Monday, November 29, 2004


Do we need an Intelligence Czar?

For the time being, the bill to create a single person to allocate budgets and facilitate information exchange among the ten or fifteen separate intelligence agencies has been stalled in the House of Representatives. It seems like a good idea to pause and ponder the question of whether we need an Intelligence Czar.

What is the problem that an IC might solve? As near as I can tell, the primary concern is that there may be another attack on the United States, similar in awfulness to the disaster of September 11, 2001. It is the belief of many that such an attack could have been prevented if all the intelligence agencies had pooled their information and if the data provided had been analyzed properly.

This argument seems to me like arguing that bank robberies could be avoided if only all the police forces in the nation pooled and thoroughly analyzed all the information they had relating to banks and potential robbers. Bank robberies, like many other crimes, can not be anticipated and prevented with certainty. The police and other authorities are left with the task of catching the robbers and punishing them after the fact. That is not to say that police departments are wasting their time in accumulating and analyzing data on bank robberies and robbers. The police do what they can. However, we live in a free society and resist any attempt by the police or any other government agency to spy on us and record everything we do. For, to prevent all bank robberies, the police would have to keep track of all potential bank robbers, not merely the known ones. Every one of us must be considered a potential bank robber.

The same argument applies to terrorist organizations and plots. We can not prevent all terrorist attacks, but perhaps we can prevent a few of them. It is worth while trying to coordinate the efforts of our many intelligence-gathering organizations, pooling data, and analyzing the information thoroughly and objectively. However, just as any American would have to be considered a potential bank robber, so any person living anywhere in the world would have to be considered a potential terrorist. Terrorism thrives by the recruiting of new terrorists.

Another argument in favor of an Intelligence Czar is the misinterpretation of available information regarding Iraq’s military capabilities before the start of the current war. Questionable or uncertain information was used to convince the American Public that Iraq was a grave military threat. We now know that Iraq was not, in fact, any longer a serious threat. We know that information was available publicly from the UN Inspectors that Iraq was not a threat, but that such information was ignored by the Bush Administration. If there had been an Intelligence Czar, would the Administration not have been misled? I think not. Anything the IC told the President or his advisors would have been classified and not available to the public. If the President chose to ignore or to misuse the information, the IC could not publicly contradict the President.

We have intelligence problems. I don’t see that having an Intelligence Czar would solve any of them. What we need is a President who doubts and who looks at all interpretations of the available intelligence and not merely the interpretation that he likes. What we need is a National Security Advisor who is a real skeptic and an honest advisor to the President, not one who is a long-time friend and cheer-leader. What we need most of all is a public that is informed about the successes and failings of our intelligence organizations and, in particular, about what information was available to the President and what he chose to do with it.

Monday, November 15, 2004


Exit Poll Results Differed from Actual Election Results

Editor's Note How could the exit polls in this year's presidential election have diverged so drastically from the results that election officials and the media announced?
Professor Steven Freeman, a statistician at the University of Pennsylvania, offers a disturbing answer. Looking at the exit polls and announced results in Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania, he concludes that the odds against such an accidental discrepancy in all three states together was 250 million to one.
Read the article at

After reading the article, I recalled articles published several months ago regarding how easy it would be to modify the program in a computer that tabulates the results of touch-screen voting. The equipment used in several States for such voting was supplied by the Diebold Company. Officials of that company reportedly contributed generously to the campaign to reelect George W. Bush.

I don’t say that I believe that the software was tampered with or that the results of the tabulation of votes were illegally altered to favor Bush. I merely submit the following as a hypothesis.

We know that Diebold’s software is proprietary and the source code was not available to county registrars and Secretaries of State for independent verification and audit. All that could be done was to check the machines and verify that votes for candidates Bush, Nader, Kerry, and others were recorded and stored correctly. We also know that it is easy to prepare a subroutine that will operate only on a specified date. An infamous example is the Michelangelo Virus that operated only on a particular date in March.

Suppose a routine was prepared that would count incorrectly the votes for Kerry such that, say, every 40th Kerry vote was given to Bush. Suppose also that the routine became operational only on Election Day, November 2. Suppose also that the routine deleted itself on November 3. The result: 2 ½ percent of Kerry’s vote is given to Bush, enough to change the outcome of the election in a few States. Checking the voting system before Election Day or after Election Day would not have revealed the swindle. Even checking it on Election Day might not have revealed the false count. One would have to insert forty (or whatever number the programmer had chosen) Kerry votes to see the effect.

Of course, this is just speculation and opinion, not fact. I don’t assert that it happened. I only say that it could have happened and would explain the discrepancy between the exit poll results and the actual count of votes.

Sunday, November 07, 2004



One outcome of the election is certain. President Bush and his allies will take the first step toward dismantling the Social Security System that we have enjoyed since the days of FDR. Ultimately the present scheme, in which the federal government provides a guaranteed monthly payment, based on your employment history, will be replaced with individual savings accounts. The change is to be gradual, not abrupt, so as not to stir up too much opposition. At first a small fraction of the social security tax, or payroll tax that a worker pays will be invested in Wall Street securities: stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc. As time goes on, subsequent administrations will change the fraction until the entire amount is so invested.

Most Democrats and even some Republicans are opposed to the plan to "privatize" Social Security. However, they have so far not mounted a convincing argument against Mr. Bush's plan. They argue only that the change will be very expensive, since persons now receiving Social Security benefits must still receive them and part of the revenue stream that pays the benefits will be diverted to the individual accounts. That argument is not persuasive. It certainly doesn't persuade me, and I am a strong advocate of keeping Social Security as a guaranteed pension, guaranteed even if not paid for by the federal government.

Those of us who favor keeping Social Security as a federally guaranteed pension must put the question to the American People in simple, direct terms: do we as a people wish to keep a system that guarantees a decent living for all people living in retirement?

There are two points of view on this question. Conservatives argue against the very concept of a government guarantee of a decent retirement income. Instead, they argue in favor of a society in which every person owns something, particularly shares of stock or bonds issued by for-profit corporations. If everybody were to own enough, there would be no need for welfare, subsidized health insurance, old age pensions, and other "entitlements."

We liberals argue that one must be realistic and realize that not every worker will be able to save enough to achieve a decent standard of living when he or she retires. Many individuals, particularly women with children and no husbands, barely get by now on minimum-wage jobs. Whether they invest extra cash in a savings account at a bank or in a stock portfolio with a stockbroker, they simply don't have the extra cash. Every worker, during his or her lifetime of work, supports the economy and provides a useful service. We think it is morally right and proper that such a worker be given a retirement life free of worry and free of abject poverty. We believe that if the American public decides that Social Security should be kept as a guaranteed pension, or entitlement, then the problem of how to pay for it becomes a mere matter of details. For example, having a strong military institution to protect us from foreign invaders is like an entitlement. We are all entitled to the protection that the military provides. We do not fret over the details of how to pay for it.

However strongly I feel about Social Security, the recent election indicates that I may be in the minority. Mr. Bush has stated that one of his first tasks will be to do something about Social Security. He will start the slow process of privatization, the slow demist of Social Security. We are headed back, no matter how much I may kick and scream, to the days of Calvin Coolidge, who advised Americans to "work hard and save their money."

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