"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Friday, January 28, 2005

Tinseltown Snubs "The Passion of the CHRIST"

Passionate Christians Perceive Bias in Academy Award Nominations

Conservative Christian groups are outraged, but not surprised, that the box-office hit "The Passion of the Christ" didn't receive an Academy Award nomination for best picture or best director.

Mel Gibson's film, which grossed $370 million in the United States and more than $600 million worldwide, did receive three nominations Tuesday (Jan. 25), for "makeup," "cinematography" and "original score."

But some religious fans still see a snub.

"There's no question that bigotry and prejudice is rank among the liberal elite of Hollywood," said the Rev. Louis Sheldon, founder of the Washington-based Traditional Values Coalition. "Why would they want to recognize the `ancient of days,' Jesus Christ, unless they want to bow their knee to him?

"They would prefer to be those silent ones in the crowd, that don't yell crucify, but turned their eyes away from the reality of his crucifixion."

Sheldon dismissed the nominations "The Passion" did receive, saying, "They had to do something or they would have had egg all over their face. Now it's just on their chest and their legs."

In a statement, Catholic League president William Donohue called "The Passion's" three nominations "second-tier."

"Having been criticized for months for not giving Mel a fair shake, it looks like the Hollywood elite got the message," Donohue said. "It seems plain that Catholic guilt has been successfully exported to Hollywood."

Tim Wildmon, president of the Tupelo, Miss.-based American Family Association, said he would have been surprised if "The Passion" received a best picture nomination.

"I don't know how exactly you prove discrimination based on religion or the Christian faith exactly except to say that it's well known that the Hollywood community has been anti-Christian for many years," Wildmon said. "Mel Gibson, even with all this star power, could not find anyone to help him pay to produce the movie. Here you have the greatest story of all time, one of the most influential people in history -- that is Jesus Christ -- with Mel Gibson involved, and he has to do it out of his own pocketbook."

Gibson's bloody depiction of the last days of Christ's life is the ninth highest-grossing movie in the United States of all time. Some Jewish leaders say it was anti-Semitic in the way it stereotypically portrayed Jews and blamed them for Christ's death, but the film was extremely popular among Christian filmgoers.

It won "favorite drama motion picture" at the 2005 People's Choice Awards. Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 911," attacking the Bush administration, received no Oscar nominations despite winning a People's Choice award as "favorite motion picture."

In response to religious films being overlooked by Hollywood, some groups have established their own awards. For example, the John Templeton Foundation awards two $50,000 Epiphany Prizes each year to inspiring television programs and films.

"Oscar is speeding its own demise by continually ignoring the well-informed opinion of the movie-going public." said Ted Baehr, chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission, which chooses Epiphany winners.

On the Internet, passion about "The Passion" abounded.

"Hollywood is so repulsed by people of faith it can't even bring itself to consider a powerful, provocative film about the most influential person in the history of mankind," wrote blogger Joel Rosenberg, who operates an online web journal. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Operators of the web site, www.passionforfairness.com, said "we are deeply dispirited and frustrated. No excuse is adequate."

Passion for Fairness had promoted an online petition that demanded "Hollywood put aside their own cultural bias against Christians" and nominate "The Passion" for best picture, Gibson for best director, James Caviezel (Jesus) for best actor, Maia Morgenstern (Mary) for best actress and Monica Bellucci (Mary Magdalene) as best supporting actress.

While critics gave "The Passion" mostly negative reviews, some said they were still surprised the Academy didn't give it more significant nominations.

"It's a reflection of a world view that predominates the community in Hollywood that doesn't necessarily take into account a traditional view of faith," Hollywood media critic James Hirsen told CNN. "I think that "The Passion of the Christ (is) ... a cinematic marvel. It's inexplicable to me that that would not be competing in those categories."

Andrea James
Religion News Service

A Big Mistake: by Rep. Ron Paul, MD

Before the US House of Representatives, January 26, 2005

America’s policy of foreign intervention, while still debated in the early 20th century, is today accepted as conventional wisdom by both political parties. But what if the overall policy is a colossal mistake, a major error in judgment? Not just bad judgment regarding when and where to impose ourselves, but the entire premise that we have a moral right to meddle in the affairs of others? Think of the untold harm done by years of fighting – hundreds of thousands of American casualties, hundreds of thousands of foreign civilian casualties, and unbelievable human and economic costs. What if it was all needlessly borne by the American people? If we do conclude that grave foreign policy errors have been made, a very serious question must be asked: What would it take to change our policy to one more compatible with a true republic’s goal of peace, commerce, and friendship with all nations? Is it not possible that Washington’s admonition to avoid entangling alliances is sound advice even today?

In medicine mistakes are made – man is fallible. Misdiagnoses are made, incorrect treatments are given, and experimental trials of medicines are advocated. A good physician understands the imperfections in medical care, advises close follow-ups, and double-checks the diagnosis, treatment, and medication. Adjustments are made to ensure the best results. But what if a doctor never checks the success or failure of a treatment, or ignores bad results and assumes his omnipotence – refusing to concede that the initial course of treatment was a mistake? Let me assure you, the results would not be good. Litigation and the loss of reputation in the medical community place restraints on this type of bullheaded behavior.

Sadly, though, when governments, politicians, and bureaucrats make mistakes and refuse to reexamine them, there is little the victims can do to correct things. Since the bully pulpit and the media propaganda machine are instrumental in government cover-ups and deception, the final truth emerges slowly, and only after much suffering. The arrogance of some politicians, regulators, and diplomats actually causes them to become even more aggressive and more determined to prove themselves right, to prove their power is not to be messed with by never admitting a mistake. Truly, power corrupts!

The unwillingness to ever reconsider our policy of foreign intervention, despite obvious failures and shortcomings over the last 50 years, has brought great harm to our country and our liberty. Historically, financial realities are the ultimate check on nations bent on empire. Economic laws ultimately prevail over bad judgment. But tragically, the greater the wealth of a country, the longer the flawed policy lasts. We’ll probably not be any different.

We are still a wealthy nation, and our currency is still trusted by the world, yet we are vulnerable to some harsh realities about our true wealth and the burden of our future commitments. Overwhelming debt and the precarious nature of the dollar should serve to restrain our determined leaders, yet they show little concern for deficits. Rest assured, though, the limitations of our endless foreign adventurism and spending will become apparent to everyone at some point in time.

Since 9/11, a lot of energy and money have gone into efforts ostensibly designed to make us safer. Many laws have been passed and many dollars have been spent. Whether or not we’re better off is another question.

Today we occupy two countries in the Middle East. We have suffered over 20,000 casualties, and caused possibly 100,000 civilian casualties in Iraq. We have spent over $200 billion in these occupations, as well as hundreds of billions of dollars here at home hoping to be safer. We’ve created the Department of Homeland Security, passed the Patriot Act, and created a new super CIA agency.

Our government now is permitted to monitor the Internet, to read our mail, to search us without proper search warrants, to develop a national ID card, and to investigate what people are reading in libraries. Ironically, illegal aliens flow into our country and qualify for driving licenses and welfare benefits with little restraint.

These issues are discussed, but nothing has been as highly visible to us as the authoritarianism we accept at the airport. The creation of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has intruded on the privacy of all airline travelers, and there is little evidence that we are safer for it. Driven by fear, we have succumbed to the age-old temptation to sacrifice liberty on the pretense of obtaining security. Love of security, unfortunately, all too often vanquishes love of liberty.

Unchecked fear of another 9/11-type attack constantly preoccupies our leaders and most of our citizens, and drives the legislative attack on our civil liberties. It’s frightening to see us doing to ourselves what even bin Laden never dreamed he could accomplish with his suicide bombers.

We don’t understand the difference between a vague threat of terrorism and the danger of a guerilla war. One prompts us to expand and nationalize domestic law enforcement while limiting the freedoms of all Americans. The other deals with understanding terrorists like bin Laden, who declared war against us in 1998. Not understanding the difference makes it virtually impossible to deal with the real threats. We are obsessed with passing new laws to make our country safe from a terrorist attack. This confusion about the cause of the 9/11 attacks, the fear they engendered, and the willingness to sacrifice liberty prompts many to declare their satisfaction with the inconveniences and even humiliation at our nation’s airports.

There are always those in government who are anxious to increase its power and authority over the people. Strict adherence to personal privacy annoys those who promote a centralized state.

It’s no surprise to learn that many of the new laws passed in the aftermath of 9/11 had been proposed long before that date. The attacks merely provided an excuse to do many things previously proposed by dedicated statists.

All too often government acts perversely, professing to advance liberty while actually doing the opposite. Dozens of new bills passed since 9/11 promise to protect our freedoms and our security. In time we will realize there is little chance our security will be enhanced or our liberties protected.

The powerful and intrusive TSA certainly will not solve our problems. Without a full discussion, greater understanding, and ultimately a change in the foreign policy that incites those who declared war against us, no amount of pat-downs at airports will suffice. Imagine the harm done, the staggering costs, and the loss of liberty if the next 20 years pass and airplanes are never employed by terrorists. Even if there is a possibility that airplanes will be used to terrorize us, TSA’s bullying will do little to prevent it. Patting down old women and little kids in airports cannot possibly make us safer!

TSA cannot protect us from another attack and it is not the solution. It serves only to make us all more obedient and complacent toward government intrusions into our lives.

The airport mess has been compounded by other problems, which we fail to recognize. Most assume the government has the greatest responsibility for making private aircraft travel safe. But this assumption only ignores mistakes made before 9/11, when the government taught us to not resist, taught us that airline personnel could not carry guns, and that the government would be in charge of security. Airline owners became complacent and dependent upon the government.

After 9/11 we moved in the wrong direction by allowing total government control and a political takeover by the TSA – which was completely contrary to the proposition that private owners have the ultimate responsibility to protect their customers.

Discrimination laws passed during the last 40 years ostensibly fuel the Transportation Secretary’s near obsession with avoiding the appearance of discrimination toward young Muslim males. Instead TSA seemingly targets white children and old women. We have failed to recognize that a safety policy by a private airline is quite a different thing from government agents blindly obeying anti-discrimination laws.

Governments do not have a right to use blanket discrimination, such as that which led to incarceration of Japanese Americans in World War II. However, local law-enforcement agencies should be able to target their searches if the description of a suspect is narrowed by sex, race, or religion.

We are dealing with an entirely different matter when it comes to safety on airplanes. The federal government should not be involved in local law enforcement, and has no right to discriminate. Airlines, on the other hand, should be permitted to do whatever is necessary to provide safety. Private firms – long denied the right – should have a right to discriminate. Fine restaurants, for example, can require that shoes and shirts be worn for service in their establishments. The logic of this remaining property right should permit more sensible security checks at airports. The airlines should be responsible for the safety of their property, and liable for it as well. This is not only the responsibility of the airlines, but it is a civil right that has long been denied them and other private companies.

The present situation requires the government to punish some by targeting those individuals who clearly offer no threat. Any airline that tries to make travel safer and happens to question a larger number of young Muslim males than the government deems appropriate can be assessed huge fines. To add insult to injury, the fines collected from airlines are used for forced sensitivity training of pilots who do their very best, under the circumstances, to make flying safer by restricting the travel of some individuals. We have embarked on a process that serves no logical purpose. While airline safety suffers, personal liberty is diminished and costs skyrocket.

If we’re willing to consider a different foreign policy, we should ask ourselves a few questions:

What if the policies of foreign intervention, entangling alliances, policing the world, nation building, and spreading our values through force are deeply flawed?

What if it is true that Saddam Hussein never had weapons of mass destruction?

What if it is true that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were never allies?

What if it is true that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein did nothing to enhance our national security?

What if our current policy in the Middle East leads to the overthrow of our client oil states in the region?

What if the American people really knew that more than 20,000 American troops have suffered serious casualties or died in the Iraq war, and 9% of our forces already have been made incapable of returning to battle?

What if it turns out there are many more guerrilla fighters in Iraq than our government admits?

What if there really have been 100,000 civilian Iraqi casualties, as some claim, and what is an acceptable price for “doing good?”

What if Rumsfeld is replaced for the wrong reasons, and things become worse under a Defense Secretary who demands more troops and an expansion of the war?

What if we discover that, when they do vote, the overwhelming majority of Iraqis support Islamic (Sharia) law over western secular law, and want our troops removed?

What if those who correctly warned of the disaster awaiting us in Iraq are never asked for their opinion of what should be done now?

What if the only solution for Iraq is to divide the country into three separate regions, recognizing the principle of self-determination while rejecting the artificial boundaries created in 1918 by non-Iraqis?

What if it turns out radical Muslims don’t hate us for our freedoms, but rather for our policies in the Middle East that directly affected Arabs and Muslims?

What if the invasion and occupation of Iraq actually distracted from pursuing and capturing Osama bin Laden?

What if we discover that democracy can’t be spread with force of arms?

What if democracy is deeply flawed, and instead we should be talking about liberty, property rights, free markets, the rule of law, localized government, weak centralized government, and self-determination promoted through persuasion, not force?

What if Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda actually welcomed our invasion and occupation of Arab/Muslim Iraq as proof of their accusations against us, and it served as a magnificent recruiting tool for them?

What if our policy greatly increased and prolonged our vulnerability to terrorists and guerilla attacks both at home and abroad?

What if the Pentagon, as reported by its Defense Science Board, actually recognized the dangers of our policy before the invasion, and their warnings were ignored or denied?

What if the argument that by fighting over there, we won’t have to fight here, is wrong, and the opposite is true?

What if we can never be safer by giving up some of our freedoms?

What if the principle of pre-emptive war is adopted by Russia, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and others, “justified” by current U.S. policy?

What if pre-emptive war and pre-emptive guilt stem from the same flawed policy of authoritarianism, though we fail to recognize it?

What if Pakistan is not a trustworthy ally, and turns on us when conditions deteriorate?

What if plans are being laid to provoke Syria and/or Iran into actions that would be used to justify a military response and pre-emptive war against them?

What if our policy of democratization of the Middle East fails, and ends up fueling a Russian-Chinese alliance that we regret – an alliance not achieved even at the height of the Cold War?

What if the policy forbidding profiling at our borders and airports is deeply flawed?

What if presuming the guilt of a suspected terrorist without a trial leads to the total undermining of constitutional protections for American citizens when arrested?

What if we discover the army is too small to continue policies of pre-emption and nation-building?

What if a military draft is the only way to mobilize enough troops?

What if the “stop-loss” program is actually an egregious violation of trust and a breach of contract between the government and soldiers?

What if it actually is a backdoor draft, leading to unbridled cynicism and rebellion against a voluntary army and generating support for a draft of both men and women? Will lying to troops lead to rebellion and anger toward the political leadership running the war?

What if the Pentagon’s legal task-force opinion that the President is not bound by international or federal law regarding torture stands unchallenged, and sets a precedent which ultimately harms Americans, while totally disregarding the moral, practical, and legal arguments against such a policy?

What if the intelligence reform legislation – which gives us bigger, more expensive bureaucracy – doesn’t bolster our security, and distracts us from the real problem of revamping our interventionist foreign policy?

What if we suddenly discover we are the aggressors, and we are losing an unwinnable guerrilla war?

What if we discover, too late, that we can’t afford this war – and that our policies have led to a dollar collapse, rampant inflation, high interest rates, and a severe economic downturn?

Why do I believe these are such important questions?

Because the #1 function of the federal government – to provide for national security – has been severely undermined. On 9/11 we had a grand total of 14 aircraft in place to protect the entire U.S. mainland, all of which proved useless that day. We have an annual DOD budget of over $400 billion, most of which is spent overseas in over 100 different countries. On 9/11 our Air Force was better positioned to protect Seoul, Tokyo, Berlin, and London than it was to protect Washington D.C. and New York City.

Moreover, our ill-advised presence in the Middle East and our decade-long bombing of Iraq served only to incite the suicidal attacks of 9/11.

Before 9/11 our CIA ineptly pursued bin Laden, whom the Taliban was protecting. At the same time, the Taliban was receiving significant support from Pakistan – our “trusted ally” that received millions of dollars from the United States. We allied ourselves with both bin Laden and Hussein in the 1980s, only to regret it in the 1990s.And it’s safe to say we have used billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars in the last 50 years pursuing this contradictory, irrational, foolish, costly, and very dangerous foreign policy.

Policing the world, spreading democracy by force, nation building, and frequent bombing of countries that pose no threat to us – while leaving the homeland and our borders unprotected – result from a foreign policy that is contradictory and not in our self-interest.

I hardly expect anyone in Washington to pay much attention to these concerns. If I’m completely wrong in my criticisms, nothing is lost except my time and energy expended in efforts to get others to reconsider our foreign policy.

But the bigger question is:

What if I’m right, or even partially right, and we urgently need to change course in our foreign policy for the sake of our national and economic security, yet no one pays attention?

For that a price will be paid. Is it not worth talking about?

Dr. Ron Paul is a Republican member of Congress from Texas

The Secret List of ID Theft Victims

Consumers could be warned, but U.S government isn't talking

Linda Trevino, who lives in a Chicago suburb, applied for a job last year at a local Target department store, and was denied. The reason? She already worked there -- or rather, her Social Security number already worked there.

Follow-up investigation revealed the same Social Security number had been used to obtain work at 37 other employers, mostly by illegal immigrants trying to satisfy government requirements to get a job.

Trevino is hardly alone. MSNBC.com research and government reports suggest hundreds of thousands of American citizens are in the same spot -- unknowingly lending their identity to illegal immigrants so they can work. And while several government agencies and private corporations sometimes know whose Social Security numbers are being ripped off, they won't notify the victims. That is, until they come after the victims for back taxes or unpaid loans owed by the imposter.

It's a thorny problem that cuts to the heart of America's undocumented worker issue. Immigration opponents say it's another reason to shut the borders tight; immigrant rights groups point out that identity theft is an inevitable outcome of unfair labor laws that push foreign visitors deeper into the shadows.

‘People need to wake up to this problem. They are destroying people’s credit, Social Security benefits, and everything else.’

Either way, immigrant imposters with the least nefarious of intentions -- simply a desire to work -- often unknowingly victimize the rightful Social Security number holders. The problem is compounded by how often ripped-off numbers are used. James Lee, chief marketing officer for private data collection firm ChoicePoint, said the average victim of immigrant-based identity theft sees their Social Security number shared about 30 times.

"The numbers get passed around a family, and around neighborhoods," he said.

"People need to wake up to this problem," said Richard Hamp, an assistant attorney general for the state of Utah who has prosecuted several cases involving stolen IDs and illegal immigrants. "They are destroying people's credit, Social Security benefits, and everything else. This problem has been ignored by the federal government, and it's enormous."

But could Trevino, and all the other victims, be warned by the government? After all, several agencies and corporations found her when they wanted her money. Until then, not a single one had bothered to warn her that someone else was using her Social Security number.

Everyone benefits -- except the victim

Melody Millet's husband Steve was the victim of immigrant identity theft. None of the agencies involved are trying to tackle the problem because they all benefit from it, as does corporate America, she said. The IRS and Social Security collect extra taxes, lenders sell more loans and employers get inexpensive workers. Fixing the problem and telling all the victimized consumers would upset the delicate apple cart that is America's immigration policy, she said.

"The government is forcing people to share identities because they want to provide cheap labor to corporate America," Melody Millet said.

An undocumented immigrant worker managed to use Steve Millet's Social Security number for more than 10 years before the incident was discovered. Millet said the imposter managed to obtain a dozen credit cards, buy a car, and even a house using the stolen number and his own name. All the while, that imposter paid taxes, paid into Social Security, and took out loans using the stolen Social Security Number. All of those agencies had a record of the abused SSN; none bothered to tell Steve Millet.

"You can't find out except by accident," Melody Millet said. "They are not required to notify us. No one is required to notify you. The way it sits now, our lives were ruined. We will never have again a normal financial life."

$420 billion in accounting limbo

Quantifying the problem of immigrant imposters is a challenge; neither the IRS nor the Social Security Administration has tried. But there are some solid hints suggesting hundreds of thousands of people are currently at risk, right now lending their identity to an undocumented worker.

With every paycheck, U.S. workers pay FICA taxes, destined for Social Security funds. But each year, millions of payments are made to the agency with mismatched names and numbers. The Social Security Administration has no idea who deserves credit for the taxes paid by those wage earnings -- so no one gets it. The amount of uncredited Social Security wages is now an enormous $420 billion, an amount that sits in what's called the Earnings Suspense File, an accounting limbo.

During 2002, the year with the most recent figures available, 9 million people paid taxes with mismatched names and Social Security Numbers. Some were women who had failed to notify the agency that their name changed after marriage. Some were the result of typographical errors.

But most -- between 50 and 80 percent depending on whom you talk to -- represent illegal immigrants using a stolen or manufactured Social Security number at the workplace.

The amount of money headed for the Earnings Suspense File began to skyrocket after 1986, when a new federal law required workers to produce Social Security cards to get employment.

In 2001, Social Security reports indicated 35 percent of the wages in the fund were earned by workers in California. In 2002, about 46 percent of the wages that ended up in the fund come from immigrant-heavy industries like agriculture, restaurants and other services, according to Social Security's Office of Inspector General. Both facts suggest to analysts that much of the fund is the result of payments made by undocumented immigrant workers.

What's unclear is how many of those millions of payments made by undocumented workers are made using someone else's Social Security numbers. Audits show that many are made with manufactured numbers, such as 000-00-0000. But people familiar with the data say the list would point to hundreds of thousands of identity theft victims.

‘There are strict limitations on disclosure. Can someone see if anyone else has reported earnings under their SSN? The answer would be no.’

Still, James Huse Jr., former inspector general of the Social Security Administration, said it is unlikely the agency will ever inform potential victims.

“(The list) would be a terrific source of leads for the identity remediation effort, but there are so many other compelling workloads in front of (SSA) I don't know what can they do with that today," he said. "Also, the politics of immigration get involved in this.”

A spokesman for the Social Security Administration said the agency simply couldn't disclose the information to consumers because doing so would run afoul of federal law.

"That information is considered to be tax return information, and it's governed under the Internal Revenue code," said Social Security's Mark Lassiter. "There are strict limitations on disclosure. Can someone see if anyone else has reported earnings under their Social Security number? The answer would be no."

The IRS also receives payments from mismatched names and numbers, and has access to the same no-match list created by Social Security. But according to IRS spokesman Anthony Burke, the agency doesn't check for number-name mismatches until it processes tax returns. And it does not have a mechanism for informing the rightful Social Security number holder that someone else has filed a return using that number.

When tax returns are filed with wrong Social Security numbers -- some 500,000 were filed last year -- the agency simply notifies the filer in writing. The rightful number holder isn't told, because there is no way to know why the wrong number was used, Burke said.

Credit reports don't help

How can a consumer unravel the secret life of their Social Security number? In fact, since neither the government nor private industry is speaking out, there is no way. Asking the Social Security Administration or IRS won't help.

Most consumers only discover the situation when their imposters take the next step up the economic ladder, securing credit using the stolen number. And even then, the victims may not be told unless the imposter misses a loan payment or otherwise sends creditors hunting for their money. That's because thanks to a quirk in the credit system, credit obtained by imposters using their real name but a stolen Social Security number doesn't appear on the victim's credit report.

This so-called "SSN-only" identity theft poses a unique set of problems for consumers and the nation's credit bureaus. If credit is granted by a lender, an entry is made in credit bureau files -- but not disclosed to the consumer who properly owns that number. Even when a consumer gets a copy of her credit report, such fraudulent accounts don't appear on the report. Instead, the bureaus create what are sometimes called "subfiles," which act like separate identities in their databases.

In fact, consumer credit reports obtained from the credit bureaus expressly leave off this kind of fraud. If an imposter is using a consumer's Social Security number but his own name and address to open up fraudulent accounts, a consumer-disclosed credit report won't include that information. The rightful number holder will never know.

Businesses interested in giving credit to a consumer can pay to see any activity connected to a particular Social Security number; consumers cannot.

A lender, however, might find out -- even see all the accounts an imposter has opened using a victim's Social Security number.

Millet, who has sued the credit bureaus, said her husband was denied a credit card even though his credit report was spotless, and he had a superb credit score of 700.

Businesses interested in giving credit to a consumer can pay to see any activity connected to a particular Social Security Number; consumers cannot. All three credit bureaus sell specialized services with names like "Social Search," that track the entire history of a Social Security number. The services are not available to consumers.

Privacy concerns prevent consumers from seeing a Social Security number-only report, said Equifax's David Rubinger.

"Companies that have signed agreements with us can access data like that. But we can't let every consumer see it," he said. It would be difficult for the firm to establish definitively who the rightful Social Security number holder is, he said. And there would still be potentially sticky privacy issues related to revealing the imposter's information.

Don Girard, a spokesman for Experian, acknowledged his firm had seen the problem, but said it was extremely rare.

"I can tell you we have quite a few people looking into this," he said.

Trans Union did not respond to requests for interview for this report.

'Total purgatory' for taxpayers

Frustration can mount for victims of this kind of fraud. Eventually, the government agencies involved do catch up with the legitimate consumers; but often, not until they are looking for money. Victims can have trouble getting disability or unemployment benefits, Utah's Hamp said.

Others find the Internal Revenue Service on their backs, looking for payment of back taxes for wages earned by their imposters. Some see refunds held up by the confusion; others see their wages garnished.

Trevino found herself in a financial nightmare. All those imitators made a mess out of her work history, her Social Security benefits records and her credit report. She was haunted by bills and creditors. She received threatening letters from the IRS, asking her to pay taxes on money earned by her imposters. She was told to re-pay unemployment benefits she had received, after the government discovered she was "working" while drawing benefits.

"At the time I'm thinking, 'I'm unemployed. I wish I could have at least one job, let alone all these different jobs,’" she said.

"This is total purgatory that this puts U.S. citizen taxpayers into," said Marti Dinerstein, president of Immigration Matters, a public-policy analysis firm in New York. "It's a nightmare to get it stopped. And when they do get it stopped, it is only for that particular year. The whole mess could begin anew next tax season."

But neither the Social Security Administration nor the IRS tells consumers that something unusual is happening with their Social Security numbers. It seems consumers are the last ones in on the joke.

“This is the schizophrenia of the federal government," Huse, the former Social Security inspector general said. "The Homeland Security people are screaming about the accuracy of records, and you have the IRS taking money from wherever it comes."

Mismatches go unchecked

Since the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, workers must produce a Social Security card or similar identity verification when obtaining employment. Employers are supposed to verify that the card is legitimate, but many don't.

By creating a black market for counterfeit Social Security cards, the law may have inadvertently kicked off the identity theft crisis, experts say.

"It's truly an unintended consequences of the 1986 immigration law," said Marilanne Hincapie of the National Immigration Law Center. "That’s why there is this need for comprehensive immigration reform."

For now, with the tacit approval from all involved, undocumented workers buy counterfeit cards from suppliers who steal or simply manufacture Social Security numbers.

‘You could end up at birth with a bad credit history and a work record.’

About 90 percent of the time in cases he's investigated, Utah's Hamp said, the numbers used belong to a real person. But even in the other cases, there's still harm done: the number may be issued in the future, meaning a baby may be born with a surprising financial past.

"You could end up at birth with a bad credit history and a work record," Hamp said.

The Social Security Administration has made some efforts to straighten out its records, sending letters to hundreds of thousands of businesses, asking that they follow-up on name/number mismatches.

In 2002, the agency sent 900,000 letters to companies that had workers using erroneous names or numbers. The letters confused employers and employees alike: some workers fled immediately, other employers fired workers on the spot.

Immigration rights groups objected, pointing out that inclusion in a no-match list was not an automatic indicator of illegal status. The effort did little to reduce the Earnings Suspense File or fix Social Security accounting, so the agency backed off.

Meanwhile, the IRS, which is charged with enforcing the requirement that employers collect accurate Social Security number data, has never once levied a fine against a corporation for failing to do so.

Change tied up with key policy shifts

The issue of Social Security number abuse is getting some attention as the Bush administration presses ahead on two related issues: Social Security reform and undocumented worker legalization.

The single best way to reduce the amount of entries into the Earnings Suspense File -- and remove the need for immigrant identity theft -- would be to provide a path to legal status for undocumented workers.

On the other hand, removing items from that file would actually increase future liabilities for Social Security, since more wage earners would have a claim on future Social Security payments, adding a bit of fuel for those who warn about Social Security deficits looming in the future.

As things stand, payments made by workers that land in the Earnings Suspense File -- for 2002, Social Security taxes paid on wages of $56 billion -- represent essentially free money to the system, since they come with no future payout liabilities.

In the meantime, neither the Social Security Administration nor the IRS has any public plans to attempt to notify consumers who might be sharing their identity with an undocumented worker -- or 30.

Telling the number's rightful holder that someone else is using it might create more panic then necessary, some Social Security investigators said -- and there's not a lot of good advice the agency could offer, anyway. There's little a victim could do at that point. Uncovering just who is the rightful owner of the Social Security number -- and who is the imposter -- could also pose a challenge. So would finding correct contact information for victims.

Betsy Broder, the attorney in charge of the Federal Trade Commission's efforts to combat identity theft, said more government coordination is surely needed, but she sympathized with the challenge facing the IRS and SSA.

"Of course consumers are always better off if they know how their information is being misused. But having said that, it's really complex with federal agencies," she said. "There are restrictions under the Privacy Act. You can't release to one person another person's information. And the agencies are often not in a position to know with any certainty who was the right person and who was the imposter, leading to possible problems with unauthorized disclosure of information."

The credit bureaus cite much the same concerns, indicating they simply couldn't sell Social Security number-search tools to any consumer who wants them. Even data aggregators like ChoicePoint don't sell such a product to consumers.

Millet thinks there's another motivation for agencies to not deal with the problem. Everyone except the consumer is profiting from the situation, she said. Notifying every consumer whose number is being misused by someone else would be disruptive to the American workforce, and would force government agencies to face the sticky undocumented worker problem.

"If there was no issue, the government would issue work visas to all of them," she said. "But if we gave them all their own Social Security numbers, they'd be able to compete for real wages. That's why no one is dealing with this."

Bob Sullivan is author ofYour Evil Twin: Behind the Identity Theft Epidemic.

© 2005 MSNBC Interactive

Losing Feith

While Feith's hard-line neo-conservative backers, including his mentor, former Defence Policy Board (DPB) chairman Richard Perle, insisted that his decision to leave the administration was taken solely for "personal and family reasons" -- Feith, 51, has four children at home -- as stated in the Pentagon the announcement, many analysts dismissed that explanation, citing his well-known ideological zeal.

The departure by mid-2005 of the number-three man at the Defence Department, announced by the Pentagon Wednesday, marks the latest hint that Pres. George W. Bush is moving foreign policy in a more centrist direction.

Combined with several other personnel shifts, as well as a concerted effort to reassure the public and U.S. allies abroad that last week's messianic inaugural address did not portend any dramatic new foreign-policy departures, the resignation of Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith suggests that the administration is deliberately shedding its sharper and more radical edges.

The fact that the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, John Bolton, who had hoped to be promoted to Deputy Secretary of State under Condoleezza Rice, has still not been assigned a new job has contributed to that impression.

Like Feith, Bolton, the administration's most outspoken exponent of unilateralism, has generally been regarded as an extremist on key issues, such as Iraq, the International Criminal Court (ICC), and Iran and other nuclear proliferation issues, that have wreaked havoc on U.S. ties with its European allies.

With a number of senior posts, including Feith's, still unfilled, however, it is too soon to conclude that Bush's second term will tack to the centre.

While Rice's decision to appoint Trade Representative Robert Zoellick as her deputy and to rely on career diplomats -- rather than political appointees as urged by Cheney and the neo-conservatives -- for other top spots suggests strongly that the State Department will remain a realist redoubt in Bush's second term, other key vacancies remain up in the air.

Speculation about who may replace Feith includes Bolton, I. Lewis Libby, another neo-conservative hard-liner and Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, and Richard Lawless, the more pragmatic, if hawkish, deputy assistant secretary of defence for Asia.

But Elliott Abrams, Rice's former Middle East advisor, is considered the inside pick. Although neo-conservative, Abrams is considered more flexible -- and far more diplomatic -- than either Feith or Bolton.

While Feith's hard-line neo-conservative backers, including his mentor, former Defence Policy Board (DPB) chairman Richard Perle, insisted that his decision to leave the administration was taken solely for "personal and family reasons" -- Feith, 51, has four children at home -- as stated in the Pentagon the announcement, many analysts dismissed that explanation, citing his well-known ideological zeal.

"I think they decided to get rid him of long ago but were afraid that doing so would have been seen as a tacit admission that Bush screwed up in Iraq," said one administration official who asked not to be identified.

He added that Feith's authority over policy had been gradually reduced over the past 18 months due to complaints about his performance from Congress, the uniformed military, and Washington's coalition partners in Iraq -- particularly British Prime Minister Tony Blair who, according to one source, had asked Bush to remove Feith well over a year ago.

As undersecretary, Feith played a critical role in the run-up to the Iraq war for which he was a major pre-war booster. Two offices established under his authority, the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group and the Office of Special Plans (OSP) became particularly controversial.

The former reportedly reviewed "raw intelligence" gathered by the official intelligence agencies and Iraqi exiles in order to try to establish the existence of links between Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda that could be cited by the administration in its case for going to war.

The resulting product -- which was subsequently leaked to the neo-conservative Weekly Standard -- was then "stovepiped" to Cheney's office and from there into the White House, thus circumventing review by professional analysts.

The OSP, which became the administration's lead agency for preparing both the Iraq invasion and subsequent occupation, was widely criticised for excluding regional specialists from its work, often employing outside "consultants" considered ideologically compatible with Feith's own extreme right-wing Likudist and anti-Arab views.

Many blame Washington's total failure to anticipate the Iraq's insurgency on Feith's work, although his superiors, Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, as well as Cheney's office and the White House, clearly shared the same assumptions that U.S. troops would be greeted as "liberators", rather than occupiers.

Feith's competence -- both with regard to his assumptions about the region and his strategic knowledge -- was also repeatedly questioned by the uniformed military. In Washington Post reporter Bill Woodward's book about the Iraqi war, "Plan of Attack", Lt. Gen. Tommy Franks, who was in charge of the operation, famously called Feith the "dumbest f****** guy on the planet".

As the Iraq occupation started going bad in the summer of 2003, Feith began losing influence. By that fall, Rice created an Iraq Strategy Group (ISG) based in the White House and led by Robert Blackwill to essentially wrest control of occupation policy from Feith and the Pentagon, a process that took many months.

Feith's position was also undermined last summer when it was disclosed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was investigating whether one of his analysts had given classified material -- specifically, a sensitive document on U.S. Iran policy -- to an Israeli diplomat via the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a powerful lobby group. A grand jury in the case has since been empanelled and AIPAC's offices subjected to two searches.

While Feith himself has not been implicated in the case, his close ties to Israel have long raised eyebrows, even at times within the Bush administration.

In 2003, when Feith, who was standing in for Rumsfeld at an inter-agency 'Principals' Meeting' on the Middle East, concluded his remarks on behalf of the Pentagon, according to the Washington insider newsletter, the Nelson Report, Rice said, "Thanks Doug, but when we want the Israeli position we'll invite the ambassador".

According to investigative journalist Stephen Green, Feith was summarily removed from his post as a Middle East analyst in the National Security Council under former President Ronald Reagan (1981-89), in 1983 because he had been the object of a FBI inquiry into whether he had provided classified material to an official of the Israeli embassy.

Feith, who was immediately hired by Perle when the latter was assistant secretary of defence, has long been associated with extreme views on the Arab-Israeli conflict. His former law partner, Marc Zell, has served as a spokesman for the Israeli settler movement, and he publicly and prolifically opposed the Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

In 1996, he joined with Perle and four other prominent hard-line neo-conservatives, including David Wurmser, Cheney's Middle East advisor since October 2003, as part of a study group sponsored by the Jerusalem-based Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies.

The result was a paper drafted by Wurmser and submitted to incoming Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, called "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm", which called on Israel to work "closely with Turkey and Jordan to contain, destabilise, and roll back" regional threats, strike Syrian targets in Lebanon and possibly Syria itself, and work to overthrow Saddam Hussein as the key to permanently transforming the regional balance of power and dictating peace terms to the Palestinians.

At the same time, Feith was active in several U.S. groups considered close to the Israeli far right, including the Centre for Security Policy (CSP), the Middle East Forum (MEF), OneJerusalem.org, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), and the Zionist Organisation of America.

Significantly, CSP and ZOA have expressed strong reservations about Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plans, which are strongly backed by Abrams and the White House, to remove all Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip and four from the West Bank as part of a "disengagement" process that could renew an Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Jim Lobe

This Pollyanna Army

Sidney Blumenthal: Bush will not admit that his troops are too exhausted to sustain his vengeful global missions.

The most penetrating critique of the realism informing President Bush's second inaugural address, a trumpet call of imperial ambition, was made one month before it was delivered, by Lt Gen James Helmly, chief of the US Army Reserve.

In an internal memorandum, he described "the Army Reserve's inability under current policies, procedures and practices ... to meet mission requirements associated with Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. The Army Reserve is additionally in grave danger of being unable to meet other operational requirements and is rapidly degenerating into a broken force".

These "dysfunctional" policies are producing a crisis "more acute and hurtful", as the Reserve's ability to mobilise troops is "eroding daily".

The US force in Iraq of about 150,000 troops is composed of a "volunteer" army that came into being with the end of military conscription during the Vietnam war. More than 40% are National Guard and Reserves, most having completed second tours of duty and being sent out again.

The force level has been maintained by the Pentagon only by "stop-loss" orders that coerce soldiers to remain in service after their contractual enlistment expires - a back-door draft.

Re-enlistment is collapsing, by 30% last year. The Pentagon justified this de facto conscription by telling Congress that it is merely a short-term solution that would not be necessary as Iraq quickly stabilises and an Iraqi security force fills the vacuum. But this week the Pentagon announced that the US force level would remain unchanged through 2006.

"I don't know where these troops are coming from. It's mystifying," Representative Ellen Tauscher, a ranking Democrat on the House armed services committee, told me. "There's no policy to deal with the fact we have a military in extremis."

Bush's speech calling for "ending tyranny in all the world" was of consistent abstraction uninflected by anything as specific as the actual condition of the military that would presumably be sent scurrying on various global missions.

But the speech was aflame with images of destruction and vengeance. The neoconservatives were ecstatic, perhaps as much by their influence in inserting their gnostic codewords into the speech as the dogmatism of the speech itself.

For them, Bush's rhetoric about "eternal hope that is meant to be fulfiled" was a sign of their triumph. The speech, crowed neocon William Kristol, who consulted on it, was indeed "informed by Strauss" - a reference to Leo Strauss, philosopher of obscurantist strands of absolutist thought, mentor and inspiration to some neocons who believe they fulfil his teaching by acting as tutors to politicians in need of their superior guidance.

'Informed" is hardly the precise word to account for the manipulation of Bush's impulses by cultish advisers with ulterior motives.

Even as the neocons revelled in their influence, Bush's glittering generalities, lofted on wings of hypocrisy, crashed to earth. Would we launch campaigns against tyrannical governments in Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or China?

Of course, the White House briefed reporters, Bush didn't mean his rhetoric to suggest any change in strategy.

Unfortunately for Condoleezza Rice, such levels of empty abstraction could not glide her through her Senate confirmation as secretary of state without abrasion.

With implacable rigidity, she stood by every administration decision. There was no disinformation on Saddam Hussein's development of nuclear weapons of mass destruction; any suggestion that she had been misleading in the rush to war was an attack on her personal integrity. The light military force for the invasion was just right. And it was just right now.

Contrary to Senator Joseph Biden of the foreign relations committee, who stated that there are only 14,000 trained Iraqi security forces, she insisted there are 120,000. Why, secretary of defence Rumsfeld had told her so.

Then, implicitly acknowledging the failure to create a credible Iraqi army, the Pentagon announced that the US forces would remain at the same level for the next two years. Rice's Pollyanna testimony was suddenly inoperative.

The administration has no strategy for Iraq or for the coerced American army plodding endlessly across the desert.

Representative Tauscher wonders when the House armed services committee, along with the rest of the Congress, will learn anything from the Bush administration that might be considered factual: "They are never persuaded by the facts. Nobody can tell you what their plan is and they don't feel the need to have one."

On the eve of the Iraqi election, neither the president's soaring rhetoric nor the new secretary of state's fantasy numbers touch the brutal facts on the ground.

Sidney Blumethal is former senior adviser to President Clinton and author of The Clinton Wars
© Guardian Newspapers Limited

Death Agency Chief Resigns

Planned Parenthood President Resigns
Controversial Clinics Treat 2.5 Million Each Year

NEW YORK -- The president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Gloria Feldt, has resigned, the abortion rights organization announced Thursday.

"Gloria made her decision to step down after a long 30-year career, and she has not made any announcements about her next step," federation spokeswoman Elizabeth Toledo said.

A message left for Feldt, who had been president of the organization for the past eight years, was not immediately returned.

Karen Pearl, chief executive of the Planned Parenthood of Nassau County office, will serve as interim president. A national search for a new president will begin immediately, Planned Parenthood chairwoman La Don Love said in a news release.

"We honor Gloria Feldt's contributions to Planned Parenthood and to the global movement for reproductive justice," Love said. "Her leadership has resulted in significant achievements for the organization and for women and families worldwide."

During last year's presidential election, Planned Parenthood for the first time endorsed a candidate, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., because of what Feldt called "the Bush administration's war on choice."

Under Feldt, the news release said, the nonprofit organization fought for passage of legislation in 22 states to require insurance plans to cover prescription contraceptives, protection of medical privacy and the introduction of abortion pills and emergency contraception. Feldt also was one of the lead organizers of the 2004 March for Women's Lives in Washington, D.C., which drew tens of thousands of abortion rights supporters.

The 90-year-old organization, the country's largest provider of abortions, had been a favorite target of abortion foes, whom Feldt once described as "guerrilla fighters" who resent changes that have given women more choices about sex and childbearing.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc., based in New York, has been a polarizing organization since its precursor -- a clinic in Brooklyn -- was founded in 1916 by pioneering birth control advocate Margaret Sanger. In recent years, it has been a lightning rod for protests because of its familiar name and two unswerving policies: support for abortion rights and a belief that adolescents and adults have a right to contraceptives and candid, confidential information about sex.

Its clinics treat more than 2.5 million people a year, offering contraceptives, pregnancy and breast cancer tests, gynecological exams and other services.

© 2005 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.