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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Monday, 27 February 2006
Close Enough: Close Enough For Some, Not For Others
Topic: For policy wonks...

Close Enough: Close Enough For Some, Not For Others

Is this close enough? In the Monday, February 27th New York Times there's this on Halliburton, the company Vice President Cheney used to run, and from which he receives a post-employment stipend. And yes, he has all those stock option he can exercise. The Times tells us Pentagon auditors have declared "potentially excessive or unjustified" Halliburton charges in what they do for us in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that would be about a quarter billion in potentially excessive or unjustified charges. That's a chunk of change. What to do? Pay most of the charges. As the spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers put it, "The contractor is not required to perform perfectly to be entitled to reimbursement."

Nothing is perfect, right? So Halliburton gets paid. Close enough.

Maybe close enough for government work. That used to be a joke. Draw your own conclusions. Maybe the Times is just stirring up trouble.

Is this close enough?

Last week some bad guys - no one knows quite who - blew up the Shiite al-Askari shrine in Samarra. This is, for the Shiites, like someone blowing up the Vatican. Chaos followed - roving bands of Shiite militia killing Sunni clerics, Baghdad locked down, mortar rounds falling in the city, lots of bodies showing up as one side or the other went after family, workers pulled from trucks and executed on the spot, and the following Monday, someone blew up an important Sunni mosque. Sure looked like the start of a civil war. That was discussed in these pages here, and after that was posted there was discussion all over about what was going on.

There were these excerpts from ABC's Sunday Morning talk show "This Week" - conservative columnist George Will being interviewed by the host, George Stephanopoulos -
STEPHANOPOULOS: What does civil war look like?

WILL: This. This is a civil war.
Oh. And the problem is they don't even have a government, depending on how you define "government" -
Now, does Iraq have a government? Let me just postulate the question. A government exists when it has a reasonable monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. As long as the militias are out there, the existence of an Iraqi government is questionable. Think of Los Angeles. If Los Angeles said the Bloods and the Crips are going to be tolerated, they're going to be armed and police their areas and enforce the law in certain areas, what sense would Los Angeles have of government?
On the panel that Zakaria, fellow from Newsweek demurred -
ZAKARIA: It was a very bad week for Iraq. The fundamental problem here remains the original one, which is when people don't have a sense of security because there were not enough American troops, they will revert to their script, their tribal loyalty, the Sunni and Shiite. This happens in every society. That is what is happening, a pervasive sense of insecurity has made them search for security in the things they can find, which is their sectarian identities. But the fact that a few hundred people died - and it is a terrible tragedy - it does not necessarily mean we're on the brink of civil war. India goes through sectarian violence from time to time. Nigeria does -
That's when George Will broke in. He was having none of that.

But the news is getting better, or so the Associated Press tells us here - Baghdad was "generally peaceful" Monday after four days of widespread violence. Except for those mortar rounds and all the dead people. We learn that Sunni Arab leaders said they were prepared to end their boycott of the talks on a new government "if Shiites return mosques seized in reprisal attacks against Sunnis," and they meet other unspecified demands. Maybe that'll happen, maybe not.

Our Ambassador there, Zalmay Khalilzad, says the crisis is over - "I think the country came to the brink of a civil war, but the Iraqis decided that they didn't want to go down that path, and came together" He says it's clear "the terrorists who plotted that attack" really wanted to provoke a civil war - but "the Iraqis decided to come together." That's the official line now. It's not a civil war. Nope. It isn't.

Is it close enough? Does it matter what you call it?

Tim Grieve here says that whatever you call it, all this means is that Iraqis and our troops among them "may be starting to get back to where they were before the bombing of the Askariya shrine in Samarra last week - which is to say, a long way from where the administration predicted they'd be."

You remember that, three years ago -
• Feb. 7, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, to U.S. troops in Aviano, Italy: "It is unknowable how long that conflict will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."

• March 4, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a breakfast with reporters: "What you'd like to do is have it be a short, short conflict ... Iraq is much weaker than they were back in the '90s," when its forces were routed from Kuwait.

• March 11, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars: "The Iraqi people understand what this crisis is about. Like the people of France in the 1940s, they view us as their hoped-for liberator."

• March 16, Vice President Cheney, on NBC's Meet the Press: "I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators. . . . I think it will go relatively quickly, . . . (in) weeks rather than months." He predicted that regular Iraqi soldiers would not "put up such a struggle" and that even "significant elements of the Republican Guard . . . are likely to step aside."

The war begins

• March 20, President Bush, in an Oval Office speech to the nation: "A campaign on the harsh terrain of a nation as large as California could be longer and more difficult than some predict."

• March 21, Rumsfeld, at a Pentagon news briefing: "The confusion of Iraqi officials is growing. Their ability to see what is happening on the battlefield, to communicate with their forces and to control their country is slipping away. ... The regime is starting to lose control of their country."

• March 27, Bush, at a news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, when asked how long the war would take: "However long it takes. That's the answer to your question and that's what you've got to know. It isn't a matter of timetable, it's a matter of victory."

• March 30, Myers, on Meet the Press: "Nobody should have any illusions that this is going to be a quick and easy victory. This is going to be a tough war, a tough slog yet, and no responsible official I know has ever said anything different once this war has started."

• March 30, Rumsfeld, on Fox News Sunday, when asked whether Iraqis would "celebrate in the streets" when victory is won: "We'll see."
They were adjusting as things developed. Now? It may look like a civil war but it really isn't. Honest.

Grieve also notes that Nearly 2,300 U.S. soldiers and maybe ten times as many Iraqis have died in the war so far. And that the insurgents appear free to attack almost at will. And that and basic services remain well below what they had before we invaded. And that the president says again and again that that our troops will come home as Iraqi security forces stand up - "As they stand up, we will stand down." So Grieve links to the story on all the wires - "The administration used to boast that one Iraqi battalion was able to function without US support; last week, it downgraded the ranking of even that battalion, meaning that there is currently not a single Iraqi battalion that the Pentagon deems capable of fighting on its own."

Not one. Going backwards. Close enough? Draw your own conclusions.

And as mentioned in these pages, fifty-five percent of the American public now thinks that it was a mistake to go to war in Iraq, and even Bill O'Reilly of Cheney's favorite bunch of "journalists," Fox News, says it is now time to get our troops out of there "as fast as humanly possible."

Not close enough. Not by a long shot.

On the other hand, political junkies could also see, on Fox News, the chief apologist for this grand neoconservative experiment in remaking the world, Bill Kristol, the editor of their bible, the Weekly Standard, say the problem really is we had just not made a serious effort in Iraq.

What? We'd been fooling around in Iraq and not doing much, so now it's time to get serious?

Well, to be fair, his point seemed to be the administration was always looking into the future and thinking about ways to reduce troop levels, a political thing politicians do - there are elections to worry about, and voters. That's what Kristol does not like at all. The administration should have told the American public we'd have a massive force in Iraq (and wherever else in the region is next) for decades, and the American public had better get used to it - but they didn't. So Bush and the gang aren't really "true believers" in the vision. Remember the apologists for communism - it was a great system but Stalin messed it up, and but for him it would have worked just fine? Same sort of thing. "Crooks and Liars" has the video here in two formats. It's amazing. The man has his vision. And what's happening is not "close enough" to the grand neoconservative vision. Bad Bush. He wasn't serious. Damn his eyes!

No one is happy. Late Monday, February 27th, we got the results of the latest CBS poll - the president's approval rating hit an all-time low, thirty-four percent (Cheney is now at eighteen percent, down for twenty-three last month). They must have polled a few of the neoconservative "true believers" along with the regular folks who are tired of this "close enough" approach to things.

And the port deal, where Dubai World Ports, owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates, gets to run operations at six of our major ports, and twenty-one all told (Portland, Maine isn't major), may have something to do with the low numbers. (Cheney's low numbers are probably due to the shooting - lefties think he's a madman and the NRA types think he embarrassed all hunters with his carelessness.) The administration says there's no real problem this port deal - no one has to worry about security. We're covered, close enough. The numbers show that's not going down well, even if it might be true. "Close enough" don't cut it.

One suspects "close enough" is not working because this has to do with, as folks see it, life and death - our dead troops from Iraq, a bomb going off in Baltimore. They saw the latter in that movie, and the former is at your local cemetery.

And then last Friday, William F. Buckley, Jr., the "father" of modern conservatism published this National Review editorial - It Didn't Work. What didn't work? The elective war to change the world. Iraq. "One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed."

Of course he's taking about the current American "close enough" objective, establish a Jeffersonian democracy with an unregulated free-market entrepreneurial economy and all that, not the ones that didn't fly - getting one key guy who was connected to 9/11, getting rid of the man trying to build a nuclear weapon, getting rid of the other WMD there, and all the others. But whatever the current justification, the old man sees this -
Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans. The great human reserves that call for civil life haven't proved strong enough. No doubt they are latently there, but they have not been able to contend against the ice men who move about in the shadows with bombs and grenades and pistols.
So the objective doesn't matter. These are just awful folks?

Well, not exactly. We ourselves were mistake in our "postulates" -
One of these postulates, from the beginning, was that the Iraqi people, whatever their tribal differences, would suspend internal divisions in order to get on with life in a political structure that guaranteed them religious freedom.

The accompanying postulate was that the invading American army would succeed in training Iraqi soldiers and policymakers to cope with insurgents bent on violence.
He says they're both false. No "close enough" for him.

The reaction from the war supporters was predictable, here and here for example - the old guy has no patience, things take time and last week was only a temporary setback. From the other side there were items like this - "To the progressive movement, getting an unlikely ally like the columnist is a huge moral victory." Whatever.

The National Review's current editors shot back with this - "If Iraq ever descends into a real civil war, we won't have to debate whether it has happened. It will be clear for all to see. The military will dissolve into ethnic factions, and the government will collapse. That hasn't happened, and so declarations of defeat in Iraq - of the sort our founder and editor-at-large William F. Buckley Jr. made last week - are pre-mature. That view could ultimately be proven right, but there is no way to know with certainty at this point ... The outcome depends, as is always the case, on the choices made by the players, including ourselves. Even if our influence in Iraq is waning, our commitment - and the specific forms it takes - still matters very much. Defeatism will be self-fulfilling."

Yeah, yeah. The military has not dissolved into ethnic factions, completely, and the government hasn't yet collapsed (it hasn't formed yet). It's just that everyone sees just that happening pretty much in real time. These guys think we'll pull some rabbit from some hat and things will be fine. "Defeatism will be self-fulfilling." Right. Don't believe your eyes. Think positive thoughts. Those positive thoughts will create the positive reality. Clap your hands and Tinkerbell will not die. Been there. Who do you think is right?

So we may be doing fine, or close enough. Or not. Of course it's not just Buckley jumping ship, as mentioned previously, on the 19th in the New York Times Magazine, Francis "The End of History" Fukuyama published a book excerpt renouncing neoconservatism and its visionaries - Bill Kristol, Robert Kagan and the crew who infected our government with this fever. He calls them Leninist - "They believed that history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will." Well, visionaries are like that. They're kind of dangerous. And Fukuyama that this mess in Iraq will lead to a new American isolationism. His idea? We need to rethink things - we need "ideas that retain the neoconservative belief in the universality of human rights, but without its illusions about the efficacy of American power and hegemony to bring these ends about."

Two comments from the odd Andrew Sullivan, now writing for Time Magazine.

This -
... For my part, I think he gets his analysis almost perfectly right. In retrospect, neoconservatives (and I fully include myself) made three huge errors in the last few years. The first was to over-estimate the competence of government, especially in extremely delicate areas like WMD intelligence. The shock of 9/11 provoked an understandable but still mistaken over-estimation of the risks we faced. And our fear forced errors into a deeply fallible system. The result was the WMD intelligence debacle, something that did far more damage to the war's legitimacy and fate than many have yet absorbed. Fukuyama's sharpest insight here is into how the near miracle of the end of the Cold War almost certainly lulled many of us into over-confidence about the inevitability of democratic change, and its ease. We got cocky. We should have known better.

The second error was narcissism. America's power blinded many of us to the resentments that such power must necessarily provoke. Those resentments are often as deep among our global acquaintances as enemies - in fact, may be deeper. Acting without a profound understanding of the dangers to the US of inflaming such resentment is imprudent. This is not to say we shouldn't act at times despite them, unilaterally if necessary. Sometimes, the right thing to do will inevitably spawn resentment. We should do it anyway. But that makes it all the more imperative that we get things right, that we bend over backwards to maintain the moral high-ground, and that we make our margin of error as small as possible. The Bush administration, alas, did none of these things. They compounded conceptual errors with still-incomprehensible recklessness, pig-headedness and incompetence in preparing for the aftermath of Saddam.

The final error was not taking culture seriously enough. Fukuyama is absolutely right to note the discrepancy between neoconservatism's skepticism towards government's ability to change culture at home and its naivete when it comes to complex, tribal, sectarian and un-Western cultures, like Iraq's, abroad. We have learned a tough lesson, and it's been a lot tougher for those tens of thousands of dead innocent Iraqis and several thousand killed and injured American soldiers than it is for a few humiliated intellectuals. American ingenuity and pragmatism on the ground may be finally turning things around, but the original policy errors have made their work infinitely harder. The correct response to this is not more triumphalism and spin, but a real sense of shame and sorrow that so many have died because of errors made by their superiors, and by intellectuals like me.
Elsewhere he says Fukuyama "does us all a favor by laying those errors out in full view."

So? Big deal. You guys got it all wrong and people died and we're in a world of hurt.

At the anti-Bush "A Call to Action" you get this - "While those Americans who always opposed the Iraq War may see this unseemly scramble of Bush's former allies as a classic case of rats deserting a sinking ship, the loss of these two prominent thinkers of the Right mark a turning point in the political battle over the US occupation of Iraq."

Maybe. Perhaps a turning point is when the rats go mainstream - Monday, February 27, Francis "The End of History" Fukuyama was the featured guest on MSNBC's rising show "Countdown with Keith Olbermann."

Something is up. The president does his "things are fine, or close enough" speeches. The opposition never liked that casual approach to war and national security, seeing a dim-witted frat boy and a bald and nasty old man behind him messing up everything we've work for since we started this American experiment. And now supporters are miffed too.

Where's it all leading?

Close enough doesn't cut it.

See this (Monday, February 27, 2006) -
Most of the president's critics have already fixed their gaze on the 2006 congressional elections, but there are still a hardy few talking of a more dramatic remedy for what ails the country: impeachment.

The Center for Constitutional Rights announced today the publication of "Articles of Impeachment Against George W. Bush." It's a book, not an enactment of the House of Representatives, but the CCR says it's serious nonetheless. "President Bush has forced America into a grave constitutional crisis by breaking the law and violating the constitutional principles of separation of powers," CCR legal director Bill Goodman says in a statement. "This book is not a policy debate, but a legal case for impeachment based on the president's repeated illegal actions."

The CCR says Bush has committed impeachable offenses by authorizing warrantless wiretaps in violation of the Constitution and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; by ordering the indefinite detention, rendition, torture and abuse of terrorism suspects; by lying to Congress about the reasons for the Iraq war; and by generally violating the constitutional separation of powers "by arrogating excessive power to the executive branch."

The CCR book comes on the heels of an essay in Harper's in which Lewis Lapham starts skeptically, then finds himself asking why Americans should run the risk of not impeaching the president. "We have before us in the White House a thief who steals the country's good name and reputation for his private interest and personal use; a liar who seeks to instill in the American people a state of fear; a televangelist who engages the United States in a never-ending crusade against all the world's evil, a wastrel who squanders a vast sum of the nation's wealth on what turns out to be a recruiting drive certain to multiply the host of our enemies," Lapham writes. There's a word for such a man, he says: criminal.

Lapham's take, in turn, spins out of Michigan Rep. John Conyers' resolution calling for the creation of a select committee to investigate possible grounds for impeachment. Conyers' resolution hasn't gone anywhere but the House Rules Committee, where it will ultimately die a slow death. But it isn't for lack of intense interest, at least among a minority of the minority: Twenty-six other members of Congress have signed on as cosponsors so far.
It is possible, although unlikely, that this minority of the minority, may shift to becoming a minority of the majority, given the new CBS poll. That may happen. Then, next...

Close enough just isn't cutting it.

Or maybe it still is. People have their own personal lives to consider. This is all unimportant to them, until the neighbor's kid comes home in a box, or Baltimore lies in radioactive ruin.

Such things, what we do in the world, do matter.

Posted by Alan at 22:06 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 27 February 2006 22:19 PST home

Sunday, 26 February 2006
The Next Election: Let's All Join In For The Results We Want
Topic: Couldn't be so...

The Next Election: Let's All Join In For The Results We Want

F2654hD4

This isn't really a local issue but it is, and it isn't. In his February 23rd Los Angeles Times column, Golden State, Michael Hiltzik, was a bit exercised about this -
… there's no excuse for exposing the integrity of our election system to computer hackers. Yet that's what California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson may have done last week by approving electronic voting machines from Diebold Election Systems for use in California elections through the end of this year.

McPherson's approval was conditioned in part on local election officials keeping the Diebold machines under tight security before polls open. Diebold will have to make significant changes to its software and undergo further scrutiny from state and federal authorities for 2007. Given the rising panic among county registrars about having machines ready for the June primary, it's hard to avoid the impression that McPherson's decision reflected expediency more than confidence in Diebold's work.

Indeed, his ruling produced a statewide sigh of relief from county registrars, who were squeezed between a federal law requiring them to install efficient new high-tech poll machines and a state law requiring the machines to be formally certified. "This means I won't have to go to either Leavenworth or Folsom," San Diego registrar Mikel Haas told me. His county, which will stage a primary on April 11 to replace the bribe-taking Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, bought 10,200 Diebold machines for $31 million in 2003, but hadn't been allowed to use them since 2004.
Well, they were in a jam and spent over thirty million, so Bruce McPherson saved the day. Of note, just as Condoleezza Rice was appointed by George Bush to be the Secretary of State at the federal level, so Bruce McPherson was appointed by Arnold Shwarzenegger to be California's Secretary of State. Neither is an elected official. The respective legislative bodies advised (like it mattered) and consented (what the heck). Approved.

Well, these are just staff people. They implement what the boss wants. And they want to stay in power, and make sure their friends stay in power.

Now Rice has done some odd things recently. She testified to congress that she needed to spend a whole lot of money, seventy-five million - to fund groups in Iran that would then, being well-funded, rise up and overthrow the theocratic oddballs that run things there now and are building nuclear weapons. But as anyone can see, this isn't exactly effective diplomacy, as now any anti-government group there will be mocked and rejected. You may be against the ridiculous government here, but obviously you're a tool of the Americans fighting our brothers in Iraq - you took their money to do this protesting and plotting - their own Secretary of State said she's funding you! (See this - "It's long been known that pro-democracy groups and their supporters in Iran would be discredited if they were publicly linked to the Great Satan. Worse yet, that open linkage would give Iran's secret police agencies an excuse to crack down brutally on them as enemies of the state, charging their leaders with subversion.")

It's hard to get good staff people these days.

As for Bruce McPherson, he commissioned a panel of computer security experts to look into the Diebold systems and tell him if they were secure. Could they be hacked? Could votes be altered? Well, they reported on February 14 that, yes, they could. Not very clever folks could tamper with the removable memory cards and change the results and no one would be the wiser. And by the way, there were sixteen other software problems that would, as the Times reports, cede "complete control" of the system to hackers who might then "change vote totals, modify reports, change the names of candidates, change the races being voted on." And there were ways to crash the machines, bringing an election to a halt. And hackers "wouldn't need to know passwords or cryptographic keys, or have access to any other part of the system, to do their dirty work." Or so said David Jefferson of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, David Wagner of Berkeley, and the assorted others on the panel.

The biggest problem?

That would be this -
The bugs pale next to another discovery by the panel. This is the presence of a cryptographic key written into the source code, or basic software, of every Diebold touch-screen machine in the country. The researchers called this blunder tantamount to "a bank using the same PIN code for every ATM card they issued; if this PIN code ever became known, the exposure could be tremendous."

Here's the punch line: The Diebold key became known in 2003, when it was published by researchers at Johns Hopkins and Rice universities. It can be found today via a Google search.
Three days later McPherson - shrugging, one assumes - certified the machines.

Close enough? Scientific and technical folks worry too much?

That's what they say at the national level about all those people who say there's this global warming going on. The president listens to the to pop novelist Michael Crichton (see this), so who needs the scientists? (That last Crichton novel on the topic was lively, even if one sees here that Crichton has admitted to once plagiarizing a work by George Orwell and submitting it as his own.)

On the state level? Michael Hiltzik adds more here, if you like detail - Diebold's defense (people do think we're accurate), the experts' report, the Secretary of State's announcement (PDF format) of conditional certification, the summary of the University of Iowa 1997 discovery of the coding problem, and more, including this -
A team including Avi Rubin of Johns Hopkins uncovered the key - for the first time, they thought - in 2003, and they published it in his highly technical paper. (It's on page 14, but for those unwilling to wade through the technicalities, the key is F2654hD4.)
Ah, this cryptographic key written into the source code of every Diebold voting machine used anywhere in the country - F2654hD4!

Cool. And this is not just a California issue.

Diebold responded, three years ago, to the Johns Hopkins' paper, specifically, here - this flaw and the other bug are "manageable by a reasonably careful combination of short-and long-term approaches" Just be careful. Lock everything up, physically? Heck, why not go back to paper ballots?

The Johns Hopkins team responds here - bad code, hack one machine and you can hack them all nationally, and the fix is easy. (Those of us who have been coding since the eighties know you never embed the key to the whole system in the code itself, the code that you can see - that's a rookie, bonehead mistake.)

The major-league commentator at the Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum, who writes from down in Orange County (he used to write under the name CalPundit), covers the same ground here, and he seems a tad amazed -
Despite the fact that the panel of experts concluded that Diebold could fix all the bugs in their machines in "only a few hours," the problem with the hardcoded key has been known since 1997 and the key itself has been known since 2003 - but Diebold has done nothing about it.

... There's simply no excuse for tolerating even the perception that the voting process is so easily open to abuse. I'm no conspiracy monger, but the fact that Diebold hasn't corrected these problems despite the fact that they're obvious, widely known, and easy to fix, does nothing except provoke suspicion - well deserved or not - that they're stonewalling deliberately. I mean, why act so damn guilty unless they really are guilty?
Good question. But who would rig the vote?

Well, it's easy to do. F2654hD4 It's in there, in each and every machine. Have fun. From Kevin Drum - "And the 8-byte password used for Diebold's voter, administrator, and ender cards is ED 0A ED 0A ED 0A ED 0A. (Aren't you glad this stuff is so easily found on the internet?)"

Yes indeed. But our side plays by the rules. We'd never use this information to cheat.

And as all this above makes it way around the net - Drum has an incredibly wide readership - this will be a problem that gets fixed. The code and password will be everywhere. Diebold will have to do their job. Rove will weep. But that's the way things are these days.

On the other hand, Diebold may stonewall. Have fun, if you have the chops.

As for what's over at the pesky national clearinghouse of information on such matters, Black Box Voting, some of the current items are these - someone accessed forty Palm Beach County voting machines November 2004 and the voting machine logs contain approximately a hundred thousand errors, and convicted embezzler Jeff Dean, the Diebold head tech guy, remotely accessed the voting machines in major California counties for 2000 election when you can't do that (so they say), and on and on.

And our friend Doug Yeats sent is this local news story -
(February 24, 2006) The Alaska Division of Elections has now officially refused to release the public records that would verify the results of the 2004 election.

The election totals differ from the district by district totals by more than 100,000 votes in some races, while others show more votes than there are voters in the district.

The election was tabulated by the election company Diebold Computer System. ...
And this -
A long-standing public records request for the release of Election 2004 database files created by Diebold's voting system had been long delayed after several odd twists and turns, including the revelation of a contract with the state claiming the information to be a "company secret."

But while it finally appeared as though the state had agreed to release the information (after reserving the right to "manipulate the data" in consultation with Diebold before releasing it), the state's top Security Official has now - at the last minute - stepped in to deny the request. The grounds for the denial: the release of the information poses a "security risk" to the state of Alaska.
What?

California, Florida, Alaska. It's not a local story. Pennsylvania and Ohio (this - Hearings On Ohio Voting Put 2004 Election In Doubt - is still unresolved). Diebold's CEO, Walden O'Dell, did say he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes for the president." It worked.

Maybe they just don't want us to vote. Voting and thinking your vote counts? That's for chumps. That's for the Iraqis. We've moved on.

__

Clarification

A question from Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
What I'm missing from this is how the "F2654hD4" key is used. Specifically, could a hacker access the machine from his home, or must an evil-doer be on the scene, either to enter the key on a keyboard to change results, or to physically open up the machine to pull out some cards and insert new cards or something?
Good Question. Yes, the code is in each machine. But, except for isolated precincts at, say, Brokeback Mountain, the voting machines are networked. The key is also hard-coded on the server software of course, so you can get physical access to a single machine somehow, or remotely break into the server linking them (not impossible). Change results at a node, or change results being fed from any of the nodes to the server, or change the tables on the server. Your choice. The usual scenario is one of the Diebold workers, the tech support guy for example, doing routine maintenance, adjusts the votes. If he can, someone else, with a little hacking, can too.

Posted by Alan at 22:46 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 27 February 2006 11:09 PST home

Much News
Topic: Announcements

Much News

Posting will resume later today. Just posted the new Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format parent to this web log.

Current events, columns from Tel-Aviv and Paris (with photos), pages of new photos and much, much more -

On the international desk, Our Man in Tel-Aviv, Sylvain Ubersfeld, is back after a long pause, illustrating true chutzpah with his personal narrative. The item from Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, is Saturday night in Paris, a writers' party in Montmartre with the writer from Los Angeles living there now.

The photos? Five pages of the scene in Hollywood at Oscar time, a collection of historic shots of the Queen Mary finally meeting the new Queen Mary - both with links to extended photo albums - guest winter photography, and some oddities and the week's botanicals.

Current events? Three extended items surveying the two big stories this week, the ports deal and the new chaos in Iraq - and covering the other stories swirling about, including the president's passage to India. And you'll find what you missed last week, five items covering "the week of the gun" - he shot someone? - and covering the other stories swirling around then.

Bob Patterson, as the World's Laziest Journalist, visits the Playboy Mansion here in Los Angeles to rub elbows with Heff and the jazz stars (with photos), and in an "extra" discusses photojournalism, and as the Book Wrangler offers some notes on taking notes. And he offers a photo page of the birds at the Playboy Mansion, real birds.

Quotes? Funny stuff about problems and accidents. You might find these useful.

Posted by Alan at 09:43 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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Saturday, 25 February 2006
System Test

System Test

This is a test positing.

Saturday, February 25, 2006 11:39 AM - Rebuilt Index
Back on line...

12:15 PM - down again...

1:40 PM - working again...

Posted by Alan at 07:49 PST | Post Comment | View Comments (2) | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 25 February 2006 13:41 PST home

Friday, 24 February 2006
End of the Week: The Other Form of Marxism
Topic: Couldn't be so...

End of the Week: The Other Form of Marxism

There are fewer entries here this week, partly because there was a holiday in there somewhere, and technical difficulties have forced a redesign of the parent site, Just Above Sunset. Creating the new design and creating a site exclusively for the photography - Just Above Sunset Photography - takes time. And a day was lost to covering an historic event down in Long Beach.

But the week's news was interesting in all that it stirred up. So here are some thoughts.

As noted in the other items, any lingering discussion of the Vice President shooting his hunting partner in the face, and the fellow apologizing for causing the Vice president any anguish, was subsumed by the two major stories that had the nation buzzing - the administration approving a company owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates to run operations at six of our key ports, and, mid-week, what seemed like the start of a civil war in Iraq. It's beyond the cartoons now.

The only lingering news regarding the Vice President's accident was this item - "Secret Service agents guarding Vice President Dick Cheney when he shot Texas lawyer Harry Whittington on a hunting outing two weeks ago say Cheney was 'clearly inebriated' at the time of the shooting."

It seems the Secret Service guys judged that more than a few in the hunting party exhibiting "visible signs" of impairment - slurred speech and erratic actions and that sort of thing. Now we move into the realm of felony - but of course, the item appeared in Capitol Hill Blue. They're excitable folks over there. They may not exactly make things up, and they do often get the general sense of what's going on just about right (as discussed here last August). It's the specifics that seem unlikely. Some of the agents are now gone? Others have asked to be reassigned? Maybe it's all true. And note they vigorously defend themselves here. But it doesn't matter now. Other events have overwhelmed the news cycle.

What events?

Michael O'Hare gives a wide overview here, arguing that life is imitating art in a way, but the art involved has more to do with maybe the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges and W. C. Fields, and more recently The Daily Show. "Art" is being used loosely here of course, to cover slapstick and satire.

One does think of Duck Soup (1933) -
Rufus T. Firefly: I'd be unworthy of the high trust that's been placed in me if I didn't do everything in my power to keep our beloved Freedonia in peace with the world. I'd be only too happy to meet with Ambassador Trentino, and offer him on behalf of my country the right hand of good fellowship. And I feel sure he will accept this gesture in the spirit of which it is offered. But suppose he doesn't. A fine thing that'll be. I hold out my hand and he refuses to accept. That'll add a lot to my prestige, won't it? Me, the head of a country, snubbed by a foreign ambassador. Who does he think he is, that he can come here, and make a sap of me in front of all my people? Think of it - I hold out my hand and that hyena refuses to accept. Why, the cheap ball-pushing swine, he'll never get away with it I tell you, he'll never get away with it.
That Marx Brother film also contains the famous line - "Well, who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?" (Lots of other quotes from the film here.)

Michael O'Hare may be onto something -
Having survived a history of 9/11, letting Osama slip away in Afghanistan, taking that wretched country from the Taliban to World Heroin Central, breaking the army in the wrong war against the wrong enemy, putting an important source of petroleum and one of the most secular and educated Arab countries into near-medieval chaos, drowning New Orleans by neglect and insisting he had his hand on the wheel right through it, rendering us impotent as Iran and North Korea nuke up, humiliating Americans for a generation with Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and putting the US economy in the hands of foreign creditors, Bush appears to have finally trashed his reputation as curator of national security by tying a decision he had nothing to do with and that almost certainly has no real security implications at all, (the ports) around his own neck.

And on the domestic side, we Californians are paralyzed in dealing with Mr. Morales because (i) killing bad people is good and just, but (ii) not if it hurts them, and (iii) doctors, who have a legal monopoly on being sure people don't hurt, (iv) restrict their practice to keeping people alive (v) unless they are good people who want to die, in savage, brutish places like Oregon or Britain.

Tell me there's no god of irony; tell me Ludicrosia, the muse of farcic history, is a mythic creature. Right.
There's a muse for farce, this Ludicrosia? She spoke to Feydeau? Well, maybe not, but all this is happening. Yes, out here in California, we did try to execute another fellow, and like the first two this year, there was no reprieve from our Austrian governor, Arnold Shwarzenegger, the fellow with the Nazi father. Thumbs down. That's why we love him.

But it didn't happen - the doctors (anesthesiologists) who were to handle the drip lines to make the whole thing more humane (make sure he's out cold before you open the line with the lethal stuff) walked out. They said doctors shouldn't participate in killing people - maybe unless they asked (assisted suicide) or they weren't actually people yet (first term abortion). The state medical association backed them up.

And we were trying to do this humanely - if the state is going to kill one of its errant citizens of course you should do it humanely. That way it's not cruel and unusual, or at least it's not cruel. Well, it's not cruel looking at it from one side. Morales probably does not share that view. Yep, Marx brothers stuff, and not much different than Doctor Guillotine long ago arguing his new device was so quick and final it was really much more human than that hanging or firing squad stuff - and don't even mention drawing and quartering. Where are the Marx Brothers when you need them?

And what about this "wrong war against the wrong enemy?" On Wednesday, February 22nd, the sectarian civil war there has begun in earnest, as Sunni guys dressed in official-looking commando uniforms managed to blow up the Shiite al-Askari shrine in Samarra, the one with the big gold dome. This is a big deal, with the holy graves and all - kind of like mad Lutherans blowing up Saint Peters in Rome, instead of nailing things to doors.

So the Shiite al-Askari shrine in Samarra is rubble now. What did they do about it?

Well, immediately there was this - seventy-five Sunni mosques attacked, two burned to the ground and three Sunni clergymen assassinated. There were predictable demonstations in Shiite Iran, and in Pakistan and Beruit. A later Rueters report adds an Iraq update, with one hundred eighty-four Sunni mosques damaged and ten clerics killed and fifteen abducted, if you're keeping score. The Muslim Clerics Association is accusing the Shiite religious leaders of making things worse by calling for protests.

Okay, the Prophet Mohammed didn't do any of what we in the west call a "succession planning." Every serious organization has a succession plan. Not in this case - and even if the Shiites say Ali was the successor because, after all, he married the Prophet Mohammed's daughter, Fatima, the more fundamentalist Sunnis don't buy that at all. It may seem like farce to some in the west, but it's a serous rift there, as two branches of Islam have developed a lot of layers of meaning, custom and faith based on which you believe. Of course western religion has had wars over parallel splits. Heck, how many died on the banks of the Boyne in Northern Ireland in 1690 and have died in that dispute since? Better Orange than Catholic? You'd die for that? A lot of layers of meaning, custom and faith, based on which you believe, leads to chaos.

What to do now in Iraq? That's obvious - just like a prison riot, do a lock down. There will be a curfew in the core Sunni Arab areas, including Baghdad, to prevent worshippers from rioting afer the Friday prayers ceremony. And it looks that that will extend through Saturday, at least. No one is going anywhere. Baghdad Sealed Off to Stem Violence. And the shutdown means no going out to scare up some food. And you already don't have power most of the day. Are they glad we came and got rid of the bad man? The alternative is not so nice either.

What does our ambassador say? Well, he says this -
"What we've seen in the past two days, the attack has had a major impact here, getting everyone's attention that Iraq is in danger," Mr. Khalilzad said in a conference call with reporters.

The country's leaders, he added, "must come together, they must compromise with each other to bring the people of Iraq together and save this country."

Mr. Khalilzad's comments are the most explicit acknowledgment so far by an American official of the instability of the situation, and the fragility of the entire American enterprise here. The killings and assaults across Iraq that began Wednesday have amounted to the worst sectarian violence since the American invasion.

... In the deadliest assault, 47 people returning from a protest were pulled off buses south of Baghdad on Wednesday and shot in the head, an Interior Ministry official said Thursday. Three journalists from Al Arabiya, the Arab satellite network, were abducted and killed Wednesday in Samarra, near the ruined shrine. Seven American soldiers were also killed Wednesday in unrelated attacks involving roadside bombs.

Political and religious leaders, including President Jalal Talabani and Moktada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric whose followers are believed to be involved in much of the anti-Sunni violence, called for restraint.
We lost seven more guys. Unrelated. We've become like the Brits in Northern Ireland, trying to keep the two side from killing each other, and getting picked off by both. Unrelated. Sure.

The political writer Digby here reminds us that Thomas Friedman, the widely-respected and thoughtful columnist for the New York Times once said that it's not every day you get to see a political experiment in action. Friedman was always big on kicking some butt to "show our strength" - and it really didn't matter if Iraq was the wrong butt as we had to show we wouldn't be pushed around - and then was big on the grand experiment to plant a Jeffersonian democracy smack in the middle of that region to shake things up.

And now? The Marx Brothers in action - without the laughs and with a lot of dead people. And our guys get to keep the peace, and wonder, if they shoot, which side they other side will think we're taking. Keeping a lid on all this will be tricky. Maybe it's impossible.

Some of us saw Tony Blankley of the Washington Times on MSNBC's Hardball say to Chris Matthews maybe we should take sides and become the enforcement arms of the Shiites and Kurds, and destroy the local Sunnis. Yeah, the new Shiite government is shaping up to be a theocracy aligned with Iran, but maybe that's the best we can do. They might not be that unfriendly to us. Or so Blankley thinks.

Note this - screen shots of Fox News with the graphic saying a civil war in Iraq may be a blessing in disguise ("All-Out Civil War in Iraq: Could it be a Good Thing?"). And here, a screenshot and transcript of Terry Jeffery, the editor of pro-Bush Human Events on CNN saying this all proves Bush's grand plan is working - the idea being that what happened this week in Iraq is all so awful that the sensible people in Iraq will join together to form a sectarian state that has nothing to do with religion. He's channeling Rufus T. Firefly. He saw Duck Soup too many times and confused it with real life.

And on the edge of it all. Friday, February 24, 2006 Attack Fails at Huge Saudi Oil Site and Oil Prices Up After Attack in Saudi Arabia. That site? Twenty percent of the world's oil passes through there. It's not every day you get to see a political experiment in action.

And back here the business with Dubai World Ports only got more absurd. Do we allow a corporation - actually pretty good at doing what they do but owned by the government of United Arab Emirates - to run operations at six key American ports? The nation is in an uproars on this - at least most politicians and those who think about policy, and good number of ordinary folks who don't want to get blown up and hear the United Arab Emirates is where some Arabs live, and that composite government has been playing both sides. Lou Dobbs on CNN is on a tear, with guests (Joe Klein, Friday) saying if we don't do this the Arab world we hate us, and Dobbs shooting back "like they don't hate us now after all we've done?" It's all over. No point in citing everyone saying things.

Thursday the White House had Karl Rove tell us the president understands folks are upset and the president might think about delaying this (here), and that was the same day Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England was telling a senate committee "the terrorists will win" if we don't immediate do this deal (here) - "The terrorists want our nation to become distrustful. They want us to become paranoid and isolationist, and my view is we cannot allow this to happen. It needs to be just the opposite." And he said opposing this deal was giving aid and comfort to our enemies, so even the Republicans who have questions are now being called traitors. Welcome aboard, guys.

If congress passes anything to stop this, will the president veto it? He says he will. But he says that all the time and never vetoes anything (see The Emperor Has No Vetoes for a discussion of this "the boy who cried wolf" veto business).

But he will veto this -
The Bush administration said Friday it won't reconsider its approval for a United Arab Emirates company to take over significant operations at six U.S. ports. The former head of the Sept. 11 commission said the deal "never should have happened."

Opponents, including the agency that runs New York and New Jersey ports, took their case to court, while the company, Dubai Ports World, stepped up efforts to change the minds of congressional critics.

The president's national security adviser said the White House would keep trying to persuade lawmakers - there's more time since the company offered to delay its takeover - but the administration wouldn't reconsider its approval.

"There are questions raised in the Congress, and what this delay allows is for those questions to be addressed on the Hill," Stephen Hadley said. "There's nothing to reopen."

Thomas Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey who led the bipartisan probe of the Sept. 11 attacks, said the deal was a big mistake because of past connections between the 2001 hijackers and the UAE.
So the president might delay implementation, but it's going to happen, no matter what. Dubai World Ports put their implementation on hold (here), to wait this out (and give the administration some breathing room), and New York and New Jersey are taking the feds to court.

Great. But none of it matters.

Congress and its laws? The courts? Piffle. The man decided.

And he says there's nothing to worry about. Trust him, not these other folks. He is the one who protects us from the bad guys. Everyone knows that.

As Tim Grieve puts it here - "The Bush administration can stand by and let all sorts of things happen - the gutting of Iraqi museums, the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, genocide in Darfur, Sudan - but it can't handle the notion that someone else might be playing the terrorism trump card."

Or maybe it's this, from Lou Dobb's show on CNN earlier in the week (video here or here and transcript) -
DOBBS: President Bush's family and members of the Bush administration have long-standing business connections with the United Arab Emirates, and those connections are raising new concerns and questions tonight in some quarters about why the president is defying his very own party leadership and his party in defending the Dubai port deal.

CHRISTINE ROMANS: The oil-rich United Arab Emirates is a major investor in The Carlyle Group, the private equity investment firm where President Bush's father once served as senior adviser and is a who's who of former high-level government officials. Just last year, Dubai International Capital, a government-backed buyout firm, invested in an $8 billion Carlyle fund.

Another family connection, the president's brother, Neil Bush, has reportedly received funding for his educational software company from the UAE investors. A call to his company was not returned.

Then there is the cabinet connection. Treasury Secretary John Snow was chairman of railroad company CSX. After he left the company for the White House, CSX sold its international port operations to Dubai Ports World for more than a billion dollars.

In Connecticut today, Snow told reporters he had no knowledge of that CSX sale. "I learned of this transaction probably the same way members of the Senate did, by reading about it in the newspapers."

Another administration connection, President Bush chose a Dubai Ports World executive to head the U.S. Maritime Administration. David Sanborn, the former director of Dubai Ports' European and Latin American operations, he was tapped just last month to lead the agency that oversees U.S. port operations.
Ah. Just business. These folks have done business with these people, and thus they trust them. Should we?

This seems to be some kind of turning point. Folks are wondering if they should. The warning signs are going up at the conservative National Review, where you would find this late Friday afternoon from John Podhoretz -
Rasmussen has a new poll up in which - hold on now - Democrats in Congress are outpolling President Bush on national security. By a margin of 43 to 41 percent, Americans say they trust Congressional Democrats more than Bush when it comes to protecting our national security. And by a margin of 64-17 percent, they oppose the sale of the ports to Dubai.

The deal is dead. It won't survive after a 45-day extension or a 450-day extension. Congressional Republicans have no choice but to be extremely aggressive and nasty toward the president and the White House, because they will be properly terrified of looking like Bush's lapdogs on a hugely unpopular matter that goes to the heart of the Republican party's political advantage in the United States.

If the White House doesn't handle this well in the next three days, the political consequences could be catastrophic.
And putting more bluntly, Rich Lowry adds - "Emergency, indeed: if Bush loses his edge on national security, he has nothing left."

And these are Bush guys. This is a political mess. And it had to come.

See this from Michael Hirsh in Newsweek - "How then did we arrive at this day, with anti-American Islamist governments rising in the Mideast, bin Laden sneering at us, Qaeda lieutenants escaping from prison, Iran brazenly enriching uranium, and America as hated and mistrusted as it ever has been? The answer, in a word, is incompetence."

Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly adds this -
Yes, there's been incompetence to spare, but there's also been considered policy at work, policy that deliberately marginalized our allies, tackled fake threats at the expense of real ones, made preemptive war our default preference, and criminally misjudged the actual nature of the conflict we're in. Even if it had been executed well, it still would have been disastrous.

But sure: incompetent too. The damage that George Bush has done to the United States is going to be with us for a very long time.
The ports deal seems to have just brought up the underlying problem.

See William Greider in The Nation here -
So why is the fearmonger-in-chief being so casual about this Dubai business? Because at some level of consciousness even George Bush knows the inflated fears are bogus. So do a lot of the politicians merrily throwing spears at him. He taught them how to play this game, invented the tactics and reorganized political competition as a demagogic dance of hysterical absurdities, endless opportunities to waste public money. Very few dare to challenge the mindset.
The politics of fear just hit the wall. It turned out to be a farce, and, like that Marx Brothers movie, a demagogic dance of hysterical absurdities, with endless opportunities to waste public money, and an this case, to do deals with your friends and thumb your nose at everyone.

And the president spent the end of the week in Indiana and Ohio, raising more than one and a half million for congressmen he needs to keep their seats, and saying things like this - "I wish I wasn't talking about war. No president ever says, 'Gosh, I hope there's war.' For those of you who are young here, I want you to know what I'm leading to is how to keep the peace and do my job that you expect me to do, which is to prevent the enemy from attacking again."

Right.

But it seems that the final credits are rolling and the lights are coming up.

Ah, but we will remember some hysterical absurdities with fondness thinking back on it all. Major General Geoffrey Miller was in charge of Guantánamo from 2002 to 2004, when he was then assigned to make Abu Ghraib in Baghdad work the same way. Late in the week disclosed a bit more of what was going on in the Muller years at Guantánamo, as reported here (Knight-Ridder) -
Military interrogators posing as FBI agents at the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, wrapped terrorism suspects in an Israeli flag and forced them to watch homosexual pornography under strobe lights during interrogation sessions that lasted as long as 18 hours, according to one of a batch of FBI memos released Thursday.
Absurd, and hysterical is the other sense of the word. But did it work? That depends -
Military interrogators "are adamant that their interrogation strategies are the best ones to use despite a lack of evidence of their success," [an e-mail] said.

The same e-mail complained that the military officer overseeing interrogations, a lieutenant colonel whose name was blocked out, "blatantly misled the Pentagon into believing that the (FBI's behavioral-analysis team) had endorsed the (military's) aggressive and controversial interrogation plan" during a teleconference with Pentagon officials.
Got it? No evidence it works. So keep doing it. It might, one day. Or not. And the FBI behavioral-analysis guys wanted this crap stopped, and Miller's guys got on the line and told the Pentagon the FBI said they were doing just the right thing.

Absurd.

You want absurd? It's not A Passage to India - it's another farce.

First - Bush Prepares For India Trip, Says India Is Responsible Nuclear Nation. Yep, he's going for a visit. Complex stuff. Fast rising economy there, as the have all those industries doing what American workers used to do, but a great market for American goods - maybe they'll buy our stuff with their new riches. That'd take off some of the political heat back here regarding outsourcing. And they could be a buffer if China gets uppity. They have nuclear weapons, but have never signed onto the non-proliferation treaty, and are in conflict with our flakey war on terror ally Pakistan, and they have nukes there too. Tricky. And the may be the world's largest democracy, but were way friendly with the Soviets in the Cold War days. The idea is to make 'em happy. Then they'll help us with China and terror, and buy our stuff.

What to do? Offer them advanced nuclear technology. But of course make them promise to use it only on civilian stuff. But the offer upset all the national security worriers back here, thus the statements that these Indian folks were responsible.

It didn't matter. Late Friday they told us to stick our advanced nuclear technology where the sun don't shine (story here) - seems they don't give a hoot about our economic and political issues with China, and the don't like George treating them like children he can bribe and fool. It seems they want to be treated as adults, and not like American voters or American congressmen or senators.

Of course this didn't help - "The United States apologized and granted a visa on Friday to the Indian-born president of a world science body after he said he was refused entry on charges of hiding information that could be used for chemical weapons."

What? Professor Goverdhan Mehta, 62, an internationally recognized organic chemist, president of the Paris-based International Council for Science (ICSU) had been invited to a conference by the University of Florida. Some low-level staffer decided he was a terrorist and blew him off. He didn't make it. Ah well, it's not just Cat Stevens. This happens to world-famous scientists all the time. They complain. We look childish and foolish. Maybe we should have Dubai World Ports do the screening.

Of course it might be this - "George W Bush's protocol handlers have notified South Block that the American President's deep belief in his born-again faith precludes his visiting Mahatma Gandhi's Samadhi at New Delhi's Raj Ghat - during his forthcoming visit to India."

Nice move. What? They aren't Methodists over there? What's wrong with them?

It should be an interesting trip. He'll need to turn on some real Texas charm. Maybe he'll take along our new Minister of Propaganda, Karen Hughes. She can do her "I'm a mother so I understand" routine that she tried out in the Middle East.

No? It is a Marx brother film.

Ah well, as for wanting to be treated as adults, and not like American voters or American congressmen or senators, you cannot beat this -
Remember Total Information Awareness? The Bush administration does.

Congress thought it killed off the controversial data-mining project in 2003. "Total Information Awareness is no more," Sen. Ron Wyden declared then. "The lights are out."

The lights may have gone out at the Defense Department's Information Awareness Office, but it now seems that the Bush administration simply turned them back on elsewhere. Following up where Newsweek left off earlier this month, the National Journal is reporting that the administration is still pursuing some of the most important components of TIA under the black umbrella of the National Security Agency - the same agency tasked with the Bush administration's warrantless spying work.

The National Journal says the administration and its contractors have hidden the continued existence of TIA components by changing some of their names. An e-mail message from one contractor suggests that a big component of the project, previously known as the "Information Awareness Prototype System," now goes by the name "Basketball" instead, the National Journal says. "TIA has been terminated and should be referenced in that fashion," an employee of the contractor warned his colleagues. Similarly, the National Journal says, a project once known as "Genoa II" was renamed "Topsail" when it moved from the Defense Department to the NSA's Advanced Research and Development shop.

As the National Journal notes, Wyden asked FBI Director Robert Mueller and intelligence czar John Negroponte earlier this month whether TIA operations had been moved rather than shut down. They said they didn't know, but Gen. Michael Hayden - the former NSA director and point man for the administration's warrantless spying defense - was a little more circumspect. "I'd like to answer in closed session," he said.
Change the name and no one will notice. This is the gimmick in more than a few vaudeville routines, and happens in many a farce. That works.

And on it goes. Anyone could find five or ten such farce stories a day (six more here were dumped as citing more would just be piling on). So what?

Maybe the "so what" is that all these items, while not that bad in and of themselves, start to build a growing sense - in those not previously fed up with this combination of incompetence, blind pride and dim-wittedness - that something is amiss. And maybe something should be done. Maybe the middle will move. The port deal pushed any number of people over the edge. It's no fun living in a farce. You could die.

Posted by Alan at 21:13 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 25 February 2006 07:36 PST home

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