Universe's Not-So-Missing Mass ScienceDaily (May 24, 2011) — A Monash student has made a breakthrough in the field of astrophysics, discovering what has until now been described as the Universe's 'missing mass'. Amelia Fraser-McKelvie, working within a team at the Monash School of Physics, conducted a targeted X-ray search for the matter and within just three months found it -- or at least some of it.
What makes the discovery all the more noteworthy is the fact that Ms Fraser-McKelvie is not a career researcher, or even studying at a postgraduate level. She is a 22-year-old undergraduate Aerospace Engineering/Science student who pinpointed the missing mass during a summer scholarship, working with two astrophysicists at the School of Physics, Dr Kevin Pimbblet and Dr Jasmina Lazendic-Galloway. The School of Physics put out a call for students interested in a six-week paid astrophysics research internship during a recent vacation period, and chose Ms Fraser-McKelvie from a large number of applicants. Dr Pimbblet, lecturer in the School of Physics put the magnitude of the discovery in context by explaining that scientists had been hunting for the Universe's missing mass for decades. "It was thought from a theoretical viewpoint that there should be about double the amount of matter in the local Universe compared to what was observed. It was predicted that the majority of this missing mass should be located in large-scale cosmic structures called filaments -- a bit like thick shoelaces," said Dr Pimbblet.
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110524094515.htm Astrophysicists also predicted that the mass would be low in density, but high in temperature -- approximately one million degrees Celsius. This meant that, in theory, the matter should have been observable at X-ray wavelengths. Amelia Fraser-McKelvie's discovery has proved that prediction correct. Ms Fraser-McKelvie said the 'Eureka moment' came when Dr Lazendic-Galloway closely examined the data they had collected. "Using her expert knowledge in the X-ray astronomy field, Jasmina reanalysed our results to find that we had in fact detected the filaments in our data, where previously we believed we had not." X-ray observations provide important information about physical properties of large-scale structures, which can help astrophysicists better understand their true nature. Until now, they had been making deductions based only on numerical models, so the discovery is a huge step forward in determining what amount of mass is actually contained within filaments. Still a year away from undertaking her Honours year (which she will complete under the supervision of Dr Pimbblet), Ms Fraser-McKelvie is being hailed as one of Australia's most exciting young students. Her work has been published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. "Being a published author is very exciting for me, and something I could never have achieved without the help of both Kevin and Jasmina. Their passion and commitment for this project ensured the great result and I am very thankful to them for all the help they have given me and time they have invested," said Ms Fraser-McKelvie. Dr Pimbblet said that he had under his tuition a very talented student who excelled in performing the breakthrough research. "She has managed to get a refereed publication accepted by one of the highest ranking astronomy journals in the world as a result of her endeavours. I cannot underscore enough what a terrific achievement this is. We will use this research as a science driver for future telescopes that are being planned, such as the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder, which is being built in outback Western Australian."
Is Natural Gas Really Worse Than Coal? A Case of Activist Science Versus Real Science?
Ronald Bailey | May 26, 2011
Cornell University environmental biologist Robert Howarth led a team of researchers that put together and published an article in Climatic Change back in April that claimed natural gas produced by means of hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) is worse than burning coal when it comes to man-made warming of the atmosphere. The argument turns on the fact that a molecule of methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide.
Howarth and his team made some highly contestable number jiggering with methane's over-all global warming potential (GWP) and estimates about how much methane escapes from wells and pipelines into the atmosphere. Climatologists generally consider the effect of methane over a 100 year period, but Howarth's team decided to use a 20-year period. This considerably boosts methane's near-term GWP from the more usual 25 times that of carbon dioxide to more than 105 times. In addition, Howarth uses very dodgy data with regard to just how much methane escapes into the atmosphere.
Now the Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory has done a life cycle analysis of gas versus coal and comes to a very different conclusion with regard to their effects on climate change:
Average natural gas baseload power generation has a life cycle GWP 50 percent lower (emphasis added) than average coal baseload power generation on a 20-year time horizon.
So even accepting Howarth's controversial 20-year time horizon, natural gas is much better than coal. This is basically the conclusion that most analysts had reached for years now. Never mind, the damage is done. Funds will be wasted on unnecessary research and regulations.
I cannot prove it, but I am beginning to get scared that Howarth's paper is an example of a growing trend in politicized sciences. When the herd of independent minds that constitutes the environmental community decides something is "bad," some activist scientist (motivated by the best of intentions I am sure) will step into the breach to cobble together a paper in support that foregone conclusion. Peer review appears to be powerless before the pressure of this kind of groupthink.
By Conn Carroll Created May 24 2011 - 4:26pm The truth behind Chrysler’s fake auto bailout pay back
It is not every day that the White House and Democratic National Committee celebrate a supposedly private company’s debt restructuring plan, but such is the marriage of big government and big business under the Obama administration. The New York Times reports: “Chrysler said Tuesday that it had paid back $7.6 billion in loans from the American and Canadian governments, marking another significant step in the revival of the company, the smallest of the Detroit automakers.”
But as The Truth About Cars reports, the loan pay back is just another Obama con job:
Back in November of 2009, when GM announced that it would repay its government loans, it didn’t take much investigation to realize that The General was simply shuffling government money from one pocket to the other and that true “payback” was still a ways off. … And now that our government finds itself “contemplating a runaway deficit and getting rid of its 8 percent of Chrysler’s equity,” would you believe that a similar federal money-shuffle is under way? Believe it.
American taxpayers have already spent more than $13 billion bailing out Chrysler. The Obama administration already forgave more than $4 billion of that debt when the company filed for bankruptcy in 2009. Taxpayers are never getting that money back. But how is Chrysler now paying off the rest of the $7.6 billion they owe the Treasury Department?
The Obama administration’s bailout agreement with Fiat gave the Italian car company a “Incremental Call Option” that allows it to buy up to 16% of Chrysler stock at a reduced price. But in order to exercise the option, Fiat had to first pay back at least $3.5 billion of its loan to the Treasury Department. But Fiat was having trouble getting private banks to lend it the money. Enter Obama Energy Secretary Steven Chu who has signaled that he will approve a fuel-efficient vehicle loan to Chrysler for … wait for it … $3.5 billion. TTAC comments:
Now, technically the DOE loan program is supposed to be used for specific, qualifying retooling projects, so Fiat can’t literally take the DOE money and use it to pay back the government loans. But freeing up $3.5b in capital that would otherwise be spent on retooling with low-cost loans will make it infinitely easier for Chrysler to secure the $3.5b in debt refinancing it needs. And, in light of the GAO’s pointed criticisms of the DOE loan program’s fairness and transparency, it’s hard to overlook the coincidental nature of Chrysler’s need for $3.5b and the government’s allocation of extra funds to apparently guarantee a low cost loan to Chrysler for precisely the same amount. After all, we’ve seen this movie before..
So, to recap, the Obama Energy Department is loaning a foreign car company $3.5 billion so that it can pay the Treasury Department $7.6 billion even though American taxpayers spent $13 billion to save an American car company that is currently only worth $5 billion.
Oh, and Obama plans to make this “success” a centerpiece of his 2012 campaign.
Oh my goodness. The thesis I've been hammering on in this thread--US drug policy has failed by any sane standard--has not been seriously challenged by any post herein. We've been treated to equivocation, tail chasing, law and order chest thrumming, blamed the symptoms for the disease, and all manner of other sophistry, but NOTHING posted in this thread has come close to causing me to rethink the proposition that our drug policy is the rankest kind of counterproductive folly, and I expect I am not alone in that belief.
So here we have a couple of sexagenarians on social security with no insurance dealing with what appears to be a terminal disease and contending with these sad circumstances by planting an herb that has been used medicinally for thousands of years and the best you got is that these folks of little means should move out of state or suck it up and do the time? For real? This, in your opinion, conforms with the protect and serve ethic? Think the nation's founders would give this travesty a thumbs up? There have been a lot of jurisdictions with a lot of stupid laws--say the eugenic folly foisted by progressive forbearers--would you back all of them as long as they are on the books or does there come a time when rational examination of costs, benefits, results and impact on our humanity suggests that perhaps a policy with no demonstrable upside should be, oh I dunno, reassessed?
There have been folks on this list who have presented global warming as a issue so dire that only policies that would return this nation to a pre-industrial age can save us and no amount of evidence to the contrary caused them to reassess their Luddite proscriptions. There are others who think world opinion bears so much weight that Israel should return to pre-'67 borders despite the fact they are surrounded by sworn enemies committed to their national destruction that would then exploit that return to accomplish what they've never forsworn, yet no argument against national suicide sways them, either. And then there's you who has been shown the unmitigated stupidity of our current anti-drug crusade yet continues to insists against all evidence that this is the Big Muddy in which we must continue to wade. Is this the company you really want to be counted among?
I guess it's time to make fun of Libertarian impotence again, or launch another appeal on the behalf of the kids made drug orphans and wards by the policies of the state, or toss out a one liner about some other substance issue dealt with by another state in another time that has little bearing on current discussion, or do an internet dump, or just generally behave so didactically that it's easier to avoid the conversation than to deal with another lap around an unproductive track. But should you do any or all the fact remains that current US drug policy has utterly failed by any sane measure, a thesis you have yet to address to any successful degree.
Don't forget all those horrific counter-terrorism efforts intended to prevent religious activists from using plutonium as an aspect of their belief system. Plutonium is NATURAL, and thus incapible of doing anything bad.
Almost posted this in both the cognitive dissonance of the right, and left's threads:
About the Authors Donald Boudreaux is professor of economics at George Mason University, a former FEE president, and the author of Globalization. He is the winner of the 2009 Thomas Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties (general category). ... See All Posts by This Author
Thoughts on Freedom | Donald J. Boudreaux Stop the Bad Guys June 2011 • Volume: 61 • Issue: 5 • Print This Post • 0 comments It’s not too much of a simplification to say that modern American conservatives believe the national government to be ignorant, bumbling, and corrupt when it meddles in the U.S. economy, but sagacious, sure-footed, and righteous when it meddles in foreign-government affairs.
Nor are the boundaries of acceptable simplification breached by saying that modern American “liberals” believe the national government to be sagacious, sure-footed, and righteous when it meddles in the U.S. economy, but ignorant, bumbling, and corrupt when it meddles in foreign-government affairs.
This striking contradiction in political viewpoints has not, of course, gone unnoticed.
I was prompted to ponder this contradiction not long ago after I read an op-ed in the Washington Post by the neoconservative William Kristol calling on Uncle Sam to attempt to influence the outcomes of the recent popular uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. My ponderings produced a hypothesis: Modern conservatives and “liberals” are obsessively fixated on bad guys (just different ones).
For both conservatives and “liberals” the world is full of problems caused by bad actors—greedy, heartless, power-hungry autocrats who deploy illegitimately acquired power to trample the rights and livelihoods of the masses. Ordinary men and women seek liberation from these tyrants, but—being ordinary and oppressed—the typical person cannot escape the overlords’ predation without help. Their liberation requires forceful intervention by well-meaning and courageous outsiders.
For “liberals” the oppressed masses consist of workers and the poor, and the oligarchs who do the oppressing are business people and private corporations. What encourages this oppression are free markets and their accompanying doctrine of nonintervention by government into the economy.
However, contrary to the “liberals,” nonintervention rests on at least three truths: First, the complexities of modern economies are so great, and hard to discern, that it is absurdly fanciful to suppose that government officials can intervene without causing more harm than good. Even the most well-meaning government is akin to a bull in a china shop: Out of its natural element, even government’s most careful actions will be so sweeping and awkward that the net result will be unintentionally destructive.
Second, even if economic intervention begins with the best of motives, it degenerates into a process of transferring wealth from the politically powerless to the politically powerful. The interventions continue to sport noble names (such as the “Great Society programs” and the “Fair Labor Standards Act”) and to be marketed as heroic efforts to defend the weak against the strong. But these, however, are nothing more than cynical and disingenuous political marketing efforts aimed at hiding from the general public the actual, unsavory consequences of these interventions.
Third, many situations that appear to well-meaning outsiders to be so undesirable that someone simply must intervene to correct them are understood by many of the people most closely affected by these situations to be superior to likely alternatives.
“Unequal income distribution” is perhaps the foremost such situation. While most “liberals” are obsessed with the “distribution” of income and believe that people of modest means must be especially disturbed by the fact that some other people earn more than they earn, in fact the typical American of modest means is far less bothered by “unequal” income “distribution” than are members of the “liberal” academy and punditry. This latter fact only further confirms to the “liberal” mind that ordinary Americans need third-party intervention to save them from their own naiveté; ordinary Americans just don’t know what glories they are denying themselves by acquiescing in the prevailing economic power structure.
Modern “liberals” dismiss these three objections to economic intervention as being fanciful excuses used by the economically powerful—and, even worse, also by the economically naive free-market faithful—to provide (flimsy) intellectual cover for predations by capitalist bad guys. The realistic assessments by modern “liberals” indicate to them that economic intervention is necessary and righteous.
A nearly identical debate plays out on the foreign-policy front, but with the sides switched.
For modern American conservatives the oppressed masses consist of foreign peoples yearning for American-style freedom and political franchise. But these unfortunate foreigners are oppressed by oligarchs who happen to control their governments. “Liberals” (and liberals) who adhere to a doctrine of U.S. government nonintervention in foreign affairs raise the same three objections that conservatives (and liberals) raise against government intervention in the economy.
First, the complexities of foreign governments’ relationships with their citizens are so great and hard to discern that it is absurdly fanciful to suppose that Uncle Sam can intervene without causing more harm than good. Even the most well-meaning intervention is akin to a bull in a china shop: Out of its natural element, even Uncle Sam’s most careful actions will be so sweeping and awkward that the net result will be unintentionally destructive.
Second, even if foreign intervention begins with the best of motives, it degenerates into a process of transferring wealth from the politically powerless to the politically powerful. The interventions continue to enjoy noble names (such as “Operation Iraqi Freedom”) and to be marketed as heroic efforts to defend the weak against the strong. But these, however, are nothing more than cynical and disingenuous political marketing efforts aimed at hiding from the general public the actual, unsavory consequences of these interventions in which corporations such as Halliburton and Blackwater rake in huge, undeserved profits at the expense of the American taxpayer and the foreign populations ostensibly being helped.
Third, many situations that appear to well-meaning outsiders to be so undesirable that someone simply must intervene are understood by many of the people most closely affected by these situations to be superior to likely alternatives. As oppressive as Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime genuinely was, it’s not at all clear that merely disposing of this particular bad guy has liberated Iraqis from oppression. Saddam’s rule was very much a result—and certainly not the principal cause—of Iraq’s anti-liberal culture and dysfunctional social institutions, not to mention earlier U.S. intervention.
Foreign countries’ political, economic, and social institutions are too complex and too deeply rooted in unique histories to be adequately grasped by American politicians and military leaders. Therefore American intervention—which is inevitably ham-fisted—adds to this mix only confusion and turmoil.
The two kinds of intervention situations aren’t analogous in all details; differences exist. But these differences are small when compared to the similarities. “Liberals’” confidence that domestic markets can be improved by battalions of bureaucrats charged with keeping bad guys in line is surprisingly similar to conservatives’ confidence that the welfare of foreigners can be improved by battalions of U.S. military troops charged with keeping bad guys in line.
Excerpts, along with an astute comment, via Of Arms & the Law blog:
Guns tracing to Mexico POSTED BY DAVID HARDY · 24 MAY 2011 05:39 PM Colby Goodman, of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has an interesting study. A few excerpts:
"While ATF has some information on firearms recovered in Mexico, a total of 69,808 firearms as of May 2010, ATF agents say they can use only about eight percent of Mexico’s firearm trace requests to initiate investigations, in part because many of the trace requests lack basic identification data and were purchased in the United States more than five years ago. The U.S. government also faces substantial challenges, particularly in identifying firearms traffickers and persuading U.S. Attorneys to accept more criminal cases related to firearms trafficking to Mexico. Perhaps the most worrying from the Mexican government’s point of view, however, is ATF’s Fast and Furious Operation based out of Phoenix, Arizona, which reportedly allowed hundreds of firearms to be sold to potentially known traffickers as a way to build more attractive cases for U.S. Attorneys and ATF did not notify Mexican authorities."
"According to new statistics provided by the U.S. and Mexican governments, Mexico has submitted a total of 78,194 firearm trace requests to the United States from FY 2007 to FY 2010.34 During approximately the same time frame, President Calderon said Mexico had seized about 90,000 arms.35 Looking at these numbers, it may appear Mexico is providing ATF with information on a large number of the firearms it has seized since the start of the Calderon Administration, but ATF now reports that tens of thousands of the trace requests are duplicates.36 In some cases, ATF has received information on the same firearm up to five times as Mexican police, a crime lab, the military, and the Attorney General’s office all write down information on the same firearm, and the individual in the Attorney General’s office in Mexico City submits trace requests on all of them."
"According to a detailed U.S. DOJ Inspector General report released in November 2010, about 26 percent of Mexico’s trace requests to the U.S. government for FY 2009 were untraceable because of serial number errors."
" In addition, according to the same Inspector General’s report, 75 percent of the firearms ATF was able to trace to the first purchaser in the United States were purchased more than five years ago. The report further says that only about 18 percent of the firearms were purchased less than three years ago."
"For example, ATF agents frequently use the act of illegally buying a firearm for someone else, otherwise known as straw purchasing, in seeking to stop firearms trafficking to Mexico, but the overwhelming majority of the defendants convicted of this crime have received less than one year in prison.48 The average prison sentences for two other crimes ATF most often uses to stop firearms trafficking – knowingly making a false statement and willfully engaging in a firearms business without a license – were also just over a one year.49 By comparison, drug conspiracy charges averaged 10 year sentences. As a result, ATF officials have said there is often an unwritten, minimum threshold of 10 to 20 illegal trafficked firearms and one firearm used in a crime before a U.S. Attorney will accept the case, which appears to have led to the problems with ATF’s Fast and Furious Operation.50 U.S. Attorneys also stated that they decided to reject ATF referred cases related to Project Gunrunner because the cases sometimes lacked evidence of criminal intent or had insufficient evidence"
"Lastly, although ATF could increase the penalties firearms traffickers face by engaging in joint investigations with ICE on criminal cases related to smuggling and arms export controls, it has continued to largely avoid working with ICE, which has the most experience on these types of violations.58 For example, the DOJ Inspector General found that charges related to smuggling on average resulted in five year prison sentences, which are much longer than the crimes ATF often pursues.59 However, the Inspector General found that from “FY 2004 through FY 2009, only seven defendants in Project Gunrunner cases were convicted of smuggling.”"
Comments " In addition, according to the same Inspector General’s report, 75 percent of the firearms ATF was able to trace to the first purchaser in the United States were purchased more than five years ago. The report further says that only about 18 percent of the firearms were purchased less than three years ago."
In other words, the only seriously organized operation to buy guns in the US and smuggle them into Mexico is run by the BATFE.
Weather satellites capture shots of volcanic plume blasting through clouds
[Note: at the bottom of this post is a gallery of volcano pictures taken from space.] Just in case you forgot that the Earth is one of the most geologically active worlds in the solar system*, the Icelandic volcano Grimsvötn has sent a very loud reminder: after seven years of relative inactivity, the volcano woke up on Saturday, rocketing a plume 11 kilometers (7 miles) into the air. The ash column blasted through the cloud layer, and was seen by weather satellites in space! Check out this amazing animation:
That was the view from the Meteosat-9, a European satellite in geostationary orbit. The animation is composed of visible light images and covers just under a three hour time span on May 21. You can clearly see the plume breaching the cloud layer and spreading out, then a second plume blowing through shortly thereafter. The shadow of the plume on the clouds gives an excellent but eerie sense of the scale of this event. Here’s a similar view from the US GOES 13 satellite showing 3.5 hours of the eruption:
Note the oblique angle and distance; GOES 13 orbits the Earth far west of the volcano. In the last frame of the animation you can see the outline of Iceland to give you an idea of the size of this event. This volcano has erupted many times over the past few decades. I knew Iceland was active, but what really brought it home to me in this case was a quote by a company that operates the airport facilities in Iceland, when a 220 km no-fly zone around the volcano was established: it was described as "standard procedure around eruptions". Yikes. The fact that they even need a "standard procedure" is eyebrow-raising to me; where I live, volcanoes are somewhat rare (maybe more so now than a millennia ago). However, this eruption doesn’t currently look like it will be a big danger to air travel like last year’s eruption of Eyjafjalajökull was; the ash is made of bigger particles which fall to the ground more quickly, and the volcano itself is located in a relatively isolated part of southeast Iceland. Still, clearly, researching volcanoes and their eruptions is critical to many areas of life. Besides the knowledge added to our basic scientific understanding of geology and the Earth, monitoring and understanding volcanoes has a huge impact on air traffic, weather, and the daily lives of millions of people. Image credits: EUMETSAT; NOAA. Tip o’ the caldera to Jonatan Gislason. I love these satellite views of volcanoes from space, and I’ve collected quite a few into a gallery slideshow. Click the thumbnail picture to get a bigger picture and more information, and scroll through the gallery using the left and right arrows.]
ETNA'S WILDFIRES There are a handful of volcanoes in the world that evoke an immediate recognition, dormant or not. Vesuvius, Krakatoa, Mt. St. Helens. Certainly, Sicily's Mt. Etna is another. At 3300 meters in elevation, it's the largest active volcano in Italy... and by active, I do mean active.
In 2002, Etna erupted in a relatively large display of lava and ash. This view was taken by Expedition 5 about the International Space Station, looking southeast at a low angle. This eruption let loose a river of lava down the flank of the volcano which set fire to pine trees there; the dark plume is from the eruption, but the whiter ones are from burning pine trees. The plume from this eruption blew south and was reported as far away as Libya, nearly 600 km distant.
Unlike Earth observing satellites, which point straight down, astronauts on the ISS have the luxury of seeing things at an angle, providing a more natural - and in this case, more spectacular - view to our human eyes and brain.
Inconvenient Truths About 'Renewable' Energy By MATT RIDLEY
What does the word "renewable" mean?
Last week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a thousand-page report on the future of renewable energy, which it defined as solar, hydro, wind, tidal, wave, geothermal and biomass. These energy sources, said the IPCC, generate about 13.8% of our energy and, if encouraged to grow, could eventually displace most fossil fuel use.
It turns out that the great majority of this energy, 10.2% out of the 13.8% share, comes from biomass, mainly wood (often transformed into charcoal) and dung. Most of the rest is hydro; less than 0.5% of the world's energy comes from wind, tide, wave, solar and geothermal put together. Wood and dung are indeed renewable, in the sense that they reappear as fast as you use them. Or do they? It depends on how fast you use them.
One of the greatest threats to rain forests is the cutting of wood for fuel by impoverished people. Haiti meets about 60% of its energy needs with charcoal produced from forests. Even bakeries, laundries, sugar refineries and rum distilleries run on the stuff. Full marks to renewable Haiti, the harbinger of a sustainable future! Or maybe not: Haiti has felled 98% of its tree cover and counting; it's an ecological disaster compared with its fossil-fuel burning neighbor, the Dominican Republic, whose forest cover is 41% and stable. Haitians are now burning tree roots to make charcoal.
You can likewise question the green and clean credentials of other renewables. The wind may never stop blowing, but the wind industry depends on steel, concrete and rare-earth metals (for the turbine magnets), none of which are renewable. Wind generates 0.2% of the world's energy at present. Assuming that energy needs double in coming decades, we would have to build 100 times as many wind farms as we have today just to get to a paltry 10% from wind. We'd run out of non-renewable places to put them.
You may think I'm splitting hairs. Iron ore for making steel is unlikely to run out any time soon. True, but you can say the same about fossil fuels. The hydrocarbons in the earth's crust amount to more than 500,000 exajoules of energy. (This includes methane clathrates—gas on the ocean floor in solid, ice-like form—which may or may not be accessible as fuel someday.) The whole planet uses about 500 exajoules a year, so there may be a millennium's worth of hydrocarbons left at current rates.
Contrast that with blue whales, cod and passenger pigeons, all of which plainly renew themselves by breeding. But exploiting them caused their populations to collapse or disappear in just a few short decades. It's a startling fact that such "renewable" resources keep running short, while no non-renewable resource has yet run out: not oil, gold, uranium or phosphate. The stone age did not end for lack of stone (a remark often attributed to the former Saudi oil minister Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani).
Guano, a key contributor to 19th-century farming, was renewable fertilizer, made from seabird dung harvested off Peruvian and Namibian islands, but it soon ran out. Modern synthetic fertilizer is made from the air and returns to the air via denitrifying bacteria, yet few would call it a renewable resource. Even fossil fuels are renewable in the sense that they are still being laid down somewhere in the world—not nearly as fast as we use them, of course, but then that's true of Haiti's forests and Newfoundland's cod as well.
And then there is nuclear power. Uranium is not renewable, but plutonium is, in the sense that you can "breed" it in the right kind of reactor. Given how much we dislike plutonium and breeder reactors, it seems that the more renewable nuclear fuel is, the less we like it.
All in all, once you examine it closely, the idea that "renewable" energy is green and clean looks less like a deduction than a superstition.
Family Facing $4 Million in Fines for Selling Bunnies by Bob McCarty Almost nine months after a Missouri dairy was ordered to stop selling cheese made from raw milk, I share details of another hare-raising story from the Show-Me State: John Dollarhite and his wife Judy of tiny Nixa, Mo., have been told by the USDA that, by Monday, they must pay a fine exceeding $90,000. If they don’t pay that fine, they could face additional fines of almost $4 million. Why? Because they sold more than $500 worth of bunnies — $4,600 worth to be exact — in a single calendar year.
About six years ago, the Dollarhites wanted to teach their young teenage son responsibility and the value of the dollar. So they rescued a pair of rabbits — one male and one female — and those rabbits did what rabbits do; they reproduced. Before long, things were literally hopping on the three-acre homestead 30 miles south of Springfield, and Dollarvalue Rabbitry was launched as more of a hobby than a business. “We’d sell ‘em for 10 or 15 dollars a piece,” John said during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon, comparing the venture to a kid running a lemonade stand. In addition, they set up a web site and posted a “Rabbits for Sale” sign in their front yard. Most customers, however, came via word of mouth. In the early stages, some of the bunnies were raised and sold for their meat. Much further down the road, John said, they determined it more profitable to sell live bunnies at four weeks old than to feed bunnies for 12 weeks and then sell them as meat. “We started becoming the go-to people” for rabbits in the Springfield area, John said. “If you wanted a rabbit, you’d go to Dollarvalue Rabbitry.” He added that the family even made the local television news just before Easter in 2008 for a report about the care and feeding of “Easter bunnies.” Initially, the Dollarhites sold the large, white, pink-eyed variety of rabbits. Eventually, however, they switched to selling a couple of different varieties of miniature rabbits, the mating pairs of which were purchased from breeders across the state. Not only did their “show-quality” miniatures reproduce well, but they ate less and seemed to be more popular with theme park visitors and retail buyers. During the summer of 2009, the Dollarhites bought the rabbitry from their son who had grown tired of managing it. They paid him what he asked for it, $200. Things kept growing, however, and the Dollarhite’s landed a pair of big accounts in 2009. A well-known Branson theme park, Silver Dollar City, asked the Dollarhites to have them provide four-week-old bunnies per week to their petting zoo May through September. When the bunnies turned six weeks old, they were sold to park visitors. The Springfield location of a national pet store chain, Petland, purchased rabbits from the Dollarhites as well. In the fall of 2009, the theme park deliveries ended for the year and the Dollarhites scaled back their operation. At about the same time, the folks at Petland asked the Dollarhites to raise guinea pigs that the store would purchase from them. No big deal. By the year’s end, the Dollarhites had moved approximately 440 rabbits and grossed about $4,600 for a profit of approximately $200 — enough, John said, to provide the family “pocket money” to do things such as eat out at Red Lobster once in a while. That was better than the loss they experienced in 2008. Then some unexpected matters began demanding their attention. It’s an understatement to describe the Dollarhites as being “beyond surprised” when, in the fall of 2009, a female inspector from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed up at the front door of the family home, wanting to do a “spot inspection” of their rabbitry. She said she had come across Dollarhite Rabbitry invoices while inspecting the petting zoo at Silver Dollar City. “She did not tell us that we were in violation of any laws, rules, anything whatsoever,” John said, explaining that the inspector said she just wanted to see what type of operation they had. Having nothing to hide or any reason to fear they were doing anything wrong, the Dollarhites allowed the inspection to proceed. John said he had to go to work at the family’s computer store, so Judy took the inspector to the back of their property where the rabbits were raised. There, the inspector began running the width of her finger across the cage and told the Dollarhites they would need to replace the cage, because it was a quarter-inch too small and, therefore, did not meet federal regulations. Such a requirement came as a shock to the Dollarhites, because they had just invested in new cages to ensure the bunnies had a healthy amount of space to develop, John explained. Though raising dwarf breed varieties of rabbits which require less space, they had opted to purchase cages designed for “large breed rabbits” so the dwarfs would have plenty of room. All for naught. Not only was the cage too small, according to the inspector, but she noted a small rust spot on a feeder and cited it as being out of compliance. When the Dollarhites told the inspector that rabbit urine causes the cages to rust and that they worked hard to keep the rabbits cages in top shape, she told them it didn’t matter. The rust spot would count as an infraction. The inspector then asked how the cages were sanitized, John said, and Judy explained how she moved the bunnies to travel carriers and powerwashed the cages, using bleach when necessary. Afterward, she allowed the cages to dry in the sun before putting the bunnies back inside them. The Dollarhites’ practice was much safer than that used by some breeders who used blow torches to burn hair and manure from the cages — a practice that can lead to rusting metal and produce toxic fumes from burning metal. During the course of the spot inspection, John said, the inspector asked his wife if she and John would like to have their operation certified by USDA. Judy said she wasn’t sure and asked what certification would entail and if it would help them sell more rabbits. The inspector responded, telling her it would involve monthly inspections and was completely voluntary. The inspection ended with the inspector telling Judy that the Dollarhites rabbits looked healthy and well-cared for. After the inspection, the Dollarhites didn’t hear from the USDA again until January 2010, John said, when he received a phone call from a Kansas City-based investigator from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. “He called us and said, ‘I need to have a meeting with you and your wife,’” John recalled. After explaining that he asked the investigator to come after the workday at the computer store had ended, John said he asked the investigator about the purpose of the meeting, “He said, ‘Well, it’s because you’re selling rabbits and you’ve exceeded more than $500 dollars in a year,’” John said, “and I went, ‘Okay, what does that have to do with anything?’” John said the investigator refused to discuss details over the phone and made it clear that rejecting his request for a meeting would be a costly error in judgment. When Judy asked if they should have an attorney present, the investigator responded, saying, “Well, that might be a good thing.” “At that point, we kind of set back, (wondering) what in the world is going on,” John said. Then he found an attorney who is also a farmer. “I didn’t want a ‘city slicker,’” said John, a farmer himself until 1996 when he sold his farm to build a home in Nixa. “I wanted someone that had been around the agriculture and farm business.” John found a guy and they met for the first time a couple of days later — at the same time both met the APHIS investigator in person at John’s home. “The first thing (the investigator) said was ‘My name is so and so, I’ve been in the USDA for 30-plus years, and I’ve never lost a case,’” John recalled, continuing. “He said, ‘I’m not here to debate the law, interpret the law or discuss the law, I’m here just to do an investigation.’” John said the investigator went on to explain that he would ask questions, write a report based on the answers and send that report to his superiors at the USDA regional office in Colorado Springs, Colo. The entire process was suppose to take about a month, and John was told to contact the regional office if he had not heard anything in six weeks. “At this point in time, we were still not knowing anything about the law he was talking about,” John explained, adding that his rabbitry had never had any issues with any animal welfare agencies. Eight weeks passed, and John decided to call Colorado Springs. Immediately, he was given the number to a USDA office in the nation’s capitol. He called the new number, and the lady he reached there was blunt, John said. “She said, ‘Well, Mr. Dollarhite, I’ve got the report on my desk, and I’m just gonna tell you that, once I review it, it’s our intent to prosecute you to the maximum that we can’ and that ‘we will make an example out of you.” When John once again tried to determine which law he and his wife had violated, he said the USDA lady replied, “We’ll forward you everything.” “Ma’am, what law have we broken,” John said. “Well, you sold more than $500 worth of rabbits in one calendar year,” she replied, according to John. “Okay, what does that have to do with anything?” John countered. The lady replied by saying there is a guideline which prohibits anyone from selling more than $500 worth of rabbits per year, John recalled, but she refused to cite any specific law and, instead, promised to send him the report containing details. At that point, John said he called his attorney and was told not to worry about it, because he couldn’t find evidence of any law or regulation the Dollarhites had violated. Soon after the meeting with the APHIS investigator and with the stress of the investigation hanging over their heads, John said he and his wife traded everything associated with the rabbit operation for other agricultural equipment. At this point, some important facts about the manner in which the Dollarhites conducted their operation are worth reviewing: The business was carefully conducted on the property of their Missouri home; The business complied with all applicable state laws; The bunnies were kept in large, clean and well-maintained cages; and Not a single bunny was sold across state lines. Recently, the Dollarhites received a “Certified Mail Return Receipt” letter (dated April 19, 2011) from the USDA informing them that they had broken the law and must pay USDA a fine of $90,643. Their crime? Violating violating 9 C.F.R. § 2.1 (a) (1): Selling more than $500 worth of rabbits in a calendar year. At this point, Dollarvalue Rabbitry is expected to produced a $90,643 certified check to cover the fine issued by the Department of Agriculture. The USDA was, however, kind enough to provide in the letter the web address for a website — www.pay.gov — where they could go to pay their fine by credit card by May 23, 2011. Now, that’s convenient! Based on an average price per rabbit sold being $10.45, the fine comes out to more than $206 per rabbit. In addition, the letter contains the following statement: APHIS laws and regulations provide for administrative and criminal penalties to enforce these regulatory requirements, including civil penalties of up to $10,000 for each of the violations documented in our investigation. If the threat contained in the letter is to be believed, the family could be fined as much as $10,000 per rabbit beyond the first 50 bunnies that netted the family its first $500. Do the math (390 rabbits x $10,000 each) and, if they don’t pay the initial fine, they could face additional fines totaling $3.9 million. Needless to say, the Dollarhites stopped selling rabbits in January 2010 and are considering setting up a legal defense fund. To see what the USDA has to say about the matter, read my follow-up post, USDA Stands Behind Hare-Raising Fine. Hat tip: Bungalow Bill’s Conservative Wisdom
More on "Project Gunwalker" POSTED BY DAVID HARDY · 22 MAY 2011 10:54 AM CBS News: DEA and ATF in tug of war after DEA seizes guns "walked" by ATF.
David Codrea has a post on new revelations in the case, with video interview of a a BATF informant (i.e., not an agent) here. He has some interesting insights. Agencies don't need more money, they need less turf fighting and human intel. He was ordered to give info to one agency only, and not to communicate with others. He was informed by contacts in Mexico that full auto guns were coming in with approval of US government agencies. The smugglers had both American and Mexican LEOs paid off. Corruption is on both sides of the border, probably worse here. He also talks of military weapons being smuggled from Mexico into the US. He knows of one agent who gets a down payment, with final payment made after delivery.
Weapons coming in northward include a lot of US made weapons sold to Latin American governments, which now turn them for a profit in Mexico.
When ATF debriefed him... they sought info on where guns were being obtained, who was smuggling them, etc., but the purpose seemed to be to ensure nobody got caught with egg on the face. When he brought up the gun that killed Agent Terry, where he had reported the identity of the killer, he was told to forget about it, someone else was investigating that. He doesn't believe local LEOs are corrupted; they wouldn't have a role in moving guns or drugs, the cartels want to corrupt Federal agents. Local LEOs have no power over a port of entry.
Evidence indicates tunnels are being driven near Douglas AZ, from the Mexican side. Met with a contact involved in the tunnel, he said it would cost $100-200K, but since you can move tons of cocaine thru it, that's pocket change.
Worked with many, many agencies, Federal and State. Pay can be percent of drugs seized, but lately is low. Initial work was driven by concerns about terrorism and bio weapons. Then was in it for the money, now talking in hopes someone will see info and act. Drug war, terror war, claims that they are being fought successfully is a lie. Programs are failures. Drug war ... the amount of drugs coming in, not being interdicted, drug use steadily increasing. Heart of problem is in senior management, dismantling operations that are effective. Disillusioned, because been on ground, saw drugs and guns, reported it, watched cases dropped or dismissed, or agents say can't do it because his boss doesn't want to get involved in a field operation.
Dude, don't ask questions if you don't want them answered, and if you get an answer that doesn't conform to your screed du jour how about if you respond to the point rather than sliding into the ad hominen?
Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams Should Be Arrested Thursday, May 19th, 2011
I wanted to comment a bit more on the Mark Fiorino story that guest blogger Dave Kruger posted earlier this week, because it’s pretty goddamned outrageous.
Fiorino is the guy who was accosted by police officers in Philadelphia for openly carrying a gun in the city, despite the fact that he was perfectly within his legal rights to do so. He was in full compliance with the law. The problem is that the Philadelphia cops who confronted him were ignorant of the law. In the course of the confrontation, the cops repeatedly threatened to kill Fiorino, despite the fact that, again, he had broken no laws. They also illegally detained and arrested him. They then had to release him when they actually checked the law and discovered they were wrong.
When I’ve written about the arrests of citizens who record or photograph cops over the last couple years, I’ve repeatedly pointed out the double standard that exists when it comes to ignorance of the law. Citizens are expected to know every law. Break one, and you suffer the consequences. Ignorance is no defense, even when it comes to vague, obscure, or densely-written laws. But when law enforcement officials—the people we pay to enforce the criminal code—when they prove to be ignorant of the law, when they illegally detain, arrest, and jail someone based on a mistaken understanding of the law, they rarely if ever suffer any consequences.
The Fiorino case is a perfect example of that double standard. But the Fiorino case is even more pernicious. Because he’d had previous episodes with cops who were ignorant of local gun laws, Fiorino was carrying an audio recorder with him in Philadelphia. He recorded his confrontation with the Philly cops, and that audio exposed them for the ignorant, thuggish threats to the public that they are. (Note: I regularly caution against holding individual cops responsible for enforcing bad policy. I don’t use words like “ignorant” and “thuggish” lightly. These cops were both.) The recording Fiorino made of his encounter was also perfectly legal.
So what are we to then make of Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams’ decision to arrest and charge Fiorino after Fiorino posted the recordings on the Internet?
Here’s what I make of it: It’s criminal. Fiorino embarrassed Philadelphia cops, and Williams is punishing him for it. Williams and the police spokesman are claiming Fiorino deliberately provoked the cops. No, he didn’t. He didn’t wave the gun at anyone. He didn’t invite police scrutiny. The cops confronted him upon seeing a weapon he was legally carrying in a perfectly legal manner. And they were wrong. Make no mistake. This is blatant intimidation.
But while their behavior in this story was repugnant, at least the cops had the plausible explanation of ignorance for the initial confrontation, then fear for their safety when an armed man they incorrectly thought was violating the law pushed back (though neither is an excuse, and neither should exclude them from discipline). What Williams has done since is much worse. It is premeditated. Much more than the cops, Williams should know the law. Moreover, even if he didn’t know the law at the time, he has since had plenty of time to research it. By now, Williams does know the law. (If he doesn’t, he is incompetent.) And he knows that even if Fiorino did deliberately provoke the cops to test their knowledge of Philadelphia’s gun laws, that also is not a crime.
Yet he’s charging Fiorino anyway, with “reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct”—the vague sorts of charges cops and prosecutors often fall back on when they can’t show any actual crime. A spokesperson for Williams said Fiorino was “”belligerent and hostile” to police who were investigating a possible crime. Read the transcript of the audio in the linked article above and tell me who is “belligerent and hostile.” Read it knowing who was breaking the law, who was following it, and while remaining cognizant of which party was threatening to put a bullet in the head of the other.
Note that nothing Fiorino did was on its own illegal. Willliams is attempting a striking, blatantly dishonest bit of legal chicanery. His theory goes like this: If you undertake a series of actions that are perfectly legal and well within your rights, but that cause government agents to react in irrational ways that jeopardize public safety, you are guilty of endangering the public.
This can’t stand. It’s a blatant abuse of office. Williams is using the state’s awesome power to arrest and incarcerate to intimidate a man who exposed and embarrassed law enforcement officials who, because of their own ignorance, nearly killed him. Exposing that sort of government incompetence cannot be illegal. And it isn’t illegal.
The message Williams is sending is this: Yes, you might technically have the right to carry a gun in Philadelphia. But if you exercise that right, you should be prepared for the possibility that police officers will illegally stop you, detain you, threaten to kill you, and arrest you. And I’m not going to do a damn thing about it. And yes, you may technically also have First Amendment rights in Philadelphia, but if you dare exercise them to let the larger public know what happened to you for exercising your right to carry a gun, I will try to put you in prison.
I’m not trying to be needlessly provocative, here. This is important. Prosecutors can’t get away with this kind of behavior. Even if the charges are eventually dropped, that isn’t enough. Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams should be arrested. And he should be charged with knowingly, criminally violating Mark Fiorino’s civil rights.
Say it ain't so: scientists misconstruing data in a manner that underwrites their beliefs and supports the tenets of their discipline:
Exaggerating Species Extinction Jonathan H. Adler • May 19, 2011 10:45 am
A new paper in Nature has sparked a firestorm of debate over species extinction rates. The paper, by two ecologists, shows how the use of the species-area curve produces inflated projections of species extinction rates. As an accompanying article in Nature explains:
The most common method of predicting extinction rates relies on the species–area curve, the mathematical relationship showing that larger areas tend to contain greater numbers of species.
Researchers typically extrapolate backwards from this curve to calculate how many extinctions can be expected from a given amount of habitat loss. But that is inaccurate, say the study authors, because the area that must be removed to cause extinction is always larger than the area needed to encounter a species for the first time.
“Extrapolating backwards makes a hidden assumption that any loss of population, regardless of how small, commits a species to extinction — which is not reasonable,” says Stephen Hubbell, a theoretical ecologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and co-author of the paper.
As you might expect, the paper has sparked substantial criticism and debate, as noted in Greenwire and on Dot Earth, even though there have been concerns about the reliability of the species-area curve for some time. One reason for the intense debate is the well-intentioned fear that research of this sort will dampen concerns about biodiversity loss. If, as the study suggests, expected extinction rates are far lower than conventional estimates, will this lessen the urgency of biodiversity conservation? Perhaps, but that would not justify relying upon erroneous extinction estimates. Moreover, even if projected species extinction is only half of conventional estimates, it is still a serious concern.
Major ATF Phoenix shake-up after "Gunwalker" Posted by Sharyl Attkisson
(Credit: CBS) CBS News has learned that virtually all the top ATF managers in Phoenix involved in the controversial "Fast and Furious" operation have been reassigned and replaced. The shake-up comes in the wake of the gunwalking scandal in which ATF allegedly allowed more than 2500 weapons to hit the streets or "walk." Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Bill Newell has been replaced by the former Detroit SAC Tom Brandon. Newell was reassigned to ATF headquarters in Washington D.C. shortly after CBS News interviewed an ATF agent-turned-whistleblower about the alleged gunwalking.
Two new Assistant Special Agents in Charge (ASACs) have also moved into the ATF Phoenix office: Joe Anarumo of Miami and Tom Atteberry of Kansas City. Sources say they replace the ASACs who oversaw Fast and Furious in Phoenix: George Gillett, who's being reassigned to Washington D.C. headquarters; and Jim Needles, who's been tasked to the Phoenix U.S. Attorney's office.
"This is unprecedented and welcome," says one insider, who describes the new Phoenix management as "the A-Team" and "respected."
Gunrunning scandal uncovered at the ATF
Another move involves Agent David Voth, who directly supervised the Phoenix ATF "Group VII," that executed Fast and Furious. Sources say he's also been assigned to the U.S. Attorney's office along with Agent Hope McAllister. Sources say McAllister was the agent in charge of Fast and Furious. Replacing Voth as head of Group VII is Steve Barborini from Miami.
None of the managers who've been moved have had any disciplinary action announced against them. The fact of their transfers does not in itself suggest any wrongdoing. There are at least two investigations underway looking into how and why ATF allegedly let assault rifles and other weapons "walk." Sources say at the time, agents believed the guns would likely end up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels. One of the allegedly walked guns was used at the murder scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. Officials are also looking into a possible link to the murder of Customs Agent Jaime Zapata.
Nobody from the ATF public affairs or from the Justice Department, which oversees ATF, would immediately confirm the personnel shifts. As of this writing, the official ATF web site for Phoenix still listed Newell, Needles and Gillette as their former positions in Phoenix ATF Division Management.
Volokh is aslo nibbling at this, asking if the waivers count as political favors:
Are Health Care Waivers Political Favors? Jonathan H. Adler • May 18, 2011 10:38 am
The Daily Caller reports that a substantial percentage of recent health care waivers issued by the Department for Health and Human Services have gone to businesses in Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco district — and not just any businesses, but swanky spas, restaurants and nightclubs.
Does this story mean that health care waivers are being used for political purposes? We don’t know. The issuance of 1,000-plus waivers is a relatively short period has raised lots of questions. The problem is that HHS has not been sufficiently clear about the criteria it is using in its waiver decisions. As a consequence, it is difficult to know whether waivers are being used improperly. As I’ve written before (see, e.g., here, here, and here), I think waivers can be a valuable policy tool, so long as their use is guided by a clear, ascertainable standard for their use. Thus far, I don’t think that has been the case with waivers issued under the PPACA.
UPDATE: As a commenter notes below, one explanation for the large number of waiver applications for San Francisco businesses is “Healthy San Francisco”. As this story from the San Francisco Business Times explains:
Under Healthy San Francisco, all San Francisco businesses with over 20 employees must provide health care coverage or access to health care for its employees. Many employers opt to open a Health Reimbursement Account or HRA for its employees; those accounts are then used to reimburse employers for some health care costs.
The waivers that are granted for one-year periods are intended to protect employees from suffering any reduction in coverage because of suddenly increased premiums, and to limit how much employers need to pay in a given year for coverage. The federal Department of Health and Human Services has approved 1,372 waivers so far — almost 90 percent of the waiver requests it has received.
“We have mandatory health care expenditures. We are the only place I know of in the country that has that,” said Rob Black, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association. “Because we have a 100 percent expenditure rate, we are going to have a much higher take-up rate (of waivers) than the country as a whole. That is what is driving that.”
As for the standards upon which waivers are granted, I do not believe the two guidance documents linked in the comments (here and here) concerning the waiver program HHS created with interim final regulations last year provide much in the way of clear criteria. Further, as Columbia’s Professor Joseph Hamburger has argued, it is not clear the PPACA authorizes a wavier authority as wide-ranging as that which HHS has exercised.
Meanwhile, on Friday Nevada became the third state to receive a waiver for the PPACA’s requirements that insurers spend a minimum of 80 percent of premiums on care, following New Hampshire and Maine. Five more state waiver requests are pending.
Latest on Project Gunwalker POSTED BY DAVID HARDY · 16 MAY 2011 11:05 AM The Sipsey Street Irregulars post the latest analysis of ATF documents, and a link to a pdf of one September 2010 plan.
I found much interesting on pp. 12-13 (of pdf pagination):
"Historically, ATF has placed much emphasis on the roles of the straw purchaser and the Federal firearms licensee in identifying and disrupting firearms trafficking schemes. However, straw purchasers by definition lack serious criminal records and therefore are frequently viewed as undesirable targets for criminal prosecution."
"FFLs remain both an important source of firearms (often unwittingly) to firearms traffickers and an investigative source of information. On occasion, FFLs become targets of criminal investigation and prosecution. When criminal wrongdoing by FFLs is suspected they will be aggressively investigated and recommended for prosecution. Corrupt FFLs constitute high-value targets due to the damage they cause and the special responsibility they hold to ensure that firearms are not illegally diverted from lawful commerce."
"Additionally, we must not overlook the fact that firearms traffickers and other violent criminals also obtain firearms from secondary sources... Analysis of source location trace data for specific market areas, when adjusted for time-to-crime, may not only reveal actionable investigative leads, but also that secondary sources (e.g.,gun shows, thefts and private sales) are a greater source of trafficked crime guns than licensed dealers."
"This strategy will present certain challenges as some of the persons we seek to investigate, indict, and apprehend will reside outside the United States and/or may be priority targets of other U.S. law enforcement agencies. When appropriate, this strategy envisions that ATF will refer information and actionable intelligence to the Government of Mexico and/or other U.S. law enforcement agencies."
Hmmm.... straw man purchasers are uninteresting targets. The cartels themselves are out of our reach. That seems to leave FFLs and gunshows.
And the responsibility for the agency-sponsored gun running seems to go right to the top. P. 18 is devoted to HQ monitoring of operations. "The monitoring and coordinating of Southwest border investigations will be the responsibility of the recently established Firearms Operations Division."
P. 19: "The controlled movement of firearms, ammunition, explosives, explosives devices, and/or components or non-functional “props” of such items across the U.S.-Mexico border from the United States shall be coordinated with and approved in advance by Bureau headquarters and the MCO [Mexico Country Office, of ATF]"
Nearly 20 percent of new Obamacare waivers are gourmet restaurants, nightclubs, fancy hotels in Nancy Pelosi’s district By Matthew Boyle - The Daily Caller 12:07 AM 05/17/2011 ADVERTISEMENT Of the 204 new Obamacare waivers President Barack Obama’s administration approved in April, 38 are for fancy eateries, hip nightclubs and decadent hotels in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s Northern California district.
That’s in addition to the 27 new waivers for health care or drug companies and the 31 new union waivers Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services approved.
Pelosi’s district secured almost 20 percent of the latest issuance of waivers nationwide, and the companies that won them didn’t have much in common with companies throughout the rest of the country that have received Obamacare waivers.
Other common waiver recipients were labor union chapters, large corporations, financial firms and local governments. But Pelosi’s district’s waivers are the first major examples of luxurious, gourmet restaurants and hotels getting a year-long pass from Obamacare.
For instance, Boboquivari’s restaurant in Pelosi’s district in San Francisco got a waiver from Obamacare. Boboquivari’s advertises $59 porterhouse steaks, $39 filet mignons and $35 crab dinners.
Then, there’s Café des Amis, which describes its eating experience as “a timeless Parisian style brasserie” which is “located on one of San Francisco’s premier shopping and strolling boulevards, Union Street,” according to the restaurant’s Web site.
“Bacchus Management Group, in partnership with Perry Butler, is bringing you that same warm, inviting feeling, with a distinctive San Francisco spin,” the Web site reads. Somehow, though, the San Francisco upper class eatery earned itself a waiver from Obamacare because it apparently cost them too much to meet the law’s first year requirements.
The reason the Obama administration says it has given out waivers is to exempt certain companies or policyholders from “annual limit requirements.” The applications for the waivers are “reviewed on a case by case basis by department officials who look at a series of factors including whether or not a premium increase is large or if a significant number of enrollees would lose access to their current plan because the coverage would not be offered in the absence of a waiver.” The waivers don’t allow a company to permanently refrain from implementing Obamacare’s stipulations, but companies can reapply for waivers annually through 2014.
Café Mason, a diner near San Francisco’s Union Square, got a waiver too. When The Daily Caller asked the manager about the waiver and how the president’s new sweeping federal health care law was affecting his restaurant, he hung up the phone. The Franciscan Crab restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco got a waiver. Its menu features entrees ranging from about $15 to $60. The Franciscan’s general manager didn’t return TheDC’s requests for comment.
Four-star hotel Campton Place got one too, as did Hotel Nikko San Francisco, which describes itself as “four-diamond luxury in the heart of the city.” Tru Spa, which Allure Magazine rated the “best day spa in San Francisco,” received an Obamacare waiver as well.
Before hanging up on TheDC, Tru Spa’s owner said new government health care regulations, both the federal-level Obamacare and new local laws in Northern California, have “devastated” the business. “It’s been bad for us,” he said, without divulging his name, referring to the new health care restrictions.
But, the spa owner wouldn’t talk about it or the reason his company sought a waiver. He hung up after saying, “I’ve got clients on the other line, good-bye.”
San Francisco Honda, which has two of its three locations in Pelosi’s district, and San Francisco’s Royal Motors Group both got waivers too. Neither called TheDC back.
Blue & Gold Fleet, which describes itself as “the Bay Area’s premier provider of Bay Cruise, Ferry Service and Motorcoach Tours,” got an Obamacare waiver approved in April. The tour service company didn’t return TheDC’s requests for comment.
Nightclub Infusion Lounge got an Obamacare waiver approved in April too. Infusion Lounge calls itself a “sophisticated nightlife destination” with “Asian inspired sub-rosa lounge, fashioned by Hong Kong’s hottest designer, Kinney Chan,” which makes for a “true ultra lounge catering to both dancing hipsters and young professionals looking to relax in style.” Infusion Lounge’s owners didn’t return TheDC’s requests for comment either.
Simco Restaurants and several other affiliated chains based in the area got waivers for their businesses as well. For example, Gordon Yoshida, the manager of memorabilia store Only in San Francisco, told TheDC that Sandra Fletcher of Simco walked him through the process of getting an Obamacare waiver. Fletcher did not return TheDC’s requests for comment.
Pelosi’s office did not respond to TheDC’s requests for comment either.
Within a matter of weeks, the Treasury will run up against the debt ceiling. It can finance the government for some weeks after that through a variety of gimmicks. Democrats and Republicans are preparing for thrust and parry on a variety of specific spending and nonspending issues. We have already seen a dress rehearsal in the maneuvering over the expiration of the continuing resolution on April 8. That episode went to the 11th hour, literally. The president derided the conflict as being over nickels and dimes. For the most part, he was right about that.
Republicans have an opportunity for a much more important debate, which will frame the election campaign next year. Republicans should tell President Obama they will vote to increase the debt ceiling, in a clean bill with no other provisions, provided he promises three things:
The administration will submit a revised budget that will deal with the deficit. Upon the president's agreement, the first installment of the debt ceiling increase should be $500 billion; further installments will await the revised budget. The nation has a right to expect that the president will be serious about the deficit issue. Republicans will support a second clean increase of $500 billion in the debt ceiling when the president submits the revised budget. The president agrees that the Congressional Budget Office should score the revised budget according to its "alternative budget scenario." The February budget systematically understates future outlays and overstates future revenues. CBO's alternative scenario scores the budget on what is most easily described as a current services principle rather than according to current law, which understates the likely future deficit. For one example of this problem, current law and the president's budget include the assumption that doctor reimbursements under Medicare and Medicaid can be cut in future years. The CBO alternative scenario is based on the more realistic assumption that reimbursements will be at about the current level.
When the CBO analysis is in, the president will submit a second revised budget reflecting that analysis. At that time, Republicans will agree to accept an increase in the debt ceiling large enough to finance the government through mid-2013.
What if Obama refuses to make this promise? Then, instead of a clean bill, the Republicans should attach a clause requiring that the president submit a revised budget to address the deficit. The point would not be to argue about how to address the deficit -- we already know that the parties are deeply split on their vision as to the role of the federal government -- but instead to require that Obama present an actual plan. A Treasury default would then be squarely the president's responsibility because he refused to present a plan to address the deficit.
The president's plan and Ryan's plan will be at the center of next year's election debate over the role of government and how to finance it. Republicans should emphasize that the debt ceiling issue is not about the substance of how to address the deficit, but that the president present a plan voters can judge.
The substance will be the election debate next year.
How can the president not accept a deal in which he presents proposals to reduce the deficit over time? Is that too much to ask?
Americans understand the responsibility of the president to address the deficit, and his refusal to do so will stand in stark contrast to the plan proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). The president must not be allowed to trash the Republican proposal without presenting his own alternative.
In the academic world, the saying goes if you are in a horse race, you have to have a horse; if you don't like a theory, you have to have a better theory. In politics, unfortunately, the reverse seems to be true. It seems more effective to demagogue your opponent's spending or tax proposals than to present your own.
In the debt ceiling debate, Republicans have the opportunity to force Obama to explain how he proposes to finance the spending commitments now on the books, or which spending commitments will be cut back.
The president's plan and Ryan's plan will be at the center of next year's election debate over the role of government and how to finance it. Democrats should surely welcome the opportunity to defend their vision.
By Debbie Cenziper and Jonathan Mummolo, Published: May 14
The federal government’s largest housing construction program for the poor has squandered hundreds of millions of dollars on stalled or abandoned projects and routinely failed to crack down on derelict developers or the local housing agencies that funded them.
Nationwide, nearly 700 projects awarded $400 million have been idling for years, a Washington Post investigation found. Some have languished for a decade or longer even as much of the country struggles with record-high foreclosures and a dramatic loss of affordable housing.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees the nation’s housing fund, has largely looked the other way: It does not track the pace of construction and often fails to spot defunct deals, instead trusting local agencies to police projects.
The result is a trail of failed developments in every corner of the country. Fields where apartment complexes were promised are empty and neglected. Houses that were supposed to be renovated are boarded up and crumbling, eyesores in decaying neighborhoods.
In Inglewood, Calif., a sprawling, overgrown lot two blocks from city hall frustrates senior citizens who were promised a state-of-the-art housing complex more than four years ago. Although the city invested $2 million in HUD funds, the developer doesn’t have the financing to move forward.
In Newark, two partially completed duplexes sit empty in a neighborhood blighted by boarded-up homes lost to foreclosure. The city paid nearly $400,000 to build the houses, but after a decade of delays, the developer folded and never finished. The money has not been repaid.
In Orange, Tex., 35-year-old laborer Jay Breed lives next to a dumping ground littered with tires and other trash, where a nonprofit developer was supposed to build 50 houses for the poor. Five years later, with $140,000 in HUD money gone, no homes have gone up.
“It’s a wasteland,” Breed said.
The Post examined every major project currently funded under the HUD program, analyzing a database of 5,100 projects worth $3.2 billion, studying more than 600 satellite images and collecting information from 165 housing agencies nationwide.
The yearlong investigation uncovered a dysfunctional system that delivers billions of dollars to local housing agencies with few rules, safeguards or even a reliable way to track projects. The lapses have led to widespread misspending and delays in a two-decade-old program meant to deliver decent housing to the working poor.
The Post found breakdowns at every level:
• Local housing agencies have doled out millions to troubled developers, including novice builders, fledgling nonprofits and groups accused of fraud or delivering shoddy work.
• Checks were cut even when projects were still on the drawing boards, without land, financing or permits to move forward. In at least 55 cases, developers drew HUD money but left behind only barren lots.
• Overall, nearly one in seven projects shows signs of significant delay. Time and again, housing agencies failed to cancel bad deals or alert HUD when projects foundered.
• HUD has known about the problems for years but still imposes few requirements on local housing agencies and relies on a data system that makes it difficult to determine which developments are stalled.
• Even when HUD learns of a botched deal, federal law does not give the agency the authority to demand repayment. HUD can ask local authorities to voluntarily repay, but the agency was unable to say how much money has been returned.
The D.C. region has a particularly troubled track record. In Prince George’s County, the nonprofit Kairos Development Corp., received $750,000 in 2005 to build dozens of homes. Six years later, Kairos has not built a single house.
“When Kairos came along, I thought this would be something that would help the community,” said Clinton Adams, a local landowner who discussed selling property to Kairos. “What did they do with the money?”
Dozens of housing agencies nationwide acknowledge botched deals and often blame the economy for leaving developers without financing to finish the work.
But hundreds of stalled projects predate the troubled financial markets, with developers tapping HUD’s program for easy money and then escaping even rudimentary oversight from local and federal authorities. The agency’s inspector general for years has chronicled scores of delayed projects and millions in waste.
“We need to reduce the risk for HUD funding in development deals,” said Annemarie Maiorano, who manages HUD money for Wake County, N.C. “There needs to be basic standards.”
HUD officials said they have recently tried to determine why developments are delayed and have begun to cancel projects. In response to inquiries from The Post, the agency last month launched investigations into a series of defunct deals, finding questionable payments and excessive delays, and in recent weeks has sought the return of more than $4 million from housing agencies in the District and Prince George’s County.
“We can do better and we will,” said Mercedes Marquez, HUD’s assistant secretary for community planning and development, who was nominated by President Obama in 2009. “HUD, the Congress and every taxpayer I know expects these funds to be put to work. . . . I won’t hesitate to do what’s necessary.”
A program that began with great promise for the poor
Past HUD scandals have involved misused vouchers for rental properties, unsafe conditions in public housing and corruption in grant-making programs. The Post’s investigation is the first systemic look at the progress of construction in HUD’s affordable-housing fund, known as the HOME Investment Partnerships Program.
The program launched with great promise two decades ago, when Congress vowed to fund the construction or renovation of thousands of apartments and houses for working-poor families.
Since 1992, HUD’s vast main office on 7th Street in Southwest Washington and its 43 field offices have overseen $32 billion in funding, which is distributed in block grants to 642 cities, counties and states. They, in turn, partner with developers, giving out grants or loans with generous terms such as delayed repayment, low interest rates and outright forgiveness of debt.
HUD’s money typically doesn’t cover all construction costs. The program is meant to provide partial funding for developers who are expected to draw additional financing from banks and other sources.
Clearly, building in blighted neighborhoods can be challenging, with private financing and political will hard to come by. Over the years, local housing agencies and their development partners have completed thousands of projects.
But hundreds of current projects have faced years-long delays, with a similar pattern playing out in city after city.
Behind many of the deals are developers who didn’t have land, permits, financial capacity or commitments for private financing. HUD has few underwriting standards: Housing agencies are required to ensure that developers have a proposed budget and construction schedule — but not proof that they have the money to start building.
Other developers have had little housing experience or were dogged by foreclosures, cost overruns, liens and allegations of defective work. In most cases, HUD requires only that housing agencies ensure that developers have not been barred from doing business with the federal government.
HUD officials say local agencies are supposed to apply their own rules and choose developers capable of beginning construction within a year and eventually completing the job. “This is what comes with having the flexibility of a block grant, where you respect local decisions,” Marquez said.
In the District, which receives $9 million annually in HUD housing construction funds, the lapses have produced a series of troubled projects.
Alicia Marshall was a 33-year-old novice landlord in 2004 when she bought an aging, six-unit apartment building on Foote Street NE for $245,000. Within months, city inspectors cited Marshall for code violations that included leaks, cracked ceilings, broken doors and no heat.
Marshall agreed to renovate if tenants gave up their rent-controlled units. Although she had little construction experience, the District gave her $600,000 in HUD funds in 2008.
A project plan in city files noted that Vincent Ford, the former D.C. chief building inspector, would oversee the renovation. Ford, however, told The Post that he did not act as the project manager. “Didn’t happen,” he said.
The plan also noted that the construction work would be done by Calvert County resident Richard Hagler, 54, whose company, according to the plan, had worked for government agencies, built custom homes and refurbished apartment buildings. The Post found that Hagler and his companies have faced a string of civil judgments, and in 2006 agreed to a $250,000 settlement after being sued for shoddy construction. He has declared bankruptcy three times in the last decade, records show.
Neither Marshall nor Hagler responded to calls or letters seeking comment.
In 2009, Marshall’s building twice failed District construction inspections, a city official said. Later that year, after months of delays, the city approved a certificate of occupancy.
But evidence of substandard work continues to crop up. Soon after retired truck driver Grady Baxter moved in last year, part of his bathroom ceiling collapsed and sewage from the apartment upstairs soaked the walls.
“They started work on it,” he said, “but didn’t come back.”
The D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development defended the project. “Marshall assembled a skilled team to manage the renovations,” spokeswoman Najuma Thorpe said.
When contacted by The Post last month, HUD officials initiated an investigation into the quality of construction.
Many nonprofit agencies lacking in experience
One of the few rules HUD imposes actually contributes to the number of failing projects. Federal law mandates that housing agencies give 15 percent of their funding to community-based nonprofit groups, which are often undercapitalized and lack experience.
“Development is hard for developers. It’s complex. It’s risky,” said Maiorano of Wake County. “Then there are these mom and pops who don’t know things . . . we’re asking them to try to do something that they have no experience in.”
In Newark, the Department of Economic and Housing Development invested more than $2 million since 1995 in five projects that promised dozens of new homes. But every development ran aground when the developers, mostly small nonprofits, could not complete the work or fell into foreclosure, records show.
On South 13th Street in the shadow of downtown Newark, children play next to an empty lot filled with trash and mattresses, where a nonprofit developer drew $50,000 but built nothing. “It’s just dirt,” said eight-year-old Shakina Boulding. “There should be grass and flowers.”
One mile away, on a distressed stretch of Littleton Avenue, two partially completed duplexes that cost the city nearly $400,000 sit empty behind an unlatched fence.
“They’ve been like that for over seven years now,” said Wade Tapp, 45, a recreation center director who owns an apartment building across the street. “It’s quite shameful.”
Newark’s new housing chief, Michael Meyer, said he is trying to recoup money and change the city’s policies. “The public has not gotten what it intended to get when we started these projects,” he said.
Two of the most troubled projects in the D.C. region were proposed by Kairos Development Corp., which won $400,000 in HUD funding from Prince George’s County in May 2005 after promising several houses and an apartment complex with as many as 150 units on a winding, rural stretch of Middleton Lane in Camp Springs.
The nonprofit had little construction experience, offered none of its own money and had no other funding committed to the project, records show.
Kairos eventually bought two properties with the HUD money, but six years later, nothing has been built.
At the same time in 2005, Kairos received a second HUD loan from the county, for $350,000, for 56 condominiums proposed on a wooded hillside on Naylor Road near the District line. The nonprofit did not own the land or have permission to build on it.
The owners of the property were Lashelle Adams, a hairdresser, and her father, Clinton, who ultimately decided not to sell to Kairos.
The project exists now only as a three-digit number on HUD’s books.
Harold Davis, executive director at Kairos, blamed the delays on the economic downturn and a surplus of condominiums in the region, adding that the money was spent on architectural, development, legal and consulting fees. In a written response to The Post, he said the Naylor Road project became “unfeasible due to significant change in selling prices.” He said the Middleton Lane project is still viable.
County spokeswoman Angela Wright said a new administration has no knowledge of either project. Kairos was allowed to keep the HUD money; the county wrote off both loans. It is unlikely that the group could repay anyway: On its 2009 tax return, the nonprofit reported that it was $1.2 million in the red.
When contacted by The Post, HUD officials said the loans made to Kairos were excessive. Last month, federal officials sent a letter to Prince George’s County seeking the return of nearly $550,000. HUD has also banned Prince George’s County from awarding any more money to community-based groups without the agency’s approval.
“I’m appalled, just appalled,” said Marquez, HUD assistant secretary. “We’re just not standing for it.”
A resident asks,
‘Where did the money go?’
At the heart of the problem lies HUD’s failure to track the pace of construction.
HUD monitors only when local agencies draw money from their federal accounts, not what is actually being built. That leaves HUD with little way of knowing when projects stall or die. Local housing agencies are supposed to notify the federal government, but they often fail to say anything.
“If [housing agencies] fail to terminate projects as they should, we may not be aware of them right away,” Marquez said.
She said that it is not feasible for HUD to monitor thousands of ongoing developments and that local agencies should have their own project-tracking systems.
The Post independently analyzed HUD data to find about 700 troubled projects that were awarded $400 million.
But the actual number of stalled or terminated projects is likely to be much higher. The Post identified an additional 2,800 projects worth $1 billion that are in “final draw,” meaning the projects drew all of their allotted HUD funding but are still listed as open and ongoing in HUD’s records.
In some cases, the work was completed, but local agencies had failed to tell HUD. In other cases, however, projects were delayed or scrapped. The Post found abandoned projects in final draw from Texas to Florida to the D.C. region.
One dead project listed in final draw was proposed for downtown Rockville, where the nonprofit Montgomery Housing Partnership received $550,000 in 2008 to build a 109-unit apartment building.
The project struggled with funding gaps, opposition from neighbors and a lack of support from elected officials. Three years later, nothing has been built.
Montgomery Housing Partnership President Robert Goldman said the development is no longer viable and the nonprofit is hoping to roll the money into a future project. “This is really a very unusual circumstance,” he said.
The nonprofit had another project go bad adjacent to that empty lot.
In the 1990s, the group renovated a 14-unit building that was later condemned with leaks and mold. It is still shuttered, with a sign on the front door that warns, “Dangerous and Unsafe.”
One of the oldest unfinished projects in the country sits on a desolate stretch of High Street in Southeast Washington, where the shells of three apartment buildings rise above overgrown brush and rotting heaps of trash. In 2001, the District delivered nearly $800,000 in HUD funding to the nonprofit Safe Haven Outreach Ministry, but a decade later, no renovations have been done.
A neighbor posted a makeshift sign in front of the rubble: “Celebrating Life in Anacostia.”
Nearby resident Bernadine Thomas wants to move into a refurbished apartment but can’t find one that she can afford in a region with some of the highest rents in the country. She drives by the unfinished buildings on High Street and imagines a different life.
“Where did the money go?” said Thomas, a 60-year-old retired apartment manager who has lived for three years in a leaky complex that reeks of sewage. “I’ve worked all my life. All I want is a decent place to live.”
Marsha Richerson, Safe Haven’s executive director, said that the nonprofit did not anticipate problems getting permits and private funding, and that the housing agency was aware of the delays.
“They knew everything,” she said. “They knew we had a credible defense.”
City officials extended Safe Haven’s construction deadlines, hoping the project would eventually be completed. The agency “makes every attempt to work with developers to bring these projects to fruition,” said Thorpe, the D.C. housing agency spokeswoman.
In December, HUD identified the project as stalled through an audit and asked the District to repay the $800,000. So far, no money has been repaid. District officials said they are going to ask HUD to reconsider.
HUD can’t compel local authorities to repay
Even when HUD learns of a bungled deal, federal law does not give the agency the ability to compel local authorities to repay. HUD can only ask agencies to voluntarily return money by replenishing their federal accounts from local funds, essentially moving their own money around. HUD officials said local authorities almost always comply when asked to repay. HUD, however, could not provide statistics on how much has been returned. Officials said they have not felt a need to compile the data because it is tracked by HUD field offices.
The agency can reduce grants to housing agencies if HUD funding is not spent quickly enough, which creates pressure to move money out but does not ensure that construction is completed. Grant reductions for missed spending deadlines have happened just 20 times since 1992, with HUD taking back a total of $7.5 million, The Post found. Much of the money came from Prince George’s County, which last year forfeited $2.2 million.
HUD also has an enforcement center staffed with lawyers who can pursue repayments before an administrative law judge or in a criminal case in federal court. The agency has taken five cases to enforcement since the program began two decades ago, recouping about $19 million, The Post found. The agency has never taken a case to court.
HUD officials said they don’t need a more robust enforcement effort, again citing the success of voluntary repayments.
Marquez said the agency is focused more than ever on delayed projects and recouping money.
“This will get cleaned up,” she said.
Staff researchers Jennifer Jenkins, Meg Smith and Julie Tate contributed to this report.
Cato scholars have been appropriately scathing about the federal government’s 2009 “cash for clunkers” program, which paid several billion taxpayer dollars to have older cars scrapped and their engines destroyed, with owners getting vouchers toward new vehicles. When Chris Edwards nominated cash-for-clunkers as the “dumbest government program ever,” he listed among its effects: “Low-income families, who tend to buy used cars, were harmed because the clunkers program will push up used car prices.”
Guess what’s the newest trouble to hit the car business? As news outlets around the country are reporting, the price of used cars has lately soared to a modern-day record, with some cars commanding more used than they sold for when new. News accounts commonly finger the Japanese earthquake and high gas prices as reasons, but there are some problems fitting either reason to the case. While the earthquake affected the supply of new cars, it’s the previously driven kind that has scored the more impressive price jump. And while the rise in gas prices would explain a relative shift in buyer demand from SUVs and trucks toward smaller vehicles — which has indeed happened — the strength of the used-vehicle market lately has been such that even the thirstier vehicles have advanced in price, $4 gas or no.
No doubt there are multiple reasons for the price spike, including the severe general slump in new-auto sales in recent years, which has reduced the volume of newer cars coming onto the resale market. But — as Washington scrambles to take undeserved credit for whatever passes for normalization in the auto business these days — it’s worth remembering that an artificial scarcity of used cars isn’t just bad for the poor as a group: it’s bad in particular for the upwardly mobile poor, since in most of the country landing a job means needing to line up transportation to get to that job. When it suddenly costs $6,000 instead of $3,000 to get wheels, the move from unemployment to a paying job faces a new and discouraging barrier.
There’s a further irony too. Just as the federal housing stimulus lured many buyers into unwise house purchases at a time when home prices still had a good distance to fall — leaving them worse off in retrospect — so many owners who jumped for the cash-for-clunkers program would have been better off holding on to their cars a while longer. At least that’s what one might conclude from what Frederick, Maryland used-car dealer Robert Cox told his local paper, the News-Post:
People who got $3,500 for the cars they turned in would probably get $5,000 to $7,000 for the same trade today, Cox said.
THE SECRET SHARER Is Thomas Drake an enemy of the state? by Jane Mayer MAY 23, 2011
Drake, a former senior executive at the National Security Agency, faces some of the gravest charges that can be brought against an American citizen. Photograph by Martin Schoeller.
On June 13th, a fifty-four-year-old former government employee named Thomas Drake is scheduled to appear in a courtroom in Baltimore, where he will face some of the gravest charges that can be brought against an American citizen. A former senior executive at the National Security Agency, the government’s electronic-espionage service, he is accused, in essence, of being an enemy of the state. According to a ten-count indictment delivered against him in April, 2010, Drake violated the Espionage Act—the 1917 statute that was used to convict Aldrich Ames, the C.I.A. officer who, in the eighties and nineties, sold U.S. intelligence to the K.G.B., enabling the Kremlin to assassinate informants. In 2007, the indictment says, Drake willfully retained top-secret defense documents that he had sworn an oath to protect, sneaking them out of the intelligence agency’s headquarters, at Fort Meade, Maryland, and taking them home, for the purpose of “unauthorized disclosure.” The aim of this scheme, the indictment says, was to leak government secrets to an unnamed newspaper reporter, who is identifiable as Siobhan Gorman, of the Baltimore Sun. Gorman wrote a prize-winning series of articles for the Sun about financial waste, bureaucratic dysfunction, and dubious legal practices in N.S.A. counterterrorism programs. Drake is also charged with obstructing justice and lying to federal law-enforcement agents. If he is convicted on all counts, he could receive a prison term of thirty-five years.
The government argues that Drake recklessly endangered the lives of American servicemen. “This is not an issue of benign documents,” William M. Welch II, the senior litigation counsel who is prosecuting the case, argued at a hearing in March, 2010. The N.S.A., he went on, collects “intelligence for the soldier in the field. So when individuals go out and they harm that ability, our intelligence goes dark and our soldier in the field gets harmed.”
Top officials at the Justice Department describe such leak prosecutions as almost obligatory. Lanny Breuer, the Assistant Attorney General who supervises the department’s criminal division, told me, “You don’t get to break the law and disclose classified information just because you want to.” He added, “Politics should play no role in it whatsoever.”
When President Barack Obama took office, in 2009, he championed the cause of government transparency, and spoke admiringly of whistle-blowers, whom he described as “often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government.” But the Obama Administration has pursued leak prosecutions with a surprising relentlessness. Including the Drake case, it has been using the Espionage Act to press criminal charges in five alleged instances of national-security leaks—more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous Administrations combined. The Drake case is one of two that Obama’s Justice Department has carried over from the Bush years. Gabriel Schoenfeld, a conservative political scientist at the Hudson Institute, who, in his book “Necessary Secrets” (2010), argues for more stringent protection of classified information, says, “Ironically, Obama has presided over the most draconian crackdown on leaks in our history—even more so than Nixon.”
ne afternoon in January, Drake met with me, giving his first public interview about this case. He is tall, with thinning sandy hair framing a domed forehead, and he has the erect bearing of a member of the Air Force, where he served before joining the N.S.A., in 2001. Obsessive, dramatic, and emotional, he has an unwavering belief in his own rectitude. Sitting at a Formica table at the Tastee Diner, in Bethesda, Drake—who is a registered Republican—groaned and thrust his head into his hands. “I actually had hopes for Obama,” he said. He had not only expected the President to roll back the prosecutions launched by the Bush Administration; he had thought that Bush Administration officials would be investigated for overstepping the law in the “war on terror.”
“But power is incredibly destructive,” Drake said. “It’s a weird, pathological thing. I also think the intelligence community coöpted Obama, because he’s rather naïve about national security. He’s accepted the fear and secrecy. We’re in a scary space in this country.”
The Justice Department’s indictment narrows the frame around Drake’s actions, focussing almost exclusively on his handling of what it claims are five classified documents. But Drake sees his story as a larger tale of political reprisal, one that he fears the government will never allow him to air fully in court. “I’m a target,” he said. “I’ve got a bull’s-eye on my back.” He continued, “I did not tell secrets. I am facing prison for having raised an alarm, period. I went to a reporter with a few key things: fraud, waste, and abuse, and the fact that there were legal alternatives to the Bush Administration’s ‘dark side’ ”—in particular, warrantless domestic spying by the N.S.A.
The indictment portrays him not as a hero but as a treacherous man who violated “the government trust.” Drake said of the prosecutors, “They can say what they want. But the F.B.I. can find something on anyone.”
Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, says of the Drake case, “The government wants this to be about unlawfully retained information. The defense, meanwhile, is painting a picture of a public-interested whistle-blower who struggled to bring attention to what he saw as multibillion-dollar mismanagement.” Because Drake is not a spy, Aftergood says, the case will “test whether intelligence officers can be convicted of violating the Espionage Act even if their intent is pure.” He believes that the trial may also test whether the nation’s expanding secret intelligence bureaucracy is beyond meaningful accountability. “It’s a much larger debate than whether a piece of paper was at a certain place at a certain time,” he says.
Jack Balkin, a liberal law professor at Yale, agrees that the increase in leak prosecutions is part of a larger transformation. “We are witnessing the bipartisan normalization and legitimization of a national-surveillance state,” he says. In his view, zealous leak prosecutions are consonant with other political shifts since 9/11: the emergence of a vast new security bureaucracy, in which at least two and a half million people hold confidential, secret, or top-secret clearances; huge expenditures on electronic monitoring, along with a reinterpretation of the law in order to sanction it; and corporate partnerships with the government that have transformed the counterterrorism industry into a powerful lobbying force. Obama, Balkin says, has “systematically adopted policies consistent with the second term of the Bush Administration.”
On March 28th, Obama held a meeting in the White House with five advocates for greater transparency in government. During the discussion, the President drew a sharp distinction between whistle-blowers who exclusively reveal wrongdoing and those who jeopardize national security. The importance of maintaining secrecy about the impending raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound was likely on Obama’s mind. The White House has been particularly bedevilled by the ongoing release of classified documents by WikiLeaks, the group led by Julian Assange. Last year, WikiLeaks began releasing a vast trove of sensitive government documents allegedly leaked by a U.S. soldier, Bradley Manning; the documents included references to a courier for bin Laden who had moved his family to Abbottabad—the town where bin Laden was hiding out. Manning has been charged with “aiding the enemy.”
Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, attended the meeting, and said that Obama’s tone was generally supportive of transparency. But when the subject of national-security leaks came up, Brian said, “the President shifted in his seat and leaned forward. He said this may be where we have some differences. He said he doesn’t want to protect the people who leak to the media war plans that could impact the troops.” Though Brian was impressed with Obama’s over-all stance on transparency, she felt that he might be misinformed about some of the current leak cases. She warned Obama that prosecuting whistle-blowers would undermine his legacy. Brian had been told by the White House to avoid any “ask”s on specific issues, but she told the President that, according to his own logic, Drake was exactly the kind of whistle-blower who deserved protection.
As Drake tells it, his problems began on September 11, 2001. “The next seven weeks were crucial,” he said. “It’s foundational to why I am a criminal defendant today.” The morning that Al Qaeda attacked the U.S. was, coincidentally, Drake’s first full day of work as a civilian employee at the N.S.A.—an agency that James Bamford, the author of “The Shadow Factory” (2008), calls “the largest, most costly, and most technologically sophisticated spy organization the world has ever known.” Drake, a linguist and a computer expert with a background in military crypto-electronics, had worked for twelve years as an outside contractor at the N.S.A. Under a program code-named Jackpot, he focussed on finding and fixing weaknesses in the agency’s software programs. But, after going through interviews and background checks, he began working full time for Maureen Baginski, the chief of the Signals Intelligence Directorate at the N.S.A., and the agency’s third-highest-ranking official.
Even in an age in which computerized feats are commonplace, the N.S.A.’s capabilities are breathtaking. The agency reportedly has the capacity to intercept and download, every six hours, electronic communications equivalent to the contents of the Library of Congress. Three times the size of the C.I.A., and with a third of the U.S.’s entire intelligence budget, the N.S.A. has a five-thousand-acre campus at Fort Meade protected by iris scanners and facial-recognition devices. The electric bill there is said to surpass seventy million dollars a year.
Nevertheless, when Drake took up his post the agency was undergoing an identity crisis. With the Cold War over, the agency’s mission was no longer clear. As Drake puts it, “Without the Soviet Union, it didn’t know what to do.” Moreover, its technology had failed to keep pace with the shift in communications to cellular phones, fibre-optic cable, and the Internet. Two assessments commissioned by General Michael Hayden, who took over the agency in 1999, had drawn devastating conclusions. One described the N.S.A. as “an agency mired in bureaucratic conflict” and “suffering from poor leadership.” In January, 2000, the agency’s computer system crashed for three and a half days, causing a virtual intelligence blackout.
Agency leaders decided to “stir up the gene pool,” Drake says. Although his hiring was meant to signal fresh thinking, he was given a clumsy bureaucratic title: Senior Change Leader/Chief, Change Leadership & Communications Office, Signals Intelligence Directorate.
The 9/11 attacks caught the U.S.’s national-security apparatus by surprise. N.S.A. officials were humiliated to learn that the Al Qaeda hijackers had spent their final days, undetected, in a motel in Laurel, Maryland—a few miles outside the N.S.A.’s fortified gates. They had bought a folding knife at a Target on Fort Meade Road. Only after the attacks did agency officials notice that, on September 10th, their surveillance systems had intercepted conversations in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia warning that “the match begins tomorrow” and “tomorrow is Zero Hour.”
Drake, hoping to help fight back against Al Qaeda, immediately thought of a tantalizing secret project he had come across while working on Jackpot. Code-named ThinThread, it had been developed by technological wizards in a kind of Skunk Works on the N.S.A. campus. Formally, the project was supervised by the agency’s Signals Intelligence Automation Research Center, or SARC.
While most of the N.S.A. was reeling on September 11th, inside SARC the horror unfolded “almost like an ‘I-told-you-so’ moment,” according to J. Kirk Wiebe, an intelligence analyst who worked there. “We knew we weren’t keeping up.” SARC was led by a crypto-mathematician named Bill Binney, whom Wiebe describes as “one of the best analysts in history.” Binney and a team of some twenty others believed that they had pinpointed the N.S.A.’s biggest problem—data overload—and then solved it. But the agency’s management hadn’t agreed.
Binney, who is six feet three, is a bespectacled sixty-seven-year-old man with wisps of dark hair; he has the quiet, tense air of a preoccupied intellectual. Now retired and suffering gravely from diabetes, which has already claimed his left leg, he agreed recently to speak publicly for the first time about the Drake case. When we met, at a restaurant near N.S.A. headquarters, he leaned crutches against an extra chair. “This is too serious not to talk about,” he said.
Binney expressed terrible remorse over the way some of his algorithms were used after 9/11. ThinThread, the “little program” that he invented to track enemies outside the U.S., “got twisted,” and was used for both foreign and domestic spying: “I should apologize to the American people. It’s violated everyone’s rights. It can be used to eavesdrop on the whole world.” According to Binney, Drake took his side against the N.S.A.’s management and, as a result, became a political target within the agency. Binney spent most of his career at the agency. In 1997, he became the technical director of the World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group, a division of six thousand employees which focusses on analyzing signals intelligence. By the late nineties, the N.S.A. had become overwhelmed by the amount of digital data it was collecting. Binney and his team began developing codes aimed at streamlining the process, allowing the agency to isolate useful intelligence. This was the beginning of ThinThread.
In the late nineties, Binney estimated that there were some two and a half billion phones in the world and one and a half billion I.P. addresses. Approximately twenty terabytes of unique information passed around the world every minute. Binney started assembling a system that could trap and map all of it. “I wanted to graph the world,” Binney said. “People said, ‘You can’t do this—the possibilities are infinite.’ ” But he argued that “at any given point in time the number of atoms in the universe is big, but it’s finite.”
As Binney imagined it, ThinThread would correlate data from financial transactions, travel records, Web searches, G.P.S. equipment, and any other “attributes” that an analyst might find useful in pinpointing “the bad guys.” By 2000, Binney, using fibre optics, had set up a computer network that could chart relationships among people in real time. It also turned the N.S.A.’s data-collection paradigm upside down. Instead of vacuuming up information around the world and then sending it all back to headquarters for analysis, ThinThread processed information as it was collected—discarding useless information on the spot and avoiding the overload problem that plagued centralized systems. Binney says, “The beauty of it is that it was open-ended, so it could keep expanding.”
Pilot tests of ThinThread proved almost too successful, according to a former intelligence expert who analyzed it. “It was nearly perfect,” the official says. “But it processed such a large amount of data that it picked up more Americans than the other systems.” Though ThinThread was intended to intercept foreign communications, it continued documenting signals when a trail crossed into the U.S. This was a big problem: federal law forbade the monitoring of domestic communications without a court warrant. And a warrant couldn’t be issued without probable cause and a known suspect. In order to comply with the law, Binney installed privacy controls and added an “anonymizing feature,” so that all American communications would be encrypted until a warrant was issued. The system would indicate when a pattern looked suspicious enough to justify a warrant.
But this was before 9/11, and the N.S.A.’s lawyers deemed ThinThread too invasive of Americans’ privacy. In addition, concerns were raised about whether the system would function on a huge scale, although preliminary tests had suggested that it would. In the fall of 2000, Hayden decided not to use ThinThread, largely because of his legal advisers’ concerns. Instead, he funded a rival approach, called Trailblazer, and he turned to private defense contractors to build it. Matthew Aid, the author of a heralded 2009 history of the agency, “The Secret Sentry,” says, “The resistance to ThinThread was just standard bureaucratic politics. ThinThread was small, cost-effective, easy to understand, and protected the identity of Americans. But it wasn’t what the higher-ups wanted. They wanted a big machine that could make Martinis, too.”
The N.S.A.’s failure to stop the 9/11 plot infuriated Binney: he believed that ThinThread had been ready to deploy nine months earlier. Working with N.S.A. counterterrorism experts, he had planned to set up his system at sites where foreign terrorism was prevalent, including Afghanistan and Pakistan. “Those bits of conversations they found too late?” Binney said. “That would have never happened. I had it managed in a way that would send out automatic alerts. It would have been, Bang!”
Meanwhile, there was nothing to show for Trailblazer, other than mounting bills. As the system stalled at the level of schematic drawings, top executives kept shuttling between jobs at the agency and jobs with the high-paying contractors. For a time, both Hayden’s deputy director and his chief of signals-intelligence programs worked at SAIC, a company that won several hundred million dollars in Trailblazer contracts. In 2006, Trailblazer was abandoned as a $1.2-billion flop.
oon after 9/11, Drake says, he prepared a short, classified summary explaining how ThinThread “could be put into the fight,” and gave it to Baginski, his boss. But he says that she “wouldn’t respond electronically. She just wrote in a black felt marker, ‘They’ve found a different solution.’ ” When he asked her what it was, she responded, “I can’t tell you.” Baginski, who now works for a private defense contractor, recalls her interactions with Drake differently, but she declined to comment specifically.
In the weeks after the attacks, rumors began circulating inside the N.S.A. that the agency, with the approval of the Bush White House, was violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—the 1978 law, known as FISA, that bars domestic surveillance without a warrant. Years later, the rumors were proved correct. In nearly total secrecy, and under pressure from the White House, Hayden sanctioned warrantless domestic surveillance. The new policy, which lawyers in the Justice Department justified by citing President Bush’s executive authority as Commander-in-Chief, contravened a century of constitutional case law. Yet, on October 4, 2001, Bush authorized the policy, and it became operational by October 6th. Bamford, in “The Shadow Factory,” suggests that Hayden, having been overcautious about privacy before 9/11, swung to the opposite extreme after the attacks. Hayden, who now works for a security-consulting firm, declined to respond to detailed questions about the surveillance program.
When Binney heard the rumors, he was convinced that the new domestic-surveillance program employed components of ThinThread: a bastardized version, stripped of privacy controls. “It was my brainchild,” he said. “But they removed the protections, the anonymization process. When you remove that, you can target anyone.” He said that although he was not “read in” to the new secret surveillance program, “my people were brought in, and they told me, ‘Can you believe they’re doing this? They’re getting billing records on U.S. citizens! They’re putting pen registers’ ”—logs of dialled phone numbers—“ ‘on everyone in the country!’ ”
Drake recalled that, after the October 4th directive, “strange things were happening. Equipment was being moved. People were coming to me and saying, ‘We’re now targeting our own country!’ ” Drake says that N.S.A. officials who helped the agency obtain FISA warrants were suddenly reassigned, a tipoff that the conventional process was being circumvented. He added, “I was concerned that it was illegal, and none of it was necessary.” In his view, domestic data mining “could have been done legally” if the N.S.A. had maintained privacy protections. “But they didn’t want an accountable system.”
Aid, the author of the N.S.A. history, suggests that ThinThread’s privacy protections interfered with top officials’ secret objective—to pick American targets by name. “They wanted selection, not just collection,” he says.
A former N.S.A. official expressed skepticism that Drake cared deeply about the constitutional privacy issues raised by the agency’s surveillance policies. The official characterizes him as a bureaucrat driven by resentment of a rival project—Trailblazer—and calls his story “revisionist history.” But Drake says that, in the fall of 2001, he told Baginski he feared that the agency was breaking the law. He says that to some extent she shared his views, and later told him she feared that the agency would be “haunted” by the surveillance program. In 2003, she left the agency for the F.B.I., in part because of her discomfort with the surveillance program. Drake says that, at one point, Baginski told him that if he had concerns he should talk to the N.S.A.’s general counsel. Drake claims that he did, and that the agency’s top lawyer, Vito Potenza, told him, “Don’t worry about it. We’re the executive agent for the White House. It’s all been scrubbed. It’s legal.” When he pressed further, Potenza told him, “It’s none of your business.” (Potenza, who is now retired, declined to comment.)
Drake says, “I feared for the future. If Pandora’s box was opened, what would the government become?” He was not about to drop the matter. Matthew Aid, who describes Drake as “brilliant,” says that “he has sort of a Jesus complex—only he can see the way things are. Everyone else is mentally deficient, or in someone’s pocket.” Drake’s history of whistle-blowing stretches back to high school, in Manchester, Vermont, where his father, a retired Air Force officer, taught. When drugs infested the school, Drake became a police informant. And Watergate, which occurred while he was a student, taught him “that no one is above the law.”
Drake says that in the Air Force, where he learned to capture electronic signals, the FISA law “was drilled into us.” He recalls, “If you accidentally intercepted U.S. persons, there were special procedures to expunge it.” The procedures had been devised to prevent the recurrence of past abuses, such as Nixon’s use of the N.S.A. to spy on his political enemies.
Drake didn’t know the precise details, but he sensed that domestic spying “was now being done on a vast level.” He was dismayed to hear from N.S.A. colleagues that “arrangements” were being made with telecom and credit-card companies. He added, “The mantra was ‘Get the data!’ ” The transformation of the N.S.A., he says, was so radical that “it wasn’t just that the brakes came off after 9/11—we were in a whole different vehicle.”
ew people have a precise knowledge of the size or scope of the N.S.A.’s domestic-surveillance powers. An agency spokesman declined to comment on how the agency “performs its mission,” but said that its activities are constitutional and subject to “comprehensive and rigorous” oversight. But Susan Landau, a former engineer at Sun Microsystems, and the author of a new book, “Surveillance or Security?,” notes that, in 2003, the government placed equipment capable of copying electronic communications at locations across America. These installations were made, she says, at “switching offices” that not only connect foreign and domestic communications but also handle purely domestic traffic. As a result, she surmises, the U.S. now has the capability to monitor domestic traffic on a huge scale. “Why was it done this way?” she asks. “One can come up with all sorts of nefarious reasons, but one doesn’t want to think that way about our government.”
Binney, for his part, believes that the agency now stores copies of all e-mails transmitted in America, in case the government wants to retrieve the details later. In the past few years, the N.S.A. has built enormous electronic-storage facilities in Texas and Utah. Binney says that an N.S.A. e-mail database can be searched with “dictionary selection,” in the manner of Google. After 9/11, he says, “General Hayden reassured everyone that the N.S.A. didn’t put out dragnets, and that was true. It had no need—it was getting every fish in the sea.”
Binney considers himself a conservative, and, as an opponent of big government, he worries that the N.S.A.’s data-mining program is so extensive that it could help “create an Orwellian state.” Whereas wiretap surveillance requires trained human operators, data mining is automated, meaning that the entire country can be watched. Conceivably, U.S. officials could “monitor the Tea Party, or reporters, whatever group or organization you want to target,” he says. “It’s exactly what the Founding Fathers never wanted.” On October 31, 2001, soon after Binney concluded that the N.S.A. was headed in an unethical direction, he retired. He had served for thirty-six years. His wife worked there, too. Wiebe, the analyst, and Ed Loomis, a computer scientist at SARC, also left. Binney said of his decision, “I couldn’t be an accessory to subverting the Constitution.”
ot long after Binney quit the N.S.A., he says, he confided his concerns about the secret surveillance program to Diane Roark, a staff member on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which oversees the agency. Roark, who has flowing gray hair and large, wide-set eyes, looks like a waifish poet. But in her intelligence-committee job, which she held for seventeen years, she modelled herself on Machiavelli’s maxim that it is better to be feared than loved. Within the N.S.A.’s upper ranks she was widely resented. A former top N.S.A. official says of her, “In meetings, she would just say, ‘You’re lying.’ ”
Roark agrees that she distrusted the N.S.A.’s managers. “I asked very tough questions, because they were trying to hide stuff,” she says. “For instance, I wasn’t supposed to know about the warrantless surveillance. They were all determined that no one else was going to tell them what to do.”
Like Drake and Binney, Roark was a registered Republican, skeptical about bureaucracy but strong on national defense. She had a knack for recruiting sources at the N.S.A. One of them was Drake, who introduced himself to her in 2000, after she visited N.S.A. headquarters and gave a stinging talk on the agency’s failings; she also established relationships with Binney and Wiebe. Hayden was furious about this back channel. After learning that Binney had attended a meeting with Roark at which N.S.A. employees complained about Trailblazer, Hayden dressed down the critics. He then sent out an agency-wide memo, in which he warned that several “individuals, in a session with our congressional overseers, took a position in direct opposition to one that we had corporately decided to follow. . . . Actions contrary to our decisions will have a serious adverse effect on our efforts to transform N.S.A., and I cannot tolerate them.” Roark says of the memo, “Hayden brooked no opposition to his favorite people and programs.”
Roark, who had substantial influence over N.S.A. budget appropriations, was an early champion of Binney’s ThinThread project. She was dismayed, she says, to hear that it had evolved into a means of domestic surveillance, and felt personally responsible. Her oversight committee had been created after Watergate specifically to curb such abuses. “It was my duty to oppose it,” she told me. “That is why oversight existed, so that these things didn’t happen again. I’m not an attorney, but I thought that there was no way it was constitutional.” Roark recalls thinking that, if N.S.A. officials were breaking the law, she was “going to fry them.”
She soon learned that she was practically alone in her outrage. Very few congressional leaders had been briefed on the program, and some were apparently going along with it, even if they had reservations. Starting in February, 2002, Roark says, she wrote a series of memos warning of potential illegalities and privacy breaches and handed them to the staffers for Porter Goss, the chairman of her committee, and Nancy Pelosi, its ranking Democrat. But nothing changed. (Pelosi’s spokesman denied that she received such memos, and pointed out that a year earlier Pelosi had written to Hayden and expressed grave concerns about the N.S.A.’s electronic surveillance.)
Roark, feeling powerless, retired. Before leaving Washington, though, she learned that Hayden, who knew of her strong opposition to the surveillance program, wanted to talk to her. They met at N.S.A. headquarters on July 15, 2002. According to notes that she made after the meeting, Hayden pleaded with her to stop agitating against the program. He conceded that the policy would leak at some point, and told her that when it did she could “yell and scream” as much as she wished. Meanwhile, he wanted to give the program more time. She asked Hayden why the N.S.A. had chosen not to include privacy protections for Americans. She says that he “kept not answering. Finally, he mumbled, and looked down, and said, ‘We didn’t need them. We had the power.’ He didn’t even look me in the eye. I was flabbergasted.” She asked him directly if the government was getting warrants for domestic surveillance, and he admitted that it was not.
In an e-mail, Hayden confirmed that the meeting took place, but said that he recalled only its “broad outlines.” He noted that Roark was not “cleared to know about the expanded surveillance program, so I did not go into great detail.” He added, “I assured her that I firmly believed that what N.S.A. was doing was effective, appropriate, and lawful. I also reminded her that the program’s success depended on it remaining secret, that it was appropriately classified, and that any public discussion of it would have to await a later day.”
During the meeting, Roark says, she warned Hayden that no court would uphold the program. Curiously, Hayden responded that he had already been assured by unspecified individuals that he could count on a majority of “the nine votes”—an apparent reference to the Supreme Court. According to Roark’s notes, Hayden told her that such a vote might even be 7–2 in his favor.
Roark couldn’t believe that the Supreme Court had been adequately informed of the N.S.A.’s transgressions, and she decided to alert Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, sending a message through a family friend. Once again, there was no response. She also tried to contact a judge on the FISA court, in Washington, which adjudicates requests for warrants sanctioning domestic surveillance of suspected foreign agents. But the judge had her assistant refer the call to the Department of Justice, which had approved the secret program in the first place. Roark says that she even tried to reach David Addington, the legal counsel to Vice-President Dick Cheney, who had once been her congressional colleague. He never called back, and Addington was eventually revealed to be one of the prime advocates for the surveillance program.
“This was such a Catch-22,” Roark says. “There was no one to go to.” In October, 2003, feeling “profoundly depressed,” she left Washington and moved to a small town in Oregon.
Drake was still working at the N.S.A., but he was secretly informing on the agency to Congress. In addition to briefing Roark, he had become an anonymous source for the congressional committees investigating intelligence failures related to 9/11. He provided Congress with top-secret documents chronicling the N.S.A.’s shortcomings. Drake believed that the agency had failed to feed other intelligence agencies critical information that it had collected before the attacks. Congressional investigators corroborated these criticisms, though they found greater lapses at the C.I.A. and the F.B.I.
Around this time, Drake recalls, Baginski warned him, “Be careful, Tom—they’re looking for leakers.” He found this extraordinary, and asked himself, “Telling the truth to congressional oversight committees is leaking?” But the N.S.A. has a rule requiring employees to clear any contact with Congress, and in the spring of 2002 Baginski told Drake, “It’s time for you to find another job.” He soon switched to a less sensitive post at the agency, the first of several.
As for Binney, he remained frustrated even in retirement about what he considered the misuse of ThinThread. In September, 2002, he, Wiebe, Loomis, and Roark filed what they thought was a confidential complaint with the Pentagon’s Inspector General, extolling the virtues of the original ThinThread project and accusing the N.S.A. of wasting money on Trailblazer. Drake did not put his name on the complaint, because he was still an N.S.A. employee. But he soon became involved in helping the others, who had become friends. He obtained documents aimed at proving waste, fraud, and abuse in the Trailblazer program.
The Inspector General’s report, which was completed in 2005, was classified as secret, so only a few insiders could read what Drake describes as a scathing document. Possibly the only impact of the probe was to hasten the end of Trailblazer, whose budget overruns had become indisputably staggering. Though Hayden acknowledged to a Senate committee that the costs of the Trailblazer project “were greater than anticipated, to the tune of, I would say, hundreds of millions,” most of the scandal’s details remained hidden from the public.
In December, 2005, the N.S.A.’s culture of secrecy was breached by a stunning leak. The Times reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau revealed that the N.S.A. was running a warrantless wiretapping program inside the United States. The paper’s editors had held onto the scoop for more than a year, weighing the propriety of publishing it. According to Bill Keller, the executive editor of the Times, President Bush pleaded with the paper’s editors to not publish the story; Keller told New York that “the basic message was: You’ll have blood on your hands.” After the paper defied the Administration, Bush called the leak “a shameful act.” At his command, federal agents launched a criminal investigation to identify the paper’s source.
The Times story shocked the country. Democrats, including then Senator Obama, denounced the program as illegal and demanded congressional hearings. A FISA court judge resigned in protest. In March, 2006, Mark Klein, a retired A.T. & T. employee, gave a sworn statement to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which was filing a lawsuit against the company, describing a secret room in San Francisco where powerful Narus computers appeared to be sorting and copying all of the telecom’s Internet traffic—both foreign and domestic. A high-capacity fibre-optic cable seemed to be forwarding this data to a centralized location, which, Klein surmised, was N.S.A. headquarters. Soon, USA Today reported that A.T. & T., Verizon, and BellSouth had secretly opened their electronic records to the government, in violation of communications laws. Legal experts said that each instance of spying without a warrant was a serious crime, and that there appeared to be hundreds of thousands of infractions.
President Bush and Administration officials assured the American public that the surveillance program was legal, although new legislation was eventually required to bring it more in line with the law. They insisted that the traditional method of getting warrants was too slow for the urgent threats posed by international terrorism. And they implied that the only domestic surveillance taking place involved tapping phone calls in which one speaker was outside the U.S.
Drake says of Bush Administration officials, “They were lying through their teeth. They had chosen to go an illegal route, and it wasn’t because they had no other choice.” He also believed that the Administration was covering up the full extent of the program. “The phone calls were the tip of the iceberg. The really sensitive stuff was the data mining.” He says, “I was faced with a crisis of conscience. What do I do—remain silent, and complicit, or go to the press?”
Drake has a wife and five sons, the youngest of whom has serious health problems, and so he agonized over the decision. He researched the relevant legal statutes and concluded that if he spoke to a reporter about unclassified matters the only risk he ran was losing his job. N.S.A. policy forbids initiating contact with the press. “I get that it’s grounds for ‘We have to let you go,’ ” he says. But he decided that he was willing to lose his job. “This was a violation of everything I knew and believed as an American. We were making the Nixon Administration look like pikers.”
Drake got in touch with Gorman, who covered the N.S.A. for the Baltimore Sun. He had admired an article of hers and knew that Roark had spoken to her previously, though not about anything classified. He got Gorman’s contact information from Roark, who warned him to be careful. She knew that in the past the N.S.A. had dealt harshly with people who embarrassed it.
Drake set up a secure Hushmail e-mail account and began sending Gorman anonymous tips. Half in jest, he chose the pseudonym The Shadow Knows. He says that he insisted on three ground rules with Gorman: neither he nor she would reveal his identity; he wouldn’t be the sole source for any story; he would not supply her with classified information. But a year into the arrangement, in February, 2007, Drake decided to blow his cover, surprising Gorman by showing up at the newspaper and introducing himself as The Shadow Knows. He ended up meeting with Gorman half a dozen times. But, he says, “I never gave her anything classified.” Gorman has not been charged with wrongdoing, and declined, through her lawyer, Laura Handman, to comment, citing the pending trial.
Starting on January 29, 2006, Gorman, who now works at the Wall Street Journal, published a series of articles about problems at the N.S.A., including a story describing Trailblazer as an expensive fiasco. On May 18, 2006, the day that Hayden faced Senate confirmation hearings for a new post—the head of the C.I.A.—the Sun published Gorman’s exposé on ThinThread, which accused the N.S.A. of rejecting an approach that protected Americans’ privacy. Hayden, evidently peeved, testified that intelligence officers deserved “not to have every action analyzed, second-guessed, and criticized on the front pages of the newspapers.”
At the time, the government did not complain that the Sun had crossed a legal line. It did not contact the paper’s editors or try to restrain the paper from publishing Gorman’s work. A former N.S.A. colleague of Drake’s says he believes that the Sun stories revealed government secrets. Others disagree. Steven Aftergood, the secrecy expert, says that the articles “did not damage national security.”
Matthew Aid argues that the material Drake provided to the Sun should not have been highly classified—if it was—and in any case only highlighted that “the N.S.A. was a management nightmare, which wasn’t a secret in Washington.” In his view, Drake “was just saying, ‘We’re not doing our job, and it’s having a deleterious effect on mission performance.’ He was right, by the way.” The Sun series, Aid says, was “embarrassing to N.S.A. management, but embarrassment to the U.S. government is not a criminal offense in this country.” (Aid has a stake in this debate. In 1984, when he was in the Air Force, he spent several months in the stockade for having stored classified documents in a private locker. The experience, he says, sensitized him to issues of government secrecy.)
While the Sun was publishing its series, twenty-five federal agents and five prosecutors were struggling to identify the Times’ source. The team had targeted some two hundred possible suspects, but had found no culprits. The Sun series attracted the attention of the investigators, who theorized that its source might also have talked to the Times. This turned out not to be true. Nevertheless, the investigators quickly homed in on the Trailblazer critics. “It’s sad,” an intelligence expert says. “I think they were aiming at the Times leak and found this instead.”
Roark was an obvious suspect for the Times leak. Everyone from Hayden on down knew that she had opposed the surveillance program. After the article appeared, she says, “I was waiting for the shoe to drop.” The F.B.I. eventually contacted her, and in February, 2007, she and her attorney met with the prosecutor then in charge, Steven Tyrrell, who was the head of the fraud section at the Justice Department. Roark signed an affidavit saying that she was not a source for the Times story or for “State of War,” a related book that James Risen wrote. She also swore that she had no idea who the source was. She says of the experience, “It was an interrogation, not an interview. They treated me like a target.”
Roark recalls that the F.B.I. agents tried to force her to divulge the identity of her old N.S.A. informants. They already seemed to know about Drake, Binney, and Wiebe—perhaps from the Inspector General’s report. She refused to coöperate, arguing that it was improper for agents of the executive branch to threaten a congressional overseer about her sources. “I had the sense that N.S.A. was egging the F.B.I. on,” she says. “I’d gotten the N.S.A. so many times—they were going to get me. The N.S.A. hated me.” (The N.S.A. and the Justice Department declined to comment on the investigations.)
In the months that followed, Roark heard nothing. Finally, her lawyer placed the case in her “dead file.”
n July 26, 2007, at 9 A.M. Eastern Standard Time, armed federal agents simultaneously raided the houses of Binney, Wiebe, and Roark. (At Roark’s house, in Oregon, it was six o’clock.) Binney was in the shower when agents arrived, and recalls, “They went right upstairs to the bathroom and held guns on me and my wife, right between the eyes.” The agents took computer equipment, a copy of the Inspector General complaint and a copy of a commercial pitch that Binney had written with Wiebe, Loomis, and Roark. In 2001, the N.S.A. indicated to Binney that he could pursue commercial projects based on ThinThread. He and the others thought that aspects of the software could be used to help detect Medicare fraud.
Binney professed his innocence, and he says that the agents told him, “We think you’re lying. You need to implicate someone. ” He believed that they were trying to get him to name Roark as the Times’ source. He suggested that if they were looking for criminal conspirators they should focus on Bush and Hayden for allowing warrantless surveillance. Binney recalls an agent responding that such brazen spying didn’t happen in America. Looking over the rims of his owlish glasses, Binney replied, “Oh, really?” Roark was sleeping when the agents arrived, and didn’t hear them until “it sounded as if they were going to pull the house down, they were rattling it so badly.” They took computers and a copy of the same commercial pitch. Her son had been interested in collaborating on the venture, and he, too, became a potential target. “They believed everybody was conspiring,” Roark says. “For years, I couldn’t talk to my own son without worrying that they’d say I was trying to influence his testimony.” Although she has been fighting cancer, she has spoken with him only sparingly since the raid.
The agents seemed to think that the commercial pitch contained classified information. Roark was shaken: she and the others thought they had edited it scrupulously to insure that it did not. Agents also informed her that a few scattered papers in her old office files were classified. After the raid, she called her lawyer and asked, “If there’s a disagreement on classification, does intent mean anything?” The question goes to the heart of the Drake case.
Roark, who always considered herself “a law-and-order person,” said of the raid, “This changed my faith.” Eventually, the prosecution offered her a plea bargain, under which she would plead guilty to perjury, for ostensibly lying to the F.B.I. about press leaks. The prosecutors also wanted her to testify against Drake. Roark refused. “I’m not going to plead guilty to deliberately doing anything wrong,” she told them. “And I can’t testify against Tom because I don’t know that he did anything wrong. Whatever Tom revealed, I am sure that he did not think it was classified.” She says, “I didn’t think the system was perfect, but I thought they’d play fair with me. They didn’t. I felt it was retribution.”
Wiebe, the retired analyst, was the most surprised by the raid—he had not yet been contacted in connection with the investigation. He recalls that agents locked his two Pembroke Welsh corgis in a bathroom and commanded his daughter and his mother-in-law, who was in her bathrobe, to stay on a couch while they searched his house. He says, “I feel I’m living in the very country I worked for years to defeat: the Soviet Union. We’re turning into a police state.” Like Roark, he says of the raid, “It was retribution for our filing the Inspector General complaint.”
Under the law, such complaints are confidential, and employees who file them are supposed to be protected from retaliation. It’s unclear if the Trailblazer complaint tipped off authorities, but all four people who signed it became targets. Jesselyn Radack, of the Government Accountability Project, a whistle-blower advocacy group that has provided legal support to Drake, says of his case, “It’s the most severe form of whistle-blower retaliation I have ever seen.” few days after the raid, Drake met Binney and Wiebe for lunch, at a tavern in Glenelg, Maryland. “I had a pretty good idea I was next,” Drake says. But it wasn’t until the morning of November 28, 2007, that he saw armed agents streaming across his lawn. Though Drake was informed of his right to remain silent, he viewed the raid as a fresh opportunity to blow the whistle. He spent the day at his kitchen table, without a lawyer, talking. He brought up Trailblazer, but found that the investigators weren’t interested in the details of a defunct computer system, or in cost overruns, or in the constitutional conflicts posed by warrantless surveillance. Their focus was on the Times leak. He assured them that he wasn’t the source, but he confirmed his contact with the Sun, insisting that he had not relayed any classified information. He also disclosed his computer password. The agents bagged documents, computers, and books, and removed eight or ten boxes of office files from his basement. “I felt incredibly violated,” he says.
For four months, Drake continued coöperating. He admitted that he had given Gorman information that he had cut and pasted from secret documents, but stressed that he had not included anything classified. He acknowledged sending Gorman hundreds of e-mails. Then, in April, 2008, the F.B.I. told him that someone important wanted to meet with him, at a secure building in Calverton, Maryland. Drake agreed to the appointment. Soon after he showed up, he says, Steven Tyrrell, the prosecutor, walked in and told him, “You’re screwed, Mr. Drake. We have enough evidence to put you away for most of the rest of your natural life.”
Prosecutors informed Drake that they had found classified documents in the boxes in his basement—the indictment cites three—and discovered two more in his e-mail archive. They also accused him of shredding other documents, and of deleting e-mails in the months before he was raided, in an attempt to obstruct justice. Further, they said that he had lied when he told federal agents that he hadn’t given Gorman classified information.
“They had made me into an enemy of the state just by saying I was,” Drake says. The boxes in his basement contained copies of some of the less sensitive material that he had procured for the Inspector General’s Trailblazer investigation. The Inspector General’s Web site directs complainants to keep copies. Drake says that if the boxes did, in fact, contain classified documents he didn’t realize it. (The indictment emphasizes that he “willfully” retained documents.) The two documents that the government says it extracted from his e-mail archive were even less sensitive, Drake says. Both pertained to a successor to Trailblazer, code-named Turbulence. One document listed a schedule of meetings about Turbulence. It was marked “unclassified/for official use only” and posted on the N.S.A.’s internal Web site. The government has since argued that the schedule should have been classified, and that Drake should have known this. The other document, which touted the success of Turbulence, was officially declassified in July, 2010, three months after Drake was indicted. “After charging him with having this ostensibly serious classified document, the government waved a wand and decided it wasn’t so classified after all,” Radack says.
Clearly, the intelligence community hopes that the Drake case will send a message about the gravity of exposing government secrets. But Drake’s lawyer, a federal public defender named James Wyda, argued in court last spring that “there have never been two documents so benign that are the subject of this kind of prosecution against a client whose motives are as salutary as Tom’s.”
Drake insists, too, that the only computer files he destroyed were routine trash: “I held then, and I hold now, I had nothing to destroy.” Drake, who left the N.S.A. in 2008, and now works at an Apple Store outside Washington, asks, “Why didn’t I erase everything on my computer, then? I know how to do it. They found what they found.” ot everyone familiar with Drake’s case is moved by his plight. A former federal official knowledgeable about the case says, “To his credit, he tried to raise these issues, and, to an extent, they were dealt with. But who died and left him in charge?”
In May, 2009, Tyrrell proposed a plea bargain: if Drake pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to violate the Espionage Act and agreed to coöperate against the others, he would get a maximum of five years in prison. “They wanted me to reveal a conspiracy that didn’t exist,” Drake says. “It was all about the Times, but I had no knowledge of the leak.” Drake says that he told prosecutors, “I refuse to plea-bargain with the truth.”
That June, Drake learned that Tyrrell was leaving the government. Tyrrell was a Republican, and Drake was hopeful that a prosecutor appointed by the Obama Administration would have a different approach. But Drake was dismayed to learn that Tyrrell’s replacement, William Welch, had just been transferred from the top spot in the Justice Department’s public-integrity section, after an overzealous prosecution of Ted Stevens, the Alaska senator. A judge had thrown out Stevens’s conviction, and, at one point, had held Welch in contempt of court. (Welch declined to comment.)
In April, 2010, Welch indicted Drake, shattering his hope for a reprieve from the Obama Administration. But the prosecution’s case had shrunk dramatically from the grand conspiracy initially laid out by Tyrrell. (Welch accidentally sent the defense team an early draft of the indictment, revealing how the case had changed.) Drake was no longer charged with leaking classified documents, or with being part of a conspiracy. He is still charged with violating the Espionage Act, but now merely because of unauthorized “willful retention” of the five documents. Drake says that when he learned that, even with the reduced charges, he still faced up to thirty-five years in prison, he “was completely aghast.”
Morton Halperin, of the Open Society Institute, says that the reduced charges make the prosecution even more outlandish: “If Drake is convicted, it means the Espionage Law is an Official Secrets Act.” Because reporters often retain unauthorized defense documents, Drake’s conviction would establish a legal precedent making it possible to prosecute journalists as spies. “It poses a grave threat to the mechanism by which we learn most of what the government does,” Halperin says.
The Espionage Act has rarely been used to prosecute leakers and whistle-blowers. Drake’s case is only the fourth in which the act has been used to indict someone for mishandling classified material. “It was meant to deal with classic espionage, not publication,” Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at American University who is an expert on the statute, says.
The first attempt to apply the law to leakers was the aborted prosecution, in 1973, of Daniel Ellsberg, a researcher at the RAND Corporation who was charged with disclosing the Pentagon Papers—a damning secret history of the Vietnam War. But the case was dropped, owing, in large part, to prosecutorial misconduct. The second such effort was the case of Samuel L. Morison, a naval intelligence officer who, in 1985, was convicted for providing U.S. photographs of a Soviet ship to Jane’s Defence Weekly. Morison was later pardoned by Bill Clinton. The third case was the prosecution, in 2005, of a Defense Department official, Lawrence Franklin, and two lobbyists for the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. Franklin pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, and the case against the lobbyists collapsed after the presiding judge insisted that prosecutors establish criminal intent. Unable to prove this, the Justice Department abandoned the case, amid criticism that the government had overreached.
Drake’s case also raises questions about double standards. In recent years, several top officials accused of similar misdeeds have not faced such serious charges. John Deutch, the former C.I.A. director, and Alberto Gonzales, the former Attorney General, both faced much less stringent punishment after taking classified documents home without authorization. In 2003, Sandy Berger, Clinton’s national-security adviser, smuggled classified documents out of a federal building, reportedly by hiding them in his pants. It was treated as a misdemeanor. His defense lawyer was Lanny Breuer—the official overseeing the prosecution of Drake.
Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor who served in the Bush Justice Department, laments the lack of consistency in leak prosecutions. He notes that no investigations have been launched into the sourcing of Bob Woodward’s four most recent books, even though “they are filled with classified information that he could only have received from the top of the government.” Gabriel Schoenfeld, of the Hudson Institute, says, “The selectivity of the prosecutions here is nightmarish. It’s a broken system.” Mark Feldstein, a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, warns that, if whistle-blowers and other dissenters are singled out for prosecution, “this has gigantic repercussions. You choke off the information that the public needs to judge policy.”
Few people are more disturbed about Drake’s prosecution than the others who spoke out against the N.S.A. surveillance program. In 2008, Thomas Tamm, a Justice Department lawyer, revealed that he was one of the people who leaked to the Times. He says of Obama, “It’s so disappointing from someone who was a constitutional-law professor, and who made all those campaign promises.” The Justice Department recently confirmed that it won’t pursue charges against Tamm. Speaking before Congress, Attorney General Holder explained that “there is a balancing that has to be done . . . between what our national-security interests are and what might be gained by prosecuting a particular individual.” The decision provoked strong criticism from Republicans, underscoring the political pressures that the Justice Department faces when it backs off such prosecutions. Still, Tamm questions why the Drake case is proceeding, given that Drake never revealed anything as sensitive as what appeared in the Times. “The program he talked to the Baltimore Sun about was a failure and wasted billions of dollars,” Tamm says. “It’s embarrassing to the N.S.A., but it’s not giving aid and comfort to the enemy.”
Mark Klein, the former A.T. & T. employee who exposed the telecom-company wiretaps, is also dismayed by the Drake case. “I think it’s outrageous,” he says. “The Bush people have been let off. The telecom companies got immunity. The only people Obama has prosecuted are the whistle-blowers.” ♦
Three Senate Democrats angry about the high price of gasoline propose to raise taxes on the firms that produce it. No, it does not make any sense to us, either. For Democrats, expensive gas is just the price of scoring a moral victory over Big Oil, and American consumers will be expected to pay any price and bear any burden that Harry Reid & Co. inflict upon them.
The “Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act” is a minotaur’s labyrinth of economic illiteracy, with Democratic senators Robert Menendez (N.J.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), and Claire McCaskill (Mo.) lurking at the center of it. This A-team of financial sophisticates has taken a hard look at rising gasoline prices and concluded that the most reasonable course of action is to increase the cost of producing oil by “closing tax loopholes” for the five biggest oil companies. Why the five biggest? Why not four or six? Why not all oil companies? Because this is not a bill about tax reform, but a bill about Democrats’ bitterness and impotency in the face of unpleasant economic realities.
The first thing you should know about these oil-company loopholes is that the main items under discussion are not exactly oil-company loopholes. In 2004, Congress enacted an ill-considered tax break for manufacturing companies — one of many harebrained efforts to improve the U.S. economy by empowering politicians to hand out favors to their friends — and the definition of manufacturer was written in such a way as to cover just about any firm with investments in physical capital: Starbucks qualifies for manufacturers’ benefits under the relevant section of the law, known as Section 199. If you hire a guy to build a diving board for your home swimming pool, he’s as much a manufacturer as General Motors.
Which is to say, it is a stupid law, but it is not a law that grants special privileges to oil companies. Congress would be wise to repeal Section 199 in its entirety. In truth, our corporate tax code is a Hieronymus Bosch nightmare of political favoritism, market distortion, and rent-seeking representing the worst aspects of the unsavory nexus between Big Business and Big Government. For that matter, so is the individual tax code, and both should be reformed in roughly the same way: by eliminating exemptions, deductions, and hamfisted attempts at imposing economic policy through the tax regime. Such an approach to reform would, intelligently applied, enable us to reduce tax rates without reducing tax revenue, a very happy result indeed for a great many taxpayers.
Don’t count on that happening. The Democrats would rather use the tax code as an enemies list, and they’re already fighting about what to do with the money they foresee expropriating from oil producers and, indirectly, from gasoline consumers. Some want to use the funds to pretend to reduce the deficit. Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.), getting in touch with his inner Barack Obama, has his eyes on the money, too, with big plans to use it to subsidize politically favored automobile manufacturers and enterprises engaged in the alternative-fuels business — as though one ethanol boondoggle and one GM bailout were not enough of a national embarrassment.
Consumer gasoline prices are highly responsive to oil producers’ costs. In a meaningful sense, oil companies are not so much taxpayers as tax-collectors. Singling oil companies out for tax-code punishment may give Democrats a political tingle, but it’s drivers and consumers (How do you think your groceries get to the store?) who will pay the freight.
Along with Section 199, there are other aspects of the corporate tax code that cry out for revision. Rules covering operating expenses and investment costs need to be made consistent. Above all, the treatment of foreign income needs to be updated: The United States, alone among the developed world, makes a tax claim on income earned beyond its legal jurisdiction, placing American companies at a great disadvantage — and leaving trillions of dollars of potentially productive investment capital stranded offshore. Investment analysts took note this week of Microsoft’s purchase of the Internet-telephony firm Skype for $8.5 billion. Microsoft, like many U.S. firms, has a lot of international earnings that it does not wish to pay a 35 percent penalty on for the privilege of returning them to the United States, and it was from these exiled funds that it purchased Skype, which is incorporated not in the United States but in Luxembourg. Being incorporated in the United States would have cost Skype billions of dollars on the deal, a fact not lost on venture capitalists and start-up entrepreneurs — the people who create high-paying jobs, along with goods and services in demand in the real economy.
That’s just one example of how bad tax law is costing the United States jobs, growth, investment — and tax revenue, too. We should simply simplify — a fact that ought to be obvious enough even for these simple senators.
And I've already detailed issues I've dealt with in the past. One example I used here are the standards of banter used in the kitchen v. the standards of banter in a civil service gig. If utterings in the former were detailed in the latter all sorts of consternation would ensue. You can imagine no future employer who might take issue with your online habits? Plenty of your posts would cause a lot of raised eyebrows in some quarters. Is your email better sanitized than your online life? Plenty of folks already contending with HR opprobrium due to their posting habits on Facebook, do we really want a net of undefined size and duration to be cast even further? You can't imagine that resource ever being abused or standards changing to the point that something commonplace in the past is taboo today?
WHO BETTER TO LEAD AN EDUCATIONAL REVOLUTION THAN JOEL KLEIN, THE PROSECUTOR WHO TOOK ON THE SOFTWARE GIANT MICROSOFT? BUT IN HIS EIGHT YEARS AS CHANCELLOR OF NEW YORK CITY’S SCHOOL SYSTEM, THE NATION’S LARGEST, KLEIN LEARNED A FEW PAINFUL LESSONS OF HIS OWN—ABOUT FECKLESS POLITICIANS, RECALCITRANT UNIONS, MEDIOCRE TEACHERS, AND OTHER ENDURING OBSTACLES TO SCHOOL REFORM.
By Joel Klein
Above: Joel Klein in Brooklyn on the first day of school, two months before he resigned as chancellor IMAGE CREDIT: RAMIN TALAIE/CORBIS
THREE YEARS AGO, in a New York Times article detailing her bid to become head of the American Federation of Teachers union, Randi Weingarten boasted that despite my calls for “radical reform” to New York City’s school system, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and I had achieved only “incremental” change. It seemed like a strange thing to crow about, but she did have something of a point. New York over the past nine years has experienced what Robert Schwartz, the academic dean of Harvard’s education school, has described as “the most dramatic and thoughtful set of large-scale reforms going on anywhere in the country,” resulting in gains such as a nearly 20-point jump in graduation rates. But the city’s school system is still not remotely where it needs to be.
That story holds more than true for the country at large. Nearly three decades after A Nation at Risk, the groundbreaking report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, warned of “a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people,” the gains we have made in improving our schools are negligible—even though we have doubled our spending (in inflation-adjusted dollars) on K–12 public education. On America’s latest exams (the National Assessment of Educational Progress), one-third or fewer of eighth-grade students were proficient in math, science, or reading. Our high-school graduation rate continues to hover just shy of 70 percent, according to a 2010 report by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, and many of those students who do graduate aren’t prepared for college. ACT, the respected national organization that administers college-admissions tests, recently found that 76 percent of our high-school graduates “were not adequately prepared academically for first-year college courses.”
VIDEO: Joel Klein explains the twisted politics of New York education in a conversation with Atlantic editor James Bennet While America’s students are stuck in a ditch, the rest of the world is moving ahead. The World Economic Forum ranks us 48th in math and science education. On international math tests, the United States is near the bottom of industrialized countries (the 34 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), and we’re in the middle in science and reading. Similarly, although we used to have one of the top percentages of high-school and college graduates among the OECD countries, we’re now in the basement for high-school and the middle for college graduates. And these figures don’t take into account the leaps in educational attainment in China, Singapore, and many developing countries.
During the first three-quarters of the 20th century, America developed an enormously successful middle class, first by making high school universal, and then, after the Second World War, by making college much more available, through the GI Bill and other scholarship programs. As a result, our educational attainment kept pace with our strong technological advancement. But that’s changed markedly since 1980, and now our technological progress is advancing more rapidly than our educational attainment. From 1960 to 1980, our supply of college graduates increased at almost 4 percent a year; since then, the increase has been about half as fast. The net effect is that we’re rapidly moving toward two Americas—a wealthy elite, and an increasingly large underclass that lacks the skills to succeed.
This division tears at the very fabric of our society. Nevertheless, there’s little national urgency to fix its underlying causes. Unlike a bad economy, poor educational achievement creeps up on us. Right now, if you were running for office, would you be more concerned with unemployment or education? Also, unlike terrorism, an educational crisis has a different impact on the powerful than it does on most of society. Their children, who are in private schools or elite public schools, receive a decent education, so it’s hard to get them fully engaged in the broader national debate. Plus, unlike in health care, for example, where we perceive the quality of care to be good and worry instead about controlling costs and covering the uninsured, in education, despite massive increases in expenditure, we don’t see improved results. That leads too many people to suspect that poverty is destiny, that schools can make only a small difference, and that therefore we’re unable to fix this problem, regardless of its seriousness. So why try?
If the forces behind reform seem scattered and weak, those defending the status quo—the unions, the politicians, the bureaucrats, and the vendors—are well organized and well financed. Having spent eight years trying to ignite a revolution in New York City’s schools under Bloomberg’s leadership, I am convinced that without a major realignment of political forces, we won’t get the dramatic improvements our children need.
TO COMPREHEND THE depth of the problem, consider one episode that still shocks me. Starting in 2006, under federal law, the State of New York was required to test students in grades three through eight annually in math and English. The results of those tests would enable us, for the first time, to analyze year-to-year student progress and tie it to individual teacher performance—a metric known in the field as “teacher value-added.” In essence, you hold constant other factors—where the students start from the prior year, demographics, class size, teacher length of service, and so on—and, based on test results, seek to isolate the individual teacher’s contribution to a student’s progress. Some teachers, for example, move their class forward on average a quarter-year more than expected; others, a quarter-year less. Value-added isn’t a perfect metric, but it’s surely worth considering as part of an overall teacher evaluation.
After we developed data from this metric, we decided to factor them into the granting of tenure, an award that is made after three years and that provides virtual lifetime job security. Under state law at the time, we were free to use these data. But after the New York City teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers, objected, I proposed that the City use value-added numbers only for the top and bottom 20 percent of teachers: the top 20 percent would get positive credit; the bottom would lose credit. And even then, principals would take value-added data into account only as part of a much larger, comprehensive tenure review. Even with these limitations, the UFT said “No way,” and headed to Albany to set up a legislative roadblock.
Seemingly overnight, a budget amendment barring the use of test data in tenure decisions materialized in the heavily Democratic State Assembly. Joe Bruno, then the Republican majority leader in the State Senate, assured me that this amendment would not pass: he controlled the majority and would make sure that it remained united in opposition. Fast-forward a few weeks: the next call I got from Senator Bruno was to say, apologetically, that several of his Republican colleagues had caved to the teachers union, which had threatened reprisals in the next election if they didn’t get on board.
As a result, even when making a lifetime tenure commitment, under New York law you could not consider a teacher’s impact on student learning. That Kafkaesque outcome demonstrates precisely the way the system is run: for the adults. The school system doesn’t want to change, because it serves the needs of the adult stakeholders quite well, both politically and financially.
Let’s start with the politicians. From their point of view, the school system can be enormously helpful, providing patronage hires, school-placement opportunities for connected constituents, the means to get favored community and business programs adopted and funded, and politically advantageous ties to schools and parents in their communities.
During my maiden testimony before the State Assembly, I said that we would end patronage hires, which were notorious under the old system of 32 school districts, run by 32 school boards and 32 superintendents (a 2002 state bill granting Bloomberg mayoral control of the city’s schools abolished the 32 boards). At my mention of patronage, the legislators, like Captain Renault in Casablanca, purported to be “shocked.” Nevertheless, after the hearing, when I went to thank committee members, one took me aside and said: “Listen, they’re trying to get rid of a principal in my district who runs a Democratic club for us. If you protect him, you’ll never have a problem with me.” This kind of encounter was not rare.
Similarly, I faced repeated requests for “constituent services,” meaning good school placements for wired constituents. After we reorganized the system and minimized the power of the 32 local superintendents—the go-to people for politicians under the past regime—a local official called me and asked, “Whom do I call for constituent services after your reorg?” I replied, “What’s that?” Impatiently, he asked, “How do I get a kid into a school when I need to?” I jokingly answered, “Oh, we must have left out that office in the reorg” (actually thinking, silly me, that the school system should use equitable rules for admission). He said, “Go fuck yourself,” and hung up. Despite our constant efforts, or because of them, this kind of political pressure—and payback if we weren’t responsive—happened at every level. Even more important, politicians can reap enormous political support from the unions representing school employees. The two national unions—the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association—together have some 4.7 million members, who pay hundreds of millions of dollars in national, state, and local dues, much of which is funneled to political causes. Teachers unions consistently rank among the top spenders on politics.
Moreover, millions of union members turn out when summoned, going door-to-door, staffing phone banks, attending rallies, and the like. Teachers are extremely effective messengers to parents, community groups, faith-based groups, and elected officials, and the unions know how to deploy them well. And just as happy unions can give a politician massive clout, unhappy unions—well, just ask Eva Moskowitz, a Democrat who headed the City Council Education Committee when I became chancellor in 2002. Brilliant, savvy, ambitious, often a pain in my neck, and atypically fearless for an elected official, she was widely expected to be elected Manhattan borough president in 2005. Until, that is, she held hearings on the New York City teachers-union contract—an extraordinary document, running on for hundreds of pages, governing who can teach what and when, who can be assigned to hall-monitor or lunchroom duty and who can’t, who has to be given time off to do union work during the school day, and so on. Truth is, the contract defied parody. So when Moskowitz exposed its ridiculousness, the UFT, then headed by Randi Weingarten, made sure that Moskowitz’s run for borough president came up short. After that, other elected officials would say to me, “I agree with you, but I ain’t gonna get Eva’d.”
In short, politicians—especially Democratic politicians—generally do what the unions want. And the unions, in turn, are very clear about what that is. They want, first, happy members, so that those who run the unions get reelected; and, second, more members, so their power, money, and influence grow. As Albert Shanker, the late, iconic head of the UFT, once pointedly put it, “When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.” And what do the members want? Employees understandably want lifetime job security (tenure), better pay regardless of performance (seniority pay), less work (short days, long holidays, lots of sick days), and the opportunity to retire early (at, say, 55) with a good lifetime pension and full health benefits; for their part, the retirees want to make sure their benefits keep coming and grow through cost-of-living increases. The result: whether you work hard or don’t, get good results with kids or don’t, teach in a shortage area like math or special education or don’t, or in a hard-to-staff school in a poor community or not, you get paid the same, unless you’ve been around for another year, in which case you get more. Not bad for the adults.
But it’s just disastrous for the kids in our schools. While out-of-school environment certainly affects student achievement, President Obama was on to something in 2008 when he said: “The single most important factor in determining [student] achievement is not the color of [students’] skin or where they come from. It’s not who their parents are or how much money they have. It’s who their teacher is.” Yet, rather than create a system that attracts and rewards excellent teachers—and that imposes consequences for ineffective or lazy ones—we treat all teachers as if they were identical widgets and their performance didn’t matter.
In fact, notwithstanding union rhetoric that “tenure is merely due process,” firing a public-school teacher for non-performance is virtually impossible. In New York City, which has some 55,000 tenured teachers, we were able to fire only half a dozen or so for incompetence in a given year, even though we devoted significant resources to this effort.
The extent of this “no one gets fired” mentality is difficult to overstate—or even adequately describe. Steven Brill wrote an eye-opening piece in The New Yorker about the “rubber rooms” in New York City, where teachers were kept, while doing no work, pending resolution of the charges against them—mostly for malfeasance, like physical abuse or embezzlement, but also for incompetence. The teachers got paid regardless. (To add insult to injury, these cases ultimately were heard by an arbitrator whom the union had to first approve.) Before we stopped this charade—unfortunately by returning many of these teachers to the classroom, as the arbitrators likely would have required—it used to cost the City about $35 million a year.
In addition, more than 1,000 teachers get full pay while performing substitute-teacher and administrative duties because no principal wants to hire them full-time. This practice costs more than $100 million annually.
Perhaps the most shocking example of the City’s having to pay for teachers who don’t work involves several teachers accused of sexual misconduct—including at least one who was found guilty—whom the union-approved arbitrators refuse to terminate. Although the City is required to put them back in the classroom, it understandably refuses to do so. And the union has never sued the City to have these teachers reinstated, even though it knows it could readily win. It has also never helped figure out how to get these deadbeats off the payroll, where they may remain for decades at full pay, followed by a lifetime pension. No one—and the union means no one—gets fired.
Next, consider the consequences of the ubiquitous practice of paying the same for math and physical-education teachers. Given the other job opportunities for talented mathematicians—but not for phys-ed teachers—the same salary will attract many more of the latter than the former. It’s simple supply and demand. But when you’re short of qualified math teachers—as virtually every major urban school district is—poor kids with the greatest needs invariably get cheated, because most teachers prefer to teach highly motivated kids who live in safe communities, and whose parents will contribute private money to the school. The result: too few effective math and science teachers in high-poverty schools.
Finally, coming on top of these other senseless policies is the remarkable way that benefits and seniority drive overall teacher compensation. It’s possible for a teacher in New York City to retire at 55 and draw down an annual pension of more than $60,000, plus lifetime health benefits for herself and her family. The pension is not subject to New York State or local taxes and goes up with cost-of-living increases. The huge value of this lifetime stream of benefits is rarely mentioned when we talk about teachers’ compensation, but the teachers are well aware of it and act rationally in response to it. What we end up with is both a form of lock-in for employees and an enormous long-term financial exposure for the taxpayers.
The impact of the lock-in shapes the entire compensation system, because the “big” money comes only after a certain number of years—in New York City, for example, many teachers get their full pension after working 25 years, and a far smaller pension if they work for only 24 years. As a result of backloaded policies like this, after 10 years fewer than 1 percent of teachers leave the system, and after 15 years only about 0.1 percent leave. Many have candidly told me they are burned out, but they can’t afford to leave until their pension fully vests. So they go through the motions until they can retire with the total package.
Aggravating the perverse incentive of the benefit lock-in is the nature of almost all pay increases in public education, which are either automatic if you stay another year or so, or take 30 college credits; or across-the-board percentage raises—for example, 10 percent over three years, meaning that every veteran teacher making $80,000 gets an $8,000 increase, while every beginning teacher making $40,000 gets a $4,000 increase.
None of these pay increases makes sense. Why pay someone more for simply working another year or for taking a few courses? Starting last year, Mayor Bloomberg refused to give teachers in New York a raise, because he was facing budget cuts. But the overall pay for teachers still went up nearly 3.5 percent automatically, simply for longevity and college credits. (According to a Department of Education internal analysis, the average NYC teacher works fewer than seven hours a day for 185 days and costs the city $110,000—$71,000 in salary, $23,000 in pensions, and $16,000 in health and other benefits.) And why give all teachers making $80,000, or more, a 10 percent raise? They’re not going to leave, since they’re close to vesting their lifetime pensions. By contrast, increasing starting salaries by $8,000 (rather than $4,000) would help attract and retain better new teachers. But because of seniority, we can’t do it that way.
Now consider the financial burden that comes with providing lifetime benefits. Given the time between first putting aside the money to fund such a “long-tail exposure” and having to begin paying it, the amount “reserved” by the employer necessarily depends on a host of imprecise assumptions—about the rate of return that the money invested in the pension fund will earn, about how long employees will live, and even about how much overtime employees will work during their last few years, which is normally included in calculations of the amount of the pension. Each dollar set aside this year to cover the ultimate pension exposure must be taken from what would otherwise be current operating dollars.
Consequently, elected officials have had every incentive to make extraordinarily optimistic assumptions about the pension plan—or to simply underfund it—so they can put as little as possible into the reserve. Unfortunately, but predictably, that’s exactly what has happened: most states “assumed” they would get an average 8 percent return on their pension reserves, when in fact they were getting significantly less. Over the past 10 years, for example, New York City’s pension funds earned an average of just 2.5 percent. Now virtually every pension plan in America that covers teachers has huge unfunded liabilities. A recent study by the Manhattan Institute estimated the total current shortfall at close to $1 trillion. There’s only one way to pay for that: take the money from current and future operating budgets, robbing today’s children to pay tomorrow’s pensions. In NYC, for example, the portion of the overall budget set aside for education pensions went from $455 million in 2002 to $2.6 billion in 2011, most of it for teachers. Not surprisingly, retirees remain politically vigilant, and vote at much higher levels than active teachers in union elections (50 percent versus 24 percent in New York’s last UFT election).
DURING MY TENURE, I fought to break this institutional stranglehold of defenders of the status quo. I did so because I believed that our kids are not getting the education they deserve, that we have clear examples showing dramatically better results, and that we won’t achieve those results if we just keep tinkering. Since 2007, my colleague Michelle Rhee, in Washington, D.C., has been making the same noises. The response, often from friends as well as opponents, was that we were unrealistic: complex systems don’t change easily, impatience is immature, and directly challenging the educational establishment is not a winning strategy. “You need to be more collaborative and less controversial,” we were repeatedly admonished.
That’s bad advice. Collaboration is the elixir of the status-quo crowd. Consider one of the most cherished mantras in public education today—“We’ll never fix education until we fix poverty.” This lets the school system off the hook: “We can’t do too much with these poor kids, so don’t blame us (but give us more money).” Sure, money, a stable family, and strong values typically make educating a child easier. But we also now know that, keeping those things constant, we can get dramatically different outcomes with the same kid, based on his or her education. Texas and California, for example, have very similar demographics. Nevertheless, even though Texas spends slightly less per pupil than does California, it outperforms California on all four national tests, across demographic groups. The gap is around a year’s worth of learning. That’s big. And the gaps are even bigger when we compare similar demographic groups in large urban districts. Low-income black students in Boston or New York, for example, are several years ahead of those in Detroit or Los Angeles on the national exams.
At the individual school level, the differences can be breathtaking. One charter school in New York City, Harlem Success Academy 1, has students who are demographically almost identical to those attending nearby community and charter schools, yet it gets entirely different results. Harlem Success has 88 percent of its students proficient in reading and 95 percent in math; six other nearby schools have an average of 31 percent proficient in reading and 39 percent in math. And according to the most-recent scores on New York State fourth-grade science tests, Success had more than 90 percent of its students at the highest (advanced) level, while the city had only 43 percent at advanced, and Success’s black students outperformed white students at more than 700 schools across the state. In fact, Success now performs at the same level as the gifted-and-talented schools in New York City—all of which have demanding admissions requirements, while Success randomly selects its students, mostly poor and minority, by lottery.
These school-level differences ultimately reflect the effectiveness of a child’s particular teachers. Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford, has shown that, while some teachers get a year and a half’s worth of learning into a year, others get in only half a year’s worth of learning with essentially the same students. Imagine the cumulative impact of the best teachers over 13 years of elementary and secondary education. Indeed, even if California raised its performance to Texas’s level, Detroit to Boston’s, the neighborhood schools in Harlem to Harlem Success’s—that is to say, if our least effective teachers performed at the level of our most effective—the impact would be seismic.
Critics are strangely eager to discredit these differences. Writing last year in The New York Review of Books, the educational historian Diane Ravitch argued that schools like Harlem Success aren’t the answer, because, as a group, charter schools in the U.S. don’t outperform public schools. To make her case, Ravitch relied on a study by Margaret Raymond at Stanford; but curiously, Ravitch failed to mention that Raymond applied precisely the same analysis to New York City (where the school district was atypically supportive of charters), and found that charter schools there were getting significantly better reading and math results with their students than were comparable traditional public schools. And even Ravitch had to acknowledge that some charter schools are getting “amazing results.” If that’s the case, then instead of relying on the kind of group-think that pits charter schools against non-charter schools, shouldn’t we be asking why some schools get much better results, and focus on how we can replicate them?
SEVERAL RECENT DEVELOPMENTS offer some hope. In the past year, 42 states, as well as the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have agreed to adopt a new set of highly demanding core standards in English and math to replace the current state-by-state standards. The Obama administration has also granted two consortia of states $330 million to design tests aligned with these new standards. As a result, we’ll have a more realistic sense of how our kids are performing, we’ll be able to compare kids in one jurisdiction with those in another, and, most important, we’ll know that kids who graduate from high school will actually be prepared for college.
But we still won’t get to where we need to go unless we’re prepared to do three difficult, but essential, things: rebuild our entire K–12 system on a platform of accountability; attract more top-flight recruits into teaching; and use technology very differently to improve instruction.
Surprisingly enough, the best case for greater accountability was made by Albert Shanker, four years before he died, in his capacity as the leader of the American Federation of Teachers. In a truly remarkable speech to the 1993 Pew Forum on Education Reform, which I’ve never seen quoted by any teachers-union official since, Shanker said:
The key is that unless there is accountability, we will never get the right system. As long as there are no consequences if kids or adults don’t perform, as long as the discussion is not about education and student outcomes, then we’re playing a game as to who has the power. Two points are critical here. First, Shanker makes clear that accountability needs to be measured by “student outcomes,” which he goes on to explain must be based on progress on standardized tests. And second, he calls out the fundamental truth about the system: because it’s not anchored to outcomes, it ends up being about “who has the power,” which can then be used to serve other agendas—such as better pay, political support, or vendor contracts.
Accountability, in most industries or professions, usually takes two forms. First and foremost, markets impose accountability: if people don’t choose the goods or services you’re offering, you go out of business. Second, high-performing companies develop internal accountability requirements keyed to market-based demands.
Public education lacks both kinds of accountability. It is essentially a government-run monopoly. Whether a school does well or poorly, it will get the students it needs to stay in business, because most kids have no other choice. And that, in turn, creates no incentive for better performance, greater efficiency, or more innovation—all things as necessary in public education as they are in any other field.
A full-scale transition from a government-run monopoly to a competitive marketplace won’t happen quickly. But that is no reason not to begin introducing more competition. Many middle-class families have plenty of choice (even beyond private schools): they can move to another neighborhood, or are well-connected enough to navigate the system. Those families who are least powerful, however, usually get one choice: their neighborhood school. That has to change.
In the lower grades, we should make sure that every student has at least one alternative—and preferably several—to her neighborhood school. We implemented this strategy by opening more than 100 charter schools in high-poverty communities. Tellingly, almost 40,000 families chose these new schools, and another 40,000 are on waiting lists. The traditional schools, as well as their employees and the unions, are screaming bloody murder, something vividly depicted in The Lottery, a recent documentary that shows community agitators brought in by the union to oppose giving public-school space to the Harlem Success network. But this kind of push-back is actually a good sign: it means that the monopolists are beginning to feel the effects of competition.
At the middle- and high-school levels, where students are more mobile, we can also create community-based choice systems, or even citywide choice systems. In New York City, for example, high-school students now have citywide choice (with some geographic priority), and schools know they have to recruit—and compete for—students.
To support effective choice, moreover, we need to provide real funding equity: the money must be for the child, not the school. So if Juan goes to PS 11, which gets $20,000 as a result, then that same $20,000 must go to a KIPP charter school if Juan decides to go there. Similarly, capital funds, or space within a school building, must also follow the child—either to PS 11 or to KIPP—on equitable terms.
Unfortunately, the likelihood of rapidly expanding choices remains small. Witness, for example, those 40,000 families wait-listed for charter schools in New York City. By the time the City opens another 100 schools to meet that demand, at least another 40,000 families will likely be waiting. And now that the union and its allies have seen the smashing impact of the first 100 charter schools, they won’t make it any easier to open the next 100.
That’s why internal accountability along the lines that Shanker discussed is critical. School districts need a system to fairly evaluate the effect of schools and teachers on kids, which is the best proxy we have for assessing “consumer preference” in a largely monopolistic system. Shanker also had the right idea about how to measure outcomes: by looking at student progress on apples-to-apples metrics, rather than at whether students do well or poorly against an absolute, static index. On a four-point scale, for example, a teacher deserves credit for moving a kid from a 1 to a 2 and should lose credit for letting another kid fall from a 4 to a 3, even though a 3 is better than a 2 in an absolute sense. Some kids come to school way ahead of others, and giving the school or teacher credit for that makes no sense. But if schools or teachers have essentially the same kids, with the same challenges, and the same starting performance levels, it’s pretty easy to measure which are helping the kids make progress and which aren’t.
Finally, as Shanker emphasized, meaningful teacher accountability means major consequences for student outcomes. Those teachers and principals whose students do well should get substantial merit pay; those who don’t should be fired. Similarly, schools that do poorly should be replaced. Without real consequences tied to performance, the results won’t significantly change. Again, resistance to this kind of accountability is always fierce. In New York, we closed many large, overwhelmingly minority high schools that were posting abysmal graduation rates—some even below 40 percent—and replaced them with new, small high schools. Although research showed that the new schools were getting significantly better results, I wasn’t surprised when the teachers union sued us to block future closures—they want to protect their members. But I was shocked when the NAACP joined the suit. How could it defend schools that were consistently graduating fewer than half their African American children?
Despite the setbacks, we are seeing progress. In response to President Obama’s $4.3 billion Race to the Top Fund, which requires states to compete for big federal grants, and rewards accountability systems that measure whether teachers add value, several states—including Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Ohio—have enacted legislation moving in this direction. Under Michelle Rhee’s leadership, Washington, D.C., adopted the best of these systems with the agreement of its local and national teachers unions, including the union headed by Randi Weingarten. The District was authorized to award substantial merit pay (resulting in salaries of up to $130,000) and to fire teachers who were not performing well. Rhee fired more than 200 of them.
But although Weingarten’s union had agreed to the contract, it reportedly spent $1 million and mobilized huge numbers of volunteers to defeat Washington’s mayor, Adrian Fenty, when he was up for reelection two months later. That intervention surely sent a message to other reformers throughout the country: we unions talk reform, but firing incompetent teachers will never be a real part of that.
The second big thing we need to change is the people we attract into teaching. When McKinsey and Company compared educational performance around the world, it came to the seemingly obvious, yet often disputed, conclusion that “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers”:
The top-performing school systems [internationally] attract more able people into the teaching profession, leading to better student outcomes … The top-performing systems we studied recruit their teachers from the top third of each cohort [that graduates] from their school system … Conversely, lower-performing school systems rarely attract the right people into teaching. The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce observes that, “We are now recruiting our teachers from the bottom third of high-school students going to college.” By recruiting teachers mostly from the middle and bottom of their college classes, as America has done for decades now, not only did we not get the talent we needed, but we also fostered a culture where excellence and merit don’t matter.
A rational compensation scheme is critical to fixing this core human-capital weakness: rather than just pay for longevity and lifetime benefits, we must reward excellence and enable the system to meet its needs. If, going forward, we eliminated all the automatic raises and promises of huge lifetime benefits, we’d have an enormous amount of money to devote to merit pay, hardship-assignment incentives, and recruiting in subjects where we have shortages. If we could front-load compensation, new teachers could get as much as $80,000 by year three or four. This would make a huge difference. If you have any doubt, just ask the talented, ambitious young teachers who come through Teach for America or comparable programs. Many leave well before they peak, even though they like the work, because their pay remains quite low in the early years—up to about $55,000—and they are unwilling to commit to staying around for 25 years to cash in on the back-loaded pay structure.
I once proposed a portion of this—simply eliminating the lifetime, defined-benefit pension, monetizing the savings, and then paying it to teachers in their early years—in a conversation with union officials. I was prepared to give each new teacher a choice between the current pay scale (with the existing pension) and this new pay proposal. Although no teacher would have been compelled to switch, the UFT rejected the idea as “anti-union.” But we have evidence to show that these monetary incentives can work. In Washington, D.C., Michelle Rhee negotiated a merit-based compensation system—where teachers could get paid much more in the early years. As a result, it appears, significant numbers of teachers from D.C.’s charter schools apply to teach in its traditional public schools. Only money can explain that.
Of course, another way to attract and retain very effective teachers would be to create more schools that work. In my experience, many of the best public-school teachers apply to high-functioning charter schools, even though they usually give up job security, and lifetime health care and pensions, while generally getting a similar or slightly higher salary (although often augmented by modest merit pay). They go because they want to be part of a successful school, where teachers are treated like professionals and not subjected to endless administrative and union micromanagement.
Last, to shake up the system, we must change how we use technology to deliver instruction. (This is what I’m now seeking to do at News Corporation.) The present resistance to innovation is breathtaking. Consider this story: When we replaced many large, failing high schools with more, much smaller schools, many of the new schools had only a handful of kids who wanted to take rigorous Advanced Placement courses, which can earn students college credit. Several good online programs teach the necessary course content. But in New York state, you cannot get high-school credit unless you’re taught by a live teacher (a requirement referred to as “seat time”), and these small schools didn’t have enough students to bring in an AP teacher. I approached our State Education Department in Albany, which had the authority to waive the seat-time requirement: if a kid could get college credit for passing an online AP course, surely she should be able to get high-school credit as well.
As soon as the UFT heard that we had requested a waiver from the state, it faxed us a letter saying, “The elimination of seat-time requirements needs to be negotiated,” making clear that if we tried to proceed, this would be war. You see, if we opened the door to online AP courses, maybe we’d end up needing fewer teachers, and that wouldn’t be good for union membership, dues, or power. I got nowhere.
But one of the best things we could do is hire fewer teachers and pay more to the ones we hire. And, as in any other field, technology can help get us there. If you have 5,000 math teachers, many of whom are underperforming, significantly improving overall quality is nearly impossible. But if you get the best math professors in the world—who are great teachers and who deeply understand math—and match them with great software developers, they can create sophisticated interactive programs that engage kids and empower teachers. Why not start with such a program and then let teachers supplement it differently, depending on the progress of each student?
That’s a whole lot easier than trying to teach the same math lesson to 30 kids, some of whom are getting it quickly and some of whom aren’t getting it at all. We now have multiple ways to teach the same lessons. As a result, we can tailor both the means and the pacing to each student. We can use digital games where kids progress based on solving increasingly difficult math problems, virtual classes that kids can take online, and tutors whom kids can work with online, as well as, of course, teachers working with large or small groups in person. The possibilities are enormous. We should be trying them all and constantly improving how we do the work. That’s exactly what New York City is doing in a pilot program called the School of One, which was designed to move from the classroom as the locus of instruction to the individual student as the focus of instruction.
More broadly, we need to foster a fundamental shift from a top-down, one-size-fits-all culture—mandated class-size reduction, after-school programs, and the like—to a culture that supports innovation. In New York City, we set out to change these preexisting dynamics by allowing educators and community groups—rather than the central bureaucracy—to design and run new schools to replace the failing ones. The result was a lot of innovation. For example, New York City is now piloting something called the Generation School, which uses staff time very differently and thus extends the school day and year significantly. Last year, the City also opened something called the New American Academy, where four teachers are collectively responsible for educating 60 kids, and they stay with those children from kindergarten through the fifth grade. The teachers are categorized as Master, Partner, Associate, and Apprentice, and they are paid very differently and get promoted from one level to the next based on performance as well as peer and supervisory review.
Change is possible. In New York City, it took a mayor willing to assume control over the system and risk significant political capital. It required time—Mayor Bloomberg and I had more than eight years together, while most urban superintendents serve for about three and a half years. It required taking risks, knowing that not every change will work out and that your critics will focus mercilessly on those that don’t. But most of all, it required building community and political support. Toward the end of my tenure, we were engaged in an enormous fight to lift the state-imposed cap on our number of charter schools—an initiative the teachers unions strongly opposed precisely because our expansion of charter schools had been so successful. In fact, six months earlier, a similar effort had gone down to defeat at the unions’ hands. But this time, the families with kids in charter schools and our allies in the community were prepared to help us fight. Philanthropic and business interests raised millions to support the mobilization effort, run ads, and hire lobbyists. We prevailed, and the cap was raised substantially.
Sadly, that kind of success is still exceptional. In the three decades since A Nation at Risk came out, many have echoed its cries of alarm, but few have heeded its calls for bold change. Indeed, in his 1993 Pew Forum speech, Al Shanker spoke in shockingly candid terms:
We are at the point that the auto industry was at a few years ago. They could see they were losing market share every year and still not believe that it really had anything to do with the quality of the product I think we will get—and deserve—the end of public education through some sort of privatization scheme if we don’t behave differently. Unfortunately, very few people really believe that yet. They talk about it, and they don’t like it, but they’re not ready to change and stop doing the things that brought us to this point. Time is running out. Without political leadership willing to take risks and build support for “radical reform,” and without a citizenry willing to insist on those reforms, our schools will continue to decline. And just as it was with Detroit, the global marketplace will be very unforgiving to a populace that doesn’t have the skills it demands. McKinsey estimates that the benefits of bringing our educational levels up to those of the highest-performing countries would have raised our gross domestic product by about $2 trillion in 2008. By the same token, every year we fail to close that gap is like living with the equivalent of a permanent national recession. Shocking as that may sound, the costs in human terms, to our nation and to the kind of people we aspire to become, will be even greater.
Precisely my point: with a federally mandated storage regimen yesterday's harmless bit of fun becomes today's pattern of behavior. I regularly cull professional communications after 3 years just so I don't have to worry about sifting through tens of thousands of emails looking for what some lawyer might putatively consider germane as he instead tries to foist a lot of time wasting discovery in the hope a settlement becomes deemed easier than complying with his fishing expedition. And now the Feds want to archive all that stuff? For how long? Who has access? To what end? Looks to me like they are casting a huge net without answering fundamental questions. Hell, this act might save the USPS by increasing the use of first class mail, which would not be subject to these requirements. Yet.
Who Will Police the Criminologists? The dangers of politicized social science
If you’ve ever wondered why police officers tend to be skeptical about social science, pick up volume 9, issue 4 of Criminology & Public Policy, a journal published by the American Society of Criminology. The issue is titled “Reducing Homeless-Related Crime,” and its focal point is a research paper by University of Pennsylvania professors Richard Berk and John MacDonald that evaluates the Safer City Initiative (SCI). SCI was implemented by the Los Angeles Police Department in 2006 to reduce crime, lawlessness, and disorder in the Skid Row neighborhood. Despite its limitations, Berk and MacDonald’s useful evaluation concludes that SCI had a significant impact on serious crime, and it adds to the literature illustrating the impact of Broken Windows policing. The remainder of the issue comprises essays that reflect on either the study’s methodology or its public policy implications. An essay that examines the former—University of Cincinnati professor John Eck’s “Policy Is in the Details”—is especially valuable, emphasizing the need for criminologists like Berk and MacDonald to “describe the policies they study.”
But Eck’s observation happens to underscore a fundamental weakness in the public policy essays that follow: for the most part, their authors ignore or seriously misrepresent the nature of Skid Row’s difficulties before SCI was implemented. Instead of seeking out data that accurately document conditions on the ground, they accept a piece of conventional wisdom, one that the title of the issue makes plain and that, over time, has evolved into an ideological position: that homelessness, rather than a culture of lawbreaking, was at the root of Skid Row’s woes.
That view is more pernicious than it may sound, since it has long contributed to criminology’s party line about Skid Row–like situations and Broken Windows policing. It dates back to the late 1980s, when seemingly everyone in New York City—the Metropolitan Transit Authority, the New York Times, politicians, advocacy groups—thought that the main problem in the city’s subways was homelessness. Conventional wisdom held that the solutions were homes, jobs, and welfare. Yet if one went into the subways and observed conditions there, as two of us (Kelling and Bratton) did, such assumptions became shaky: youths were blocking entrances and forcibly collecting fares from passengers, predators were stalking fare booths and breaking open fare boxes to steal money, and 250,000 people were riding without paying fares—all because of homelessness? Yes, a troubled population—homeless, mentally ill, or drug-addicted—was trying to use the subway as a surrogate shelter, often encouraged by irresponsible advocates, who ignored the risks that these vulnerable people would face there. Yet homelessness was a relatively small part of the subway’s real problem: lawlessness. Homeless individuals can still be seen in New York’s subways today, but gone is the culture of lawlessness that plagued the subway until 1990, when the transit police created a safer environment.
Skid Row’s crisis in the early 2000s was even more complex than the New York subway’s had been. Fires raged in the middle of streets at night; people urinated, defecated, and engaged in sex acts in open view; youths partied with drugs and alcohol; sexual predators roamed free; the neighborhood became a dumping ground for released prisoners and for sick people, probably homeless, whom ambulances left on the street, still in hospital garb and on gurneys. The area was such a lucrative place to deal drugs that gangs didn’t bother fighting over turf. Certainly, there were large numbers of homeless, in part because the city’s missions and service centers lay in the heart of Skid Row. But the neighborhood’s core problem wasn’t homelessness. Just as in New York, it was a culture of lawlessness that had been tolerated for decades (see “The Reclamation of Skid Row,” Autumn 2007). If any of these researchers had bothered to go into the streets, they would have seen that.
The authors of the public policy essays also misrepresent the nature of SCI, presenting a preconceived image of the LAPD’s approach rather than a description of what it actually did. Yale professors Michael Rowe and Maria O’Connell—observing that one of us, Chief William Bratton, brought to Skid Row the Broken Windows tactics that he developed in New York—say that those tactics “demonize persons” and are “applied to putatively ‘broken people’ who apparently . . . are not to be fixed but instead are cited for the crime of brokenness and removed from sight.” Likewise, Arizona State University professor Michael D. White characterizes SCI as “zero tolerance policing, which is perhaps the antithesis of peacekeeping.” He goes on to argue that “the adoption of zero tolerance strategies represents a step away from professional policing,” characterizes the LAPD’s approach as “ ‘homelessness-is-a-crime’ philosophy,” and deems it “poor craft.” Where are the descriptions of actual tactics used by the LAPD? Where are the primary data on SCI implementation upon which to base such conclusions?
White argues that SCI should have been built on problem solving and community policing. In fact, it was. Sponsored by the mayor’s office, with strong support from the city attorney, the initiative sought to include every relevant public and private agency, even groups often hostile to police approaches, such as the American Civil Liberties Union. (These groups continue to meet with one another.) The strongest support for SCI came from the area’s missions, not-for-profit organizations established to help the genuinely homeless. The goals of SCI included not just crime reduction but also developing support among social agencies, reducing citizen fear, getting agencies like the city’s health department to meet their responsibilities, involving the private sector (through Business Improvement Districts and the like), protecting the personal property of people living on the street, fostering street civility, and increasing shopping in neighborhood stores.
The journal’s examination of SCI exemplifies a politicized social science. It’s particularly discouraging that such a flawed approach would appear in a publication of the American Society of Criminology. Unfortunately, it represents at least the second generation of such misrepresentation. In response to earlier crime reductions in New York City, many scholars eagerly attempted to prove that the declines had little to do with police efforts. Then, as now, they interpreted data—reported crime, arrests, police stops—without bothering to do firsthand research. The consequences of confusing research and scholarship with hubris, polemics, and uncritical secondary-data analysis—in short, of politicized social science—are enormous: distrust between academia and policing, gross misrepresentations of policing, and, above all, widespread failure to understand what works and what doesn’t work in policing.
Charlie Beck is chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. William Bratton is former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. George L. Kelling is an emeritus professor at the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University in Newark and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
As the feds have already pooped all over citizen's live's enforcing foreign laws the citizens in question had no knowledge of, it does not take a lot of wild eyed extrapolation to conjure a circumstance where and ISP could be forced to hand over information it had been mandated to store that then goes on to be used by LEOs as evidence of some sort of malfeasance for which the target of the investigation was unaware. Conspiracy to import undersized lobsters, anyone?
Indeed, as someone who deals with his share of HR issues I've already had to contend with interesting discovery requests. What happens to civil litigation when there are decades worth of records stored somewhere only in need of a court order to sift through? You can't see that being ability being abused, either?
Environmentalists Were For Fracking Before They Were Against It
Shale gas is still the bridge fuel to a low-carbon energy future.
Ronald Bailey | May 10, 2011
The world’s projected natural gas supplies jumped 40 percent last year. How is such a thing possible? Until a decade ago, experts believed that it would be technically infeasible to exploit the potential resource base of natural gas locked in 48 shale basins in 32 countries around the world. Then horizontal drilling combined with hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, was perfected. The shale gas rush was on, and last year the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) issued an analysis revising its estimates of available natural gas dramatically upward.
The ability to produce clean burning natural gas from shale could transform the global energy economy. Right now we burn about 7 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas to generate about 24 percent of the electricity used in the United States. The U.S. burns a total of 23 tcf annually to heat homes and to supply industrial processes as well produce electricity. Burning coal produces about 45 percent of U.S. electricity.
A rough calculation suggests that 100 percent of coal-powered electricity generation could be replaced by burning an additional 14 tcf of natural gas, boosting overall consumption to 37 tcf per year. The EIA estimates total U.S. natural gas reserves at 2,543 tcf. This suggests that the U.S. has enough natural gas to last about 70 years if it entirely replaced the current level of coal-powered electricity generation.
Similarly, it would be notionally possible to replace the entire current U.S. gasoline consumption with about 17 tcf of natural gas per year. So replacing coal and gasoline immediately would require burning 54 tcf annually, implying a nearly 50 year supply of natural gas.
What about the greenhouse gas implications? The EIA estimates that the U.S. emitted 5.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide in 2009 (the last year for which figures are available). Burning coal emitted 1.75 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Similarly, burning petroleum in the transportation sector emitted 1.7 billion metric tons of CO2, of which about two-thirds came from consuming gasoline. By comparison, the natural gas burned to generate electricity emitted 373 million metric tons of CO2. A rough calculation suggests that replacing coal and gasoline with natural gas would reduce overall U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by about 25 percent.
Given its greenhouse gas benefits, environmental activists initially welcomed shale gas. For example, in August 2009 prominent liberals Timothy Wirth and John Podesta, writing on behalf of the Energy Future Coalition, hailed shale gas as “a bridge fuel to a 21st-century energy economy that relies on efficiency, renewable sources, and low-carbon fossil fuels such as natural gas.” The same year, environmentalist Robert Kennedy, Jr., head of the Waterkeeper Alliance, declared in the Financial Times, “In the short term, natural gas is an obvious bridge fuel to the ‘new’ energy economy.”
That was then, but this is now. Practically en masse, the herd of independent minds that constitutes the environmentalist community has now collectively decided that natural gas is a “bridge to nowhere.” Why? In his excellent overview, The Shale Gas Shock [download], published last week by the London-based Global Warming Policy Foundation, journalist Matt Ridley explains: “As it became apparent that shale gas was a competitive threat to renewable energy as well as to coal, the green movement has turned against shale.”
And indeed natural gas is cheaper than renewable sources of energy even if one includes the costs of carbon capture and sequestration. The EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook for 2011 calculates the levelized costs of electric power generation for various fuel sources. Levelized costs include all capital, operating and maintenance, fuel, and transmission costs for building plants now that would switch on by 2016.
In cost terms, natural gas is the clear winner. Electricity produced using natural gas in a combined cycle generating plant comes in at $66 per megawatt-hour. If one includes carbon capture and sequestration, basically burying carbon dioxide underground, the cost rises to $89 per megawatt-hour. In contrast conventional coal costs $95 per megawatt-hour rising to $136 using carbon capture and sequestration.
How does natural gas compare with various carbon-free and renewable energy sources? Nuclear clocks in at $104 per Mwh, offshore wind at $243 per Mwh, photovoltaic at $211 per Mwh, solar thermal at $312 per Mwh, geothermal at $102 per Mwh, and biomass at $113 per Mwh. The only renewable sources that are close to competitive with natural gas are onshore wind at $97 per Mwh and hydroelectric at $86 per Mwh. With regard to transportation, the price of compressed natural gas currently hovers around the equivalent of $2 per gallon of gasoline.
Keep in mind that the above is just a thought experiment. Junking coal-fired plants and dramatically expanding natural gas production as well as the infrastructure to burn it to generate electricity and dispense it as transport fuel would be costly. Increased demand for natural gas would also tend to boost its price.
Since renewables come off so badly in comparison with natural gas and offer energy independence as well, once-enthusiastic activists evidently began to search for other reasons for opposing it. Ridley cites five claims: fracking fluids contain dangerous chemicals that might contaminate groundwater; wells allow gas to escape into aquifers; well waste water is contaminated with salt and radioactive elements that pollute streams; it uses too much freshwater; and drilling damages landscapes.
First, the shale that contains natural gas lies below thousands of feet of impermeable rock so that the fracking process itself will not contaminate drinking water aquifers that are generally only a few hundred feet below the surface at most. A 2010 Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection report “concluded that no groundwater pollution or disruption of underground sources of drinking water have been attributed to hydraulic fracturing of deep gas formations.”
On the other hand, the drilling companies did their industry no favors by keeping their proprietary fracking fluid formulas secret. The cloak-and-dagger approach alarmed the sorts of folks who are easily alarmed. But as Ridley points out, the fracking fluids are actually 99.9 percent water and sand. The small amounts of added chemicals reduce friction, fight microbes, and prevent scaling. In any case, many states are now requiring companies to reveal their formulas. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to issue a report on the safety of fracking in 2012. In the meantime, the Obama administration appointed a new panel last week to look into fracking and make recommendations in 90 days on how to improve on the safety of the technique. It is unlikely that whatever new regulations that emanate from these bureaucracies will derail the shale gas industry.
Just as for conventional wells, it is possible that natural gas can escape into aquifers if the wells are not properly sealed using steel and cement casings. A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published today finds elevated levels of natural gas in groundwater wells within 3,000 feet of active gas well sites. The researchers conclude that the source is likely leaky casings.
However, the study more reassuringly “found no evidence for contamination of the shallow wells near active drilling sites from deep brines and/or fracturing fluids.” In any case, should their findings stand up to subsequent research, the problem is not fracking, but improperly sealed well-casings. It should be noted that the wells were not tested for methane before gas drilling began. It would be interesting to repeat the study looking at conventional gas wells.
But what about radioactive contamination of streams by well waste water? The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced that after checking samples from waste water plants that had treated gas well water, it found that “all samples were at or below background levels of radioactivity; and all samples showed levels below the federal drinking water standard for Radium 226 and 228.”
With regard to using too much fresh water, Ridley points out that gas drilling in Pennsylvania uses about 60 million gallons per day, which compares to 1,550 million gallons used by public water systems. Ridley also notes that each well site takes up about six acres to extract gas beneath 1,000 acres which is largely left alone once a well begins producing. Ridley notes that “each wellhead capable of producing gas from up to 12 wells, or about 50 billion cubic feet over 25 years, the output of one drilling pad is equivalent to the average output of about 47 giant 2.5 megawatt wind turbines.” Speaking of intrusions into the landscape, that many turbines would typically take up 188 acres of land.
Finally, an April study in the journal Climatic Change by a team of researchers led by ecologist Robert Howarth from Cornell University suggested that the greenhouse gas emissions released by natural gas production are worse than coal when it comes to man-made global warming. Natural gas is methane, and methane, on a molecule per molecule basis, has a much greater ability to trap heat from the sun than does carbon dioxide. Howarth claims that methane leaking from natural gas wells contributes so much to global warming that the benefits of substituting it for coal are overwhelmed.
Critics have pointed to a number of problems with this study including the fact that it uses a global warming potential factor of 105 over 20 years compared to carbon dioxide. In contrast, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change generally prefers using a factor of 25 over a 100-year period. In addition, Howarth bases his leakage data on long distance Russian gas pipelines and by assuming that “lost and unaccounted for gas” is not mostly an accounting measure. Lost and unaccounted for gas includes the gas burned to run the turbines to keep pipelines pressurized. It is early days, but my bet is that further research will find that Howarth’s claims are considerably exaggerated.
No industrial process is completely benign and all have environmental consequences. The relevant question is: Do the benefits outweigh the costs? Are people better off using the resource than they would otherwise be? If one is worried about man-made global warming, natural gas remains the affordable way to supply lower carbon energy to the world as technologists work to bring renewable energy costs down. Let's hope that environmentalists will recognize the current faults of wind and solar and fall in love with natural gas all over again.
Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey is author of Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution (Prometheus Books).
Most of us think of our online warblings as ethereal things with a short shelf life. Should you come under government scrutiny, words long since forgotten could be used as reason to launch a criminal investigation. To my mind, it's like if the post office opened, copied, and stored every piece of mail, with you finding out decades later that something long discarded is now being used to start criminal proceedings against you.
The media makes it hard for ordinary people to be libertarians. In large part, this is because journalism is in the business of selling panic—panic about terrorism, panic about drugs, panic about food, panic about pornography, panic about our health care system. If it’s not an emergency, it’s not news. To the lazy journalist, everything becomes an emergency—and emergencies always—always—demand state action.
The media makes things hard for the would-be libertarian in other ways, too. Consider this story from today’s Washington Post, about… well, it’s hard to say, actually:
Senate Democrats unveiled a plan Tuesday to save $21 billion over the next decade by eliminating tax breaks for the nation’s five biggest oil companies, a move designed to counter Republican demands to control the soaring national debt without new taxes.
With the proposal, Democrats sought to reframe the debate over debt reduction to include fresh revenue as well as sharp cuts in spending. For the first time, Democratic leaders suggested an equal split between spending cuts and new taxes — “50-50,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.).
That represents a larger share for taxes than has been proposed by either President Obama or the bipartisan commission he appointed to recommend how to cut the national debt.
So far, the Democratic tax agenda is focused on ending subsidies for big oil companies, a hugely popular proposal involving what Democrats see as a prime example of wasteful giveaways in the tax code. By raising the issue, Democrats are trying to force Republicans either to drop their rigid stance against new taxes or to defend taxpayer subsidies for some of the world’s most profitable corporations, including Ex xon Mobil, Shell, BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips.
The proposal came in response to remarks Tuesday by House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who said raising taxes is “off the table.” A day earlier, he gave a speech demanding more than $2 trillion in spending cuts in exchange for GOP support for an increase in the legal limit on government borrowing through the end of next year.
Where am I confused, you ask? On almost everything a libertarian ought to care about. I’ll explain.
One of the key aspects of any good law is generality—that is, equality before the law. As F. A. Hayek put it:
[T]hough government has to administer means which have been put at its disposal (including the services of all those whom it has hired to carry out its instructions), this does not mean that it should similarly administer the efforts of private citizens. What distinguishes a free from an unfree society is that in the former each individual has a recognized private sphere clearly distinct from the public sphere, and the private individual cannot be ordered about but is expected to obey only the rules which are equally applicable to all….
The general, abstract rules, which are laws in the substantive sense, are… essentially long-term measures, referring to yet unnkown cases and containing no references to particular persons, places, or objects. Such laws must always be prospective, never retrospective, in their effect (The Constitution of Liberty, chapter 14, section 2).
Now, with every passing day our government stomps all over this generality requirement again and again, chiefly in the economic sphere. But is it doing so on the front page of today’s Washington Post? That’s a good question.
I can think of lots of ways we might deny a tax break to a certain five oil corporations. Some are decidedly better than others in their generality. Consider the following, ranked from least general to most:
“The corporations known as Ex xon Mobil, Shell, BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips are hereby denied tax break X. All others still qualify, or not, as they did before.” “Oil corporations with an annual revenue above $198 billion are denied tax break X.” “We find that tax break X itself is lacking in generality. It is hereby repealed, and the overall corporate tax rate is increased accordingly.” Which one are they proposing? From the story’s first paragraph, we could easily conclude that it was (1). Many people on the left would be happy with (1), because big corporations are anathema to them, and everything they do is evil, and punishing them—generality be damned—is just great.
But then, it could also be (2), and this measure is somewhat more general, even if ConocoPhillips—the smallest company on the list—just so happens to have an annual revenue of $198.655 billion. As Hayek noted, “[C]lassification in abstract terms can always be carried to the point at which, in fact, the class singled out consists only of particular known persons or even a single individual” (ibid., section 4). Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue.
And finally, there’s (3), clearly the winner in terms of generality. Is that in fact the proposal being discussed by members of Congress? Or is it still more general than that—something perhaps as described by my colleagues Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren earlier this month?
Last week President Barack Obama responded to rising public anger over soaring gasoline prices by banging the drums for the elimination of various tax breaks enjoyed by the oil and gas industry…
[L]et the record show that President Obama is right… about these tax breaks. They make the economy less — not more — efficient and do nothing to reduce prices at the pump.
Rigging the tax code to make investments in manufacturing artificially more attractive than investments in something else is an enterprise designed to harm non-manufacturers for the benefit of … manufacturers. Conservatives who want government to leave markets alone have no business throwing their political bodies in front of this tax break. If their political rhetoric means anything, they would see the president’s bid and raise him by calling for total repeal of this tax break for everyone, not just for oil and gas companies.
If only we were so lucky! Getting back to the Post, we learn much later in the story—in the fifteenth paragraph —that the congressional proposal “would close several long-standing tax loopholes, yielding roughly $2 billion a year in savings to be applied to lowering the deficit. It would affect only the five largest oil companies, excluding smaller producers.”
This is confusing to the point of deception. Does it really “close” a loophole to take a few entities and exclude them from the prior exclusion from the tax? By my understanding, it makes the law less general, more convoluted and more arbitrary, than it was before. Close the loophole—or just don’t close it, I think a Hayek might say. Don’t make companies play human Tetris to figure out whether they aren’t not un-disincluded.
One day I think people will look back on our era—from roughly the civil rights movement to the present—and marvel. They will be amazed at how, while the law grew much more general regarding many non-economic matters, it became increasingly partial and favoritist when it came to running a business. At times our journalism and even our language seemed blind to this contradictory development, which only encouraged it. Even thinking about the generality of our laws is made difficult when it’s just not a topic on the national media’s radar.
But equality before the law should apply, well, equally. Shouldn’t it?
DoJ to Congress: Make ISPs keep tabs on users 10 CommentsRSSEmailPrint
Many wireless companies — which must collect some data — also do not retain some other records. | AP Photo Close By TONY ROMM | 5/10/11 12:05 PM EDT
As a new Senate privacy panel considers the data collected by iPhones, Androids and BlackBerrys, the Department of Justice is reminding lawmakers that it needs Internet providers to store more data about their users to help with federal investigations.
Current law doesn't require those Internet service providers to "retain any data for any particular length of time," although some already do, said Jason Weinstein, deputy assistant attorney general at the DOJ's Criminal Division. And many wireless companies — which must collect some data — also "do not retain records that would enable law enforcement to identify a suspect's smartphone based on the IP address collected by websites the suspect visited," he noted in prepared testimony.
Continue Reading Text Size -+reset Listen That's why Weinstein urged the Senate Judiciary’s Privacy, Technology and the Law subcommittee on Tuesday to consider data-retention legislation as it weighs new privacy efforts in the digital age. The top DOJ official said such a congressional fix would boost the agency's ability to investigate privacy breaches, prosecute other digital crimes and ferret out abuses in the offline world.
"Those records are an absolutely necessary link in the investigative chain," Weinstein told the panel.
Data retention has proven to be a particularly divisive issue in the privacy community. Some top tech stakeholders believe it would allow companies and law enforcement agencies too much access to consumers' personal information, such as the websites they visit. The resulting caches of information could further be subject to data breach, many argue.
But data-retention rules are particularly appealing to DOJ, which argued at a hearing earlier this year that such legislation would assist greatly with cyberstalking and other tough law enforcement investigations. Weinstein stressed Tuesday the department seeks a law that would require providers to keep records for a “reasonable period of time,” and seeks a “balance” between the needs of law enforcement, private industry and consumers.
I'm not in total agreement, but thought the author raised interesting points, liked his description of the amalgam of failed ideologies that condense around anti-Israeli breast beating, and thought he had some insights as to how those yo-yos manage to be so blithely inconsistent without necessarily having to be anti-semetic.
A Lesson for Israel Advocates from the OBL Reaction from The Volokh Conspiracy by David Bernstein (David Bernstein)
The nonsense spewing from the various usual suspects–the European left, left-wing NGOs, leftist international law experts [update: here’s an excellent example from an Israeli commentator]–regarding the takedown of Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces should provide an important lesson for advocates of Israel.
The hostility emanating to Israel emanating from these sources is not, primarily, a result of anti-Semitism or other Jewcentric mental maladies. Rather, it is a natural result of a cauldron of ideologies–pacifism, anti-liberalism, Third Worldism, hostility to the West, warmed-over Marxism, and so on, combined with a dash of naive human rights idealism–that dominates certain intellectual circles.
Israel receives more grief than almost anyone else from such circles for several reasons: (1) because of its precarious security situation, it uses military force more regularly than other potential targets; (2) because of its precarious political situation, it is far more vulnerable to such criticism than, say, the U.S. (which will studiously ignore criticism of the OBL operation); and (3) unlike in the U.S, Israel has a significant and influential domestic far left that encourages and magnifies such criticisms. Indeed, given universal military service among Jewish non-Haredi adults, Israel often faces criticism from its own leftist soldiers and reservists of the sort quite rare in the U.S.
That’s not to deny that some leftist critics of Israel are anti-Semites, and that an even greater number are content to play on anti-Semitic themes when they find it rhetorically useful. But let’s face it: if you can’t get the leftist Europeans, NGOs, etc. behind a surgical strike on Osama Bin Laden, they are hardly going to approve of much broader Israeli military action in Gaza or Lebanon.
Given that many Jewish supporters of Israel have left-wing tendencies themselves (though the hard leftist types have long abandoned Israel), it’s far more comfortable for them to identify anti-Semitism as the main source of anti-Israel hostility. But the first step in defeating an intellectual enemy is to identify that enemy’s underlying, motivating ideology, and, in this case, for the most part, anti-Semitism isn’t it.
I've been finding a lot of interesting material in the Long War Journal, though I'm still assessing 'em as a source. Lotta good illustrated material at the link.
Afghan National Army update, May 2011 By CJ RADINMay 9, 2011
The Afghan National Army's area of operations. Click map to view.
This article addresses the current status of the Afghan National Army (ANA). The updated Order of Battle is here and the unit location map is here. Future articles will address ANA issues and plans.
Growing the ANA
The Afghan army reached its previous goal of 134,000 troops in July 2010. The current goal is to have 171,600 by October 2011. As of March 2011, there were 160,000 troops on its rolls, 4,000 ahead of the March goal.
Earlier this year, there was discussion of increasing the size of the army beyond the current 171,600-troop goal, but this plan has not yet been officially adopted. The proposal suggests increasing the size of the force to between 195,000 and 208,000 by October 2012. Reaching the higher number would depend on meeting recruiting, retention, and attrition goals, which is not certain. Most of the additional troops would be used to expand the ANA's support structure [see "Specialized technical skills," below]. Some additional combat units would be added to fill out the existing organizational structure.
As part of its continuing drive toward self-sufficiency, the Afghan National Army created the Ground Force Command (GFC) headquarters. GFC commands the six ANA corps plus the 111st Capitol division. The GFC is modeled on the International Security Assistance Force's Joint Command and is commanded by Lieutenant General Murad Ali Murad. The GFC is scheduled to reach initial operational capability by March 2012 and full operational capability by August 2012.
In May 2010, Regional Command -South (RC-S) was split into two regions. The newly created Regional Command-South West (RC-SW) and its 215th Corps took over the provinces of Helmand and Nimroz, and portions of Farah. RC-S and its 205th Corps retained Zabul, Kandahar, Uruzgan, and Daikundi provinces.
ANA Special Operations Command (ANASOC) brigade
Structure of the Afghan National Army Special Forces Command (ANASOC). Click image to view.
The ANA has established a new Special Operations Forces organization. The newly established Afghan Special Operations Command (ANASOC) is setting up a division headquarters at Camp Moorehead in Wardak province. It will command two different types of units, the existing ANA Commandos and a newly formed unit, the ANA Special Forces (ANASF).
The ANA Commandos are the ANASOC's "direct action" force. The existing nine Commando battalions will eventually be organized into two Commando brigades. However, the current 1st Commando brigade headquarters was dissolved in order to provide a cadre to staff the new ANASOC division headquarters. A new 1st Commando Brigade headquarters staff is being trained and will be operational soon. The 2nd Commando Brigade headquarters is planned to be operational by September 2011.
The ANASOC will also command the 1st Special Forces Brigade. Modeled on the US Special Forces, the brigade's missions will include "internal defense" and "SOF reconnaissance" as well as "direct action." The brigade headquarters is planned to be operational by September 2012. The brigade will consist of four battalions, the first one being fielded by June 2011. Each battalion will have 18 A-Teams, for a total of 72 A-Teams. The A-Teams are designed along US SOF lines. Each 15-member team is led by a captain, with a first lieutenant executive officer and a team sergeant. In addition, there are two each of medical sergeants, weapons sergeants, engineer sergeants, and communications sergeants; two intelligence sergeants; an information dissemination sergeant; and a civil-military operations specialist.
ANASF internal defense mission
The ANASF has been created to provide a special operations force capable of countering enemy efforts at the lowest level, the Afghan tribe and village. The ANASF brigade will accomplish this through the Village Stability Operations (VSO) program.
The VSO program is designed to help individual villages defend themselves against encroaching insurgency. Villages organize their own defense units, the Afghan Local Police. An ANASF brigade A-Team is assigned to each VSO village. The team's role is to support the village leadership to organize the overall project and mediate local disputes. They also train and advise the ALP. Up until now, US Special Operations Forces A-Teams have been running the VSO; however, the goal is to have ANASF replace the US SOF in this role. It is expected that the ANASF will be able to bring a better understanding of local cultural, economic, and political issues.
ANASF A-Team training
The first two classes of ANASF candidates were recruited exclusively from the Commando battalions. (Note: This necessitated a pause in the creation of new Commando battalions in order to free up resources to create the ANASF. The Commandos will be capped at nine battalions, with the formation of the 10th, 11th and 12th battalions postponed.) Because the ANASF candidates were already trained in direct action, the US trainers focused on the skills required for internal defense and SOF reconnaissance. This allowed the length of the first two classes to be reduced to 10 weeks. Future classes, recruited from across the ANA, will be larger, consisting of about 300 soldiers compared to 80 in each of the first two classes, and will take 15 weeks.
The first class started training in March 2010 and completed it in May; they were then grouped into four A-teams, one of which will be held back to form an Afghan cadre to help train the next class. At this point the teams were considered" mission-capable", but were not considered "Special Forces qualified" until they completed 26 weeks of "on-the- job training" during which each ANA A-team was partnered with a US SOF A-team.
The first A-Team was deployed to Khakrez district, northwest of Kandahar City, in May 2010. By March 2011, a total of 14 A-teams had completed training. All 72 A-Teams are expected to be fielded by 2014.
ANA development priorities
In 2010, the overall ANA priority was to grow an infantry-centric force that could immediately participate in counterinsurgency operations. Most of the effort was directed toward fielding additional infantry units.
The priority for 2011 has been to continue to grow the force but also to begin building the support functions necessary for self-sufficiency. This includes leadership, specialized technical expertise, and literacy training.
There is currently a significant shortage of both officers and NCOs within the ANA. In November 2010 there were 18,191 officers where 22,646 are required; and there were only 37,336 NCOs where 49,044 are required. To address the officer shortage, training capacity has been increased. Two additional Officer Candidate School companies opened in December 2010, and two more are to have opened by April 2011. The additional capacity is expected to reduce, but not entirely eliminate, the shortage by October 2012. For NCOs, training capacity is also being increased. The Regional Training Center in Darulaman has been converted from Basic Training to NCO training. Additionally, NCOs are being trained in the United Arab Emirates.The shortfall is expected to be eliminated by October 2012.
Specialized technical skills
In 2010, the ANA began setting up training institutions to teach the specialized skills needed to make it self-sufficient. Twelve "Branch Schools" are being set up:
Artillery Human Resources Signals Infantry Engineering Legal Military Police Logistics Religious and Cultural affairs Intelligence Finance Eleven of these 12 branch schools have reached initial operating capability (IOC). The last school (Military Police) will reach IOC by June 2011. None, however, have reached full capacity due to limitation in facilites and ISAF trainers.
Logistics support development includes the establishment of Army Support Command. This will control six new Regional Support Commands (RLSCs), one for each of ANA's six corps. These units will provide medical, equipment maintenance, and logistics distribution capability. In addition, a National Depot Operation and National Vehicle Maintenance Facility will also be stood up in 2011.
About 86% of ANA enlisted recruits are illiterate. This constitutes a significant obstacle in the development of a competent army. An illiterate soldier cannot read a map, a training manual, or the serial number of his rifle. Furthermore, specialized fields such as medicine, logistics, and communications cannot be taught to an illiterate person.
The problem is being addressed by the establishment of an extensive literacy training program. Starting in March 2010, mandatory basic literacy and numeracy training was instituted for all ANSF enlisted personnel, both ANA and ANP. The goal is to train every member of the ANSF to at least a third-grade level. The curriculum is the equivalent of 312 hours of training. (Note: This program applies to enlisted and NCOs, since over 90% of officers are literate.)
For the ANA, literacy training begins in Basic Training. Each recruit is brought in two weeks early and taught basic reading and writing so he can at least write his name and read the serial number on his weapon. Literacy training continues through Basic Training, adding up to a total of 64 hours. Additional training occurs during seven weeks of unit training. When the recruits go to the field, or for troops already in the field, the program provides for continued training on the order of one to two hours per day over seven to eight months. For a soldier selected for specialty training in a Branch School, additional training is provided up to the sixth-grade level. By March 2011 there were 60,000 ANA soldiers and ANP police receiving literacy training.
The GOP Stupids Step Out It’s so much easier being a loser — just ask John McCain
I can’t tell you how excited I am at the news that good ol’ SpongeBob is throwing his and Callista’s Squarepants into the ring for the Stupid Party’s 2012 designated-loser/presidential-candidate sweepstakes, thus joining an already crowded field of unelectables, has-beens, never-wases, never-will-be’s, who’s-he mystery men, libertarians, radical libertarians, pizza guys, former governors of Minnesota, and just plain nut jobs. Way to go, GOP! No wonder we call you the Stupid Party. You’ve earned it.
Not that Mr. Newt isn’t brilliant. He could probably whip us all on Jeopardy, especially if they asked real questions about history and stuff, instead of about Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga. But he was born in 1943, which makes him six years older than my dad, the sainted “Che” Kahane, and there’s no way I’m voting for my old man for president.
I mean, here you have His Serene Majesty the Emperor Barack Hussein Obama II, Lord of the Flies, Keeper of the Hoops, Master of the Greens, Bringer of Kinetic Military Action, Vacationer-in-Chief, Slayer of Osama, and Protector of the Holy Cities of Honolulu and Chicago, who — despite his impressive array of titles — is probably the most beatable incumbent since George H. W. Bush, and you won’t even try to beat him? Good Gaia, people, where’s the politically correct fighting spirit that negotiated a peace-process settlement with the West? The government program that subsidized the wagon trains? Libby Custer’s grief counselors after the Little Big Horn? Your intrepid forebears would be ashamed of you. Ours, not so much, since they were in therapy at the time.
Like almost none of you, I was riveted by the first-in-the-Fox-nation Republican debate the other day, and thrilled to make the acquaintance of a bunch of guys I’ll probably never lay eyes on again. While personally I’m glad that you wingnuts now officially favor legalizing heroin and sending women who exercise their semi-divine right to choose to Gitmo for enhanced interrogation, I don’t think this is a winning combo, blue-state-wise. If you’re going to beat Li’l Barry, you’re going to need to take off the gloves and bring out the A-team, not the Expendables.
Now, before you start getting all wee-wee’d up about the likes of Mr. Newt, Mitt, Michele, Sarah, Rudy, Mitch, and some Chinese guy named Huntsman, take a deep breath, settle back on the Barcalounger, and call your Obamacare state-approved caregiver — you’re having a hallucination. None of these folks is going to be president.
Newt has had as many wives as Osama, while Massachusetts Mitt is a hologram, an astral projection brought on by advanced medical technology that can produce the simulacrum of a candidate without, you know, the actual substance. Sarah will soon be best known as “Herself” on Bristol Palin’s new reality show. Michele still needs a map to find Lexington and Concord, and anyway shouldn’t she be at home with her 10,000 kids? Now that Obama’s killed Osama, Rudy seems like Encino Man, and I’m still not clear on who the Chinese guy is, except that we really, really want you to nominate him.
Which brings us to Mitch Daniels.
Don’t get me wrong — just like some of you, I’m jazzed about Mitch. Who wouldn’t be? Colorless, diffident, weird, a homunculus with hair that former frontrunner Donald Trump probably secretly envies since there’s so little of it, Daniels is the perfect puss of the Republican party in this year of our Common Era, 2011. Let’s celebrate his diverse qualifications:
● He’s from Indiana, a state with as politically incorrect a name as can be imagined. I mean, why don’t they just call it Redskinland and be done with it? Indiana is like Delaware writ a tiny bit larger, one of those states you couldn’t pick out of a police lineup if it mugged you and got arrested at the scene by Ohio and Illinois. Half of it’s a suburb of Obama, Tony Rezko, and Bill Ayers’s neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, for crying out loud. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!
● He’s basically an accountant. Nothing gets the political juices flowing and the passions boiling like a green-eyeshade guy solemnly warning the nation that a big hangover’s coming while the band’s still playing, the girls are dancing in their skivvies on the bar, and nobody’s called the cops yet. Sure, the teabaggers are all het up about the deficit and whatnot, but the rest of us love our entitlements and won’t hear a word against them. When one in seven of our fellow citizens is on food stamps, and half the population contributes a grand total of whiz-all in federal income taxes, we don’t call that a bug, we call it a feature! Free stuff for everybody, now and forever — that’s our winning campaign slogan, and if you don’t like it, try to come up with a better one.
● He’s . . . zzzzzzzzz. What? Sorry, fell asleep there for a sec. Fine now.
I know that some of you are sitting around waiting for a deus ex machina to descend from the sky and start singing a castrati aria. As you lie in bed hugging your pillow and ogling that dreamboat Glenn Beck at two in the morning, you start to fantasize about Mr. Right . . . and then a tall, dark, fat, and handsome Chris Christie emerges from the shadows like Fabio on the cover of a bodice-ripper and sweeps you off your feet, or your bum, or whatever, and into the perfumed night . . .
Well, let me let you in on a little secret — your beautiful dream is our worst nightmare. Except that we don’t see Christie as Fabio, we see him as another Italian, namely Tony Soprano. Unlike Mitt, Mitch, and the Diana-figure from The Shanghai Gesture, Chris Christie Superstar knows how to bring it; he would take the fight to Barry in a debate like Tony beating the bejesus out of the bartender at the Bada Bing club only, you know, with words and Pine Barren ’tude. Talk about a cheer moment — even those of us on the left who’ve had to swallow our formerly principled opposition to Gitmo, waterboarding, rendition, Special Ops, and, well, assassination in the interests of national solidarity might feel a thrill or two.
But the Fat Man says he ain’t running, nohow, no way. And I can respect that: When the Boss is one of your subjects, who wouldn’t want to be King of the Boardwalk? Nucky Johnson’s got nothing on Chris. Still, can you imagine a Christie/Allen West ticket — two cans of whup-ass in a one-can cubicle. Even Hillary ’12! couldn’t stand up to that.
So what are you poor slobs going to do? Who’s going to be the tomato can offering sham opposition to His Highness’s media-ordained second term in exchange for face-time emoluments down the line? Who’s going to be the designated patsy in the next Obama hagiography by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann? Who’s going to want to see his or her reputation trashed, the family dragged through the mud, the appearances on Morning Joe and Meet the Press at least temporarily halted? Whom will you find to cause Mika Brzezinski to sigh and roll her eyes prettily at the very mention of the unholy name? In short, who’s going to be the palooka?
Luckily, you’ve already got him, a candidate who’s tanned, rested, tested, and ready to lose. A man who’s seen both sides now, who’s experienced the E-ticket ride from the heights of media adulation to the depths of ignominious and disgraceful defeat and up again. A hero for our times, who’s fought back from the electoral disaster of 2008 to resume his rightful place among the Talking Heads Elect. The man to whom you owe absolutely nothing for your transient victories in the midterms. The man who, more than anybody else, gave us the glorious reign of the Emperor Hussein.
The man who never saw an aisle he didn’t want to reach across, even if he has to regenerate a new limb or two every few weeks. The fighter pilot with the common touch, who has so many houses, thanks to his rich second wife, that he can’t remember how many there are. A man of peace who never met a war he didn’t want to start, especially if we can bomb the bastards into submission without getting shot down. A man of such political bravery that he’s willing to attack his own side wherever and whenever it’s expedient. A man who takes a licking, likes it, and keeps on licking.
Ladies and gentlemen and Republicans, I give you John McCain.
Go ahead. You know you want to. It’s so much easier on all of us this way.
— As a Hollywood insider, David Kahane remains scrupulously nonpartisan in his politics: He votes for liberals and Democrats alike. You can sign on to DAVEPAC ’12 by writing to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or by abjectly begging him to be your illusory “friend” on Facebook, just as long as you shell out for your personal copy of Rules for Radical Conservatives. Proof of purchase required. Hey — it’s still a capitalist country, for the nonce.
China and Cybersecurity: Trojan Chips and U.S.–Chinese Relations Published on May 5, 2011 by Dean Cheng and Derek Scissors, Ph.D. WEBMEMO #3242
One subject of the third round of the U.S.–China Strategic and Economic Dialogue will be cybersecurity. Part of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s proposed Strategic Security Dialogue, it reflects the growing prominence of cybersecurity in Sino-American strategic relations.
The concerns include computer network exploitation and computer network attacks, but also tampering with the physical infrastructure of communications and computer networks. Vulnerabilities could be introduced in the course of manufacturing equipment or created through purchase of malignant or counterfeit goods. Recent experience highlights these problems. Such possibilities have brought calls for trade barriers, ranging from random entry-point inspections of various types of goods and equipment (e.g., chips and routers) to prohibition of some imports (e.g., communications hardware), especially from a major manufacturer, the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The trade proposals tend to be vague because the cyber threat itself, while real, is vaguely presented. While an ill-defined threat certainly bears watching, it does not justify protectionism. Cybersecurity is largely classified, but trade is not, and trade policy cannot be held hostage to cybersecurity unless specific dangers are put forward. What Is the Threat? A longstanding fear has been that cyber attacks against the U.S. might result in disruptions to power, banking, and communications systems at a critical moment. The cyber attacks on Estonia and Georgia, which disrupted commerce and communications, raise the specter that the U.S. might undergo the equivalent of a cyber Pearl Harbor. Efforts by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to improve verification capabilities highlight the limitations of current computer engineering skills in, for example, diagnosing cyber intrusions. Initial studies on the Trusted Integrated Circuit program, seeking to create a secure supply chain, were requested in 2007. As of late 2010, DARPA was still seeking new research proposals for determining whether a given chip was reliable, and whether it had been maliciously modified, as part of the Integrity and Reliability of Integrated Circuits (IRIS) program. A more recent worry is vulnerabilities “hardwired” into the physical infrastructure of the Internet. In the last several years, the FBI has warned that counterfeit computer parts and systems may be widespread. This can manifest itself in two ways: fake parts and systems, which may fail at dangerously higher rates, or contaminated systems that might incorporate hardwired backdoors and other security problems, allowing a foreign power to subvert a system. Similar problems have been identified by American allies; the U.K. has identified counterfeit parts entering into its military supply chain. Much cyber-related attention has been focused on the PRC. China is reportedly the source of many of the hacking efforts directed at U.S. military and security computer networks. Chinese computer infiltration has reputedly obtained access to such sensitive programs as F-35 design information. Such efforts as Titan Rain, Ghostnet, and others have reportedly attacked U.S. and other nations’ information systems systematically and have infiltrated email servers and networks around the world. One example is the “Shadow network,” which affected “social networking websites, webmail providers, free hosting providers and services from some of the largest companies.” Many have been traced back to the PRC—but attribution to any specific Chinese entity is extremely difficult. A growing concern is that China can exploit its position as one of the world’s largest producers of computer chips, motherboards, and other physical parts of the Internet to affect American and allied infrastructure. China has apparently already demonstrated an ability to tamper with Domain Name System (DNS) servers based in China, “effectively poisoning all DNS servers on the route.” The fear is that they could now affect foreign-based routers. In this regard, the issue of Chinese counterfeit parts is compounded by uncertainty about whether fake parts are being introduced as part of a concerted intelligence campaign or simply the result of profiteering by local contractors. Public Information Is Lacking The arcane nature of the threat enhances uncertainty. Understanding the workings of computer viruses, patches, and the vulnerabilities of routers or microchips is difficult. Comprehending the intricacies of global supply chains and tracing the ultimate source of sub-systems and components can be equally difficult. Former NSA and CIA Director General Michael Hayden writes that “Rarely has something been so important and so talked about with less clarity and less apparent understanding.” Several studies highlight some of the myriad vulnerabilities. The 2005 Defense Science Board Task Force on High Performance Microchip Supply identified the growing security problem of microchips being manufactured (and more and more often designed) outside the United States. The 2007 Defense Science Board Task Force on Mission Impact of Foreign Influence on DOD Software noted that software frequently incorporates pieces of code from a variety of sources, any of which might be a point of vulnerability. The 2008 National Defense Industrial Association’s handbook “Engineering for System Assurance” provides a comprehensive overview of system assurance, which in turn highlights how difficult it can be to achieve it. Over-classification is also a problem. General Hayden notes that much of the information on cyber threats is “overprotected.” Greg Garcia, head of the Bush Administration’s efforts on cybersecurity, has similarly noted that “there was too much classified…Too much was kept secret.” Leave Trade Alone The ambiguity on the security side actually clarifies the trade side. If the cyber threat is understood only tenuously, testing imported goods for cyber threats will be inadequate to identify compromised equipment. With ineffective testing, banning some importers would not be worthwhile. In a global economy, equipment will simply be re-routed. The U.S. does not have the resources necessary to track the true source of goods when dangerous items cannot be easily discovered—and discovery may even be impossible. If the threat was well understood but national security argued against the disclosure of vital information, this at least suggests that the danger from trade is secondary to other dangers. America retains the option, of course, of simply restricting trade on national security grounds without disclosing its reasons. This would be unwise. One drawback of restricting trade would be the costs incurred by the U.S. in terms of spending on import inspections and the loss of availability of certain goods. The defense community is often not well-positioned to anticipate the extent of these economic costs. People will not relinquish scarce resources voluntarily when the gains from doing so are not spelled out. The second drawback is the reaction of American trade partners. American exports already suffer from undocumented national security justifications for protectionism. Were the U.S. to introduce a new set of potentially sweeping restrictions based on hidden national security requirements, the global trade environment would immediately and sharply deteriorate. Costs would be far higher than indicated by looking at American actions alone. Balancing Economic and Security Responsibilities Security. For policymakers and the public to properly comprehend the magnitude of the problem, the Department of Defense must be as transparent as possible. Some material will be classified. But the trade-off between security classification and the ability to promptly and adequately respond to a threat should be weighted more heavily to the transparency side than it is at present. Trade. The Department of Commerce and United States Trade Representative should restrict trade only in accordance with what can be defended publicly and systematically. Introduction of ad hoc trade restrictions that claim a classified basis will harm the American economy. For now, it is unreasonable to impose considerable economic costs for the sake of a serious but vaguely presented threat. Dean Cheng is Research Fellow in Chinese Political and Security Affairs and Derek Scissors, Ph.D., is Research Fellow in Asia Economic Policy in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.
And yes, I can tell the difference between the two. In view of Obamacare, over-criminalization, EPA CO2 rulings, insanely complex tax code, second amendment restrictions, and so on, can you understand why one might not be pleased by yet further federal encroachment, particularly by an agency that has not caught a single terrorist, regularly fails security audits, hasn't addressed gaping security holes where airport staff are concerned, et al? Or are we supposed to pretend they provide competent security as we imagine ourselves to be a free people?
If Supermarkets Were Like Public Schools What if groceries were paid for by taxes, and you were assigned a store based on where you live? By DONALD J. BOUDREAUX
Teachers unions and their political allies argue that market forces can't supply quality education. According to them, only our existing system—politicized and monopolistic—will do the trick. Yet Americans would find that approach ludicrous if applied to other vital goods or services.
Suppose that groceries were supplied in the same way as K-12 education. Residents of each county would pay taxes on their properties. Nearly half of those tax revenues would then be spent by government officials to build and operate supermarkets. Each family would be assigned to a particular supermarket according to its home address. And each family would get its weekly allotment of groceries—"for free"—from its neighborhood public supermarket.
No family would be permitted to get groceries from a public supermarket outside of its district. Fortunately, though, thanks to a Supreme Court decision, families would be free to shop at private supermarkets that charge directly for the groceries they offer. Private-supermarket families, however, would receive no reductions in their property taxes.
Of course, the quality of public supermarkets would play a major role in families' choices about where to live. Real-estate agents and chambers of commerce in prosperous neighborhoods would brag about the high quality of public supermarkets to which families in their cities and towns are assigned.
Being largely protected from consumer choice, almost all public supermarkets would be worse than private ones. In poor counties the quality of public supermarkets would be downright abysmal. Poor people—entitled in principle to excellent supermarkets—would in fact suffer unusually poor supermarket quality.
How could it be otherwise? Public supermarkets would have captive customers and revenues supplied not by customers but by the government. Of course they wouldn't organize themselves efficiently to meet customers' demands.
Responding to these failures, thoughtful souls would call for "supermarket choice" fueled by vouchers or tax credits. Those calls would be vigorously opposed by public-supermarket administrators and workers.
Opponents of supermarket choice would accuse its proponents of demonizing supermarket workers (who, after all, have no control over their customers' poor eating habits at home). Advocates of choice would also be accused of trying to deny ordinary families the food needed for survival. Such choice, it would be alleged, would drain precious resources from public supermarkets whose poor performance testifies to their overwhelming need for more public funds.
As for the handful of radicals who call for total separation of supermarket and state—well, they would be criticized by almost everyone as antisocial devils indifferent to the starvation that would haunt the land if the provision of groceries were governed exclusively by private market forces.
In the face of calls for supermarket choice, supermarket-workers unions would use their significant resources for lobbying—in favor of public-supermarkets' monopoly power and against any suggestion that market forces are appropriate for delivering something as essential as groceries. Some indignant public-supermarket defenders would even rail against the insensitivity of referring to grocery shoppers as "customers," on the grounds that the relationship between the public servants who supply life-giving groceries and the citizens who need those groceries is not so crass as to be discussed in terms of commerce.
Recognizing that the erosion of their monopoly would stop the gravy train that pays their members handsome salaries without requiring them to satisfy paying customers, unions would ensure that any grass-roots effort to introduce supermarket choice meets fierce political opposition.
In reality, of course, groceries and many other staples of daily life are distributed with extraordinary effectiveness by competitive markets responding to consumer choice. The same could be true of education—the unions' self-serving protestations notwithstanding.
Mr. Boudreaux is professor of economics at George Mason University and a senior fellow at the Mercatus Center.
Amtrak: 40 Years, $40 Billion For National Train Day, let’s look at the company’s financial failures.
There is a special event coming down the tracks tomorrow — National Train Day. It’s likely few Americans, other than Amtrak enthusiast Vice President Joe Biden, put this date on their calendars. Amtrak, which created the holiday in 2008, will be using this day to kick off its year-long 40th-anniversary celebration. Supporters of Amtrak’s sister endeavor, high-speed rail, will also use the day to push for more funding.
Given America’s soft spot for trains — Thomas the Tank Engine and The Little Engine That Could are still popular among children — lawmakers are likely to be running to the nearest station for a photo op with those shiny engine cars. But instead of celebrating Amtrak’s anniversary, they should shine a light on the company’s financial failures and take its difficulties under advisement when considering costly new investments in high-speed rail.
When Congress created it in 1970, Amtrak was intended to be a profitable enterprise; instead, it has cost taxpayers a total of $40 billion. According to a 2009 study by the Pew Charitable Trust, 41 of Amtrak’s 44 lines lost money in 2008. Per-passenger losses ranged from $5 per passenger on the Northeast Regional to $462 on the Sunset Limited line, which runs all the way from New Orleans to Los Angeles. According to the Amtrak inspector general’s September 2010 semiannual report, the rail service covered only about 84 percent of its operating costs in fiscal year 2010.
Of course, Amtrak could save tax dollars by cutting its less profitable lines, but the anniversary-celebration lineup makes it clear that this engine of wasteful spending is accelerating. According to Amtrak’s Facebook page, the rail service will introduce four new P-42 diesel-electric trains, each with a “historic paint scheme,” and a separate “exhibit train” that will travel through the country for a year carrying educational exhibits; publish a book called “Amtrak: An American Story”; release a DVD on its history; and launch an anniversary website. In addition, Gladys Knight is acting as National Train Day spokesperson.
Defenders of Amtrak — and of high-speed rail — argue that most of the nation’s transportation industry is subsidized. Amtrak’s subsidy, however, is by far the most generous. According to a 2009 study by the Heritage Foundation, Amtrak subsidies totaled $237.53 per 1,000 passenger-miles. In contrast, the subsidy for commercial aviation was $4.23. These subsidies don’t make train travel more affordable. Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute notes a one-way ticket between Washington, D.C., and New York City on Amtrak’s high-speed Acela costs $139, while bus service costs less than $15.
Taxpayers understand that if the government can’t turn a profit on lower-cost, low-speed rail (Amtrak), it will never earn a dime on higher-cost, high-speed rail. That’s why some governors, including Florida’s Rick Scott (R) and Ohio’s John Kasich (R), have said “No, thank you” to high-speed-rail funding that would put state taxpayers on the hook for years to come.
In preparation for a possible government shutdown in April, Amtrak president Joe Boardman instructed workers not to worry, because the company could still rely on ticket revenues to operate. That is, if Amtrak had to live without taxpayer subsidies, it would remain in business. The only difference is that it would be forced — like any other business — to cut unprofitable ventures and to meet its bottom line. Since, according to the Heritage Foundation, Amtrak accounts for 0.5 percent of all interstate passenger travel, and 40 percent of that travel occurs in the Northeast Corridor, it is unlikely most Americans would even notice such a change in service.
Across the country, many businesses, including other transportation services, have found ways to improve their bottom lines. Amtrak won’t be forced to make those types of decisions until taxpayer support is derailed. It is time for Congress to end Amtrak subsidies, consider the costly lessons learned, and apply them to the debate over high-speed rail.”
— Tom Schatz is president of Citizens Against Government Waste, a national nonprofit devoted to eliminating waste, mismanagement, and inefficiency in the federal government.
While I watched the speech I also thought the personal pronoun use was pretty telling and far less than magnanimous.
The First-Person Presidency President Obama takes credit for operations that would have been impossible had Senator Obama’s views prevailed.
Here are a few excerpts from President Obama’s speech on Sunday night about the killing of Osama bin Laden.
“Tonight, I can report . . . And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta . . . I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden . . . I met repeatedly with my national security team . . . I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action. . . . Today, at my direction . . . I’ve made clear . . . Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear . . . Tonight, I called President Zardari . . . and my team has also spoken. . .These efforts weigh on me every time I, as Commander-in-Chief . . . Finally, let me say to the families . . . I know that it has, at times, frayed. . . .”
Most of these first-person pronouns could have been replaced by either the first-person plural (our, we) or proper nouns (the United States, America). But they reflect a now well-known Obama trait of personalizing the presidency.
The problem of first-personalizing national security is twofold. One, it is not consistent. Good news is reported by Obama in terms of “I”; bad news is delivered as “reset,” “the previous administration,” “in the past”: All good things abroad are due to Obama himself; all bad things are still the blowback from George W. Bush.
Two, there is the small matter of hypocrisy. The protocols for taking out Osama bin Laden were all established by President Bush and all opposed by Senator and then candidate Obama. Yet President Obama never seeks to explain that disconnect; indeed, he emphasizes it by the overuse of the first person. When the president reminds us this week of what “over the years I’ve repeatedly made clear,” does he include his opposition to what he now has institutionalized?
Guantanamo proves to have been important for gathering intelligence; Barack Obama derided it as “a tremendous recruiting tool for al-Qaeda.”
Some key intelligence was found by interrogating prisoners abroad; Barack Obama wished to end that practice: “This means ending the practices of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of law.” “That will be my position as president. That includes renditions.” Renditions have not ended under Obama, but expanded.
In some cases we are trying suspects through military tribunals; here again, Barack Obama used to deplore the practice he now has adopted: “a flawed military-commission system that has failed to convict anyone of a terrorist act since the 9/11 attacks and that has been embroiled in legal challenges.”
Senator Obama complained about airborne attacks on the Afghanistan-Pakistan borderlands. President Obama increased Predator assassination attacks fivefold. He has killed four times as many terrorist suspects by Predators in 27 months than did President Bush in eight years.
In January 2007 — three weeks after President Bush announced the surge — Senator Obama introduced the “Iraq War De-escalation Act of 2007.” If it had passed, that law would have removed all troops from Iraq by March 2008. Obama derided the surge in unequivocal terms both before and after its implementation: “I don’t know any expert on the region or any military officer that I’ve spoken to privately that believes that that is going to make a substantial difference on the situation on the ground.” “Here’s what we know. The surge has not worked.”
Candidate Obama criticized warrantless wiretaps, in accusing the Bush administration in the harshest terms: “This administration acts like violating civil liberties is the way to enhance our security. It is not.” A disinterested examination of present policy regarding both wiretaps and intercepts would show no change from the Bush administration, or indeed considerable expansion of the use of these tools.
If one wonders why former President Bush did not attend ceremonies with President Obama this week in New York, it might be because of past rhetoric like this about policies Obama once derided and then codified: “I taught constitutional law for ten years at the University of Chicago, so . . . um . . . your next president will actually believe in the Constitution, which you can’t say about your current president.” George Bush did not believe in the U.S. Constitution?
In sum, Senator Obama opposed tribunals, renditions, Guantanamo, preventive detention, Predator-drone attacks, the Iraq War, wiretaps, and intercepts — before President Obama either continued or expanded nearly all of them, in addition to embracing targeted assassinations, new body scanning and patdowns at airports, and a third preemptive war against an oil-exporting Arab Muslim nation — this one including NATO efforts to kill the Qaddafi family. The only thing more surreal than Barack Obama’s radical transformation is the sudden approval of it by the once hysterical Left. In Animal Farm and 1984 fashion, the world we knew in 2006 has simply been airbrushed away.
Times change. People say one thing when they are candidates for public office, quite another as officeholders with responsibility of governance. Obama as president naturally does not wish to be treated in the manner in which he once treated President Bush. Conservatives might resent Obama’s prior demagoguery at a critical period in our national security, as much as they are relieved that he seems to have grown up and repudiated it.
Okay, the public perhaps understands all that hypocrisy as the stuff of presidential politics. But I think it will not quite accept the next step of taking full credit in hyperbolic first-person fashion for operations that would have been impossible had his own views prevailed.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.
Local officials, like their federal and state counterparts, spend other people’s money. Policymakers are naturally unlikely to spend other people’s money as carefully as they would their own. This situation is exacerbated when local officials spend money obtained from federal taxpayers. At least when local taxpayers foot the bill, they have an incentive to keep an eye on how their money is spent. That incentive is largely nonexistent when the money comes from Washington.
HUD community development programs illustrate what happens when the federal government severs the relationship between local officials and local taxpayers. Originally targeted to large cities in decline, community development funding is spread widely to communities rich and poor, large and small.
Local officials love these programs because they amount to a free lunch. As a result, they lobby Washington hard for these subsidies, which means federal policymakers generally only hear wonderful tales of the “economic growth” and “job creation” fostered by the programs. However, a Cato essay on HUD community development programs explains that in addition to complexity and wasteful bureaucracy, these programs are susceptible to financial abuses.
Recent stories in the news provide further evidence.
First, years of mismanaging federal community development funds have caught up to the City of Buffalo. The Buffalo News reports that a HUD inspector general audit says the city “could not provide assurance that more than $20.1 million in transactions was properly accounted for.” According to the article, the audit findings are not surprising:
An investigation published in The News in 2004 found the city had frittered away much of its block grant money through parochial politics and bureaucratic ineptitude.
More than half the spending went to “soft costs” that include covering bad loans, paying city salaries and subsidizing an overblown network of neighborhood agencies, The News found. Relatively little went to brick-and-mortar projects, and what was spent to revitalize downtown and neighborhoods was haphazard, with money sometimes going to risky and futile projects.
The mayor and Common Council failed to make major reforms in the program in recent years, and problems have persisted. Two years ago, a HUD monitoring report found continued shortcomings that included too much spending on bureaucrats, questionable financing for upscale housing developments and sloppy fiscal management of several programs.
Next, LA Weekly reports that the City of Los Angeles plans to give $1 million in federal community development funds to the global architecture firm designing the downtown’s proposed NFL football stadium:
Gensler plans to move from Santa Monica to downtown L.A., where it will use the $1 million in federal community-development block grant funds to create a hip, new atmosphere for its relocated employees at the “jewel box,” a three-story building nestled between two skyscrapers at City National Plaza.
Unfortunately, the “hip, new atmosphere” paid for by federal taxpayers probably won’t be the “job creator” that city officials are claiming:
[Mayor] Villaraigosa and City Council members since February have claimed that enticing Gensler from Santa Monica to downtown L.A. is a job creator. But that’s debatable. Some temporary jobs will be created for the jewel box renovation, but Gensler is moving its offices just 20 miles. Many economists would describe L.A.’s action as merely shifting jobs within an intricately intertwined economic area.
A HUD official called the situation “entirely healthy.”
Finally, HUD recently informed the City of Montebello (California) that it had uncovered 31 violations regarding the city’s use of HOME program funds, which are to be used for affordable housing. According to the Whittier Daily News, the report “was so damning it brought interim city administrator Peter Cosentini to tears”:
Last year, HUD demanded that Montebello repay $1.3 million because the city gave a developer HOME money to help build a housing project with affordable units and reported to the federal agency the project was complete, but construction hasn’t started. And a key document submitted to HUD appeared to have been forged, according to the report.
In February, HUD notified city officials that Montebello must also repay nearly $900,000 it used to purchase another parcel of land. The city failed to give HUD needed documents on the property acquisition, including an appraisal, documentation of expenditures and current ownership, according to a Feb. 18 letter from [HUD official] Vasquez to the city.
Cosentini responded in writing, saying city staff has been sent to training as recommended by HUD. Montebello is also conducting an internal investigation into the possible document forgery. The city’s internal investigation of the $1.3 million has been slowed because the developer isn’t cooperating and is “stonewalling” city staff, he wrote. Cosentini also asked for more time to repay the money.
But the city missed a March 1 deadline to submit a repayment plan, according to a letter from Vasquez. And HUD will seek an additional repayment of $2.7 million, Cosentini wrote in the memo.
Take heart federal taxpayers – Montebello city bureaucrats are being “sent to training” per HUD’s recommendation!
Physics for safer ports: New technology uses nuclear 'fingerprints' to scan cargo ships April 29th, 2011 in Technology / Engineering
The Port of Savannah is the fourth largest container port in the United States, importing hundreds of large metal boxes from cargo ships shown here. Credit: Georgia Department of Economic Development. While 700 million travelers undergo TSA's intrusive scans and pat-downs each year, 11 million cargo containers enter American ports with little screening at all. And the volume of those containers, roughly equivalent to 590 Empire State Buildings of cargo, could contain something even worse than box knives or exploding shoes, namely nuclear weapons. Two teams of North Carolina physicists are mapping the intricacies of the atomic nucleus, which could provide better security at the ports. The scientists have identified new "fingerprints" of nuclear materials, such as uranium and plutonium. The fingerprints would be used in new cargo scanners to accurately and efficiently identify suspicious materials. The physics might also be used to improve analysis of spent nuclear fuel rods, which are a potential source of bomb-making materials. The problem starts at ports, where terrorists may try to smuggle an entire dirty bomb or even smaller amounts of plutonium or uranium by hiding it within the mountains of cargo that pass into the country each day. Cargo scanners using the new nuclear fingerprints would be sensitive enough to spot an entire bomb or the smaller parts to build one, according to Mohammad Ahmed, a nuclear physicist at Duke University. Ahmed and his colleagues are developing the fingerprints for the next-generation detectors with HIGS, the High Intensity Gamma-Ray Source. It is the world's most intense and tunable source of polarized gamma rays and is located on Duke's campus as part of the Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratory. HIGS produces gamma rays that are guided to collide with target materials, causing a variety of nuclear reactions. In the reaction Ahmed and his Duke colleagues study, the collision creates a spray of particles, which fly into a group of detectors. The detectors count the number of neutrons knocked from the atomic nuclei of the target material in either a parallel or perpendicular direction, compared to the polarization plane of the gamma-ray beam. Dividing the number of neutrons emitted parallel to the plane by the number emitted perpendicular is distinct to each material, giving it a unique fingerprint. Ahmed said these fingerprints could eventually be used to distinguish special nuclear materials, like weapons-grade uranium, from naturally occurring uranium or ordinary objects such as clothing or granite countertops, distinctions that current port scanners cannot make. In a separate but related project, nuclear physicists from three North Carolina universities are slamming the HIGS beam into atomic nuclei and observing the energy pattern and distribution of the gamma rays that fluoresce back out of the collision. Each material has a distinct fluorescence pattern based on its nuclear structure, according to physicist Calvin Howell, who leads the Duke group.
Enlarge New neutron "fingerprints" discovered with polarized gamma-rays at Duke could be the foundation for new port security scanners. Graphic: Ashley Yeager, Duke Howell and his collaborators are studying the fluorescence patterns of potentially dangerous nuclear materials and non-nuclear contraband such as explosives and drugs. They are also identifying the patterns of steel and lead because terrorists can use the metals to conceal and ship weapon-making materials. The two anti-terrorism projects were developed with the support of the Department of Homeland Security's Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, or DNDO. The agency awarded Ahmed and his colleagues a $2 million grant, while Howell and his collaborators received grants totaling $2 million. DNDO is funding both projects in response to the SAFE (Security and Accountability For Every) Port Act of 2006, which requires security agents to scan for nuclear materials in all of the containers entering the United States through the nation's 22 busiest ports. Five years after Congress and the president approved the legislation, the equipment to satisfy this mandate still doesn't exist. Meanwhile, the United States transfers about 20 percent of the world's freight across its borders and has more than 300 maritime ports for sea containers and an additional 300 access points, such as border crossings, where dangerous materials might enter the country. The Duke scientists say their use of polarized gamma-ray beams could one day help satisfy the SAFE policy, and they are building the fingerprint library to make it happen. The HIGS data show, for example, that a precisely tuned gamma beam at 6 MeV causes weapons-grade uranium, U-235, to emit one neutron parallel to the polarization plane for each neutron emitted perpendicular to the plane, giving the material a neutron fingerprint of one. Naturally occurring uranium, U-238, emits three parallel neutrons for every one emitted perpendicular to the polarization plane of the beam, giving it a neutron fingerprint of three. Beryllium, which can also be a neutron source in nuclear weapons, has a neutron fingerprint of 10. The team is now measuring the neutron fingerprints of plutonium and other fissile materials, Ahmed said. Howell and his collaborators, meanwhile, work at lower energies on HIGS, about 3 MeV. (Surgeons, for comparison, use a "Gamma Knife" at roughly 1 MeV to treat brain tumors.) Their team has already identified the fluorescence patterns of several special nuclear materials and lead. Both teams will report their results at a meeting with DNDO officials on Thursday, April 28 in Washington D.C. and will store their results in a nuclear identification database. Ahmed and Howell said that engineers at one private security company and scientists at U.S. national laboratories have already begun using the database to design new port security scanners. The new detectors will search cargo for the fingerprints using an electron accelerator, possibly coupled to lasers that produce a finely tuned gamma-ray beam, said Craig Wuest of the Global Security Principal Directorate at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). The design sounds complex, but in some ways it resembles medical scanning equipment and appears promising to pursue, he said. Howell's "nuclear resonance fluorescence" approach is interesting because it uses a beam with lower-energy gamma rays and reduces the potential irradiation and contamination of cargo while providing "sufficient detection sensitivity," Wuest, who was not involved in the research, added. One of Wuest's colleagues at LLNL, nuclear physicist Dennis McNabb,is more intrigued with Ahmed's and Weller's technique. Scientists are only just beginning to measure the fingerprints and background signatures from this neutron-scattering process, and because "the research is in progress, how to best use the data is still an open question," McNabb said. He also explained that cargo scanners using the data from both teams could be ready for use at ports in about 10 years. Still, some scientists question whether the emerging science and technology can mature fast enough to meet the real-world threats of terrorists and dirty bombs. For instance, Thomas Cochran, a physicist and senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, voiced "serious doubts" and said the government should focus instead on eliminating inventories of highly enriched uranium, improving port security, boosting intelligence efforts and training first responders. Other experts disagree and are urging the government to accelerate research on new science and technologies that could significantly reduce the threat of nuclear weapons smuggling, which seems likely to persist into the next decade. McNabb, a proponent, said, "it takes time to develop new technologies" and suggests that the research may accelerate development in other areas of nuclear security. The new information from HIGS could improve analysis of spent nuclear fuel rods, which are an environmental issue as well as a potential source of bomb materials, according to Duke physicist Anton Tonchev. He works on the nuclear resonance fluorescence project with Howell and said the technique provides a nondestructive way to measure the quantities of plutonium and other nuclear materials that remain after the rods are removed from a nuclear reactor. Currently, the spent fuel rods must be opened and tested to assess what materials remain in them. The process is expensive, but critical for the International Atomic Energy Agency to accurately calculate the amount of leftover fissile and nuclear materials. McNabb and Tonchev said that a new technique to distinguish the leftover U-235, U-238 and plutonium in the spent rods without opening them could substantially lower the costs to manage and account for nuclear waste to prevent nuclear proliferation by terrorists. Regardless of how fast engineers turn the fingerprint data and new approaches into workable scanning and nuclear fuel devices, the Duke scientists said there is immediate value in compiling a robust database of both the neutron and nuclear resonance fluorescence fingerprints. Government officials at the DNDO concur and cite HIGS as the only facility with the ability to produce such a database, according to Ahmed. Because of the demand, the physicists have recruited graduate and undergraduate students from Duke, University of North Carolina, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, North Carolina Central University, James Madison University and George Washington University to help with the effort. They especially encourage students from historically black colleges and universities to participate, hoping the effort will help broaden the diversity of nuclear physicists working to identify new ways to curb the threat of future terror attacks. Provided by Duke University