Friday, October 24, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Monday, October 20, 2008
Sunday, October 19, 2008
(With Credit to the authors.)
BLOCK THE VOTE
Will the GOP's campaign to deter new voters and discard Democratic ballots determine the next president?
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. & Greg Palast, Rolling Stone, Oct 30, 2008
These days, the old west rail hub of Las Vegas, New Mexico, is little more than a dusty economic dead zone amid a boneyard of bare mesas. In national elections, the town overwhelmingly votes Democratic: More than 80 percent of all residents are Hispanic, and one in four lives below the poverty line. On February 5th, the day of the Super Tuesday caucus, a school-bus driver named Paul Maez arrived at his local polling station to cast his ballot. To his surprise, Maez found that his name had vanished from the list of registered voters, thanks to a statewide effort to deter fraudulent voting. For Maez, the shock was especially acute: He is the supervisor of elections in Las Vegas.
Maez was not alone in being denied his right to vote. On Super Tuesday, one in nine Democrats who tried to cast ballots in New Mexico found their names missing from the registration lists. The numbers were even higher in precincts like Las Vegas, where nearly 20 percent of the county's voters were absent from the rolls. With their status in limbo, the voters were forced to cast "provisional" ballots, which can be reviewed and discarded by election officials without explanation. On Super Tuesday, more than half of all provisional ballots cast were thrown out statewide.
This November, what happened to Maez will happen to hundreds of thousands of voters across the country. In state after state, Republican operatives - the party's elite commandos of bare-knuckle politics - are wielding new federal legislation to systematically disenfranchise Democrats. If this year's race is as close as the past two elections, the GOP's nationwide campaign could be large enough to determine the presidency in November. "I don't think the Democrats get it," says John Boyd, a voting-rights attorney in Albuquerque who has taken on the Republican Party for impeding access to the ballot. "All these new rules and games are turning voting into an obstacle course that could flip the vote to the GOP in half a dozen states."
Suppressing the vote has long been a cornerstone of the GOP's electoral strategy. Shortly before the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, Paul Weyrich - a principal architect of today's Republican Party - scolded evangelicals who believed in democracy. "Many of our Christians have what I call the 'goo goo' syndrome - good government," said Weyrich, who co-founded Moral Majority with Jerry Falwell. "They want everybody to vote. I don't want everybody to vote. . . . As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."
Today, Weyrich's vision has become a national reality. Since 2003, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, at least 2.7 million new voters have had their applications to register rejected. In addition, at least 1.6 million votes were never counted in the 2004 election - and the commission's own data suggests that the real number could be twice as high. To purge registration rolls and discard ballots, partisan election officials used a wide range of pretexts, from "unreadability" to changes in a voter's signature. And this year, thanks to new provisions of the Help America Vote Act, the number of discounted votes could surge even higher.
Passed in 2002, HAVA was hailed by leaders in both parties as a reform designed to avoid a repeat of the 2000 debacle in Florida that threw the presidential election to the U.S. Supreme Court. The measure set standards for voting systems, created an independent commission to oversee elections, and ordered states to provide provisional ballots to voters whose eligibility is challenged at the polls.
But from the start, HAVA was corrupted by the involvement of Republican superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, who worked to cram the bill with favors for his clients. (Both Abramoff and a primary author of HAVA, former Rep. Bob Ney, were imprisoned for their role in the conspiracy.) In practice, many of the "reforms" created by HAVA have actually made it harder for citizens to cast a ballot and have their vote counted. In case after case, Republican election officials at the local and state level have used the rules to give GOP candidates an edge on Election Day by creating new barriers to registration, purging legitimate names from voter rolls, challenging voters at the polls and discarding valid ballots.
To justify this battery of new voting impediments, Republicans cite an alleged upsurge in voting fraud. Indeed, the U.S.-attorney scandal that resulted in the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales began when the White House fired federal prosecutors who resisted political pressure to drum up nonexistent cases of voting fraud against Democrats. "They wanted some splashy pre-election indictments that would scare these alleged hordes of illegal voters away," says David Iglesias, a U.S. attorney for New Mexico who was fired in December 2006. "We took over 100 complaints and investigated for almost two years - but I didn't find one prosecutable case of voter fraud in the entire state of New Mexico."
There's a reason Iglesias couldn't find any evidence of fraud: Individual voters almost never try to cast illegal ballots. The Bush administration's main point person on "ballot protection" has been Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department attorney who has advised states on how to use HAVA to erect more barriers to voting. Appointed to the Federal Election Commission by Bush, von Spakovsky has suggested that voter rolls may be stuffed with 5 million illegal aliens. In fact, studies have repeatedly shown that voter fraud is extremely rare. According to a recent analysis by Lorraine Minnite, an expert on voting crime at Barnard College, federal courts found only 24 voters guilty of fraud from 2002 to 2005, out of hundreds of millions of votes cast. "The claim of widespread voter fraud," Minnite says, "is itself a fraud."
Allegations of voter fraud are only the latest rationale the GOP has used to disenfranchise voters - especially blacks, Hispanics and others who traditionally support Democrats. "The Republicans have a long history of erecting barriers to discourage Americans from voting," says Donna Brazile, chair of the Voting Rights Institute for the Democratic National Committee. "Now they're trying to spook Americans with the ghost of voter fraud. It's very effective - but it's ironic that the only way they maintain power is by using fear to deprive Americans of their constitutional right to vote." The recently enacted barriers thrown up to deter voters include:
1. Obstructing Voter-Registration Drives
Since 2004, the Bush administration and more than a dozen states have taken steps to impede voter registration. Among the worst offenders is Florida, where the Republican-dominated legislature created hefty fines - up to $5,000 per violation - for groups that fail to meet deadlines for turning in voter-application forms. Facing potentially huge penalties for trivial administrative errors, the League of Women Voters abandoned its voter-registration drives in Florida. A court order eventually forced the legislature to reduce the maximum penalty to $1,000. But even so, said former League president Dianne Wheatley-Giliotti, the reduced fines "create an unfair tax on democracy." The state has also failed to uphold a federal law requiring that low-income voters be offered an opportunity to register when they apply for food stamps or other public assistance. As a result, the annual number of such registrations has plummeted from more than 120,000 in the Clinton years to barely 10,000 today.
2. Demanding "Perfect Matches"
Under the Help America Vote Act, some states now reject first-time registrants whose data does not correspond to information in other government databases. Spurred by HAVA, almost every state must now attempt to make some kind of match - and four states, including the swing states of Iowa and Florida, require what is known as a "perfect match." Under this rigid framework, new registrants can lose the right to vote if the information on their voter-registration forms - Social Security number, street address and precisely spelled name, right down to a hyphen - fails to exactly match data listed in other government records.
There are many legitimate reasons, of course, why a voter's information might vary. Indeed, a recent study by the Brennan Center for Justice found that as many as 20 percent of discrepancies between voter records and driver's licenses in New York City are simply typing mistakes made by government clerks when they transcribe data. But under the new rules, those mistakes are costing citizens the right to vote. In California, a Republican secretary of state blocked 43 percent of all new voters in Los Angeles from registering in early 2006 - many because of the state's failure to produce a tight match. In Florida, GOP officials created "match" rules that rejected more than 15,000 new registrants in 2006 and 2007 - nearly three-fourths of them Hispanic and black voters. Given the big registration drives this year, the number could be five times higher by November.
3. Purging Legitimate Voters From the Rolls
The Help America Vote Act doesn't just disenfranchise new registrants; it also targets veteran voters. In the past, bipartisan county election boards maintained voter records. But HAVA requires that records be centralized, computerized and maintained by secretaries of state - partisan officials - who are empowered to purge the rolls of any voter they deem ineligible. Ironically, the new rules imitate the centralized system in Florida - the same corrupt operation that inspired passage of HAVA in the first place. Prior to the 2000 election, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris and her predecessor, both Republicans, tried to purge 57,000 voters, most of them African-Americans, because their names resembled those of persons convicted of a crime. The state eventually acknowledged that the purges were improper - two years after the election.
Rather than end Florida-style purges, however, HAVA has nationalized them. Maez, the elections supervisor in New Mexico, says he was the victim of faulty list management by a private contractor hired by the state. Hector Balderas, the state auditor, was also purged from the voter list. The nation's youngest elected Hispanic official, Balderas hails from Mora County, one of the poorest in the state, which had the highest rate of voters forced to cast provisional ballots. "As a strategic consideration," he notes, "there are those that benefit from chaos" at the ballot box.
All told, states reported scrubbing at least 10 million voters from their rolls on questionable grounds between 2004 and 2006. Colorado holds the record: Donetta Davidson, the Republican secretary of state, and her GOP successor oversaw the elimination of nearly one of every six of their state's voters. Bush has since appointed Davidson to the Election Assistance Commission, the federal agency created by HAVA, which provides guidance to the states on "list maintenance" methods.
4. Requiring Unnecessary Voter ID's
Even if voters run the gauntlet of the new registration laws, they can still be blocked at the polling station. In an incident last May, an election official in Indiana denied ballots to 10 nuns seeking to vote in the Democratic primary because their driver's licenses or passports had expired. Even though Indiana has never recorded a single case of voter-ID fraud, it is one of two dozen states that have enacted stringent new voter-ID statutes.
On its face, the requirement to show a government-issued ID doesn't seem unreasonable. "I want to cash a check to pay for my groceries, I've got to show a little bit of ID," Karl Rove told the Republican National Lawyers Association in 2006. But many Americans lack easy access to official identification. According to a recent study for the Election Law Journal, young people, senior citizens and minorities - groups that traditionally vote Democratic - often have no driver's licenses or state ID cards. According to the study, one in 10 likely white voters do not possess the necessary identification. For African-Americans, the number lacking such ID is twice as high.
5. Rejecting "Spoiled" Ballots
Even intrepid voters who manage to cast a ballot may still find their vote discounted. In 2004, election officials discarded at least 1 million votes nationwide after classifying them as "spoiled" because blank spaces, stray marks or tears made them indecipherable to voting machines. The losses hit hardest among minorities in low-income precincts, who are often forced to vote on antiquated machines. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, in its investigation of the 2000 returns from Florida, found that African-Americans were nearly 10 times more likely than whites to have their ballots rejected, a ratio that holds nationwide.
Proponents of HAVA claimed the law would correct the spoilage problem by promoting computerized balloting. Yet touch-screen systems have proved highly unreliable - especially in minority and low-income precincts. A statistical analysis of New Mexico ballots by a voting-rights group called VotersUnite found that Hispanics who voted by computer in 2004 were nearly five times more likely to have their votes unrecorded than those who used paper ballots. In a close election, such small discrepancies can make a big difference: In 2004, the number of spoiled ballots in New Mexico - 19,000 - was three times George Bush's margin of victory.
6. Challenging "Provisional" Ballots
In 2004, an estimated 3 million voters who showed up at the polls were refused regular ballots because their registration was challenged on a technicality. Instead, these voters were handed "provisional" ballots, a fail-safe measure mandated by HAVA to enable officials to review disputed votes. But for many officials, resolving disputes means tossing ballots in the trash. In 2004, a third of all provisional ballots - as many as 1 million votes - were simply thrown away at the discretion of election officials.
Many voters are given provisional ballots under an insidious tactic known as "vote caging," which uses targeted mailings to disenfranchise black voters whose addresses have changed. In 2004, despite a federal consent order forbidding Republicans from engaging in the practice, the GOP sent out tens of thousands of letters to "confirm" the addresses of voters in minority precincts. If a letter was returned for any reason - because the voter was away at school or serving in the military - the GOP challenged the voter for giving a false address. One caging operation was exposed when an RNC official mistakenly sent the list to a parody site called GeorgeWBush.org - instead of to the official campaign site GeorgeWBush.com.
In the century following the Civil War, millions of black Americans in the Deep South lost their constitutional right to vote, thanks to literacy tests, poll taxes and other Jim Crow restrictions imposed by white officials. Add up all the modern-day barriers to voting erected since the 2004 election - the new registrations thrown out, the existing registrations scrubbed, the spoiled ballots, the provisional ballots that were never counted - and what you have is millions of voters, more than enough to swing the presidential election, quietly being detached from the electorate by subterfuge.
"Jim Crow was laid to rest, but his cousins were not," says Donna Brazile. "We got rid of poll taxes and literacy tests but now have a second generation of schemes to deny our citizens their franchise." Come November, the most crucial demographic may prove to be Americans who have been denied the right to vote. If Democrats are to win the 2008 election, they must not simply beat John McCain at the polls - they must beat him by a margin that exceeds the level of GOP vote tampering.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
By Josh Schrei, Guerilla News Network, 09 Oct 2008 http://www.guerrillanews.com/articles/3854/Year_Zero
When the shell-shocked, illiterate, and pissed-off country folk of Cambodia who later came to be known as the Khmer Rouge finally drove back government forces and stormed the capitol of Phnom Penh in the 1970s, they focused all their pent up rage on one class of people - intellectuals.
Basically, if you had a college degree, you were killed. If you were a doctor, you were killed. If you wore glasses, you had your face bashed in with a bat. The initial killing spree that took place was rabid and brutal, carried out with the type of rage that is only seen when a people who have lived under the boot of a real or perceived enemy for years are finally let loose.
In this case, however, the rage was misguided. The intellectuals in Cambodia weren't really the problem. And the disproportionate anger towards them was not historically intrinsic to the peasantry; it was a slowly, methodically developed political tactic employed by Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot to do one thing and one thing only - whip his base into a frenzy and keep him in power.
Certainly scapegoatism is not a new political tactic - the Nazis being the classic example. But what is interesting and terrifying about cases like Cambodia is the particular type of rage that is generated when a country-dwelling 'underclass' who have felt inferior and put down by the 'smarter' urbanites finally get their day toŠ shine.
Unfortunately, the years that follow such bloodbaths tend to be - to put it mildly - not very fun. During the cultural revolution in China for example, infant mortality rates soared because qualified doctors were often seen as elitists and were either not allowed to practice or were killed outright.
There's a simple reason why the years after anti-intellectual purges aren't fun. Because intellectuals matter. It really shouldn't even need to be said, but frighteningly in the current political climate, it does.
Obviously no-one in the United States is overtly advocating violence against the intellectual elite, but in metaphorical and increasingly real terms, the Republicans are waging a war pitting middle American 'Joe Six Pack' and 'Hockey Moms' against coastal elitists with Harvard degrees. Sarah Palin is the personification of this, taking George Bush's strategy of 'everyday speak' to even greater heights (or lows) than George ever did. Apparently, in the Karl Rove strategy book, 'if it ain't broke don't fix it', so much so that now the war of 'everyday America' vs. 'the smart people' is absolutely central to Republican electoral strategy.
There should be no underestimating how dangerous and toxic this strategy is. By simultaneously gutting the very educational and social programs that support and sustain 'Joe six pack' with one hand and with the other creating a vitriolic culture in which those who actually are educated are seen as 'other' and therefore not worthy of governing, the Republican party is toying with the future of this country in ways that can and will cause irrevocable damage.
We all might laugh or cringe when Sarah Palin talks about being 'five weeks on the job' and bringing 'Joe Six pack' into the white house or describes herself as a 'pitbull with lipstick.'
What we should be is very, very afraid.
Leaving aside the fact that what America needs both domestically and abroad at this particular juncture in history is to be governed by a pair of really, really smart people, the truly frightening prospect is what will happen if the Republicans continue with this tactic. The historical parallels are ugly. Nineteen-thirties Italy comes to mind. As does post WWI Germany. As does - in an extreme example - Cambodia.
In immediate terms, the natural outcome of this 'everyday man' nationalism and anti-elitist frenzy combined with economic downturn is a drastic drop in America's ability to compete in the world. Our nation's economy lessens as our nations ability to lead the global conversation lessens, and then, as the economy tanks and jobs diminish, the gap between 'Joe Six Pack' and the coastal elites widens, the hatred and division grows. To the point that to half the nation's people, it somehow, astonishingly, becomes a negative to speak of how smart, or well educated, or articulate, or worldly a person is.
A nation such as ours, founded on a very heady document written by some very smart and very well educated people, should never, ever shy away from electing scholars as president. We have, and we should, embrace it.
There are two saving graces here. One is that thinking Republicans are actually starting to realize the danger that Palin - and the campaign of class war that she represents - poses to their party and are becoming more and more vocal about it.
The other is that everyday Americans have suffered the most at the hands of the current administration and many of them realize it. Hopefully more will.
The ones that don't - the ones that rabidly call for a 'hockey mom' in the white house while the rug is being pulled out from underneath them - they're the ones whose blindness would soon have them picking up the metaphorical bat and taking it to the very doctor that could heal them.
Hopefully the rift in the republican party over the new Palinism - and a democratic victory - will create a shift towards a more thinking, issue-based Republican party. Otherwise, to put it bluntly, we might as well close our schools, shut down our borders, send more of our sons and daughters off to die, and rename 2008 Year Zero.
McCain thinks that "Joe the plumber" outs Obama's tax plan as hurting middle America. But if you actually watch the video, you see a really important thing that the republicans don't mention:
Obama spent time talking to someone who clearly disagreed with him, explained his plan, and treated the man with respect. Have you ever seen McCain behave respectfully toward someone who disagreed with him? NO - he treats with disdain those who dare to disagree with him.
So forget about the facts concerning Joe the Plumber -
That he was NOT undecided, but is a registered Republican already planning on voting for McCain,
That he is NOT a licensed plumber according to Toledo records,
That he would have to be making a whole hell of a lot more than $250k a year to actually net more that $250k AND
If he actually was a good enough businessman to net more than $250k a year, the tax break would be going to his employees (you know, the ones actually standing in shit all day doing plumbing work.)
But forget all that - the real story is about grace, and respect, and listening to your opponent's man.
That is Barack Obama. America needs this man.
Friday, October 10, 2008
The crazies are out there, calling OB a terrorist and shouting "kill him" at rallies. And I'm saddened at the racism that McCain/Palin are winking at and nodding to. Holy shit. November can't come soon enough. And I still won't breath easy until it's such a landslide that the Republicans can't steal another election. Because you can be sure that they will try to do just that, if they have a hope in hell of getting away with it.