Ready, Fire, Aim! - Mihail's Public Blog

Monday, March 29, 2004

21M flowers a day

This Dutch spot is the world's epicenter for flowers according to this New York Times story (registration required):

...Aalsmeer, the world's largest flower auction, where every weekday 21 million cut flowers and plants are sold through a process called a Dutch clock auction. Each year, more than five billion flowers from 7,000 nurseries around the world are auctioned off and shipped all over the globe

US censors Iraqi newspaper, incites protests

Protests continued in Iraq as things get worse...as one person was quoted on CNN. Things will get even worse before they get better. Great, just what we need. More chaos and violence. According to this New York Times story (registration required), this newspaper was supposedly publishing lies but instead of countering those lies the US just shut the place down.

"That paper might have been anti-American, but it should be free to express its opinion," said Kamal Abdul Karim, night editor of the daily Azzaman.

Omar Jassem, a freelance reporter, said he thought that democracy meant many viewpoints and many newspapers. "I guess this is the Bush edition of democracy," he said.

Tom Rosenstiel, vice chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, said there was a basic irony in Americans' practicing censorship in Iraq.

"If you're trying to promote democracy in a country that has never had it, you have to lead by example," Mr. Rosenstiel said. "I'm not in Iraq. But it's hard for me to see how the suppression of information, even false information, is going to help our cause."

Condi Rice on 60 Minutes, Richard Clarke on Meet the Press

Condi Rice on 60 Minutes yesterday evening did nothing to dispel the accusations made by Richard Clarke, George W.'s anti-terrorism guy in the early days, who's book Against All Enemies is #1 on Amazon.com. According to this New York Times story (registration required):

In his new book, "Against All Enemies," Mr. Clarke recounts that the president pulled him and several other aides into the White House Situation Room on the evening of Sept. 12, 2001, and instructed them "to go back over everything, everything. See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in any way."

Mr. Clarke was incredulous, he said in the book. "But, Mr. President, Al Qaeda did this," he said he responded.

Mr. Bush answered: "I know, I know, but . . . see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred," according to Mr. Clarke's account. Mr. Clarke added in later interviews that he felt he was being intimidated to find a link between the attacks and Iraq.

Last week, the White House said it had no record that Mr. Bush had even been in the Situation Room that day and said the president had no recollection of such a conversation. Although administration officials stopped short of denying the account, they used it to cast doubt on Mr. Clarke's credibility as they sought to debunk the charge that the administration played down the threat posed by Al Qaeda in the months before the Sept. 11 attacks and worried instead about Iraq.

And, Richard Clarke on Meet the Press this weekend echoed top Republican leaders' desire to make public a 2002 congressional testimony he gave:

He said declassifying his testimony — as well as other memorandums and materials from Ms. Rice and the administration — would show he had long complained that the Bush administration failed to take aggressive action against Al Qaeda before the Sept. 11 attacks.

In particular, he urged the administration to make public a memorandum on counterterrorism initiatives that he wrote just days after Mr. Bush took office, as well as a counterterrorism plan that the White House ultimately approved more than seven months later, a week before the attacks.

"Let's see if there's any difference between those two, because there isn't," he said. "And what we'll see when we declassify what they were given on Jan. 25 and what they finally agreed to on Sept. 4 is that they are basically the same thing, and they wasted months when we could have had some action."

And the 9/11 Commission members continued to press Rice to testify publicly in front of it:

Ms. Rice "has appeared everywhere except my local Starbucks," Richard Ben-Veniste, a member of the commission, said in an interview. "For the White House to continue to refuse to make her available simply does not make sense."

Saturday, March 27, 2004

600 soliders dead a laughing matter for George Bush?

George W. does it again. He made the following comments at the Washington Correspondents Dinner which made light of whether or not there will be any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Yes, that Dinner is all about making fun of yourself but we're at war here. This has been a matter of life and death of the hundred thousand plus soldiers in Iraq, and to make light of the reasons why almost 600 of them have sacrificied their lives is not appropriate. Just to get a few cheap laughs. Either we're at war and this is a serious matter, or it is just fun and games.

Here is a transcript from the New York Times of an interview that Charlie Gibson did with Terry McAuliffe, DNC chairman, and Ed Gillespie, RNC chairman on Good Morning America:

GIBSON: Let me go to the issue that we mentioned at the top of the show, the president joking about weapons of mass destruction. His comments at a dinner the other night. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Those weapons of mass destruction got to be somewhere. (LAUGHTER) (END VIDEO CLIP)

GIBSON: Ed Gillespie, the Democrats saying he cheapens the reason that he called people to war.

GILLESPIE: Charlie, you know, the Democrats, they will go after anything. The fact is, you can hear the laughter in the room. You've been to those dinners, Terry has been to those dinners, I've been to those dinners. There is a long-standing tradition of the president making light of serious matters and self-deprecating humor. And it's unfortunate to see...

GIBSON: But this one was war, Ed. This one was war.

GILLESPIE: I understand, Charlie. And the fact is that this is the custom in these things, and presidents have made jokes about very serious matters at these dinners. You can hear the laughter. The people in the room obviously saw the humor in it at that moment. And to play it back now in a different context is unfair, frankly, I have to say.

GIBSON: Terry McAuliffe, we do always laugh at those dinners, joke at those dinners in Washington.

MCAULIFFE: I agree with you, Charlie, this was about war. It's inappropriate to the thousands of people obviously who have been wounded over there, the soldiers we have today. This is a very serious issue. We've lost hundreds of troops, as you know, over there. Let's not be laughing about not being able to find weapons of mass destruction.

GILLESPIE: Look, Charlie...

MCAULIFFE: Let me finish, Ed, because you were talking. I will finish. There are a lot of legitimate questions about this president, how he misled the American public on the issue of weapons of mass destruction. He told America that they had weapons of mass destruction, Dick Cheney said it, Secretary Rumsfeld. They're not there. That is the issue. And we should not to it to a new step to make fun of the situation. We have troops, there are boots on the ground today in Iraq. We need to make sure that we're doing what we can to protect those troops. We certainly should not be making light of the situation. We've just lost several soldiers this week. There is nothing funny about it. But once again, the president has gone over the line.

And this Salon.com story includes a statement from John Kerry on this:

Democratic candidate John Kerry's campaign said in a statement Thursday, ``If George Bush thinks his deceptive rationale for going to war is a laughing matter, then he's even more out of touch than we thought.''

Friday, March 26, 2004

Online and very honest

An interesting New York Times essay on how our behaviour changes online especially when it comes to telling the truth....we may become more honest!

Still, it's not only the fear of electronic exposure that drives us to tell the truth. There's something about the Internet that encourages us to spill our guts, often in rather outrageous ways. Psychologists have noticed for years that going online seems to have a catalytic effect on people's personalities. The most quiet and reserved people may become deranged loudmouths when they sit behind the keyboard, staying up until dawn and conducting angry debates on discussion boards with total strangers. You can usually spot the newbies in any discussion group because they're the ones WRITING IN ALL CAPS -- they're tripped out on the Internet's heady combination of geographic distance and pseudo-invisibility.

One group of psychologists found that heated arguments -- so-called flame-war fights, admittedly a rather fuzzy category -- were far more common in online discussion boards than in comparable face-to-face communications. Another researcher, an Open University U.K. psychologist named Adam Joinson, conducted an experiment in which his subjects chatted online and off. He found that when people communicated online, they were more likely to offer up personal details about themselves without any prompting. Joinson also notes that the Samaritans, a British crisis-line organization, has found that 50 percent of those who write in via e-mail express suicidal feelings, compared with only 20 percent of those who call in. This isn't because Net users are more suicidally depressed than people offline. It's just that they're more comfortable talking about it -- ''disinhibited,'' as the mental-health profession would say.

Who knew? When the government created the Internet 30 years ago, it thought it was building a military tool. The Net was supposed to help the nation survive a nuclear attack. Instead, it has become a vast arena for collective therapy -- for a mass outpouring of what we're thinking and feeling. I spend about an hour every day visiting blogs, those lippy Web sites where everyone wants to be a pundit and a memoirist. (Then I spend another hour writing my own blog and adding to the cacophony.) Stripped of our bodies, it seems, we become creatures of pure opinion.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

White House attack dogs out of control?

This is thanks to Andrew Tobias' blog which quotes the Floor Statement of Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle on the Administration Attacking Good People for Telling the Truth on March 23, 2004.

I believe the bold text is Andy Tobias highlighting certain important things in Daschle's statement. FYI, Andy is the well-known financial writer, Harvard grad and DNC Treasurer. Hope the Unity Dinner tonight raised $10M+ for the DNC!

I'm glad someone has brought this up since the news media doesn't seem to each time yet another former White House ally who speaks out becomes a "disgruntled employee" or they accuse the person of simply lying to peddle their book. People previously respected and employed by this White House are suddenly inept and liars. Incredible!

So back to Tom Daschle's statement on the floor:

I want to talk this morning about a disturbing pattern of conduct by the people around President Bush. They seem to be willing to do anything for political purposes, regardless of the facts and regardless of what's right.

I don't have the time this morning to talk in detail about all the incidents that come to mind.  Larry Lindsay, for instance, seems to have been fired as the President's Economic Advisor because he spoke honestly about the costs of the Iraq War.  General Shinseki seems to have become a target when he spoke honestly about the number of troops that would be needed in
Iraq
.

There are many others, who are less well known, who have also faced consequences for speaking out.  U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers was suspended from her job when she disclosed budget problems that our nation's parks are less safe, and Professor Elizabeth Blackburn was replaced on the Council on Bioethics because of her scientific views on stem-cell research.

Each of these examples deserves examination, but they are not my focus today.

Instead, I want to talk briefly about four other incidents that are deeply troubling.

When former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill stepped forward to criticize the Bush Administration's
Iraq
policy, he was immediately ridiculed by the people around the President and his credibility was attacked.  Even worse, the Administration launched a government investigation to see if Secretary O'Neill improperly disclosed classified documents.  He was, of course, exonerated, but the message was clear.  If you speak freely, there will be consequences.

Ambassador Joseph Wilson also learned that lesson.  Ambassador Wilson, who by all accounts served bravely under President Bush in the early 1990s, felt a responsibility to speak out on President Bush's false State of the Union statement on
Niger and uranium.  When he did, the people around the President quickly retaliated.  Within weeks of debunking the President's claim, Ambassador Wilson's wife was the target of a despicable act.

Her identity as a deep-cover CIA agent was revealed to Bob Novak, a syndicated columnist, and was printed in newspapers around the country.  That was the first time in our history, I believe, that the identity and safety of a CIA agent was disclosed for purely political purposes.  It was an unconscionable and intolerable act.

Around the same time Bush Administration officials were endangering Ambassador Wilson's wife, they appear to have been threatening another federal employee for trying to do his job.  In recent weeks Richard Foster, an actuary for the Department of Health and Human Services, has revealed that he was told he would be fired if he told Congress and the American people the real costs of last year's Medicare bill.

Mr. Foster, in an e-mail he wrote on June 26 of last year, said the whole episode had been "pretty nightmarish."  He wrote: "I'm no longer in grave danger of being fired, but there remains a strong likelihood that I will have to resign in protest of the withholding of important technical information from key policymakers for political purposes."

Think about those words.  He would lose his job if he did his job. If he provided the information the Congress and the American people deserved and were entitled to, he would lose his job.  When did this become the standard for our government?  When did we become a government of intimidation?

And now, in today's newspapers, we see the latest example of how the people around the President react when faced with facts they want to avoid.

The White House's former lead counter-terrorism advisor, Richard Clarke, is under fierce attack for questioning the White House's record on combating terrorism. Mr. Clarke has served in four White Houses, beginning with Ronald Reagan's Administration, and earned an impeccable record for his work.

Now the White House seeks to destroy his reputation.  The people around the President aren't answering his allegations; instead, they are trying to use the same tactics they used with Paul O'Neill.  They are trying to ridicule Mr. Clarke and destroy his credibility, and create any diversion possible to focus attention away from his serious allegations.

The purpose of government isn't to make the President look good.  It isn't to produce propaganda or misleading information.  It is, instead, to do its best for the American people and to be accountable to the American people.   The people around the President don't seem to believe that.  They have crossed a line–perhaps several lines–that no government ought to cross.

We shouldn't fire or demean people for telling the truth.  We shouldn't reveal the names of law enforcement officials for political gain.  And we shouldn't try to destroy people who are out to make country safer.

I think the people around the President have crossed into dangerous territory.  We are seeing abuses of power that cannot be tolerated.

The President needs to put a stop to it, right now.  We need to get to the truth, and the President needs to help us do that.

Old but not offline!

Americans over 65 are the fastest group adopting the Internet (since everyone else is already on there!) according to this New York Times story (registration required):

According to a new study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a research organization in Washington, the ranks of Americans over 65 who use the Internet have jumped by 47 percent since 2000, making them the fastest-growing group to embrace the online world.

Despite the increases, this age group still has a long way to go. Only 22 percent of Americans over 65 go online, the study shows, compared with 75 percent of those ages 30 to 49. But as Americans who are more comfortable with computers gradually reach the age of 65, the percentage going online (or more precisely, staying online) should soar.

Power users read newspapers online

"Power users" tend to read newspapers online according to a MORI 2002 study for NAA according to this Presstime story:

MORI recently updated this study and found that 88 percent of power users are employed, 84 percent recently shopped online and 22 percent recently paid for online content, said Coats. They spend 19 hours a week online and spent an average of $900 online in the last six months. Their median age is 38, compared to 54, the median age of newspaper subscribers (for more information on power users, see p. 10).

"If we are looking to expand our franchise, we're already reaching a younger audience" with online newspapers, said Coats. Yet, 71 percent read a newspaper in the last week. "They still use the local paper as source of advertising," Coats said.

The best Google tips

David Pogue in the New York Times on the best Google tips from Google insiders:

This Sunday morning, "CBS News Sunday Morning" will begin with my report on Google, the Web search page-slash-cultural deity that's expected to go public this Spring--the biggest in high-tech history, with a valuation as high as $25 billion.

It was a real kick to interview Google's executives and staff. Along the way, I asked each interview subject to name their favorite Google tips and tricks.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Salon expose: a published writer's struggle to stay in the game

A tell-all depressing Salon story (subscription or free day-pass required) about the plight of a midlist published writer with advance and book sale numbers and any other detail you wanted to know as a published writer-to-be:

There was a time when my life as a writer overrode my innate cynicism and doubt, moved me to tell my young daughter, cornball as it seemed even then, that dreams do come true, if you really want them to. Because what is a book made of, if not the spun sugar of a writer's wildest dreams?

"Does it ever get better?" I asked Patty, my most successful writer friend, recounting my midlist author's tale of woe.

"Not substantially," she answered. "My books sell well now, but I never stop wondering what'll happen to me when they don't."

"So why do we bother?" I moaned.

"Because this is the thing we do best," she said simply. "What else would we do?"

Ads coming to online radio

Now that enough people are listening to radio on their PCs, ads are soon going to come to the online channel of your choice according to this New York Times story (registration required):

According to a report by Arbitron, a media ratings service, 20 million Americans aged 12 and older listen to Webcasts at least once a week, and about 39 million do so at least once a month.

...Yahoo's radio service, Launch, reached 1.05 million listeners for that week. It offers 50 stations, with another 80 available for a monthly fee of $4. Yahoo's users have also created more than 10 million custom stations in two years.

...Yahoo's vice president for music, Dave Goldberg, said that based on the current number of Yahoo listeners and the average price attracted for terrestrial radio ads - about $5 per thousand listeners reached - the potential revenue is roughly $2.4 million a month. "So it's a big enough business for us to worry about how to sell it," Mr. Goldberg said.

Who the hell is Karen Ryan?

An interesting Columbia Journalism Review story on March 18, 2004 on the Bush administration's use of a hired PR gun claiming to be a journalist in an effort to convince Americans that the Medicare law really is really,r eally good.

As the New York Times first reported Monday, Ryan appears in a number of video news releases made on behalf of the Health and Human Services Department, which tout the controversial new Medicare law and its supposed benefits. The videos -- which end with the voice of a woman signing off, "In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting." -- ran as news on various local TV stations. (To read the full transcript of one of the "news segments" that ran on WBRZ Baton Rouge, go here.)

HHS spokesman Bill Pierce originally described Ryan to us as a "freelance journalist." Pierce at first wouldn't let us speak to Ryan, saying that she was feeling "used and abused" by media accounts calling her an actress. (Perhaps Pierce was referring to an editorial in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, headed "Karen Ryan, You're a Phony," which called her not just an actress but a "hired propagandist".)

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

MLB.com to go public at $1B valuation?

The online company behind MLB.com which is jointly owned by all 30 Major League Baseball teams who've invested about $70M in the venture since it was created in 2000, could go public at a valuation of $1B or more according to this New York Times story.

One indication of the success and increased value of M.L.B. Advanced Media is yesterday's announcement that Microsoft's MSN.com site, which reaches 350 million users monthly, will carry various MLB.com audio and video products, for what is estimated to be $40 million over two years. In a separate deal, the baseball company will also be paid $9 million over two years by AOL for some of MLB.com's offerings, including games on audio.

Despite the rapid popularity of MLB.com — which is heavy with statistics, news, photos, video and merchandise — the valuation of at least $1 billion was a surprise to David Card, an analyst for Jupiter Research, which specializes in online and emerging media analysis.

"That smacks of the Internet bubble," he said. "It seems excessive."

MLB.com is not the leading sports site but it has managed to sell a significant number of subscriptions at $14.95 and higher.

According to comScore Media Metrix, which measures traffic to Internet sites, MLB.com was visited by 7.9 million users last July, its peak for 2003. The N.F.L.'s recent peak of 13.9 million (an aggregate of NFL.com and all the team sites) was reached last December. ESPN.com was the undisputed leader, which had 17.5 million visitors last September.

Between 2001 and 2003, MLB.com expanded to offer subscriptions to those who want to listen to radio broadcasts online, or watch live broadcasts. MLB.TV costs $14.95 a month, or $79.95 for the season, and GameDay Audio will cost $14.95 this season, down from $19.95. The company said that it signed up about 500,000 paying subscribers last season for its various products.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Record increase in broadband subscribers, San Diego on top

According to this Wall Street Journal story (subscription required). The numbers aren't adding up for me for the total but it is somewhere between 22M and 25M. That's pretty amazing considering there were only 10.7M broadband subscribers at the end of 2001. When you experience broadband at work or in your favorite cafe (using a WiFi connection like Tmobile's in Starbucks across the country) it is very, very hard to go back to dial-up. Our only requirement when we moved to our new house was that our Comcast broadband cable be up and running no later than 24 hours!

Americans hooked up to faster Internet connections at a record pace in 2003, with the twenty largest U.S. cable and digital-subscriber-line providers adding a combined 7.4 million high-speed Internet subscribers during the year, according to Leichtman Research Group. Customers continued to show their preference for cable over DSL as the means of high-speed hookup: At the end of 2003, the top cable providers held 63% of the overall market and accounted for over 15.5 million subscribers, compared with 9.1 million for DSL.

And, according to this BizReport story San Diego is the first city to have more broadband users than dial-up, with San Francisco/Oakland lagging behind at 44%. Silicon Valley didn't make it to the list. And in comparison Albuquerque/Santa Fe was at the lowest level with only 24% connecting via broadband.

Reviewing the top US markets with broadband connectivity, comScore finds that in San Diego, more Net users are making broadband connections (52%) than narrowband while in Boston the split is 50% broadband, 50% narrowband. Meanwhile, in New York and Providence, RI, just under 50% of Net users are using high-speed.

Friday, March 19, 2004

556 American soldiers down: a photo memorial

A year later, compared to the uncounted thousands of Iraqi civilians who're now dead thanks to this war, there are almost 600 US solidiers who've diead (each and every one counted...although not allowed to be filmed coming home since that would distract from George W. Bush's re-election campaign).

You can see in this San Francisco Chronicle photo memorial that these soliders are barely kids. But all are definitely dead as a result of George W. Bush's "stubborn leadership". The kind of leadership that doesn't analyze the facts nor faces the truth.

On May 2, after a lightning-quick sweep through Iraq, President Bush declared that major combat was over. This country's vaunted armed forces had made short work of the Iraqi military.

But the president's proclamation didn't stop the fatalities, which as of Thursday included 556 American troops. More than 415 of them lost their lives after Bush declared that the major fighting was finished.

$5,000 for your wife and kids

The uncounted thousands who're now dead thanks to the US occupation of Iraq will remain that way. Although the US is compensating their families ($5,000 for one man who saw his wife and three kids die as their house burned to the ground after a US missile struck it) according to this New York Times story (registration required):

It has been nearly a year since the war in Iraq started but American military commanders are just now reckoning with the volume of civilian casualties streaming in for assistance. Twice a week, at a center in Baghdad, masses of grief-weary Iraqis line up, some on crutches, some disfigured, some clutching photographs of smashed houses and silenced children, all ready to file a claim for money or medical treatment. It is part of a compensation process devised for this war.

Outside the room where the captain was saying he was sorry, a long line of people waited. One was Ayad Bressem, a 12-year-old boy scorched by a cluster bomb. His face is covered by ugly blue freckles. Children call him "Mr. Gunpowder."

"I just want something," the burned boy said.

"Come back later," a guard told him. "You'll get some money. But we're busy."

Military officials say they do not have precise figures or even estimates of the number of noncombatant Iraqis killed and wounded by American-led forces in Iraq.

"We don't keep a list," said a Pentagon spokeswoman, Lt. Cmdr. Jane Campbell. "It's just not policy."

But nonprofit groups in Iraq and the United States say there were thousands of civilian casualties. According to Civic, a nonprofit organization that has surveyed Iraqi hospitals, burial societies and hundreds of families, more than 5,000 civilians were killed between March 20, when the war started, and May 1, when major combat operations ended. "It says a lot that the military doesn't even keep track of these things," said Marla Ruzicka, Civic's founder.

CNET acquires Esther Dyson venture

Esther Dyson's EDventure Holdings -- which publishes Release 1.0 and just held its widely-respected annual PC Forum (which I think stands for Platforms for Communication and not Personal Computer!) -- has been acquired by CNET for an undisclosed amount of cash and stock according to this Wall Street Journal story (subscription required):

EDventure, of New York, publishes the Release 1.0 technology newsletter and holds executive conferences. Ms. Dyson, who served as founding chairman of Net-regulatory body Internet Corp. for Assigned Names & Numbers (Icann), will become editor-at-large of CNET's Business Technology division.

CNET, of San Francisco, said the acquisition advances its growth strategy by adding Ms. Dyson's "thought leadership and analytical prowess" to the company's editorial team, and adds to its stable of tech brands, which include News.com, ZDNet and TechRepublic.

TiVo inspires Apple users' cult-like feelings

The people who get it, can't live without it. But others don't seem to care. We bought TiVo last year but then returned it soon after because the picture quality on our plasma degraded even further when we added TiVo to the mix. Maybe once HDTV is available on all channels and TiVo has had a chance to further evolve its service? Or maybe once Comcast releases its TiVo-like services this Spring. And getting a refund for the monthly service from TiVo was a nightmare at first. According to this New York Times story (registration required):

While the recorders are also available from ReplayTV, Dish Network and some cable providers, it is the TiVo name that has become synonymous with the technology. TiVo has been paid perhaps the ultimate consumer compliment: it has become a verb. As in, "Did you TiVo the Oscar show? I missed it," or "I've TiVoed every episode of 'The Avengers' ever made."

Owners of digital video recorders are still a relatively small niche. Adi Kishore of the Yankee Group, a research firm, estimates that there are fewer than 3.5 million of the devices in the United States, scattered among about 108 million households with televisions. (That figure does not include a relatively small number of consumers who with special hardware and software have turned their PC's into video recorders.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

A picture of power

Possibly a first. A very interesting story and graphic of the office assignments at the Bush White House according to this Washington Post exclusive based on reporter tours of the West Wing. Note Condoleeza Rice's corner office near the President's office and Karl Rove (the so-called "Bush's Brains") upstairs.

Former White House officials are big business

Ex-officials from the George W. Bush White House are especially in demand these days as people hope to gain some insights in this election year. According to this New York Times story (registration required):

How's business? "Excellent," said Bernie Swain, chief executive of the Washington Speakers Bureau, based in Alexandria, Va., whose roster of 140 speakers includes Mr. Fleischer, former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York and former Secretaries of State Madeleine K. Albright and James A. Baker III. Mr. Swain's company estimated that speakers last year brought in $80 million, of which it took 20 percent to 30 percent in commissions.

"In the pecking order, audiences are looking for celebrity," said Don Walker, head of the Harry Walker Agency, which represents Mr. Clinton, former President Gerald R. Ford and, until recently, the first President Bush. Mr. Walker's high-wattage lineup also includes world leaders like former Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan.

The top draw on the speaking circuit remains Mr. Clinton, who earned more than $18 million in the last two years for speeches from $100,000 to $400,000 each, according to financial disclosure statements of his wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Mr. Giuliani estimated in his 2002 divorce filing that he expected to earn $8 million annually from speeches. Former President George Bush, who now acts as his own agent, gives several speeches a year at undisclosed fees, mainly for the Carlyle Group, an investment firm with military contracts that also recently paid to hear General Franks.

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