Byrd's Brain

Wednesday, November 27
Gobble Gobble
 
It is holiday time. I will be spending the weekend, beginning now, with family and friends. Thus blogging will pause for a few days. Check back soon. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

 
For a little humor, check out Mark Fiore's (11/26/02) take on the Total Information Awareness Project.

Conservative Media
 
I am tired of hearing about the liberal media. Liberal media bias my ass. Twenty years ago there may have been a mainstream liberal media bias. But merger mania has changed all of that. Yes, there are exceptions. Some media by design is liberal. Many of those are linked on this and other like minded websites. However, for the most part, they are alternative media outlets. They aren't accessible to the majority of Americans. Americans get most of their news from television. Mother Jones doesn't have a television network. Americans get their news from CNN, FOX, ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC. These are media arms of a larger corporate enterprises. These corporations are beholden to the bottom line. The media component of the business needs to be profitable, just as the nuclear plant component needs to be profitable. It doesn't matter to the corporate boards if the reporting is objective as long as the money is pouring in. An added bonus of course is the opportunity to support their friends in their reporting. (The interlocking web of media and corporate ownership were covered a few years ago by the hard copy version of Content magazine. If anyone can find the flowchart that Content prepared, please post it and let me know.)

What galls me most about the "liberal media" moniker is that it is misapplied by conservatives who are then quoted in the (liberal?) media. This serves to perpetuate the myth and lends an air of credibility to the media. The reasoning goes that if I print something that might indicate that I have a bias then clearly I am objective and unbiased.

Finally, Al Gore is peaking out. He found religion after the November elections. At this point he has nothing to lose. He is down in the polls and some Democrats want him to step aside. He has learned that not speaking his mind is not going to get him elected. We need more politicians who have nothing to lose. Politicians who speak their mind motivate voters. Paul Wellstone spoke his mind and didn't have to march in lockstep with the rest of his party. Jesse Ventura speaks his mind, sometimes we might prefer he didn't, but it is refreshing to hear an opinion that wasn't watered down by a focus group.

Al Gore has been giving interviews in order to promote his new book. In those interviews he has been speaking out. In a recent interview he attacked the media and FOX in particular.
The media is kind of weird these days on politics, and there are some major institutional voices that are, truthfully speaking, part and parcel of the Republican Party," said Mr. Gore in an interview with The Observer. "Fox News Network, The Washington Times, Rush Limbaugh—there’s a bunch of them, and some of them are financed by wealthy ultra-conservative billionaires who make political deals with Republican administrations and the rest of the media …. Most of the media [has] been slow to recognize the pervasive impact of this fifth column in their ranks—that is, day after day, injecting the daily Republican talking points into the definition of what’s objective as stated by the news media as a whole."
...
Mr. Gore has a bone to pick with his critics: namely, he says, that a systematically orchestrated bias in the media makes it impossible for him and his fellow Democrats to get a fair shake. "Something will start at the Republican National Committee, inside the building, and it will explode the next day on the right-wing talk-show network and on Fox News and in the newspapers that play this game, The Washington Times and the others. And then they’ll create a little echo chamber, and pretty soon they’ll start baiting the mainstream media for allegedly ignoring the story they’ve pushed into the zeitgeist. And then pretty soon the mainstream media goes out and disingenuously takes a so-called objective sampling, and lo and behold, these R.N.C. talking points are woven into the fabric of the zeitgeist."

And during a lengthy discourse on the history of political journalism in America, Mr. Gore said he believed that evolving technologies and market forces have combined to lower the media’s standards of objectivity. "The introduction of cable-television news and Internet news made news a commodity, available from an unlimited number of sellers at a steadily decreasing cost, so the established news organizations became the high-cost producers of a low-cost commodity," said Mr. Gore. "They’re selling a hybrid product now that’s news plus news-helper; whether it’s entertainment or attitude or news that’s marbled with opinion, it’s different. Now, especially in the cable-TV market, it has become good economics once again to go back to a party-oriented approach to attract a hard-core following that appreciates the predictability of a right-wing point of view, but then to make aggressive and constant efforts to deny that’s what they’re doing in order to avoid offending the broader audience that mass advertisers want. Thus the Fox slogan ‘We Report, You Decide,’ or whatever the current version of their ritual denial is."
...
For now, Mr. Gore can only attempt to explain what motivates the ceaseless lampooning he continues to face from America’s columnists and commentators. "That’s postmodernism," he offered. "It’s the combination of narcissism and nihilism that really defines postmodernism, and that’s another interview for another time, if you’re interested in it. (he is definitely a wonk...rb)
Gore may not be the best Presidential candidate for the Democrats, but he may motivate the party to take action and be firmer in its opposition to Bush.

Tuesday, November 26
Talk About Irony
 
I just came across this on Tom Tomorrow's site. The irony is too much. The politics of the moment is clearly all that matters in this "us" against "them" world. We are just pawns in the power game. The following is from a 1997 article entitled "Keep Big Brother's Hands off the Internet," written by John Ashcroft.

The Clinton administration would like the Federal government to have the capability to read any international or domestic computer communications. The FBI wants access to decode, digest, and discuss financial transactions, personal e-mail, and proprietary information sent abroad -- all in the name of national security. To accomplish this, President Clinton would like government agencies to have the keys for decoding all exported U.S. software and Internet communications.

This proposed policy raises obvious concerns about Americans' privacy, in addition to tampering with the competitive advantage that our U.S. software companies currently enjoy in the field of encryption technology. Not only would Big Brother be looming over the shoulders of international cyber-surfers, but the administration threatens to render our state-of-the-art computer software engineers obsolete and unemployed.

There is a concern that the Internet could be used to commit crimes and that advanced encryption could disguise such activity. However, we do not provide the government with phone jacks outside our homes for unlimited wiretaps. Why, then, should we grant government the Orwellian capability to listen at will and in real time to our communications across the Web?

The protections of the Fourth Amendment are clear. The right to protection from unlawful searches is an indivisible American value. Two hundred years of court decisions have stood in defense of this fundamental right. The state's interest in effective crime-fighting should never vitiate the citizens' Bill of Rights.


News Ramble
 
* How ironic. Australian headquarters of Phillip Morris is a smoke free work place.

* Remember Kosovo?
The United Nations mission in Kosovo says it has assumed full control of the divided city of Mitrovica, following an agreement with the Serbian Government. Since the end of the war in Kosovo, Mitrovica has been the scene of repeated clashes between hard-line Serb opponents to the UN authority in Kosovo and UN peacekeepers.
More privacy intrusions.
"The only simple advice I can think of is: 'assume everyone is out to get you!'" says Mr Clover. "So-called "parasite programs" are logging what you do online and, like a nest of busy gossips, sharing the information with anyone who will pay to listen.BBC Online
* Do you think our airport screeners are any better?
A sharp increase in demand for security guards in response to terrorist alerts had seen "shonky arrangements" being created by sub-contractors, according to Australia's biggest security workers' union. Financial Review (A new word for me -- "shonky". rb )


Monday, November 25
Billboards Have Ears
 
Perhaps I am getting too sensitive about invasions of privacy. Admittedly, government action and action by private entities are different and have different impacts on our lives. Private entities generally track data about us in order to try to make a buck off of us. The government generally wants to track what we do in order to decide whether we should be arrested. Also, there are differences in degree between whether the government wants to read my e-mail messages or whether it tracks where I am driving. I think that both are pernicious. But at least so far, I have some choice about whether I want my driving habits to be monitored.

What has me a little uneasy now is a marketing scheme. Billboards in the Sacramento California area will soon begin scanning cars to determine what radio stations are being listened to. Based on the results of the scan the billboards will flash a "targeted" message. This seems harmless. They don't know who is in which car or who specifically is listening to which stations, but I am troubled by the scanning concept. Would it be okay for a business to drive a truck down a residential street and scan the televisions of each home as it drives by? Would you want everyone to know what you are watching and when you were watching it? Call me paranoid. It just seems that privacy that we once took for granted is being eroded daily. We are sliding down the proverbial slippery slope. Here is an excerpt from the article:
In the Steven Spielberg film "Minority Report," futuristic billboards recognize customers on sight and tailor their sales pitches to an individual's shopping patterns.

As it turns out, the future is just around the corner for motorists in the Sacramento area. Starting next month, two freeway billboards will be able to tell which radio stations passing cars are tuned to and then change the image on the sign to fit listeners' profiles.

"We'll be able to shift the advertisement to suit the people driving by," said John Henry Parker, a member of the team working on the so-called smart signs.....

While the advertisements in Spielberg's film scan a person's retinas to determine his identity, the electronic billboards will be equipped with sensors that pick up radio frequencies from passing cars and trucks.

The billboards won't actually tailor their messages to individual passers-by. Instead, the signs can be programmed to change based on the listening habits of the majority of people driving by at a given time. SAC Bee 11/24/02



Saturday, November 23
No Internet Identity Tag for All Surfers
 
Faced with a barrage of criticism, DARPA has decided not to go ahead with a project designed to give each internet user a unique identity tag. This "eDNA" tag would have been assigned by an ISP before a person was able to log onto the internet.
Congress could have enacted a law requiring Internet providers to offer connectivity only to authenticated users, or government regulations could have ordered that fundamental protocols such as TCP/IP be rewritten or new ones created to handle authentication techniques....

it was a “decision by DARPA management” not to pursue the idea, which was explored at a two-day workshop in California in August and which drew sharp criticism from the group of computer and privacy experts that DARPA convened to review the proposal.

The Pentagon gave in to outside pressures. Thus there is hope that other domestic spying programs by the Pentagon can also be stopped. These people like to work in the dark. Maybe public outcry can turn the tide on the Pentagon, Congressional and Judicial actions last week that combined for a full frontal assault on our privacy rights.
.... a DARPA unit, the Information Awareness Office (IAO), has come under fire for its plan to create a prototype of a massive database that would collect information about everything from Americans’ credit card purchases to veterinary records and public information. ... the IAO also was involved in the eDNA review.

At the same time, the government has had notable success in strengthening its oversight of Internet activities. Earlier this week, the Senate passed a bill, expected to be signed by President Bush this month, to create a Department of Homeland Security in a massive reorganization of federal agencies. A portion of the bill, the Cyber Security Enhancement Act, expands the ability of police to conduct Internet or telephone eavesdropping without first obtaining a court order, and grants Internet providers more latitude to disclose information about subscribers to police.

Also this week, a secretive federal court removed procedural barriers for federal agents conducting surveillance, giving them broad authority to monitor Internet use, record keystrokes and employ other surveillance methods against terror and espionage suspects. MSNBC

Volukh opines that cancelling the eDNA initiative is good news. I hope so. Or maybe they decided to drop the eDNA idea because it was too difficult to implement and they don't need it anymore. If you wonder why you should be concerned about privacy, which often equals anonymity, it was summed up quite nicely by the Supreme Court in 1995, in an opinion cited by MSNBC.
The U.S. Supreme Court said in the McIntyre vs. Ohio Elections Commission case that broad restrictions on anonymity violate the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech: “Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority.”


Friday, November 22
DARPA Powerpoint
 
Eugene Volukh referenced this powerpoint presentation presumeably prepared by or for Poindexter himself regarding the mission of the Total Information Awareness Office.

 
Check out today's entry on the Liberal Oasis for more comments on Bush's pathetic proposal to increase the fuel efficiency of SUVs. As I keep saying Bush is all smoke and mirrors. One thing is announced, but always something different or slightly less than he says is being done. This time he is going to help the environment by increasing fuel efficiency, by a half gallon! Yippee. I am breathing more easily already.

Another good read is EJ.Dionne,Jr.'s column discussing Bush's politicization of our national security.
Recall that the president resisted creating this department for months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Calls for the new security structure came largely from Democrats, especially Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.).

On June 6, Bush abruptly announced on national television that he had switched sides and embraced the Homeland Security Department. What was going on at that moment? For weeks, the news had been dominated by stories reporting the failures of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement in the days and weeks leading up to the terrorist attacks. Suddenly, Congress was asking the obvious question: How could this have happened?

It was not exactly a line of inquiry the administration welcomed, and Bush's speech just happened to come on the first day of testimony from whistle-blower Coleen Rowley, the chief legal counsel of the FBI's Minneapolis field office. Surprise: Bush overshadowed Rowley.

Dan Balz noted in The Post on June 7 that Bush appeared on television as he was "struggling to regain the initiative" on security.


Wednesday, November 20
Total Information Awareness Project
 
You have probably heard the term "data mining". It means just what it sounds like. Software sifts through large databases to look for relationships and associations between the data. For a business, data mining might consist of compiling all of the data available in various in-house, often older legacy, databases. It is not unusual for companies to have separate databases that track different information or to have input information that was never used or analyzed. Collecting the data from many databases and accessing each data field allows a company to learn more about its customers so that it can market more effectively. In the most benign sense this could mean that a company may combine your shopping history with it along with information about where you live in order to market products that are "geographically" or seasonally suited to you. On the other hand, in the most malignant sense data mining refers to the federal government's intent to "mine" every database available to it in order to collect as much information about everyone of us as possible.

That is the goal of the Total Information Awareness Project (TIAP). This Project is the raison d'etre of the Information Awareness Office. The IAO is a component of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which in turn is part of the Defense Department. John M. Poindexter, Reagan's one time National Security Advisor and Iran-Contra co-conspirator, is the Director of the Office. This is yet another example of having the fox watch the henhouse. This office wants to mine data in order to track and uncover terrorists. This means that the Office will compile data on terrorists, possible terrorists and everyone else because anyone could become a terrorist. Poindexter is not the man that I want to be in charge of something as big as this. His resume on the DARPA site touts that he "brings a unique blend of experience to problems from the highest levels of government..." This is a bizarre statement in and of itself. Poindexter was convicted of five felony counts of lying to Congress, destroying official documents and obstructing the congressional inquiry into the affair. These convictions were dismissed on appeal on technical grounds. There is little doubt that he did the deeds. Poindexter's experience is unique. More importantly though, he clearly was such a good foot soldier for Reagan that now he gets a high level job with Bush Jr. He was appointed this year. Ethics don't matter. One must simply be loyal to the "cause". I thought that these true believers would go away. That was clearly naive on my part. Instead they keep coming back and getting scarier assignments. I wonder what Ollie North is doing.

Ominously, the logo for the Office of information Awareness is an eye atop a pyramid with the slogan "Scientia Est Potentia" ("Knowledge Is Power"). You have to see this to believe it. I wonder what marketing guru thought this up. What exactly were they trying to promote. It doesn't make me feel comfortable and safe. It makes me feel that someone is watching me. Maybe that was the point. It is a warning.

This Office, the Project and the logo strike me as something out of the television show the "X Files". Unfortunately, this isn't a television show. This isn't science fiction. This is the hard truth of this administration and what it means to our civil rights and our privacy rights. The truth is out there, we ignore it at our peril.

Poindexter will be compiling a dossier on every American.

Tuesday, November 19
Homeland Security Goes to Bush
 
The Homeland security bill passed the senate 90-9.
"While I commend the president for recognizing the need to consider a major government reorganization in light of the tragic events of September 11, this could have been accomplished while preserving our privacy and our liberties as Americans," Feingold said in a written statement.
This bill, coupled with the Foreign Intelligence Court of Review decision, puts a lot of nails in the privacy coffin, in a very short period of time. Rights that we had on Monday are now gone. Our protections against unreasonable searches and seizures are in that coffin. Kudos go to the 9 Senators who stood firm and voted against this bill. It wasn't easy to vote against this bill when you could be labelled as not caring about the safety of Americans. The spin is easy. but the truth behind the votes isn't soundbite material. I note sadly that both Senators from California voted for the bill.
The 9 statesmen were Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts; Paul Sarbanes, D-Maryland; Jim Jeffords, I-Vermont; Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii; Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii; Robert Byrd (not me), D-West Virginia; Carl Levin, D-Michigan; Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-South Carolina; and Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin.
Earlier in the day Democrats failed to remove the porkbarrel provisions from the bill. Part of the compromise to get Democrats to vote to approve the bill, despite those provisons, was a "promise" from Trent Lott that they would be removed in the next session. Fat chance. Once this thing passed what incentive do the Republicans have to amend it. None. The leverage is gone. The Democrats gave up the fight.
McCain doubted that Republicans would reverse any of the provisions next year, despite the agreement with the moderates. "The fix is in," McCain told reporters.


Bye Bye Privacy
 
The ultra-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, ruling for the first time in its history, gave the Justice Department broad authority to monitor Internet use, record keystrokes and employ other surveillance methods against terror and espionage suspects. But this authority could be used for much more than anti-terror efforts. If national security is at stake then this decision allows the free sharing of information between spy agencies, the FBI and criminal prosecutors. In practice this means that if one utters the required mantra -- "national security" -- then this expanded authority may be used to investigate criminal matters.

To date, police actions in investigating criminal matters have been limited by the Constitution. The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and eavesdropping, when police or the FBI conduct surveillance in normal criminal investigations. Now, if "there is probable cause to believe" that a terrorist, spy, or foreign political organization is conceivably involved, police have freer access to information.

Last May the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court (FISA) made public a unanimous decision rejecting the government’s bid for expanded spying powers. In fact the court said that changes to the Justice Department's procedures were necessary in order "to protect the privacy of Americans in these highly intrusive surveillances and searches." The Court of Review was clearly less concerned with our civil liberties.

The FISC Review Court is a special three-judge panel appointed by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist in accordance with provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The judges are: Hon. Laurence H. Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; Hon. Edward Leavy, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and Hon. Ralph B. Guy, Jr., U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Homeland (Business) Security
 
The Democrats failed to delete the porkbarrel portions of the Homeland Security Bill. Corporate interests prevailed. Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana was one of three democrats voting for the bill. She is facing a run-off election and apparently thinks that by placating the Republicans with this vote they won't try to defeat her. She is dreaming. She is still a Democrat and the Republicans are gunning for her. Check out Lisa English's discussion of this bill.

It is Official
 
Finally, even though all the votes haven't been counted the results of the California State Controller's race are in. Steve Westly, the Democrat, has been elected by 20,000 votes. His opponent, Tom McClintock conceded yesterday.
Republican Tom McClintock conceded defeat Monday to Steve Westly in the race for state controller, setting the stage for the first Democratic Party sweep of statewide offices since 1882. (over the last 10 years California has been trending to the left, while the rest of the country seems to be leaning the other way...rb) McClintock said Westly's lead of 21,054 votes Monday appeared insurmountable, though more than 164,000 ballots remained uncounted in one of the closest statewide races in recent history.

Too close to call since Election Day, the controller's race -- and the two legislative contests -- have been the focus of a tedious, county-by-county tally of more than 800,000 provisional ballots whose validity had to be verified and of absentee ballots received on Election Day.(Fortunately we seem to have done better than Florida. There have been no allegations of voter fraud or miscounting of any ballots. Wesley won fair and square...rb)

California voters have bucked the national election day trend. It kind of feels lonely to those of us in California. The Bush administration has already been penalizing California for voting for Gore. Federal funding to California has been cut over the last couple of years. Now we can expect to have additional funds cut. On the other hand Californians are in a position of strength in the House. Nancy Pelosi, from the San Francisco Bay Area, is the Democratic House majority leader. I have no doubt that she will look out for California.

One personal note of irony regarding Nancy Pelosi. She has always been an effective representative for California, but I have always felt that she is moderate in her political views. It has been weird to see her labelled as a liberal. There are politicians in California -- and especially San Francisco where I used to live -- who lean a lot more to the left than Ms Pelosi.

Monday, November 18
Terror Two Step
 
The Bush administration wants a free hand to implement its conservative agenda. (The agenda includes overturning Roe v. Wade by packing the courts, privatizing social security despite the dismal stock market and extending tax relief to the wealthiest one percent of Americans.) The Republican sweep of this month's Congressional elections has added fuel to theie burning desire to implement their policies at all costs. The time tested method for distracting us from the Bush domestic agenda has been to keep us focused on the war on terrorism. Who can care about the confirmation of a particular judicial nominee if terrorists might harm our family? Hence the constant barrage of terrorist alerts. We have repeated alerts about bridges and about chemical weapons. We got the alert last week about possible threats to hospitals in four cities. The warings about New York and D.C. Then at the end of the week we get an alert that the terrorists are planning something "spectacular". These alerts are easy for the media to report. A journalist can just read from a White house press release. However, writing about the pros and cons of a specific judicial nominee or of a particular policy initiative takes time and analysis. The Bush method feeds into the media's hunger for quick soundbites. These are the basis of headline journalism.

Consequently, these alerts get a lot of airtime. The media coverage of the alerts, coupled with the constant Iraqi war drumbeat, keep the public focused on terrorism and war. But as reflected in Daschle's comments last week, the constant warnings leave the administration open to criticism about its failure to stop terrorists. If events could unfold that are worse then September 11 then what progress have we really made? If Osama is alive and we don't know where he is, can we call that progress?

This leaves the administration saying two things at once. The terrorist threats are real, things could be really really bad, but we are making substantial progress. What to believe? If the threat are credible then we aren't making much progress.
President Bush's domestic security adviser, Tom Ridge, today played down the significance of reports of new threats from the Qaeda terrorist network, describing the threats against the United States as "really nothing new."

He suggested that a newly released six-page statement attributed to Al Qaeda and warning of new terrorist strikes in Washington and New York might well be genuine and that it was "likely" that Osama bin Laden's voice was the one heard last week on an audiotape threatening new attacks.

But in a series of television interviews that appear to have been intended to reassure a jittery public and to answer Congressional critics, Mr. Ridge said the government was "in a much better position" to respond to domestic terrorist threats than it was before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.(Before September 11th we apparently weren't in any position to respond to terrorists threats so we damn well should have made some progress. rb)NYTimes
This is an interesting and scary dance that I fear this administration will be able to pull off. We will be experiencing the repercussions of their success for many years to come.

Homeland Security Easter Eggs
 
We learn from Tapped that Democrats were surprised to find a few porkbarrel type new additions to the Homeland. These additions only benefit corporate special interests.
The Democrats want "to eliminate liability protections for Eli Lilly & Co. and other makers of vaccine additives, bar U.S. companies that move offshore from competing for contracts from the new department, remove an earmark for Texas A&M University, strike liability protection for airport screening companies and eliminate a handful of other provisions that would benefit corporations."
It is amazing that time and again we here of provisions in legislation that politicians say that they didn't know were there. Doesn't anyone in Congress read what they are voting on?

Saturday, November 16
Gunning for Landrieu
 
Not wanting to lose any races and seeking to maximize control of the Senate, the Republicans are pulling out all the stops to unseat Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu. Landrieu is facing a December 7th runoff against Republican Suzanne Haik Terrell. A Democratic victory would show that they haven't lost all touch with the voters. The DailyKos has a good discussion on this.

Friday, November 15
Iraq May not be a Cakewalk
 
The hype has been that an invasion of Iraq would be over swiftly. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld has said that he didn't know if it would last five days, five weeks or five months. "You have always got to hope for minimum loss of life in any war, but Mr Rumsfeld's prognosis about the speed of an Iraqi army collapse is ideologically driven and strategically ill-informed." Dr Toby Dodge, an Iraq expert at Warwick University, points out the strategic differences between the Iraqi army we would fight today and the ill equipped Iraqi army of the Gulf war.

Saddam Prepares for the Worst
 
According to the London Times, Saddam Hussein is taking steps to protect his family in case of an attack by the U.S. He has paid $3.5 billion to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in order to have Libya grant asylum to his family and close associates. The deal does not provide for Saddam or his eldest son, Uday.

All Hype No Substance
 
The lack of support for rebuilding Afghanistan is yet another example that Bush is all hype and no substance. In one breath he professes,
""We want to be a continuing part of the new era of hope in Afghanistan," said Bush on Oct. 11, at an event highlighting U.S. humanitarian assistance in that country. He added, "We are helping the people to now recover from years of tyranny and oppression. We're helping Afghanistan to claim its democratic future, and we're helping that nation to establish public order and safety."
In the next breath he opposes an effort in Congress to add $200 million to the total aid to Afghanistan and the total number of U.S. troops committed to rebuilding -- after doubling -- will only be 340. He has failed to provide adequate funding and there are fewer U.S. troops in Iraq then there were in Bosnia. What kind of rebuilt Afghanistan can we hope to expect from this effort?

"The "new era of hope" that Bush pronounced for Afghanistan has not yet come to pass for many there, partly as a result of U.S. decisions. That should be kept in mind, as administration officials and others tout war in Iraq, especially if such a war is to be waged not just to disarm Saddam but to "liberate" the people of Iraq." Check out Alternet for the full story.
His support for Afghanistan is all smoke and mirrors. It is infuriating how the mainstream press lets him get away with this. It sure is easier to cut and paste from the text of press releases and speeches, then it is to question the substance of what the documents purport to state.

 
The election is over. The Republicans won. Now. Finally, a Democrat is speaking up. It is way too late, but at least Daschle is saying what much of the country has been thinking. To hell with the Iraq war diversion. What is up with the war on terrorism? Bush's performance should be questioned.
The Senate's top Democrat said Thursday that the failure of U.S. authorities to capture Usama bin Laden raises questions about "whether or not we are winning the war on terror."
Sen. Tom Daschle's remarks came as intelligence analysts concluded that a new audiotape almost certainly contained bin Laden's voice and is proof that he is alive.

"We can't find bin Laden, we haven't made real progress in finding key elements of Al Qaeda," the South Dakotan said. "They continue to be as great a threat today as they were one and a half years ago. So by what measure can we claim to be successful so far?"


Thursday, November 14
Homeland Security Bill
 
H.R. 5005/5710 is the Congressional bill that creates the Department of Homeland Security. This bill creates one big brother of an agency. Bureaucracies are difficult to manage. This will be a mammoth bureaucracy. Let's hope that it can do the job is being created to do. With even a quick perusal of the bill you can tell that if the DHS is created the world as we know it is going to change. Things changed after September 11th, but those changes are inchoate. DHS codifies those changes. For one thing the bill creates many new upper level government positions:
Creates the following: (1) a Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security; (2) an Under Secretary for Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection; (3) an Under Secretary for Science and Technology; (4) an Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security; (5) an Under Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response; (6) an Under Secretary for Management; (7) not more than four Assistant Secretaries; and (8) a Chief Financial Officer. Establishes an Inspector General (to be appointed under the Inspector General Act of 1978). Requires the Commandant of the Coast Guard and the Director of the Secret Service to assist the Secretary in the performance of the Secretary's functions.
At the same time it weakens the protections provided to current federal employees. Clearly, if you are influential with the administration you might get one of these new jobs. If you are a rank and file employee, you might be fired.
Sec. 442) Authorizes the Attorney General and the Secretary, with respect to covered entities, to: (1) make voluntary separation incentive payments to employees under this subtitle to the extent necessary to help carry out their respective strategic restructuring plan which they are required to submit to appropriate congressional committees before obligating any resources for such payments from appropriations or funds available for the payment of basic pay of the employee; and (2) conduct a demonstration project for the purpose of determining whether one or more changes in the policies or procedures relating to methods for disciplining employees would result in improved personnel management.

Sec. 762) Prohibits any agency or subdivision of an agency which is transferred to DHS from being excluded from coverage under labor-management relations requirements as a result of any executive order issued under them after June 18, 2002, unless: (1) the mission and responsibilities of the agency (or subdivision) materially change; and (2) a majority of the employees within such agency (or subdivision) have as their primary duty intelligence, counterintelligence, or investigative work directly related to terrorism investigation. Declares that collective bargaining units shall continue to be recognized unless such conditions develop. Prohibits exclusion of positions or employees for the bargaining unit unless the primary job duty materially changes, or consists of intelligence, counterintelligence, or investigative work directly related to terrorism investigation. Waives these prohibitions and recognitions in circumstances where the President determines that their application would have a substantial adverse impact on the Department's ability to protect homeland security.

That is procedural. Other more substantive provisions bring home the somber reality of what this new agency is supposed to do.
Makes the Secretary, acting through the Under Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response, responsible for: (1) helping to ensure the preparedness of emergency response providers for terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies; (2) establishing standards for the Nuclear Incident Response Team, conducting joint and other exercises and training; (3) providing the Federal government's response to terrorist attacks and major disasters; (4) aiding recovery from terrorist attacks and major disasters; (5) building a comprehensive national incident management system with Federal, State, and local governments to respond to such attacks and disasters; (6) consolidating existing Federal Government emergency response plans into a single, coordinated national response plan; and (7) developing comprehensive programs for developing interoperative communications technology, and helping to ensure their acquisition by emergency response providers.
The legislation also exempts most of what the agency does from the Freedom of Information Act. Therefore, sine its documents are confidential we may never know exactly what this agency does and how it does it. We won't be able to get information to show that civil liberties have been violated. The only watchdog of this agency will be under the President. That is like having the fox watch the hen house. My confidence is not high.

The word 'Homeland" has a fascist sound to it. Ominously it is repeated throughout the legislation. The impact that this agency has will trickle down and touch each of us. For instance, the agency will handle immigration, customs and border crossings. We will all deal with it whenever we travel. On another note, if this is truly intended to consolidate national security functions then why aren't the National Security Administration, the C.I.A. and the F.B.I included within it. This is the result of a turf battle. It isn't based in sound public policy. Information sharing between and among these agencies and the new DHS will likely be an problem. Thus Bush and the Republican controlled Congress will protect the turf of some at the possible expense of the lives of U.S. citizens. Visit this site for the complete text of H.R. 5005 and its status.

"The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation on Wednesday to create a Department of Homeland Security, handing President Bush a major victory in his war against terrorism." Reuters

"It also has vaguely worded language that would make Texas A&M University eligible for federal homeland security research - a provision inserted by Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, whose district is nearby." Canada.com


Wednesday, November 13
Iraq's Letter to the U.N.
 
Iraq's letter to the United Nations is fascinating both for its tone and its use of language. Compare that language to the language in the United Nations' resolution on Iraq.

This is all a charade anyway. Bush still intends to find a way to invade Iraq. He didn't want to go the inspection route in the first place. Amazingly he was shamed in to accepting a role for the U.N. We all know that he hopes that the inspectors are blocked by Iraqis and unable to fulfill their mission. That would give him an easy pretext for war. But in case Saddam cooperates and the inspectors find nothing, the Bush administration has begun to launch a new offensive. The new mantra is, "There are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but the inspectors were just too inept to find them."
Richard Perle, a Pentagon adviser and a close associate of the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, said in an interview with the Guardian that the inspectors had only a slim chance of competing against Saddam Hussein. He criticised the chief arms inspector, Hans Blix, saying he was an unsuitable candidate for such a crucial task, and warned that the inspection team would be outnumbered and outwitted.
Perle is a piece of work in his own right. It is scary that he and like minded people are in charge of the U.S. government.
For many years Mr Perle was seen as a colourful but maverick voice in US foreign policy. Now several of his proposals - not just on Iraq - have become perceived wisdom within Washington. He has long advocated an end to the US ban on assassinating dictators whom he regards as posing a threat to their own people and to the world at large. "I absolutely believe in assassinations.


Tuesday, November 12
Webster Resigns
 
Harvey Pitt failed to disclose possible conflicts that William Webster might have had. Webster was chosen to head the Accountancy Oversight Board. Those conflicts might have precluded his appointment. Now Webster has resigned due to the controversy surrounding his selection. Webster's resignation came one day before the oversight board was scheduled to have its first meeting. This thing is sure off to an auspicious start. The Bush administration was supposed to be cleaning up business practices with this board.

Pitt is facing investigations into whether he concealed from the rest of the SEC members Webster's watchdog role the company which is under investigation. The SEC voted 3-2, along party lines, to appoint him on Oct. 25. Pitt and the other two Republicans approved Webster and the two Democrats opposed his appointment.

It is clear the the administration could do with cleaning up its own practices as well. If you can't get your own house in order you sure shouldn't work on someone else's.

Cold Season
 
It has been a long weekend and I don't mean because of Veterans Day. Our warning came on Thursday morning when our 30 foot eucalyptus tree blew down in one of the storms. This tree was our pride and joy. It was one of the nicest and tallest trees in our neighborhood. Seeing it fallen in the back yard has been sad. The omen it foretold was of poor health and of eucalyptus.

Last Thursday our two year old daughter started getting sick. Friday morning she had a full blown cold. She was sneezing and coughing and cranky. Our daughter can blow her own nose and she likes to do it. Trust me. That helps a lot. If she couldn't blow her nose we would have to use a nose ball to suck the phlegm from each nostril. We set up the vaporizer in her room to help her sleep on Friday night. We have used it again at every bed and nap time. There isn't much to a vaporizer. They are simple in design and really do help congested children sleep. You just put a gallon or two of water in a plastic tub and insert the heater. In a couple of minutes a steady stream of steam rises from the tub. We've been adding a little eucalyptus to the water to further help her breathing. After each use you rinse the tub and heater out. This is the weird part. Whether or not the water is plain, or has eucalyptus added, after each use the water has black flakes in it. The manual says that this is normal. That is reassuring, I guess, but I want to know where the flakes come from.

It was raining all weekend so we were inside the house most of the time. In order to entertain my daughter we drew with crayons, played with Playdough, with the toys in her play room, the toys in the family room, the toys in her room, and with whatever she could get into in the house. She has taken showers to benefit from the steam and baths just to play. And she has watched TV. More television than the politically correct parents in us would have liked, but she is sick, we have a newborn to take care of and it is cold and wet outside. Our entertainment options and our entertainment abilities were limited.

She has been really good about not touching her 6 week old brother. We have explained that she can give him the sniffles by touching him. On Sunday morning my wife woke up with a burning sore throat. Now she had the sniffles. So now on top of not getting much sleep because of a nursing newborn she gets to get less sleep because of a cold. My wife had a bad cold early on in the pregnancy and couldn't take anything for it because it might have hurt the baby. That was very unpleasant. That cold lasted almost a month and morphed into bronchitis. Now although she is nursing there is a range of acceptable medications. It is a limited range, but she can take something. Thank God. Tylenol has never been so appreciated. My daughter has been taking it and on Sunday my wife began to take it.

My wife is nursing the baby, that means that every two hours or so she has to hold him for a feeding. This doesn't give her much time to herself. Sunday during the day I played with and watched the baby during our daughter's nap in order to let my wife have a rest. That gave my wife a couple of hours of peace. Sunday night I planned to hold him from 9pm until 11:30 in order to give my wife an uninterrupted time to sleep. (This holding and rocking bit doesn't always work. I do the same each night for a couple hours. Usually he sleeps. However, some nights he won't calm down. He is fussy and then cries. He is quiet again with a little rocking. Fussy and then cries. On those nights no one is sleeping because of his crying. That means that I bring him to his mommy sooner that planned. Usually he is hungry and nursing puts him to sleep. Of course on those nights I get more sleep. I am in bed earlier.)

Unfortunately, on Sunday night, he wouldn't calm down while I had him. After an hour of his crying I brought him to our room and gave him to my wife. Usually she can nurse him and he will promptly fall asleep. I promptly fell asleep. At about 12:00 am I hear my wife walking into our bedroom. She is holding our son. He hasn't slept at all since I brought him to bed. My wife obviously hasn't slept either and is at her wits end. Her cold is really bad -- sore throat and coughing. I put on sweats -- my middle of the night rocking clothes -- and take our newborn. He and I eventually (after a half hour of rocking) settle into a relining chair for a couple of hours sleep. He wakes up and needs a half hour more of rocking. Then he sleeps again in my arms. I can't sleep at this point. Sometime before 5 am I brought him back to our room, put him in bed with us and I went back to sleep. He was unusually fussy, but otherwise seemed fine.

Monday morning. Our daughter wakes at 6 am. It is her usual time. This schedule normally works for us. She is in bed by 7:30 each night. That means that my wife and I have a life together before we need to go to bed. I have to get up early for work anyway so I usually greet my daughter in the morning. She is my alarm clock. The clock next to my bed has the wrong time on it. I don't need it, I have a two year old. Yesterday morning when I heard my daughter I could barely move in bed. I felt hungover. My wife tells me that she'll get her. In my foggy vision I see my wife heading out the door of our bedroom. It looked like she was holding our son too. That's is crazy I tell myself, she can't handle both kids this early in the morning. I stumble down the hall to relieve my wife of our son or to take over the morning duties with my daughter. I poke my head into my daughter's room. She and my wife are sitting in a chair. "Where's our son". I ask. "He was next to you in bed, where I left him for you to watch." Oops. I was so tired I didn't realize that he was asleep next to me! I hurried back to our room. And back to bed. When he got hungry later I switched with my wife and she came back to bed. I joined my daughter and slowly woke up while she watched television. Specifically, while she watched "Caillou" and "Blue's Clues"

We made it through the day fine. We even ran some errands and gave our daughter opportunities to play outside. Our son was a little snuffly, but seemed fine. My wife's cold was worse last night. She went to bed early. I took our son and held him until 12:30. He slept soundly and even stayed in the bassinet when I went to bed. At 1:30 am I woke up to hear him coughing and see my wife rocking him. He had the cold. Sick newborns are helpless. You can't give them medication and they can't do anything for themselves. He had nursed and been burped, but he couldn't breathe.

Nose ball time. I took him into our bathroom. While holding him in one arm I inserted the tip of the nose ball into one of his nostrils and then the other. This sucked the phlegm from his nose. As you might imagine, using a noseball is not a pleasant experience for anyone. He can't breathe and has things being pushed up his nose. The parents have to hold their child (who in the best case is just squirming, but could be kicking and screaming) and get as much mucous out in as short a period of time as possible. Using the noseball required a little target practice in order to avoid poking out an eye or poking his ear. My son kept turning his head from side to side. For the most part he was very patient, I was successful in helping him to breathe and his eyes and ears were still intact.

I rocked him (but you knew that) for a while -- I lost track of time -- until his eyes had stopped fluttering for a few minutes. He and I slept in the recliner for the next 4 hours. My wife was able to sleep even more. This morning we were all surprisingly rested. Our daughter has a little color back in her face and her cough is much better. My wife is still clearly sick, but the sore throat has passed. Our son slept well and may tolerate the cold okay. I am tired, but, so far, not sick.

It was very long weekend. Hopefully the worst has passed. The storm felled our tree. The cold has felled my family. A landscaper is coming out to suggest repairs to our yard. We'll mend ourselves and we'll replace the tree.

Friday, November 8
Interpol: Bin Laden is Alive
 
Interpol Chief Ron Noble says that without any evidence to the contrary he must assume that Bin laden is alive. I have stated my belief that he is dead, but Noble's opinion makes sense from a law enforcement point of view. You can't close the file on Bin Laden without prrof of his demise. Nobel is af ormer federal prosecutor and law professor, and the first U.S. Treasury undersecretary of enforcement and now the head of Interpol. He gave an interview to the Paris daily newspaper Le Figaro, on Friday. Interpol has picked up a lot of terrorist "activity" and Nobel is worried about multiple large scale attacks in multiple countries. How pleasant. Noble said: "Something worrying is going on."

Last month, Fast Company, did an excellent story on Noble and Interpol.

Duck and Cover
 
The Republicans have won. And they won big. They control both houses of Congress. They control the White House. Soon they will dominate the judiciary. The balance that is so fundamental to our system of government is gone. Neither party should have so much power. Now the Republicans have that power. Oh what have we wrought?

I read that former Clinton adviser James Carville observed just after the election, "The American people just don't have a clue as to what's coming." I think that he is right. In fact, I hope that he is right because I have an idea and it scares me. I would rather that what is to befall us happens as a result of ignorance rather than the malice of the electorate.

If you truly care about the environment, if you want to decrease our dependance on foreign oil and are interested in solar and wind energy; if you are pro-choice, if you are female, gay, or bisexual; if you are black, an immigrant or poor; if you are intellectual and open minded and hold alternative views; if you dress funny, dance, enjoy sex, read seditious literature, believe in peace and community and don't particularly care for a gloating self-righteous well-armed anti-everything government, you are about to find out. The hard way. And so is everyone else. This is not going to be pleasant. Duck and cover.


Thursday, November 7
Conspiracy Theories?
 
It seems that liberals tend to die in small plane crashes. At least that is the picture that Walter A. Niman paints in his column from October 28th. On more than one occasion the death was advantageous for a Republican. I do think that this is food for thought. Although I am not a conspiracy theorist, but when events seem to repeat themselves over time or coincidences seem to recur maybe there is something else going on and we would rather not think about the possibilities. It sure is easier not to question authority.

By the way, it isn't just Americans who die in small plane crashes, opponents to the U.S. government have been known to have similar untimely ends.
When I heard Wellstone's plane went down, I immediately thought of Panamanian General Omar Torrijos, who in 1981 thumbed his nose at the Reagan/Bush administration and threatened to destroy the Panama Canal in the event of a U.S. invasion. Torrijos died shortly thereafter when the instruments in his plane failed to function upon takeoff. Panamanians speculated that the U.S. was involved in the death of the popular dictator, who was replaced by a U.S. intelligence operative, Manuel Noreiga, who previously worked with George Bush Senior.
It has been pointed out that last month I mentioned the Gore Vidal piece about Bush letting 9/11 happen. Maybe I am becoming a conspiracy theorist.

Just Not Enough
 
"The national Democratic Party never defined the Democratic agenda," said Dick Harpootlian, the chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party. "Other than being sort of whiney as we got drug into the Iraq war, we never really defined our position on the economy, we never said what we would do differently."

"We have no message this year other than we're not Bush," NYTimes


Wednesday, November 6
It's The Economy Stupid
 
The Democrats failed to craft a single, winning theme for this election. It should have been the economy, which is clearly suffering. But that message was barely raised by the Democrats. The Democrats failed to generate enthusiasm with any single individual or new rising political star. Instead they relied on the old school, such as Walter Mondale in Minnesota and Frank Lautenburg in New Jersey. Both men are in their '70's. Their biggest campaigner was former president Bill Clinton. The Democrats failed their constituents. They failed to be bold. They were looking back and not ahead.

Now we have to live with the results of that failure -- a Republican revolution.

I get some, albeit small, comfort from this election in California, where I live, because all statewide partisan races were won by the Democrat. However, now Bush is almost unimpeded to implement his right wing agenda. He'll move for permanent tax cuts, more appointments of conservative federal judges -- including three on the Supreme Court, privatizing social security and waging war on Iraq and whoever else may be the bogey man of the moment.

Tuesday, November 5
VOTE
 

VOTE

No blogs today.


Monday, November 4
Turkey's Election
 
The Islamist-based Justice and Development Party has won an overwhelming general election victory, sweeping aside the ruling Turkish coalition. The win is viewed by some as a threat to Turkey's secular regime. As reported in the Herald-Sun.

Turkey's largest party tries to allay fears.

Mid-Term Elections
 
Historically, the party in the President's office doesn't fare as well as the party out of office. If history is a guide then the Democrats should do better than the Republicans tomorrow. But times are different. First, we have a dismal economy -- that should hurt Republicans -- but Democrats are talking about it with any success. Second, we have a war on terrorism underway and a likely war with Iraq. In wartime the masses support the President. These signs indicate to me that the Republicans might be able to foil the historical trend. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for grabs. 34 seats in the Senate are being contested. And 36 state governorships are in dispute. Tomorrow night should be interesting.

The Guardian points out that turning voter apathy is the key. Get out the vote efforts will make the difference if races are truly close. Democrats do better if there is good weather. I am hoping for sunny skies throughout the U.S.

More from the Guardian. "tomorrow will be marked by twice as many old people as young people voting. In America, grey power is setting the political agenda - and the same thing could happen" in England too

Here is the view from the Economist, which also thinks the national outcome of the races is too close to call.

The Washington Post predicts that the Republicans could gain seats in the House.

The Globe and Mail highlights the various ballot issues across the country. "In Florida, they want larger pigpens. In San Francisco, they want to smoke the city's pot. And in New Mexico, they want to stop being called idiots."

The Boston Globe on Bush's campaign blitz the race in Minnesota. "In particular, White House strategists insist it will be an astonishing victory for Republicans if they keep the House of Representatives, which no sitting president has done since 1962. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that it is likelier Republicans will win the House than the Senate, saying it's ''always easier to try and keep something than to try and gain something.''

Molly Ivans on the sad state of politics in the U.S.

Friday, November 1
London's Pop Up Urinals
 
In order to keep drunks from peeing in the street, in London's West End, the city is installing state of the art public toilets. The technology is amazing for a urinal. I wouldn't want to be the city employee who has to clean these things each morning.

A Huge Win For Microsoft
 
A federal judge [today] (stuck it to consumers and) approved most of the provisions of an antitrust settlement between Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and the Justice Department, effectively siding with the software giant and dealing a blow to nine states who were saying that the sanctions were too light....
The decision eliminates the establishment of a technical committee to assess Microsoft's compliance with the agreement. In its place, a corporate compliance committee -- consisting of Microsoft board members (kind of like the fox watching the hen house...r.b.)-- will make sure Microsoft lives up to the deal, the judge said.
Here is the text of the court's decision.

Pitt Digs Deeper Pit
 
Harvey Pitt the chairman of the SEC who earlier had forced his -- and the accountants' -- choice, William Webster, through as head of the new Accountancy Board, has erred again (or maybe still). It seems that he knew that Webster might have a conflict and he chose not to disclose this to his fellow SEC members. Now Pitt is being investigated by the SEC. My confidence in that investigation by the SEC of its own boss isn't too high. Dirt will only be found if Bushie concludes that Pitt, who has done the President's dirty work, has to go. People are only pawns to this administration. Power is only a chess game for them. We'll see that when Pitt's negatives outweigh his positives (to my mind that happened the day he was appointed to the SEC) he'll be tossed aside like the daily trash.
The Securities and Exchange Commission ordered an investigation Thursday into allegations that Chairman Harvey Pitt concealed from commissioners information on the corporate ties of William Webster, his choice to head a new accounting oversight board.


Ghostbusters in Raleigh?
 
I used to think that stuff like this was limited to Northern California. The 162 year old North Carolina state capitol in Raleigh is going to be studied for its paranormal activity. "Tales of slamming doors, muffled voices and books flying off shelves have long been part of the mysterious history of the old state Capitol building....To coax out whatever message the Capitol's invisible inhabitants might have, the Rhine Research Center will bring in ghost hunter Patty Ann Wilson from Altoona, Pa. She will study the landmark with infrared video cameras, electromagnetic field detectors and audio recorders."(Charlotte Observer)

Digital Taps
 
Faux taps is better than no taps? The Pentagon, is going to test a new ''push button'' bugle that can be operated by an honor guard member. "The person using the bugle merely pushes a button and holds the bugle to his or her lips." (SunTimes)