Monday, December 29, 2008

Self-Defense or Mass Murder?

By Greg Mitchell

Published: December 27, 2008 11:59 PM ET updated 7:00 PM ET

NEW YORK (Commentary) In the usual process, the U.S. government -- and media here -- are playing down questions about whether Israel overreacted in its massive air strikes on Gaza, while the foreign press, and even Haaretz in Israel, carries more balanced accounts. The early reports on Sunday already reveal the bombing of a TV station and mosque and preparations for an invasion.

A new analysis at Haaretz: "A million and a half human beings, most of them downcast and desperate refugees, live in the conditions of a giant jail, fertile ground for another round of bloodletting. The fact that Hamas may have gone too far with its rockets is not the justification of the Israeli policy for the past few decades, for which it justly merits an Iraqi shoe to the face."

Another opinion piece in Haaretz -- titled, "Neighborhood Bully Strikes Again" -- by Gideon Levy: "Israel embarked yesterday on yet another unnecessary, ill-fated war. On July 16, 2006, four days after the start of the Second Lebanon War, I wrote: 'Every neighborhood has one, a loud-mouthed bully who shouldn't be provoked into anger... Not that the bully's not right - someone did harm him. But the reaction, what a reaction!' Two and a half years later, these words repeat themselves, to our horror, with chilling precision. Within the span of a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, the IDF sowed death and destruction on a scale that the Qassam rockets never approached in all their years, and Operation 'Cast Lead' is only in its infancy."

Also from Haaretz, Zvi Barel writes: "Six months ago Israel asked and received a cease-fire from Hamas. It unilaterally violated it when it blew up a tunnel, while still asking Egypt to get the Islamic group to hold its fire."

Amira Hass, the paper's correspondent in Gaza, reports: "There are many corpses and wounded, every moment another casualty is added to the list of the dead, and there is no more room in the morgue. Relatives search among the bodies and the wounded in order to bring the dead quickly to burial. A mother whose three school-age children were killed, and are piled one on top of the other in the morgue, screams and then cries, screams again and then is silent."

From the lead Haaretz editorial: "[T]he inherent desire for retribution does not necessarily have to blind us to the view from the day after....Israel's violation of the lull in November expedited the deterioration that gave birth to the war of yesterday. But even if this continues for many days and even weeks, it will end in an agreement, or at least an understanding similar to that reached last June."

The Independent, a major daily in London has an eyewitness account, ending with: "These bombs were launched by Israel, as we had known they would be. The world watched the situation simmer then boil over, but did nothing. There are some who believe that hell is divided into different classes. The ordinary people of Gaza have long been caught in the tormenting underworld. Now, if the world does not heed what has happened here, our situation will worsen. We will be trapped in the first class of hell."…

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Disinformation, secrecy and lies: How the Gaza offensive came about - Haaretz - Israel News

Disinformation, secrecy and lies: How the Gaza offensive came about - Haaretz - Israel News: "By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent

Tags: Hamas, Israel, Gaza

Long-term preparation, careful gathering of information, secret discussions, operational deception and the misleading of the public - all these stood behind the Israel Defense Forces 'Cast Lead' operation against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, which began Saturday morning.

The disinformation effort, according to defense officials, took Hamas by surprise and served to significantly increase the number of its casualties in the strike.

Sources in the defense establishment said Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for the operation over six months ago, even as Israel was beginning to negotiate a ceasefire agreement with Hamas. According to the sources, Barak maintained that although the lull would allow Hamas to prepare for a showdown with Israel, the Israeli army needed time to prepare, as well. Barak gave orders to carry out a comprehensive intelligence-gathering drive which sought to map out Hamas' security infrastructure, along with that of other militant organizations operating in the Strip.

This intelligence-gathering effort brought back information about permanent bases, weapon silos, training camps, the homes of senior officials and coordinates for other facilities.

The plan of action that was implemented in Operation Cast Lead remained only a blueprint until a month ago, when tensions soared after the IDF carried out an incursion into Gaza during the ceasefire to take out a tunnel which the army said was intended to facilitate an attack by Palestinian militants on IDF troops.

On November 19, following dozens of Qassam rockets and mortar rounds which exploded on Israeli soil, the plan was brought for Barak's final approval. Last Thursday, on December 18, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the defense minister met at IDF headquarters in central Tel Aviv to approve the operation.

However, they decided to put the mission on hold to see whether Hamas would hold its fire after the expiration of the ceasefire. They therefore put off bringing the plan for the cabinet's approval, but they did inform Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of the developments.

That night, in speaking to the media, sources in the Prime Minister's Bureau said that "if the shooting from Gaza continues, the showdown with Hamas would be inevitable." On the weekend, several ministers in Olmert's cabinet inveighed against him and against Barak for not retaliating for Hamas' Qassam launches.

"This chatter would have made Entebe or the Six Day War impossible," Barak said in responding to the accusations. The cabinet was eventually convened on Wednesday, but the Prime Minister's Bureau misinformed the media in stating the discussion would revolve around global jihad. The ministers learned only that morning that the discussion would actually pertain to the operation in Gaza.

In its summary announcement for the discussion, the Prime Minister's Bureau devoted one line to the situation in Gaza, compared to one whole page that concerned the outlawing of 35 Islamic organizations.

What actually went on at the cabinet meeting was a five-hour discussion about the operation in which ministers were briefed about the various blueprints and plans of action. "It was a very detailed review," one minister said.

The minister added: "Everyone fully understood what sort of period we were heading into and what sort of scenarios this could lead to. No one could say that he or she did not know what they were voting on." The minister also said that the discussion showed that the lessons of the Winograd Committee about the performance of decision-makers during the 2006 Second Lebanon War were "fully internalized."

At the end of the discussion, the ministers unanimously voted in favor of the strike, leaving it for the prime minister, the defense minister and the foreign minister to work out the exact time.

While Barak was working out the final details with the officers responsible for the operation, Livni went to Cairo to inform Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, that Israel had decided to strike at Hamas.

In parallel, Israel continued to send out disinformation in announcing it would open the crossings to the Gaza Strip and that Olmert would decide whether to launch the strike following three more deliberations on Sunday - one day after the actual order to launch the operation was issued.

"Hamas evacuated all its headquarter personnel after the cabinet meeting on Wednesday," one defense official said, "but the organization sent its people back in when they heard that everything was put on hold until Sunday." …

Israeli Gaza Strike Kills More Than 225 -

Israeli Gaza Strike Kills More Than 225 -
"GAZA — Waves of Israeli airstrikes destroyed Hamas security facilities in Gaza on Saturday in a crushing response to the group’s rocket fire, killing more than 225 — the highest one-day toll in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in decades."

Make no mistake. This is Ehud Barak's campaign to become Prime minister shifted into high gear. Just as the over reaction to rock throwing Palestinians after Sharon's visit to the Al Aqsa moaque was designed to keep him inthat office though it failed. Mr. Bsrak seems to know of only one way to run for office. So expect the body count to increase while he claims to not be campaigning.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Who Wants to Kick a Millionaire? - Not Paulson

Op-Ed Columnist - Who Wants to Kick a Millionaire? -

Or The S.E.C., Not Bush. If this was a song the title should be - Money for (Absolutely) Nothing.

Under both Clinton and Bush, that supposed watchdog agency ignored repeated and graphic warnings of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme as studiously as
Bush ignored Al Qaeda’s threats during the summer of 2001.

“Just when we thought that reality couldn’t hit a new bottom it did with Bernie Madoff, a smiling shark as sleazy as the TV host in “Slumdog.” A pillar of both the Wall Street and Jewish communities — a former Nasdaq chairman, a trustee at Yeshiva University — he even victimized Elie Wiesel’s Foundation for Humanity with his Ponzi scheme. A Jewish financier rips off millions of dollars devoted to memorializing the Holocaust — who could make this stuff up? Dickens, Balzac, Trollope and, for that matter, even Mel Brooks might be appalled.

Madoff, of course, made up everything. When he turned himself in, he reportedly declared that his business was “all just one big lie.” (The man didn’t call his 55-foot yacht “Bull” for nothing.) As Brian Williams of NBC News pointed out, the $50 billion thought to have vanished is roughly three times as much as the proposed Detroit bailout. And no one knows how it happened, least of all the federal regulators charged with policing him and protecting the public. If Madoff hadn’t confessed — for reasons that remain unclear — he might still be rounding up new victims.

There is a moral to be drawn here, and it’s not simply that human nature is unchanging and that there always will be crooks, including those in high places. Nor is it merely that Wall Street regulation has been a joke. Of what we’ve learned about Madoff so far, the most useful lesson can be gleaned from how his smart, well-heeled clients routinely characterized the strategy that generated their remarkably steady profits. As The Wall Street Journal noted, they “often referred to it as a ‘black box.’ ”

In the investment world “black box” is tossed around to refer to a supposedly ingenious financial model that is confidential or incomprehensible or both. Most of us know the “black box” instead as that strongbox full of data that is retrieved (sometimes) after a plane crash to tell the authorities what went wrong. The only problem is that its findings arrive too late to save the crash’s victims. The hope is that the information will instead help prevent the next disaster.

The question in the aftermath of the Madoff calamity is this: Why do we keep ignoring what we learn from the black boxes being retrieved from crash after crash in our economic meltdown? The lesson could not be more elemental. If there’s a mysterious financial model producing miraculous returns, odds are it’s a sham — whether it’s an outright fraud, as it apparently is in Madoff’s case, or nominally legal, as is the case with the Wall Street giants that have fallen this year.

Wall Street’s black boxes contained derivatives created out of whole cloth, deriving their value from often worthless subprime mortgages. The enormity of the gamble went undetected not only by investors but by the big brains at the top of the firms, many of whom either escaped (Merrill Lynch’s E. Stanley O’Neal) or remain in place (Citigroup’s Robert Rubin) after receiving obscene compensation for their illusory short-term profits and long-term ignorance.

There has been no punishment for many of those who failed to heed this repeated lesson. Quite the contrary. The business magazine Portfolio, writing in mid-September about one of the world’s biggest insurance companies, observed that “now that A.I.G is battling to survive, it is its black box that may save it yet.” That box — stuffed with “accounting or investments so complex and arcane that they remain unknown to most investors” — was so huge that Washington might deem it “too big to fail.”

Sure enough — and unlike its immediate predecessor in collapse, Lehman Brothers — A.I.G. was soon bailed out to the tune of $123 billion. Most of that also disappeared by the end of October. But not before A.I.G. executives were caught spending $442,000 on a weeklong retreat to a California beach resort.

There are more black boxes still to be pried open, whether at private outfits like Madoff’s or at publicly traded companies like General Electric, parent of the opaque GE Capital Corporation, the financial services unit that has been the single biggest contributor to the G.E. bottom line in recent years. But have we yet learned anything? Incredibly enough, as we careen into 2009, the very government operation tasked with repairing the damage caused by Wall Street’s black boxes is itself a black box of secrecy and impenetrability.

Last week ABC News asked 16 of the banks that have received handouts from the Treasury Department’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program the same two direct questions: How have you used that money, and how much have you spent on bonuses this year? Most refused to answer.

Congress can’t get the answers either. Its oversight panel declared in a first report this month that the Treasury is doling out billions “without seeking to monitor the use of funds provided to specific financial institutions.” The Treasury prefers instead to look at “general metrics” indicating the program’s overall effect on the economy. Well, we know what the “general metrics” tell us already: the effect so far is nil. Perhaps if we were let in on the specifics, we’d start to understand why.

In its own independent attempt to penetrate the bailout, the Government Accountability Office learned that “the standard agreement between Treasury and the participating institutions does not require that these institutions track or report how they plan to use, or do use, their capital investments.” Executives at all but two of the bailed-out banks told the G.A.O. that the “money is fungible,” so they “did not intend to track or report” specifically what happens to the taxpayers’ cash.

Nor is there any serious accounting for executive pay at these seminationalized companies. As Amit Paley of The Washington Post reported, a last-minute, one-sentence loophole added by the Bush administration to the original bailout bill gutted the already minimal restrictions on executive compensation. And so when Goldman Sachs, Henry Paulson’s Wall Street alma mater, says that it is not using public money to pay executives, we must take it on faith.

In the wake of the Madoff debacle, there are loud calls to reform the Securities and Exchange Commission, including from the president-elect. Under both Clinton and Bush, that supposed watchdog agency ignored repeated and graphic warnings of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme as studiously as Bush ignored Al Qaeda’s threats during the summer of 2001. ”

What part of "You get more of what you reward." don't they understand? Why are they surprised when markets move towards the highest margins instead of sustainable ones? Reward what you want produced, because you get what you reward. Aren't we finally tired of variations of Al Dunlop and Kenneth Lay? Don't we want products and services, instead of schemes? Apparently not.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Op-Ed Columnist - ‘Drop Dead’ Is Not an Option -

Op-Ed Columnist - ‘Drop Dead’ Is Not an Option -

"It’s not just General Motors or Chrysler or Ford. The U.S. auto industry is the cornerstone of American manufacturing. It supports millions of jobs, directly or indirectly, in a vast array of businesses.

Start with the thousands of parts in each vehicle. They are produced by suppliers across the country, from one coast to the other. Those supplies have to be manufactured, packaged and transported. Truck drivers, railway systems and shipping companies are involved.

And, of course, there are dealers everywhere. And the auto repair industry. And the insurance industry. And vast systems of advertising supporting every kind of job you can imagine, from messengers to accountants to filmmakers and beyond. All of that advertising funnels absolutely crucial revenues to television, magazines, newspapers — you name it.

If G.M., which is on life support, or Ford or Chrysler were to go bankrupt, the reverberations would kill the jobs of entire armies of American workers. It would undermine the standard of living of hundreds of thousands of families and shutter the entrances of untold numbers of small and intermediate businesses."

Monday, November 03, 2008

PC World - Sneaky Fees: 7 New Ways You're Paying More

PC World - Sneaky Fees: 7 New Ways You're Paying More:

JR Raphael, PC World

"It's no secret that the faltering economy is taking its toll on the tech world. You may not have noticed, though, how often your wallet has been hit with sneaky fees as a result. We've identified seven recently introduced surcharges on tech-related products--add-ons that vendors aren't exactly trumpeting. Ready to see where companies are hiding the new fees?

Sneaky Fee Philosophy

Sneaky fees are by no means new. A study two years ago found that American consumers, on average, pay almost $950 each in cloaked costs every year. Now, with the mangled state of the economy heralding hard times ahead, corporations are have even more reason to try to bump up the price of their goods by subtly tacking on a few cents here and there for various nominal services and extras.

'Companies are struggling with this new economic environment in the last 12 months,' says Bob Sullivan, author of Gotcha Capitalism and columnist of MSNBC’s Red Tape Chronicles. 'They'll really be willing to do anything to survive.'

Finding Your Fees

We've long heard about hidden fees in things like phone bills. 'Federal Subscriber Line Charge'? There's nothing federal about it--that one goes straight into the phone company's coffers, as does the 'Regulatory Cost Recovery Charge' on your cell phone service statement. But newer costs are popping up in technology right now, and they may be affecting you in ways you're unaware of.…"

Microsoft Warns Of Scams Exploiting Economic Fears - Security - IT Channel News by CRN and VARBusiness

Microsoft Warns Of Scams Exploiting Economic Fears - Security - IT Channel News by CRN and VARBusiness: "By Stefanie Hoffman, ChannelWeb

8:00 PM EDT Thu. Oct. 30, 2008 Cyber scammers are finding opportunity in the global financial crisis with e-mail scams and phishing attacks claiming to offer users new mortgages or loans from failed banks, Microsoft (NSDQ:MSFT) executives said.

Microsoft researchers warn that there are already indications that fraudsters are ramping up their tactics.

Tim Cranton, associate general counsel for Worldwide Internet Safety Programs at Microsoft, said in an e-mail interview that the trend was especially alarming in light of the current financial crisis. 'In troubled financial times, there is the potential for increased risk as promises of easy money may become more alluring to some victims,' he said.

In an attempt to capitalize on the credit crisis and people's growing financial insecurity, scammers have inundated users with fraudulent offers that range from mortgage refinancing and low interest loans to credit cards approvals.

That is—for a small fee.

Some of the most common attacks include variations on the age old 411 scams, such as requests to move money out of a developing country. Victims are offered a cut of the alleged fortune if they agree to pay a release fee.

Or they are told they are the winners of a lottery jackpot, or are bequeathed a fortune from a dying person, and need only to pay a shipping or administration fee.

'Approximately 109 million people in the United States have received a phishing e-mail, with an estimated 3.6 million adults losing money to phishing attacks in the 12 months ending August 2007,' Cranton said. 'In these same 12 months, financial losses stemming from phishing attacks reached $3.2 billion (U.S.) in the United States alone…"

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Blogging Scholarship

The Blogging Scholarship: "Is Your Blog Worthy of a $10,000 Scholarship?
Do you maintain a weblog and attend college? Would you like $10,000 to help pay for books, tuition, or other living costs? If so, read on."

This has been available for two years. The application is at

Deadline is October 30th 2008. Good Luck!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Did the study work? Consumers can find out | Booster Shots | Los Angeles Times

Did the study work? Consumers can find out Booster Shots Los Angeles Times:

"Many of the most promising new medical treatments are just beyond the grasp of consumers simply because they don't know about them. But that's about to change. Beginning tomorrow, the nation's database for clinical trials,, will begin adding the results of trials of drugs, medical devices and biologic products (such as vaccines) conducted in the United States. was launched in 2000 to provide people with easy access to information about clinical trials. But until now, consumers who went to the website could find only details about the trial's launch, such as the study's design and who is eligible to enroll. Under the new rule, researchers sponsoring the trial must go back and post their results (except for very early-stage experiments, which are called Phase 1 trials) online within one year of the study's conclusion or within 30 days of approval of a product by the Food and Drug Administration. The database will carry results of trials that were underway as of Sept. 27, 2007. However, researchers of previously completed trials have been encouraged to post their results, too.

The rule is a result of a law passed last year to demand more transparency in clinical trials. Consumer health advocates hope the requirement will make it harder for study sponsors to hide unexpected or harmful reactions to drugs or devices. In the past, consumers could only turn to medical and scientific journals to find out a study's results. If the study wasn't published, which sometimes happens especially if the trial failed, no one knew"

Pundits: Debate Even. Viewers: Obama Clearly Won. Why the Disparity?

Pundits: Debate Even. Viewers: Obama Clearly Won. Why the Disparity?:
My feeling is that the Couric interview might have done for McCain what the first Nixon-Kennedy did for Nixon in 1960 -- a true watershed moment. The American voters finally "got it" about Palin and so McCain's "best moment" against Obama either fell flat with many of them, or proved laughable.

"Pundits: Debate Even. Viewers: Obama Clearly Won. Why the Disparity?

As so often happens, the pundit 'scoring' of a presidential debate ends up quite at odds from the polls of viewers that soon follow. Here's why that happened again on Friday night, in my view.

By Greg Mitchell

(September 27, 2008) -- It often happens that the pundit 'scoring' of a presidential debate ends up quite at odds from the polls of viewers that soon follow.

We've seen it again with last night's debate, which most pundits (on TV and in print) scored very or fairly even, with perhaps some recognition that Obama made some small gains because he pretty much held his own on McCain's turf. Of course, as we now know, virtually every poll taken by the networks and outside sources gave Obama an edge -- and not a small one. He easily swept surveys of undecideds, even carried a Fox focus group. At least in the polls, it was no contest.

We'll see if and how it affects the head-to-head matchup surveys in days ahead but for now we have to ask: Why did so many mainstream pundits blow it?

Of course, there is always the striving for "balance," the effects of pre-spinning, and in some cases their favoring of McCain from the outset. And, to be frank, McCain gave a pretty good account of himself.

But many pundits threw out the window what they, and others, had said beforehand, about Obama needing to appear presidential and seem expert on international matters. When he did just that in the debate, they suddenly forgot the importance they had placed on it beforehand.

But here's the key to the viewer/pundit disparity. It took awhile for McCain to build up to it but then he hammered it home near the end: Obama, he charged, lacked the "knowledge and experience" to be president.

Pundits highlighted that and said it was the key to McCain gaining at least a tie. But I didn't hear a single person on TV point out: McCain just picked Palin for vice president! How, then, could he make such a charge against Obama?"

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Credit Default Swaps: The Next Crisis? - TIME

Credit Default Swaps: The Next Crisis? - TIME

Credit default swaps are insurance-like contracts that promise to cover losses on certain securities in the event of a default. They typically apply to municipal bonds, corporate debt and mortgage securities and are sold by banks, hedge funds and others. The buyer of the credit default insurance pays premiums over a period of time in return for peace of mind, knowing that losses will be covered if a default happens. It's supposed to work similarly to someone taking out home insurance to protect against losses from fire and theft.

Except that it doesn't. Banks and insurance companies are regulated; the credit swaps market is not. As a result, contracts can be traded — or swapped — from investor to investor without anyone overseeing the trades to ensure the buyer has the resources to cover the losses if the security defaults. The instruments can be bought and sold from both ends — the insured and the insurer.

All of this makes it tough for banks to value the insurance contracts and the securities on their books. And it comes at a time when banks are already reeling from write-downs on mortgage-related securities. "These are the same institutions that themselves have either directly or through subsidiaries invested in the subprime market," said Andrea Pincus, partner at Reed Smith LLP. "They're suffering losses all over the place," and now they face potentially more losses from the CDS market.

Indeed, commercial banks are among the most active in this market, with the top 25 banks holding more than $13 trillion in credit default swaps — where they acted as either the insured or insurer — at the end of the third quarter of 2007, according to the Comptroller of the Currency, a federal banking regulator. JP Morgan Chase, Citibank, Bank of America and Wachovia were ranked among the top four most active, it said.

Credit default swaps were seen as easy money for banks when they were first launched more than a decade ago. Reason? The economy was booming and corporate defaults were few back then, making the swaps a low-risk way to collect premiums and earn extra cash. The swaps focused primarily on municipal bonds and corporate debt in the 1990s, not on structured finance securities. Investors flocked to the swaps in the belief that big corporations would seldom go bust in such flourishing economic times.

The CDS market then expanded into structured finance, such as CDOs, that contained pools of mortgages. It also exploded into the secondary market, where speculative investors, hedge funds and others would buy and sell CDS instruments from the sidelines without having any direct relationship with the underlying investment. "They're betting on whether the investments will succeed or fail," said Pincus. "It's like betting on a sports event. The game is being played and you're not playing in the game, but people all over the country are betting on the outcome."

But as the economy soured and the subprime credit crunch began expanding into other credit areas over the past year, CDS investors became jittery. They wondered if the parties holding the CDS insurance after multiple trades would have the financial wherewithal to pay up in the event of mass defaults. "In the past six to eight months, there's been a deterioration in market liquidity and the ability to get willing buyers for structured finance securities," causing the values of the securities to fall, said Glenn Arden, a partner at Jones Day who heads up the firm's worldwide securitization practice and New York derivative.

The situation is already taking a toll on insurers, who have been forced to write down the value of their CDS portfolios. American International Group, the world's largest insurer, recently reported the biggest loss in the company's history largely due to an $11 billion writedown on its CDS holdings. Even Swiss Reinsurance Co., the industry's largest reinsurer, took CDS writedowns in the fourth quarter and warned of more to come in the first quarter of 2008.

Monoline bond insurance companies, such as MBIA and Ambac Financial Group Inc., have been hit the hardest as they scramble to raise capital to cover possible defaults and to stave off a downgrade from the ratings agencies. It was this group's foray out of its traditional municipal bonds and into mortgage-backed securities that caused the turmoil. A rating downgrade of the monoline companies could be devastating for banks and others who bought insurance protection from them to cover their corporate bond exposure.

The situation is exacerbated by the heavy trading volume of the instruments, the secrecy surrounding the trades, and — most importantly — the lack of regulation in this insurance contract business. "An original CDS can go through 15 or 20 trades," said Miller. "So when a default occurs, the so-called insured party or hedged party doesn't know who's responsible for making up the default and if that end player has the resources to cure the default."

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

State and Federal Electronic Government in the United States, 2008 - Brookings Institution

State and Federal Electronic Government in the United States, 2008 - Brookings Institution:

"The social and political impact of new technology long has been debated among observers. Throughout American history, technological innovations – from the movable-type printing press in the 15th century, the telegraph in 1844, and the telephone in 1876 to the rise of radio in the 1920s and coast-to-coast television broadcasting in 1946 – have sparked much speculation. Transformationalists often claim that new technology will produce widespread consequences. Incrementalists, on the other hand, point to the influence of institutional forces—such as structural fragmentation within government as well as issues related to the investment cost and organizational structures of state and federal government—in limiting the speed and breadth of technology’s impact on the public sector.

This report assesses the nature of American state and federal electronic government in 2008 by examining whether e-government effectively capitalizes on the interactive features available on the World Wide Web to improve service delivery and public outreach. Although considerable progress has been made over the past decade, e-government has fallen short of its potential to transform public-sector operations. This report closes by suggesting how public officials can take maximum advantage of technology to improve government performance.

These key findings come from the full report (PDF; 543 KB):

+ Eighty-nine percent of state and federal websites have services that are fully executable online, compared with 86 percent in 2007.

+ Three percent of government websites are accessible through personal digital assistants (PDAs), pagers or mobile phones, up from 1 percent last year.

+ Seventy-three percent of government websites have some form of privacy policy available online (the same as last year), and 58 percent have a visible security policy (up from 52 percent last year).

+ Forty percent of government websites offer some type of foreign language translation, up from 22 percent last year.

+ Sixty-four percent of government websites are written at the 12th-grade reading level or higher, which is much higher than that of the average American.

+ Seven percent of government websites have user fees.

+ Twenty-five percent of federal websites and 19 percent of state websites are accessible to the disabled.

+ The highest-ranking state websites belong to Delaware, Georgia, Florida, California, Massachusetts, Maine, Kentucky, Alabama, Indiana and Tennessee.

+ The top-ranking federal websites are the national portal, Department of Agriculture, General Services Administration, Postal Service, Internal Revenue Service, Department of Education, Small Business Administration, Library of Congress, Department of Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board.

See also from Brookings:
+ Improving Technology Utilization in Electronic Government around the World, 2008"

Courtesy of the ResourceShelf

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Surge - The 11 1/2 Biggest Ideas of the Year

The Surge July/August 2008 Atlantic Monthly

by James Fallows

Either the new strategy was working so well that it shouldn’t be interrupted, or
else things were still so precarious that the U.S. couldn’t afford to withdraw
now. We were back to the impossibility of talking about Iraq.

“What Americans can talk about is “the surge.” This is a concept connected to an impressive man, Army General David Petraeus, who is also controversial enough to be interesting. The surge is connected to an important intellectual trend: the revival of counterinsurgency, or COIN, strategy for the U.S. military, with its emphasis on patient, person-to-person skills rather than on super-precise weaponry. And it has offered supporters of the war something that seemed lost since 2003: the chance for a new start, with things done right this time.

But a year after the surge began, more U.S. troops were in Iraq than when it started, and the argument for keeping them there had descended into circular reasoning. Either the new strategy was working so well that it shouldn’t be interrupted, or else things were still so precarious that the U.S. couldn’t afford to withdraw now. We were back to the impossibility of talking about Iraq.”

The insanity of the Surge is straightforward.

Its stated object is to defeat Al Qaeda, in Iraq. Until we invaded, the only person with any ties to Iraq, Al Zarkawi, had his base in the Kurdish No Fly Zone, under American Protection. We enabled Alqaeda in Iraq, pulled troops away from dealing with Al Qaeda's center in Afghanistan/Pakistan, allowing it and the Taliban to recover and grow stronger. So, casualties are down in Iraq, but increasing in Afghanistan. The Taliban once more controls large areas in Afghanistan. The economy runs on opium. The government of Pakistan, a nuclear power is under threat. The Surge is working. Who it's working for, is the true point of concern here.

What John McCain and George Bush have in common is the shared experience of taking a powerful military machine into the path of warhead designed to destroy it.

Insanity is performing the same experiment over and over again, while expecting a different result.

Friday, May 09, 2008 fights FBI demand for user info — and wins | ZDNet Government | fights FBI demand for user info — and wins ZDNet Government by Richard Koman

“After a protracted battle with the FBI, the Internet Archive has won the retraction of what it says was an unconstitutional national security letter demanding personal information on an individual. Under the settlement with the FBI, Internet Archive Brewster Kahle as well as lawyers from the ACLU and EFF are now free to discuss the case.

“The free flow of information is at the heart of every library’s work. That’s why Congress passed a law limiting the FBI’s power to issue NSLs to America’s libraries,” said Brewster Kahle, founder and Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive. “While it’s never easy standing up to the government — particularly when I was barred from discussing it with anyone — I knew I had to challenge something that was clearly wrong. I’m grateful that I am able now to talk about what happened to me, so that other libraries can learn how they can fight back from these overreaching demands.”

The Archive responded to the NSL demands for information on the user by submitting only publicly available information and filing a suit challenging the demand. The settlement shows, once again, that the Justice Department is far exceeding its authority in its use of these letters.

Since the Patriot Act was passed in 2001, relaxing restrictions on the FBI’s use of the power, the number of NSLs issued has seen an astronomical increase, to nearly 200,000 between 2003 and 2006. EFF’s investigations have uncovered multiple NSL misuses, including an improper NSL issued to North Carolina State University. ”

I have files stored in the Internet Archive through Ourmedia. I doubt that I'm what they were looking for, but you never know. Most of us would sleep easier if they had to convince a judge a crime was committed before they can rummage through our lives.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

U.S. Spies Want to Find Terrorists in World of Warcraft | Threat Level from

U.S. Spies Want to Find Terrorists in World of Warcraft Threat Level from

"Be careful who you frag. Having eliminated all terrorism in the real world, the U.S. intelligence community is working to develop software that will detect violent extremists infiltrating World of Warcraft and other massive multiplayer games, according to a data-mining report from the Director of National Intelligence.

The Reynard project will begin by profiling online gaming behavior, then potentially move on to its ultimate goal of 'automatically detecting suspicious behavior and actions in the virtual world.'

  • The cultural and behavioral norms of virtual worlds and gaming are generally unstudied. Therefore, Reynard will seek to identify the emerging social, behavioral and cultural norms in virtual worlds and gaming environments. The project would then apply the lessons learned to determine the feasibility of automatically detecting suspicious behavior and actions in the virtual world.
  • If it shows early promise, this small seedling effort may increase its scope to a full project.

Reynard will conduct unclassified research in a public virtual world environment. The research will use publicly available data and will begin with observational studies to establish baseline normative behaviors.

The publicly available report -- which was mandated by Congress following earlier concerns over data-mining programs -- also mentions several other data-mining initiatives. These include:

  • Video Analysis and Content Extraction - software to automatically identify faces, events and objects in video
  • Tangram - A system that wants to create surveillance and threat warning system that evaluates known threats and finds unknown threats to issue warnings ahead of an attack
  • Knowledge Discovery and Dissemination - This tool is reminiscent of the supposedly-defunct Total Information Awareness program. It seeks to access disparate databases to find patterns of known bad behavior. The program plans to work with domestic law enforcement and Homeland Security. "

The only thing I can say in response to this is, What the f---?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Because They Said So - New York Times

Because They Said So - New York Times:

"Even by the dismal standards of what passes for a national debate on intelligence and civil liberties, last week was a really bad week.

The Senate debated a bill that would make needed updates to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — while needlessly expanding the president’s ability to spy on Americans without a warrant and covering up the unlawful spying that President Bush ordered after 9/11.

The Democrat who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, John Rockefeller of West Virginia, led the way in killing amendments that would have strengthened requirements for warrants and raised the possibility of at least some accountability for past wrongdoing. Republicans declaimed about protecting America from terrorists — as if anyone was arguing the opposite — and had little to say about protecting Americans’ rights.

We saw a ray of hope when the head of the Central Intelligence Agency conceded — finally — that waterboarding was probably illegal. But his boss, the director of national intelligence, insisted it was legal when done to real bad guys. And Vice President Dick Cheney — surprise! — made it clear that President Bush would authorize waterboarding whenever he wanted.

The Catch-22 metaphor is seriously overused, but consider this: Attorney General Michael Mukasey told Congress there would be no criminal investigation into waterboarding. He said the Justice Department decided waterboarding was legal (remember the torture memo?) and told the C.I.A. that.

So, according to Mukaseyan logic, the Justice Department cannot investigate those who may have committed torture, because the Justice Department said it was O.K. and Justice cannot be expected to investigate itself.

As it was with torture, so it was with wiretaps.

After the 2001 terrorist attacks, the president decided to ignore the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, and authorized wiretaps without a warrant on electronic communications between people in the United States and people abroad. Administration lawyers ginned up a legal justification and then asked communications companies for vast amounts of data.

According to Mr. Rockefeller, the companies were “sent letters, all of which stated that the relevant activities had been authorized by the president” and that the attorney general — then John Ashcroft — decided the activity was lawful. The legal justification remains secret, but we suspect it was based on the finely developed theory that the president does not have to obey the law, and not on any legitimate interpretation of federal statutes.

When Mr. Bush started his spying program, FISA allowed warrantless eavesdropping for up to a year if the president certified that it was directed at a foreign power, or the agent of a foreign power, and there was no real chance that communications involving United States citizens or residents would be caught up. As we now know, the surveillance included Americans and there was no “foreign power” involved.

The law then, and now, also requires the attorney general to certify “in writing under oath” that the surveillance is legal under FISA, not some fanciful theory of executive power. He is required to inform Congress 30 days in advance, and then periodically report to the House and Senate intelligence panels.

Congress was certainly not informed, and if Mr. Ashcroft or later Alberto Gonzales certified anything under oath, it’s a mystery to whom and when. The eavesdropping went on for four years and would probably still be going on if The Times had not revealed it.

So what were the telecommunications companies told? Since the administration is not going to investigate this either, civil actions are the only alternative.

The telecoms, which are facing about 40 pending lawsuits, believe they are protected by a separate law that says companies that give communications data to the government cannot be sued for doing so if they were obeying a warrant — or a certification from the attorney general that a warrant was not needed — and all federal statutes were being obeyed.

To defend themselves, the companies must be able to show they cooperated and produce that certification. But the White House does not want the public to see the documents, since it seems clear that the legal requirements were not met. It is invoking the state secrets privilege — saying that as a matter of national security, it will not confirm that any company cooperated with the wiretapping or permit the documents to be disclosed in court.

So Mr. Rockefeller and other senators want to give the companies immunity even if the administration never admits they were involved. This is short-circuiting the legal system. If it is approved, we will then have to hope that the next president will be willing to reveal the truth. "

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Time Runs Out for an Afghan Held by the U.S. - New York Times

Time Runs Out for an Afghan Held by the U.S. - New York Times:
“They can’t prove anything against me because I never did anything wrong,” he went on. “The person that was giving you all that wrong information, this is the person that killed my two brothers, my sister, my father and two of my sons.”
"Abdul Razzaq Hekmati was regarded here as a war hero, famous for his resistance to the Russian occupation in the 1980s and later for a daring prison break he organized for three opponents of the Taliban government in 1999.

But in 2003, Mr. Hekmati was arrested by American forces in southern Afghanistan when, senior Afghan officials here contend, he was falsely accused by his enemies of being a Taliban commander himself. For the next five years he was held at the American military base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where he died of cancer on Dec. 30.

The fate of Mr. Hekmati, the first detainee to die of natural causes at Guantánamo, who fruitlessly recounted his story several times to American officials, demonstrates the enduring problems of the tribunals at Guantánamo, say Afghan officials and others who knew him.

Several high-ranking officials in President Hamid Karzai’s government say Mr. Hekmati’s detention at Guantánamo was a gross mistake.

Afghan officials, and some Americans, complain that detainees are effectively thwarted from calling witnesses in their defense, and that the Afghan government is never consulted on the detention cases, even when it may be able to help. Mr. Hekmati’s case, officials who knew him said, shows that sometimes the Americans do not seem to know whom they are holding. Meanwhile, detainees wait for years with no resolution to their cases.

In response to queries, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon, Cynthia O. Smith, said the military tribunals at Guantánamo contained “significant process and protections,” including the right to call witnesses.

While Ms. Smith would not discuss specifics, she said that there was nothing to indicate that Mr. Hekmati’s case was handled improperly, and that detainees at Guantánamo were given a range of protections, including “the opportunity for a detainee to be heard in person, call witnesses and present additional information that might benefit him.”

Whether those protections are sufficient has been widely debated and is now being considered by the United States Supreme Court. In the tribunals, which consider only whether detainees have been properly classified as enemy combatants, detainees are not allowed to have lawyers or see the evidence against them. The Supreme Court case will decide whether they have the right to broadly appeal their detentions in federal court.

Of the 275 detainees at Guantánamo, at least 180 have sought to challenge their detentions.

Several high-ranking officials in President Hamid Karzai’s government say Mr. Hekmati’s detention at Guantánamo was a gross mistake. They were mentioned by Mr. Hekmati in his hearings and could have vouched for him. Records from the hearings show that only a cursory effort was made to reach them.

Two of those officials were men Mr. Hekmati had helped escape from the Taliban’s top security prison in Kandahar in 1999: Ismail Khan, now the minister of energy; and Hajji Zaher, a general in the Border Guards. Both men said they appealed to American officials about Mr. Hekmati’s case, but to no effect.

“What he did was very important for all Afghan people who were against the Taliban,” Hajji Zaher said of Mr. Hekmati’s role in organizing his prison break. “He was not a man to take to Guantánamo.”

Hajji Zaher, whose father served as vice president under Mr. Karzai for six months, warned that the case of Mr. Hekmati, who is widely known here by his nickname, Baraso, would discourage Afghans from backing the government against the Taliban. “No one is going to help the government,” he said.

Mr. Hekmati never had a lawyer, said Zachary Katznelson of Reprieve, a British charity that represents a number of Guantánamo detainees. At his October 2004 review hearing, Mr. Hekmati specifically asked that Hajji Zaher and Mr. Khan be contacted to act as supporting witnesses.

The military tribunal president said the Afghan government did not respond to requests to locate the men, and ruled that they were “not reasonably available.”

Although both men are well known to the American authorities in Afghanistan, both Hajji Zaher and Mr. Khan said the American authorities had never asked them to appear.

Unidentified Accusers

In Mr. Hekmati’s tribunal at Guantánamo in 2004 to assess his status as an enemy combatant, American officials accused Mr. Hekmati of a variety of charges made by unidentified sources, and referred to him only as Abdul Razzaq, his first names, which are common in Afghanistan.

According to transcripts released by the Pentagon, the United States military charged, among other things, that Mr. Hekmati was “high in the Al Qaeda hierarchy,” acted as a smuggler and facilitator for it, and was “part of the main security escort for Osama bin Laden.” He was also accused of attending a terrorist training camp near Kandahar and of involvement in assassination attempts against Afghan government officials.

He was also identified as a senior leader of a 40-man Taliban unit, and even as supreme commander in Helmand Province.

That last allegation was rebutted by another unidentified detainee, who explicitly stated that Mr. Hekmati looked nothing like the Taliban commander and that the commander was “not the same person as the detainee,” according to the transcript.

Mr. Hekmati denied the charges, too, saying he did not even live in Afghanistan after the 1999 prison break, when he ran afoul of the Taliban. He insisted that most of the allegations had been directed against him by two of his personal enemies.

The first was Sher Mohammed Akhundzada, the post-Taliban governor of Helmand Province, who, Mr. Hekmati said, was directly responsible for his arrest after he reported the governor for corruption and for protecting a number of senior Taliban members in Helmand.

The second was Mohammed Jan, a distant cousin who had falsely denounced him as part of a long-running family feud. "

His family did not dare attend the funeral, fearful of both the Taliban and the Americans, friends said.

…In a report in February 2006 based on an analysis of documents released by the Pentagon, researchers at Seton Hall University School of Law, in Newark, concluded that no outside witnesses had ever been called to appear at Guantánamo. Lt. Col. Stephen E. Abraham, a former United States intelligence officer who had worked on the tribunals, stepped forward last June to criticize the tribunals.

In a submission to the Supreme Court, he condemned them for relying on generalized evidence that would have been dismissed by any competent court, and as being devised to rubber-stamp the administration’s assertion that the detainees had been correctly designated “enemy combatants” when they were captured and that they could be held indefinitely.

In a second submission, to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in November, Colonel Abraham explained that he was “not aware of any realistic attempts” to “identify or even attempt to bring before the tribunal witnesses or their statements,” and concluded that the whole process “was designed to conduct tribunals without witnesses other than the accused detainee.”

That is one of the reasons Afghan officials have asked that Afghan detainees be transferred from Guantánamo to Afghanistan. “Of course a judicial process needs witnesses and documents and evidence,” Minister of Justice Mohammad Sarwar Danish said. “Most of these cases have not come to trial, and are not proceeding, and that is why we asked them to be moved here.”

After Mr. Hekmati was arrested, two of the men he broke out of prison, Mr. Khan and Hajji Zaher, said they appealed to American and Afghan officials for his release. “I asked President Karzai to help, but unfortunately it did not help,” Mr. Khan said. He said he also asked the American ambassador to Afghanistan at the time, Zalmay Khalilzad, with no result.

“We did try but it was not working,” Hajji Zaher said in a phone interview. “When they are sending someone to Guantánamo, they have their own rules.”

After Mr. Hekmati’s death at Guantánamo, his body was returned to Afghanistan and quietly buried in an unmarked grave in Kandahar on Jan. 8. His family did not dare attend the funeral, fearful of both the Taliban and the Americans, friends said.

As the Taliban has reasserted itself in much of southern Afghanistan, Mr. Hekmati’s son remains in hiding. Neither he nor any relative or elder of their tribe collected his father’s body.

“He is caught in the middle,” said Hajji Wali, a family friend. “He is scared of the Taliban and scared of the government and the Americans, because the Americans took his innocent father and they could take him, too.”…

10 Die in Mistaken Afghan Firefight - New York Times

10 Die in Mistaken Afghan Firefight - New York Times:
“Another big cruelty was made by American forces this morning.”

"At least nine Afghan police officers and a civilian were killed early Thursday in a firefight between American forces and the officers in Ghazni Province, just south of the capital, local officials said.

The American forces were searching houses in a village on the outskirts of Ghazni town and blew open the gates of a house, according to local Afghan officials. District police officers heard the explosion and rushed to the scene, suspecting that the Taliban were in the area, but were themselves mistaken for Taliban and shot by the American soldiers, the officials said. Aircraft supporting the operation fired on one of the police cars.

The killings set off protests in the town on Thursday afternoon, and demonstrators blocked the main highway and prevented a government delegation from reaching the town from a nearby airfield, local officials said.

“Another big cruelty was made by American forces this morning,” said Khial Muhammad Hussaini, a member of Parliament from the province who was among the elders and legislators who had traveled to the town to try to calm people and persuade them to reopen the highway.

Zemarai Bashary, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior in Kabul, confirmed the shooting and called it a “misunderstanding,” but said he had information on only eight deaths.

The confrontation happened when United States forces were conducting a night raid on the compound of a man suspected of being an insurgent and of organizing suicide bombings, according to Maj. Chris Belcher, the spokesman for the United States military at Bagram Air Base. The soldiers were part of the United States-led coalition that conducts counterterrorism operations, not part of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, he said.

The American soldiers came under fire from insurgent forces and fired back, Major Belcher said. He suggested that those killed were insurgents and said that he had no information on whether they were members of the national police. “I know there were some deaths, but I don’t have a number,” he said.

The Afghan government has repeatedly requested that United States forces coordinate with local authorities and take along Afghan security forces during operations because there have been many instances in which Americans have inadvertently killed civilians or local police officers.

But Mr. Hussaini, the Parliament member, said the American forces involved had not coordinated with any government authority before or during the raid.

Hajji Zaher, an elder in Ghazni town, gave this account: “At 3 a.m., when the Americans were searching the houses and when they blew up the gates, the police rushed to the area thinking that they were Taliban. And at the same time the Americans thought that the police were Taliban and there was a firefight.”

Habib-u Rahman, deputy chief of the Ghazni provincial council, said that nine police officers, including a district police chief, and a civilian had been killed and that four other police officers and a woman had been wounded.

“After the police came under fire, the police officers got out of their vehicle, and their vehicle was shot by a rocket from the plane,” Mr. Rahman said.

Eight people were detained by American soldiers, Mr. Rahman said, but two were from the provincial Education Department."

Monday, February 04, 2008

Analysts Think Something's Wrong With Us Microsoft's Yahoo Offer Part of A Major Online Play:
Some analysts attribute the MySpace disappointment to what they call the "chronic unfaithfulness" of social networking users.

"'For Microsoft to be a viable Internet only company, the Yahoo deal and other initiatives will have to be executed flawlessly,' said Erik Rolf, president of Deliberare, Inc. 'Microsoft might be able to make a play for a stronger presence in streaming video and search, but with Google's YouTube and its core search engine so entrenched, Microsoft must execute this acquisition flawlessly and rapidly. I think Microsoft did this because they believed they had to get into the internet quickly, out of fear Google and not because there would be meaningful synergies.”

Because the timing was so close to Google's disappointing announcement, let's take a quick look at two reasons why Google missed analysts' expectations:

Lower than expected click-throughs in social networking. There was a lot of hype about Google buying its way into an advertising deal with social networking sites like MySpace. Since Google generates most of its money via advertising click-throughs, analysts expected the growth to maintain at an average 50% but it was 30% in the fourth quarter, a fact Google attributes to a disappointment in trying to get social networkers to click through to ads. Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO, said that the group "is not making as much money as it would like from revenue-sharing deals with social networking websites such as MySpace.”

Slowing economy. Ballmer's move does comes at a time when Google appears vulnerable but also at a time when there are significant concerns about online advertising's staying power in an economic downturn. It's uncertain whether rich/streaming media advertising, which Yahoo does well, will have better staying power than Google's typical text-based ads, or whether the economic downturn will adversely affect offline advertising rather than online advertising.

Some analysts attribute the MySpace disappointment to what they call the "chronic unfaithfulness" of social networking users. Online advertising revenues, which make up the bulk of revenue for sites like MySpace and Facebook, are expected to grow from over $40 billion in 2007 to nearly $80 billion by 2010, but it appears that text-only ads are less effective on social networking sites than are rich and streaming media advertisements. If this proves to be the case in 2008, the Yahoo acquisition could prove to have a small but successful gem in its rich media advertising that could propel Microsoft forward in its battle against Google. "

Why Lorna Switched from Clinton to Obama

Honesty in politics? Whaat a concept

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Justices: Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others

Justices Broaden Immunity for Officers - New York Times:

Justice Kennedy said the majority had failed to adhere to longstanding principles of statutory interpretation, including the rule that “a single word must not be read in isolation, but instead defined by reference to its statutory context.”

He said the majority had mistakenly focused on the word “any” in the phrase “any other law enforcement officer,” when it was clear from the context that Congress was discussing only customs and revenue seizures.

"Federal law enforcement officers are immune from lawsuits for mishandling, losing or even stealing personal property that comes under their control in the course of their official duties, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday in a 5-to-4 decision.

The case was brought by a federal prison inmate, but the ruling was not limited to the prison context. It was an interpretation of the Federal Tort Claims Act, which applies to federal employees’ liability for damages and generally waives immunity from being sued.

The statute has numerous exceptions that preserve immunity in particular situations, however. The exception at issue in the case provides that “any officer of customs or excise or any other law enforcement officer” will be immune from suit for “any claim arising in respect of the assessment or collection of any tax or customs duty or the detention of any goods, merchandise or other property.”

The question was the meaning of the phrase “any other law enforcement officer.” Did Congress mean to confer blanket immunity for property-related offenses on the part of any federal law enforcement officer? Or was the immunity limited to officers engaged in tax or customs work?

The answer was sufficiently ambiguous that of the 11 federal circuits of appeals to address the issue, six had interpreted the exception as applying broadly to all officers, and five had read it narrowly to apply only to property seizures connected to revenue or customs enforcement.

The Supreme Court majority, in an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, chose the broad interpretation. When Congress enacted the law in 1946, “it could easily have written ‘any other law enforcement officer acting in a customs or excise capacity,’ “ Justice Thomas wrote, adding, “We are not at liberty to rewrite the statute to reflect a meaning we deem more desirable.”

The swing vote was cast by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who in closely divided cases can almost always be found with Justices Stevens, Souter and Breyer. She did not write separately to explain her position.

Beyond the holding in the case, Ali v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, No. 06-9130, this first 5-to-4 decision of the current term was notable in several respects.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote a dissent that was signed by the three other dissenters, John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter and Stephen G. Breyer. In the court’s last term, Justice Kennedy voted with the majority in all 24 of the 5-to-4 decisions.

The plaintiff, Abdus-Shahid M. S. Ali, was being transferred from a federal prison in Atlanta to one in Inez, Ky., and left two duffle bags of personal property to be shipped. When he received the bags, religious articles, including two copies of the Koran, were missing.

Valuing the missing items at $177, Mr. Ali filed suit, appealing to the Supreme Court after the federal appeals court in Atlanta had dismissed his case in the decision that the justices affirmed

His position on Tuesday meant that the swing vote was cast by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who in closely divided cases can almost always be found with Justices Stevens, Souter and Breyer. She did not write separately to explain her position."

I have to ask, because this is so out of character, if the plaintiffs religion swung this decision. Suppose we were talking about missing copies of the Torah, or a missing menorah?

How is it that the only missing items were religious articles?

What about the right to be secure in your property and person?

Is this the escape clause to the first amendement?

I don,t have to ask, "Says who?"

Monday, January 21, 2008

Historical Narratives Matter

Debunking the Reagan Myth - New York Times

I'm sorry to say that in this case Paul Krugman just doesn't get it.

There is a lot more to history than conservative or liberal narratives. In fact there is an American narrative that both progressives and conservatives tap into. Alexis De Tocqville noted, “The American learns to know the laws by participating in the act of legislation; and he takes a lesson in the forms of government from governing. The great work of society is ever going on before his eyes and, as it were, under his hands.” A sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship are deeply embedded in the American view of ourselves and the world.

The citizen of the United States is taught from infancy to rely upon his own exertions in order to resist the evils and the difficulties of life; he looks upon the social authority with an eye of mistrust and anxiety, and he claims its assistance only when he is unable to do without it.

Reagan's failures had more to do with the limits of the tools his conservative ideology allowed him to use, than the goals he championed. We are not required to disbelieve in the sovereignty of the people because Reagan believed in it. Believing that the least government necessary to accomplish the popular will is best, doesn't make us less progressive. It was the unwillingness to admit that too little government can harm as well as too much, the refusal to recognise that markets don't solve all problems, the refusal to pay the nations bills as they come due, while raising working peoples taxes and mortgaging their future, that divides the progressive from the failures of his agenda.

THE most natural privilege of man, next to the right of acting for himself, is that of combining his exertions with those of his fellow creatures and of acting in common with them. The right of association therefore appears to me almost as inalienable in its nature as the right of personal liberty.
American voters want to be enabled, not taken care of. Empowered, not tracked, channeled,or directed. They want to be the ultimate deciders. Reagan offered these things, while his opponents offered to tweak the system. He failed to deliver these things because his ideology's tools, tax cuts and deregulation weren't appropriate to the task.
con·cept: 2008