Dissents Give Ginsburg a New Voice on Court - New York Times:
"Throughout her legal career, Justice Ginsburg has been deeply concerned about questions of access to the courts and the remedial powers of federal judges, themes she has explored in both majority and dissenting opinions."

in her 15 years on the court has she delivered two in one term. In her past dissents, both oral and written, she has been reluctant to breach the court’s collegial norms. “What she is saying is that this is not law, it’s politics,” Pamela S. Karlan, a Stanford law professor, said of Justice Ginsburg’s comment linking the outcome in the abortion case to the fact of the court’s changed membership. “She is accusing the other side of making political claims, not legal claims.”

The justice’s acquaintances have watched with great interest what some depict as a late-career transformation. “Her style has always been very ameliorative, very conscious of etiquette,” said Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, the sociologist and a longtime friend. “She has always been regarded as sort of a white-glove person, and she’s achieved a lot that way. Now she is seeing that basic issues she’s fought so hard for are in jeopardy, and she is less bound by what have been the conventions of the court.”

Some might say her dissents are an expression of sour grapes over being in the minority more often than not. But there may be strategic judgment, as well as frustration, behind Justice Ginsburg’s new style. She may have concluded that quiet collegiality has proved futile and that her new colleagues, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., are not open to persuasion on the issues that matter most to her.

Justice Alito, of course, took the place of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, with whom Justice Ginsburg formed a deep emotional bond, although they differed on a variety of issues. And Chief Justice Roberts succeeded Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, with whom Justice Ginsburg often disagreed but maintained a relationship that was at times surprisingly productive.

For example, in 1996, over Justice Scalia’s vigorous dissent, the chief justice gave Justice Ginsburg his vote in a decision holding that the Virginia Military Institute’s men-only admissions policy was unconstitutional. In 2003, they made common cause in a case that strengthened the Family and Medical Leave Act. When Justice Ginsburg criticized a Rehnquist opinion, she did so gently; today’s adversary could be tomorrow’s ally.

If there has been any such meeting of the minds between Justice Ginsburg and her new colleagues, it has not been evident. She may have concluded that her side’s interests are better served by appealing not to the court’s majority but to the public. “She’s sounding an alarm and wants people to take notice,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, an advocacy group that focuses on the workplace.

Never, Ever Poison the Well You Need to Drink From

Jihadist Groups Fill a Palestinian Power Vacuum - New York Times:

"Palestinian authority, both in the Palestinian areas and in refugee camps in Lebanon and beyond, used to lie in the hands of Fatah, the nationalist faction once led by Yasir Arafat. But after the entry of militant Hamas into politics, its 2006 electoral defeat of Fatah and the battles between them, jihadi freelancers with murky links are filling a vacuum in Gaza and in the camps in Lebanon.

Bush administration officials say they are increasingly concerned that Hamas and even more radical groups may be hijacking the Palestinian movement. The officials say they see no operational connection between what is happening in Palestinian camps in Lebanon and the deterioration in Gaza. But they say they do see an ideological link, with hopeless and marginalized young people turning to jihad because they believe that more secular or moderate options have failed them.

In the squalid streets of the Ain al Hilwe refugee camp outside the southern Lebanese city of Sidon, people like Abu Ahmed Taha are bracing for a fight they have long been dreading.

Militias in the camp of 47,000 roam the streets armed and ready; skirmishes break out sporadically and tensions have never been higher. For Mr. Taha, the real danger is that the fastest-growing militias are those of jihadis with wholly different aspirations from his.

“There is a central problem and that is Al Qaeda, and they are spreading,” Mr. Taha said, after an emergency meeting of religious and political leaders in the camp last week to calm tensions. “The Islamic awakening has been going on for 25 years now. But this, now, is going to become a huge problem for us.”

Mr. Taha’s fears are remarkable because of who he is: not a secular campaigner or a Fatah apparatchik, but a senior member of Hamas. In the violent underground of the militias, men like him have become unlikely moderates, calling for calm and seeking to build bonds with the other militias and the government.

Security officials and analysts say groups inspired by Al Qaeda have had a presence in the Palestinian camps in Lebanon for a decade, where they have thrived, taking advantage of the lawlessness and poor living conditions. In Lebanon, Palestinians are not allowed to own property and are limited in the kind of work they can do. They generally enjoy few rights.

Ain al Hilwe, too, became a jihadi hotbed about five years ago. More than 25 men from there alone have gone to Iraq to fight, Hamas and Fatah officials say, never to be seen again. And jihadis there say more are ready to go.

Mr. Taha notes that the new groups make it easy to join. Whereas it may take years of inculcation for a young man to become a full-fledged member of Hamas, he can become a member of the jihadi militias just by declaring fealty, Mr. Taha said. And rather than focusing on a political education, the militia members focus on a global fight coupled with religious sloganeering.

Whether these jihadist groups are part of Al Qaeda or simply local bands of religious fanatics, Westerners and their institutions are now more clearly under attack throughout the region, including in Gaza, as seen in the bombing of the schools and in the kidnappings of two Fox News correspondents and of Alan Johnston, the BBC’s Gaza correspondent. A shadowy group called the Army of Islam claims that it kidnapped Mr. Johnston in March.

In Gaza, where residents tend to be more religiously observant than those in the West Bank, Palestinians say Al Qaeda has had less of an impact than a growing band of religious fanatics. The groups are striking out at what they consider to be moral and religious corruption, using popular religious justifications for common acts of criminal kidnapping and extortion. "

Big Disparities in Judging of Asylum Cases - New York Times

Big Disparities in Judging of Asylum Cases - New York Times:

"Asylum seekers in the United States face broad disparities in the nation’s 54 immigration courts, with the outcome of cases influenced by things like the location of the court and the sex and professional background of judges, a new study has found.

The study, by three law professors, analyzes 140,000 decisions by immigration judges, including those cases from the 15 countries that have produced the most asylum seekers in recent years, among them China, Haiti, Colombia, Albania and Russia. The professors compared for the first time the results of immigration court cases over more than four years, finding vast differences in the handling of claims with generally comparable factual circumstances.

In one of the starker examples cited, Colombians had an 88 percent chance of winning asylum from one judge in the Miami immigration court and a 5 percent chance from another judge in the same court.…

The study is based on data on judges’ decisions from January 2000 through August 2004. It will be posted today on the Web site of the Social Science Research Network,, and published in November in the Stanford Law Review.

In addition to Professor Schrag, the authors are Andrew I. Schoenholtz, also a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, and Jaya Ramji-Nogales, a professor at Beasley School of Law at Temple University.

According to the study, great differences also prevail among judges sitting on the same court and hearing similar asylum cases. In the Miami immigration court, one judge granted 3 percent of the asylum cases, while another granted 75 percent.

One of the most significant factors determining whether a judge would be likely to approve asylum petitions was sex, the study found. Female immigration judges grant asylum at a 44 percent higher rate than their male colleagues.

The study by the three professors did not examine the judges’ political affiliation or the administration that appointed them.

The study suggests that the different willingness to grant asylum between male and female judges may in part have to do with their backgrounds. Of 78 female judges in the study, 27 percent had previously worked for organizations that defended the rights of immigrants or the poor, while only 8 percent of 169 male judges had similar experience.…

The variations between courts and among judges were particularly troubling, the authors of the study argued, because of the impact of procedural changes introduced by the Bush administration in 2002 at the Board of Immigration Appeals, the appellate body that reviews decisions by the immigration court judges.

Those changes led to a “sudden and lasting decline” in appeals that were favorable to asylum seekers, the study found, raising doubts as to whether the board was providing fair appeals.

In 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft made streamlined the work of the appeals board, reducing the number of board members to 11 from 23 and encouraging more decisions by single members and without explanation.

The study looked at 76,000 decisions by the appeals board from 1998 through 2005. Asylum applicants who were represented by lawyers received favorable appeals decisions from the board in 43 percent of cases in 2001, the year before the changes took effect. By 2005, asylum seekers with lawyers won their appeals in 13 percent of cases.

“The judges handle a very large caseload, they’re human, they are not going to catch every detail,” said Mary Meg McCarthy, director of the National Immigrant Justice Center, a legal assistance group in Chicago. “But once they streamlined the Board of Immigration Appeals,” Ms. McCarthy said, “there was a failure of the board to review those cases, to check on what the immigration judge had found. When that failed, we had a real crisis in the system.”

As a result of the trends at the appeals board, there has been a new surge of asylum appeals to the federal circuit courts, in practice the last resort for immigration cases. Over all, the number of people winning asylum in the United States has declined, dropping by about 12 percent from 28,684 in 2003 to 25,257 in 2005, the last year when complete figures are available."

Monday, May 28, 2007

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Civilian Deaths Undermine War on Taliban - New York Times

Civilian Deaths Undermine War on Taliban - New York Times:

Since the beginning of March at least 132 civilians have been killed in at least six bombings or shootings, according to officials. The actual number of civilians killed is probably higher, since the areas of heaviest fighting, like the southern province of Helmand, are too unsafe for travel and many deaths go unreported and cannot be verified.

"The United States military says it came under heavy fire from insurgents as it searched for a local tribal commander and weapons caches and called in airstrikes, killing 136 Taliban fighters.

But the villagers denied that any Taliban were in the area. Instead, they said, they rose up and fought the Americans themselves, after the soldiers raided several houses, arrested two men and shot dead two old men on a village road.

After burying the dead, the tribe’s elders met with their chief, Hajji Arbab Daulat Khan, and resolved to fight American forces if they returned. “If they come again, we will stand against them, and we will raise the whole area against them,” he warned. Or in the words of one foreign official in Afghanistan, the Americans went after one guerrilla commander and created a hundred more.

On Tuesday, barely 24 hours after American officials apologized publicly to President Karzai for a previous incident in which 19 civilians were shot by marines in eastern Afghanistan, reports surfaced of at least 21 civilians killed in an airstrike in Helmand Province, though residents reached by phone said the toll could be as high as 80.

While NATO is now in overall command of the military operations in the country, many of the most serious episodes of civilian deaths have involved United States counterterrorism and Special Operations forces that operate separately from the NATO command.

NATO, which now has 35,000 soldiers in the country, has emphasized its concern about keeping civilian casualties to a minimum. Yet NATO, too, has been responsible for civilian casualties over the past year, as it has relied on air power to compensate for a shortage of troops, an American military official who has served in Afghanistan said in a recent interview.

The subject of civilian casualties was the source of intense discussion on Wednesday in Brussels when the NATO secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, met with the North Atlantic Council, the top representatives of the coalition. But the conversation was less about how to reduce casualties, according to participants, than about how to explain them to European governments, who say their troops are there for reconstruction, not hunting the Taliban or terrorists.

“The Europeans are worried about a lack of clarity about who is responsible for the counterterror mission,” said one participant in the debate. “They are worried that if NATO appears responsible for these casualties, it will result in a loss of support” for keeping forces in Afghanistan.

But it is not only the Americans whose practices are being questioned. NATO soldiers have frequently fired on civilians on the roads, often because the Afghans drive too close to military convoys or checkpoints.

In interviews, villagers, who had cooperated with NATO before, blamed local rivals for planting false information with the Americans, to encourage the Americans to attack Zerkoh.

After the Special Forces units started raiding homes, the villagers were so angered, they said, they fought the Americans themselves. They insisted that no Taliban were here, an area that has been mostly calm.

“NATO was coming regularly, and the Afghan Army and police, and we were cooperating with them,” said Muhammad Alef, 35, a farmer who was tending to his wounded cousin in the provincial hospital in the city of Herat.

“But when the Americans came without permission, and they came more than once and disturbed the people,” he said. “They searched the houses, and the second time they arrested people, and the third time the people got angry and fought them.”

The public mood hardened against foreign forces in the southern city of Kandahar after British troops fired on civilians while driving through the streets after a suicide bombing last year, and Canadian soldiers have repeatedly killed and wounded civilians while on patrol in civilian areas. "

Only our enemy seems to have a clear idea of what constitutes victory. Why is that so?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Study: Many U.S. Soldiers in Iraq Admit Abusing Civilians, Backing Torture

Study: Many U.S. Soldiers in Iraq Admit Abusing Civilians, Backing Torture: "WASHINGTON In a survey of U.S. troops in combat in Iraq, less than half of Marines soldiers said they feel they should treat noncombatants with respect. Only about a half said they would report a member of their unit for killing or wounding an innocent civilian.

More than 40 percent support the idea of torture in some cases, and 10 percent reported personally abusing Iraqi civilians, the Pentagon said Friday in what it called its first ethics study of troops at the war front. Units exposed to the most combat were chosen for the study, officials said."

The military has seen a number of high-profile incidents of alleged abuse in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the killings of 24 civilians by Marines in Haditha, the rape and killing of a 14-year-old girl and the slaying of her family in Iraq and the sexual humiliation of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison.

The study team also found that long and repeated deployments were increasing troop mental health problems.

But Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock, the Army’s acting surgeon general, said the team’s “most critical” findings were on ethics.

“They looked under every rock, and what they found was not always easy to look at,” said Ward Casscells, assistant secretary of defense for health.

Findings included:

• Sixty-two percent of soldiers and 66 percent of Marines said that they knew someone seriously injured or killed, or that a member of their team had become a casualty.

• The 2006 adjusted rate of suicides per 100,000 soldiers was 17.3 soldiers, lower than the 19.9 rate reported in 2005.

• Only 47 percent of the soldiers and 38 percent of Marines said noncombatants should be treated with dignity and respect.

• About a third of troops said they had insulted or cursed at civilians in their presence.

• About 10 percent of soldiers and Marines reported mistreating civilians or damaging property when it was not necessary. Mistreatment includes hitting or kicking a civilian.

• Forty-four percent of Marines and 41 percent of soldiers said torture should be allowed to save the life of a soldier or Marine.

• Thirty-nine percent of Marines and 36 percent of soldiers said torture should be allowed to gather important information from insurgents.

Lt. Col. Scott Fazekas, a Marine Corps spokesman, said officials were looking closely at the ethics results, taken from a questionnaire survey of 1,320 soldiers and 447 Marines.

The military services blame lengthy deployments and short intervals between deployment for these results. So how is it that we had better behavior and attitudes in WWII, when soldiers served for the duration? For one thing, a lot of time was spent letting soldiers know why we were fighting, and we told them how we expected them to behave toward civilians. Misbehavior was punished swiftly, harshly. Some of our soldiers were even executed.

In the Korean war and in Viet Nam, things were very different. Huge numbers of atrocities were ignored, whenit couldn't be ignored penalties were light and those fell most heavily on the guy at the bottom. As they do now.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Proud father of a fallen soldier

“He asked permission to take some of his men out at night with their night-vision glasses -- because as he said `we own the night’ -- and watch for the people who are setting roadside bombs and `take them out.’ He said, `I want them to be the ones that are scared.’ He was denied permission. Why?”

Here is the complete text of Richard Landeck's letter to President Bush:
“Feb 4, 2007

Dear Mr. Bush:

This will be the only time I will refer to you with any type of respect.

My son was killed in Iraq on February 2, 2007. His name is Captain Kevin Landeck.

He served with the Tenth Mountain Division. He was killed while riding in a Humvee by a roadside bomb just south of Baghdad. He has a loving mother, a loving father and loving sister.

You took him away from us. He celebrated his 26th birthday January 30th and was married for 17 months. He graduated from Purdue University and went through the ROTC program. That is where he met his future wife. He was proud to be a part of the military and took exceptional pride in becoming a leader of men. He accepted his role as a platoon leader with exceptional enthusiasm and was proud to serve his country.

I had many conversations with Kevin before he left to serve as well as during his deployment. The message he continued to send to me was that of incompetence. Incompetence by you, (Vice President Richard) Cheney and (former Secretary of Defense Donald) Rumsfeld. Incompetence by some of his commanders as well as the overall strategy of your decisions.

When I asked him about what he thought about your decision to “surge” more troops to Baghdad, he told me, “until the Iraqis pick up the ball, we are going to get cut to shreds. It doesn’t matter how many troops Bush sends, nothing has been addressed to solve the problem he started.”

Answer me this: How in the world can you justify invading Iraq when the problem began and continues to lie in Afghanistan? I don’t want your idiotic standard answer about keeping America safe. What did Sadaam Hussein have to do with 9/11? We all know it had to do with the first Iraq war where your father failed to take Sadaam down.

Well George, you have succeeded in taking down over 3,100 of our best young men, my son being one of them. Kevin told me many times we are not fighting terrorism in Iraq and they could not do their jobs as soldiers. He said they are trained to be on the offensive and to fight but all they are doing is acting like policemen.

Well George, you or some “genius” like you who have never fought in a war but enjoy all the perks your positions afford you are making life and death decisions. In the case of my son, you made a death decision.

Let me explain a few other points he and I discussed. He said when he and his men were riding down the road in their Humvees, roadside bombs would explode and they would hear bullets bouncing off their vehicle. He said they were scared. He thought “why should we be the ones who are scared?” He asked permission to take some of his men out at night with their night vision glasses because as he said “we own the night” and watch for the people who are setting roadside bombs and “take them out.” He said, “I want them to be the ones that are scared.” He was denied permission. Why? It made perfect sense to me and other people who I told about this.

When he was at a checkpoint he was told that if a vehicle was coming at them even at a high rate of speed he could not arbitrarily use his weapon. He had to wave his arms and, if the vehicle did not stop, he could fire a warning shot over the vehicle. If the vehicle did not stop then, he could shoot at the tires. If the vehicle did not yet stop he could take a shot at the driver. Who in their right mind made that kind of decision?

How would you like to be at a check point with a vehicle coming at you that won’t stop and go through all those motions? You will never know!

You or Cheney or Rumsfeld will never know the anguish, the worry, the sleepless nights, the waiting for the loved one who may never return. If the soldiers were able to do their jobs and the ego’s of politicians like you, your “cronies” and some commanders had their heads on straight, we would be out of this mess which we should not be involved with in the first place.

My family and I deserve and explanation directly from you……not some assistant who will likely read this and toss it. This war is wrong.

I want you to look me and my wife and daughter directly in the eye and tell me why my son died. We should not be there, but because of your ineptness and lack of correct information I have lost my son, my pride and joy, my hero!

Again, you, Cheney and Rumsfeld will never understand what the families of soldiers are going through and don’t try to tell me you do. My wife, my daughter and I cannot believe we have lost our only son and brother to a ridiculous political war that you seem to want to maintain. I hope you and Cheney and Rumsfeld and all the other people on your band wagon sleep well at night….we certainly don’t.

Richard Landeck

Proud father of a fallen soldier”


Sunday, February 04, 2007

I Read The (S)Nooze Today Oh Boy

Jill Carroll Criticizes Foreign Cutbacks in Harvard Report

“NEW YORK Jill Carroll, the Christian Science Monitor reporter who spent more than 80 days in captivity in Iraq last year before being freed following an international call for her release, is criticizing cutbacks in foreign news coverage in a new report she authored for the Shorenstein Center at Harvard University.

Researched and written during her fellowship at the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy last fall, Carroll's 23-page report claims that media companies cutting back on foreign bureaus and correspondents in the face of financial pressure "are making a financial miscalculation and missing an opportunity to capitalize on an asset that they appear to undervalue.

Carroll, who was kidnapped just over a year ago in Baghdad during an incident in which her driver was killed, followed her release last spring by writing an extensive series on her 82-day ordeal, which also included online video interviews and became the Monitor's most popular syndicated series and web-based report. She took a leave of absence from the paper during the fall semester at Harvard, where she was one of four such fellows.

Her critical report includes statistics that note the number of foreign correspondents at U.S. newspapers had dropped from 282 in 2000 to 249 in 2006. She also points out that the number of foreign bureaus at the three major networks had "dropped significantly since 9/11. ABC, NBC and CBS all had six foreign bureaus by the summer of 2003, according to American Journalism Review, after ABC and NBC cut seven and CBS cut four bureaus since the 1980's."

…Her critical report includes statistics that note the number of foreign correspondents at U.S. newspapers had dropped from 282 in 2000 to 249 in 2006. She also points out that the number of foreign bureaus at the three major networks had "dropped significantly since 9/11. ABC, NBC and CBS all had six foreign bureaus by the summer of 2003, according to American Journalism Review, after ABC and NBC cut seven and CBS cut four bureaus since the 1980's.

the fad solution to the industry's struggle to maintain 20% profit margins is to focus more on local news

…The daily (s)nooze blinds us, leaves us unable to see both the problems and the solutions that only an informed society can deal with, if it has any hope to remain a democracy. The (s)noozes media would have us believe that the crises confronting us came at us out of nowhere, presents our enemies as irrational monsters with objectives impossible for us to understand. The politics of fear has or representatives passing laws in total ignorance of their context or contents. Fearmongers gnaw away the foundations of our liberties, accomplishing what the terrorists never, ever could.

You can't apply common sense when there is only common ignorance instead of common knowledge. (S)nooze media would have us believe that Shia militias are responsible for our failure in Iraq, when our failure, to provide safety, jobs, rebuilding, even electricity are responsible for the militias. Willful ignorance created our failures, which, in turn, created the need for the militias. Need has made them a political force in Iraq just as need made Hesbollah a political force in Lebanon and thwarting Fatah made Hamas an acceptable force in Palestinian politics.

Even opponents of our policy in Iraq are buying into blaming the Shia majority for our failure to accomplish wishful thinking disguised as rational goals. …

Will we stop (s)noozing? A close look at New Orleans, Baghdad, or Gaza suggests that we won't. At least not anytime soon.

con·cept: 2007