Thursday, December 29, 2005

Got Milk? You May Already Have The Cookies

Visitors to the NSA's website may have received more than just information about the agency. It seems that computer files or cookies were being placed on visitor's computers. Cookies are used to track web surfing. Such placement is illegal.

NYT Link

By The Associated Press The National Security Agency's Internet site has been placing files on visitors' computers that can track their Web surfing activity despite strict federal rules banning most files of that type.

The files, known as cookies, disappeared after a privacy activist complained and The Associated Press made inquiries this week. Agency officials acknowledged yesterday that they had made a mistake.

So it was only a mistake. No problem. Well, how about this, from the introduction to the NSA from the agency's own site:

NSA Link

The National Security Agency/Central Security Service is America’s cryptologic organization. It coordinates, directs, and performs highly specialized activities to protect U.S. government information systems and produce foreign signals intelligence information. A high technology organization, NSA is on the frontiers of communications and data processing. It is also one of the most important centers of foreign language analysis and research within the government.

Wow, even as an attorney I'm impressed by that verbiage. But being so overwhelmingly important, shouldn't the agency have had some idea that they were placing upon unsuspecting visitors a cookie with a lifespan lasting until 2035!!!

Until Tuesday, the N.S.A. site created two cookie files that do not expire until 2035.

These so-called persistent cookies were made illegal in 2003 but apparently the NSA didn't get the memo. (So much beauracracy, so little time.)

In a 2003 memorandum, the Office of Management and Budget at the White House prohibited federal agencies from using persistent cookies - those that are not automatically deleted right away - unless there is a "compelling need."

A senior official must sign off on any such use, and an agency that uses them must disclose and detail their use in its privacy policy.

Oh wait, guidelines on such cookies actually go back to 2000, but maybe the NSA didn't get that memo either.

The government first issued strict rules on cookies in 2000 after disclosures that the White House drug policy office had used them to track computer users viewing its online antidrug advertising. Even a year later, a Congressional study found 300 cookies still on the Web sites of 23 agencies.

But if you still aren't convinced that the NSA has our best interests at heart, take a look at the NSA kid's page. (Yes, you read that right.)

NSA kid's page

And an excerpt from said page:

You can also learn about the National Security Agency/Central Security Service - they’re America’s real codemakers and codebreakers. Our Nation’s leaders and warfighters count on the technology and information they get from NSA/CSS to get their jobs done. Without NSA/CSS, they wouldn’t be able to talk to one another without the bad guys listening and they wouldn’t be able to figure out what the bad guys were planning.

So who are the bad guys here?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Assault On The Middle Class: Cutting Student Loans

There can be little doubt that public education has transformed our society.
Perhaps most notable amongst the changes wrought is the rise of the vast middle

Since the time following World War II, increased access to higher education has
made further profound changes. Federal loans have facilitated access to college and made available to many what was once enjoyed only by a select few. Now, that access may become once again restricted. The assault on the middle class is well under way.

NYT Link

WASHINGTON, Dec. 21 - Nearly one-third of all the savings in the
final budget bill comes from student aid
, the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday. ...

Under the bill, college students would pay higher interest rates on loans. ...

The rate would be fixed at 6.8 percent for students and 8.5 percent for parents. The current rates, which vary with market conditions, are several percentage points below those levels.

There is disagreement upon the impact this legislation will have. Senator Frist putting on his positive spin:

The Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, said the new support for math and science education would increase America's ability to compete in a global economy.

"China and India are generating scientists and engineers at a furious pace while America lags dangerously behind," Mr. Frist said.

But Senator Kennedy views things a tad differently:

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, said the math and science program would abandon the Pell grant principle that the neediest students should receive the most help.

"Under this proposal," Mr. Kennedy said, "a single mother who can attend college only part time because she has to work 40 hours a week to put food on the table will not be eligible for a penny in new grant aid."

But there can be little, if any, disagreement about the following disturbing provisions:

Even as it makes those cuts, Congress is creating a new program for students from low-income families who are eligible for Pell grants. The amount of aid will not be based on financial need. To qualify, students would have to be United States citizens, have completed "a rigorous secondary school program of study" and be taking courses full time at a "degree-granting institution of higher education."

The student would have to maintain "a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.0." Juniors and seniors will be eligible only if they have declared a major in the physical or life sciences, computer science, mathematics, technology, engineering or a foreign language deemed critical to national security.

So once again, national security rears its ugly head as justification for a program change. Let paranoia ring. I'm surprised that Osama and 9/11 weren't mentioned directly.

And then there's this:

...And the Education Department will work with the Internal Revenue Service to ferret out students and parents who underreport incomes on financial aid applications.

Those warm and fuzzy wingnuts.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Proposed Medicaid Changes: Screwing The Neediest

The House and Senate must attempt to resolve their differences on changes to Medicaid evident in their respective bills.  The House bill would make changes that would have a large and lasting impact.  The Senate version would conserve (and possibly enhance )this increasingly important program.


But senators of both parties, advocates for poor people and public health groups, including the March of Dimes and the American Academy of Pediatrics, oppose many provisions of the House bill. The changes, they say, would harm children and disabled people of all ages who rely on Medicaid.

The Senate bill would keep benefits intact. It would expand Medicaid, by allowing parents of severely disabled children to buy coverage and by stepping up efforts to enroll people already eligible.

The House bill would put a greater burden on those covered.  In certain cases, providers could, apparently, refuse treatement.

The House bill makes three major changes:

States could charge premiums and higher co-payments for a wide range of Medicaid benefits, including prescription drugs, doctors' services and hospital care.

States could scale back benefits, capping or eliminating coverage for services now guaranteed by federal law.

¶States could end Medicaid coverage for people who failed to pay premiums for 60 days or more. Pharmacists could refuse to fill prescriptions, and doctors and hospitals could deny services, for Medicaid recipients who did not make the required co-payments.

This is a 180 degree change from current law under which provision of services can't be denied.  The proposed changes are estimated to have an impact upon millions of individuals, many of them children.  Currently, the law forbids co-payments for those under age 18.    

In a detailed analysis of the House bill, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that 70,000 to 110,000 people would lose Medicaid coverage for failure to pay premiums. It estimated that states would establish co-payments for 11 million Medicaid recipients, half of them children, and increase existing co-payments for an additional 6 million people.

"In sum," the budget office said, "we expect that about 17 million people - 27 percent of Medicaid enrollees - would ultimately be affected by the cost-sharing provisions of the bill." ...

And the Democrats, they're screaming about this, right?  Well,...

Democrats, who are generally opposed to the House and Senate budget bills, are excluded from the current negotiations. The chief negotiators on Medicaid are Representative Joe L. Barton of Texas and Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, both Republicans.

So, yes, let's kick people when they're down.  Make them responsible, even if they are desperate.

Mr. Barton, the chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said that higher co-payments were needed to "encourage personal responsibility" among Medicaid beneficiaries.

But the bottom line here is that the co-payments are likely to discourage the use of services.

In 2003, when Oregon expanded its Medicaid program, it received federal permission to charge premiums of $6 to $20 a month for certain new beneficiaries. It charged co-payments of $5 for a doctor's office visit, $2 or $3 for most prescription drugs, and $15 for some medicines.

Tina D. Edlund, research manager at the Oregon Office for Health Policy and Research, said: "The co-payments discouraged both appropriate and inappropriate use of services. Of the 90,000 people who were subject to premiums, 40,000 dropped off the rolls, and the poorest of the poor were disproportionately affected."

"We thought the premiums were relatively small," Ms. Edlund said, "but for people with very low incomes, they proved to be significant."

Senator Grassley on the far less harsh senate bill:

"It's consistent with the compassionate conservative agenda advanced by the president," said Mr. Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

It's good to know that there is a compassionate conservative agenda, I assumed that it was only the subject of myth.

Here is a link to bill H.R.4241:


Here is a link to a story about the new AARP campaign against Medicaid changes:


Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Hidden Cost Of Iraq

In a further demonstration of the useless stupidity that is the Iraqi invasion, a 43 year old single mother has been recalled to active duty.


The single mother from Medford has been unexpectedly pulled from the inactive Army reserve and ordered to report for active duty by Feb. 5.  

As Christmas nears, Arndt, 43, is trying to sell the Medford home she says she will not be able to keep on an Army salary of approximately $60,000 a year, and is searching for someone to care for her 13-year-old son, Shane. She expects to train for an 18-month tour of duty that could take her to Iraq or Afghanistan.

She said she never saw her return to active duty as a possibility.  "Never in a million years," she said.

And the reason that this was so unexpected?  Ms.Arndt has been out of active duty since the 1980s.

Arndt, a respiratory therapist at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center and a small-business owner, has been called back to active status after 20 years as a reservist. She spent four years of active duty in the Army in the 1980s based in Germany prior to becoming "an individual mobilization augmentee reservist" -- which eequired her to fill in for regular duty soldiers called to overseas duty.

This was "necessitated" by the increasingly difficult task of recruiting as opinion continues to turn against the war.  (Or illegal invasion, as I prefer to say.)

But it is her 13 year old son who will bear the unseen price here.

Her return to active duty will leave her teenage son without a parent for 18 months, she said, and cost her more than $100,000 in income during that time. ...

Arndt, who is also appealing her orders, is far from alone. Almost 8 percent of all current Army personnel -- and 13.8 percent of female soldiers -- are single parents, the officials said.

Arndt, who never married, at first arranged to have Shane live with her sister. But those plans are in danger of falling through, she said, because of family problems. She said her son's emotional well-being

worries her the most.

"He says, 'My father's not here, you're not here, why should I be here?'" Arndt said. "His life as he knows it is gone."

And related to our presence in Iraq, former President Carter had this to say:


WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) Former President Jimmy Carter said he doubts whether the U.S. military will ever completely pull out of Iraq.

Carter's comments came Tuesday during a brief visit at the U.S. Military Academy where he signed copies of his newest book for West Point cadets.  The former president said he believes America will have a major military presence in Iraq for decades to come. ...

``My belief, and it may be erroneous ... is that the top leadership in this country intends 20 years from now, 50 years from now, we'll still have a major military presence in Iraq.''

50 years?!  Or at least until the oil runs out.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Harm On The Range

Even today, southern Utah is comprised of mostly open space, a fascinating otherworldly landscape of fantastic rock forms punctuated by a few small towns. Located here are 5 national parks, 1 national monument and several state parks. Accordingly, tourism has emerged as the major industry in this picturesque dry country region. But some refuse to recognize this and continue to cling to old and outdated ways.

Those old ways include ranching, the subject of a long-standing dispute. These are small-scale ranches maintained in an industry of decreasing economic impact. Typically though, these desert terrain ranches are too small to offer sufficient grazing for the herds. As such, grazing rights for the extensive public lands are a desirable commodity. But the crusted desert soils are fragile and provide for poor grazing with their sparse plant growth.

In the interest of ending the ravages of grazing and preserving the region's unique terrain, The Grand Canyon Trust an evironmental group based in Arizona, has been gradually purchasing and retiring grazing rights for a period of years.


So, seven years ago an environmental group based in Arizona, the Grand Canyon Trust, began paying ranchers to give up their grazing rights when their herds, or bank accounts, had failed to thrive. By this fall, the trust had spent more than $1 million to end grazing on more than 400,000 acres.

But some feel that ranching must take precedence over preservation despite the benefit to the economic engine that is local tourism.

Michael E. Noel, a former Bureau of Land Management employee who now is a Republican state representative from southern Utah, led the charge to roll back agreements the trust had forged. Mr. Noel said the loss of the grazing allotments would hurt ranching, which would in turn deprive the area's young people of the character-building chance to work on the land.

"Yes, it's a free market to buy and sell," Mr. Noel said recently. "But if you buy it, you use it."

By retiring the lands, he said, the trust is reneging on an implicit agreement, and "if we allow that to occur, we go down the path of eliminating all grazing on public lands."

Interestingly enough, the manager of the 1.7 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument agrees with the strategy pursued by the trust.

Dave Hunsaker, the manager of the national monument, an area of 1.7 million acres, relies on the land bureau's experts to settle that issue.

"The idea of grazing decisions is to achieve rangeland health objectives, No. 1," Mr. Hunsaker said. "No. 2, it is to provide stability to those ranching operations on the monument right now.

"The Grand Canyon Trust," he said, "can provide us flexibility for the future."

After a recent sale to the trust of grazing rights for some 25,000 acres, Mr.Noel and the Kane County Commission sprang into action.

Brent Robinson sold the 25,000-acre Clark Bench grazing allotment to a trust subsidiary in 2000, though he retains a basic distrust of environmentalists. Mr. Robinson said his intention was "to scale down a little bit" his herd of 300 head, a sizable herd in these parts.

But Mr. Noel and members of the Kane County commission were concerned enough about the potential retirement of the Clark Bench acreage that they sought out ranchers to appeal the bureau's decision to let Mr. Hedden's group buy it and to seek the allotment for themselves.

"Most of the herds here are very small," Mr. Noel said. "But because the income in this area is very low, those 25 to 30 cows are what make the difference between being able to really provide for family that extra little thing. They can buy a pickup truck or send a kid to college or on a Mormon mission."

One might be prompted to believe that ranching is still a highly profitable and thus highly desirable industry in the region. One would be wrong.

Ranching is a small and declining part of the economy of Kane and its northern neighbor, Garfield County. In several recent years, the total ranching income was in negative numbers in one county or the other. But Kane officials, after some effort, found people to seek the retired grazing permits for themselves.

And whom you ask is one of the ranchers seeking to purchase the Clark Bench rights and how will this be financed?

Trevor Stewart, one of the ranchers seeking the Clark Bench allotment, is Mr. Noel's son-in-law. Mr. Noel said he was able to get $50,000 from the state to support Kane County when it joined Mr. Stewart's suit.

So, Kane county would rather tear up delicate dry country terrain, undermine economically important local tourism and subsidize a dying/dead industry?

As a result, the Grand Canyon Trust has decided to discontinue further activities in Utah. But these activities have produced positive results.

The eight-year process, however, did result in some cross-pollination. As ranchers like Mr. Robinson have warily shed suspicions and made common cause with an environmental group, the trust itself is gingerly adopting ranching to achieve conservation goals.

The purchase of the Kane and Two-Mile Ranches north of Grand Canyon National Park - 1,000 acres of land and grazing allotments on an additional 830,000 acres - was recently completed by the Grand Canyon Trust and the Conservation Fund, based in Arlington, Va. Instead of retiring the allotments, they will use them, though for fewer head of cattle.

But Bill Hedden has apparently been left with a bad taste in his mouth.

"We've been out there dealing with this," he said. "We solved the problems of the B.L.M., and we're hurting the Kane County economy by buying out guys who are going bankrupt? I don't get it."

Of course this is just the latest battle in the long-standing war between the preservationists/environmentalists and those seeking to keep public lands available for a variety of private uses. For an extensive examination of these disputes, I highly recommend The Redrock Chronicles, a dusty copy of which still sits on my nightstand.


Author: Watkins, T. H.
Title: The Redrock Chronicles: Saving Wild Utah
Series: Center Books on Space, Place, and Time
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Year: 2000
Format: hc & pbk; 176 pp., maps & photos
Price: $59.95 hc; $26.00 pbk

The late T. H. Watkins focuses on southern Utah's unprotected land in a loving testament to its warps and tangles of rock and sky. Combining history, geography, and photography, the author reports the full story of the region--from its violent geologic beginnings to the coming (and going) of pre-Puebloan peoples whose drawings still adorn rocks and caves there, from the Mormon settlement of the 1840s and 1850s to the great uranium boom of the 1950s, from the beginning of tourism and parkland protection in the 1930s to today's controversial movement to preserve millions of acres of wild Utah land in the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Gand Canyon Trust

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Iraqi Press Paid To Publish US Propaganda

Previously, the Bush administration has distributed video and news stories in the US that have run without identification of their source.  Furthermore, journalists have been paid to promote Bush policies.  The GAO deemed these practices to be covert propaganda.

Now it has been disclosed that the US military has been paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by American servicepeople.,0,5645587.story?coll=ny-top-headlines

WASHINGTON -- As part of an information offensive in Iraq, the U.S. military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by American troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq.

The articles, written by U.S. military "information operations" troops, are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers with the help of a defense contractor, according to U.S. military officials and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

The intent is to have the stories perceived as unbiased while actually only presenting some of the relevant facts. (principles of good journalism be damned.)

Many of the articles are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists. The stories trumpet the work of U.S. and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents and tout U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country.  Though the articles are basically factual, they present only one side of events and omit information that might reflect poorly on the U.S. or Iraqi governments, officials said. Records and interviews indicate that the U.S. has paid Iraqi newspapers to run dozens of such articles, with headlines such as "Iraqis Insist on Living Despite Terrorism," since the effort began this year.

So how exactly does this dovetail with the democratic government that the US is supposedly facilitating?  Wouldn't a free press play a critical role?  Well, maybe not.

One of the military officials said that, as part of a psychological operations campaign that has intensified over the last year, the task force also had purchased an Iraqi newspaper and taken control of a radio station, and was using them to channel pro-American messages to the Iraqi public. Neither is identified as a military mouthpiece.

Perhaps they can get Fox to help with management. </snark> And if this is illegal, some basis for justifying it is always available.

U.S. law forbids the military from carrying out psychological operations or planting propaganda through American media outlets. Yet several officials said that given the globalization of media driven by the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle, the Pentagon's efforts were carried out with the knowledge that coverage in the foreign press inevitably "bleeds" into the Western media and influences coverage in U.S. news outlets.

Huh?  So planted stories from abroad will get into western media and then influence western readers too.  A bonus in that US media will subsequently cover the stories and thereby circumvent the relevant law.

Several outside companies have been paid for services related to carrying out these "strategic communications".  One of these is the Lincoln Group (formerly "Iraqex").  Lincoln Group, in addition to its contract to do work in Iraq, has been given another major agreement.

Besides its contract with the military in Iraq, Lincoln Group this year won a major contract with U.S. Special Operations Command, based in Tampa, to develop a strategic communications campaign in concert with special operations troops stationed around the globe.  The contract is worth up to $100 million over five years, although U.S. military officials said they doubted the Pentagon would

spend the full amount of the contract.

Who knew that biased news stories could be worth so much?

And here's a nice comforting statement from the Lincoln Group site:

Across a wide variety of issues, from governance to economic development, our professionals work every day of the year in some of the most inhospitable environments in order to get your message communicated effectively.

But the money quote here is by Abdul Zahra Zaki of the newspaper Al Mada.

Zaki said that if his cash-strapped paper had known that these stories were from the U.S. government, he would have "charged much, much more" to publish them.

Well spoken, no?