Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Thought to Start A New Month

If there is light in the soul
There will be beauty in the person.
If there is beauty in the person
There will be harmony in the house.
If there is harmony in the house
There will be order in the nation.
If there is order in the nation
There will be peace in the world.

--Chinese Proverb

Monday, February 27, 2006

Concern Over AOL's Proposed Email Tax


AOL recently announced what amounts to an "email tax." Under this pay-to-send system, large emailers willing to pay an "email tax" can bypass spam filters and get guaranteed access to people's inboxes--with their messages having a preferential high-priority designation.

I just signed an important online petition expressing my concern about America Online's proposed email tax.

The petition's at:

The petition says: "AOL, don't auction off preferential access to people's inboxes to giant emailers, while leaving people's friends, families, and favorite causes wondering if their emails are being delivered at all. The Internet is a force for democracy and economic innovation only because it is open to all Internet users equally--we must not let it become an unlevel playing field."

AOL's proposed pay-to-send system is the first step down the slippery slope toward dividing the Internet into two classes of users--those who get preferential treatment and those who are left behind. We must preserve the Internet for everybody.

Charities, small businesses, civic organizing groups, and even families with mailing lists will inevitably be left with inferior Internet service unless they are willing to pay the "email tax" to AOL.
The president of the Association for Cancer Online Resources (ACOR) points out the real-world urgency of this issue:

In essence, this is going to block every AOL subscriber suffering from any form of cancer from receiving potentially life-saving information they may not be able to get from any other source, simply because a non-profit like ACOR—which serves more than 55,000 cancer patients and caregivers every day—cannot afford to pay the fee.1

The Electronic Frontier Foundation summed up the "email tax" issue beautifully:

Email being basically free isn't a bug. It's a feature that has driven the digital revolution. It allows groups to scale up from a dozen friends to a hundred people who love knitting to half-a-million concerned citizens without a major bankroll...

Once a pay-to-speak system like this gets going, it will be increasing difficult for people who don't pay to get their mail through. The system has no way to distinguish between ordinary mail and bulk mail, spam and non-spam, personal and commercial mail. It just gives preference to people who pay...3

Can you sign this emergency petition to America Online?





1. "Postage is due for companies sending e-mail," New York Times, February 4, 2006

2. "AOL's New Email Certification Program: Good Mail or Goodfellas?" L-Soft Release, February 2, 2006

3. "AOL, Yahoo and Goodmail: Taxing Your Email for Fun and Profit," Electronic Frontier Foundation, February 8, 2006


For Minorities, Signs of Trouble in Foreclosures

For Minorities, Signs of Trouble in Foreclosures - New York Times
Published: February 22, 2006

Read the entire article at:  http://select.nytimes.com/mem/tnt.html?_r=1&emc=tnt&tntget=2006/02/22/business/22home.html&tntemail1=y&oref=login
CLEVELAND --- Catrina V. Roberts, a single mother of four, joined a new, growing class of minority homeowners when she moved from her subsidized apartment to a two-story house in 1999.

Roberts fell behind on her payments and declared bankruptcy last year.  Now, as she loses her modest home to foreclosure, Ms. Roberts may represent the vanguard of a worrying trend of retreat.

The housing boom of the last decade helped push minority home ownership rates above 50 percent for the first time in 2004 and the overall foreclosure rate below 1 percent.  Social scientists laud these accomplishments because ownership can foster greater neighborhood stability and economic progress.

President Bush cites rising minority ownership as a milestone achievement under his "ownership society" programs.

But hidden behind such success stories lies a disturbing trend: in the last several years, neighborhoods with large poor and minority populations in places like Cleveland, Chicago, Philadelphia and Atlanta have experienced a sharp rise in foreclosures, in some cases more than a doubling, according to an analysis of court filings and other housing data by The New York Times and academic researchers.

The black home ownership rate even dipped slightly last year, according to the Census Bureau.

The increase in foreclosures could be the first of a wave of financial distress for many minority homeowners, experts say, because they are twice as likely as whites to have taken out expensive subprime mortgages, most of which will jump to higher interest rates in the next two years, according to an analysis of data that lenders disclose under the federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act.

Subprime loans, which are made to borrowers with credit histories that the industry considers less than prime, have interest rates that are, on average, three points higher than the prime rate, about 6.2 percent now, and they carry higher fees and prepayment penalties that make it expensive to refinance.

Some housing experts worry that the minority foreclosure rate could worsen if the economy or the housing market, nationally or regionally, hits a rough patch as it has in industrial Midwestern states like Ohio.

"Anybody who is on the edge, those are factors that can tip them over into foreclosure," said William C. Apgar, a lecturer at Harvard who has studied foreclosure patterns in Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles.

"That could happen even though foreclosure rates are down."

Roberts is noteworthy because her loan was not considered subprime.   It came from KeyBank, a longstanding Cleveland institution, and carried a relatively low fixed interest rate of 7.4 percent on a principal of $65,000.  She never had a credit card, much less a credit record, and put down only $2,000.  Roberts's monthly expenses rose because of repairs to a dilapidated porch and the birth of two grandchildren, but the $880 a month she takes home after taxes from her job as a home health aide did not.

Roberts, 35, also receives $1,100 in Social Security benefits because two of her younger children have learning disabilities.

"I know when you buy a house, eventually you have to put work into it," she said and sighed, "but I didn't know it would lead me here, because if I did I would have never bought it.  So, I am at a point right now that I don't want to ever buy a house, ever again."

The Mortgage Bankers Association of America plays down the severity of foreclosures, noting that most new minority homeowners are doing well and that the Midwest is facing unique economic challenges.

The trade group estimates that fewer than 1 percent of all loans were in foreclosure in the three months that ended last September, down from 1.5 percent in 2002.  For subprime loans, the rate was 3.3 percent, down from 8 percent in 2002.  But broad national statistics can obscure hard local realities.

In Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, Ms. Roberts's hometown, court filings by lenders seeking to foreclose on delinquent borrowers totaled more than 11,000 in 2005, more than triple the number in 1995.

There were 17 auctions of foreclosed properties for every 100 regular single-family homes sold in the county in 2005, up from 10 in 2004 and 5 in 1995, according to data tabulated by Cleveland State University.

(Not all homes that enter foreclosure are sold at auction; sometimes borrowers and lenders settle out of court or the property is sold on the open market.)

There is no way to know how many foreclosures of minority-owned homes have occurred in the Cleveland area, because county filings do not identify people by race.

Experts say the closest proxy is the number of auctions of seized homes conducted by a sheriff as a ratio of conventional sales in areas with large minority populations.

In the eastern part of the county, which is 52 percent black and 7 percent Hispanic, the ratio of auctions to regular sales was 23 per 100 last year, up from 9 in 1995.

In the west, which is 82 percent white, the ratio was 11 per 100, up from 2.5.

A similar pattern can be seen in Chicago, where foreclosure filings tripled, to 7,576, from 1993 to 2005.

Neighborhoods where the population is more than 80 percent non-white account for 65 percent of all cases, up from 61 percent in 1993, according to data compiled by the National Training and Information Center, a housing advocacy and research group based in Chicago.

The same trends have been documented in Atlanta and Philadelphia, according to researchers from Harvard and the Reinvestment Fund, a Philadelphia-based investment organization hired by the Pennsylvania Department of Banking to study mortgage foreclosures in the state.

Summarized by Copernic Summarizer


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Corporate Control of Ports is the Problem

Another reason to contact your elected representative and voice your concerns of this issue.  plk
Corporate Control of Ports is the Problem

The problem with the Bush administration's support for a move by a United Arab Emirates-based firm to take over operation of six major American ports is not that the corporation in question is Arab owned.  It happens to be a corporation that is owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates, or UAE, a nation that served as an operational and financial base for the hijackers who carried out the attacks of 9-11 attacks, and that has stirred broad concern.

Ports are essential pieces of the infrastructure of the United States, and they are best run by public authorities that are accountable to elected officials and the people those officials represent.

While traditional port authorities still exist, they are increasing marginalized as privatization schemes have allowed corporations -- often with tough anti-union attitudes and even tougher bottom lines -- to take charge of more and more of the basic operations at the nation's ports.

Allowing the nation's working waterfronts to be run by private firms just doesn't work, as the failure to set up a solid security system for port security in the more than four years since the September 11, 2001 attacks well illustrates.

And shifting control of the ports of New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia from a British firm, Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., to Dubai Ports World, is not going to improve the situation.

John Nichols, The Nation's Washington correspondent, has covered progressive politics and activism in the United States and abroad for more than a decade.

Nichols is the author of two books: It's the Media, Stupid and Jews for Buchanan.

Summarized by Copernic Summarizer


Saturday, February 18, 2006

More Information on the Proposed Deal with DP World for Managing 6 U.S. Ports

In a previous post  I commented on the Washington Post's article  reporting on approval of the deal with DP World that would allow a company based in the United Arab Emirates  to assume oversight of operations at six American ports.   The $6.8 billion sale would affect commercial port operations in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia
In addition to concerns about this move as a risk to the security of these ports, it should also be noted that the UAE was one of the 14 countries in the world that the US blacklisted for
human trafficking.  You can read theThe U.S.State Department Releases 2005 Trafficking In Persons Report  at: 
   and at
"Trafficking in persons is an important issue in the UAE. The U.S. State Dpt. 'Trafficking in Persons Report' stated that, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) is a destination country for men, women and children trafficked primarily from South and East Asia and the former Soviet Union for the purposes of sexual and labor exploitation. " http://www.uaeprison.com/human_trafficking.htm
If  it bothers you that the managment of major US ports could be turned over to DP World please consider contacting your elected officials and voicing your concerns.   Visit http://www.congress.org/congressorg/home/ to contact your elected officials.  
Also, please considering signing a petition asking the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to reverse it's decision.  Go to:  http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/170220175  to sign the petition.  



Some grown-up questions for Google

by Becky Hogge
for OpenDemocracy.net

What does Google mean when it says "don’t be evil"? The company’s expansion in China will reveal whether it is on the side of citizen or state, says Becky Hogge.

So it turns out Google is evil after all. Like a toddler who's just caught Santa beating up his little helper round the back of the grotto, the geek community reacted as one when Google entered the Chinese market with its censored google.cn service last Wednesday. Anger and disbelief quickly gave way to a sense of abandonment and fear, and as Daddy sat us down for a grown-up talk about publicly-owned companies, market economies and shareholder rights, we felt our tiny little world dissolve into a new, scarier reality. Now we've all had our little cry, what next?

It's time to start asking a few grown-up questions. Such as why were we naive enough to trust a company with such a pithy motto in the first place? "Don't be evil," in retrospect, sounds more like the profile of a twelve-year-old's alter ego in a massive multi-player online game than the corporate ethos of the fastest-growing company in the world. What did it actually mean? And what does it mean now?

To the geek mind, the secret to Google's success lies in its combination of really cool technology and the kind of feel-good politics that won't burst the San Francisco bubble. Not only does the patented PageRank system solve the problems of information overload on the net, but engineers who work for Google can seemingly keep the system going whilst playing table tennis and drinking Kool-Aid all day.

For non-techies, the fact that Google can avoid ill-gotten venture capital by making its own money, through giving small retailers entry to the worldwide marketplace, means it is on the side of the little guy. And the "release early, release often" ethos of the company's recent slew of new applications (is anything offered by Google not still in beta?), plus the fact Google advises engineers to spend twenty percent of their time doing whatever they feel like doing, means it is every developer's dream job.

In fact, nothing about Google has ever been this fluffy. As Andrew Brown recently reported on openDemocracy, Google collects mountains of IP-address-linked data about the search behaviour of all its customers. The more services you sign up for with Google (Gmail, Desktop, Homepage) the more Google knows about you, knowledge that it shares with third parties, for example, to make better-targeted ads. This is its core business model, and the reason why small ads are so successful. To keep our information flowing into the Googleplex, Google relies on a high level of either ignorance or (one hopes, more likely) trust from its users.

My thanks go to openDemocracy reader and friend Tony Curzon Price, and (indirectly) to the US Department of Justice, for pointing out what "Don't be evil" might really mean in this context. Because what Google is promising with "Don't be evil" is that it will respect the privacy of its users, rather than that it will work night and day for freedom of speech around the globe.

To find out the extent to which Google avoids "evil" by respecting privacy, we need to read the small print. Our expectations might run along the lines of "Yes, Google, please use my search data to target unobtrusive ads that suit my needs as a consumer but no, please don't reveal that I spend all day searching for dissident/anarchic/Islamist views on global capitalism to George W Bush/Islam Karimov/Hu Jin Tao". But what Google's privacy policy actually states is that "Google only shares personal information with other companies or individuals outside of Google [if, among other things] we have a good faith belief that access, use, preservation or disclosure of such information is reasonably necessary to satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process or enforceable governmental request."

Anyone familiar with the case of Shi Tao, the Chinese journalist jailed on the strength of data handed over to the Chinese authorities by Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) in April last year, should be hearing alarm bells ringing right about now. Although Google is currently preparing to fight a subpoena demanding a fairly innocent quorum of search data be handed to the Bush administration in the San Jose Federal court, it should be noted that the network of applicable laws, regulations, legal processes or enforceable governmental requests that the Chinese regime has at its disposal in terms of invading its citizens' privacy are rather more robust than those afforded to the governors of the land of the free.

So our next question should be, how much data are you logging about your new Chinese customers, Google? And what will you do when the Chinese authorities ask you to hand it over? In fact, this question has already been put privately to a senior contact at Google by British web commentator Bill Thompson, who is awaiting a response.

The questions don't end there. Google has obviously been taking a lot of time and care with its launch in China. In June 2004 it bought a 2.4% stake in China's biggest search engine, Baidu, to get a feel for the place. Then, in April 2005, it paid a rather large sum of money (in Chinese terms) to wrest control of the google.cn domain name from an enterprising cyber-squatter. And in September last year Google saw off a lawsuit from Microsoft to secure the services of the latter's Vice President, Lee Kai-Fu, as Google's man in China. Kai Fu was joined by Johnny Chou, with the aim of building a fifty-strong research and development team inside PRC.

This is slow progress in contrast to the activities of the company's western arm. Since going public in August 2004, the company has released over a dozen products, including Google Maps, Google Web Accelerator, Google Homepage, Google Sitemaps, Google Earth, Google Talk, Google Desktop, Google Base, Google Book Search, Google Video and Google Pack. So what has Google been up to in China during those eighteen months?

One clue might lie in the feature of google.cn that sets it apart from the other global search providers, like MSN and Yahoo!, operating inside China. This feature – much lauded in the official statements given by Google on the day of the launch – is that google.cn tells its customers when their search results have been "filtered". How Google got that concession from the Chinese authorities might go some way to explaining why it took so long to release google.cn. But the question then has to be, what did Google offer in return?

China has plenty of technical know-how of its own, and is clearly prepared to use the network for its own ends. The Chinese authorities currently stand accused of endorsing attempts to hack into British and US government files, in what the UK Guardian called "a massive hit and run raid on the world's intellectual property to aid their booming economic growth". This heightens suspicions that denial-of-service attacks on Japanese websites, such as the official website of the controversial Yasukuni shrine, emanate from China and have the tacit approval of the Chinese authorities. China's censorship machinery goes far beyond the well-documented 50,000 officials and volunteers that watch the web to censor content, and incorporates choke points in the communications network that allow data to be filtered packet by packet.

Back in May last year, I asked this question: "If these two experts in internet traffic – Google in cataloguing it and China in censoring it – start working together, what can we expect?" The time for an answer approaches. In the meantime, we need to make sure we're asking the grown-up questions – about privacy, about data retention, about aspects of the deal Google have struck with the Chinese authorities that aren't hitting the headlines, and about the activities that will take place in Google's new research and development lab in China. And we need to ask them not just for the sake of the people of China, but for the sake of the internet as a safe space for free speech across the world.

This article is published with the permission of Becky Hogge, and openDemocracy.net under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The State of the Economy

The State of the Economy

a report from the Economic Policy Institute
published Jan 2006

The upcoming State of the Union address has revived interest in examining how well the economy is doing, how people are faring and whether the current policies of tax cuts have generated jobs and growth, as promised.

A number of observers seem to suggest that the economy is doing very well and that people mistakenly believe that the economy is on the wrong track. The facts are that trends in almost every indicator of the aggregate 'macro' economy—GDP growth, investment, payroll employment, personal income—have been inferior in this business cycle and recovery when measured against earlier comparable periods (see The boom that wasn't).

Moreover, the wages of workers (inflation-adjusted) fell in 2005 from 2004 levels and have been falling for several years (see Economy up, wages down). For instance, the wage (inflation-adjusted) of the median worker fell 1.3% in 2005. Given declining wages it is not surprising that the typical (median) household income fell for five years in a row through 2004 (2005 income data are not yet available), poverty has risen, and families have gone deeper into debt. Furthermore, health care costs are taking a bigger bite out of family incomes (see What's wrong with the economy?). The bottom line is that people do not feel good about trends in the economy because the things that matter most to them—wages, jobs, family income—have not been making them better off.

The administration claims that its tax cuts have led to jobs and growth. Yet, as we have shown, GDP, investment and other trends do not support this claim. A simpler way of showing the failure of the tax cuts to deliver jobs is to note that private sector jobs, excluding those generated by military or other government spending, have not increased since early 2001 (see Sluggish private job growth indicates failure of tax cuts). If private sector jobs have not been created in significant numbers, how can one say that the tax cuts have worked?

There has also been some bragging about recent job creation and the current 'low' unemployment rate.   However, (see Why people are so dissatisfied with today's economy), unemployment remains higher than the 4.0% in 2000 and today's unemployment is artificially low because of a major withdrawal from the labor force. Job creation in this recovery lags behind every other recovery, and the only wage growth in this decade was based on the momentum from the 1990s recovery. That wage growth petered out as the recession took hold and hasn't resumed more than four years into the recovery.

Last, the administration claims that poor wage growth is the result of higher health care costs squeezing wages. Actually, what has squeezed wages is the huge boost in profits in recent years. Rising health care costs cannot explain any of the following: the falling real wages of low-wage workers (1.9% down in 2005) who generally do not have employer-provided health insurance (47% of the entire workforce does not); the lower compensation growth (wages and health and other benefits) in 2005 than in 2004; or the slowdown in wage growth   in 2005 even though health costs also rose more slowly relative to earlier years (see The wage squeeze and higher health care costs).

The mission of the Economic Policy Institute is to provide high-quality research and education in order to promote a prosperous, fair, and sustainable economy. The Institute stresses real world analysis and a concern for the living standards of working people, and it makes its findings accessible to the general public, the media, and policy makers.

Visit epi.org to read archived editions of EPI News.


Economic Policy Institute
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Suite 300, East Tower
Washington, D.C. 20005

Copyright ©2006 Economic Policy Institute. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

United Arab Emirates Firm May Oversee 6 U.S. Ports

If the following story bothers you please consider contacting your elected officials.  Use the search box on the right to contact your elected officials.   Or, feel free to sign the petition at:  http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/170220175.   
United Arab Emirates Firm May Oversee 6 U.S. Ports
Associated Press
Sunday, February 12, 2006; Page A17

A company in the United Arab Emirates is poised to take over significant operations at six American ports as part of a corporate sale, leaving a country with ties to the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers with influence over a maritime industry considered vulnerable to terrorism.

The Bush administration considers the UAE an important ally in the fight against terrorism since the suicide hijackings and is not objecting to Dubai Ports World's purchase of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co.

The $6.8 billion sale could be approved Monday and would affect commercial port operations in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia.

DP World said it won approval from a secretive U.S. government panel that considers security risks of foreign companies buying or investing in American industry.

The U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States "thoroughly reviewed the potential transaction and concluded they had no objection," the company said in a statement.

The committee, which could have recommended that President Bush block the purchase, includes representatives from the departments of Treasury, Defense, Justice, Commerce, State and Homeland Security.

The committee action followed concerns expressed by a Miami-based company, Eller & Co., according to Eller's lawyer, Michael Kreitzer.  Eller is a business partner with the British shipping giant but was not in the running to buy the ports company.

The State Department describes the UAE as a vital partner in the fight against terrorism.

But the UAE, a loose federation of seven emirates on the Saudi peninsula, was an important operational and financial base for the hijackers who carried out the attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the FBI concluded.

Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged the administration to consider the sale carefully.  "America's busiest ports are vital to our economy and to the international economy, and that is why they remain top terrorist targets," Schumer said.

"Just as we would not outsource military operations or law enforcement duties, we should be very careful before we outsource such sensitive homeland security duties."

Shipping experts noted that many of the world's largest port companies are not based in the United States, and they pointed to DP World's strong economic interest in operating ports securely and efficiently.

Summarized by Copernic Summarizer


Interpreting the Bush Language -- What the Proposed Budget is Really Saying to Americans

Bush's Priorities: Found in Translation
from The Progress Report -- a publication of the American Progress Action Fund

In a speech last week to the Business and Industry Association for New Hampshire, President Bush explained his mindset when determining how to spend American taxpayer dollars. "Of course, you'd like to take a vacation every week, you know, some exotic place -- but you've got to set your priorities -- you can't do that. You want do this or do that, go to a fancy restaurant every night, but that's not setting priorities." Given the make-up of his budget, President Bush apparently thinks that funding priorities like education, veterans' health, and a strong defense is akin to buying a cruise to Tahiti. Below, we've translated some other Bush's other priorities, as evidenced in his proposed 2007 budget. (For the best coverage of the latest budget news, visit American Progress' new Budget Blog.)

BUSH: 'TOO MANY POOR KIDS GO TO COLLEGE': Federal programs to help students pay for higher education "take significant hits" in President Bush's budget: "The Perkins Loan program would be eliminated, and Pell grant funding for college students would drop by $4.6 billion."

BUSH: 'OIL COMPANIES AREN'T MAKING ENOUGH MONEY': "The federal government is on the verge of one of the biggest giveaways of oil and gas in American history, worth an estimated $7 billion over five years," the New York Times reports today. "New projections, buried in the Interior Department's just-published budget plan, anticipate that the government will let companies pump about $65 billion worth of oil and natural gas from federal territory over the next five years without paying any royalties to the government."

BUSH: 'LEAVING NO CHILD BEHIND ISN'T WORTH THE COST': Department of Education spending on vital programs -- Upward Bound, GEAR UP, dropout prevention, etc. -- would fall by $2.1 billion, or 3.8 percent, under the president's budget. In all, Bush proposes to cut "42 Education Department programs to save $3.5 billion" while flat-funding two of education's most important programs, Title I and IDEA.

BUSH: 'NOT ENOUGH PEOPLE ARE ENTERING OUR COUNTRY UNDETECTED': While some want to make border security the only answer to illegal immigration, it must be a significant part of the solution to the estimated 700,000 people who slip through our borders undetected each year. Despite congressional approval to hire 10,000 new border agents over five years, the administration only requested funding for 210 new hires for 2006. For 2007, the administration wants to hire 1,500 new border agents, a move in the right direction but still less than what was authorized by the December 2004 intelligence reform legislation.

BUSH: 'VETERANS SHOULD PAY MORE FOR HEALTH CARE': Veterans younger than 65 would pay up to two or three times more for the military's health care program "under a controversial set of fee increases" proposed in the latest budget. "About 3.1 million retirees and their families nationwide would be affected," the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

BUSH: 'TRUST ME -- TERRORISTS WILL NEVER TRY TO HIDE EXPLOSIVES IN AIRLINE CARGO': The Department of Homeland Security once again fails to address air cargo security, the Achilles heel of aviation security. The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) continues to devote a disproportionate share of its resources to passenger aviation security, in essence, fighting the last war. However, while adding significant amounts in new technology for air passenger checkpoints and in-line luggage screening, only 1 percent of TSA's 2007 $4.7 billion budget, or $45 million, is devoted to the air cargo that is carried in passenger aircraft. While passengers and their baggage are thoroughly scanned, the vast majority of air cargo is not, a vulnerability well known since September 11.

BUSH: 'I STILL WANT TO PRIVATIZE SOCIAL SECURITY': When President Bush first launched his campaign to privatize Social Security last year, just 39 percent of Americans approved of how he was handling the issue. A year later, that number has dropped to 35 percent. Apparently, Bush didn't get the message. "[T]his year, with no fanfare whatsoever, Bush stuck a big Social Security privatization plan in the federal budget proposal," Newsweek reports. Beginning in 2010, people could set up private accounts at a cost of $700 billion dollars over seven years, all funds diverted from Social Security tax revenues.

BUSH: 'DRINKING CLEAN WATER IS A PRIVILEGE': President Bush's budget would dramatically reduce community environment funding by 13 percent, with cuts proposed for the Environmental Protection Agency eight times larger than other agencies on average. A very short list of cuts: Clean Water State Revolving Fund (provides states with low-interest loans for infrastructure so they don't have to drink polluted water), Superfund Toxic Cleanup (funds clean-up of toxic waste sites), State and Tribal Air Grants (funds local community efforts to improve healthy air quality), Clean School Bus Initiative (completely eliminated). (More details here.)

BUSH: 'MY HIGHEST PRIORITY: TAX CUTS FOR THE WEALTHIEST': American Progress fellow Gene Sperling has spelled out Bush's budget narrative: "in the face of unpredictable, external, deficit-exploding forces beyond their control [like Katrina and Iraq], these brave budget warriors are successfully battling to return Washington to fiscal sanity." Actually, we could fund our legitimate priorities and reduce the deficit if not for Bush's tax cuts and his costly Medicare prescription drug benefit. If the tax cuts are made permanent, those two programs combined will cost more than $550 billion in 2011 and each year after.

Katrina – Will We Ever Be Ready?

Katrina – Will We Ever Be Ready?

from Talking Points -- a publication of the American Progress Action Fund

published February 13 , 2006


Yesterday, House investigators released a draft Katrina report titled, "A Failure of Initiative." The report pointed out information that the American people already know – "Katrina was a national failure, an abdication of the most solemn obligation to provide for the common welfare." While the administration loves to tout its national security credentials, the Bush security team failed horribly before, during, and after Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, despite plenty of advance warning. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT), who is hesitant to question Bush's national security credibility, said, "And next time, God forbid, it could be a terrorist attack, and there's not going to be a warning from the weather service.”

  • Katrina proved that the administration’s boasting on national security rings hollow. The Bush administration has often claimed it understands the importance of national security and is committed to protecting the American people. “The Bush White House has not been shy about its political use of an event, the 9/11 terrorist attacks," the Christian Science Monitor reports. As more findings are released, President Bush will have to prove that he is indeed up to the task of protecting America. The House’s Katrina report found that “America is still not ready for prime time."

  • More than four years later, the government has still not learned the lesson of 9/11. In the aftermath of 9/11, Bush promised that we would “learn every lesson of September the 11th.” Hurricane Katrina proved that not only had the administration not learned its lesson, but it still had a "pre-9/11 worldview." From a lack of communications among first responders and a shortage of qualified emergency personnel to a lack of funding for reconstruction efforts, Katrina exposed the harsh reality that America was not ready to handle a disaster – natural or manmade.

  • The Bush Homeland Security budget will make things worse, not better. Judging from the Bush administration’s homeland security budget submission last week, Secretary Michael Chertoff has not learned anything from his department’s inadequate response to Katrina, particularly its inability to work effectively with state and local officials. The Department of Homeland Security proposes to cut federal grants to cities and states by 26 percent. Particularly hard hit are grants to first responders. Katrina proved if you don’t study and learn from your mistakes, you are bound to commit them again. It seems the administration is well on its way.

To visit the Talking Points archives, please click here.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Faith in The Midst of No Answers

Great Faith
by Victoria Boyson

In our own human reasoning, it is easy to assume that a great man or woman of faith is one who readily receives answers to their prayers. We, in our human wisdom, congratulate their ability to "have faith" as being the reason their prayers are answered.  But it does not take great faith to trust God when all our prayers are being answered, does it?

You see, God is not a vending machine that you can put your quarters of faith in, push a button and out pops whatever you are believing for. It does not take great faith to believe God when all you ask for is promptly answered in your favor.

No, a truly great man or woman of faith is one who continues to trust God when they do not understand what He is doing - when God doesn't make sense.  God's ways are not our ways and He sees the bigger picture; we do not.  So, we are forced to trust a God we do not understand. We trust that He loves us and that He is good, even through He does not answer our prayers in the way that we would like Him to.  And the men and women of God who can do this truly have great faith.

Faith is not something we possess, but something that possesses us. Something that overtakes us in the darkness of night. True faith and trust in God can only be found in the night; when we cannot see except by faith. And that simple faith and trust is like a flash light.  It does not light the entire room so we may see all and know all, or so that we may have an understanding of why things happen the way they do.  No, faith in the night gives us only enough light to take the next step and then the next.

To not know where you are going nor where you will end up, but to continue to follow the Light we are given, will produce in us great faith and trust in God.  We may not understand what God is doing, but we trust that it is for our eternal good and for the eternal good of His kingdom. Like a soldier who has learned to take orders from his superior. He may not understand the orders, but it is not his duty to reason why the orders were given, but just to obey them.

Years ago when I was only sixteen, I lost my mother and younger brother in an automobile accident.  They were hit by a semi-truck in the fog of a cold March night.  My younger brother David was killed instantly. My mother Ellen died on the way to the hospital.

Nothing on earth could have prepared me for this devastating tragedy.  My whole world was changed in a moment.  How could God make sense out of this seemingly senseless tragedy? People ask me even now how I was able to cope with this terrible loss, and I simply do not know how except that God was with me then just as He is with me now.

For a long time after the accident many people tried to give me answers as to "why" this happened.  But none of the answers made sense to me.  How could a God who loved me from before my birth let something like this happen, and to two of the most loving people I have ever known? Yes, I had questions, but no answer made sense to me.

Many years later I learned that true faith in God was proven not by answers given, but by trusting and loving God in spite of having no answers. God has never told me why they died, and I don't know that He ever will, but I know that He loves me.  I no longer feel the need to search for answers, but cling to the one who knows me and loves me.  It is enough for me to know that He knows why it happened and I trust Him to take care of all that concerns me.

I know that this may sound too simple, trust me...it is not.  It took many years of struggle before I realized that no human answers would suffice and that I would receive no answer from heaven as yet.  The very essence of my faith was birthed out of not knowing, but still continuing to trust Him.

Even now, in the dark valleys of life, when my ability to trust is again threatened, questions and fears rush to my mind. It is then that I feel His immense presence and the grip of fear is loosened by His great love.  It is enough for me to trust in His great love. I know that in time when I am ready He will show me "why" things happen. But for now His love pulls me through.  It is enough for me to trust Him and it is then that I feel new faith fill my heart.


reprinted with by permission of Victoria Boyson, Inc.
Copyright (c) 2003-2006 All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture
quotations were taken from the NASB.

Monday, February 13, 2006

US Plans Massive Data Sweep

"The development of this type of data-mining technology has serious implications for the future of personal privacy," says Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists.
US Plans Massive Data Sweep
Read the entire article at:  http://www.commondreams.org/headlines06/0209-09.htm

US Plans Massive Data Sweep Little-known data-collection system could troll news, blogs, even e-mails.  The US government is developing a massive computer system that can collect huge amounts of data and, by linking far-flung information from blogs and e-mail to government records and intelligence reports, search for patterns of terrorist activity.

The system - parts of which are operational, parts of which are still under development - is already credited with helping to foil some plots.

It is the federal government's latest attempt to use broad data-collection and powerful analysis in the fight against terrorism.  But by delving deeply into the digital minutiae of American life, the program is also raising concerns that the government is intruding too deeply into citizens' privacy.

"We don't realize that, as we live our lives and make little choices, like buying groceries, buying on Amazon, Googling, we're leaving traces everywhere," says Lee Tien, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.  "We have an attitude that no one will connect all those dots.  But these programs are about connecting those dots - analyzing and aggregating them - in a way that we haven't thought about.  It's one of the underlying fundamental issues we have yet to come to grips with."

The core of this effort is a little-known system called Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE).

ADVISE is a research and development program within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), part of its three-year-old "Threat and Vulnerability, Testing and Assessment" portfolio.

The TVTA received nearly $50 million in federal funding this year.

DHS officials are circumspect when talking about ADVISE.  "I've heard of it," says Peter Sand, director of privacy technology.  "I don't know the actual status right now.  But if it's a system that's been discussed, then it's something we're involved in at some level."

A major part of ADVISE involves data-mining - or "dataveillance," as some call it.  It means sifting through data to look for patterns.   If a supermarket finds that customers who buy cider also tend to buy fresh-baked bread, it might group the two together.  To prevent fraud, credit-card issuers use data-mining to look for patterns of suspicious activity.

What sets ADVISE apart is its scope.

It would collect a vast array of corporate and public online information - from financial records to CNN news stories - and cross-reference it against US intelligence and law-enforcement records.  The system would then store it as "entities" - linked data about people, places, things, organizations, and events, according to a report summarizing a 2004 DHS conference in Alexandria, Va.

The storage requirements alone are huge - enough to retain information about 1 quadrillion entities, the report estimated.  If each entity were a penny, they would collectively form a cube a half-mile high - roughly double the height of the Empire State Building.

But ADVISE and related DHS technologies aim to do much more, according to Joseph Kielman, manager of the TVTA portfolio.

The key is not merely to identify terrorists, or sift for key words, but to identify critical patterns in data that illumine their motives and intentions, he wrote in a presentation at a November conference in Richland, Wash.

For example: Is a burst of Internet traffic between a few people the plotting of terrorists, or just bloggers arguing?   ADVISE algorithms would try to determine that before flagging the data pattern for a human analyst's review.

At least a few pieces of ADVISE are already operational.

Consider Starlight, which along with other "visualization" software tools can give human analysts a graphical view of data.  Viewing data in this way could reveal patterns not obvious in text or number form.

Understanding the relationships among people, organizations, places, and things - using social-behavior analysis and other techniques - is essential to going beyond mere data-mining to comprehensive "knowledge discovery in databases," Dr. Kielman wrote in his November report.

He declined to be interviewed for this article.

Starlight has already helped foil some terror plots, says Jim Thomas, one of its developers and director of the government's new National Visualization Analytics Center in Richland, Wash.

He can't elaborate because the cases are classified, he adds.

But "there's no question that the technology we've invented here at the lab has been used to protect our freedoms - and that's pretty cool."

As envisioned, ADVISE and its analytical tools would be used by other agencies to look for terrorists.

"All federal, state, local and private-sector security entities will be able to share and collaborate in real time with distributed data warehouses that will provide full support for analysis and action" for the ADVISE system, says the 2004 workshop report.

Yet the scope of ADVISE - its stage of development, cost, and most other details - is so obscure that critics say it poses a major privacy challenge.

"We just don't know enough about this technology, how it works, or what it is used for," says Marcia Hofmann of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington.

Even congressmen with direct oversight of DHS, who favor data mining, say they don't know enough about the program.

In 2002, news reports revealed that the Defense Department was working on Total Information Awareness, a project aimed at collecting and sifting vast amounts of personal and government data for clues to terrorism.

An uproar caused Congress to cancel the TIA program a year later.

ADVISE "looks very much like TIA," Mr. Tien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes in an e-mail.

"This sort of technology does protect against a real threat," says Jeffrey Ullman, professor emeritus of computer science at Stanford University.

"It isn't a bad idea, but you have to do it in a way that demonstrates its utility - and with provable privacy protection," says Latanya Sweeney, founder of the Data Privacy Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University.

Senator Feingold is among a handful of congressmen who have in the past sponsored legislation - unsuccessfully - to require federal agencies to report on data-mining programs and how they maintain privacy.

Without oversight and accountability, critics say, even well-intentioned counterterrorism programs could experience mission creep, having their purview expanded to include non- terrorists - or even political opponents or groups.

"The development of this type of data-mining technology has serious implications for the future of personal privacy," says Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists.

Summarized by Copernic Summarizer


Saturday, February 11, 2006

Sweden Plans to Be World's First Oil-Free Economy

Sweden Plans to Be World's First Oil-Free Economy
· 15-year limit set for switch to renewable energy
· Biofuels favoured over further nuclear power

by John Vidal
Published on Wednesday, February 8, 2006 by the Guardian / UK

Sweden is to take the biggest energy step of any advanced western economy by trying to wean itself off oil completely within 15 years - without building a new generation of nuclear power stations.

The attempt by the country of 9 million people to become the world's first practically oil-free economy is being planned by a committee of industrialists, academics, farmers, car makers, civil servants and others, who will report to parliament in several months.

The intention, the Swedish government said yesterday, is to replace all fossil fuels with renewables before climate change destroys economies and growing oil scarcity leads to huge new price rises.

Sweden, which was badly hit by the oil price rises in the 1970s, now gets almost all its electricity from nuclear and hydroelectric power, and relies on fossil fuels mainly for transport.

Almost all its heating has been converted in the past decade to schemes which distribute steam or hot water generated by geothermal energy or waste heat.

Iceland hopes by 2050 to power all its cars and boats with hydrogen made from electricity drawn from renewable resources, and Brazil intends to power 80% of its transport fleet with ethanol derived mainly from sugar cane within five years.

Last week George Bush surprised analysts by saying that the US was addicted to oil and should greatly reduce imports from the Middle East.

The US now plans a large increase in nuclear power.

Energy ministry officials in Sweden said they expected the oil committee to recommend further development of biofuels derived from its massive forests, and by expanding other renewable energies such as wind and wave power.

Summarized by Copernic Summarizer


Friday, February 10, 2006

Tips for Fighting Oil Addiction

This 12-Step Program Can Break U.S. Oil
by Michael Brune

Published on Monday, February 6, 2006 by the Madison Capital Times (Wisconsin) and on Commondreams.org http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0206-30.htm

Our president almost came clean in his State of the Union speech last week when he finally admitted that "America is addicted to oil." That addiction threatens our national security, our environmental health and our way of life.

It is true that our leaders are exhibiting the classic signs of an addiction denial, aggression, avoidance, blaming others and as a country we are falling far short of reaching our full potential.

America's stubborn dependence on oil erodes our bedrock values. For it, we will go to war, support unstable and undemocratic regimes, destabilize our climate, decimate our forests and parks, threaten the health of our children, and weaken our economy.

The president admitted to a national problem, but stopped well short of committing our country to a full recovery program. We already have the technology. What we desperately need is the courage to act now. It is time for nothing short of a national intervention, and a 12-step program to break America's oil addiction. Here's how:

• Step 1: Let's admit that we have a problem, and commit deeply and truthfully to a national recovery program to break our oil addiction. Transitioning to a clean energy economy will create millions of jobs, clean our air, protect our water supplies, our forests and our climate, and will help to build a safer and more secure world for us all. But breaking our addiction requires humility and an unwavering commitment to change at every level of society. No one gets a free ride anymore.

• Step 2: Separate oil and state. Every year, oil companies "invest" millions of dollars in political candidates. In turn, elected officials dole out more than $20 billion a year to prop up fossil fuel projects internationally. We must reduce the oil industry's influence over public governance and eliminate government handouts for dirty oil.

• Steps 3-6: Jump-start Detroit and redesign American mobility. The transportation sector accounts for more than two-thirds of all oil consumption in the U.S. Our passenger train system scrounges for funding in Washington while one out of every seven barrels of oil in the world is consumed on America's highways alone. Led by Ford Motor Co., the American automobile industry is driving in reverse. The average Ford vehicle gets worse gas mileage than the Model T did almost 100 years ago. Thomas Friedman is right the stability and very existence of the American automotive industry depends upon American automakers building affordable, fuel-efficient cars that all patriotic Americans can support. Pioneering engineers have already built plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and new companies are inventing super-efficient biofuels made from agricultural waste with no help from Detroit or Washington.

• Steps 7-8: Start a rooftop revolution and green the grid. California is enacting regulations to build one million homes with rooftop solar power, generating 3,000 megawatts of power. Studies show that solar energy supports up to 10 times more jobs than dirty fossil fuel energy. A green grid powered by the wind and the sun can recharge car batteries and help us kick our transportation oil habit.

• Steps 9-10: Wean to green and fund the future. Capital investment from the world's largest banks is the fuel in the engine, so to speak, of the oil-based economy. Through their investment decisions, large banks can either help to keep us hooked on oil, or rapidly steer us toward a clean energy future. Some banks, including Wall Street powerhouse Goldman Sachs, are leading the way, proving that it is indeed possible to do well by doing good.

• Step 11: Adopt a "low-carb" energy diet. Any comprehensive strategy to break our oil addiction must include aggressive measures to reduce energy consumption. A low-carbon energy diet will reduce energy costs and increase competitiveness for American businesses, lower emissions, and produce clean jobs for workers. Efficiency improvements in the last 30 years have doubled the amount of work we get from each barrel of oil. According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, current proven technologies can double oil efficiency again, for less money than would be required to buy the oil we save.

• Step 12: Vote. Could it be any clearer that we need responsible and visionary leaders at all levels of government?

Like a smoker who says he's going to quit someday even as he lights up another cigarette, the president offered little hope that he would actually break our country's oil addiction. It will take a lot more than a speech and a few research dollars to set us free from oil. Let's get to work.

Michael Brune is the executive director of Rainforest Action Network and serves as a founding board member of Oil Change International.

© 2006 The Capital Times

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

A Portrait in Courage & Grace

© William Coupon/CORBIS 1989 Posted by Picasa

Martin Luther King and Wife Coretta lead March
Martin Luther King holds hands with his wife Coretta Scott King as they embark on their 5-day march from Selma to Montgomery. March 1965 © Steve Schapiro/Corbis Posted by Picasa

Remembering Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King at Rally

This file photo, taken in Washington, D.C. on May 9, 1970 shows Mrs. Martin Luther King (Coretta Scott) flashing the peace sign as she attended an anti-war rally at the White House. She was one of over 100,000 demonstrators who attended the rally to protest the war in Vietnam and Cambodia. Image: © Benjamin E. "Gene" Forte/Corbis Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Virus Alert from TruthOrFiction.com -- Kama Sutra Worm Scheduled for Feb 3rd

From: Rich Buhler , TruthOrFiction.com
RE: Virus Alert

There are warnings about a computer virus that will be the first large viral
attack on the Internet of 2006 and the target date of its spread is February

It's being named the KAMA SUTRA WORM.

It's already been spreading but without announcing itself. Virus experts
say it is invading as many computers as possible then on February 3 is going
explode into a massive attack using all those computers as a base for
sending itself to as many other computers as possible. It is also
potentially very destructive and if it gets loose on a network, could cause

It is designed to affect PC's, not MAC's.

It arrives in an email with the subject lines "the best videoclip ever", or
"give me a kiss", or "school girl fantasies gone bad." If you open the
file, you are infected.

Many current viruses seek to harvest information from your computer such as
bank numbers, passwords, social security numbers, credit card numbers, etc.
This one, however, is intent on destruction. On the third of each month the
worm will try to disable your protection software such as firewall or
anti-virus programs. It will also, however, seek to delete various files
such as all Microsoft Office Documents.

Experts are recommending you make sure that you have good antivirus software
on your computer and that the virus definitions are up to date. Also, just
in case, backup your important documents before February 3.

Virus Alert from TruthOrFiction.com -- Kama Sutra Worm Scheduled for Feb 3rd

From: Rich Buhler , TruthOrFiction.com
RE: Virus Alert

There are warnings about a computer virus that will be the first large viral
attack on the Internet of 2006 and the target date of its spread is February

It's being named the KAMA SUTRA WORM.

It's already been spreading but without announcing itself. Virus experts
say it is invading as many computers as possible then on February 3 is going
explode into a massive attack using all those computers as a base for
sending itself to as many other computers as possible. It is also
potentially very destructive and if it gets loose on a network, could cause

It is designed to affect PC's, not MAC's.

It arrives in an email with the subject lines "the best videoclip ever", or
"give me a kiss", or "school girl fantasies gone bad." If you open the
file, you are infected.

Many current viruses seek to harvest information from your computer such as
bank numbers, passwords, social security numbers, credit card numbers, etc.
This one, however, is intent on destruction. On the third of each month the
worm will try to disable your protection software such as firewall or
anti-virus programs. It will also, however, seek to delete various files
such as all Microsoft Office Documents.

Experts are recommending you make sure that you have good antivirus software
on your computer and that the virus definitions are up to date. Also, just
in case, backup your important documents before February 3.