California's Secession Letter to President Bush
Dear President Bush:
Congratulations on your victory over all us non-evangelicals. Actually, we're a bit ticked off here in California, so we're leaving. California will now be its own country. And we're taking all the Blue States with us. In case you are not aware, that includes Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and all of the North East.
We spoke to God, and she agrees that this split will be beneficial to almost everybody, and especially to us in the new country of California. In fact, God is so excited about it, she's going to shift the whole country at 4:30 pm EST this Friday. Therefore, please let everyone know they need to be back in their states by then.
So you get Texas and all the former slave states. We get the Governator, stem cell research and the best beaches. We get Elliot Spitzler. You get Ken Lay. (Okay, we have to keep Martha Stewart, we can live with that.) We get the Statue of Liberty. You get OpryLand. We get Intel and Microsoft. You get WorldCom. We get Harvard. You get Old Miss.' We get 85% of America's venture capital and entrepreneurs. You get all the technological innovation in Alabama. We get about two-thirds of the tax revenue, and you get to make the red states pay their fair share. Since our divorce rate is 22% lower than the Christian coalition's, we get a bunch of happy families. You get a
bunch of single moms to support, and we know how much you like that.
Did I mention we produce about 70% of the nation's veggies? But heck the only greens the Bible-thumpers eat are the pickles on their Big Macs. Oh yeah, another thing, don't plan on serving California wine at your state dinners. From now on it's imported French wine for you. Ouch, bet that hurts.
Just so we're clear, the country of California will be pro-choice and anti-war. Speaking of war, we're going to want all Blue States citizens back from Iraq. If you need people to fight, just ask your evangelicals. They have tons of kids they're willing to send to their deaths for absolutely no purpose. And they don't care if you don't show pictures of their kids' caskets coming home.
Anyway, we wish you all the best in the next four years and we hope, really hope, you find those missing weapons of mass destruction. Seriously. Soon.
Saturday, January 22, 2005
California's Secession Letter to President Bush
The New York Times
January 22, 2005
The Speech Misheard Round the World
By ORLANDO PATTERSON
Cambridge, Mass. — SINCE 9/11, President Bush and his advisers have engaged in a series of arguments concerning the relation between freedom, tyranny and terrorism. The president's inaugural paean to freedom was the culmination of these arguments.
The stratagem began immediately after 9/11 with the president's claims that the terrorist attacks were a deliberate assault on America's freedom. The next stage of the argument came after no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, thus eliminating the reason for the war, and it took the form of a bogus syllogism: all terrorists are tyrants who hate freedom. Saddam Hussein is a tyrant who hates freedom. Therefore Saddam Hussein is a terrorist whose downfall was a victory in the war against terrorism.
When this bogus syllogism began to lose public appeal, it was shored up with another flawed argument that was repeated during the campaign: tyranny breeds terrorism. Freedom is opposed to tyranny. Therefore the promotion of freedom is the best means of fighting terrorism.
Promoting freedom, of course, is a noble and highly desirable pursuit. If America were to make the global diffusion of freedom a central pillar of its foreign policy, it would be cause for joy. The way the present administration has gone about this task, however, is likely to have the opposite effect. Moreover, what the president means by freedom may get lost in translation to the rest of the world.
The administration's notion of freedom has been especially convenient, and its promotion of it especially cynical. In the first place, there is no evidence to support, and no good reason to believe, that Al Qaeda's attack on America was primarily motivated by a hatred of freedom. Osama bin Laden is clearly no lover of freedom, but this is an irrelevance. The attack on America was motivated by religious and cultural fanaticism.
Second, while it may be implicitly true that all terrorists are tyrants, it does not follow that all tyrants are terrorists. The United States, of all nations, should know this. Over the past century it has supported a succession of tyrannical states with murderous records of oppression against their own people, none of which were terrorist states - Argentina and Brazil under military rule, Augusto Pinochet's Chile, South Africa under apartheid, to list but a few. Today, one of America's closest allies in the fight against tyranny is tyrannical Pakistan, and one of its biggest trading partners is the authoritarian Communist regime of China.
Third, while the goal of promoting democracy is laudable, there is no evidence that free states are less likely to breed terrorists. Sadly, the very freedoms guaranteed under the rule of law are likely to shelter terrorists, especially within states making the transition from authoritarian to democratic rule. Transitional democratic states, like Russia today, are more violent than the authoritarian ones they replaced.
And even advanced democratic regimes have been known to breed terrorists, the best example being the United States itself. For more than half a century a terrorist organization, the Ku Klux Klan, flourished in this country. According to the F.B.I., three of every four terrorist acts in the United States from 1980 to 2000 were committed by Americans.
The president speaks eloquently and no doubt sincerely of freedom both abroad and at home. But it is plain for the world to see that there is a discrepancy between his words and his actions.
He claims that freedom must be chosen and defended by citizens, yet his administration is in the process of imposing democracy at the point of a gun in Iraq. At home, he seeks to "make our society more prosperous and just and equal," yet during his first term there has been a great redistribution of income from working people to the wealthy as well as declining real income and job security for many Americans. Furthermore, he has presided over the erosion of civil liberties stemming from the Patriot Act.
Is this pure hypocrisy - or is there another explanation for the discrepancy, and for Mr. Bush's perplexing sincerity? There is no gainsaying an element of hypocrisy here. But it is perhaps no greater than usual in speeches of this nature. The problem is that what the president means by freedom, and what the world hears when he says it, are not the same.
In the 20th century two versions of freedom emerged in America. The modern liberal version emphasizes civil liberties, political participation and social justice. It is the version formally extolled by the federal government, debated by philosophers and taught in schools; it still informs the American judicial system. And it is the version most treasured by foreigners who struggle for freedom in their own countries.
But most ordinary Americans view freedom in quite different terms. In their minds, freedom has been radically privatized. Its most striking feature is what is left out: politics, civic participation and the celebration of traditional rights, for instance. Freedom is largely a personal matter having to do with relations with others and success in the world.
Freedom, in this conception, means doing what one wants and getting one's way. It is measured in terms of one's independence and autonomy, on the one hand, and one's influence and power, on the other. It is experienced most powerfully in mobility - both socioeconomic and geographic.
In many ways this is the triumph of the classic 19th-century version of freedom, the version that philosophers and historians preached but society never quite achieved. This 19th-century freedom must now coexist with the more modern version of freedom. It does so by acknowledging the latter but not necessarily including it.
It is not that Americans have rejected the formal model of freedom - ask any American if he believes in democracy and a free press and he will genuinely endorse both. Rather it is that such abstract notions of freedom are far removed from their notion of what freedom means and how it is experienced.
The genius of President Bush is that he has acquired an exquisite grasp of this development in American political culture, and he can play both versions of freedom to his advantage. Because he so easily empathizes with the ordinary American's privatized view of freedom, the president was relatively immune from criticism that he disregarded more traditional measures of freedom like civil liberties. In the privatized conception of freedom that he and his followers share, the abuses of the Patriot Act play little or no part. (There are times, of course, when the president must voice support for the modern liberal version of freedom. The inaugural is such a day, "prescribed by law and marked by ceremony," as he ruefully noted.)
Yet while these inconsistencies may not bother the president's followers or harm his standing in America, they matter to the rest of the world. Few foreigners are even aware of America's hybrid conception of freedom, much less accepting of it. In most of the rest of the world, the president's inaugural address was heard merely as hypocrisy.
Orlando Patterson, a professor of sociology at Harvard, is the author of "Freedom in the Making of Western Culture" and a forthcoming book on the meaning of freedom in the United States.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:22 PM
The New York Times
January 22, 2005
Does Not Compute
By NICHOLAS G. CARR
Carlisle, Mass. — THE Federal Bureau of Investigation has officially entered what computer professionals call "software hell." After spending $170 million to create a program that would give agents ready access to information on suspected terrorists, the bureau admitted last week that it's not even close to having a working system. In fact, it may have to start from scratch.
Shocking? Not at all. A look at the private sector reveals that software debacles are routine. And the more ambitious the project, the higher the odds of disappointment. It may not be much consolation to taxpayers, but the F.B.I. has a lot of company. Software hell is a very crowded place.
Consider Ford Motor Company's ambitious effort to write new software for buying supplies. Begun in 2000, the goal of the project, code-named Everest, was to replace Ford's patchwork of internal purchasing systems with a uniform system that would run over the Internet. The new software was supposed to reduce paperwork, speed orders and slash costs. But the effort sank under its own complexity. When it was rolled out for testing in North America, suppliers rebelled; according to Automotive News, many found the new software to be slower and more cumbersome than the programs it was intended to replace. Last August, Ford abandoned Everest amid reports that the project was as much as $200 million over budget.
A McDonald's program called Innovate was even more ambitious - and expensive. Started in 1999 with a budget of $1 billion, the network sought to automate pretty much the entire fast-food empire. Software systems would collect information from every restaurant - the number of burgers sold, the speed of customer service, even the temperature of the oil in the French fry vats - and deliver it in a neat bundle to the company's executives, who would be able to adjust operations moment by moment.
Or so it was promised. Despite the grand goals, the project went nowhere. In late 2002, McDonald's killed it, writing off the $170 million that had already been spent.
Research by the Standish Group, a software research and consulting firm, illustrates the troubled fates of most big software initiatives. In 1994, researchers found, only 16 percent were completed on time, on budget and fulfilling the original specifications. Nearly a third were canceled outright, and the remainder fell short of their objectives. More than half of the cost overruns amounted to at least 50 percent of the original budget. Of the projects that went off schedule, almost half took more than twice as long as originally planned. A follow-up survey in 2003, however, showed that corporate software projects were doing better; researchers found that the percentage of successful projects had risen to 34 percent.
What happened between 1994 and 2003? The Internet boom went bust. Stung by wasted investments in complicated software systems, business executives began taking a more skeptical view of such projects. They scaled back their expectations, pursuing more modest software enhancements with narrower goals - and far higher chances of success.
Equally important, they stopped trying to be creative. Rather than try to customize their software, they began looking for cheaper, off-the-shelf programs that would get the job done with a minimum of fuss. When necessary, they changed their own procedures to fit the available software. Old, generic technology may not be glamorous, but it has an important advantage: it works.
It may well turn out that the F.B.I.'s biggest problem was its desire to be innovative - to build a new wheel rather than use an old one within easy reach. When it comes to developing software today, innovation should be a last resort, not a first instinct.
Nicholas G. Carr is the author of "Does IT Matter? Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage."
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:17 PM
The New York Times
January 22, 2005
"Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?"
"Absorbent and yellow and porous is he ..."
... not to mention dopey and charming and more hugely overexposed than ever, thanks to an anti-homosexual attack from the Christian right. Because of a media fuss ignited by the American Family Association and Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, this cartoon character is well on his way to culture-war immortality, up there with those moral saboteurs Murphy Brown and Tinky Winky.
It's not that Dr. Dobson has a problem with Mr. SquarePants per se. He is angry, rather, about a video made for grade schools by the We Are Family Foundation that features SpongeBob and other TV characters. It doesn't mention sex. But the foundation's Web site says this: "I pledge to have respect for people whose abilities, beliefs, culture, race, sexual identity or other characteristics are different from my own." How could anyone be against that?
Dr. Dobson is. He has denounced the video as a bait-and-switch, one that uses cartoons to legitimize a group that will corrupt children with a homosexual agenda.
We find it strange, actually, that the intolerant Dr. Dobson has not taken aim at SpongeBob himself, who is naughty and rude enough to give many parents pause. After "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie" came out, a Christian family Web site made a long list of worrisome bits, including "cartoon rear male nudity, repeatedly," "pinching of banner staff between nude buttocks" and "suggestion of sadomasochism in transvestitism."
As any weary parent knows, America's children spend billions of hours watching movies and shows like that, absorbing underwear jokes, flatulence gags and mushy messages of tolerance until their brains run out their ears.
There may be a threat in all that, but Dr. Dobson and his allies seem to have missed it entirely.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:14 PM
The New York Times
January 22, 2005
Marylanders' Right to Know
Gov. Robert Ehrlich of Maryland has pushed the public interest aside by promulgating an extraordinary ban forbidding tens of thousands of state employees from talking to two Baltimore Sun journalists whose coverage has displeased him. The gag order is a sweeping attempt to cut the two - the statehouse bureau chief and a columnist - from the flow of information vital to democracy. It is no surprise that The Sun has felt obliged to go to court to defend the journalists and accuse the governor of violating the First Amendment right of free speech.
No less does Mr. Ehrlich's order abuse state workers' rights by attempting to choke off information from them to taxpayers who need to know more about their government than the claims of the governor's press releases. We hope enough state workers are insulted by the lock-step edict to indulge even more their right to get truth out to the people.
Beyond citing minor errors across months of coverage, Mr. Ehrlich has not documented his blanket charges that the newspaper is fabricating both quotations and context in its stories. The governor's anger seems more rooted in The Sun's uncovering an attempt to sell state preservation lands to a developer, as well as the fact that its editorial page did not endorse him. It is not enough for Mr. Ehrlich to note that other Sun reporters are not being ostracized even as he seeks what he candidly calls a "chilling effect" on the two he has blacklisted.
It may seem good short-run politics to supporters of Mr. Ehrlich, a conservative Republican, to campaign against The Sun as elitist and biased. But in the long run, the governor, who faces re-election next year, is attacking a newspaper with a century-plus record of credibility. Cooler heads should prevail in settling the standoff short of the courthouse. Until then, Mr. Ehrlich's order stands as an embarrassing display of hubris.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:12 PM
The New York Times
January 22, 2005
Abbas Deploys Forces in Gaza to Prevent Attacks on Israel
By GREG MYRE and STEVEN ERLANGER
BEIT HANUN, Gaza Strip, Jan. 21 - Palestinian security forces in modest numbers took up positions here and elsewhere in northern Gaza on Friday with orders to prevent Hamas and other militant groups from firing mortars and Qassam rockets at Israeli settlements and nearby Israeli towns like Sederot.
The deployment, by Palestinians in various uniforms, some in new pickup trucks, was ordered by their new president, Mahmoud Abbas, after Israel threatened to move into Gaza in force to stop the attacks.
The action was the most visible sign to date that Mr. Abbas would try to control the militants and demilitarize the intifada, as he promised in his campaign. It was welcomed by Israel, which has demanded that Mr. Abbas take concrete steps to end attacks against Israeli civilians before political contacts are resumed.
But Friday's deployments, incomplete and somewhat symbolic, provide no guarantee of an end to the attacks, and Israel has promised to respond "with great force" if attacks continue.
Mr. Abbas has made it clear that he is not willing to confront the armed radicals of Hamas or Islamic Jihad, let alone disarm them and destroy their weapons caches and rocket factories, as Israel insists that he do as part of the Palestinian commitment to the peace plan called the road map. Instead, he wants to co-opt the militants and negotiate a cease-fire with them.
Still, Friday marked an important change of tone. Mr. Abbas's predecessor, Yasir Arafat, did little to restrain the militants since the current intifada, or uprising, began in September 2000. Israel regularly charged Mr. Arafat with using terrorism as a tactic, while Mr. Abbas has opposed its use as counterproductive to negotiating an independent Palestinian state.
Today is part of a four-day Muslim holiday, Id al-Adha, so Gaza was sleepy. About 10 members of the Palestinian security forces staffed a post on the edge of town, a small increase, while others were deployed near the Erez checkpoint. The numbers increased during the day.
Another group of 75 men in nine pickup trucks posed for photographers, then dispersed to various sites, with one group deploying in northern Gaza in a field often used for rocket launchings. In Beit Lahiya, about 70 members of Palestinian military intelligence, in red berets, were on patrol in trucks.
They are the first of what the Palestinians say will be 2,500 troops deployed throughout Gaza, which has been an almost lawless zone, with rival security forces controlling street corners and neighborhoods.
Beit Hanun is preparing for local elections next week, and Hamas flags flap from the lampposts. On the edge of town, Said Abu Salah, 39, a Palestinian farmer, expressed deep ambivalence about the deployment.
"Will the deployment make me safe?" he said. "I don't know. I'm worried that the Palestinians might set up a security zone along the border and take some of our land. If it becomes calm, I will be the first to support it." But he was skeptical. It was not the right of Mr. Abbas, he said, "to say, 'Stop the intifada,' and offer security to Israel."
His farm and his brother's, mostly citrus trees, are adjacent and less than a mile from the border. Israelis bulldozed the farms in 2001 during an incursion to stop the rocket fire, so the two men now work on other farms. Mr. Salah's son, Eid, now 19, was hit by Israeli fire two years ago while working in a field and lost two fingers.
"As long as there is occupation the resistance should be there," Mr. Salah said. "It's the only dignity we have left."
Mr. Abbas is continuing his talks with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which his office called "positive," to negotiate a cease-fire and a power-sharing arrangement, part of a new "Palestinian national consensus" from which to negotiate with Israel.
To that end, a local Hamas spokesman, Mushir al-Masri, said Friday that the group was suspending its rocket and mortar attacks while the talks with Mr. Abbas continued.
"One can't be negotiating and firing rockets at the same time," Mr. Masri said. "It just doesn't work."
He spoke on a day when Ella Abuksis, a 17-year-old girl from Sederot, died from a shrapnel wound to her head from a Hamas rocket that landed last Saturday. Ms. Abuksis threw herself on her brother, 10, who escaped with minor injuries. Her parents changed her name, while she was in a coma, to Ayala Chaya - chaya means life - to try to change her fate. She was buried in Sederot on Friday afternoon.
Mr. Masri described the talks with Mr. Abbas as moving in "a positive direction." But Hamas insists that as a condition for a cease-fire, Israel agree to halt military activity inside the Gaza Strip and stop killing Hamas leaders. Israel is not yet willing to make that pledge, saying only that quiet will be answered with quiet.
In the effort to reach a new Palestinian consensus and find a common base with Mr. Abbas's Fatah movement and the Palestinian Authority, Hamas leaders in the West Bank and Gaza have said they are willing to accept the establishment of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state on all of the territory beyond Israel's 1967 boundary lines, including East Jerusalem.
Hamas argues that such a state would be a way station toward a Palestinian state on all of the territory of Palestine - in other words, that Israel will one day disappear. But even a Palestinian state on 1967 lines is unacceptable to Israel.
The new position of Hamas, realistic or not, marks a shift from its traditional position, and according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Hamas has written it down on a document handed to Fatah and other Palestinian factions.
The document emphasizes the "legitimacy of the armed struggle" to end "the occupation in all its forms in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and every centimeter occupied by foreign forces." And it states that "the Zionist enemy is the main enemy of the Palestinian people, because it conquered our land and expelled our nation."
In honor of the Id al-Adha holiday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sent messages to Mr. Abbas and Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei saying he hoped for peace and prosperity. Mr. Abbas responded that the two sides should work toward a peace agreement.
The Israeli deputy prime minister, Shimon Peres, praised Mr. Abbas for taking the first steps and said Israel should now begin to ease up on the Palestinians. "It's a very narrow bridge, and care has to be taken not to overload it," Mr. Peres told Israel radio. He suggested that Israel ease its roadblocks and work on problems of water, energy and job creation to benefit Mr. Abbas.
"I'm against keeping bullets in the barrel, against threatening," Mr. Peres said. "There is no need. Everyone knows that we will not agree to Qassam rockets falling on Sederot and its environs. And if the Palestinians can prevent this, this is the best thing. If not, we will have to protect ourselves."
Greg Myre reported from Beit Hanun for this article, and Steven Erlanger from Jerusalem.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:09 PM
The New York Times
January 22, 2005
At Least 16 Iraqis Are Killed in Car Bomb Attacks as Violence Surges
By CHRISTINE HAUSER
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 21 - At least 16 Iraqis were killed and dozens were wounded Friday in separate car bomb attacks outside a mosque in Baghdad and near a wedding party south of the capital, according to Iraqi government and hospital officials.
With just over a week before national elections on Jan. 30, the wave of violence that American and Iraqi officials had predicted appeared to be gaining momentum as insurgents continued their campaign of car bomb attacks, kidnappings and beheadings.
The latest attacks, on a mosque in Baghdad's southern Rayi neighborhood and a wedding party convoy in Yusufiya, were both on Shiite communities, who have often been targets of Sunni Arab insurgents.
In the mosque attack, at least 14 people were killed and 40 were wounded when a car bomb exploded outside the walls of the Shuhada al-Ataf mosque just after morning prayers on the second day of the Id al-Adha holiday.
The mosque did not sustain major structural damage. But during the attack, the road outside was filled with neighbors celebrating the holiday. Many of the dead were said to be children who had been playing in the area.
"After the prayer was finished, we opened the streets. That's when the car sped in and exploded," said Sabar Latif, 37, the mosque's caretaker. "Thank God that the prayer was already over. The explosion was shocking."
Residents helped carry bodies away from the mosque, loading them into police cars and private vehicles to be taken to Yarmouk Hospital. Some remains of victims were found on the roof of a school next door.
One resident, Muslim Ashour, a 23-year-old laborer, said that before the attack, people in the neighborhood had received threatening letters telling them not to vote.
"Even if there remain only 10 people in this area, we will not retreat from giving our votes," he said, struggling to hold back tears.
South of Baghdad, in Yusufiya, at least two people were killed and 25 wounded when a car bomb exploded near a group of cars carrying people who were celebrating a wedding, according to the Iraqi health ministry. The death toll was expected to rise from the attack, on what The Associated Press said was a Shiite wedding.
Attempts to kidnap foreigners have surged this month, after a drop in November. The kidnappings are often the work of criminals seeking ransom or of insurgent groups that sometimes execute their victims if they believe they work for foreign countries or the Iraqi security forces or government.
Eight Chinese workers were kidnapped this week, and on Friday, insurgents who have threatened to kill them said they would be treated "mercifully" if China banned all its citizens from entering Iraq, according to a video obtained by Reuters.
The Chinese Embassy issued a televised statement that stressed that the men were workers and called for their release.
A Brazilian worker and a French journalist who were kidnapped are still missing.
A videotape posted on the Internet by the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group showed the beheading of two Iraqis who were said to work at an American base, according to a report by Reuters.
The agency also reported that an Iraqi soldier was beheaded in broad daylight in the Sunni-dominated town of Ramadi, and that his body was left in the street with a note warning other Iraqis to quit the security forces.
In Iraqi cities and towns tense with violence, newly minted Iraqi police and security forces are expected to provide the most visible security measures on the day of the elections, when many voters will have to brave the threat of attacks by insurgents to go to the polls.
Iraqis living abroad will also be voting and registration is growing, despite being lower than predicted. The International Organization for Migration said in a statement on Friday that so far, 93,847 Iraqis living abroad have registered in 14 countries to cast a ballot in Iraq's elections for national assembly.
The American military has continued to reinforce troop strength and conduct raids in many cities in the country, detaining dozens of suspected insurgents, especially in the northern city of Mosul.
It said in a statement on Friday that in one of its latest raids there, it had detained one person after a base was fired on and cordoned off an uninhabited building where a search later uncovered military intelligence documents.
Since Jan. 5, Iraqi security forces and American troops have detained 199 people and confiscated weapons and munitions, the statement said.
An American First Infantry Division soldier was killed and another wounded in an operation north of Baghdad to kill or capture known insurgents, a statement from the division said.
In other violence, an Iraqi was killed and 15 people were wounded - nine of them British soldiers - when a car bomb detonated Thursday near a logistics base near the southern city of Basra just as a British military convoy passed by, a British military statement said Friday.
Iraqi insurgents opened fire on an Italian military helicopter as it was patrolling southern Iraq on Friday, killing a soldier, a defense official said in Rome, according to a report by Reuters.
Zaineb Obeid contributed reporting for this article.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:08 PM
The New York Times
January 22, 2005
Powell to Step Down at F.C.C. After Pushing for Deregulation
By STEPHEN LABATON
WASHINGTON, Jan. 21 - Michael K. Powell, who has overseen the Federal Communications Commission during a time of helter-skelter convergence among telephone, television and high-speed Internet services, announced Friday that he would be stepping down from the agency in two months.
Mr. Powell sought to roll back regulation of each of those industries. But on his watch the F.C.C. also enforced stringent decency standards, imposing hefty fines on television and radio broadcasters.
Administration officials and industry executives said that two leading contenders had emerged to succeed Mr. Powell as chairman. One is Kevin J. Martin, a Republican commissioner and former White House official who several times foiled Mr. Powell's attempts to deregulate broadcasters and telephone companies. The other is Becky A. Klein, a senior policy adviser to George W. Bush when he was governor of Texas and a former chairwoman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas. She lost a Congressional bid two months ago. Her campaign received a large amount of financial support from executives at telecommunications companies who expected she would be a top contender for the F.C.C. job.
Both Mr. Martin and Ms. Klein have close ties to Mr. Bush and they have track records that are less ideological than Mr. Powell's. Both have taken steps as regulators that at times have angered the large Bell companies and at other times pleased them. Working in Mr. Martin's favor is the fact that he is a sitting commissioner and, as such, could fill the position quickly because he would not need Senate confirmation. Some broadcasters are concerned, however, that Mr. Martin could be even more aggressive than Mr. Powell in enforcing the indecency rules.
The officials and executives said that other candidates being considered to succeed Mr. Powell include Michael D. Gallagher, the top Commerce Department official on telecommunications issues; Pat Wood III, another former Texas regulator who is head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; and Janice Obuchowski, a consultant who worked in the Commerce Department during the administration of the first President Bush.
The White House is also expected to soon have a second Republican vacancy on the five-member commission. Kathleen Q. Abernathy, an ally of Mr. Powell, has recently told administration officials that she intends to step down.
Mr. Powell, 41, who became chairman four years ago this week after serving the prior three years as a commissioner, has told friends that he will take time off after he leaves the F.C.C. to consider his next career move. His announcement has long been expected although the way his resignation was initially disclosed - in an editorial on Friday in The Wall Street Journal - was unusual.
"Having completed a bold and aggressive agenda, it is time for me to pursue other opportunities and let someone else take the reins of the agency," he said in his statement. "The seeds of our policies are taking firm root in the marketplace and are starting to blossom."
Mr. Powell, the son of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who is also leaving his post, declined to discuss his decision.
His successor faces a number of difficult challenges. The commission has to decide how it will regulate the newly emerging telephone services being offered over the Internet.
It also faces significant issues on the transition to digital television and on overhauling the multibillion-dollar universal service fund that provides telephone and Internet services to rural areas, schools and libraries. And it has not announced how it will respond to the decision in June by a federal appeals court casting doubt on the commission's attempt to allow media conglomerates to own more television, radio and newspaper properties.
"There is a large agenda of unfinished business," said Blair Levin, a former top official at the commission during the Clinton administration who is now a senior regulatory analyst at Legg Mason, the financial services company. "Powell leaves a very mixed record."
When he was appointed, Mr. Powell vowed to erase scores of regulations - from those restricting the size of media companies to those setting wholesale phone rates. He also promised to consider relaxing the tough indecency rules restricting television and radio broadcasters. Those positions earned him significant support among the largest telephone and broadcasting companies.
Although he was fortunate enough politically to be able to work with both a Republican White House and a Republican Congress, industry executives and analysts said he nonetheless fell short of his agenda. His efforts at deregulating the media ownership rules were blocked by the appeals court. His attempt to revamp the phone-rate rules failed initially after Mr. Martin broke ranks with him. After an appeals court struck down the rules, the commission rewrote them and they are once again being challenged in court.
He also sharply shifted emphasis on broadcasting regulations and indecency. As a commissioner, and early in his tenure as chairman, he was praised by companies and First Amendment organizations for saying it was time to eliminate the double standard that allowed the government to subject broadcasters, unlike cable and satellite television, to indecency and other speech regulations.
But under pressure from lawmakers and some conservative organizations, he wound up leading the agency through one of its most aggressive enforcement periods and expanded the indecency rules. His shift became apparent about a year ago, after the House and Senate adopted resolutions critical of an F.C.C. staff conclusion that Bono, the lead singer of U2, did not violate indecency rules by uttering an expletive after winning a Golden Globe Award on NBC; the commission later overruled its staff.
Mr. Powell has said the broadcasters have lowered their standards in a quest for higher ratings. But industry lawyers say the broader interpretation of the rules has had the effect of chilling legitimate speech.
Consumer groups praised Mr. Powell for two regulatory changes. The first, done with the Federal Trade Commission, set up a "do not call" registry that restricts telephone solicitations. The second fostered competition among mobile phone companies by permitting customers to retain their phone numbers when changing providers.
But the groups also sharply criticized Mr. Powell for a variety of other policies that they said led to higher prices and reduced competition. They said his policies had the effect of introducing some competition for services being sought by wealthier consumers, like high-speed Internet service, while neglecting the needs of the less affluent.
"During his tenure, cable rates have risen almost three times faster than inflation, satellite prices are beginning to similarly rise, broadband prices have increased and there has been enormous consolidation in the wire line and wireless services," said Gene Kimmelman, a senior director of public policy at Consumers Union. "Powell was more concerned about preserving competition for wealthy people, people who already have broadband, people who have video service. The people who used to rely on the long-distance companies, who want more choices for their cellphone carrier, they were left out in the cold."
It was a sign of the contentious, and, to some, disappointing nature of his tenure that Mr. Powell received as much praise as criticism on Friday from various industry leaders.
Senator Byron L. Dorgan, the North Dakota Democrat who fought to reverse the commission's decision to relax the media ownership rules, said, "I wish him the best in the future and look forward to working with his successor, who I hope will see things a little differently on the need for localism and diversified ownership of broadcasting stations."
Richard E. Wiley, a commission chairman in the 1970's and a telecommunications lawyer with Wiley Rein & Fielding, said Mr. Powell "was a strong, visionary leader."
"I've watched them all come and go and I think he has been one of the better ones we've seen, particularly in understanding the technological issues," Mr. Wiley said.
Others were not as laudatory. "It actually gives us hope that there can actually be a new agenda at the helm of the F.C.C.," Jeff Zucker, president of the NBC Universal Television Group, said in answering a question at a gathering of television critics in Los Angeles. "I think it's a real opportunity, quite frankly."
The Parents Television Council, an advocacy organization that has lobbied hard for more stringent indecency rulings, was equally critical, saying the F.C.C. could have gone further during Mr. Powell's tenure. "While we acknowledge and respect his many years of service to the nation in a number of capacities, Michael Powell has brought us four years of failed leadership at the F.C.C.," said L. Brent Bozell, president of the council.
Officials have said that the commission has traced virtually all of the complaints received over the last two years - with the exception of those involving last year's Super Bowl halftime show featuring Janet Jackson - to the parents' council.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:05 PM
The New York Times
January 22, 2005
Mystery in Iraq as $300 Million is Taken Abroad
By DEXTER FILKINS
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 21 - Earlier this month, according to Iraqi officials, $300 million in American bills was taken out of Iraq's Central Bank, put into boxes and quietly put on a charter jet bound for Lebanon.
The money was to be used to buy tanks and other weapons from international arms dealers, the officials say, as part of an accelerated effort to assemble an armored division for the fledgling Iraqi Army. But exactly where the money went, and to whom, and for precisely what, remains a mystery, at least to Iraqis who say they have been trying to find out.
The $300 million deal appears to have been arranged outside the American-designed financial controls intended to help Iraq - which defaulted on its external debt in the 1990's - legally import goods. By most accounts here, there was no public bidding for the arms contracts, nor was the deal approved by the entire 33-member Iraqi cabinet.
On Friday, the mysterious flight became an issue in this country's American-backed election campaign, when Defense Minister Hazim al-Shalaan, faced with corruption allegations, threatened to arrest a political rival.
In an interview on Al Jazeera television, Mr. Shalaan said he would order the arrest of Ahmed Chalabi, one of the country's most prominent politicians, who has publicly accused Mr. Shalaan of sending the cash out of the country. Mr. Shalaan said he would extradite Mr. Chalabi to face corruption charges of his own.
"We will arrest him and hand him over to Interpol," Mr. Shalaan thundered on Al Jazeera. The charge against Mr. Chalabi, he said, would be "maligning" him and his ministry. He suggested that Mr. Chalabi had made the charges to further his political ambitions.
Mr. Chalabi first made the allegation against Mr. Shalaan last week, on another Arabic-language television network. He said there was no legitimate reason why the Iraqi government should have used cash to pay for goods from abroad. He implied that at least some of the money was being used for other things.
"Why was $300 million in cash put on an airplane?" Mr. Chalabi asked in an interview this week. "Where did the money go? What was it used for? Who was it given to? We don't know."
The $300 million flight has been the talk of Iraq's political class, and fueled the impression among many Iraqis and Western officials that the interim Iraqi government, set up after the American occupation formally ended in June, is awash in corruption. It is not clear whether the money came from Iraqi or American sources, or both.
"I am sorry to say that the corruption here is worse now than in the Saddam Hussein era," said Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the Iraqi national security adviser, who said he had not been informed of the details of the flight or the arms deal.
That charge is echoed outside of Iraq as well. Isam al-Khafaji, the director of the New York-based Iraq Revenue Watch, said corruption had become an "open secret" within the Iraqi government.
"There is no legal system to bring charges against anyone not following the rules and not abiding by the law, especially if you're a powerful politician," Mr. Khafaji said. "That's the tragedy of Iraq: Everyone runs their business like a private fiefdom."
Mr. Shalaan did not respond to several requests for an interview, but one of his aides insisted that the arms deal was legal and that the money had been well spent.
Reached by telephone in Lebanon, the aide, Mishal Sarraf, said the arms deal had been approved by four senior members of the Iraqi government, including Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and Mr. Shalaan. He said it had been carried out quickly because of the urgency of the guerrilla war. He said he had not realized that the deal had been done in cash.
"We don't want to hide anything," Mr. Sarraf said.
He said the armaments themselves had been manufactured in Poland, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Ukraine and the United States. He said the money had bought armored personal carriers, tanks and even Humvees.
Mr. Sarraf refused to say who received the money, saying it was too dangerous.
"They could be killed," he said.
The public fight with Mr. Shalaan is the latest political twist for Mr. Chalabi, once the darling of the Bush administration and one of the main proponents of the invasion of Iraq. He has since become a pariah in the United States, accused of exaggerating Mr. Hussein's prohibited weapons activities.
After a bitter falling out with the Bush administration, which accused him of passing secrets to the Iranian government, Mr. Chalabi has begun to mend fences with the Americans, and is positioning himself to make a run for the prime minister's seat.
In threatening to arrest Mr. Chalabi, Mr. Shalaan appears to be trying to change the subject to Mr. Chalabi's own legal problems. In Jordan, Mr. Chalabi faces charges that he embezzled millions of dollars from the Petra Bank, which collapsed in the 1990's.
Mr. Chalabi has long maintained that the charges against him in Jordan are baseless, part of a vendetta being carried out for his opposition to Mr. Hussein.
Mr. Chalabi was campaigning in southern Iraq on Friday and could not be reached after Mr. Shalaan's threat to arrest him.
Details of the arms detail are still sketchy, but according to Mr. Sarraf and other Iraqi officials, it began late last year as part of the effort to beef up the Iraqi armed forces in the face of the relentless guerrilla insurgency.
Mr. Sarraf said that though the arms deal had been approved by four senior cabinet members, it had not been put before the entire cabinet because of the urgency in dealing with the insurgency. "It was all proper," he said.
Dr. Allawi's office did respond to repeated requests for an interview.
According to a senior Iraqi financial official with knowledge of the deal, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, the $300 million was then transferred to the Warqa Bank, a private Iraqi financial institution with a capitalization of about $7 million. That bank, the Iraqi official said, does not have the ability to transfer money electronically to another account in another country. An equivalent amount of cash was then taken from the vault of the Central Bank of Iraq, taken to the airport, loaded on an airplane and sent to Lebanon.
"The government here knows it is coming to an end," the official said. "This is what governments do when they are coming to an end."
A second Iraqi financial official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, confirmed the transaction. The official described the arrangement as "unusual" and said he had ordered an investigation of the transaction.
The senior Iraqi financial official said the arms deal appeared to bypass the elaborate financial mechanism set up by the Americans at the end of the war that was intended to help Iraqi import goods from abroad. Under that system, Iraqi revenues intended for imports are routed through the Trade Bank of Iraq and are facilitated, and largely controlled, by large American financial institutions.
The system was intended to stop creditors from tying up Iraqi money needed for imports and also to control the way in which the Iraqi government spends its money.
Indeed, the Iraqi official with knowledge of the deal said he was concerned that the $300 million could be seized by the many creditors who have liens against the Iraqi government.
Mr. Khafaji of Iraqi Revenue Watch said the financial mechanism had been set up to cover all government transactions dealing with imports, including arms purchases.
But one American official with knowledge of the transaction said taking the $300 million out of the country, although unorthodox, was probably the only way for the Iraqi government to buy weapons.
The reason, according to the American official, is that the financial mechanism set up after the war's major combat operation ended requires that Iraqi oil revenues be spent for "humanitarian" purposes. That meant that the Trade Bank of Iraq could not be used for arms purchases, thus necessitating the use of cash.
That has since changed, the official said, with the signing of an executive order by President Bush late last year.
Jad Mouawad contributed reporting from New York for this article.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:01 PM
Friday, January 21, 2005
Friday, January 21, 2005
Bush's legacy will be determined by war's outcome
By RON FOURNIER
AP political writer
An Associated Press news analysis
WASHINGTON — Not a word on Iraq. President Bush's inaugural address contained 2,000 words of passion and promise for his second term, but no direct mention of the war that could sink it.
The conflict in Iraq, win or lose, could define his presidency. Bush knows this as well as anyone, which explains his strategic omission.
As he swore the oath for a second time, U.S. casualty totals in Iraq stood at more than 1,360 dead and 10,500 wounded. The war already cost $100 billion, with a pricetag running at more than $1 billion a week.
A majority of Americans say the conflict is not worth the cost in lives and money, polls show, though they seem willing to give the president time to stabilize Iraq.
Bush asked for the public's patience Thursday, as he did during his re-election campaign. "Our country has accepted obligations that are difficult to fulfill, and would be dishonorable to abandon,'' the president said.
That, along with a tribute to fallen troops, is the closest Bush got to mentioning Iraq.
He focused instead on the global war against terrorism, which Bush has deftly linked to Iraq. With allies already wary of his aggressive world view, Bush pledged to fight evil wherever it lurks: "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.''
Democrat Franklin Roosevelt used a similar logic in his 1945 inaugural, delivered months before his death during World War II. "We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent upon the well-being of other nations, far away,'' Roosevelt said.
Bush likes to compare the war on terrorism to World War II, both generational battles against tyranny — a word he used five times Thursday. Bush uttered "liberty'' 15 times and "freedom'' 27 times.
Fighting and killing terrorists has the advantage of being politically popular, and his promise to do so stirs memories of the Sept. 11 attacks — "a day of fire'' and Bush's shining hour.
Indeed, the key to Bush's re-election victory was his ability to convince a majority of voters that Iraq is part of his anti-terrorism campaign. Despite what Bush has suggested, voters did not ratify his Iraq policies last November — not in their entirety. Americans did accept his explanation, for the time being, that Iraq is part of the broader battle against the nation's enemies.
Will voters continue to accept Bush's rationale?
"That's the great unanswered question,'' said Tom Rath, a Bush ally and senior member of the Republican National Committee. "Iraq has the capacity of draining the president politically or, if it works out, mobilizing people behind him.''
"If the perception is that democracy is taking hold, he becomes virtually invulnerable,'' Rath said. "If not, well, let's not talk about that.''
They do talk about worst-case scenarios in halls of the White House, but only in whispers.
"Unless we get Iraq straightened out, and quick, anything else we try is futile,'' said a senior White House aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid stepping on the president's inaugural message.
Bush begins a second term in a politically perilous position. His approval rating is about 50 percent, lower than any recent second-term president with the exception of Richard Nixon. Most Americans give him high marks for fighting terrorism, but are skeptical of his policies on Social Security, taxes, the national debt, immigration and health care.
Iraq is the source of greatest concern. Six in 10 say the Iraqi elections this month will not stabilize the country, though just as many say it's a good first step.
The war has become a personal tragedy in millions of American households. On the morning of Bush's inauguration, newspapers across the country carried reports of car bombings in Iraq. The Star-Ledger, New Jersey's largest newspaper, wrote about a local National Guard battalion deploying to Iraq for a year.
Preparing his troops for their dangerous mission, Lt. Col. Roch Switlike said, "Anyone who looks like they're going to mess with us, you give them a look that says, ‘If you mess with us, you will be dead.' Who knows, they may just say ‘Whoa' and wait for the next guy.''
While these and other troops hope not to be "the next guy,'' Bush is focusing the nation on an unusually ambitious second-term agenda. He wants to revamp Social Security, the tax code and the legal system while putting conservative judges on the bench and expanding his education initiatives.
"You didn't elect me to do small things,'' Bush told RNC members in a private session this week. "I got four years and I'm going to use them.''
How effectively he uses that time will likely depend upon, in a word, Iraq.
Ron Fournier has covered politics and the White House for The Associated Press since 1993.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:33 AM
The New York Times
January 23, 2005
On Television, Torture Takes a Holiday
ON the day that the defense rested in the military trial of Specialist Charles A. Graner Jr. for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, American television news had a much better story to tell: "The Trouble With Harry," as Brian Williams called it on NBC. The British prince had attended a fancy dress costume party in Wiltshire (theme: "native and colonial") wearing a uniform from Rommel's Afrika Korps complete with swastika armband. Even by the standards of this particular royal family, here was idiocy above and beyond the call of duty.
For those of us across the pond, it was heartening to feel morally superior to a world-class twit. But if you stood back for just a second and thought about what was happening in that courtroom in Fort Hood, Tex. - a task that could be accomplished only by reading newspapers, which provided the detailed coverage network TV didn't even attempt - you had to wonder if we had any more moral sense than Britain's widely reviled "clown prince." The lad had apparently managed to reach the age of 20 in blissful ignorance about World War II. Yet here we were in America, in the midst of a war that is going on right now, choosing to look the other way rather than confront the evil committed in our name in a prison we "liberated" from Saddam Hussein in Iraq. What happened in the Fort Hood courtroom this month was surely worthy of as much attention as Harry's re-enactment of "Springtime for Hitler": it was the latest installment in our government's cover up of war crimes.
But a not-so-funny thing happened to the Graner case on its way to trial. Since the early bombshells from Abu Ghraib last year, the torture story has all but vanished from television, even as there have been continued revelations in the major newspapers and magazines like The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books and Vanity Fair. If a story isn't on TV in America, it doesn't exist in our culture.
The latest chapter unfolding in Texas during that pre-inaugural week in January was broadcast on the evening news almost exclusively in brief, mechanical summary, when it was broadcast at all. But it's not as if it lacked drama; it was "Judgment at Nuremberg" turned upside down. Specialist Graner's defense lawyer, Guy Womack, explained it this way in his closing courtroom statement: "In Nuremberg, it was the generals being prosecuted. We were going after the order-givers. Here the government is going after the order-takers." As T. R. Reid reported in The Washington Post, the trial's judge, Col. James L. Pohl of the Army, "refused to allow witnesses to discuss which officers were aware of events in cellblock One-Alpha, or what orders they had given." While Mr. Womack's client, the ringleader of the abuses seen in the Abu Ghraib photographs, deserved everything that was coming to him and then some, there have yet to be any criminal charges leveled against any of the prison's officers, let alone anyone higher up in the chain of command.
Nor are there likely to be any, given how little information about this story makes it to the truly mass commercial media and therefore to a public that, according to polls, disapproves of the prison abuses by a majority that hovers around 80 percent. What information does surface is usually so incomplete or perfunctorily presented that it leaves unchallenged the administration's line that, in President Bush's words, the story involves just "a few American troops" on the night shift.
The minimizing - and in some cases outright elimination - of Abu Ghraib and its aftermath from network news coverage is in part (but only in part) political. Fox News, needless to say, has trivialized the story from the get-go, as hallmarked by Bill O'Reilly's proud refusal to run the photos of Graner & Company after they first surfaced at CBS. (This is in keeping with the agenda of the entire Murdoch empire, whose flagship American paper, The New York Post, twice ran Prince Harry's Nazi costume as a Page 1 banner while relegating Specialist Graner's conviction a day later to the bottom of Page 9.) During the presidential campaign, John Kerry barely mentioned Abu Ghraib, giving TV another reason to let snarling dogs lie. Senator John Warner's initially vigilant Congressional hearings - which threatened to elevate the craggy Virginia Republican to a TV stardom akin to Sam Ervin's during Watergate - mysteriously petered out.
Since the election, some news operations, most conspicuously NBC, have seemed eager to rally around the winner and avoid discouraging words of any kind. A database search of network transcripts finds that NBC's various news operations, in conscious or unconscious emulation of Fox, dug deeper into the Prince Harry scandal than Specialist Graner's trial. "NBC Nightly News" was frequently turned over to a journalism-free "Road to the Inauguration" tour that allowed the new anchor to pose in a series of jus'-folks settings.
But not all explanations for the torture story's downsizing have to do with ideological positioning and craven branding at the networks. The role of pictures in TV news remains paramount, and there has been no fresh visual meat from the scene of the crime (or the others like it) in eight months. The advances in the story since then, many of which involve revelations of indisputably genuine Washington memos, are not telegenic. Meanwhile, the recycling of the original Abu Ghraib snapshots, complemented by the perp walks at Fort Hood, only hammers in the erroneous notion that the story ended there, with the uncovering of a few bad apples at the bottom of the Army's barrel.
There were no cameras at Specialist Graner's trial itself. What happened in the courtroom would thus have to be explained with words - possibly more than a few sentences of words - and that doesn't cut it on commercial television. It takes a televised judicial circus in the grand O. J. Simpson tradition or a huge crew of supporting players eager (or available) for their 15 minutes of TV fame to create a mediathon. When future historians try to figure out why a punk like Scott Peterson became the monster that gobbled up a mother lode of television time in a wartime election year, their roads of inquiry will all lead to Amber Frey.
A more sub rosa deterrent to TV coverage of torture is the chilling effect of this administration's campaign against "indecency" through its proxy, Michael Powell, at the Federal Communications Commission. If stations are fearful of airing "Saving Private Ryan" on Veterans Day, they are unlikely to go into much depth about war stories involving forced group masturbation, electric shock, rape committed with a phosphorescent stick, the burning of cigarettes in prisoners' ears, involuntary enemas and beatings that end in death. (At least 30 prisoner deaths have been under criminal investigation.) When one detainee witness at the Graner trial testified in a taped deposition that he had been forced to eat out of a toilet, that abuse was routinely cited in newspaper accounts but left unreported on network TV newscasts. It might, after all, upset viewers nearly as much as Bono's expletive at the 2003 Golden Globes.
Even so, and despite the dereliction of network news and the subterfuge of the Bush administration, the information is all there in black and white, if not in video or color, for those who want to read it, whether in the daily press or in books like Seymour Hersh's "Chain of Command" and Mark Danner's "Torture and Truth." The operative word, however, may be "want."
Maybe we don't want to know that the abuses were widespread and systematic, stretching from Afghanistan to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to unknown locales where "ghost detainees" are held. Or that they started a year before the incidents at Abu Ghraib. Or that they have been carried out by many branches of the war effort, not just Army grunts. Or that lawyers working for Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales gave these acts a legal rationale that is far more menacing to encounter in cold type than the photo of Prince Harry's costume-shop armband.
As Mr. Danner shows in his book, all this and more can be discerned from a close reading of the government's dense investigative reports and the documents that have been reluctantly released (or leaked). Read the record, and the Fort Hood charade is unmasked for what it was: the latest attempt to strictly quarantine the criminality to a few Abu Ghraib guards and, as Mr. Danner writes, to keep their actions "carefully insulated from any charge that they represent, or derived from, U.S. policy - a policy that permits torture."
The abuses may well be going on still. Even as the Graner trial unfolded, The New York Times reported that a secret August 2002 Justice Department memo authorized the use of some 20 specific interrogation practices, including "waterboarding," a form of simulated drowning that was a torture of choice for military regimes in Argentina and Uruguay in the 1970's. This revelation did not make it to network news.
"Nobody seems to be listening," Mr. Danner said last week, as he prepared to return to Iraq to continue reporting on the war for The New York Review. That so few want to listen may in part be a reflection of the country's growing disenchantment with the war as a whole. (In an inauguration-eve Washington Post-ABC News poll, only 44 percent said the war was worth fighting.) The practice of torture by Americans is not only ugly in itself. It conjures up the specter of defeat. We can't "win" the war in Iraq if we lose the battle for public opinion in the Middle East. At the gut level, Americans know that the revelations of Abu Ghraib coincided with - and very likely spurred - the ruthlessness of an insurgency that has since taken the lives of many brave United States troops who would never commit the lawless acts of a Charles Graner or seek some ruling out of Washington that might countenance them.
History tells us that in these cases a reckoning always arrives, and Mr. Danner imagines that "in five years, or maybe sooner, there will be a TV news special called 'Torture: How Did It Happen?' " Even though much of the script can be written now, we will all be sure to express great shock.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:19 AM
Thursday, January 20, 2005
The New York Times
January 20, 2005
Conservatives Pick Soft Target: A Cartoon Sponge
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
WASHINGTON, Jan. 19 - On the heels of electoral victories barring same-sex marriage, some influential conservative Christian groups are turning their attention to a new target: the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants.
"Does anybody here know SpongeBob?" Dr. James C. Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, asked the guests Tuesday night at a black-tie dinner for members of Congress and political allies to celebrate the election results.
SpongeBob needed no introduction. In addition to his popularity among children, who watch his cartoon show, he has become a well-known camp figure among adult gay men, perhaps because he holds hands with his animated sidekick Patrick and likes to watch the imaginary television show "The Adventures of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy."
Now, Dr. Dobson said, SpongeBob's creators had enlisted him in a "pro-homosexual video," in which he appeared alongside children's television colleagues like Barney and Jimmy Neutron, among many others. The makers of the video, he said, planned to mail it to thousands of elementary schools to promote a "tolerance pledge" that includes tolerance for differences of "sexual identity."
The video's creator, Nile Rodgers, who wrote the disco hit "We Are Family," said Mr. Dobson's objection stemmed from a misunderstanding. Mr. Rodgers said he founded the We Are Family Foundation after the Sept. 11 attacks to create a music video to teach children about multiculturalism. The video has appeared on television networks, and nothing in it or its accompanying materials refers to sexual identity. The pledge, borrowed from the Southern Poverty Law Center, is not mentioned on the video and is available only on the group's Web site.
Mr. Rodgers suggested that Dr. Dobson and the American Family Association, the conservative Christian group that first sounded the alarm, might have been confused because of an unrelated Web site belonging to another group called "We Are Family," which supports gay youth.
"The fact that some people may be upset with each other peoples' lifestyles, that is O.K.," Mr. Rodgers said. "We are just talking about respect."
Mark Barondess, the foundation's lawyer, said the critics "need medication."
On Wednesday however, Paul Batura, assistant to Mr. Dobson at Focus on the Family, said the group stood by its accusation.
"We see the video as an insidious means by which the organization is manipulating and potentially brainwashing kids," he said. "It is a classic bait and switch."
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:59 PM
The New York Times
January 20, 2005
Senate Panel Delays Vote on Gonzales
By ERIC LICHTBLAU
WASHINGTON, Jan. 19 - The Senate Judiciary Committee postponed a vote on Alberto R. Gonzales's nomination for attorney general on Wednesday after Democrats accused Mr. Gonzales of evading their questions about the Bush administration's policies on the treatment of prisoners captured in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, who sought the delay, said at a committee meeting that Mr. Gonzales's written responses to questions about the administration's policies on torture had been "arrogant" and evasive. He pressed for Mr. Gonzales to produce notes and records that might shed light on the positions he had taken as White House counsel, in particular, a 2002 memo on the limits of torture.
Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, who is chairman of the committee, said that at first glance he was satisfied with Mr. Gonzales's answers, calling them "an expansive response on relatively short notice." But Mr. Specter agreed to put off the vote for a week and to review the voluminous material to determine whether fuller answers were needed. He said afterward that he did not think Mr. Gonzales's ultimate confirmation was in any jeopardy.
Delaying a vote on a nominee to give senators time to explore all issues "is really the tradition of the committee when there are controversial matters," Mr. Specter said, referring to a longstanding committee rule that allowed the Democrats to hold over the nominee for a week. The judiciary committee is now likely to vote on Mr. Gonzales on Jan. 26.
With Mr. Kennedy and several Democrats rethinking their positions on Mr. Gonzales's nomination, Mr. Specter acknowledged that the nominee could face a number of no votes on the committee before the full Senate took up his nomination. He said he wanted to see Mr. Gonzales avoid a party-line vote in order to strengthen his position as attorney general.
Four years ago, Attorney General John Ashcroft faced an even more bruising confirmation fight.
After the Judiciary Committee endorsed Mr. Ashcroft's nomination on a 10-to-8 party-line vote in January 2001, the full Senate voted 58 to 42 to approve him, the largest number of votes against a nominee for attorney general in 75 years. The tough fight set the tone for four years of what were often tense relations between Mr. Ashcroft's Justice Department and Congress.
In written responses given to the committee on Tuesday, Mr. Gonzales laid out the administration's positions on the treatment of prisoners in the campaign against terrorism. But on a number of important issues, he said he could not remember key details or declined to provide them in part because they involved classified information or confidential advice.
Mr. Kennedy expressed his frustration at Wednesday's committee meeting and read one line repeatedly from Mr. Gonzales's written responses, in which the nominee said "I have not conducted a search" for notes and other documents that might explain the origins of a 2002 legal opinion given to Mr. Gonzales by the Justice Department. The memo, which laid out a very narrow definition of torture, has since been disavowed by the Bush administration.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:58 PM
The New York Times
January 20, 2005
Democrats Delay Final Approval of Rice for State Dept.
By STEVEN R. WEISMAN
WASHINGTON, Jan. 19 - Senate Democrats on Wednesday delayed until next week the confirmation of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state, a pointed but symbolic gesture of their skepticism about the administration's plans for Iraq.
Their refusal to hold a quick vote on the floor immediately after President Bush is inaugurated on Thursday followed the approval of Ms. Rice's nomination by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a vote of 16 to 2.
The committee voted after two days of often contentious hearings in which some Republicans as well as Democrats voiced concern over Iraq.
On the second day of sharp criticism from Democrats, Ms. Rice went only slightly beyond her testimony of Tuesday, in which she had vigorously defended the administration's decisions before and since the war began: On Wednesday she said, "Some of them have been bad decisions, I am sure." Among those, she conceded, was the failure to anticipate difficulties in rebuilding Iraq.
The two Democratic senators who voted against her, Barbara Boxer of California and John Kerry of Massachusetts, cited her refusal to acknowledge past mistakes. Like their colleagues, both said Ms. Rice's approval was inevitable.
But the questions asked by some Republicans on the subject, while not as confrontational, in some ways spoke louder than the Democrats' shouting.
Though some Republicans defended Ms. Rice from Democratic attacks, others, including Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, chimed in that the administration needed to present a clear plan for achieving its goals in Iraq and making a withdrawal possible.
Underscoring the Democrats' dissatisfaction, Senator Robert C. Byrd, an outspoken critic of the decision to go to war, announced late in the day that he would not allow the Senate to approve Ms. Rice without a few days of consideration of her lengthy testimony, and at least a token debate on the floor. His refusal to join in the unanimous consent of all senators for a quick vote effectively torpedoed the administration's hopes to have her nomination approved Thursday.
"Senator Byrd and others believe that the Senate's advise-and-consent constitutional responsibilities are not a rubber stamp," Mr. Byrd's spokesman said.
"The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has held two days of hearings. Senators should have a chance to review those hearings, read the transcripts, and think about their votes before casting them."
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell will remain in office until next week, when Ms. Rice's nomination is expected to be approved.
Whatever frustration there was in the administration over this last-minute snag was balanced in part by frustration among some of the senators over Ms. Rice's testimony, in which she refused to second-guess past decisions on Iraq and also refused to be very specific in outlining the future.
Among those who debated her most vigorously before voting in favor of confirmation, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., the ranking Democrat on the committee, repeatedly accused Ms. Rice of squandering an opportunity to admit past mistakes and draw members of both parties into an honest exchange of the difficulties ahead.
In particular, Senator Biden declared repeatedly that his own assertion that only about 4,000 Iraqi troops had been effectively trained - Ms. Rice said the number was 120,000 - had been based on confidential discussions with military commanders in Iraq.
"You all don't do anything except parrot, 'We've trained 120,000 forces,' " Mr. Biden said. "So I go home and people ask me, 'Why are we still there?' "
He added that it was worthless to listen to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on this subject because "he doesn't know what in the hell he's talking about on this."
Ms. Rice grimaced.
As administration officials noted after the hearings, military decisions and training activities will not fall under her authority.
In many ways Ms. Rice's words on the broad scope of foreign policy were intended to reassure the committee, which under the leadership of Senator Richard G. Lugar, the Republican chairman, is one of Washington's remaining bipartisan redoubts supporting the idea of diplomacy and working with allies.
"The time for diplomacy is now," she said at least twice.
But her testimony on the administration's "exit strategy" for Iraq was less reassuring to committee members. She said it rested on three principles: training more Iraqis to replace American troops, speeding construction money and getting Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds to bring about reconciliation among themselves after the election on Jan. 30.
"You want us to assume that you'll make sound decisions based on immediate circumstances," said the most junior member of the committee, Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, who said Ms. Rice was looking for "wiggle room" on a number of foreign policy issues. "And I think that the reason it's hard to pin you down on an exit strategy, or Iran, or these other circumstances, is you don't want to bind this administration."
In addition to the training of Iraqi security forces, the reconstruction effort has been slowed by the violent insurgency in Iraq, committee members noted. The administration has disbursed only $2.5 billion of the $18.4 billion in reconstruction funds that were appropriated in late 2003.
Finally, on political reconciliation, the administration has begun bracing for more violence and possibly more political strife after the vote, especially because hopes for a strong Sunni turnout are growing dim.
But reconciling Iraqis is a task that only Iraqis themselves can undertake, Ms. Rice implied, with Americans standing on the sideline.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:56 PM
The New York Times
January 20, 2005
Talk of Changing Pension Math Raises Concern on Benefit Cuts
By MARY WILLIAMS WALSH
AT&T, the once-mighty phone giant, has a pension plan with obligations of about $10 billion, according to its annual report for 2003. Yet the company paints a somewhat rosier picture for employees: an extrapolation from workers' individual statements indicates that the plan owes them roughly $10.6 billion, or 6 percent more.
There is nothing improper or unusual in AT&T's approach. Like many other companies, it uses two methods to calculate the value of its pensions: one to tell employees how much they have earned, the other to tell investors how large the company's pension liability is.
But that may soon change. The seeming discrepancy in accounting, which has been an accepted business practice for two decades, has begun to bother accounting rule makers, who say the practice allows companies to understate to investors the extent of their pension liabilities.
The panel that sets accounting standards is now preparing a proposal that would require many big American companies to give a more accurate financial picture of their pension plans. As a result, a number of them will have to increase the pension liabilities on their books, in essence telling investors that they owe their employees more than they have disclosed in the past.
"Depending on the company," said Gerard O'Callaghan, project manager for the pension review by the Financial Accounting Standards Board, "it could be nothing; it could be $10 million; it could be $100 million; it could be a billion; it could be more." The board is a nongovernment body that establishes rules for American companies.
While the amounts paid to retiring workers would not change immediately, some companies would have to increase their reported pension liabilities as much as 30 percent. To bring things back into balance, some may contribute more money to their pension funds - a boon to participants, but a jolt to shareholders, who may have thought that the money would be used for business operations. Other companies may delete attractive features from their plans, to bring the cost back down.
There is precedent for such a cutback. When a change in accounting rules forced companies in 1990 to report the value of the health insurance they had promised to retirees, companies began to reduce the coverage.
Indeed, the accounting board's proposal comes as the pension system itself is under pressure. Many companies, citing the burden of providing retirement benefits, have cut back, converted or closed their plans. At the same time, the Bush administration is proposing changes in both the way companies set aside money to pay for future benefits, and the way they pay to support the federal system of insuring traditional pensions. Business groups have warned that if companies are pushed too hard, they may stop offering pensions altogether.
The looming changes in accounting rules are expected to be strongly opposed by companies. The staff of the Financial Accounting Standards Board hopes to present the draft of a proposal by the end of March.
"That's where a lot of people are going to be giving us a lot of pushback," Mr. O'Callaghan said.
The accounting board is grappling with something of an open secret in American business: the current accounting rules for pensions allow companies to underestimate, if not conceal, their liabilities legally.
The board's efforts to improve reporting mirror recent administration proposals to overhaul the rules that companies follow in funding their pension plans. Both sets of rules are now widely thought to obscure the economic reality of a pension plan, sometimes allowing insolvency to grow, undetected by all but the best-informed insiders.
United Airlines, for example, was able to state that its pension funds were fully funded even after sharp declines in the stock market wiped out much of their value. It thus went for several years without making any contributions. Now, however, the company is arguing in bankruptcy court that it can no longer fund the plans and that the government must take them over.
The particular issues that the accounting board is looking at represent only "a sliver" of the overall problem of pension accounting, Mr. O'Callaghan said.
Other experts agreed. "They're trying to repair a broken heating system in a house that's falling down," said Jeremy Gold, a consulting actuary to the Financial Accounting Standards Board and an economist who has criticized current pension accounting rules. "They're headed in the right direction. They're sending some signals about what a rewrite of the pension rules is going to look like."
Even so, the board may have a fight on its hands. If it approves its staff's proposal, public comment will then be solicited. The board has set a year-end target to put the rule into effect, but issues raised in the comment period could take months to sort out, pushing that deadline back.
"Nothing gets done here fast," Mr. O'Callaghan said, recalling that it took more than 10 years to complete a rule on accounting for stock options. In that case, Congress weighed in, threatening to reduce the board's funds. The board, based in Norwalk, Conn., also gets contributions from business and accounting firms.
Its current project was initially supposed to change the way companies calculate the value of a kind of pension plan known as a cash-balance plan. But more recently, the board said it also wanted companies with conventional defined-benefit plans to adopt the new approach if they allowed retirees to take their entire benefit in a lump sum.
Thousands of companies, employing millions of people, have one or the other of these two types of pension plans. Lucent Technologies, I.B.M., Avon Products, AT&T, Colgate-Palmolive, Hewlett-Packard, Toshiba America, Wells Fargo, Qwest Communications, Bank of America, Cummins and Delta Air Lines are among the hundreds of companies with cash-balance pension plans.
Delphi and U.S. Steel are among many companies that have conventional pension plans, allowing departing workers to take lump sums. So do American Airlines and Delta with the pension plans for their pilots.
A cash-balance plan is a hybrid design, combining features of a conventional defined-benefit pension plan with those of a 401(k) plan. The company sets aside money to pay the benefits in a pooled trust fund, as it would for a traditional pension plan. But it provides each worker with regular statements, reporting the amount of benefits as an individual account balance, like a 401(k) balance. There are, in fact, no individual accounts, but expressing the benefits this way is said to make employees understand and value them more.
Each year, an employee's balance increases, as the sponsoring company credits the account with interest at some specified rate. Often, the rate is linked to a conservative market rate, like that for Treasury bills. At AT&T, for example, the cash-balance plan has recently been offering employees interest credits at 4 percent a year.
The discrepancy in accounting arises when the company calculates the total value of these obligations for its annual report. It must again factor in an interest rate, because pension values vary inversely with interest rates, much as bond prices do.
But in this calculation, the crediting rate is not used. The current accounting standard for pensions lets companies use a high-quality bond rate instead. AT&T used 6 percent, according to its annual report for 2003.
It is the difference between these rates that troubles the accounting rule makers. Because of the inverse relationship, using 6 percent produces a smaller pension value for the annual report than the one reported to workers in their statements.
Actuaries say that correcting the reported value in AT&T's case would mean increasing it by about 24 percent, citing a rule of thumb that every percentage-point change in the interest rate causes about a 12 percent change in the value of the benefits.
AT&T reported that its workers had earned about $10 billion of benefits at the end of 2003, but only about $2.5 billion of that was owed to active workers. Conforming to the accounting board's approach might require increasing the amount owed to active workers by 24 percent, or $614 million. That would increase AT&T's total pension debt to its work force to about $10.6 billion.
AT&T declined to comment for this article.
These adjustments would vary at different companies, depending on the interest rates used and the ages of the work force.
The accounting board's work on cash-balance plans showed that companies also use two interest rates when calculating lump-sum distributions, with the result that they have also been reporting smaller pension obligations to investors than the amounts workers are really allowed to take.
About half of all workers at big companies are currently allowed to take lump sums, according to Mark G. Beilke, director of employee benefits research at Milliman USA. The practice is much more common among plans for salaried white-collar workers than those for union or hourly workers, he said.
Among the companies affected because they offer cash-balance plans or pay lump sums, some, like Toshiba and Wells Fargo, have written letters to the accounting board expressing opposition to the accounting change.
"The board's tentative conclusions could result in large charges to earnings for many companies," wrote Richard D. Levy, the controller of Wells Fargo, in a letter sent in May 2004. "These companies could conceivably implement changes to their pension plans to minimize the impact of the accounting changes on their financial results. These plan changes may ultimately result in reductions of pension benefits for employees."
Other companies like Avon, American Airlines, Hewlett-Packard and Delphi said that they did not want to comment because they were not yet sure what the new method would be. Some, including I.B.M., Qwest and Colgate-Palmolive, did not respond to requests for comment.
A Lucent Technologies spokeswoman said the company's cash-balance plan accounted for a small part of the pension benefits it owes retirees, so the accounting change would have a minimal effect on its financial reports. Bank of America cited a lawsuit by its employees in connection with its cash-balance plan and declined to comment on possible accounting changes.
Many actuaries find the accounting board's new approach disturbing, because it challenges core concepts of the actuarial approach to pensions. Years ago, cash-balance plans were marketed to companies on the very feature the accounting board now considers incorrect: the interest-rate differential that made them look cheaper than they turn out to be.
"There is substantial leverage in this assumption," said a 1985 promotional brochure on cash-balance plans by Kwasha Lipton, an actuarial firm that has become a part of Mellon Financial.
"A '5 percent of pay' plan might require a contribution of only 4 percent of pay, after a realistic investment differential is taken into account."
Mr. Gold, the pension-accounting critic, who worked at Kwasha Lipton before it began to promote cash-balance plans, said: "Kwasha Lipton's actuaries didn't think that was misleading. When Kwasha Lipton was writing this, that's what all actuaries believed. We were taught this. We were tested on it. The right answer was to say that you could give $5 at the cost of $4."
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:54 PM
The New York Times
January 20, 2005
Public Voicing Doubts on Iraq and the Economy, Poll Finds
By ADAM NAGOURNEY and JANET ELDER
On the eve of President Bush's second inauguration, most Americans say they do not expect the economy to improve or American troops to be withdrawn from Iraq by the time Mr. Bush leaves the White House, and many have reservations about his signature plan to overhaul Social Security, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.
Seventy percent, however, said they thought Mr. Bush would succeed in changing the Social Security system. The poll found that 43 percent of respondents expect most forms of abortion to be illegal by the time Mr. Bush leaves the White House, given Mr. Bush's expected appointments to the Supreme Court.
The Times/CBS News Poll offered the kind of conflicting portrait of the nation's view of Mr. Bush that was evident throughout last year's presidential campaign. Nearly 60 percent of respondents said they were generally optimistic on the eve of Mr. Bush's swearing-in about the next four years, but clear majorities disapproved of Mr. Bush's management of the economy and the war in Iraq.
Nearly two-thirds said a second Bush term would leave the country with a larger deficit, while 47 percent said that a second Bush term would divide Americans. A majority of those surveyed said that they did not expect any improvement in health care, education, or in reducing the cost of prescription drugs for the elderly by January 2009.
Just under 80 percent, including a majority of those who said they voted for Mr. Bush in November, said it would not be possible to overhaul Social Security, cut taxes, and finance the war in Iraq without increasing the budget deficit, despite Mr. Bush's promises to the contrary.
The findings, coming after a tensely competitive election, suggest that Mr. Bush does not have broad popular support as he embarks on what the White House has signaled would be an extraordinarily ambitious second term, which in many ways will commence with Mr. Bush's swearing-in and speech on Thursday. That could undermine his leverage in Congress, where even some Republicans have expressed concern about major aspects of Mr. Bush's Social Security plans.
Mr. Bush's job approval rating is at 49 percent as he heads into his second term - significantly lower than the ratings at the start of the second terms of the last two presidents who served eight years, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. And 56 percent said the country has gone off on the wrong track, about as bad a rating Mr. Bush has received on this measure since entering the White House.
Still, as Mr. Bush enters what the White House views as a critical two-year window before his power begins to wane, the poll suggests that Mr. Bush's effort to lay the groundwork to reshape the Social Security system has had some success.
Fifty percent said Social Security is in crisis, echoing an assertion that Mr. Bush has made and that has been disputed by Democrats and independent analysts.
Answering another question, 51 percent said that while there were good things about Social Security, the system needed "fundamental changes," while 24 percent said it needed a complete overhaul.
But 50 percent said it was a "bad idea" to permit workers to divert part of their payroll taxes into the stock market, as Mr. Bush is expected to propose. That number leaps to 70 percent when the question includes the possibility that future guaranteed benefits would be reduced by as much as one-third.
Nearly 60 percent of respondents said they were not likely to put their own Social Security money into the stock market, and a majority said that in pushing for a Social Security overhaul, Mr. Bush was more interested in helping Wall Street than protecting the average American.
"I think it's a bad idea," said Tina DeSantis, 46, of Pennsylvania, who identified herself as a Republican. "People that I've encountered don't necessarily have the tools necessary to make proper decisions with them and end up losing money."
And Ilene Bernards, 46, a Republican from Clinton, Utah, said she feared that permitting people to invest in private accounts would end up destabilizing the system.
"We would be farther in the hole than we already are with Social Security, because at some point if people use their money and lose it and they're old, then somebody is still going to have to take care of them," Ms. Bernards said.
The nationwide telephone poll was taken Friday through Tuesday with 1,118 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.
The poll suggests that in some ways, many Americans are expecting Mr. Bush to succeed in making major changes in the political landscape over the next four years.
That is most notable on the question of abortion; 71 percent expect Mr. Bush to appoint Supreme Court justices who will vote to outlaw abortion.
A majority of Americans, 71 percent, support some forms of legal abortion, albeit some with more restrictions than now exist.
Tony Rhoden, 53, an independent from Queens, said of the president regarding abortion: "He is against it, so obviously whatever judges he picks are going to be ruling in his favor. He wants someone who thinks the way he does. It seems to me that with everybody he's putting into place whatever he wants, they're going to get for him."
The poll also found that concern about the war in Iraq is rising: 75 percent said Mr. Bush had no clear plan for getting out of Iraq, a sharp jump up from 58 percent last fall, and a majority said that he routinely exaggerated conditions there.
And 75 percent said they believe a significant number of American troops will still be stationed in Iraq when Mr. Bush leaves the presidency.
The poll also found that 53 percent of Americans think the war in Iraq will not have been worth the loss of American life if unconventional weapons are never found.
A majority of respondents said that Iraq, which has been plagued by violence over the last week, is not secure enough to proceed with elections in two weeks, as scheduled.
However, the respondents are divided over whether the elections should be postponed in the hope of some sense of order being restored there.
In any event, only 15 percent of respondents said that elections would produce a decline in violence in Iraq; 40 percent said it would create more violence.
Respondents do not appear to share Mr. Bush's concern about the urgency of the Social Security problem, in the context of other problems facing the nation.
Asked to name the most important problem facing the country, just 3 percent named Social Security, while 11 percent named Iraq and Osama bin Laden, and 10 percent identified "war" and the economy.
Still, 54 percent of respondents said they do not expect the Social Security system to have enough money to pay them pensions when they retire, a figure that has not varied much since the Times/CBS News Poll started asking the question in 1981.
And younger people were much more likely to support the change Mr. Bush is seeking than older Americans.
On taxes, another area where the Bush administration is expected to make a major effort over the next four years, 54 percent said investment and interest income should be taxed at the same rate as wages.
Republicans have been moving to reduce the tax on investments and interest as a way of overhauling the tax system and encouraging business investment.
At the same time, by a margin of 47 to 40 percent, Americans think that temporary tax cuts that were passed in 2001, and are due to expire this year, should be made permanent.
Fred Backus contributed reporting for this article.
Posted by politicalstuff at 11:51 PM
The Progress Report
by Christy Harvey, Judd Legum and Jonathan Baskin with Nico Pitney and
Inauguration: Lifestyles of the Rich and Heartless
Due to $17 million worth of inaugural security -- paid for by the city
of Washington, D.C. -- the Progress Report is unable to access its
office. Never fear -- it takes a lot more than that to keep us down. We put
this list together for you ahead of time. Your regularly scheduled
Progress Report returns tomorrow.
A look at this week's festivities by the numbers:
Cost of Bush inaugural ball festivities, not counting security costs.
$2,000: (http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0119/p03s01-uspo.html) Amount
FDR spent on the inaugural in 1945...about $20,000 in today's dollars.
Cost of yellow roses purchased for inaugural festivities by D.C.'s Ritz
Number of Humvees outfitted with top-of-the-line armor for troops in
Iraq that could have been purchased with the amount of money blown on the
Price of an inaugural package at the Fairmont Hotel, which includes a
Beluga caviar and Dom Perignon reception, a chauffeured Rolls Royce and
two actors posing as "faux" Secret Service agents, complete with black
sunglasses and cufflink walkie-talkies.
400: (http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0119/p03s01-uspo.html) Pounds of
lobster provided for "inaugural feeding frenzy" at the exclusive
Mandarin Oriental hotel.
3,000: (http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0119/p03s01-uspo.html) Number
of "Laura Bush Cowboy cookies" provided for "inaugural feeding frenzy"
at the Mandarin hotel.
Amount per guest President Carter spent on snacks for guests at his
inaugural parties. To stick to a tight budget, he served pretzels, peanuts,
crackers and cheese and had cash bars.
Number of children in regions devastated by the tsunami who could have
received vaccinations and preventive health care with the amount of
money spent on the inauguration.
1,160,000: (http://www.worldonfire.ca/donations.html) Number of girls
who could be sent to school for a year in Afghanistan with the amount
of money lavished on the inauguration.
(http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4282216) The down payment to rent a fur coat paid by one gala attendee who
didn't want the hassle of schlepping her own through the airport.
Price of a room package at D.C.'s Mandarin Oriental, including
presidential suite, chauffeured Mercedes limo and outfits from Neiman Marcus.
Number of U.S. troops used to stand guard as President Bush takes his
oath of office
Number of Kevlar vests for U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan that
could be purchased for $40 million.
$290: (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4187023.stm) Bonus that
could go to each American solider serving in Iraq, if inauguration funds
were used for that purpose.
$6.3 million: (http://www.citizen.org/pressroom/release.cfm?ID=1860)
Amount contributed by the finance and investment industry, which works
out to be 25 percent of all the money collected.
$17 million: (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4187023.stm) Amount
of money the White House is forcing the cash-strapped city of
Washington, D.C., to pony up for inauguration security.
9: (http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0119/p03s01-uspo.html) Percentage
of D.C. residents who voted for Bush in 2004.
Percentage of Americans who think this over-the-top inauguration should
have been scaled back.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:52 PM