Saturday, September 13, 2003

Howard Dean's grandmother asked George Bush's grandmother to be a bridesmaid at her wedding
September 13, 2003

Bred for Power


If you were to pick a presidential candidate on the basis of social standing — and really, darling, who doesn't — you'd have to pick Howard Brush Dean III over George Walker Bush. The Bush lineage is fine. I'm not criticizing. But the Deans have been here practically since Mayflower days and in the Social Register for generations. It's true Bush's grandfather was a Wall Street financier, a senator and a Yale man, but Dean's family has Wall Street financiers going back to the Stone Age, and both his grandfathers were Yale men.

The Bush family properties were in places like Greenwich, Conn., and Kennebunkport, Me., which is acceptable, but the Dean piles were in Oyster Bay, on Hook Pond in East Hampton and on Park Avenue, a list that suggests a distinguished layer of mildew on the family fortune.

Again, I'm not suggesting the Bushes are arrivistes. Howard Dean's grandmother asked George Bush's grandmother to be a bridesmaid at her wedding, and she wouldn't have done that if the family were in any way unsound. I'm just pointing to gradations. Dean even went to a slightly more socially exclusive prep school, St. George's, while Bush made do with Andover before they both headed off to Yale.

On the other hand, both boys have lived along parallel tracks since they went out on their own. Both went through their Prince Hal phases. Bush drank too much at country clubs. Dean got a medical deferment from Vietnam and spent his time skiing in Aspen. Both decided one night that it was time to get serious about life and give up drinking. Dean was 32; Bush was 40.

Both seemed to have sensed early on that their class, the Protestant Establishment, was dissolving. While Dean was at St. George's, the school admitted its first black student, Conrad Young, who, the official school history says, left after two years. By the time Bush and Dean got to Yale, a new class of striving meritocrats was starting to dominate the place.

Both, impressively, adapted to the new society. Dean married a Jewish doctor, raises his kids as Jews, lives in Burlington, Vt., and has become WASP king of the peaceniks. Bush moved to Midland, Tex., became a Methodist, went to work in the oil business and has become WASP king of the Nascar dads.

And for both, those decades of WASP breeding were not in vain. If you look at Bush and Dean, even more than prep school boys like John Kerry (St. Paul's and Harvard), Al Gore (St. Alban's and Harvard) and Bill Frist (Montgomery Bell Academy and Princeton), you detect certain common traits.

The first is self-assurance. Both Bush and Dean have amazing faith in their gut instincts. Both have self-esteem that is impregnable because it derives not from what they are accomplishing but from who they ineffably are. Both appear unplagued by the sensation, which destroyed Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, that there is some group in society higher than themselves.

Both are bold. Bush is an ambitious war leader, and Dean has set himself off from all the cautious, poll-molded campaigns of his rivals.

Both were inculcated with something else, a sense of chivalry. Unlike today's top schools, which are often factories for producing Résumé Gods, the WASP prep schools were built to take the sons of privilege and toughen them into paragons of manly virtue. Rich boys were sent away from their families and shoved into a harsh environment that put tremendous emphasis on athletic competition, social competition and character building.

As Peter W. Cookson Jr. and Caroline Hodges Persell write in "Preparing for Power: America's Elite Boarding Schools," students in traditional schools "had to be made tough, loyal to each other, and ready to take command without self-doubt. Boarding schools were not founded to produce Hamlets, but Dukes of Wellington who could stand above the carnage with a clear head and an unflinching will to win."

As anyone who has read George Orwell knows, this had ruinous effects on some boys, but those who thrived, as John F. Kennedy did, believed that life was a knightly quest to perform service and achieve greatness, through virility, courage, self-discipline and toughness.

The Protestant Establishment is dead, and nobody wants it back. But that culture, which George Bush and Howard Dean were born into, did have a formula for producing leaders. Our culture, which is freer and fairer, does not.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company | Home | Privacy Policy |

Monday, June 23, 2003

Congress Online: Much Sizzle, Little Steak

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
June 24, 2003

Congress Online: Much Sizzle, Little Steak


WASHINGTON, June 23 — By now, almost every representative and every senator in Congress has a Web site. The sites offer a cornucopia of personal and hometown lore, in most cases virtually everything except what becomes legends most: their voting records.

For example, Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Republican of Colorado, bursts from his home page in a leather jacket, showing off his motorcycle, which is decorated with stars and stripes. Senators John B. Breaux and Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrats, give links to recipes for down-home Southern cooking.

None of these sites disclose the lawmakers' votes. And these sites are the rule.

A New York Times analysis of the Web sites has found that only 11 percent of senators and 40 percent of representatives provided some kind of information about their voting records, either a partial list of their major votes or a link to a vote-listing service. Many list their opinions, the bills they have sponsored and press releases. Only one senator, Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, provides her complete voting record.

Surveys by other groups suggest a strong desire by citizens to see the voting records of their lawmakers. Extensive work has been done on this subject by the Congress Online Project, a program financed by the Pew Charitable Trusts to improve electronic communication between members of Congress and the public. In addition, Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate, has organized Congressional interns to prod their bosses to post their voting records on their Web sites. Focus groups told the Pew researchers that they were not interested in every vote but wanted know the important ones.

The Times analysis found that besides Senator Feinstein's, the model sites were those of two Republican representatives, Christopher Shays of Connecticut and Frank R. Wolf of Virginia. Links to their voting records are heralded prominently on their home pages.

Others offer links to services like the Library of Congress's Thomas service (, Project Vote Smart ( or, which can direct viewers to individual votes.

Some legislators are overhauling their sites to provide such links. Senator Breaux, for example, is in the midst of a redesign. His spokesman, Brian Weiss, said it would include a link to the Thomas service.

Some sites are so poorly designed that even when a link is available, it is not easy to find. Nothing on the site of Senator Daniel K. Akaka, Democrat of Hawaii, who appears on his home page with a green lei around his neck, refers to his voting record. Only by clicking on "links" and then stumbling into "federal government" — not the obvious repository for a voting record — can one then click on and find a vote by navigating from there.

Paul Cardus, Senator Akaka's press secretary, said the site was being updated and would probably add a direct link and call it "voting record" to take the viewer to Thomas.

Some Web pages offer no links at all. Representative Richard A. Gephardt, the Missouri Democrat who is running for president, does not list his votes on his fairly limited House Web site or on his flashier campaign site. His spokesman, Erik Smith, said he knew of no demand for the votes but thought that listing them might be a good idea.

Critics like Mr. Nader say that while the links to services can help find a vote or two, trying to compile a voting record by year and by issue from these links is cumbersome, confusing and time-consuming.

Mr. Nader says some members are trying to obscure their votes.

Others take a more benign view. Brad Fitch, deputy director of the Congressional Management Foundation, which helped with the Congress Online Project, said many members were just getting up to speed with online technology.

"There is a learning curve," Mr. Fitch said.

He said some members had told him they did not provide quick access to their voting records because they did not want to do the research for their challengers back home.

Mr. Fitch says he responds like this: "I tell these members that I'm letting them in on a little secret — that the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee have computers, and this information is available."

He added: "The only thing a member does by not providing this information is send the wrong message to constituents. You're inviting them to go someplace else, and that's a lost opportunity, from a political and a communication standpoint."

It is not clear, however, that all lawmakers are behind the technology curve. Representative Wolf said he started making his voting record available by newsletter as soon as he was elected to Congress in 1980; an opponent had told voters they could "look up" his record, so Mr. Wolf promised to send his record out.

He adapted to the Internet without difficulty and lends his assistant to help others set up sites.

"It's like opening up a book," Mr. Wolf said. "You want everything to be there. And of course your votes should be. Ye shall know them by their fruits, they say, and our votes are our fruits."

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

Friday, June 20, 2003

Democrats vie in Internet 'primary'

Democrats vie in Internet 'primary'

Fri, 20 Jun 2003

Some activists smell something fishy about next week's Web-based "primary" to test the early strength of Democratic presidential contenders. While a number of the candidates are urging their supporters to vote in the event, some strategists see it as skewed toward Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor who shares the group's antiwar views. "It appears to be rigged," said Erik Smith, a spokesman for Rep. Dick Gephardt's campaign.

SMITH CHARGED THAT people who registered on the Web site this week immediately received an e-mail from Dean, but from no other contender, trying to win their support. "It doesn't look like every candidate was given an equal opportunity," Smith said.

"I'm sorry people feel that way," said co-founder Wes Boyd. "A few days ago, some of the campaigns weren't taking this vote seriously." But now that the event has gotten some news media and grass-roots attention, Boyd said, "some campaigns are trying to delegitimatize this process."

Launched in 1998 by two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to oppose the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, says 1.4 million people have participated in its petition and mobilization efforts.

Boyd said he expects "hundreds of thousands" to vote in next week's event, which will be conducted Tuesday and Wednesday. For comparison, about 156,000 voted in the 2000 New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary.

Boyd said his group sent a memo to all nine Democratic contenders explaining how the primary would work. In a pre-primary straw poll, the group determined that the three favorites among its members were Dean, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Only the three favorites get a promotional e-mail sent out on their behalf to people who register to vote in the event.

Playing down the importance of the vote, one operative working in a 2004 campaign said, "It is widely recognized that this is Howard Dean's guaranteed win."

The group will announce the outcome of the vote Friday. If any of the contenders garners more than 50 percent of the votes, he'll get's endorsement for the Democratic nomination.

"We're setting a high bar; it will be very difficult for anybody to achieve that," said Boyd.

He said the group decided to conduct its self-styled primary early in the campaign because "ordinary people should get involved and not let the pundits and big contributors determine the field."

A Dean victory in the primary would add a positive note to what has been a recent series of news-making coups for the Vermont maverick. Last week, Dean launched the first television ads run so far by any Democratic presidential contender.

And last weekend at the Wisconsin Democratic Party convention, in a straw poll organized by National Journal's Campaign Hotline, Dean placed first, although only 352 votes were cast. has played a lead role in opposing President Bush's Iraq policy and is currently running newspaper ads with the headline "MISLEADER" superimposed on a photo of Bush.

ACCUSES BUSH OF LYING :The ad says, "The evidence suggests that ... the American people were deliberately misled. It would be a tragedy if young men and women were sent to die for a lie."'s antiwar orientation seems to give a decided advantage in its primary to the two contenders who have been most outspoken in opposing Bush's Iraq policy, Dean and Kucinich.

So why, then, have Democratic hopefuls Gephardt, Sen. Joe Lieberman and Sen. John Edwards -- who all voted to authorize Bush's invasion of Iraq -- urged their supporters to take part in the event?

Lieberman campaign spokesman Jano Cabrera told, "We encourage our supporters to participate, but we encourage them to participate in as many venues and forums as possible."

But Cabrera acknowledged, "When it comes to organizing in cyberspace, the advantage goes to other campaigns. We recognize that Howard Dean has made an extraordinary effort when it comes to organizing people online."

Gephardt campaign spokesman Smith said Gephardt was competing in the primary because "we don't to write anybody off. These ( members) are passionate Democrats."

One prominent Democrat who is not affiliated with any campaign was critical of's timing. Simon Rosenberg, the president of the New Democratic Network, a centrist fund-raising group, said might diminish its clout by endorsing a candidate so early.

"My concern in that this primary -- and if they end up endorsing (a candidate) -- could dramatically limit their long-term ability to be influential in the Democratic Party," said Rosenberg. "They have taken an enormous risk. I hope they know what they are doing." staffer Zack Exley recently took a two-week leave of absence from the group to work as paid consultant for the Dean campaign on how to improve its Internet voter mobilization tools.

Exley said had offered to share its expertise with other Democratic presidential contenders as well. His work for Dean, Exley said, "should not be interpreted as a sign that the Move.on staff has an interest in endorsing Dean."

He added, "We're supporting all the Democratic candidates" by offering to spread's Internet expertise.

One computer expert suggested there's reason to question the validity of any Internet vote.

"It is impossible to ensure an accurate vote over the Internet, using conventional computer hardware and software (e.g., PCs running Windows, etc.)," said Lauren Weinstein, the co-founder of a group called People For Internet Responsibility.

"The fundamental nature of these systems makes them open to voting compromise in a vast number of ways, most of which could be completely hidden from the user," said Weinstein. "Vote hackers could even plant viruses on systems way in advance that would just sit and wait for an election."

Asked about Weinstein's analysis, Boyd conceded there may be "opportunities for abuse" in the vote, but he noted, "there are opportunities for abuses in our larger electoral system as well."

The group has commissioned a telephone exit poll of a sample of those who take part in next week's vote to see if the sample jibes with the total raw vote. If the exit poll is substantially at odds with the total vote, Boyd said, the group may try to find out if the vote was manipulated in some way.

Putting aside the technical questions, if Dean does indeed win the vote, the rival campaigns will quickly seek to, as they say, just move on.

Monday, May 05, 2003

Web Antidote for Political Apathy

Web Antidote for Political Apathy

By Leander Kahney

Story location:,1283,58715,00.html

02:00 AM May. 05, 2003 PT

A couple of years ago the British Broadcasting Corporation was blindsided by a grassroots campaign against rising taxes on gas. Although discontent had been growing for some time, the BBC didn't report the story until the British army was called out to protect gas stations from protesters.

Hoping to avoid this kind of blindness to ordinary Britons' political concerns, the broadcasting behemoth is launching a radical online experiment to reconnect itself with grassroots sentiment.

In October, the BBC plans to flick the switch on an ambitious website designed to help Britons organize and run grassroots political campaigns. The site, dubbed iCan, is designed to help citizens investigate issues that concern them, find others who share those concerns and provide advice and tools for organizing and engaging in the political process.

"It's a big change for the BBC," said James Cronin, the project's technical lead. "It's ceasing to be just a broadcaster. It's starting to enable conversations."

The BBC's purpose is twofold. On the one hand, the iCan site will help keep the broadcaster's ear to the ground. By mining the iCan website for leads, the BBC will be better able to respond to issues pertinent to its viewers, or so it hopes.

On the other hand, the effort is intended to counteract what officials at the broadcasting network feel is widespread political apathy in the United Kingdom, marked by low voter turnout at elections and declining audiences for its political programming. As a state-financed institution operating under a royal charter to inform, educate and entertain, the BBC feels it is within its purview to help disenfranchised citizens engage in public life.

Details of iCan's workings are a bit sketchy -- the system is still in development -- but an overview was provided recently at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference in Santa Clara, California.

Cronin and Matt Jones, an information architect with the BBC's new media wing, told conference attendees that the idea is to provide a loosely structured set of tools to make it easy for ordinary citizens to run their own activist campaigns on the Net.

In fact, the system was designed after a three-month ethnographic study of real-world grassroots political campaigns. Details of the study remain confidential.

The system will consist of two main components: a public forum to help people research their concerns and find others who share them, both locally and nationally, and a "democracy database," designed to provide a wealth of information on grassroots campaigning and the legislative process.

Say there's a proposal to build a new highway. The iCan system will help concerned citizens find each other through the forum and begin the process of organizing an anti-road movement.

Using the democracy database, members of the fledgling anti-road lobby will learn how to set up public meetings, lobby their representatives and voice grievances during planning hearings.

Initially, six BBC news reporters assigned to different geographic regions in the United Kingdom will watch the system closely for potential stories for television and radio.

Cronin and Jones noted that television coverage of emerging campaigns on the site likely will form a feedback loop -- political activism becomes a subject for the news, which in turn generates more political activism, and so on. If the iCan system takes off, and they think it will, the BBC probably will assign more reporters.

The pair said that as a news organization, the BBC is very concerned with remaining impartial, and will strenuously avoid the perception of endorsing any given campaign.

"We're not trying to foment revolutions," Jones said. "We want to reconnect our news gathering with people's concerns, and we hope our grassroots system will help with that."

After the presentation, Cronin said the BBC's upper management also was interested in finding ways to counter political apathy.

Cronin said that while citizens feel profoundly disconnected from national politics, they readily become involved in single-issue campaigns -- like protests against the war in Iraq -- or issues where they believe they will have an impact. He said BBC executives were impressed by a protest campaign last year against proposed ID card legislation in the United Kingdom, a plan that was tabled after an overwhelmingly negative response from voters.

The protest was led by's website, which makes it easy to fax members of Parliament over the Web. Cronin was involved in setting up the site.

The protest helped convince the BBC's management that the Internet provided a unique opportunity to inject politics with some interactivity between citizens and politicians, Cronin said.

However, most citizens have no idea where to start in terms of using the Net. In addition, they feel they are alone -- that their voice won't have an impact. Cronin said these are the two main issues the iCan site hopes to address.

BBC viewers, Cronin added, are tired of watching an endless procession of politicians pontificating about the issues of the day, which he called "output," and instead want action, or "outcomes."

"We wanted to work out ways to help people find outcomes," he said. "People want to have more input in democracy than a single vote every four years for parties that are more or less the same."

Of course, the big question is whether Britain's political institutions will be receptive to citizen input. The case notwithstanding, the British government, like most other democracies, has a long history of forcing unpopular legislation on the public, no matter how loud the howls of protest.

Caleb Kleppner, a senior analyst with the Center for Voting and Democracy, a nonpartisan think tank based in Takoma Park, Maryland, welcomed the creation of iCan, but said it seems as though the system will address a symptom rather than the root causes of voter disenfranchisement. After all, in a representative democracy like the United Kingdom's, politicians are supposed to be in touch with, and act on, their constituents' concerns.

"It sounds promising," Kleppner said. "(But) we elect representatives to promote the interests of the people who vote for them. If there's a need for a system like this, it suggests that the whole system has broken down."

However, the project drew kudos from Ross Mayfield, CEO of Socialtext, one of the leading companies in the burgeoning social software movement, an umbrella term for a wide range of software for social interaction, from blogs to Wikis.

Mayfield applauded the idea of putting Internet-based activism tools in the hands of ordinary people.

"(The iCan project) is the best use of social software people are attempting right now," he said. "Anything that uses the Web to foster interaction with the government is what this kind of software is all about."

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

The War on the Web Sites to see on the road to Baghdad.

Article URL:
The War on the Web
Sites to see on the road to Baghdad.
By Avi Zenilman
Updated Wednesday, March 19, 2003, at 3:05 PM PT

The Iraq invasion will be the first major war on the Web. When the bombs start dropping, millions of Americans will crowd the Internet to catch up on the latest news, see pictures, and send e-mail to loved ones in danger. After you've checked out Slateyour first stop, right?—here's where you should you go for updates, speculation, on-the-ground blogging, official statements, and even war comedy.

Mainstream Media
The special Iraq Web sites for the Washington Post, the New York Times, MSNBC, and CNN are all good sources for late-breaking news, streaming video, maps, and nifty interactive backgrounders.

If you find the American Iraq pages overwhelming, then jump across the Atlantic to England's Guardian newspaper's Special Report: Iraq. The page's efficient organization and solid reporting make it easier to use than the American news sites. Don't miss the Guardian's "Weblog," which is less a blog than a portal to the day's best journalism. Track the effects of the war on the global economy and on oil markets at Bloomberg's energy markets page.

Background Information
What exactly is a BLU-118 Thermobaric bomb? How about a GBU-16 Paveway II? has an excellent encyclopedia of the weapons and vehicles the United States will use in the war. Its Target Iraq page is jam-packed with links and specific military information. The site also publishes U.N. documents and resolutions. is a blog that provides a boatload of information on new military technologies and national security. While not organized in any systematic way, it always has something new and interesting.

The Council on Foreign Relations runs a superb Iraq Resource Center with everything from a timeline to journal articles.

The Official Story
(Almost) daily State Department briefings can be found here. The White House posts free video of all presidential speeches and announcements (as well as Ari Fleischer's press briefings). Britain's official briefings are also available.

Also online is the Iraq News Agency, a mouthpiece for Saddam's positions and propaganda.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Iraq crisis section shows how the U.S. government is conveying the news to the people of the Middle East.

The United Nations' official Iraq page is hopelessly cluttered and often unresponsive (not unlike the organization itself), but if you can get it to work, it's a great clearinghouse.

Dear_raed is a must-read blog by a current Baghdad resident. Read his fascinating March 16 ramble about how he reluctantly supports the U.S. march to war and doubts the influence of fundamentalist Islamism in Iraq. It's not clear how the author manages to evade Saddamite censorship and scrutiny. We sent an e-mail asking how he does it. If he replies, we will tell you. is a blog by Kevin Sites, a CNN correspondent stationed in northern Iraq. Sites' reporting is unvarnished, direct, and full of the nitty-gritty details of war reporting A March 17 post, "Whispers of War," is a window on the professional rivalries that persist, even a war zone.

The Middle-East Reaction
Arab News is an English-language, semiofficial Saudi media outlet. Although its reporting may not always be reliable, it suggests how this war is playing in Riyadh. Lebanon's Daily Star is more trustworthy but much less entertaining. For a quick digest of how the Middle-East media portrays the war, the World Press Review's Middle-East section is excellent.

Al Jazeera video is available at, an English-language Web site that streams from various TV and radio stations worldwide. It is often unreliable, so if you understand Arabic, the official Al Jazeera site may be a better source for the broadcasts.

Ha'aretz's special Iraq section will be a valuable source of news if Saddam decides to attack Israel. For a more offbeat Israeli view of the war, check out the Iraq-centric

If Chatterbox's Kurd Sellout Watch isn't enough, visit KurdMedia, a news site/portal for all things Kurdish.

We can't find any real-time satellite photographs on the Web that would help track the war, but Terraserver posts satellite images of nearly every world city, including Baghdad. It's hard to make out what exactly is going on in the pictures, but it's very cool nonetheless.

Should United States troops worry about sandstorms? Check out this Iraq weather map.

Who's going to lead Iraq after the war? What are the odds of capturing Osama Bin Laden by October? What will the terror alert level be in June 2003? At Tradesports you can now bet on international politics, with nothing at stake but fake money and bragging rights.

If you need a brief respite from the grim news, take a breather at Iraq Humor Central. Be sure not to miss the parody slide show. Also, check out the Saddam games section, where you can do everything from playing the role of a crazed U.N. weapons inspector to creating a goofy press conference.

Article URL:

Senate Remarks by Robert C. Byrd

Senate Remarks by Robert C. Byrd

March 19, 2003

"The Arrogance of Power"

I believe in this beautiful country. I have studied its roots and gloried in the wisdom of its magnificent Constitution. I have marveled at the wisdom of its founders and framers. Generation after generation of Americans has understood the lofty ideals that underlie our great Republic. I have been inspired by the story of their sacrifice and their strength.

But, today I weep for my country. I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart. No more is the image of America one of strong, yet benevolent peacekeeper. The image of America has changed. Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned.

Instead of reasoning with those with whom we disagree, we demand obedience or threaten recrimination. Instead of isolating Saddam Hussein, we seem to have isolated ourselves. We proclaim a new doctrine of preemption which is understood by few and feared by many. We say that the United States has the right to turn its firepower on any corner of the globe which might be suspect in the war on terrorism. We assert that right without the sanction of any international body. As a result, the world has become a much more dangerous place.

We flaunt our superpower status with arrogance. We treat UN Security Council members like ingrates who offend our princely dignity by lifting their heads from the carpet. Valuable alliances are split. After war has ended, the United States will have to rebuild much more than the country of Iraq. We will have to rebuild America's image around the globe.

The case this Administration tries to make to justify its fixation with war is tainted by charges of falsified documents and circumstantial evidence. We cannot convince the world of the necessity of this war for one simple reason. This is a war of choice.

There is no credible information to connect Saddam Hussein to 9/11. The twin towers fell because a world-wide terrorist group, Al Qaeda, with cells in over 60 nations, struck at our wealth and our influence by turning our own planes into missiles, one of which would likely have slammed into the dome of this beautiful Capitol except for the brave sacrifice of the passengers on board.

The brutality seen on September 11th and in other terrorist attacks we have witnessed around the globe are the violent and desperate efforts by extremists to stop the daily encroachment of western values upon their cultures. That is what we fight. It is a force not confined to borders. It is a shadowy entity with many faces, many names, and many addresses.

But, this Administration has directed all of the anger, fear, and grief which emerged from the ashes of the twin towers and the twisted metal of the Pentagon towards a tangible villain, one we can see and hate and attack. And villain he is. But, he is the wrong villain. And this is the wrong war. If we attack Saddam Hussein, we will probably drive him from power. But, the zeal of our friends to assist our global war on terrorism may have already taken flight.

The general unease surrounding this war is not just due to "orange alert." There is a pervasive sense of rush and risk and too many questions unanswered. How long will we be in Iraq? What will be the cost? What is the ultimate mission? How great is the danger at home? A pall has fallen over the Senate Chamber. We avoid our solemn duty to debate the one topic on the minds of all Americans, even while scores of thousands of our sons and daughters faithfully do their duty in Iraq.

What is happening to this country? When did we become a nation which ignores and berates our friends? When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomatic efforts when the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy?

Why can this President not seem to see that America's true power lies not in its will to intimidate, but in its ability to inspire?

War appears inevitable. But, I continue to hope that the cloud will lift. Perhaps Saddam will yet turn tail and run. Perhaps reason will somehow still prevail. I along with millions of Americans will pray for the safety of our troops, for the innocent civilians in Iraq, and for the security of our homeland. May God continue to bless the United States of America in the troubled days ahead, and may we somehow recapture the vision which for the present eludes us.


Monday, March 03, 2003

Police powers move into your browser

Police powers move into your browser
By Declan McCullagh
March 3, 2003, 5:24 AM PT

COMMENTARY--The U.S. Justice Department is experimenting with an Internet crime-fighting technique that raises novel legal, technical and privacy concerns.

The tactic: domain name forfeiture. In two separate cases last week, the Justice Department seized domains for Web sites that it claimed were engaging in illegal activity.

The first set of domains were allegedly used to sell drug paraphernalia such as bongs and marijuana cigarette holders. Now visitors to,, and are greeted by this hair-raising alert: "By application of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, the Web site you are attempting to visit has been restrained by the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania."

The second case involved David Rocci's, which he handed to the Feds as part of a plea bargain in which he admitted to selling illegal "mod" chips for Xbox and PlayStation game consoles. Rocci will be sentenced under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA ) on March 7 before a federal judge in Alexandria, Va. now says: "The domain and Web site were surrendered to U.S. law enforcement pursuant to a federal prosecution and felony plea agreement for conspiracy to violate criminal copyright laws."

Because domain names can't be squeezed into traditional legal categories, a novel problem arises: They're not ordinary property like cars or boats, which can be seized and resold without worries. It's true that domains can be an instrumentality of a crime, but Web sites and mailing lists are also spots where people meet, chat and search for information--without expecting that ownership may switch hands silently and abruptly.

The Justice Department's privacy policy allows it to hand over information it collects from people visiting seized Web sites to "appropriate law enforcement officials" for criminal prosecution.
That's why we should think twice before applauding this trend in police power. One reason is that the Justice Department's privacy policy allows it to hand over information it collects from people visiting seized Web sites to "appropriate law enforcement officials" for criminal prosecution.

It's possible to imagine a scenario where an innocent Web visitor becomes unfairly targeted by the Feds. It's legal to browse the Web for information about illegal drugs and even legal to read about bypassing copy-protection technology (though under the DMCA, researchers writing such papers may have cause for concern). But in a newly security-conscious climate, the Justice Department may not be terribly sensitive to Americans' First Amendment rights and may assume the worst about visitors to its collection of seized domains.

What's more, the Justice Department is able to review the search terms that people type in before connecting to the seized site from search engines such as Google or AltaVista. That's because Web protocols pass the search terms to the destination site in the Referer: header.

A third problem with the Justice Department's tactic is that criminal defendants are innocent until proven guilty. While Rocci pleaded guilty to DMCA crimes, the people raided last week for selling "drug paraphernalia" online did not. But even if they're eventually acquitted by a jury, what value will their domain name have if it's been tarred by Justice Department ownership for the past few years?

A better solution: Simply yank the domain name. Do what frequently happens in civil lawsuits, which is to take the Web site offline temporarily and place the domain name in the custody of the court system.

This domain-forfeiture technique is not unique to the Justice Department. In December, according to a report by Nathan Cochrane in Australia's The Age newspaper, the Australian government seized a Web site that was selling bogus "purple plates" that purported to strengthen the human immune system., the domain name in question, now sports a note saying: "This notice has been placed pursuant to an order of the Federal Court of Australia as a result of action taken by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission pursuant to s.52 of the Trade Practices Act."

A federal sting operation?
What appears to be the first case of this sort arose in 1996, when the Cult Awareness Network--which warned of the dangers of unconventional religions--was sued into oblivion by the Church of Scientology. A bankruptcy court judge placed the group's assets including up for auction--and the winning bidder was--you guessed it--Scientology.

The disturbing thing is that it would be legal for the Justice Department to seize control of a purportedly illegal site and set up a sting operation tomorrow.
Mark Rasch, a former federal prosecutor who's a vice president at Solutionary in McLean, Va., represented Cult Awareness Network during its demise. After Scientology gained control of and promptly began reading e-mail sent to the old addresses, Rasch told me on Friday, "people thought they were communicating confidentially with an anti-cult group when they were talking with their enemies."

Now, let me be clear. That's not what the Justice Department is doing today. There are clear notices on the sites that the government seized last week. (Although e-mail sent to the postmasters and Webmasters is now read by the Justice Department.)

The disturbing thing is that it would be legal for the Justice Department to seize control of a purportedly illegal site and set up a sting operation tomorrow. In a landmark 1992 Supreme Court case, Jacobson v. U.S., the justices ruled that police may set traps for people who are already "independently predisposed to commit the crime." (A dissent went even further, saying the government could initiate contact with people who had no predisposition to break laws--a rule that would permit the FBI to spam Americans with enticements to commit crimes.)

"That would not be entrapment any more than a woman who's an undercover cop standing on 14th and W streets dressed as a hooker would constitute entrapment," said Rasch, talking about the kind of sting Web site that would be legal today. "You still have to go over to her and negotiate prices and services...(The Justice Department) could take over an Islamic foundation, keep the content the same, transfer the domain name to itself and keep on communicating with people without telling them they're talking with the government. It would be able to monitor communications on the site because it now owns it."

If the Justice Department's actions augur a law enforcement trend, an unintended consequence might be to drive possible targets to shift operations overseas. A Web site selling bongs and chillums may be unlawful in the United States, but a domain registrar in the relatively permissive Netherlands may not be eager to hand it to the Justice Department. (And there are always alternative root servers, which supplement existing top-level domains with a slew of extra ones such as .food, .xxx, and .kids.)

At least for now, though, there's good news for habitual readers of the seized In the last few days, after losing its domain name to the Justice Department, the Web site popped up again in a new spot: The aptly named

Declan McCullagh is the Washington correspondent for CNET, chronicling the ever-busier intersection between technology and politics. Before that, he worked for several years as Washington bureau chief for Wired News. He has also worked as a reporter for The Netly News, Time magazine and HotWired.