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Sunday, January 13, 2008

firefighters don't want to ride with Giuliani

Rudy Giuliani's plan to ride in a Miami-Dade firetruck in Sunday's Three Kings parade has outraged some firefighters who say the presidential candidate has ''lied'' about his 9/11 record because he did too little to equip and protect emergency workers.

The controversy -- unwittingly set in motion by County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa -- has politically pitted firefighters against one another in Miami-Dade as well as in New York. To quiet the feud, the IAFF's local Miami-Dade chapter, 1403, will cover its numbers on the union-owned firetruck by draping it with an American flag.

Giuliani's campaign said he will probably ride in the truck and walk beside it with firefighters.

The campaign responded to questions about his record with a statement that stressed his generous spending on New York emergency management agencies. It also dismissed some firefighter attacks on his mayoral record as a partisan smear linked to the Democratic-leaning International Association of Fire Fighters union, which released a popular but questionable YouTube video and website calling the Republican's leadership an ``Urban Legend.''

Jim Riches, a recently retired New York firefighter featured in the union's media, told The Miami Herald that Giuliani doesn't deserve to go anywhere near a flag-draped firetruck.

''This is improper. Rudy lied about what he did on 9/11. He's giving the appearance he's backed by firefighters and he isn't,'' Riches said, ``Rudy has to go all the way down to Florida to get firefighters to stand next to him because he can't get that support in New York.''

But Howard Safir, a former New York fire and police commissioner, disagreed with that assessment in a written statement:

``Firefighters across the country have no greater friend than Rudy Giuliani. Those of us who have worked with Mayor Giuliani know he has always been a strong and consistent supporter of firefighters and first responders. On September 11th and the days that followed, Mayor Giuliani once again demonstrated his commitment to the safety and well-being of our firefighters and his respect for their extraordinary courage and sacrifice.''

The press statement also noted that Giuliani created the city's first-ever Emergency Management Office.

But during his entire tenure as mayor, one faulty and critically important emergency-management piece of equipment wasn't replaced: An emergency radio system. Giuliani hasn't explained why.

Riches said he believes his son, Jimmy Riches, died in the north tower of the World Trade Center because the radio system and command were so ineffective that he never got the word to evacuate.

''We had the same radio system we had when the World Trade Center was attacked in 1993,'' he said. ``We didn't have respirators to help with the cleanup and rescue, so now 70 percent of first responders are sick. And he promoted people to the top who all ran before the towers fell.''

Riches learned of Giuliani's invitation in an e-mail to all Metro-Dade Firefighters union members that listed local firefighter Joaquin Del Cueto as a contact. Closing with ''ALL HANDS ON DECK!!!'' the e-mail invites members to meet Giuliani, wear Giuliani T-shirts and walk beside the firetruck to ``GET OUT THE VOTE!!!!''

After the e-mail was sent, Riches called Del Cueto, who offered condolences. Del Cueto said he ''respectfully disagrees'' with Riches' opinion and that of the national IAFF union, which backed Democrat Chris Dodd for president before he withdrew from the race.

''We don't want this to be hurtful,'' Del Cueto said. ``Sometimes the union leaders don't represent the views of all the rank-and-file members.''

One member of the Metro-Dade Firefighters union, who declined to comment to The Miami Herald, forwarded Del Cueto's e-mail to Riches' group. He wrote that Giuliani's appearance ''is an embarrassment to the IAFF. Please help us stop our local from going down the wrong road.'' Another union member, who spoke anonymously because he was publicly discussing private union proceedings, said many members objected because they don't back Giuliani and because his firetruck ride was sprung on them without a vote of the membership.

The issue surfaces as Giuliani concentrates on winning Florida, in part by winning big with Miami-Dade's largest Republican group: hispanics. He has slipped in the polls as John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney -- who plans to be at Sunday's parade -- Ron Paul and Fred Thompson plan to campaign in Florida after the upcoming Michigan and South Carolina primaries.

The questioning and attack of Giuliani's 9/11 record goes to the heart of his campaign: leadership during 9/11. Millions saw televised images of Giuliani as a hands-on leader amid images of the dust of the twin towers swirling around him.

But soon, firefighters and families questioned whether he did enough. In concert with the IAFF, the critics point out that Giuliani pressed to have an emergency response center established at the World Trade Center -- a bad idea because it already had been attacked in 1993.

And though Giuliani was sworn in as mayor on Jan. 1 1994, he never was able to upgrade the radio system that ultimately failed during both attacks.

The nonprofit Annenberg Political Fact Check service noted that ``Giuliani bears some responsibility for the widely documented failings of the fire department's radio communications on 9/11. It is true that the effective functioning of the fire department is a major responsibility of any mayor.''

But the reporting service described the IAFF ''urban legend'' attack ad against Giuliani as ''misleading'' because it suggested the failed radio system ''was the only reason'' firefighters died and portrayed Giuliani as acting callously while firefighters sifted the rubble for the remains of their fallen comrades.

Annenberg quoted the 9/11 Commission, which found that 24 of the 32 fire companies did hear an evacuation order. But it found the fire command dispatchers failed to follow protocol by not repeatedly saying ''Mayday'' into the faulty radio system nor did it inform firefighters that the south tower had collapsed.

Riches said blame for the dispatch troubles ultimately rest with Giuliani.

Sosa said she was unaware of the controversy. She noted Giuliani's results and his tax-cutting record, praising Giuliani's ''knowledge and expertise in the war on terror, his leadership on 9/11 that led all the police and firefighters to praise him.'' Sosa, as commissioners do every year during the Three Kings Parade, planned to ride in a firetruck. She requested that Giuliani ride along, and said she didn't know that some firefighters disliked him.

''Not every firefighter is against Giuliani,'' she said. ``The firefighters here are endorsing him.''

Not exactly.

The president of the local union, Stan Hills, told The Miami Herald that union hasn't endorsed Giuliani or any other candidate.

''We have some firefighters for Giuliani and some against him, and I'm hearing from both,'' he said. ``What's the context of all this? There's a primary election in Florida on Jan. 29.''

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AZ Gov Janet Napolitano Endorses Barack Obama

Saying Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama represents the best chance to break through partisan gridlock in Washington, Gov. Janet Napolitano endorsed his campaign Friday and immediately hit the campaign trail in his behalf.

Why Obama? For Napolitano, it was equal parts policy and personality.

She called the charismatic U.S. senator from Illinois "a unique motivator" and "a powerful persuader," and said she is hopeful he can create a new vision more focused on problem-solving than political point-scoring.
"All (Washington) D.C. is is a place where good ideas go to die," said Napolitano, a two-term Democrat. "I believe we need a new message of hope and solidarity. . . . To me, Senator Obama is evidence of that change we need."

Napolitano announced her endorsement from Obama's campaign headquarters in Phoenix. Immediately afterward, she met with campaign workers manning a phone bank and then flew to Las Vegas to appear with Obama at a town hall-style rally. She expected to return to Arizona today.

Obama supporters hope the governor's backing gives his campaign a needed boost on the eve of television advertisements slated to begin running in Phoenix today. The television spots are the first of any Democratic presidential hopeful to air in Arizona. The primary is set for Feb. 5. Napolitano's endorsement follows Obama's loss this week to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary. A wave of female voters is credited with driving her to victory in that state.

Napolitano conceded that her endorsement is specifically timed to help Obama counter Clinton's female strong suit in the days before the Jan. 19 Nevada caucuses, the next big contest for Democrats on the road to the party's nomination.

"I believe this is a crucial moment," Napolitano told reporters Friday.

Obama had been heavily courting Napolitano's support, meeting face to face with her on several occasions in the past year. Clinton's interest had not been as intense, according to sources close to Napolitano.

Obama cited the Arizona governor's popularity and pragmatism, which he hopes will translate into support.

"Her hallmark is common sense," he said. "She does what makes sense and what works."

The Clinton campaign shrugged off the endorsement.

Calls for campaign reaction were referred to campaign volunteer Stephanie Rimmer, a Clinton backer from Scottsdale who said she respects Napolitano but doesn't expect her endorsement to change many minds. "Arizona Democrats are more the independent thinkers," Rimmer said. "I think that'll continue to hold true."

It was President Clinton who gave Napolitano her first big break in 1993. Clinton named Napolitano U.S. attorney for Arizona, making her, at age 35, the state's top federal law-enforcement officer.

Citing that tie, as well as the obvious similarities between two women roaming the halls of power, many political observers expected Napolitano to side with Hillary Clinton. But the governor went another direction. "In my view, it wasn't about gender, nor about race," Napolitano said. "It's about a new vision for Washington, D.C."

Some pollsters are dubious of the impact that political endorsements have with voters, especially outside the endorser's home state. Tucson pollster Margaret Kenski, a Republican, said she'd never seen polling to indicate that the bit of political theater has much of a lasting impact. Pollster Fred Solop agreed, though he said that a weighty endorsement can be helpful to a candidate, like Obama, who faces questions about his experience.

"He benefits from the legitimacy Governor Napolitano has," said Solop, a political-science professor at Northern Arizona University.

Napolitano figures to give Obama added credibility on issues of law enforcement and illegal immigration. The governor has long pushed for federal immigration reform that brings both a more secure border, guest-worker program and path to citizenship.

Obama campaign volunteer Shirley McAllister, 76, was among those who talked briefly with the governor Friday and said she expects Obama "to put a new face on the United States for the rest of the world."

At first, the Sun City resident explained, she felt "sort of guilty" for not supporting Clinton, a woman she had long respected. But McAllister has put her belief in Obama's ability to "bring this country together" above her loyalty to Clinton.

And then there's this: "Maybe I just want my great-grandsons, who are Black, to have a role model."

Napolitano called both Obama and Clinton "imminently qualified" and said she will campaign for Clinton if the New York senator wins the party's nomination. On Thursday, Napolitano told Clinton of her plans to endorse Obama during a phone call that the governor conceded "was a difficult conversation for both of us because we know and respect each other."

Obama hinted at a possible role for Napolitano in his administration if he wins.

"I think she is enormously talented, and I think anyone would be happy to have her working for them," he said.

Obama's sentiment figures to fuel talk of a potential Cabinet position for Napolitano or even a spot on the presidential ticket. But Napolitano was brushing aside such speculation Friday, reminding reporters that her term as governor runs until 2010. If she vacated the seat, Secretary of State Jan Brewer, a Republican, would serve the rest of the term.

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Clinton group trying to prevent Nevada workers from voting

The teachers union has drawn knives on the Culinary Workers, deepening the potential political rifts over Nevada’s Jan. 19 Democratic caucus.

A lawsuit filed late Friday in federal court seeks to stop the Democratic Party from holding caucus meetings at nine Strip hotels, which would diminish the influence of casino workers and hamper Illinois Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign.

The complaint, with the state teachers union and some party activists as plaintiffs, came as Obama accepted the endorsement of the Culinary Union. The timing seemed designed to cloud the good buzz from his campaign, which could only help Sen. Hillary Clinton’s efforts in the state.

The lawsuit claims that those voting in at-large precincts being held on the Strip would have too much weight compared with those voting at their polling places, violating the equal protection law of the U.S. Constitution. It also claims the at-large precincts violate state statute in the way they were drawn.

State Democratic Party officials disputed the lawsuit’s contentions.

“This has been a fully transparent process,” party spokeswoman Kirsten Searer said. “These rules have been approved by the Democratic National Committee and the campaigns have been fully informed throughout this process, which started in May.”

The party decided to set up polling places at the nine casinos to accommodate those working on the Strip.

But Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association, noted that janitors who have to open schools in which caucus meetings take place will be unable to participate if that is not their polling place.

“Why are extraordinary accommodations being made for people on Strip but not the other workers?” she said.

She acknowledged that she did not approach the state party about the problem.

“We’re approaching them now,” she said.

The Nevada State Education Association has not endorsed any candidate, Warne said.

The other plaintiffs are Dwayne Chesnut, John Cahill, Vicky and John Birkland, and Patricia Montgomery.

Some of them were active backers of Sen. Dina Titus’ 2006 bid for governor. Titus, of Las Vegas, has endorsed Clinton.

Mark Ferrario, the attorney who filed the lawsuit, would not comment on how he got the clients, other than to say they care about the fairness of the caucus process.

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Unmuzzling High School Journalists

What happened at the Supreme Court 20 years ago tomorrow has been long forgotten by most Americans -- if they ever heard about it at all. Unlike the better-known decisions of the last century, the ruling handed down on Jan. 13, 1988, had nothing to do with race or abortion rights. It didn't become fodder for presidential candidates and hasn't galvanized voters on either the left or right.

Yet over the past two decades, the court's ruling in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, which concerned high school newspapers, has had far-reaching consequences. Not only has it changed the way journalism is taught at many schools, it has made it more difficult for high school students to learn the important lessons about democracy that come from publishing -- or simply reading -- serious newspapers.

Before 1988, the precedent governing newspapers at public high schools was a 1969 Supreme Court decision called Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, in which the court upheld the right of students to wear antiwar armbands in school, writing that neither students nor teachers "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."

Nineteen years later, in Hazelwood, the court took up the case of a principal at a high school near St. Louis who had deleted two pages of a student newspaper because he objected to articles about pregnancy and divorce. The court, in an opinion written by Justice Byron White, affirmed the principal's right to censor the paper. Though the 1988 ruling did not overturn Tinker, it held that the 1969 ruling did not necessarily protect school-sponsored publications.

To be sure, the opinion did not grant principals a blanket right to micromanage their newspapers. Censorship decisions, White wrote, would need to be "reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns," and under certain circumstances, publications could be mostly protected from censorship. Still, the decision tipped the balance of power at high school newspapers dramatically in favor of principals.

Definitive statistics on trends in high school censorship are hard to come by, but anecdotal data suggest that many principals have exploited the advantage Hazelwood gave them. For instance, in the years following the ruling, the Student Press Law Center, which provides legal advice to student journalists, began to see a "tremendous spike" in calls from public high school students facing censorship, according to Mike Hiestand, a legal consultant to the center.

My own experiences have convinced me that today, the vast majority of students are unable to practice true journalism at their high school papers. For the past six summers, I have directed a program for about 20 high school journalists at Princeton University. All the students are talented writers and thoughtful intellectuals. Yet, by and large, they work for newspapers that are either explicitly censored or restrained by the looming threat of official disapproval -- newspapers that read more like school-sponsored news releases than true journalism. Many have been taught to write fluffy profiles of teachers and to celebrate the achievements of their sports teams; fewer have been encouraged to challenge, to criticize or to investigate. Perhaps the most important part of our program's curriculum is to help students unlearn the instincts they have acquired at their high school newspapers.

No high school principal would dream of telling the basketball team that it could run drills but not play games, or permit the drama club to rehearse but never to stage shows. Yet, thanks in part to Hazelwood, many high schools train their students in journalism without allowing them to truly practice it.

Dissenting from the court's decision in 1988, Justice William Brennan seemed to understand how much damage it might cause. The approach of Hazelwood's principal, he wrote, was "particularly insidious from one to whom the public entrusts the task of inculcating in its youth an appreciation for the cherished democratic liberties that our Constitution guarantees." Brennan's message was clear: More than just the health of journalism education was at stake. Hazelwood was about the values that we teach the next generation, the people who will carry the American democratic project forward.

Indeed, it wasn't only student journalists who were hurt by Hazelwood; it also was their readers, particularly students who might have limited exposure to newspapers or magazines at home. By showing them how an investigative story or a lively opinion section can add to their understanding of the school they attend, an ambitious, uncensored student newspaper teaches principles that are essential to a free society: the importance of skepticism, criticism and empiricism; the necessity of checks on authority; the centrality of open debate to democratic culture.

These lessons may be even more necessary today than they were in 1988. In the age of Facebook and MySpace and blogs, when the line between what constitutes journalism and what doesn't has become more confusing than ever, it is especially important for high schools to teach by example the difference between rumor and reporting: to show what journalists can accomplish -- and how important a role they can play in holding leaders accountable -- when they ask hard questions and write responsibly but fearlessly.

High school journalism need not be stifled forever. Since Hazelwood, several states have passed laws protecting high school journalists from censorship. But even in the vast majority that have not, other steps can be taken. After all, while Hazelwood handed principals plenty of authority over student newspapers, it didn't require them to use it.

So this is a double plea, from a former high school journalist who grew up to be a professional one. First, to student reporters: Be brazen in pushing the boundaries of what you're allowed to write. Second, to high school principals: Stop using the power the Supreme Court unwisely gave you 20 years ago. By your restraint you'll be helping to produce not just better reporters but better citizens.

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Pirate leader: "Our enemy lacks intellectual capital!"

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In this special interview Rick Falkvinge, the founder and the leader of Swedish Pirate Party, gives his own views on the wildly heated political filesharing debate in Sweden, evaluates the political and technological prospects of P2P and talks about the dangers of citizen surveillance and Big Brother society.

Filesharing debate

Q: In last couple of months the copyright debate in Sweden seems to have got hotter than ever before, and especially the emergence of the reformist group within Moderate Party makes the situation look like the beginning of a 'final battle' before the legalization of filesharing. How do you read the situation? Is it possible that Reinfeldt government could actually end up assuming the reformist position and decriminalizing filesharing, or is it too otimistic to expect this to happen before your 2010 elections?

Rick Falkvinge: Gandhi once said something that has become a famous quote:

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

I interpret the current situation as a definite shift to phase three. That mainstream existing MPs for the largest party in government pick up and fight for our ideas is a huge legitimizer. Our ideas are not out on the fringe, we were just a little bit ahead of time.

What was remarkable was that this was the point where the enemy - forces that want to lock down culture and knowledge at the cost of total surveillance - realized they were under a serious attack, and mounted every piece of defense they could muster. For the first time, we saw everything they could bring to the battle.

And it was... nothing. Not even a fizzle. All they can say is "thief, we have our rights, we want our rights, nothing must change, we want more money, thief, thief, thief". And shove some poor artists in front of them to deliver the message. Whereas we are talking about scarcity vs. abundance, monopolies, the nature of property, 500-year historical perspectives on culture and knowledge, incentive structures, economic theory, disruptive technologies, etc. The difference in intellectual levels between the sides is astounding.

So now we know what the enemy has, and that they have absolutely nothing in terms of intellectual capital to bring to the battle. They do, however, have their bedside connections with the current establishment. That's the major threat to us at this point.

However, I don't see the established parties picking up understanding at the necessary level just yet. Some parties advocate legalized downloading with uploading still being criminal, which is a clear sign they have not understood the current structural changes to society in the slightest, but just have a hunch that something needs to be done. Of course, that is good in itself, but not enough.

Karl Sigfrid's own party, the Moderates, are technophobically luddite to the brink of the Stone Age as the official party line. Even though MPs in this party were the first to understand the issue thoroughly, I don't see their party line changing before the next election.

What Karl Sigfrid et consortes have accomplished, though, is to make sure that this is going to be a major issue in the 2010 parliamentary elections, possibly even the 2009 European elections. That's exactly what we want. We want as many as possible to reflect over the issue, discuss it, and try to understand what is happening, and realize it's important - more important than petty squabbles over, say, day care benefits. The more that do, the more we win.

And the more we win - both in terms of the idea and support for the Pirate Party - the more pressure on established politicians.

Global IPR revolution

Q: During your US speech tour last summer you came up with the idea of global IPR revolution starting in Sweden, then spreading to other European countries and from there to the whole world. Things seem to be so far on the track for your plan. How do you see the global situation yourself? Which countries and forces do you consider as biggest threats to this positive development you have envisioned? Any encouraging developments outside Sweden that you would like to mention?

Rick Falkvinge: What politicians at all levels have not understood is that the enemy is working internationally. If they get a victory in one country, their forces in every other country points there as a positive example and whine that they don't have the same advantages where they live.

For instance, France recently introduced a bill which would cut off Internet access for file sharers. This is one example of a draconian Orwellian measure that makes IFPI's and MPA's mouths water. The European Commission, frequently courted by the enemy, has not been given the time or opportunity to reflect on the situation as a whole - and so keep pushing for more draconian measures too, with European-wide DRM as the latest profound stupidity.

Sweden was a little bit ahead of its neighbors in terms of high-speed broadband penetration; I had 10/10 Mbit in 1998 and 100/100 today, neither of which is remarkable. When you give technology to the people, they discover what it can be used for. Whether this is the cause of Sweden's being ahead or not can be discussed, but I honestly see Sweden as leading the fight for free file sharing. When I speak to reporters abroad, I always get the question "with your proposal, how will the artists get paid?". I almost never get that at home anymore.

So in my experience, positive developments originate in Sweden and radiate outward, mostly underground at first. There is some significant intellecta in Silicon Valley about the situation, but they are not able to pressure politicians under the US' political system like we are.

I'll also quite selfishly take the opportunity to ask people to help us out financially. We have a program where you can donate a small amount every month through PayPal; every penny of steady income helps us spread the ideas, educate more politicians, and dropkick the existing establishment. See our donation page.

Remember, all of us do this in our spare time.

Privacy, integrity and P2P technology

Q: Lately you have started increasingly to pay attention to the issues of privacy and personal integrity. In the filesharing debate it seems that the personal integrity issue alone is a strong enough argument to justify the legalization of filesharing. If we assume that mainstream anonymizing p2p is just a few years away, nothing apart from a totalitarian control state and intrusive surveillance of home computers would make it possible to enforce copyrights in online communications. Do you share this view?

Rick Falkvinge: I do. The people who have been led to believe that file sharing can be stopped with minimal intrusion are basically smoking crack.

Early on in the debate, we dropped the economic arguments altogether and focused entirely on civil liberties and the right to privacy. This has proven to be a winning strategy, with my keynote "Copyright Regime vs. Civil Liberties" being praised as groundbreaking.

The economic arguments are strong, but debatable. There are as many reports as there are interests in copyright, and every report arrives at a new conclusion. If you just shout and throw reports over the volleyball net at the other team, it becomes a matter of credibility of the reports. When you switch to arguing civil liberties, you dropkick that entire discussion.

Anyway, anonymous encrypted P2P is just a few years off (and encrypted BitTorrent is already becoming ubiquitous). More interestingly, our cellphones are increasing in capacity dramatically. When P2P debuted with Napster in 2000, the average hard drive was the same size as my cell phone memory is today. Using technology already available, BlueTooth 2, I can share content from my cellphone anonymously - say, in a café or so. This will probably just accelerate, with cellphones being more and more capable, holding more and more data, and opening up to customized applications. I'm betting that a P2P app operating on Bluetooth is not far off for the iPhone, for example. Imagine the anonymous sharing that will happen in the background just on the average subway train! The possibilities are very, very encouraging.

File sharing will find new ways - any measure to stop it will be ineffective the instant it is in place.

In short, you cannot stop file sharing with any less than undoing digital communications and/or monitoring all of it. The Internet was created as the world's largest copying machine, as the makers of Steal This Film II put it so succinctly. File sharing happens simply because it is possible, as sharing knowledge and culture has always been, although with different media.

What really upsets me, though, is how politicians are humming along with the copyright industry's every demand. The industry lobby is just doing their job, basically: demanding better conditions for their industry, at the expense of other parts of society. It is the politicians which have failed abysmally at understanding the big picture of their demands.

Big Brother society

Q: Apart from filesharing, there seems to be a strong worldwide political pressure to implement various surveillance state infrastructures pushed forward with the antiterrorism arguments. The Swedish parliament seems to be no exception to this. Why do you think the politicians around Europe are accepting this dangerous development so easily, despite the historically recent experiences from East Germany's Stasi etc.? What makes them so blind to the risks of Big Brother state? Is Europe still suffering from terrorism hysteria or is there something else going on here? For example in Sweden, Piratpartiet seems to be the lone political force even worried about the hasty establishment of an Orwellian society. What could be done to counteract this development?

Rick Falkvinge: This is true, and it has me seriously worried. Not only are politicians implementing a big brother state, they are also confusing and joining the government interests with those of large corporations.

Now, remember the lexical definition of fascism: fascism n. a merging of corporate and government interests, typically adjoined with a drastic curtailment of civil liberties.

We know exactly where this road leads, for we have seen many walk it before us. And while each step can seem convincing, we know what the endpoint is.

Each step is usually justified by "efficient law enforcement". This is deceptive - for who would stand against a bill and demand INEFFICIENT law enforcement? In reality, it is a shift of power from citizens and civil liberties to law enforcement. There have been plenty of governments, historical and contemporary, where efficient law enforcement has been a priority: East Germany, Soviet Union, Cuba, North Korea, Pinochet's Chile, etc. The question that needs to be asked is if it's worth having that efficient a law enforcement, or if something else is lost on the way?

When the Iron Curtain fell, all of the West rejoiced that the East would become just as free as the West. It was never supposed to be the other way around.

What we can do is talk to one another about what is happening. The Swedish administration has been purposely deceptive and secretive about all new orwellian measures. There even exists a law proposal for the Police to take over people's home computers, allowing them to monitor nonsuspects using
their own web cameras.

In the 1960's, there were dystopic movies about a big brother future where the government had installed cameras in every home. Now we're almost there. The only difference is that we bought the cameras ourselves.

A mass surveillance proposal for wiretapping every communication crossing the country's border was introduced in 2005, then retracted because - get this - it had received too much attention. It was reintroduced by the new administration and is pending a new vote this summer.

In summary, secrecy, fear and deception is the administration's friend in introducing the Big Brother state. What we can do about it is counteract that - which is as simple, and hard, as talking about it. Being vigilant about finding out new bills, new proposals, and talking about them with our friends, our colleagues, and in forums. Break the secrecy and tear down the veil. After all, politicians desire to get re-elected.

And nothing works better to get their attention than threatening that power base, as I discovered when I founded the Pirate Party.

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6 Megachurches Face Inquiries Sparking Church-State Showdown

The New Testament reports that Jesus rarely used fancy modes of transportation to get around. He walked most of the time, although Matthew and other gospels mention that he once rode a borrowed donkey into Jerusalem, where he burst into the Temple and tossed out the money changers.

Nearly 2,000 years later, some who claim to speak in Jesus' name are taking a different view. Consider Bishop Eddie Long, who pastors a megachurch in Lithonia, Ga. With a salary approaching $1 million a year and a nine-bathroom mansion situated on 20 acres, Long's choice of vehicles reflects his opulent lifestyle: He drives a $350,000 Bentley.

Far from casting out money changers, Long is likely to join them. In a 2005 profile in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he defended his high-flying ways, insisting, "I pastor a multimillion dollar congregation. You've got to put me on a different scale than the little black preacher sitting over there that's supposed to be just getting by because the people are suffering."

Long's lack of humility has probably done him no favors. At the time, U.S. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), expressed dismay.

"When I hear about leaders of charities being provided a $300,000 Bentley to drive around in, my fear is that it's the taxpayers who subsidize this charity who are really being taken for a ride," he quipped.

In November, Grassley, who serves as ranking minority member on the Senate Finance Committee, ramped things up a bit. He announced that he is seeking detailed financial information from six mega-ministries, Long's among them.

The move sent shock waves through the evangelical community. Grassley is a conservative Republican whose votes on social issues usually please the Religious Right. (His 2006 rating from the Family Research Council was 87 percent.) But the senator has long had an interest in preserving the integrity of the tax laws and has in the past complained about secular non-profits violating the law.

In 2005-06, Grassley held a series of hearings on Capitol Hill that included testimony from large non-profit groups such as the Smithsonian Institution and the Red Cross. Now he's turning his sights to the religious sector.

Grassley's investigation focuses on six ministries, all of which preach the "prosperity gospel" -- the theological assertion that wealth is a reward from God:

  • Benny Hinn, a TV preacher who runs the World Healing Center Church in Grapevine, Texas. Hinn, who travels the globe conducting faith-healing revivals, lives in a seven-bathroom, eight-bedroom mansion overlooking the Pacific Ocean valued at $10 million. It is claimed as a parsonage.
  • The Rev. Creflo Dollar's World Changers Church International in College Park, Ga. Dollar drives a Rolls Royce and has large homes in Georgia and New York. He is asked to provide a list of all vehicles provided for himself, his wife, board members and ministry employees.
  • Paula and Randy White's Without Walls International Church in Tampa, Fla. In a letter to the ministry, Grassley asks the couple to provide a list of expense account items "including, but not limited to, clothing expenses and any cosmetic surgery for years 2004 to present."
  • Joyce Meyer Ministries in Fenton, Mo. Grassley asks Meyer and her husband David to explain expenditures like a $23,000 commode with a marble top, a $30,000 conference table, an $11,000 French clock and a $19,000 pair of vases for the ministry headquarters.
  • Kenneth Copeland Ministries in Newark, Texas. Copeland is asked to explain how cash offerings are handled during overseas crusades and to explain the use of a ministry jet for "layovers" in Maui, Fiji and Honolulu.
  • Long's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga. Among other things, Long is asked to explain a church official's 2005 claim that Long no longer accepts a salary from the church but does take a "love offering."

In each case, Grassley is requesting detailed financial information. The ministries are asked to provide audited financial statements, lists of board members, employment contracts and other information.

Other requests are specific to certain ministries. It has been widely reported, for example, that Hinn often uses a ministry jet to travel to the crusades he holds. This jet often stops along the way for "layovers" at popular vacation spots.

Grassley asks Hinn to provide "a list of all layover trips taken in years 2001 to present" as well as "the number of ministry personnel who stayed during the layover (including name and addresses), the hotel name(s), the lodging costs, the food costs, salary expenses, aircraft costs, and all other layover expenses paid [by the ministry]."

Reacting to reports that David and Joyce Meyer have received gifts of cash and jewelry from donors, Grassley asks the ministry to explain its procedures for handling these gifts and a statement "indicating whether these gifts have been included in the income reported to the Internal Revenue Service for David Meyer and Joyce Meyer for years 2004 through 2006."

What led Grassley to take this step? The Iowa Republican told Church & State that he considers such oversight part of the Senate's responsibility.

"I started a broad-based review of these tax laws after 9-11 when questions were raised about how the American Red Cross used donations made to help victims and their families recover from the terrorist attacks," Grassley said. "Since then I've looked at a wide range of issues, including non-profit tax structures, land conservation, fine art donations, and nonprofit hospitals. This fall I expanded my review to include media-based ministries."

Continued Grassley, "The six ministries that received letters from me were chosen based upon reported allegations of wrongdoing reported by investigative journalists and brought to my attention by interested third parties, sometimes acting as whistleblowers. Some of the accounts were disturbing because of the lack of transparency regarding how these ministries spend millions of dollars, and as an industry, billions of dollars that have been exempt from federal tax."

The ministries were generally cagey in their replies. Hinn said he had referred the matter to his attorneys, an approach that Dollar, the Whites and Meyer also took. Copeland refused to talk to the media. Some also began complaining of government interference.

"Are we saying the First Amendment is null and void by allowing this to happen?" Dollar asked in the Journal-Constitution.

Long, in brief remarks before his congregation Nov. 11, called the Grassley request "an attack on our religious freedom and privacy rights."

Grassley says his inquiry is well within the scope of the law.

"My inquiry has nothing to do with doctrine," he said. "Rather it's about tax law. Is the tax exemption being used according to the law, and is the money that's donated under the tax exemption being used for non-profit purposes?

"It's not an attack on ministries in particular or tax-exempt groups in general," he continued. "The strong majority of non-profit groups, including churches, operate above-board and perform good works that make their tax exemption a bargain for the American people. Allegations have been raised about some ministries, and my inquiry gives them an opportunity to respond to those allegations."

On Dec. 6, the day of the deadline, Grassley's office reported that information had been received from Copeland and Meyer. Attorneys for the Whites indicated that they would contact Grassley's office shortly but gave no indication if they planned to comply. Long indicated he would comply but did not meet the deadline. Hinn requested more time.

Dollar was the only minister to openly defy the request for information. According to media accounts, Dollar's attorneys sent Grassley a letter telling him to either refer the matter to the IRS or issue a subpoena.

The ministries being investigated may have added to their problems by being secretive about their finances. None belong to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, a voluntary oversight group that many Christian groups choose to join. They are not required to file financial documents like other non-profit groups nor make any financial information public.

Perhaps feeling some heat, Dollar prepared a brief financial statement that he showed to the Journal-Constitution. The document indicated that the church brought in $69 million in 2006. It did not list Dollar's salary, and he insisted he no longer accepts one from the church.

Dollar, who in the past has argued that Jesus was wealthy, also posted a statement on his ministry's Web site. The statement tells church members that they can see a financial report but treats the document like it's a state secret. Furthermore, the process is not exactly user friendly or convenient.

"Members of World Changers Church International can request to review the church's audited financial statements by contacting the ministry at 770-210-5700," reads the Web site. "Please be ready to give your name, member number, and phone number. Once your information has been verified you will be contacted to schedule an appointment to meet with a member of our accounting staff. Once the appointment is made, be prepared to present your photo I.D. for verification when you come."

The statement goes on to say that the statement can be viewed on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday from 10 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. and from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and that only last year's statement is available.

Meyer is taking a more proactive approach. Her ministry's Web site contains a section titled "Financial Transparency" that links to a lengthy annual report that concludes with a financial statement.

Says Meyer on the site, "Each year we conduct an independent financial and legal audit. This information, as well as our annual reports for 2003 through 2006, is available on our website. We encourage you to take a look."

On Nov. 28, Meyer's ministry issued a press release pledging to provide "the requested documents for presentation to the senator's office - on time (by December 6, 2007) and in full detail."

The press release also includes a fact sheet responding to specific points raised in Grassley's letter. It asserts, for example, that the $23,000 price tag for the commode (an antique chest of drawers, not a toilet) was an error from the furniture seller. The item, the Meyer ministry says, was purchased along with 67 other pieces of furniture for a total cost of $261,498.21.

But critics say self-generated financial statements are often of limited value. Ole Anthony, head of the Texas-based Trinity Foundation, an evangelical group that for years has spoken out against the excesses of television evangelists, told Church & State that these statements do not guarantee accountability.

"The public has no idea," Anthony said. "The ministries say we have an audited financial statement. But it's a very friendly auditor." In the case of many mega-ministries, Anthony said, church accounting is "woefully lacking."

Added Anthony, "I wish the legitimate church would demand that there be some accountability. These [megachurch] organizations, for the most part their accountability is a relative or just yes men - and if anyone disagrees with them, they're touching the anointed of God or some other B.S."

The legality of Grassley's overture has sparked a spirited debate. Experts at Americans United for Separation of Church and State note that tax-exempt status is granted with the understanding that organizations will work for the public good, not to enrich individuals. Since investigating allegations of fraud should not require the government to make theological judgments, AU attorneys say, mere requests for information are unlikely to be considered a violation of the First Amendment.

Douglas Laycock, an expert on church-state relations who teaches at the University of Michigan Law School, said tax exemption does not mean that religious groups surrender their constitutional rights. But, he added, government must have the power to investigate allegations of fraud.

"As I understand it, the allegations here are that money is being diverted from the exempt charitable purpose to the personal benefit of individuals," Laycock told Church & State. "That is simply tax fraud, if done knowingly. The government has to be able to police that; otherwise, tax exemptions would be so easily abused it couldn't grant them to anybody."

Concluded Laycock, "I have no idea whether the allegations are true in these cases, but the government has to be able to investigate enough to find out."

Other observers note that secular non-profits are closely monitored to make certain they do not violate the law and that religious groups should not expect a free ride.

"There is no free exercise right to tax exemption, and the First Amendment doesn't shield religious organizations from government scrutiny to make sure the tax laws are being complied with," said J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

Walker added, "That said, I would expect that Sen. Grassley and the committee will proceed carefully with an eye toward potential church autonomy rights and religious freedom issues that could be implicated."

Many evangelical religious broadcasters are watching developments with some unease.

"[W]hen I see a senator charging into organizations, wielding this kind of budget ax and laying bare religious figures and expenditures, huge constitutional questions are being raised," said Gary McCaleb, senior counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund, a large, well-funded Religious Right legal group founded by wealthy religious broadcasters.

Although none of the targeted ministries is a member of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), the organization sent a letter to Grassley asserting that the probe may be unconstitutional.

The NRB, which is composed of many fundamentalist-oriented non-profit and for-profit entities, issued a press release quoting Craig Parshall, its general counsel, who said Grassley's "overly broad" approach uses "an axe rather than a scalpel."

"We hope this is not a prelude to congressional hearings and possible legislation that would erode the cherished protections that religious ministries enjoy under the First Amendment," Parshall added.

If the ministries are determined to have violated the law, the penalties can be severe. Not only could these groups lose their tax-exempt status, but they could also be fined or their leaders held liable.

The directors of some secular non-profits have learned the hard way that it doesn't pay to violate federal tax law. In 1995, the former head of United Way, William Aramony, was found guilty of using charity funds to finance personal overseas trips and affairs with young women. He was sentenced to seven years in prison.

In 2004, Oral Suer, chairman of the United Way of Washington, D.C., was sentenced to 27 months in prison after he was found guilty of receiving excessive pension payments, misusing leave to boost his salary and billing private travel and personal expenses to the charity.

No one is suggesting that the ministers could end up in jail. And if Grassley proceeds with the investigation, he may have to navigate some treacherous waters. A 1984 law requires the Internal Revenue Service to meet several conditions before a church can be audited. A regional IRS commissioner must approve the inquiry, and the church must be given the option of a pre-examination meeting with the IRS, among other conditions.

But two wrinkles in the law may cut in Grassley's favor: Some of these ministries may not meet the IRS's definition of a church, and the law does not apply in cases of criminal investigations.

What's likely to happen next? The Senate Finance Committee has subpoena power, and as long as Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) agrees, officials with the ministries could be summoned to testify under oath.

Grassley told Church & State that his staff will review the documents, look for possible violations and forward relevant material to "the appropriate enforcement agency."

He added, "This committee staff also will consider whether any of the organizations have taken actions that may go against the spirit and intent of the law. It's often the case that such investigations yield actions that are perfectly legal but shock the conscience and thereby highlight shortcomings in current law or in the enforcement of that law. That said, it's also been my experience more often than not that public scrutiny leads to necessary and credible self correction."

If the investigation deepens, the Trinity Foundation's Anthony is hoping it becomes an opportunity for changing the status quo. He said his group supports laws similar to those in England, where any claim made over the air for the purpose of raising money must be verifiable.

Anthony also said he regrets that Congress has had to get involved. He'd prefer that other religious leaders would counter the "prosperity" TV preachers and mega-evangelists who use their positions to finance extravagant lifestyles.

"For 20 years I've been hoping that the leaders of the legitimate church would stand up and say, 'this is enough,' but they haven't," Anthony said. "It breaks my heart that we have to do this but no one else will."

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Prisoners 'to be chipped like dogs'

Ministers are planning to implant "machine-readable" microchips under the skin of thousands of offenders as part of an expansion of the electronic tagging scheme that would create more space in British jails.

Amid concerns about the security of existing tagging systems and prison overcrowding, the Ministry of Justice is investigating the use of satellite and radio-wave technology to monitor criminals.

But, instead of being contained in bracelets worn around the ankle, the tiny chips would be surgically inserted under the skin of offenders in the community, to help enforce home curfews. The radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, as long as two grains of rice, are able to carry scanable personal information about individuals, including their identities, address and offending record.

The tags, labelled "spychips" by privacy campaigners, are already used around the world to keep track of dogs, cats, cattle and airport luggage, but there is no record of the technology being used to monitor offenders in the community. The chips are also being considered as a method of helping to keep order within prisons.

A senior Ministry of Justice official last night confirmed that the department hoped to go even further, by extending the geographical range of the internal chips through a link-up with satellite-tracking similar to the system used to trace stolen vehicles. "All the options are on the table, and this is one we would like to pursue," the source added.

The move is in line with a proposal from Ken Jones, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), that electronic chips should be surgically implanted into convicted paedophiles and sex offenders in order to track them more easily. Global Positioning System (GPS) technology is seen as the favoured method of monitoring such offenders to prevent them going near "forbidden" zones such as primary schools.

"We have wanted to take advantage of this technology for several years, because it seems a sensible solution to the problems we are facing in this area," a senior minister said last night. "We have looked at it and gone back to it and worried about the practicalities and the ethics, but when you look at the challenges facing the criminal justice system, it's time has come."

The Government has been forced to review sentencing policy amid serious overcrowding in the nation's jails, after the prison population soared from 60,000 in 1997 to 80,000 today. The crisis meant the number of prisoners held in police cells rose 13-fold last year, with police stations housing offenders more than 60,000 times in 2007, up from 4,617 the previous year. The UK has the highest prison population per capita in western Europe, and the Government is planning for an extra 20,000 places at a cost of £3.8bn – including three gigantic new "superjails" – in the next six years.

More than 17,000 individuals, including criminals and suspects released on bail, are subject to electronic monitoring at any one time, under curfews requiring them to stay at home up to 12 hours a day. But official figures reveal that almost 2,000 offenders a year escape monitoring by tampering with ankle tags or tearing them off. Curfew breaches rose from 11,435 in 2005 to 43,843 in 2006 – up 283 per cent. The monitoring system, which relies on mobile-phone technology, can fail if the network crashes.

A multimillion-pound pilot of satellite monitoring of offenders was shelved last year after a report revealed many criminals simply ditched the ankle tag and separate portable tracking unit issued to them. The "prison without bars" project also failed to track offenders when they were in the shadow of tall buildings.

The Independent on Sunday has now established that ministers have been assessing the merits of cutting-edge technology that would make it virtually impossible for individuals to remove their electronic tags.

The tags, injected into the back of the arm with a hypodermic needle, consist of a toughened glass capsule holding a computer chip, a copper antenna and a "capacitor" that transmits data stored on the chip when prompted by an electromagnetic reader.

But details of the dramatic option for tightening controls over Britain's criminals provoked an angry response from probation officers and civil-rights groups. Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: "If the Home Office doesn't understand why implanting a chip in someone is worse than an ankle bracelet, they don't need a human-rights lawyer; they need a common-sense bypass.

"Degrading offenders in this way will do nothing for their rehabilitation and nothing for our safety, as some will inevitably find a way round this new technology."

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said the proposal would not make his members' lives easier and would degrade their clients. He added: "I have heard about this suggestion, but we feel the system works well enough as it is. Knowing where offenders like paedophiles are does not mean you know what they are doing.

"This is the sort of daft idea that comes up from the department every now and then, but tagging people in the same way we tag our pets cannot be the way ahead. Treating people like pieces of meat does not seem to represent an improvement in the system to me."

The US market leader VeriChip Corp, whose parent company has been selling radio tags for animals for more than a decade, has sold 7,000 RFID microchips worldwide, of which about 2,000 have been implanted in humans. The company claims its VeriChips are used in more than 5,000 installations, crossing healthcare, security, government and industrial markets, but they have also been used to verify VIP membership in nightclubs, automatically gaining the carrier entry – and deducting the price of their drinks from a pre-paid account.

The possible value of the technology to the UK's justice system was first highlighted 18 months ago, when Acpo's Mr Jones suggested the chips could be implanted into sex offenders. The implants would be tracked by satellite, enabling authorities to set up "zones", including schools, playgrounds and former victims' homes, from which individuals would be barred.

"If we are prepared to track cars, why don't we track people?" Mr Jones said. "You could put surgical chips into those of the most dangerous sex offenders who are willing to be controlled."

The case for: 'We track cars, so why not people?'

The Government is struggling to keep track of thousands of offenders in the community and is troubled by an overcrowded prison system close to bursting. Internal tagging offers a solution that could impose curfews more effectively than at present, and extend the system by keeping sex offenders out of "forbidden areas". "If we are prepared to track cars, why don't we track people?" said Ken Jones, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo).

Officials argue that the internal tags enable the authorities to enforce thousands of court orders by ensuring offenders remain within their own walls during curfew hours – and allow the immediate verification of ID details when challenged.

The internal tags also have a use in maintaining order within prisons. In the United States, they are used to track the movement of gang members within jails.

Offenders themselves would prefer a tag they can forget about, instead of the bulky kit carried around on the ankle.

The case against: 'The rest of us could be next'

Professionals in the criminal justice system maintain that the present system is 95 per cent effective. Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology is unproven. The technology is actually more invasive, and carries more information about the host. The devices have been dubbed "spychips" by critics who warn that they would transmit data about the movements of other people without their knowledge.

Consumer privacy expert Liz McIntyre said a colleague had already proved he could "clone" a chip. "He can bump into a chipped person and siphon the chip's unique signal in a matter of seconds," she said.

One company plans deeper implants that could vibrate, electroshock the implantee, broadcast a message, or serve as a microphone to transmit conversations. "Some folks might foolishly discount all of these downsides and futuristic nightmares since the tagging is proposed for criminals like rapists and murderers," Ms McIntyre said. "The rest of us could be next."

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Diebold Voting Machine Failures Found Across NH During Prima

Early research into New Hampshire wards and towns which used Diebold's AccuVote Optical-Scan voting machines during last week's Primary reveals that chronic problems continue with the company's infamous paper-ballot voting machines.

As well, the preliminary investigation reveals a great deal of confusion and conflicting information from local election clerks and a high-ranking official in the state Attorney General's office regarding protocols and security procedures for voting systems and memory cards, and how they are to be handled during Election Day failures.

All four counties I contacted on January 10th that had used Diebold's electronic machines last week reported problems during the election with the machines. Two other calls that same day turned out to have been to areas where electronic voting is not in use, where hand counts are done instead. If the small sampling is any indication, a statewide study would likely reveal that voting machines failed many times during the 2008 Presidential Primary across the entire state.

Problems with the systems were quickly revealed during all of my calls to officials who had used the optical-scan systems in Hanover, Exeter, Nashua, and Manchester.

"LHS provides back-up memory cards. But if a memory card failure were to occur during the election...they bring you another one, you just put it in. There's no problem." - Exeter, NH, Town Clerk Linda Hartson

Little reporting or inquiry into such problems has been done so far by the mainstream media. Reports of machine failures in Stratham, leading to hand counting of votes after a "glitch" was discovered in the optical-scan systems used there, were buried in a local article on Primary results in SeaCoast Online on Thursday. The bulk of media reporting on the anomalous results from the election has focused, instead, on speculation as to what might have gone wrong with pre-election polls. Little if any coverage has been given to whether the results themselves were correct as reported, or whether voting machine errors or tampering may have occurred.

The paper ballots cast by 80% of the state's voters have never been examined by anyone to determine the mechanical vote-counting accuracy. The computer counting of those ballots is overseen by a single, private company which is routinely granted extraordinary access to the systems, and interviews with a number of state officials indicate they all seem to have different understandings of what, if any, rules exist to regulate that access...

LHS Associates of Methuen, MA, the private vendor which handles all programming, sales, and service for the Diebold voting machines, oversees the tabulation of those 80% of ballots cast last week. The company is heavily relied on by town officials across the Granite State. The officials trust the company, and their representatives are relied upon to step in to take care of crucial voting machine problems which crop up during elections. They are like copy machine repair staff in a frantic law office. Little would move without them.

Yet access to such systems, and their vulnerable memory cards, has been revealed as particularly dangerous by numerous independent academic and state studies over the last several years, all of which have shown that elections can be tampered with, and results manipulated, via such access.

If a statewide recount of New Hampshire, as requested by Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich and little-known Republican candidate Albert Howard, proceeds as currently scheduled [PDF] to begin on January 16th, any irregularities revealed could be cross-referenced to towns where machines failed. However, whether irregularities are discovered or not, voting machine failures need to be compiled.

No such compilation of Election Day problems with Diebold voting machines has so far occurred in New Hampshire, to my knowledge. Such data, combined with a top-down investigation into the performance of all electronic voting machines in general, could help to make the 2008 Presidential Election far more secure.

Of interest would be the number of times that voting machines and vulnerable memory cards were repaired, replaced, or in any way handled by town officials or LHS Associates, a company which, as I've reported previously, has a less than stellar reputation and, frequently, little regard for local election laws.

Additionally, new information concerning the criminal background of a senior LHS executive has also recently been unearthed, adding to concerns about the company which has nearly complete control over every aspect of 80% of New Hampshire's votes. It is unclear whether the New Hampshire Secretary of State or those of any of the other states across New England --- where LHS also serves as Diebold's sole vendor and service provider --- are aware of that particular aspect of the company's background.

Last-minute repairs and replacements made to voting machines by LHS in advance of, or during, elections are prime opportunities for fraud, a time when the systems are in their most vulnerable state. A now-infamous hack of the exact same machine used last week across New Hampshire in its Primary was seen in HBO's Hacking Democracy (video of hack here). The hack in Leon County, Florida, in late 2005, is seen as completely flipping the results of a mock election such that only a manual hand-count of the paper ballots would reveal the tampering that had been done to the system's memory cards.

There are no routine audits or spot-checks of the state's paper ballots of the sort that would protect against the hack described above.

Total Access for LHS Associates

Given the sensitive vulnerability of these systems, it's troubling that in New Hampshire last week, reports indicate that LHS employees may have had regular access to memory cards and voting machines, and even replaced them during the course of the day as failures occurred.

Officials I spoke with in New Hampshire were unclear whether LHS was working under any strict written security protocols other than those procedures that clerks and other officials are told to follow concerning set-up and use of the machines on Election Day. Such procedures would include the fact that town officials are told to hold the keys and open machines for LHS staff members when they arrive to make any Election Day repairs, breaking the security seals on the systems in the process of such repairs.

Computer scientists we spoke with in Connecticut (where LHS also oversees Diebold voting), such as Professor Michael Fischer of Yale University's Computer Science Department and Professor Alex Shvartsman of the University of Connecticut's Voting Research Team, recommend tight written legal protections to govern the way voting machine failures are handled. Connecticut officials continue to work on problems that have arisen since they purchased the Diebold AccuVote Optical Scan machines in 2006.

My interviews with New Hampshire officials, however, revealed a consistent lack of concern about security protocols that would restrict a vendor from coming in to replace parts or repair machines during all phases of elections.

I followed up with a few more phone calls to New Hampshire on January 11th, and when I asked the Rochester Clerk of the Election, Cheryl Eisenberg, to go over the voting machine security protocols that would apply to LHS staffers she said, "I don't think there is anything in writing as to how the situation would be handled. We rely on them, we trust them". Her remark typifies the way Town Clerks described their relationship with LHS during my initial interviews.

Overview of Trouble Reports Documented on January 10, 2008

Of five of the towns called over two days, four had problems with their machines...

  • Betsy McClain, Deputy Town Clerk in Hanover, New Hampshire, reported that their optical-scan machine broke down during the election and LHS Associates came out to make repairs. This same machine had just been repaired by LHS for the same problem. A deflector, or visor, that guides ballots into a bin for write-in votes versus regularly marked ballots, was malfunctioning. The write-ins were being directed into the regular vote bin. The LHS staffer was allowed to reach into the machine during the course of election day in order to connect a cable, McClain told me.
  • Linda Hartson, Town Clerk of Exeter, New Hampshire, also reported that LHS Associates came out and fixed the deflector or visor inside the mechanism during the primary race on January 8th. This was again the deflector or visor that guides votes with write-ins to one bin and regularly marked ballots to another bin.
  • Paul Bergeron, Clerk of the Election in Nashua, New Hampshire, oversees elections in nine different voting wards. He said he did have a bad memory card on set-up and testing and he burned a new one and provided it to one of the wards. He did so under direction of LHS with their software on his laptop.
  • Trisha Piecuch, Town Clerk of Manchester, New Hampshire, said she oversaw all of the phases of elections including set-up and testing and the election itself. She said they had one memory card failure in Ward 3 and they used their back-up card on hand to burn a new one for that ward under the supervision of LHS.

    Also, one week prior to the primary race there was a problem with one of Manchester's AccuVote machines and an LHS Associates employee named Tina came out to repair it. She replaced a "chip and a reader" according to Piecuch. "I'm not sure what chip it is," she said. "It's the chip that I'd say accepts the codes and everything like that. So they [LHS] again err on the side of caution and where it looked like it was a reader problem they decided to be safe and replace both because they didn't want us having any problems."

In some areas where town officials are not equipped to burn or code their own back-up cards, the Town Clerks indicated that if memory cards failed during the election they would call LHS to come and change the card. This is consistent with what LHS staff members have told me about their routine practice in the past where memory card failures have occurred.

Piecuch confirmed that LHS employees would provide new memory cards in the event that backup cards had failed.

"Normally if we have to call LHS in, it means that we've gone through our spare [cards] and we need spares," she said. "We will break the [machine's security] seals, allow them to fix whatever the problem may be inside the machine, whether it's a reader or a chip, and then we will reseal the machine. Somebody from our office is with them at all times."

Though an official may be present, he or she would not likely have the capacity or resources to read the data on the card, and ensure it's validity.

New Hampshire's Deputy Attorney General, Jim Kennedy, offered conflicting information, however. When I contacted him for more information, he indicated that LHS would not make card switches in New Hampshire during elections. He said there are clear protocols for setting up machines and storing them, but he knew of no specific written security protocols that would apply to LHS. I was told to ask election moderators and the Secretary of the State for further information.

He added, "If a town is going to use a voting machine it's up to that town to set up the contract with LHS to establish the voting machine in that town and to repair it, according to what's required to run an election. And we certainly haven't received any complaints that LHS has failed in its obligation to see that these voting machines are operating properly."

LHS Associates - A History of Following Their Own 'Laws'

Late last year, I reported on a recorded interview I'd had with LHS's director of Sales and Marketing, Ken Hajjar, who admitted that the company routinely replaces both voting machines, and vulnerable memory cards, during elections.

Despite such replacements against strict laws in Connecticut, Hajjar told me, "I mean, I don't pay attention to every little law. It's just, it's up to the Registrars. All we are is a support organization on Election Day."

He described keeping three memory cards in the trunk of his car during elections and, in the event they had to be used, he argued, the chain of custody issues wouldn't matter since, "once you run the [pre-election] test deck through, you're golden."

"We would have a whole bunch of machines in the trunk in the car and we hope the phone doesn't ring, but if it does somebody tells us where to go, we replace the machine and then we go on our merry way," he told me last year.

Hajjar was recently barred from working on elections in the state of Connecticut by the Secretary of State, after objectionable and profane remarks he had made publicly in the comments section of The BRAD BLOG.

More recently, a public records request made by revealed that Hajjar had plead guilty to narcotics trafficking in the state of New Hampshire in 1990.

Another LHS official, Mike Carlson, similarly confirmed the company's practice of replacing voting systems during Election Day in Connecticut despite state laws that ban such practices, during an interview I had with him in late 2006. The audio and transcription of that interview are available here.

Confusion About the Law Among New Hampshire Officials

An investigation into New Hampshire's voting machines would likely reveal a lack of consistency in reporting on voting machine problems and Election Day voting machine repairs. Officials at the polls clearly have the impression that the vendor, LHS, is a legitimate source for official guidance on addressing mid-election problems. Yet, at the state level, officials with legal oversight over voting machines are not aware of the seriousness of the repairs, or in some cases that they are even occurring. Consider this exchange with Jim Kennedy, Deputy Attorney General of the State of New Hampshire, on January 11, 2008.

Smith: What about security?

Dep. Atty Gen. Kennedy: There is also security protocols...There are locks and seals that go on these machines during the day and actually our office conducted inspections throughout election day to insure that the seals were properly on the machines.

Smith: But what if, say, a memory card were to fail during the election and LHS were to come in and put in a different one?

Kennedy: That's not what's done in the State of New Hampshire. Actually by state and federal law we are required to retain the actual memory card that's used in the election. So to interchange a memory card I think would be odd.

Smith: I mean to replace it so the machine could be used.

Kennedy: I don't know of any circumstance that that's occurred here.

Smith: What about during set up if the card is tested and fails and so LHS is able to just send out a new one.

Kennedy: I'm not sure they send out a new memory card or that they fix the one they have or whatever is done. Certainly if the machine's not working how it should be working, according to the test procedures that are laid out before the election commences, that machine won't be used.

We tried to contact the Secretary of the State for further information but the phone was busy all afternoon on Friday. My exchange with Town Clerk Linda Hartson of Exeter reveals that in that region at least, a mid-election memory card failure could very well result in a switch being made by LHS.

Smith: Let's say the back up would fail what would they do?

Exeter Town Clerk Hartson: LHS provides back up memory cards. But if a memory card failure were to occur during the election the vendor would arrive with another memory card. This is from LHS that I'm getting them and they are providing the back up. If they bring you another one, you just put it in. There's no problem.

Smith: And it wouldn't be a problem if that happened during the election?

Hartson: Nope nope nope nope. Because you could run the report off the machine and then just put in the new memory card and it would keep on going. That's my understanding.

Smith: Right. So...LHS trained our people, [in Connecticut] did they train you guys too?

Hartson: Originally yes.

For further information on Connecticut's problems with LHS Associates and the Diebold AccuVote Optical Scan Voting Machines try Talk Nation Radio, The BRAD BLOG, or Connecticut News Junkie.

Additional contributions to this article by Brad Friedman

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DC visitor booted from National Archives for 'Impeach' shirt

National Archives bars/boots wearers of aarticles of impeachment
In the audio, the following interviews are presented after a short intro:

John Nirenberg speaking about the march from Boston

A participant denied entry into the Archives(over a vest)

A participant challenged by security inside the Archives, preceded by the last seconds of the guard's challenge. The security guard's words did not come out well, but the interviews did.

The last leg of John's Boston to DC march began at Union Station and ended at the Archives, with about 80 people reportedly participating. Probably there would have been more, but many people were still in jail from yesterday's Gitmo actions.

At the National Archives, the Constitution and First Amendment are on permanent display,yet the exercise of the very rights enshrined in this document are prohibited both by posted signs and by security guards.

It's one thing to ask that people leave their signs outside, but to exile the rally to the other side of the street, then to demand that people cover up T-shirts referring to impeachment or leave the building is something else altogether.
What would they do if someone had a (temporary or otherwise) tattoo on their face demanding impeachment?

Ever since Bush began even RUNNING for President in 2000(and having protesters at his rallies arrested), there has been a campaign in this country to burn the constitution that is supposedly the sole source of their authority. The Archives itself is now part of this, but people there got off lucky compared to those at the 2004 GOP convention arrested for merely being on the same block as protesters, much less those detained at Guantanimo Bay or shipped abroad to be tortured.
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Draft Reinstatement Proposed by Congress in 2007

To require all persons in the United States between the ages of 18 and 42 to perform national service, either as a member of the uniformed services or in civilian service in furtherance of the national defense and homeland security, to authorize the induction of persons in the uniformed services during wartime to meet end-strength requirements of the uniformed services, to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to make permanent the favorable treatment afforded combat pay under the earned income tax credit, and for other purposes.

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Bush Quipped He Might Stay in Power Much Like Putin

At a press briefing this morning that touched on issues like the White House's extrajudicial wiretapping program and torture policies, the president was asked a question
about Vladimir Putin's plan to hold on to power when his term as Russian president runs out.

Reporter: Mr. President, following up on Vladimir Putin for a moment, he said recently that next year, when he has to step down according to the constitution, as the president, he may become prime minister; in effect keeping power and dashing any hopes for a genuine democratic transition there ...

Bush: I've been planning that myself.

Ahahahahaha. That's funny. It's a great comedian who can give voice to what everyone else is just thinking.

Despite the president's occasional contempt for the law, THREAT LEVEL doesn't believe that he's going to declare a state of emergency and cancel the 2008 election. But in July, we filed some FOIA requests anyway. We asked five Justice Department offices for documents produced or revised after August 2001 "addressing the feasibility, advisability or lawfulness of deferring, rescheduling or canceling a U.S. national election."

The Office of Legal Counsel responded in nine days: It has no documents fitting that description. This is the office specifically tasked with advising the president on legal matters, and which infamously belched out a memo sanctioning torture in 2002.

This was, by the way, the fastest FOIA response I've ever gotten -- the speed suggesting the proposition was so ludicrous that it demanded swift repudiation. (Or that the office wanted to dispose of the FOIA before the White House went and asked for election postponement options). The Office of the Attorney General responded late last month (.pdf), also reporting no records found. Ditto the Office of the Associate Attorney General.

Only two offices haven't given the all-clear: The Office of the Deputy Attorney General is still looking into it. The National Security Division says it can't even estimate when I might get a response, because there are 14 unrelated FOIA requests ahead of mine.

That means I'll probably hear back sometime in late 2009, by which time Bush won't even be in office any more. Unless he is. Ahahahahaha. Just kidding.

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Iraq/Afghan veterans have killed 121 after coming home

Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles

Late one night in the summer of 2005, Matthew Sepi, a 20-year-old Iraq combat veteran, headed out to a 7-Eleven in the seedy Las Vegas neighborhood where he had settled after leaving the Army.

This particular 7-Eleven sits in the shadow of the Stratosphere casino-hotel in a section of town called the Naked City. By day, the area, littered with malt liquor cans, looks depressed but not menacing. By night, it becomes, in the words of a local homicide detective, “like Falluja.”

Mr. Sepi did not like to venture outside too late. But, plagued by nightmares about an Iraqi civilian killed by his unit, he often needed alcohol to fall asleep. And so it was that night, when, seized by a gut feeling of lurking danger, he slid a trench coat over his slight frame — and tucked an assault rifle inside it.

“Matthew knew he shouldn’t be taking his AK-47 to the 7-Eleven,” Detective Laura Andersen said, “but he was scared to death in that neighborhood, he was military trained and, in his mind, he needed the weapon to protect himself.”

Head bowed, Mr. Sepi scurried down an alley, ignoring shouts about trespassing on gang turf. A battle-weary grenadier who was still legally under-age, he paid a stranger to buy him two tall cans of beer, his self-prescribed treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

As Mr. Sepi started home, two gang members, both large and both armed, stepped out of the darkness. Mr. Sepi said in an interview that he spied the butt of a gun, heard a boom, saw a flash and “just snapped.”

In the end, one gang member lay dead, bleeding onto the pavement. The other was wounded. And Mr. Sepi fled, “breaking contact” with the enemy, as he later described it. With his rifle raised, he crept home, loaded 180 rounds of ammunition into his car and drove until police lights flashed behind him.

“Who did I take fire from?” he asked urgently. Wearing his Army camouflage pants, the diminutive young man said he had been ambushed and then instinctively “engaged the targets.” He shook. He also cried.

“I felt very bad for him,” Detective Andersen said.

Nonetheless, Mr. Sepi was booked, and a local newspaper soon reported: “Iraq veteran arrested in killing.”

Town by town across the country, headlines have been telling similar stories. Lakewood, Wash.: “Family Blames Iraq After Son Kills Wife.” Pierre, S.D.: “Soldier Charged With Murder Testifies About Postwar Stress.” Colorado Springs: “Iraq War Vets Suspected in Two Slayings, Crime Ring.”

Individually, these are stories of local crimes, gut-wrenching postscripts to the war for the military men, their victims and their communities. Taken together, they paint the patchwork picture of a quiet phenomenon, tracing a cross-country trail of death and heartbreak.

The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment — along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems — appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction.

Three-quarters of these veterans were still in the military at the time of the killing. More than half the killings involved guns, and the rest were stabbings, beatings, strangulations and bathtub drownings. Twenty-five offenders faced murder, manslaughter or homicide charges for fatal car crashes resulting from drunken, reckless or suicidal driving.

About a third of the victims were spouses, girlfriends, children or other relatives, among them 2-year-old Krisiauna Calaira Lewis, whose 20-year-old father slammed her against a wall when he was recuperating in Texas from a bombing near Falluja that blew off his foot and shook up his brain.

A quarter of the victims were fellow service members, including Specialist Richard Davis of the Army, who was stabbed repeatedly and then set ablaze, his body hidden in the woods by fellow soldiers a day after they all returned from Iraq.

And the rest were acquaintances or strangers, among them Noah P. Gamez, 21, who was breaking into a car at a Tucson motel when an Iraq combat veteran, also 21, caught him, shot him dead and then killed himself outside San Diego with one of several guns found in his car.

Tracking the Killings

The Pentagon does not keep track of such killings, most of which are prosecuted not by the military justice system but by civilian courts in state after state. Neither does the Justice Department.

To compile and analyze its list, The Times conducted a search of local news reports, examined police, court and military records and interviewed the defendants, their lawyers and families, the victims’ families and military and law enforcement officials.

This reporting most likely uncovered only the minimum number of such cases, given that not all killings, especially in big cities and on military bases, are reported publicly or in detail. Also, it was often not possible to determine the deployment history of other service members arrested on homicide charges.

The Times used the same methods to research homicides involving all active-duty military personnel and new veterans for the six years before and after the present wartime period began with the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

This showed an 89 percent increase during the present wartime period, to 349 cases from 184, about three-quarters of which involved Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. The increase occurred even though there have been fewer troops stationed in the United States in the last six years and the American homicide rate has been, on average, lower.

The Pentagon was given The Times’s roster of homicides. It declined to comment because, a spokesman, Lt. Col. Les Melnyk, said, the Department of Defense could not duplicate the newspaper’s research. Further, Colonel Melnyk questioned the validity of comparing prewar and wartime numbers based on news media reports, saying that the current increase might be explained by “an increase in awareness of military service by reporters since 9/11.” He also questioned the value of “lumping together different crimes such as involuntary manslaughter with first-degree homicide.”

Given that many veterans rebound successfully from their war experiences and some flourish as a result of them, veterans groups have long deplored the attention paid to the minority of soldiers who fail to readjust to civilian life.

After World War I, the American Legion passed a resolution asking the press “to subordinate whatever slight news value there may be in playing up the ex-service member angle in stories of crime or offense against the peace.” An article in the Veterans of Foreign Wars magazine in 2006 referred with disdain to the pervasive “wacko-vet myth,” which, veterans say, makes it difficult for them to find jobs.

Clearly, committing homicide is an extreme manifestation of dysfunction for returning veterans, many of whom struggle in quieter ways, with crumbling marriages, mounting debt, deepening alcohol dependence or more-minor tangles with the law.

But these killings provide a kind of echo sounding for the profound depths to which some veterans have fallen, whether at the bottom of a downward spiral or in a sudden burst of violence.

Thirteen of these veterans took their own lives after the killings, and two more were fatally shot by the police. Several more attempted suicide or expressed a death wish, like Joshua Pol, a former soldier convicted of vehicular homicide, who told a judge in Montana in 2006, “To be honest with you, I really wish I had died in Iraq.”

In some of the cases involving veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, the fact that the suspect went to war bears no apparent relationship to the crime committed or to the prosecution and punishment. But in many of the cases, the deployment of the service member invariably becomes a factor of some sort as the legal system, families and communities grapple to make sense of the crimes.

This is especially stark where a previously upstanding young man — there is one woman among the 121 — appears to have committed a random act of violence. And The Times’s analysis showed that the overwhelming majority of these young men, unlike most civilian homicide offenders, had no criminal history.

“When they’ve been in combat, you have to suspect immediately that combat has had some effect, especially with people who haven’t shown these tendencies in the past,” said Robert Jay Lifton, a lecturer in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School/Cambridge Health Alliance who used to run “rap groups” for Vietnam veterans and fought to earn recognition for what became known as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

“Everything is multicausational, of course,” Dr. Lifton continued. “But combat, especially in a counterinsurgency war, is such a powerful experience that to discount it would be artificial.”

Few of these 121 war veterans received more than a cursory mental health screening at the end of their deployments, according to interviews with the veterans, lawyers, relatives and prosecutors. Many displayed symptoms of combat trauma after their return, those interviews show, but they were not evaluated for or received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder until after they were arrested for homicides.

What is clear is that experiences on the streets of Baghdad and Falluja shadowed these men back to places like Longview, Tex., and Edwardsville, Ill.

“He came back different” is the shared refrain of the defendants’ family members, who mention irritability, detachment, volatility, sleeplessness, excessive drinking or drug use, and keeping a gun at hand.

“You are unleashing certain things in a human being we don’t allow in civic society, and getting it all back in the box can be difficult for some people,” said William C. Gentry, an Army reservist and Iraq veteran who works as a prosecutor in San Diego County.

When Archie O’Neil, a gunnery sergeant in the Marines, returned from a job handling dead bodies in Iraq, he became increasingly paranoid, jumpy and fearful — moving into his garage, eating M.R.E.’s, wearing his camouflage uniform, drinking heavily and carrying a gun at all times, even to answer the doorbell.

“It was like I put one person on a ship and sent him over there, and they sent me a totally different person back,” Monique O’Neil, his wife, testified.

A well-respected and decorated noncommissioned officer who did not want to endanger his chances for advancement, Sergeant O’Neil did not seek help for the PTSD that would later be diagnosed by government psychologists. “The Marine way,” his lawyer said at a preliminary hearing, “was to suck it up.”

On the eve of his second deployment to Iraq in 2004, Sergeant O’Neil fatally shot his mistress, Kimberly O’Neal, after she threatened to kill his family while he was gone.

During a military trial at Camp Pendleton, Calif., a Marine defense lawyer argued that “the ravages of war” provided the “trigger” for the killing. In 2005, a military jury convicted Sergeant O’Neil of murder but declined to impose the minimum sentence, life with the possibility of parole, considering it too harsh. A second jury, however, convened only for sentencing, voted the maximum penalty, life without parole. The case is on appeal.

As with Sergeant O’Neil, a connection between a veteran’s combat service and his crime is sometimes declared overtly. Other times, though, the Iraq connection is a lingering question mark as offenders’ relatives struggle to understand how a strait-laced teenager or family man or wounded veteran ended up behind bars — or dead.

That happened in the case of Stephen Sherwood, who enlisted in the Army at 34 to obtain medical insurance when his wife got pregnant. He may never have been screened for combat trauma.

Yet Mr. Sherwood shot his wife and then himself nine days after returning from Iraq in the summer of 2005. Several months before, the other soldiers in his tank unit had been killed by a rocket attack while he was on a two-week leave to celebrate the first birthday of his now-orphaned son.

“When he got back to Iraq, everyone was dead,” his father, Robert Sherwood, said. “He had survivor’s guilt.” Then his wife informed him that she wanted to end their marriage.

After the murder-suicide, Mr. Sherwood’s parents could not help but wonder what role Iraq played and whether counseling might have helped keep their son away from the brink.

“Ah boy, the amount of heartbreak involved in all of this,” said Dr. Jonathan Shay, a psychiatrist for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Boston and the author of two books that examine combat trauma through the lens of classical texts.

An Ancient Connection

The troubles and exploits of the returning war veteran represent a searing slice of reality. They have served as a recurring artistic theme throughout history — from Homer’s “Odyssey” to the World War I novel “All Quiet on the Western Front,” from the post-Vietnam-era movie “The Deer Hunter” to last fall’s film “In the Valley of Elah.”

At the heart of these tales lie warriors plagued by the kind of psychic wounds that have always afflicted some fraction of combat veterans. In an online course for health professionals, Capt. William P. Nash, the combat/operational stress control coordinator for the Marines, reaches back to Sophocles’ account of Ajax, who slipped into a depression after the Trojan War, slaughtered a flock of sheep in a crazed state and then fell on his own sword.

The nature of the counterinsurgency war in Iraq, where there is no traditional front line, has amplified the stresses of combat, and multiple tours of duty — a third of the troops involved in Iraq and Afghanistan have deployed more than once — ratchet up those stresses.

In earlier eras, various labels attached to the psychological injuries of war: soldier’s heart, shell shock, Vietnam disorder. Today the focus is on PTSD, but military health care officials are seeing a spectrum of psychological issues, with an estimated half of the returning National Guard members, 38 percent of soldiers and 31 percent of marines reporting mental health problems, according to a Pentagon task force.

Decades of studies on the problems of Vietnam veterans have established links between combat trauma and higher rates of unemployment, homelessness, gun ownership, child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse — and criminality. On a less scientific level, such links have long been known.

“The connection between war and crime is unfortunately very ancient,” said Dr. Shay, the V.A. psychiatrist and author. “The first thing that Odysseus did after he left Troy was to launch a pirate raid on Ismarus. Ending up in trouble with the law has always been a final common pathway for some portion of psychologically injured veterans.”

The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study, considered the most thorough analysis of this population, found that 15 percent of the male veterans still suffered from full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder more than a decade after the war ended. Half of the veterans with active PTSD had been arrested or in jail at least once, and 34.2 percent more than once. Some 11.5 percent of them had been convicted of felonies, and veterans are more likely to have committed violent crimes than nonveterans, according to government studies. In the mid-1980s, with so many Vietnam veterans behind bars that Vietnam Veterans of America created chapters in prisons, veterans made up a fifth of the nation’s inmate population.

As Iraq and Afghanistan veterans get enmeshed in the criminal justice system, former advocates for Vietnam veterans are disheartened by what they see as history repeating itself.

“These guys today, I recognize the hole in their souls,” said Hector Villarreal, a criminal defense lawyer in Mission, Tex., who briefly represented a three-time Iraq combat veteran charged with manslaughter.

Brockton D. Hunter, a criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis, told colleagues in a recent lecture at the Minnesota State Bar Association that society should try harder to prevent veterans from self-destructing.

“To truly support our troops, we need to apply our lessons from history and newfound knowledge about PTSD to help the most troubled of our returning veterans,” Mr. Hunter said. “To deny the frequent connection between combat trauma and subsequent criminal behavior is to deny one of the direct societal costs of war and to discard another generation of troubled heroes.”

‘The Town Was Torn Up’

At the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution in Nebraska, Seth Strasburg, 29, displays an imposing, biker-style presence. He has a shaved head, bushy chin beard and tattoos scrolled around his thick arms and neck, one of which quotes, in Latin, a Crusades-era dictum: “Kill them all. God will know his own.”

Beneath this fierce exterior, however, Mr. Strasburg, an Iraq combat veteran who pleaded no contest to manslaughter and gun charges in 2006, hides a tortured compulsion to understand his actions. Growing up in rural Nebraska, he read military history. Now he devours books like Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society” and Dr. Shay’s “Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming.”

Because Mr. Strasburg is introspective, he provides a window into the reverberations of combat violence within one veteran’s psyche and from there outward. In Arnold, Neb., population 679, the unintentional killing last year by Mr. Strasburg of Thomas Tiffany Varney V, a pre-mortuary science major known as Moose, was a deeply unsettling event.

“To lose one young man permanently and another to prison, with Iraq mixed up in the middle of it — the town was torn up,” said Pamela Eggleston, a waitress at Suzy’s Pizza and Spirits.

In late 2005, Mr. Strasburg returned to Arnold for a holiday leave after two years in Iraq. Once home, he did not easily shed the extreme vigilance that had become second nature. He traveled around rural Nebraska with a gun and body armor in his Jeep, feeling irritable, out of sorts and out of place in tranquil, “American Idol”-obsessed America.

During his leave, he shrank from questions about Iraq because he hated the cavalier ones: “So, did you kill anybody? What was it like?”

He had, in fact, killed somebody in Iraq and was having trouble dealing with it. Like several veterans interviewed, Mr. Strasburg was plagued by one death before he caused another one.

In 2004, Sergeant Strasburg’s section was engaged in a mission to counter a proliferation of improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.’s, on the road west of Mosul. One night, posted in an old junked bus, he watched the road for hours until an Iraqi man, armed and out after curfew, appeared and circled a field, kicking the dirt as if he were searching for something. Finally, the man bent down, straining to pick up a large white flour sack, which he then dragged toward the road.

“In my mind at the time, he had this I.E.D. hidden out there during the day and he was going to set it in place,” Mr. Strasburg said. “We radioed it in. They said, ‘Whatever, use your discretion.’ So I popped him.”

With others on his reconnaissance team, Mr. Strasburg helped zip the man into a body bag, taking a few minutes to study the face that he now cannot forget. When they went to search the flour sack, they found nothing but gravel.

“I reported the kill to the battalion,” Mr. Strasburg said. “They said, you know: ‘Good shot. It’s legal. Whatever. Don’t worry about it.’ After that, it was never mentioned. But, you know, I had some issues with it later.”

Mr. Strasburg’s voice broke and he turned his head, wiping his eyes. A reporter noted that he was upset.

“I’m trying not to be,” he said, then changed his mind. “I mean, how can you not be? If you’re human. What if I had waited?”

“Maybe I was too eager,” he added. “Maybe I wanted to be the first one to get a kill, you know? Maybe, maybe, maybe. And that will never go away.”

Which bothers him, Mr. Strasburg said, telling himself: “Get over it. You shot somebody. Everybody else shot somebody, too.”

Shortly after Mr. Strasburg’s military tour of duty ended, he returned to Iraq as a private contractor because, he said, he did not know what else to do with himself after eight years in the Army. “I have no skill other than carrying a gun,” he said.

By late 2005, home on leave, he was preparing to return once more to Iraq in January.

On New Year’s Eve, Mr. Strasburg, accompanied by his brother, consumed vodka cocktails for hours at Jim’s Bar and Package in Arnold. Toward evening’s end, he engaged in an intense conversation with a Vietnam veteran, after which, he said, he inexplicably holstered his gun and headed to a party. Outside the party, he drunkenly approached a Chevrolet Suburban crowded with young people, got upset and thrust his gun inside the car.

Mr. Strasburg said he did not remember what provoked him. According to one account, a young man — not the victim — set him off by calling him a paid killer. Mr. Strasburg, according to the prosecutor, stuck his gun under the young man’s chin. There was a struggle over the gun. It went off. And Mr. Varney, a strapping 21-year-old with a passion for hunting, car racing and baseball, was struck.

Asked if he pulled the trigger, Mr. Strasburg said, “I don’t know,” adding that he took responsibility: “It was my gun and I was drunk. But what the hell was I thinking?”

The Suburban drove quickly away. Mr. Strasburg jumped into his Jeep, speeding along wintry roads until he crashed into a culvert. Feeling doomed, he said, he donned his bulletproof vest and plunged into the woods, where he fell asleep in the snow as police helicopters and state troopers closed in on him.

Mr. Strasburg had never been screened for post-traumatic stress disorder. Like many soldiers, he did not take seriously the Army’s mental health questionnaires given out at his tour’s end. “They were retarded,” he said. “All of us were like, ‘Let’s do this quickly so we can go home.’ They asked: ‘Did you see any dead bodies? Did you take part in any combat operations?’ Come on, we were in Iraq. They didn’t even ask us the really important question, if you killed someone.”

After his arrest, a psychologist hired by his family diagnosed combat trauma in Mr. Strasburg, writing in an evaluation that post-traumatic stress disorder, exacerbated by alcohol, served as a “major factor” in the shooting.

A Judge’s Harsh Words

At the sentencing hearing in Broken Bow, Neb., in September 2006, however, the judge discounted the centrality of the PTSD. He called Mr. Varney “the epitome of an innocent victim” and Mr. Strasburg “a bully” who “misconstrued comments” and “reacted in a belligerent and hostile manner.” In a courtroom filled with Arnold townspeople and Iraq veterans, he sentenced Mr. Strasburg to 22 to 36 years in prison.

Mr. Strasburg’s mother, Aneita, believing that the shooting was a product of his combat trauma, started an organization to create awareness about post-traumatic stress disorder.

Her activism, however, deeply offended the victim’s parents, who run the Arnold Funeral Home.

“I’m sorry, but it feels like a personal affront, like she’s trying to excuse our son’s death with the war,” Barb Varney said, adding that Mr. Strasburg has “never shown any remorse.”

Thomas Tiffany Varney IV, the victim’s father, expressed skepticism about Mr. Strasburg’s PTSD and the disorder in general, saying, “His grandfather, my dad, a lot of people been there, done that, and it didn’t affect them,” Mr. Varney said. “They’re trying to brush it away, ‘Well, he murdered someone, it’s just post-traumatic stress.’ ”

Mr. Strasburg himself, whose diagnosis was confirmed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, expressed discomfort with his post-traumatic stress disorder and its connection to his crime. “It’s not a be-all-and-end-all excuse, and I don’t mean it to be,” he said.

As Mr. Strasburg prefers to see it, he had adapted his behavior to survive in Iraq and then retained that behavior — vigilant, distrustful, armed — when he returned home. “You need time to decompress,” he said. “If the exact same circumstances had happened a year later” — the circumstances of that New Year’s Eve — “nothing would have happened. It never would have went down.”

Mr. Strasburg also voiced reluctance to being publicly identified as a PTSD sufferer, worried that his former military colleagues would see him as a weakling. “Nobody wants to be that guy who says, ‘I got counseling this afternoon, Sergeant,’ ” he said, mimicking a whining voice.

Mr. Strasburg’s former platoon leader, Capt. Benjamin D. Tiffner, who was killed in an I.E.D. attack in Baghdad in November, wrote a letter to Nebraska state authorities. He protested the length of the sentence and requested Mr. Strasburg’s transfer “to a facility that would allow him to deal with his combat trauma.”

“Seth has been asked and required to do very violent things in defense of his country,” Captain Tiffner wrote. “He spent the majority of 2003 to 2005 in Iraq solving very dangerous problems by using violence and the threat of violence as his main tools. He was congratulated and given awards for these actions. This builds in a person the propensity to deal with life’s problems through violence and the threat of violence.

“I believe this might explain in some way why Seth reacted the way that he did that night in Nebraska,” the letter continued. “I’m not trying to explain away Seth’s actions, but I think he is a special case and he needs to be taken care of by our judicial system and our medical system.”

Many Don’t Seek Treatment

Unlike during the Vietnam War, the current military has made a concerted effort, through screenings and research, to gauge the mental health needs of returning veterans. But gauging and addressing needs are different, and a Pentagon task force last year described the military mental health system as overburdened, “woefully” understaffed, inadequately financed and undermined by the stigma attached to PTSD.

Although early treatment might help veterans retain their relationships and avoid developing related problems like depression, alcoholism and criminal behavior, many do not seek or get such help. And this group of homicide defendants seems to be a prime example.

Like Mr. Strasburg, many of these veterans learned that they had post-traumatic stress disorder only after their arrests. And their mental health issues often went unevaluated even after the killings if they were pleading not guilty, if they did not have aggressive lawyers and relatives — or if they killed themselves first.

Of the 13 combat veterans in The Times database who committed murder-suicides, only two, as best as it can be determined, had psychological problems diagnosed by the military health care system after returning from war.

“The real tragedy in these veterans’ case is that, where PTSD is a factor, it is highly treatable,” said Lawrence W. Sherman, director of the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania. “And when people are exposed to serious trauma and don’t get it treated, it is a serious risk factor for violence.”

At various times, the question of whether the military shares some blame for these killings gets posed. This occurs especially where the military knew beforehand of a combat veteran’s psychological troubles, marital problems or history of substance abuse.

In some cases, the military sent service members with pre-existing problems — known histories of mental illness, drug abuse or domestic abuse — into combat only to find those problems exacerbated by the stresses of war. In other cases, they quickly discharged returning veterans with psychological or substance abuse problems, after which they committed homicides.

Perhaps no case has posed the question of military liability more bluntly than that of Lucas T. Borges, 25, a former private in the Marines whose victims are suing the United States government, maintaining that the military “had a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent Borges from harming others.” The government is trying to get the claim dismissed.

Mr. Borges immigrated from Brazil at 14 and joined the Marines four years later. After spending six months in Iraq at the beginning of the war, he “came back different, like he was out of his mind,” said his mother, Dina Borges, who runs a small cleaning business in Maryland.

Assigned on his return to a maintenance battalion at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Private Borges developed a taste for the ether used to start large internal combustion engines in winter.

Mr. Borges did have a history of marijuana use, which he disclosed to the Marines when he enlisted, said Jeffrey Weber, a lawyer who represented the victims until recently.

But inhaling ether, which produces both a dreamy high and impairment, was new to him, and his sister, Gabriela, a 20-year-old George Washington University student, believes that he developed the habit to relieve the anxiety that he brought home from war.

The Marines, aware of Mr. Borges’s past drug use, also knew that he had developed an ether problem, but they never removed him from the job where he had ready access to his drug of choice, according to the lawsuit. They never offered him drug treatment, either, Mr. Borges’s own lawyer said in court.

Four months after he returned from Iraq, military officials moved to discharge Private Borges when he was caught inhaling ether in his car. They impounded the car, which contained several canisters of the government’s ether, and sent Mr. Borges, who threatened to kill himself, to the mental health ward of the base hospital.

“He was finally under the care of a psychiatrist, but they pulled him from that because he was a problem and they wanted to get rid of him,” Mr. Weber said. “They processed him out, handed him the keys to his car, and his supervisor said, ‘If you’re not careful, you’re going to kill somebody.’ ”

When Mr. Borges retrieved his 1992 Camaro, he discovered that the Marines had left their ether canisters inside — they did not have anywhere to store them, officials said at trial — and immediately got high. He then drove east down the westbound lane of a state highway, slamming headfirst into the victims’ car, killing 19-year-old Jamie Marie Lumsden, the daughter of a marine who served in Iraq, and seriously injuring four others.

Convicted of second-degree murder, Mr. Borges was sentenced to 24 to 32 years in prison.

Lost in Las Vegas

The Army has recently developed a course called “Battlemind Training,” intended to help soldiers make the psychological transition back into civilian society. “In combat, the enemy is the target,” the course material says. “Back home, there are no enemies.”

This can be a difficult lesson to learn. Many soldiers and marines find themselves at war with their spouses, their children, their fellow service members, the world at large and ultimately themselves when they come home.

“Based on my experience, most of these veterans feel just terrible that they’ve caused this senseless harm,” Dr. Shay said. “Most veterans don’t want to hurt other people.”

Matthew Sepi withdrew into himself on his return from Iraq.

A Navajo Indian who saw his hometown of Winslow, Ariz., as a dead end, Mr. Sepi joined the Army at 16, with a permission slip from his mother.

For a teenager without much life experience, the war in Iraq was mind-bending, and Mr. Sepi saw intense action. When his infantry company arrived in April 2003, it was charged with tackling resistant Republican Guard strongholds north of Baghdad.

“The war was supposedly over, except it wasn’t,” Mr. Sepi said. “I was a ground troop, with a grenade launcher attached to my M-16. Me and my buddies were the ones that assaulted the places. We went in the buildings and cleared the buildings. We shot and got shot at.”

After a year of combat, Mr. Sepi returned to Fort Carson, Colo., where life seemed dull and regimented. The soldiers did not discuss their war experiences or their postwar emotions. Instead, they partied, Mr. Sepi said, and the drinking got him and others in trouble. Arrested for under-age driving under the influence, he was ordered to complete drug and alcohol education and counseling. Shortly after that, he decided to leave the Army.

Feeling lost after his discharge “with a few little medals,” he ended up moving to Las Vegas, a city that he did not know, with the friend of a friend. Broke, Mr. Sepi settled in the Naked City, which is named for the showgirls who used to sunbathe topless there. After renting a roach-infested hole in the wall with an actual hole in the wall, he found jobs doing roadwork and making plastic juice bottles in a factory. Alone and lonely, he started feeling the effects of his combat experiences.

In Las Vegas, Mr. Sepi’s alcohol counselor took him under his wing, recognizing war-related PTSD in his extreme jumpiness, adrenaline rushes, nightmares and need to drink himself into unconsciousness.

The counselor directed him to seek specialized help from a Veterans Affairs hospital. Mr. Sepi said he called the V.A. and was told to report in person. But working 12-hour shifts at a bottling plant, he failed to do so.

In July 2005, when Mr. Sepi was arrested, he identified himself as an Iraq veteran. But, Detective Andersen said, “He didn’t act like a combat veteran. He acted like a scared kid.”

Soon afterward, Nancy Lemcke, Mr. Sepi’s public defender, visited him in jail. “I asked him about PTSD,” Ms. Lemcke said. “And he starts telling me about Iraq and all of a sudden, his eyes well up with tears, and he cries out: ‘We had the wrong house! We had the wrong house!’ And he’s practically hysterical.”

As part of an operation to break down the resistance in and around Balad, Mr. Sepi and his unit had been given a nightly list of targets for capture. Camouflaged, the American soldiers crept through towns after midnight, working their way down the lists, setting off C-4 plastic explosives at each address to stun the residents into submission.

“This particular night, it was December 2003, there was, I’d say, more than 100 targets,” Mr. Sepi said. “Each little team had a list. And at this one house, we blow the gate and find out that there’s this guy sitting in his car just inside that gate. We move in, and he, like, stumbles out of his car, and he’s on fire, and he’s, like, stumbling around in circles in his front yard. So we all kind of don’t know what to do, and he collapses, and we go inside the house and search it and find out it’s the wrong house.”

Although Mr. Sepi said that he felt bad at the time, he also knew that he had done nothing but follow orders and that the Army had paid the man’s family a settlement. He did not imagine that the image of the flaming, stumbling Iraqi civilian would linger like a specter in his psyche.

Listening to Mr. Sepi recount the story of a death that he regretted in Iraq while grappling with a death that he regretted in Las Vegas, his lawyer grew determined to get him help. “It was just so shocking, and his emotions were so raw, and he was so messed up,” Ms. Lemcke said.

An Unusual Legal Deal

She found compassion for him among the law enforcement officials handling the case. The investigation backed up Mr. Sepi’s story of self-defense, although it was never determined who fired first. It made an impression on the police that he was considerably outweighed — his 130 pounds against a 210-pound man and a 197-pound woman. And it helped Mr. Sepi that his victims were drifters, with no family members pressing for justice.

The police said that Kevin Ratcliff, 36, who was shot and wounded by Mr. Sepi, belonged to the Crips and was a convicted felon; Sharon Jackson, 47, who was killed, belonged to NC, the Naked City gang, and an autopsy found alcohol, cocaine and methamphetamines in her blood.

Buoyed by an outpouring of support from Mr. Sepi’s fellow soldiers and veterans’ advocates, Ms. Lemcke pressed the Department of Veterans Affairs to find treatment programs for Mr. Sepi. This allowed an unusual deal with the local district attorney’s office: in exchange for the successful completion of treatment for substance abuse and PTSD, the charges against Mr. Sepi would be dropped.

After about three months in jail, Mr. Sepi spent three months at a substance abuse program in Prescott, Ariz., in late 2005, where the graying veterans presented an object lesson: “I don’t want to be like that when I’m older,” he said to himself. In early 2006, he transferred to a PTSD treatment center run by the V.A. in Topeka, Kan., where he learned how to deal with anger, sadness and guilt, to manage the symptoms of his anxiety disorder and, it seems, to vanquish his nightmares.

“For some reason, my bad dreams went away,” he said. “It’s pretty cool.”

Free to start life over, Mr. Sepi stepped tentatively into adulthood. Settling in Phoenix, he enrolled in automotive school and got a job as a welder for a commercial bakery. Once in a while, he said, a loud noise still starts his heart racing and he breaks into a cold sweat, ready for action. But he knows now how to calm himself, he said, he no longer owns guns, and he is sober and sobered by what he has done.

“That night,” he said, of the hot summer night in Las Vegas when he was arrested for murder, “if I could erase it, I would. Killing is part of war, but back home ...”

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