"no one would remember anything about the 106th Congress except its failure to warn the nation about the risks of the year-2000 computer bug"

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Link, with reader comments, dated Sept 2 <:0=

Will the current Congress be remembered for its $792-billion tax cut? Not a chance, says veteran journalist Arnaud de Borchgrave. In August, de Borchgrave told a national radio audience that no one would remember anything about the 106th Congress except its failure to warn the nation about the risks of the year-2000 computer bug.

De Borchgrave spent 25 years as a senior editor at Newsweek before becoming editor of the Washington Times and then president/CEO of United Press International. He also has been associated with the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Georgetown University, where he has been vice chairman of the Y2K Risk Assessment Task Force.

He is not the sort of Y2K alarmist who sees the U.S. electrical grid failing at midnight, Jan. 1, 2000, and the rest of our technological systems failing in rapid succession. But he argues that the United States will, over a period of time, suffer collateral damage from the breakdown of outdated, uncorrected computer systems in other countries and the introduction of destructive viruses through the Internet. "It is not a question of one thing going wrong," De Borchgrave says on the task force's Web site. "It is a question of tens of thousands of things going wrong."

Contemplating the events at year's end is doubly fascinating because the year 2000, whatever else it brings, will bring a U.S. election. And if the computer problems associated with the new year are truly disruptive on a meaningful scale, it seems likely the voters will want someone to blame.

The roosters and the owls

One scholar of millennial history already has divided the "Y2K community" into two camps: roosters and owls. The roosters strut the barnyard warning everyone to wake up; the owls, older and wiser, occupy a higher perch and hoot down the whole notion.

Whichever bird you fly with, the Y2K issue is getting harder to flee. It is not just an Internet issue now; it is on cable TV. That means it is only a matter of time before broadcast TV boards the bandwagon. And the major newspapers have been there for months.

The key word in de Borchgrave's woeful scenario is "interconnectivity." Computers and the Internet have created a networked world, susceptible by nature to failure or infection at any point. The economies with which we become interdependent become members of our own body economic

It is not just a question of changing the date fields to accommodate four digits instead of two. Some computer experts believe that a variety of viruses (like the Melissa or the Chernobyl strains) have been developed and keyed to activate at year's end. Such viruses already may have been widely disseminated via e-mail or other forms of Internet communication.

This particular vision of year-2000 exposure is not quite the stuff of survivalist nightmares. It lacks the lurid element found elsewhere in Y2K literature, the conjuring of cold and hungry mobs rioting in the streets and the overlay of apocalyptic religion.

But even the more modulated roosters such as de Borchgrave convey some of the dark, portentous warnings so common on Y2K Web sites. And as the Big Night nears, we can expect to see and hear lots more of the same in all media and at all levels of cultural sophistication. De Borchgrave's political point is that officeholders will pay dearly for their reluctance to address Y2K to date.

'I did NOT invent the Internet!'

The problem has been too vague and hypothetical to intrude on the typical lawmaker's agenda. Yes, legislation was developed to protect businesses from excessive Y2K lawsuits. Lots of lawmakers co-sponsored such bills and held fundraising events the week they came to the floor. But then even that bill bogged down in uncertainty about how it would look to the voters when and if bad things happened.

Government panels also have been in place for many months, assessing the state of Y2K preparation in the public and private sectors alike. But in a sense, these precautions scarcely matter. For whatever levels of compliance are achieved in officialdom and the corporate bureaucracy, doubters still see the onslaught of disruptions washing over the dikes.

De Borchgrave maintains that no politician now in office can hope to escape some degree of blame for the fiasco, which may be far worse, farther reaching and longer lasting than most expect. If even only a fraction of the predicted upheavals actually happen, Vice President Al Gore will wish he had never even thought about inventing the Internet.

Some other presidential candidates also may wish they had not bound themselves so closely to the high-tech vision of the future. Silicon Valley has been nirvana for the fund raisers of the 1990s. The industry has proven itself a fine financial friend to both Gore and his Democratic rival, former Sen. Bill Bradley. And that is not to mention the lavish support the sector has given to the GOP's runaway front-runner, George W. Bush, the best friend high-tech Texas has had in Austin to date.

By contrast, some of the other Republican candidates for president might be able to benefit from Y2K confusion. Pat Buchanan long has said the United States was laying bare its defenses by taking its economy global. If much of the world is bedeviled by computer problems, Buchanan's "America First" theme will resonate as rarely before.

The next crisis: Y2.1K?

On the congressional front, Y2K problems could provide a national theme that would override the usual local preoccupations. The institution may lack a convenient symbol of computer dependence: The laptop-loving Newt Gingrich has resigned and, it is hard to think of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) as high tech. Still, challengers would have an ideal issue with which to depict incumbents as out of touch.

In the end, the owls may have it right, and the roosters may be silenced. But what will the Y2K doomsayers do if the banks function, the power stays on and no one gets even an extra day off out of it all?

Many probably will find a new cause for alarm. They need to have a special degree of knowledge about what is going on in the world or what may soon happen. It does not matter if others fail to understand or accept this special knowledge. In some ways, that just makes it more special.

-- Sysman (y2kboard@yahoo.com), September 03, 1999


The y2k aware preparers get trashed again. The "wise owl" hoots down the whole notion.

And then he goes on to discuss the very real problems that are coming- mainly from the aspect of placing blame.

What's wrong with this picture? It is breeding resentment in advance- since I prepared and will be OK, I must have been a Rooster and I will be blamed.

These Owls will then become Buzzards waiting to feast on my carcass.

-- Forrest Covington (theforrest@mindspring.com), September 03, 1999.


I can't agree. The problem was not with 106, but with 104 and 105. Another problem with numbers. But it is a problem that will change my vote.

Best wishes,

-- Z1X4Y7 (Z1X4Y7@aol.com), September 03, 1999.

Owls are viscious predators preying on hapless mice in the dark.

Roosters are fathers, protectors, providers and gardeners.

-- R (riversoma@aol.com), September 03, 1999.

The CODE Is The Enemy

-- Ashton & Leska in Cascadia (allaha@earthlink.net), September 03, 1999.

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