Monthly Archives: March 2004

Yeah, we're really serious about shutting down terrorist networks…

I.R.S. Request for More Terrorism Investigators Is Denied
The Bush administration has scuttled a plan to increase by 50 percent the number of criminal financial investigators working to disrupt the finances of Al Qaeda, Hamas and other terrorist organizations to save $12 million, a Congressional hearing was told on Tuesday.

The Internal Revenue Service had asked for 80 more criminal investigators beginning in October to join the 160 it has already assigned to penetrate the shadowy networks that terrorist groups use to finance plots like the Sept. 11 attacks and the recent train bombings in Madrid. But the Bush administration did not include them in the president’s proposed budget for the 2005 fiscal year.

The disclosure, to a House Ways and Means subcommittee, came near the end of a routine hearing into the I.R.S. budget after most of the audience, including reporters, had left the hearing room.

It comes as the White House is fighting to maintain its image as a vigorous and uncompromising foe of global terrorism in the face of questions about its commitment and competence raised by the administration’s former terrorism czar, Richard A. Clarke, and its first Treasury secretary, Paul H. O’Neill.

Representative Earl Pomeroy, a North Dakota Democrat whose question to a witness about one line on the last page of a routine report to Congress prompted the disclosure, said he was dumbfounded at the budget decision.

“The zeroing out of resources here made my jaw drop open,” Mr. Pomeroy said. “It just leaps out at you.”

“There are some very tough questions that have to be answered about why the decision was made to eliminate these positions because going after the financial underpinnings of terrorist activity is crucial to rooting terrorism out and defeating it,” Mr. Pomeroy said.

The White House would not comment directly on the reasons for striking the 80 positions the I.R.S. sought. Claire Buchan, the White House deputy spokeswoman, said that a proposed 16 percent increase in Treasury Department financing to fight both terrorism and financial crimes was enough. The I.R.S. is part of the Treasury Department.

“The president’s budget provides a very robust 16 percent increase that demonstrates his robust commitment” to disrupting terrorist financing, she said.

The proposal would increase such financing to $54.3 million in the 2005 fiscal year from $46.8 million in the current year.

Juan C. Zarate, the deputy assistant Treasury secretary for terrorist financing, said that “the I.R.S. certainly had a clear vision of how they wanted to allocate the funds, but there is a clear balance that needs to happen in the I.R.S., where they have to balance terrorist-financing investigations with other responsibilities, like drug trafficking and, perhaps most important, enforcement of the tax laws.”

“And,” he continued, “the administration has to keep its hand on the pulse of that balance.”

He said not having 80 more financial experts dedicated full time to pursuing terrorists’ funds and disrupting their networks did not mean that no additional I.R.S. agents would be assigned, just that those needed would be drawn from other assignments as needed to pursue terrorist-financing issues.

Normally the budget requests of agency heads like Mark W. Everson, the I.R.S. commissioner, are secret. His request is known only because Congress, since 1998, has required the I.R.S. to submit its budget proposals first to the I.R.S. Oversight Board, a bipartisan volunteer panel of seven financial, management and technology experts that Congress created to monitor the tax agency.

The board appeared before the House I.R.S. oversight subcommittee on Tuesday to make its case for an increase in the I.R.S. budget that is twice the 4.6 percent proposed by the Bush administration. The board said the Bush administration’s plan would result in further deterioration in tax enforcement and warned of a growing tide of tax cheating and attitudes that encourage cheating, especially among young adults.

Representative Amo Houghton, the New York Republican who is chairman of the subcommittee, gave 50 minutes to remarks and questions for Mr. Everson, who is widely thought to be under consideration for a senior post in the Department of Homeland Security.

When the time came for the Oversight Board’s presentation, Mr. Houghton said he would allot three minutes.

Mr. Houghton then turned his back to talk to two aides and looked down to read papers for about half of the four-minute presentation by Nancy Killefer, the international management consultant who is chairwoman of the Oversight Board.

The board’s disclosing that the Bush administration had rejected the request for added investigators drew a rebuke from a Republican lawmaker who was instrumental in creating the Oversight Board.

“I do think it’s a little dangerous” for the Oversight Board to be involved in such matters, said Representative Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio.

“We did not select you for your expertise on terrorism,” he added. “I am frankly disappointed the board made this recommendation.”

Mrs. Killefer, a senior executive with the McKinsey consulting firm, then explained that the proposal came from the I.R.S. and that the Oversight Board was saying only that it agreed with the agency and supported its proposal.

Mr. Pomeroy, the lone Democrat to appear at the hearing, said he wanted to know more about the proposal and the reasons it was rejected. “Do we have sufficient resources on this important task?” he asked after the hearing.

“Of course not. If we did we would have heard a lot more about successes in bringing down the global financial underpinnings of terrorism.”

So what does owning a golden retriever say about me?

CNN.com – Study: People pick purebred dogs that resemble them – Mar 31, 2004
Study: People pick purebred dogs that resemble them
Wednesday, March 31, 2004 Posted: 10:27 AM EST (1527 GMT)

SAN DIEGO, California (AP) — Those who think purebred dogs look like their owners are barking up the right tree, but matching a mutt to its master is another thing, a study suggests.

Research at the University of California, San Diego indicates that when people pick a dog, they look for one that, at some level, bears some resemblance to them. And when they get a purebred dog, they get what they want.

When given a choice of two dogs, judges correctly matched 25 purebreds with their owners nearly two out of three times. With mutts, however, the pattern went to the dogs.

“When you pick a purebred, you pick it specifically because of how it’s going to look as a grown-up,” said Nicholas Cristenfeld, UCSD professor of psychology and co-author of the study, which appears in the current issue of Psychological Science.

Cristenfeld said mutt owners such as himself make their choice on the spur-of-the-moment at a dog pound, not knowing what a puppy will look like.

Forty-five dogs and their owners chosen at random were photographed separately at three San Diego dog parks. The judges, some 28 undergraduates taking psychology classes at UC San Diego, were shown pictures of the owners and two dogs and asked to match the correct dog with the owner.

Out of the 25 purebreds, there were 16 correct matches and nine misses. For 20 mutts in the study, there were seven matches, four ties and nine misses.

“There is a certain stereotype of person from each breed,” said Tracy Cavaciuti, a French Bulldog breeder in Connecticut.

So what kind of person likes the pop-eyed, pointy-eared, pug-nosed Frenchie?

“Actually, they’re quite trendy and good-looking,” Cavaciuti said, adding that they tend to strut on the streets of New York City’s tony Upper East Side.

Hound people are a different story.

“You can spot them a mile away,” she said. “They’re very doggy.”

A pug named Dewey takes a drink during a monthly meeting of the Toronto Pugalug Club.
How the aristocratic Afghan Hound or the otherworldly French Bulldog resemble their owners is unclear since the study found judges didn’t use any one characteristic to make the matches. There were no significant correlation between dogs and owners on the basis of size, attractiveness, friendliness and energy level when considered separately.

“People are attracted to looks and temperaments that reflect themselves or how they perceive themselves,” said Gail Miller, a spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club. Miller, who has owned several bearded collies, described her “beardies” as gregarious, active dogs.

“I’m definitely like them — very outgoing, likes to have fun and get active,” she said.

Kerry On!

Candidate rakes in $3 million at start of 20-city money blitz / Kerry, raising funds in S.F., derides Bush’s economic policies

“I notice that gas is now close to $3 a gallon in California,” Kerry told about 3,000 people at an event dominated by Silicon Valley powerbrokers. “Those are not Exxon prices. Those are Halliburton prices,” he said, referring to the energy company formerly run by Vice President Dick Cheney. “You have to give this administration credit,” Kerry said. “Their approach to the solution for high gas prices is just to make sure nobody has a job to drive to.”

Burn, baby, burn!!!!

"No way to run a government"

Floor Statement of Sen. Daschle on the Abuse of Government Power

Mr. President, last week I spoke about the White House’s reaction to Richard Clarke’s testimony before the 9-11 Commission. I am compelled to rise again today, because the people around the President are systematically abusing the powers and prerogatives of government.

We all need to reflect seriously on what’s going on. Not in anger and not in partisanship, but in keeping with our responsibilities as Senators and with an abiding respect for the fundamental values of our democracy.

Richard Clarke did something extraordinary when he testified before the 9-11 Commission last week. He didn’t try to escape blame, as so many routinely do. Instead, he accepted his share of responsibility and offered his perceptions about what happened in the months and years leading up to September 11.

We can and should debate the facts and interpretations Clarke has offered. But there can be no doubt that he has risked enormous damage to his reputation and professional future to hold both himself and our government accountable.

The retaliation from those around the President has been fierce. Mr. Clarke’s personal motives have been questioned and his honesty challenged. He has even been accused, right here on the Senate floor, of perjury. Not one shred of proof was given, but that wasn’t the point. The point was to have the perjury accusation on television and in the newspapers. The point was to damage Mr. Clarke in any way possible.

This is wrong�and it’s not the first time it’s happened.

If it takes intimidation to keep inconvenient facts from the American people, the people around the President don’t hesitate. Richard Foster, the chief actuary for Medicare, found that out. He was told he’d be fired if he told the truth about the cost of the Administration’s prescription drug plan.

This is no way to run a government.

The White House and its supporters should not be using the power of government to try to conceal facts from the American people or to reshape history in an effort to portray themselves in the best light.

They should not be threatening the reputations and livelihoods of people simply for asking � or answering � questions. They should seek to put all information about past decisions on the table for evaluation so that the best possible decisions can be made for the nation’s future.

Bush's Secret Storm

washingtonpost.com: Bush’s Secret Storm

President Bush had two big things going for him in this year’s election. He was seen by a majority of Americans as a straight shooter. And he was viewed as the natural leader in the war on terrorism. Now both perceptions are in jeopardy. That explains the ferocity of the White House attack on Richard Clarke.

But the attack on Clarke, the White House’s former anti-terrorism expert, could prove to be the fatal mistake of the Bush campaign. Instead of undermining Clarke’s credibility, the White House has called its own into question.

It is also calling new attention to the administration’s standard operating procedure since Sept. 11, 2001: Do whatever is necessary to intimidate and undercut all who raise questions about the president’s handling of terrorism, answer as few of those questions as possible and keep as many secrets as you can.

Op-Ed Columnist: This Isn't America

Op-Ed Columnist: This Isn’t America

Last week an opinion piece in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz about the killing of Sheik Ahmed Yassin said, “This isn’t America; the government did not invent intelligence material nor exaggerate the description of the threat to justify their attack.”

So even in Israel, George Bush’s America has become a byword for deception and abuse of power. And the administration’s reaction to Richard Clarke’s “Against All Enemies” provides more evidence of something rotten in the state of our government.
Where will it end? In his new book, “Worse Than Watergate,” John Dean, of Watergate fame, says, “I’ve been watching all the elements fall into place for two possible political catastrophes, one that will take the air out of the Bush-Cheney balloon and the other, far more disquieting, that will take the air out of democracy.”

The Heat is on…

San Diego has once again gone from mild, beautiful weather to really hot dry days. The Santa Ana conditions are so hard on the plants – and on us. Just when we get used to enjoying our usual lovely days, we get a heat wave that sucks the life out of us, and we all just want to find a cool spot and sit.

I guess in a lot of ways, I’ve been sitting in my cool spot for a long time now. I haven’t been social at all, haven’t really felt the need to work or do much of anything. I suppose a lot of this relates to my mom’s death, and the uncertainty of the situation with my nephew and sister right now. But I am at last feeling the stirrings of that need to do something, to get out again and find work and friendship and interaction with the world as a whole again. My problem, whenever I come to this point, is what direction to follow. Sometimes that direction will come to me, sometimes I have to search really hard for it. Lacking any inner compulsion to move in a particular direction right now, I’m rather like Buddha just sitting under my tree, waiting for life to come to me.

The problem is, I’m sure eventually it will, and I haven’t liked the results of that the last few times it has happened. Events like friends betrayal and the death of others are not ones we have any control over, and it is difficult to trust the world again and let it lead into new journeys. It isn’t a fear really, more, a tiredness of things. Well, perhaps there is a touch of fear, since I feel those tears coming to my eyes again as I write this. The sadness of loss is so great, perhaps I simply don’t want to feel it again – yet there is always loss in life, no matter how hard we try to avoid it, or deny it as some of those most dear to me have done. I miss them a lot. But I know they aren’t coming back, the dead or the living who have decided their own life is far more important than mine to them.

Anyway, it’s spring, time to grow again – and right now, I’m just wilting a bit in the heat.

Why are election officials allowed to take sides?

Making Votes Count: When the Umpires Take Sides

When Katherine Harris had to decide which candidate won Florida in 2000, many people were disturbed to learn she was both the state’s top elections official and co-chairwoman of the Florida Bush-Cheney campaign. This year, that kind of unhealthy injection of partisanship into the administration of a presidential election could happen again.

Ms. Harris’s successor is staying out of partisan politics this year, but other secretaries of state are diving right in. In Missouri, as important a swing state as Florida, the secretary of state has a top position in the Missouri Bush-Cheney campaign. In Michigan, another battleground state, the secretary of state has signed on as co-chairwoman of the Bush-Cheney campaign, and has been supporting an openly Republican voter registration drive.

When international observers monitor voting in new democracies, a key factor they look for is nonpartisan election administration. (A guidebook monitors use instructs that this can be done by the use of either “mainly professional” or “politically balanced” administrators.) This advice is rarely followed here at home. Decisions about voting machines and voter eligibility, and about who has won a close election, are often in the hands of partisan officials. The private companies that are rapidly moving into the elections field have political ties as well. To remove the appearance, and perhaps the reality, of bias, this culture of partisanship in election operations should be dismantled.

In most states, the top election arbiter is a secretary of state who ran for office as a Republican or Democrat. While some try to carve out a more independent identity once in the job, many are actively involved in electioneering for their party, or in their own campaigns for higher office. West Virginia’s secretary of state, who has installed a new statewide voter database and made important decisions about what voting machines the state will use, is running in his state’s Democratic primary for governor. Ohio’s secretary of state, who has been overseeing the purchase of new machines in his state, is also running for governor.

Many of the decisions secretaries of state make have the potential to change an election’s results. Purging voting rolls too aggressively, as Ms. Harris did in 2000, can change the party breakdown of the electorate. Not purging voters who are ineligible can, too. Decisions about whether and where to install more reliable voting machines can change the outcome. So can rules about processing new registrations and the location of polling places.

Private companies are playing a large, and growing, role in election administration. This trend has the potential to “professionalize” the system, but unfortunately, most of these companies have hurt their own credibility by getting involved in partisan politics. The chief executive of Diebold, one of the leading electronic voting-machine manufacturers, made headlines when he wrote a fund-raising letter saying he was committed to seeing President Bush re-elected. Other leading companies have, more quietly, abandoned their own neutrality. Accenture, which put together a voter database for Florida and is preparing one for Pennsylvania, is a generous donor to both parties, although it gives about twice as much money to Republicans as Democrats.

The idea of getting the secretary of state out of partisan politics is a foreign one to many states, where the job has always been an elective one. But at the very least, no state official who helps run elections should continue to be involved in political campaigns or other partisan activity. Companies that do this work should not make campaign contributions, and states should not hire them if they do. This country should start holding its election system to the same standards of impartiality that its election monitors routinely apply to others.