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Time for change

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The “Fiscal Cliff” Scam to Maintain Low Tax Rates on the Rich

There are two highly related major purposes behind all the “fiscal cliff” nonsense we’re hearing these days from our “mainstream” corporate owned news media: They want to scare us so bad that we agree to permanent cuts in the social safety net programs that built up and sustained a healthy middle class in our country for so many decades; and, most important, they want to maintain or even reduce the current historically very low tax rates that the wealthy currently pay.

How, one might ask, do they intend use the scare of rising national debt to induce us to maintain their current low tax rates or even reduce them further? That’s easy. They simply claim, against all historical precedence and common sense, that raising taxes on the wealthy will hurt our precarious economy and cause more job loss. They have a million different ways of saying and rationalizing this nonsense. For example, a typical statement on this subject comes from Forbes.com, which says that if we raise taxes on the wealthy we will “lose the value that billionaire's contributions would have made to the economic life of the community”.

To examine the validity of such statements, all one needs to do is examine a graph that simultaneously plots income inequality and top marginal tax rates over time. The two superimposed charts below show respectively: 1) the relationship of income inequality to the two worst economic catastrophes of our history – the Great Depression of the 1930s and our current recession; and 2) how top marginal tax rates for the wealthy have varied over time.

The first chart plots income inequality, measured as the ratio between the average income of the top 0.01% of U.S. families, compared to the bottom 90%. The most important thing to note about this chart is that just preceding the great stock market crash of 1929, which plunged us into the Great Depression, and again preceding the great recession of 2008 (in which we are still mired), the inequality ratio hit peak levels. The second chart shows that income inequality plotted over time is inversely proportional to top marginal tax rates.

Just prior to the Stock Market Crash of 1929 that led to the Great Depression, top marginal tax rates were very low, at 25%. President Roosevelt responded with the New Deal, a vast conglomeration of social safety net and job creating programs, controls on powerful and wealthy corporations to prevent them from trampling over ordinary people in their quests for profits, and rising tax rates on the wealthy, which reached over 90% by the late 1940s, and remained at high historical levels until the Reagan presidency beginning of the 1980s.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman describes the economic boom that coincided with the very high taxes on the wealthy, in terms of median family income: Beginning in 1947, when accurate statistics on this issue first became available, with the top marginal tax rate approaching 90%, median family income rose steadily (in 2005 dollars) from $22,499 in 1947 to more than double that, $47,173 by 1980. Then, for the next 25 years, except for some moderate growth during the Clinton years, there was almost no growth in median income at all, which rose only to $56,194 by 2005 (85% of that growth accounted for during the Clinton years). Krugman refers to this period as "the greatest sustained economic boom in U.S. history".

All this should be enough by itself to shut up all the yapping about the benefits of reducing and the dangers of raising tax rates on the wealthy. But if not, consider where the George W. Bush tax cuts for the wealthy have gotten us. In the face of the economic disaster that followed several years of massive tax cuts for the rich, how gullible do you have to be to continue to believe that tax cuts for the rich are good for our economy?

What the right wing “Fiscal Cliff” mongers really want

All this right wing scare about the so-called Fiscal Cliff is pure hypocrisy. The Democratic Party should call them on it. George Zornick explains what the so-called “Fiscal Cliff” is really about:

According to most press accounts, these business titans are “pressing for a solution to the so-called fiscal cliff”, while touting the virtue of bipartisanship and shared sacrifice.

But what’s important to understand – what every press account of these meetings should note – is that they’re not, in practice, proposing any sacrifice from their companies in particular nor their industries in general.

Key planks of their proposals… include a lower corporate tax rate – even though many of these companies pay little or no corporate taxes as it is. Then there’s a territorial tax system, which would allow corporations that have profits parked overseas to bring them back home without paying any taxes…

FDR’s attitude towards great concentrations of wealth

President Roosevelt did not feel that there was anything sacred about people piling up vast economic fortunes during times when so many other people were starving or homeless. He did not see that phenomenon as something that propelled our economy. In fact he saw it as a big part of the problem, something that prevented other people from obtaining their fair share of our nation’s resources. This is what he had to say on the subject at the 1936 Democratic National Convention:

Out of this modern civilization economic royalists carved new dynasties. New kingdoms were built upon concentration of control over material things. Through new uses of corporations, banks and securities, new machinery of industry and agriculture, of labor and capital – all undreamed of by the fathers – the whole structure of modern life was impressed into this royal service.

There was no place among this royalty for our many thousands of small business men and merchants who sought to make a worthy use of the American system of initiative and profit. They were no more free than the worker or the farmer. Even honest and progressive-minded men of wealth, aware of their obligation to their generation, could never know just where they fitted into this dynastic scheme of things.

It was natural and perhaps human that the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control over Government itself. They created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction. In its service new mercenaries sought to regiment the people, their labor, and their property. And as a result the average man once more confronts the problem that faced the Minute Man.

The hours men and women worked, the wages they received, the conditions of their labor – these had passed beyond the control of the people, and were imposed by this new industrial dictatorship…

Those who tilled the soil no longer reaped the rewards which were their right. The small measure of their gains was decreed by men in distant cities. Throughout the Nation, opportunity was limited by monopoly. Individual initiative was crushed in the cogs of a great machine. The field open for free business was more and more restricted. Private enterprise, indeed, became too private. It became privileged enterprise, not free enterprise…

FDR also believed that the enormous income inequality that existed at the time was deleterious to democracy itself:

An old English judge once said: "Necessitous men are not free men." Liberty requires opportunity to make a living – a living decent according to the standard of the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for.

For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people's property, other people's money, other people's labor – other people's lives. For too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.

The Wall Street “Fiscal Cliff” scam

Richard Escow, writing for Campaign for America’s Future, cogently summarizes Wall Street’s “Fiscal Cliff” scam:

CEOs of America’s largest corporations have banded together to lecture us on the importance of debt reduction. And despite their lack of qualifications and their very obvious self-interest, the media can’t get enough of them.

Why? They’re not experts in economic policy. Quite the opposite, in fact. Many of them got where they are by persuading people to buy overpriced crap that’s bad for them… Think of it as Wall Street’s latest scam. If you liked toxic investments and the 2008 financial crisis, you’ll love their deficit deal.

The list of “Fix the Debt” CEOs includes executives from Wall Street’s largest and most notorious bad actors. These banks have committed serial fraud and gotten away with no criminal penalties and only nominal fines – fines paid by shareholders, and not the misbehaving bankers themselves…

Blankfein’s institution (Goldman Sachs) paid the largest SEC fine in history for fraudulently deceiving investors about mortgage-backed securities which it sold while knowing full well that these securities were toxic – a fact it concealed from its clients. The list of deceived investors includes many of the large pension funds that provide financial security to working Americans when they retire. Now that Wall Street’s struck these private-sector funds, they’re targeting public retirement programs too.

What we need to do

Former Clinton administration Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, explains the situation: He begins by saying:

The first thing to know about the so-called "fiscal cliff" is that it's not a cliff – it's a choice. It's a choice between making the 1% richer at the expense of everyone else, or lifting up 100% of Americans. It's a choice between American prosperity and European austerity.

Then he goes on to explain what Democrats need to do: Do not allow cuts to social safety net programs that have historically created and helped maintain our middle class. Immediately after the Bush tax cuts expire, put forth programs to lower tax rates on the middle class and create jobs by investing in our nation’s future in such areas as education, improvements in our crumbling infrastructure, and an energy policy based on alternatives to the fossil fuels that are destroying our planet.

See if Republicans in Congress dare to obstruct legislation to decrease taxes on the middle class. See if they dare to obstruct legislation to create jobs in the midst of the longest sustained era of job loss or anemic job growth since the Great Depression. Democrats failed to do this adequately when they controlled the Presidency and both houses of Congress for the two year period beginning in January 2009. They paid for that failure in the mid-term elections of 2010, with a Republican landslide that resulted in a Republican majority in the House of Representatives that still remains today. When Democrats don’t fight for the interests of those who elect them they pay a high price. Let’s not let that happen again.
Posted by Time for change | Mon Dec 10, 2012, 04:14 PM (35 replies)

The Successes of the U.S. “War on Drugs”

After 40 years of the U.S. “War on Drugs”, at a cost of about $1 trillion, it would behoove our country’s leaders to consider what we have gained from our efforts and cost. Eugene Jarecki had this to say about it:

Over forty years, the “war on drugs” has cost a trillion dollars and accounted for 45 million drug arrests. Yet for all that, America has nothing to show but a legacy of failure. Drugs are cheaper, purer, more available and used by more and younger people today than ever before...

In making his film about the “War on Drugs”, “The House I Live in”, Jarecki wanted to look beyond the statistics. He continues:

So I visited more than twenty-five states to meet people at all levels of the drug war whose lives have been affected by our misguided laws and vast prison system. What I found on the ground was nothing short of shattering. Wherever I went, everyone involved – prisoners, cops, judges, jailers, wardens, medical experts, senators – all described to me a system out of control, a predatory monster that sustains itself on the mass incarceration of fellow human beings. Their crimes, most often the nonviolent use or sale of drugs in petty quantities, have become such a warping fixation for our prison-industrial complex that they are often punished more severely than violent crimes…

But surely a program sustained for 40 years and costing a trillion dollars must have some major consequences that appeal some people. Let’s take a look at some of these “successes”.

The U.S. leads the world in imprisoning people

Between 1980 and 2000, the U.S. prison population increased from about 300,000 to over 2,000,000. so that the United States now has by far the highest prison rate of any nation in the world – 751 persons in prison per 100,000 population in 2008. Russia was a distant second. The number of incarcerated drug offenders increased from about 42 thousand in 1980 to 455 thousand in 2000. But the role of the “War on Drugs” in increasing the overall incarceration rate appears misleadingly low from these figures: Concurrently there has been a massive increase in incarceration for parole violations, which is almost entirely due to the “War on Drugs”. Under the rules of the “War on Drugs”, people can be sent to prison for such parole violations as missing an appointment with one’s parole officer or failing to maintain employment.

Racial and class disparity in the United States for imprisonment for drug offenses is well known. Though the Federal Household Survey (See item # 6) indicated that 72% of illicit drug users are white, compared to 15% who are black, blacks constitute a highly disproportionate percent of the population arrested for (37%) or serving time for (42% of those in federal prisons and 58% of those in state prisons) drug violations.

Combine that with a multitude of state laws that don’t allow felons or ex-felons to vote, and we have a substantial effect on the U.S. electorate. As a result of these laws, almost 8% of otherwise eligible African American voters were not allowed to vote in 2012, compared to only 1.8% of other U.S. voters. Since African Americans have voted overwhelmingly Democratic in recent U.S. elections, it is easy to see why this consequence of the “War on Drugs” would be considered a great success by many people.

Corporate profits

The prison industry
Coincident with the burgeoning prison population in the United States, there has also been a large increase in the number of private prisons, from five in 1995 to 100 in 2005, in which year 62,000 persons were incarcerated in private prisons in the United States. Profits are especially high in this industry because of the use of slave labor. The owners of these prisons have a financial interest in more frequent and longer prison sentences, for which they have lobbied extensively. Tara Herivel and Paul Wright assiduously document the machinations of the prison-industrial complex in their book, “Prison Profiteers – Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration”. From the book jacket:

Beginning with the owners of private prison companies and extending through a whole range of esoteric industries… to the U.S. military (which relies on prison labor) and the politicians, lawyers, and bankers who structure deals to build new prisons, “Prison Profiteers” introduces us to a motley group of perversely motivated interests and shows us how they both profit from and perpetrate mass incarceration.

It turns out that locking up 2.3 million people isn’t cheap… “Prison Profiteers” traces the flow of capital from public to private hands, reveals how monies designated for the public good end up in the pockets of enterprises dedicated to keeping prison cells filled, and challenges us to see incarceration through completely different eyes.

Obviously the “War on Drugs” must be considered a great success from the viewpoint of the prison industry.

The pharmaceutical industry
Many illicit drugs have important medical uses, but because of the “War on Drugs” their use for medical purposes is either completely outlawed or severely curtailed. Marijuana provides exceptionally good symptomatic relief or treatment for a wide range of medical conditions, for which there is no better or even comparable alternative treatment. Yet the pharmaceutical industry and the prison industry (among others) has lobbied extensively against the legalization of medical marijuana, and the federal government has complied by over-ruling state enacted medical marijuana laws. This adds to the huge profits of the pharmaceutical industry while denying millions of Americans symptomatic relief from serious diseases such as cancer or AIDS.

Recent developments in the drug war

Many states in recent years have passed laws legalizing medical marijuana. Now for the first time, in the 2012 elections two states, Colorado and Washington, approved ballot initiatives legalizing recreational use of marijuana. But what will the federal response to that be?

Though Barack Obama promised in 2008 that as president he would not interfere with state medical marijuana laws, his Department of Justice has acted otherwise. In October 2011, they began large-scale raids on medical marijuana cultivators and distributors in states where medical marijuana was legal. Federal authorities have since raided and shut down 600 dispensaries in California alone.

For what purpose? Is this the result of pressure from those who profit from the drug war? Does President Obama really believe it is a good expenditure of federal resources to prevent people from receiving the medical benefits of marijuana and brand as criminals those who strive to make that possible, in accordance with state laws? Was this done on the initiative of the Department of Justice, with no input from the President? Few in any people know the answers to these questions, as the President has said almost nothing about it.

Katrina vanden Hueval, in "It's time to End the War on Drugs", had this to say about the subject:

If left free of federal intrusion, Colorado and Washington might become a model for legalizing and taxing marijuana. If successful, the experiment could yield millions in tax revenues and drastically decrease incarceration rates, while giving members of Congress more incentive to change federal law. It could even help improve U.S. relations with Latin America, and help demilitarize our hemispheric policies with our closest neighbors, particularly Mexico….

This holiday, as President Obama pardons the traditional turkey, let’s hope he also considers the millions of Americans trapped in a cruel, senseless system.

The $1 trillion cost of the “War on Drugs” noted at the beginning of this post doesn’t include the vast individual costs in terms of destroyed families and lives. Yet no system endures for 40 years if there aren’t at least some people who profit from it. Indeed, there are many who profit greatly from the U.S. “War on Drugs”, and they have spent tons of money bombarding the American people with their propaganda and lobbying our government to perpetuate it. It is well past time for decent, open minded and intelligent people to reassess the costs of this “war” to the American people and weigh those costs against whatever benefits it produces for some.

Posted by Time for change | Sun Nov 25, 2012, 11:27 AM (22 replies)

The “Fiscal Cliff” Hoax

The scare of a so-called “Fiscal Cliff” is basically a trick created by right wing elites to get us to accept cuts to social safety net programs like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare – as well as to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich. If extending tax cuts for the rich doesn’t sound to you like a good way to reduce the federal deficit, you’re not alone. Yet despite the massive evidence to the contrary, and against the opinions of any decent economist not in the pockets of Wall Street, the right wing elite want us to believe that decreasing their taxes will create jobs, reduce the federal deficit and stimulate our economy.

The so-called “Fiscal Cliff”

So what exactly is the “fiscal cliff”? At the end of December 31, 2012, two things will happen if some sort of deal isn’t cut to prevent it. One is that the Bush tax cuts for the rich will expire, and the top marginal tax rate will go back to the 39.6% that it was during the Clinton administration. That in itself would go a long way towards reducing our federal deficit. And it would not reduce jobs or slow down job growth. During the Clinton Presidency our economy was much better, unemployment was much lower, and small businesses grew twice as fast as after the Bush tax cuts for the rich. And we then had a budget surplus.

Along with taxes on the rich going back up to Clinton era levels, there would also be a modest rise in taxes on the middle class. So how could that be rectified? Legislation has already been passed by the U.S. Senate to restore the middle class tax cuts in 2013, and President Obama has vowed to sign that into law if the House goes along with it. Would the House dare to refuse to do that? What would that do to their re-election chances?

The other thing that will happen after the end of this year if a deal isn’t cut first is that there will be various automatic cuts to domestic and military spending. Those consequences are not cut in stone, but rather are a Tea Party/GOP manufactured crisis. They demanded those future automatic cuts in the summer of 2011 in return for their agreeing to raise the debt ceiling so that our country could pay its debts and avoid crashing the economy. It was blackmail. Right wing zealots in Congress created this “crisis”, and they could just as easily un-create it by acquiescing to a reversal of the spending cuts they voted for in 2011.

This is what Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman had to say about the so-called “fiscal cliff”:

Contrary to the way it’s often portrayed, the looming prospect of spending cuts and tax increases isn’t a fiscal crisis. It is, instead, a political crisis brought on by the G.O.P.’s attempt to take the economy hostage. And just to be clear, the danger for next year is not that the deficit will be too large but that it will be too small, and hence plunge America back into recession.

And as for their motives:

It’s not just the fact that the deficit scolds have been wrong about everything so far. Recent events have also demonstrated clearly what was already apparent to careful observers: the deficit-scold movement was never really about the deficit. Instead, it was about using deficit fears to shred the social safety net. And letting that happen wouldn’t just be bad policy; it would be a betrayal of the Americans who just re-elected a health-reformer president and voted in some of the most progressive senators ever.

The real crisis

So why did Krugman say that the danger “is not that the deficit will be too large but that it will be too small”? Our federal deficit at this time is not all that much larger as a percentage of our GDP than it has been in the past, as you can see from this chart:

Our major problem at this time is our very weak economy and the joblessness that goes along with it. Economists have long known that this kind of problem is not solved by decreasing spending, but by increasing it on things that put people to work. It is exacerbated by the kind of severe income and wealth inequality that our country is now experiencing and that our right wing elites want to make even more severe. It is exacerbated by cuts to social safety net programs that our right wing elites want to privatize and destroy. Robert Borosage explains:

Virtually every aspect of this hysteria is wrong. The United States does not have a short-term deficit problem, and the fundamental long-term problem isn’t one of soaring debt; rather, it is the lack of a foundation for sustainable growth that includes working people…

Austerity is, paradoxically, likely to undermine the stated goal of deficit reduction. Cutting spending… in a weak economy destroys jobs and slows growth. The increased unemployment leads to declining tax revenue as well as increased demands on government services, all of which adds to the deficit. This is the famous “debt trap” recently experienced in much of Europe, where premature and harsh austerity drove many EU countries into recession…

Putting people back to work does more to reduce deficits than any other factor. That requires more federal spending now, preferably in areas vital to the economy, like modernizing our infrastructure and keeping teachers on the job. Once the economy is growing and people are working, the deficit will come down. Additional steps can be taken, if necessary…

What Americans do not want

Most Americans are against what the right wing elites are trying to force upon on with their “fiscal cliff” scare. They are against “requiring deep cuts in domestic programs without protecting programs for infants, poor children, schools and college aid” (75%); they are against “cutting discretionary spending, like education, child nutrition, worker training and disease control (72%); they are against cutting taxes for the rich and corporations (67%), and; they are against “reducing Social Security benefits by having them rise more slowly than the cost of living” (62%). And all this is despite the massive propaganda efforts of our right wing elites.

What we should do

Robert Borosage sums up the situation that we now face, and how we should address it:

The essential dynamic is that Democrats reward Republican intransigence with concessions. Republicans refuse to hike taxes, so to entice them, Democrats offer the crown jewels: Medicare and Social Security. Republicans still resist tax hikes, so the austerity crowd suggests “reform” that will in theory bring in more revenue while lowering tax rates (on the rich)….

The debate we should be having is about how to make the economy work for working people again, how to revive a broad middle class and make the American Dream more than a nostalgic fantasy….

A serious long-term commitment to rebuild America would renovate our infrastructure to withstand the extreme weather that is already upon us. It would break up the big banks and shackle finance so that it serves, rather than threatens, the real economy. Measures to transform corporate governance, curb excessive executive compensation, and empower
workers to organize and bargain collectively would help counter extreme inequality…

It would feature progressive tax reform, compelling the wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share. It would continue healthcare reform and guarantee affordable care as a right for every citizen, not a privilege allowed only to those who can afford it…

Reaching no deal is preferable to a bad one that cuts entitlements. Going over the so-called fiscal cliff is perilous, but probably preferable to a bargain under the terms currently in play. With no agreement, the Bush tax cuts would expire. In January the Senate would immediately push to revive the lower rates for everyone but the top 2 percent….

Posted by Time for change | Thu Nov 22, 2012, 12:02 AM (62 replies)

Hmmm… Why Was Karl Rove So Adamant that Romney Not Concede Ohio?

When Ohio was called for Barack Obama on Election Night, thereby pushing him over the top in the Electoral College, Karl Rove didn’t take it very well, as he encouraged Mitt Romney not to concede for several hours. In fact, Romney didn’t concede until after Obama had won enough states to win the election even without Ohio. From the Washington Guardian:

The prominent Republican strategist and former Bush White House guru didn’t seem able to deal with Mitt Romney’s loss on Election Night. When the network he was appearing on, Fox News, called that Ohio had voted for President Barack Obama, thereby effectively ending the election, Rove strongly pushed back.

"I think this is premature," Rove said, insisting that only part of the vote had been counted. "I don't know what the outcome is going to be, but we gotta be careful about calling things when we have like 991 votes separating the two candidates."

Rove put up so much protest, in fact, that anchor Megyn Kelly traveled back into Fox’s studio to speak with their statisticians and experts who were calling each state. Even before Rove almost had a conniption, Fox in fact had been one of the last to call Ohio for Obama.

Rove insisted that only part of the vote had been counted? As we all know, states are routinely called for one candidate or another when only part of the vote is counted – based on statistical analysis of a combination of the current vote count, exit polls, and what parts of the state have yet to be counted. So what was Karl Rove so sure he knew about the vote count – or looming vote count – that none of the network statisticians knew, even at FOX news? To consider that question, let’s go back to 2004:

Election Night 2004

In the official 2004 Ohio vote count, George W. Bush beat John Kerry by about 118 thousand votes, a margin of about 2.5%. But according to the final Ohio exit polls, John Kerry was predicted to win by a whopping 4.2% – thus producing a huge discrepancy between the exit polls and the official vote count.

Prior to Election Day 2004, it was evident that Ohio was the most critical swing state in the country. Late on Election Night, it became apparent that whoever won Ohio would win the presidency. TV commentators discussed how the situation looked very bad for George W. Bush. Even the right wing political hack Robert Novak acknowledged that Bush had little chance of winning Ohio – and thus the election.

So what happened then? Stephen Spoonamore, a computer expert and close associate of Michael Connell, who was widely known as “Karl Rove’s IT guru”, provided a likely answer to that question in a sworn affidavit on October 26, 2008.

During the evening and early morning on the 2004 General Election in Ohio, on my own computer I was watching the results of incoming counties and precincts. I believed there was a more than likely chance County Tabulators had been programmed to manipulate votes…. As early results showed Kerry ahead, I noticed a trend in a very few counties (I believe I noted 8 counties on election night) that at about 11 p.m. suddenly began reporting radically different ratios of Kerry to Bush votes. All in favor of Mr. Bush. This sudden rate of change… resembled a fraud technique called an Intelligent Man In the Middle, or KingPin Attack. This type of attack requires a computer to be inserted into the communications flow of an IT system…

Other experts found additional data indicating Bush's increase in votes from these counties, and Kerry's decrease in votes… When information about the SmartTech IT routing switch became public… I again stated that we now have confirmation of a KingPin, or Intelligent Man in the Middle position had been created… The SmartTech system was set up precisely as a KingPin computer used in criminal acts against banking or credit card processes and had the needed level of access to both county tabulators and Secretary of States computers to allow whoever was running SmartTech's computers to decide the output of the county tabulators under its control… The SmartTech computer would as the results of the evening proceeded be able to know how many votes Bush needed to steal from Kerry, and flip enough votes on the desired county tabulators to reverse the outcome of the election…

The aborted testimony of Michael Connell

The SmartTech system that Spoonamore referred to was operated by Michael Connell – “Karl Rove’s IT guru”. Two days after Spoonamore’s affadavit, attorneys filed a motion to compel testimony of Connell regarding his knowledge of the workings of the GOP computer systems. On October 31 a federal judge ordered Connell to submit to a deposition on possible election manipulation. Connell gave the deposition on November 4, providing as little information as possible, but eventually he was forced to admit that “he brought Triad and SmartTech into the Ohio election game”.

When it became apparent that Connell would testify in the case, Connell was warned not to fly his plane. Cliff Arnebeck, the Ohio lawyer who brought the suit and subpoenaed Connell, warned the U.S. Justice Department that Connell’s life might be in danger, and requested witness protection. Connell never did get to testify. On December 19, shortly before he was due to testify, he died in a plane crash, presumably caused by his plane running out of gas.

What happened on Election Night 2012?

If up to the point where the TV networks were discussing how hopeless Ohio looked for Mitt Romney on Election Night 2012 seems to you to be eerily similar to Election Night 2004, you’re not alone. As in 2004, Ohio was the critical swing state. As in 2004, the situation looked very bad for the Republican candidate. As in 2004, the Ohio election was being handled by a highly partisan Republican administration. As in 2004, Karl Rove seemed to be a key player. And as in 2004, SmartTech computers played a central role in tabulating the Ohio vote. As explained here two months prior to the 2012 election:

In 2012 the current Ohio GOP Secretary of State Jon Husted plans to once again use SMARTech for the 2012 Ohio Presidential Election. It would be interesting to know how SOS Husted plans to utilize SMARTech and if he will admit knowledge of the use of SMARTech. Will the computer IT architecture be similar to the one created in 2004 where Stephen Spoonamore claimed the architecture was a classic Man-In-The Middle attack format for the ability to manipulate vote totals.

But there were a couple of big differences between 2004 and 2012. One is that the Republican candidate apparently was substantially further behind in Ohio in 2012 than in 2004. And the other difference is that – as we found out soon – it turned out that the Democratic candidate didn’t need Ohio to win the election. So apparently for one or both of those reasons we didn’t see a repeat of 2004 in 2008. Perhaps the decision was made to pull back when it became apparent that even if he won Ohio Romney couldn’t win the election. Perhaps the decision was made a little sooner, when the approximate magnitude the number of votes needed became apparent.

In any event, despite all the evidence to the contrary, both Karl Rove and Kenneth Blackwell (Ohio Secretary of State in charge of the Ohio election in 2004) denied any knowledge of SmartTech. Democracy Now! Producer Mike Burke summed up the situation two months prior to the 2012 election:

Do you think Karl Rove and Ken Blackwell need to take lie detector tests? How can they possibly deny knowledge of SMARTech with a straight face? Will Ohio election integrity folks check into the status of the use of SMARTech in the 2004 and 2012 elections? Perhaps for the integrity of the vote totals in Ohio it would seem like a pretty good idea.

Posted by Time for change | Fri Nov 16, 2012, 10:54 PM (170 replies)

Wealth Inequality and Societal Collapse

Economic inequality in the United States has been growing now for several decades – since the late 1980s. It has been fueled by right wing economic philosophy, which can be summed up by the phrase “trickle down economics”, which purports that the best way to grow an economy is to shower the rich with advantages that allow them to become ever wealthier. The theory behind that is that the rich know what’s best for us, so the more opportunities we give them to make more money, the more they will be incentivized to utilize their tremendous intelligence and abilities to benefit society. A phrase that encompasses this theory today is “job creators”. The rich are our job creators. Give them more tax breaks, subsidies, and deregulation, and they will create more jobs for us.

But the reality is that nothing could be further from the truth.

Such theories are nothing new in world history. The powerful have always sought to justify and increase their power over other people by claiming that all of society benefits from their disproportionate wealth and power: Kings claimed that their power was the will of God. Europeans settled the present day United States by displacing and nearly exterminating the native population, using every excuse in the book to justify that. They said that Native Americans didn’t deserve the land they occupied because they were "uncivilized". They claimed "Manifest Destiny" over the land they sought to occupy. Much of the early U.S. economic system was based on slavery. Again, this was justified for all the “best” of reasons, mostly involving claims that black people were inferior, uncivilized, savage, etc. etc. etc. The idea was also advanced that black people benefited from being slaves and owed their masters a debt of gratitude for giving them the chance to “serve”.

Let’s consider: 1) The obscene degree of wealth inequality in the United States today; 2) The economic effects of that wealth inequality, and; 3) The society effects of that wealth inequality. It is important to consider those things because right wing forces are doing everything in their power to make it worse. They are currently going after what is left of our social safety net programs as a way of enabling more tax cuts for themselves. This kind of thing will continue to get worse until they are stopped.

Wealth inequality in the United States today

By 2007, the wealthiest 1% of Americans owned more than a third of the country’s total wealth. Take a look at this chart to see how bad it was (and still is).

The wealthiest 1% of individuals own between 100 and 200 times more than the bottom 40% combined. That means that the average individual wealth of the top 1% exceeds the average individual wealth of the bottom 40% by about six thousand times. Income and wealth inequality was then greater than at any time in our recorded history, since such records began to be kept in the early years of the 20th Century. Because the Great Recession, which started in 2008, resulted in far more economic damage to the bottom 99% than the top 1%, economic inequality has worsened still further since that time.

The economic effects of income and wealth inequality

Here is a graph that shows the relationship of income inequality to the two worst economic catastrophes of our history: The Great Depression of the 1930s and our current recession. It is titled "Re-creating the Gap that Gave us the Great Depression":

The top chart plots income inequality, measured as the ratio between the average income of the top 0.01% of U.S. families, compared to the bottom 90%. Note that preceding the great stock market crash of 1929, which plunged us into depression, the ratio rose from about 250 at the start of the 1920s to a peak of about 900 by 1929. The ratio then plunged, and by the start of WW II it had declined to about 200, where it remained with some relatively minor ups and downs until the beginning of Ronald Reagan’s Presidency. It then began another precipitous climb, with a sharp decline beginning during the last year of Clinton’s Presidency, but then another sharp increase beginning at about the time that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy first went into effect, so that by the end of 2006 we exceeded even the peak ratio of 1929 that preceded the Great Depression. The three green bars in the chart represent the stock market crash of 1929, the last pre-Reagan year, and the end of the time period represented by the chart, which shortly preceded the great recession of 2008, in which we are still mired.

It is similarly instructive to note that prior to this accelerating economic inequality our country had gone through about three decades (1947 to late 1970s) of what Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman refers to as "the greatest sustained economic boom in U.S. history". In 1947, when accurate statistics on this issue first became available, median family income was rising at a remarkable rate. With the top marginal tax rates approaching 90% at this time (See bottom chart, above), median family income rose steadily (in 2005 dollars) from $22,499 in 1947 to more than double that, $47,173 in 1980. Are those who claim that taxing the wealthy hurts our economy utterly unaware of this, or are they simply willing to say anything to convince us that reducing their taxes is good for everyone?

Societal effects of income and wealth inequality

Epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett demonstrate in their book, “The Spirit Level – Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger”, numerous troubling non-economic consequences of obscene income inequality that are independent of absolute income or wealth. These consequences include more mental illness, greater use of illegal drugs, higher imprisonment rate, higher infant mortality rate, more homicides, lower educational performance of our children, lower index of child well-being, lower trust in our fellow citizens, and lower status of women, among other adverse societal effects.

As bad as all these consequences are, much worse is the total collapse of entire societies. Perhaps the most comprehensive explanation I’ve ever read on that subject appears in a book by Jared Diamond, “Collapse – How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” (Chosen as “Best Book of the Year” by The Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle and others). Diamond’s book describes the causes of past and present failed societies, such as the ancient Easter Island civilization, and compares them with other societies that have succeeded, in order to identify the causes of failed societies. The theme of his book can be summarized as:

Environmental crisis + failure of society to address it ==> societal collapse

Diamond’s reason for writing his book was to make the point that we humans have it within our power to either fail to address the problem, which will lead to world-wide catastrophe, or to avoid catastrophe by addressing the problem while we still can.

Diamond identifies several general factors that contribute to the equation of whether or not societies succeed or fail in response to the environmental crises they face. The common denominator in most or all of his examples is a combination of environmental crisis leading to depletion of vital resources with an inadequate societal response to the crisis. The inadequate response to the crisis usually or always involves an elite ruling class that is far more concerned with preserving their own short-term wealth and status than with the long-term effects on the society that they rule. Diamond’s examples are well worth considering:

Easter Island
It is estimated that the first human settlement of Easter Island occurred around A.D. 900. The estimated maximum population was 6,000 to 30,000. Easter Island is perhaps best known for its huge stone statues, 887 which have been identified, weighing as much as 9,000 tons (including the base).

The primary reason for the demise of Easter Island society was deforestation, which was virtually complete somewhere between the start of the 15th and the 17th Century. Without trees a major source of wild food disappeared; fuel for warmth virtually disappeared; fish consumption substantially declined because of the absence of canoes; and agriculture was severely disrupted because of soil erosion. Easter Islanders had to turn to cannibalism to survive. Europeans, who began frequenting Easter Island at least by 1722, no doubt contributed to their final demise by spreading disease and kidnapping them. By 1872, only 111 Easter Islanders remained.

Massive amounts of statue construction, fueled by competition between clans, contributed greatly to resource depletion on Easter Island in two respects: the work required vast amounts of rope and wood products (ladders, sleds, levers, etc.), which led to the deforestation; and it also required huge additional amounts of food for the people who built the statues. In sum, a very fragile environment, combined with a culture that was characterized by massive consumption of vital resources, led to the demise of Easter Island society.

The Anasazi
The Anasazi resided in current day Southwestern U.S., including parts of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. This area first became populated with humans around 11,000 B.C., though agricultural societies in that area did not arise until about A.D. 1. Anasazi civilization lasted from about A.D. 600 to 1200.

Chaco Canyon was the capital of Anasazi civilization. The Anasazi were a highly hierarchical society, such that a well fed elite living in luxury came to occupy Chaco Canyon, while the peasantry did all the work and produced the food that supported the elite. Diamond notes that “Chaco Canyon became a black hole into which goods were imported but from which nothing tangible was exported. Into Chaco Canyon came those tens of thousands of big trees for construction…”

The final blow was a drought in about A.D. 1130. Chaco Canyon became abandoned as many probably starved, people killed each other, and others fled the region.

Mayan civilization
The Maya were the most advanced civilization in pre-Columbian America, and the only one with extensive preserved writing. They occupied parts of Mesoamerica, which extended from present day central mid-Mexico to Honduras. The so-called Classic period of Mayan civilization began around A.D. 250. The Mayans were a highly hierarchical society. Diamond explains:

There was a tacitly understood quid pro quo: the reason why the peasants supported the luxurious lifestyle of the king and his court… and built his palaces was because he had made implicit big promises to the peasants… Kings got into trouble with their peasants if a drought came, because that was tantamount to the breaking of a royal promise.

As with other failed societies, environmental problems played a large role. But more instructive than that was the societal response to those environmental problems. Diamond has this to say about that:

We have to wonder why the kings and nobles failed to solve these seemingly obvious problems undermining their society. Their attention was evidently focused on their short-term concerns of enriching themselves, waging wars, erecting monuments, competing with each other, and extracting enough food from the peasants to support all those activities. Like most leaders throughout human history, the Maya kings and nobles did not heed long term problems…

The Greenland Norse
While 99% of Greenland is uninhabitable, there are patches of it that are suitable for agriculture. A settlement from Norway was established in A.D. 984, which lasted approximately 500 years before completely dying out. The fate of the Greenland Norse is especially instructive because another society, the Inuit (Eskimos), who occupied Greenland before the Norse arrived, continue to live there today.

Greenland’s very cold climate, with very short summers, makes agriculture a precarious undertaking. But the Greenland Norse inherited a farming culture from Norway, and they stuck with it. Unlike the Inuit, they never learned to hunt whales, and they had a cultural taboo against eating fish. Thus, when their cows and sheep overgrazed their pastures, farming became an even more precarious undertaking, and lacking adequate alternative food sources, the Norse starved in the midst of plenty. The Greenland Norse was a very hierarchical society. Diamond explains:

Power in Norse Greenland was concentrated at the top… They owned most of the land… and controlled the trade with Europe. They chose to devote much of that trade to importing goods that brought prestige to them: luxury goods for the wealthiest households, vestments and jewelry for the clergy, and bells and stained glass for the churches. Among the uses to which they allocated their few boats were… to acquire the luxury exports… with which to pay for those imports. Chiefs had two motives for running large sheep herds that could damage the land by overgrazing… independent farmers on overgrazed land were more likely to be forced into tenancy, and thereby to become a chief’s followers… Innovations could have threatened the power, prestige, and narrow interests of the chiefs…. Thus, Norse society’s structure created a conflict between the short term interests of those in power, and the long term interests of the society as a whole… Ultimately, though, the chiefs found themselves without followers. The last right that they obtained for themselves was the privilege of being the last to starve.

The underlying cause of failed, collapsed societies
Each of these examples of failed societies involved a small proportion of the population that had a very disproportionate amount of political power and wealth. In those types of societies, the rich and powerful often make decisions that benefit themselves to the great detriment of the vast majority of other people. Environmental degradation often means little to them, as long as it increases their wealth and power. Significantly, Diamond found not a single example of a society that collapsed because too small a share of resources went to the ruling elite.

Right wing plutocrats and the austerity myth that will ruin our economy if we let them

Thus it is that our current situation in which right wing oligarchs and the politicians that they buy are attempting to amass ever more wealth and political power at the expense of everyone else is nothing new in the context of world history. To convince Americans to give up the social safety net programs that have sustained the poor and built a strong middle class since President Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s, they claim that the predominant problem facing our country today is our federal deficit. This is their excuse for privatizing Social Security and Medicare. They want us to forget that private corporations are in business to make a profit, whereas the purpose of government programs (such as Social Security and Medicare) is to serve its citizens. Where do people think that corporate profits are going to come from if not from the people who need the programs?

Not coincidentally, it is the same right wing oligarchs and politicians who try to scare us about the federal deficit who also continuously push for tax cuts for the rich, and tax cuts, deregulation, subsidies, and bailouts for powerful corporations. Our news media should – but repeatedly fails to – hold them accountable for their hypocritical message that we need to cut vital social safety net programs to reduce our debt, while at the same time arguing that we need to cut their taxes and increase military spending.

Their message about our federal debt is grossly misleading. The significance of the federal debt should be measured as a percentage of our nation’s GDP, rather than as an absolute figure. Here is a graph that looks at federal debt as a percentage of GDP:

Note that as a percentage of our GDP, after many years of reduction it began to rise substantially during the Reagan years, when “trickle down economics” came into vogue and tax rates on the wealthy were greatly reduced. Our national debt (as a percent of GDP) then decreased during the Clinton years, when tax rates on the wealthy were modestly increased, but rose again during the Bush years simultaneously with Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy.

William Greider demonstrates our misplace priorities in an article titled “Economic Free Fall”. In that article Greider discusses how Congress has claimed to ameliorate our economic crisis by providing economic assistance to the wealthy, while generally ignoring the rest of us.

Washington’s selective generosity for influential financial losers is deforming democracy and opening the path to an awesomely powerful corporate state… Hundreds of billions in open-ended relief has been delivered to the largest and most powerful mega-banks and investment firms, while government offers only weak gestures of sympathy for struggling producers, workers and consumers. The bailouts are rewarding the very people and institutions whose reckless behavior caused this financial mess. Yet government demands nothing from them in return…

Washington can act with breathtaking urgency when the right people want something done. In this case, the people are Wall Street's titans… Talk about warped priorities! The government puts up $29 billion as a "sweetener" for JP Morgan but can only come up with $4 billion for Cleveland, Detroit and other urban ruins.

Right wing plutocrats and the destruction of our planet

The human weaknesses that led to previous societal collapses have not changed much during the course of world history. Too much wealth and power in the hands of a small elite lead to tyranny and societal collapse, just as it always has.

But there is an important difference today, as compared with the past. Because of rapidly accelerating technological advances, the confluence and environmental crises with inadequate human response is now intertwined in ways that have never previously existed on our planet. It is now likely that future environmental crises will be primarily man-made rather than natural. Thus, too much power in the hands of an irresponsible ruling elite actually leads to the creation of environmental crises, which the elite then not only fails to respond to, but actively prevents others from responding to. And unlike the past, today’s environmental crises threaten the whole planet, rather than a single society at a time.

Brian Fagan describes the catastrophes that are likely to befall humanity if climate change is not adequately addressed, in his book “The Great Warming – Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilization”.

Today, we are experiencing sustained warming of a kind unknown since the Ice Age. And this warming is certain to bring drought – sustained drought and water shortages on a scale that will challenge even small cities… Imagine how many people might uproot themselves if the choice were between famine and food. Many believe the wars of coming centuries will not be fought over petty nationalisms, religion, or democratic principles, but over water, for this most precious of all our commodities may become even more valuable than oil. They are probably correct.

The U.S contribution to climate change is greatly out of proportion to its population. It is responsible for approximately one quarter of all the world's carbon dioxide emissions. Yet, in 2001 President Bush pulled the United States out of its international commitment to the Kyoto protocol, leaving us and Australia as the only two industrialized countries uncommitted to the international effort to respond to the climate change threat.

Effects on small islands are already being seen. In December 2006, the first inhabited island, Lohachara Island, disappeared beneath the sea. Several nearby islands have been affected as well, with tragic human consequences. Several other islands face catastrophic consequences in the immediate or foreseeable future if global warming isn’t soon halted or at least slowed considerably. For that reason, many small island nations made evacuation plans.

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Organization reported 111 major hurricanes in the tropical Atlantic from 1995 to 2008, a 75% increase over the previous thirteen years. A researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research noted that “Storms are not just making landfall and going away like they did in the past… Somehow these storms are able to live longer today”.

The Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters conducted research that gives us an indication of the magnitude of the increase in severe weather events. That research found that there was four times the number of weather disasters in the last thirty years as in the first 75 years of the 20th Century.

In conclusion

In conclusion, a nation’s level of income and wealth inequality is not God-ordained, nor is it the natural consequence of a society arranging things for the benefit of all. Rather, a high level of national income and wealth inequality generally means that its elites have been successful in arranging its laws and policies to enhance their own wealth and power at the expense of their fellow citizens.

Our elites have formed themselves into giant powerful corporations that have demanded and received all the rights of “persons”, with few or none of the responsibilities of ordinary persons. The result has been to substantially widen the gap between rich and poor and to give to the few the license to enrich themselves at the great expense of the many. If nothing is done to stop them we will not be able to solve the environmental crises that threaten to make our planet less and less habitable for human life.
Posted by Time for change | Wed Nov 14, 2012, 04:32 PM (2 replies)

Voting “Irregularities” and Dirty Tricks Looming in Pennsylvania

President Obama has apparently built up enough of an early voting (prior to Election Day) lead in the key swing states of Ohio, Iowa, and Nevada that Romney’s chances of winning the Electoral College have dimmed considerably in the past few days. Without those states, a Romney victory seems quite remote.

A win in Pennsylvania would go quite a ways towards getting him back on track. Though Obama has an apparently safe lead in Pennsylvania, enough election “irregularities” and dirty tricks could save the state and the election for Romney. Maybe that could explain the following:

Misinformation in African American areas of Philadelphia
Misinformation encouraging people in Philadelphia to cancel their own votes has been circulating on Tuesday, and Obama field operatives have begun trying to correct the rumor on the ground. The rumor, which has spread in urban and predominantly African American areas of Philadelphia that tilt towards Barack Obama, wrongly instructed voters to first select an "All Democratic" voting slate -- and then cast another vote specifically for Obama. That second vote has the effect of canceling the original vote, according to two Democratic sources in Philadelphia.

"Many voters are being told to vote for the President by BOTH checking the Straight Democrat Box and the Box for the President," explains an email from an Obama Voter Protection staffer targeting Philadelphia voters. That action cancels the vote, says the staffer, who instructed voters "to do one or the other, but not both."

The Obama campaign has voter protection staff and attorneys on the ground trying to clarify the situation…

Pennsylvania voting machine caught switching vote from Obama to Romney
An electronic voting machine in Pennsylvania has been taken out of service after a voter captured video of it changing a vote for Barack Obama into one for Mitt Romney.

Trying to purge black voters at the polls in three major cities
Poll workers in Pennsylvania wrongly telling voters they need photo ID to cast a ballot. According to the law, poll workers in Pennsylvania can ask voters for ID, but they are not required to show it in order to vote. However, that is not how the law is being enforced. Eric Marshall, co-director of Election Protection, says such problems are occurring across the state, although reports are that minority voters are being targeted in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. “Poll workers are asking black voters for ID but not white voters,” Marshall reported.

Posted by Time for change | Tue Nov 6, 2012, 06:31 PM (14 replies)

Path to Victory: Wisconsin, Ohio, Nevada, Iowa – Early Voting and Polls Suggest Clear Obama Victory

As the last weekend before Election Days draws to a close, President Obama is tightening his grip on an electoral college victory. Of the nine states that are considered competitive at this time (Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin), Obama seems to be pulling away in four of them (Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, Wisconsin) with more than enough electoral votes to win. Of the other 5 competitive states, Obama has a slight lead in one (NH), two are virtually tied (CO, VA), and Romney has a slight lead in one (FL) and a somewhat comfortable lead in one (NC). But Obama doesn’t need any of those 5 states to win. Iowa, Ohio, Nevada and Wisconsin alone will give him 277 electoral votes, to 261 for Romney. In fact, Obama could even lose Iowa or Nevada, in addition to the other 5, and he would still win.

Recent polling in Nevada, Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin

First let’s consider the polling. Obama leads in a series of recent polls in the 4 states, as compiled by Real Clear Politics, ranging from 2.8% to 4.2%, as follows:
Nevada: 5 polls, [font color="blue"]+ 2.8%[/font]
Ohio: 12 polls, [font color="blue"]+ 2.8%[/font]
Iowa: 6 polls, [font color="blue"]+ 3.0%[/font]
Wisconsin, 5 polls, + [font color="blue"]4.2%[/font]

Those leads may not seem like a great deal. But keep in mind that the statistical margin of error in combined polls is far lower than that from a single poll. All of those Obama leads are above the statistical margin of error, with only two days to go.

Nate Silver recently looked at the historical accuracy of state polls right before Election Day, since 1988. Of 77 series of late state polls since 1988, 74 of them correctly predicted the winner. One of the ones that didn’t was the series of Ohio state polls right before the 2004 election – and as we now know, there is a great amount of evidence that that election was riddled with fraud. The latest pre-election polls in Ohio in 2004 predicted John Kerry the winner, while George W. Bush won the official vote count. Not incidentally, the Ohio exit polls also predicted John Kerry the winner – by a large margin.

Early voting

An analysis of early voting provides additional strong reason to believe that Obama will win these 4 states:

72% of Nevadans have already voted (if one assumes that total turnout will approximately equal that of 2008), and analysis of voting by party affiliation shows that more than 48 thousand registered Democrats than Republicans have voted so far. Of course Party affiliation does not prove who one is going to vote for. But extrapolation from similar early voting data in Nevada in 2008 indicates that Obama has a comfortable lead in Nevada at this point.

With 39% of Iowans having voted by now, the lead in registered Democrats over Republicans is about 63 thousand. Again, extrapolation from early voting data in 2008 indicates a comfortable lead for Obama.

In Ohio, only about 29% of voters have early voted so far. Early voting in Ohio is not tabulated by Party affiliation. But the two most highly Democratic counties in the state (Cuyahoga and Franklin) have early voted so far by much higher rates (36% and 37% of the total 2008 voter turnout) than the rest of the state, which is mostly Republican (21%). This is similar to early voting rate patterns by county observed in 2008 in Ohio, when Obama won by a comfortable margin.

Not much early voting has occurred in Wisconsin. But since Wisconsin is one of the very few states in the country that has same day voter registration, typical polls of “likely voters” are likely to underestimate the Obama lead in Wisconsin. Added to the comfortable and growing Obama lead of 4.2% in Wisconsin, that should translate into an Obama victory in Wisconsin.

In summary

Late polling data in Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio, and Nevada, in addition to analysis of early voting in Iowa, Ohio, and Nevada, shows a strong likelihood of a comfortable Obama win in each of those states, which together provide more than enough electoral votes to win the presidency, when added to those the 20 non-competitive, safe Obama states.

Therefore, if the official vote count should show a Romney victory on Election Day, intensive investigations, including a review of exit polls, carefully observed recounts and forensic examinations of electronic voting machines, should be demanded prior to an Obama concession.
Posted by Time for change | Sun Nov 4, 2012, 10:15 PM (10 replies)

Romney’s Utterly Irresponsible Attitude towards the Fate of our Planet

Mitt Romney has said a lot of irresponsible things in his life, especially during the current Presidential campaign. But perhaps the most irresponsible and ridiculous of all is this one, delivered during this year’s Republican National Convention:

President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. MY promise (audience laughter) is to help you and your family.

That statement says all we need to know about Mitt Romney. He claims to want to help us and our families, and yet he publicly demonstrates in the same sentence that he is not the least bit concerned about the warnings of virtually all reputable climate scientists in the world, to the effect that if we do not take measures to reduce the impact of climate change on our planet, hundreds of millions of people will suffer terribly in the coming years, as our planet becomes more and more unfit for human habitation.

It is not of course just this statement that characterizes Romney’s position on this issue. His presidential campaign has been characterized by a total unwillingness to acknowledge that climate change due to the burning of fossil fuels poses any problem for us whatsoever. Instead, he has put forth many plans to increase the problem by accelerating the burning of fossil fuels.

The threat of climate change and the lack of U.S. response

Brian Fagan describes the catastrophes that are likely to befall humanity if climate change is not adequately addressed, in his book “The Great Warming – Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilization”.

Today, we are experiencing sustained warming of a kind unknown since the Ice Age. And this warming is certain to bring drought – sustained drought and water shortages on a scale that will challenge even small cities… Imagine how many people might uproot themselves if the choice were between famine and food. Many believe the wars of coming centuries will not be fought over petty nationalisms, religion, or democratic principles, but over water, for this most precious of all our commodities may become even more valuable than oil. They are probably correct.

The U.S contribution to climate change is greatly out of proportion to its population. It is responsible for approximately one quarter of all the world's carbon dioxide emissions. Yet, in 2001 President Bush pulled the United States out of its international commitment to the Kyoto protocol, leaving us and Australia as the only two industrialized countries uncommitted to the international effort to respond to the climate change threat.

Effects on small islands are already being seen. In December 2006, the first inhabited island, Lohachara Island, disappeared beneath the sea. Several nearby islands have been affected as well, with tragic human consequences. Several other islands face catastrophic consequences in the immediate or foreseeable future if global warming isn’t soon halted or at least slowed considerably. For that reason, many small island nations made evacuation plans.

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Organization reported 111 major hurricanes in the tropical Atlantic from 1995 to 2008, a 75% increase over the previous thirteen years. A researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research noted that “Storms are not just making landfall and going away like they did in the past… Somehow these storms are able to live longer today”.

The Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters conducted research that gives us an indication of the magnitude of the increase in severe weather events. That research found that there was four times the number of weather disasters in the last thirty years as in the first 75 years of the 20th Century.

The effects on coastal areas of the United States

Mike Tidwell referenced Hurricane Sandy in a recent article, to expound upon the coming effects of climate change on the coastal areas of the United States:

Aided by a full foot of sea-level rise during the last century, Hurricane Sandy is just the latest example of climate change’s impact on human society. Unless we rapidly phase out our use of fossil fuels, most Americans within shouting distance of an ocean will – in coming years – live behind … massive levees and floodgates… There will be levees everywhere. Imagine the National Mall, Reagan National Airport and the Virginia suburbs – all well below sea level – at the mercy of “trust-us-they’ll-hold” levees maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Oceans worldwide are projected to rise as much as three more feet this century – much higher if the Greenland ice sheet melts away. Intense storms are already becoming much more common. These two factors together will in essence export the plight of New Orleans… to New York City and Washington, as well as to Charleston, Miami, and other coastal cities. Assuming we want to keep living in these cities, we’ll have to build dikes and learn to exist beneath the surface of surrounding tidal bays, rivers and open seas…

What can we do? Three major options: (1) abandon our coastal cities and retreat inland, (2) stay put and try to adapt to the menacing new conditions or (3) stop burning planet-warming fossil fuels as fast as possible…

In truth, we must combine some level of adaptation with the third option: switching away from fossil fuels and onto clean energy. Clean energy is less expensive, less risky and overall much better for us. It’s the option that treats the disease of global warming, not just the symptoms. Only by dramatically reducing greenhouse gas pollution… can we slow the sea-level rise and potentially calm the growth in hurricane intensity.

The limitless greed of those who prevent action on climate change

Words fail me in attempting to describe how irresponsible was Romney’s show of contempt for President Obama’s expressions of concern about the fate of our planet. But words didn’t fail Rebecca Solnit in describing the most common reasons for ignoring the greatest threat to the survival of human life on our planet. She asks:

Why have we done almost nothing over the past twenty-five years about what was then a terrifying threat and is now a present catastrophe? Because it was bad for quarterly returns and fossil-fuel portfolios. When posterity indicts our era, this will be the feeble answer for why we did so little – that the rich and powerful with ties to the carbon-emitting industries have done everything in their power to prevent action on, or even recognition of, the problem. In this country in particular, they spent a fortune sowing doubt about the science of climate change and punishing politicians who brought the subject up. In this way have we gone through four “debates” and nearly a full election cycle with climate change unmentioned and unmentionable.

We need to talk about climate change as a war against nature, against the poor (especially the poor of Africa), and against the rest of us. There are casualties, there are deaths and there is destruction, and it’s all mounting… While we’re at it, take back the term “pro-life” to talk about those who are trying to save the lives of all the creatures suffering from the collapse of the complex systems on which plant and animal as well as human lives depend. The other side: “pro-death.”…

What is the great obstacle {to public discussion of climate change}? The oil corporations, the coal companies, the energy industry, its staggering financial clout, its swarms of lobbyists and the politicians in its clutches.

Honesty and concern about the accumulating effects of climate change compel me to note that President Obama’s actions against climate change have been far too little. But at least he has publicly recognized the existence of the problem, doesn’t make sick jokes that show contempt for the scientists who have investigated it and the fate of our planet, and has made some efforts towards addressing the problem – all in marked contrast to Mitt Romney. Hopefully those concerned about the future of our planet will be able to convince him to do far more in a second term. With President Mitt Romney there would be no hope of that for at least another 4-8 years.
Posted by Time for change | Thu Nov 1, 2012, 07:05 PM (2 replies)

Let’s Not Let Ohio Slip Away this Time, as it Did in 2004

As in 2004, it appears that whoever wins Ohio will win the presidential election in 2012. Without Ohio, if Obama doesn’t win Florida he will probably need only 2 of the remaining largest 5 swing states (VA, WI, CO, NV, IA) to win the Electoral College (as long as one of them is VA, WI, or CO). But without Ohio, if he doesn’t win Florida he will need to win 4 of the remaining 6 swing states (VA, WI, CO, NV, IA, NH), and maybe 5 (if the 4 doesn’t include Virginia and Wisconsin).

It is therefore important to keep in mind what happened in Ohio in 2004, because what happened then could happen again, especially given that Ohio has a Republican governor – as it did in 2004.

Many have criticized John Kerry for conceding the 2004 election too early, as subsequent events cast a very dark cloud over the 2004 election in Ohio (not to mention elsewhere as well). My purpose is not to criticize John Kerry, whom I respect very much. But at the same time we should learn from what happened in 2004, so as not to repeat it. Subsequent investigations showed myriad “irregularities” with the 2004 election in Ohio. Those investigations did not actually overturn the election. But there is much reason to believe that if the election had not been conceded, and if the investigations had been accompanied by substantial oversight, it would have been overturned. So let’s consider what happened in 2004:


In the official vote count, George W. Bush beat John Kerry by about 118 thousand votes in 2004, a margin of about 2.5%. But according to the final Ohio exit polls, John Kerry should have won Ohio by about 4.2%. The difference between a 2.5% Bush margin and a 4.2% Kerry margin was 6.7%. This is commonly referred to as a “red shift” of 6.7%. This didn’t just happen in Ohio. Nationally, a 2.6% Kerry lead in the final exit polls turned into a 2.8% Bush lead in the national popular vote – a red shift of 5.4%.

Many explanations have been put forth to explain the large differences between the exit polls and the official vote counts. Clearly, either the exit polls were wrong or the official vote count was wrong. The claim by those who wish to disregard election fraud as the primary reason for the discrepancies claim that the exit polls were “biased”. But they put forth very little evidence to substantiate that claim, and there has never been a U.S. Presidential election in which the discrepancy between the exit polls and the official vote count was that large (data is available on this since 1988). On the other hand, much evidence of election “irregularities” was subsequently uncovered.

By early January, 2005, a small portion of those irregularities had come to light – enough to elicit a formal objection by several U.S. Congresspersons. Senator Barbara Boxer, whose official objection forced a public debate in the U.S. Senate, wrote:

I have concluded that objecting to the electoral votes from Ohio is the only immediate way to bring these issues to light by allowing… a two-hour debate to let the American people know the facts surrounding Ohio's election.

This was accompanied by a report by Representative John Conyers, the leading Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. Conyers said “We have found numerous, serious election irregularities in the Ohio presidential election” as he released his report, titled "Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio ".

Let’s take a look at the evidence of irregularities surrounding the 2004 Presidential election in Ohio:

Evidence of vote switching on electronic machines

An analysis of reports by U.S. voters to the Election Incidence Reporting System (EIRS) showed that reported vote switches that favored George Bush outnumbered those that favored John Kerry by a ratio of 12 to 1. The rate of reported vote switches per voting population was 9 times greater in swing states than in non-swing states. Many of the voters who experienced vote switches from Kerry to Bush tried to vote for Kerry several times before the correct vote finally registered. Some voters said they ended up voting for Bush because they lost patience trying to change their vote. Many of the reports noted that there were additional similar incidents in the same polling place, using such phrases as “happening all day”.

Other investigations were conducted that strongly supported the idea that the EIRS reports represented only the tip of an iceberg with regard to vote switching. For example, a report by Paul Lehto and Jeffrey Hoffman identified 19 reports of electronic vote switching in Snohomish County, Washington – all which favored Bush – from the Washington State auditor’s office and other sources. Only 3 of those cases had been reported to EIRS.

Even more compelling was an investigation undertaken by the Washington Post regarding electronic vote switching in Mahoning County, Ohio. That investigation identified 25 electronic voting machines in Youngstown, Mahoning County, each which transferred an unknown number of votes from Kerry to Bush. The Post report went on to state “Due to lack of cooperation from Secretary of State Blackwell, we have not been able to ascertain the number of votes that were impacted or whether the machines malfunctioned due to intentional manipulation or error.”

Supporting the supposition of election fraud as an explanation for the vote switches described in the EIRS analysis, as well as the exit poll discrepancy nationally and in Ohio, sworn testimony by computer programmer Clint Curtis before the House Judiciary Committee’s Democratic staff suggested an intention on the part of Republican functionaries to utilize electronic vote switching software in the 2004 election. Curtis testified that he had been asked by his supervisor, on behalf of Republican Congressman Tom Feeney, to write a computer program that switched votes from one candidate to another. The strange "suicide" death of the Florida investigator who was in the midst of investigating Curtis’ allegations (after telling Curtis that his investigation revealed corruption “all the way to the top”) provides additional reason for suspicion.

Disappearing Kerry votes in Clermont County, Ohio

Several volunteer workers participating in the vote recount in Clermont County shortly after the 2004 presidential election signed affidavits stating that they observed several white oval stickers covering the Kerry/Edwards choice on the optical scan ballots used in that election. Some of these workers noted that beneath the white oval stickers the Kerry/Edwards ovals were filled in. The white sticker would have prevented the optical scan machine from counting those ballots as votes for Kerry. None of these witnesses noted a problem with the Bush/Cheney ovals. Clermont County was one of the three Ohio counties with the largest vote increase for Bush from 2000 to 2004.

Evidence of central tabulator mediated fraud

Heavily Democratic Cleveland was (and is) central to any Democrat’s chance of carrying Ohio. Many anecdotal reports of very long voting lines in Cleveland suggested that voter turnout there was especially heavy in 2004. An excessive number of voter complaints to the national Electronic Incident Reporting System, of long voting lines in Cleveland, confirmed those anecdotal reports of heavy voter turnout in Cleveland. Yet despite the very long voting lines reported all over Cleveland, official voter turnout was recorded as quite low compared to elsewhere in Ohio.

Investigation showed that problems with voting machines were not the cause of this problem (as was the case elsewhere in Ohio). What else would explain a very high real turnout of voters in Cleveland, in the presence of a very low official turnout? That finding alone suggests foul play – specifically the electronic deletion of votes by the Cuyahoga County central tabulator.

Warren County
Warren County, Ohio, was the site of the infamous lockdown, which allowed Republican officials to tally the Warren County vote in private. Their initial excuse for disallowing any observers to watch the vote count was that they didn’t want interference with the counting process. Later, they changed that excuse to say that the FBI warned them of a terrorism alert of grade 10 on a 1 to 10 scale. That claim was later denied by the FBI, and county officials refused to name the FBI agent whom they claimed gave them the warning. Several months later I called Erica Solvig, the reporter who broke the story, in an attempt to find out more about what happened. She told me that she wasn’t at liberty to discuss it.

Yet the Warren County results continued to stand, and without any serious investigation. It also may be significant that this event occurred when it still looked very much as if Kerry would win Ohio. Bush picked up thousands of additional votes in Warren County, compared with his performance in the 2000 election against Al Gore, and the number of voters officially increased by 30% compared to the 2000 election. By the time the Warren County votes had been “counted”, victory had all but slipped away from the Kerry/Edwards ticket.

Miami County
In Miami County, Ohio, after 100% of precincts had reported, an additional 19,000 ballots were reported, giving Bush an additional vote margin of about 6,000 (in exactly the same percentage of the previous votes). What makes this additionally suspicious is that Miami County reported a 20.9% increase in turnout for 2004, compared to 2000, despite a gain in population of only 1.4%. Miami County reported the second largest vote gain for Bush of Ohio’s 88 counties, compared to his performance in 2000. Furthermore, the final official voter turnout figure for Miami County, after the additional 19,000 ballots were added, was a highly suspect 98.55%.

Michael Connell
Michael Connell was a high level Republican operative and IT consultant. He was the founder of New Media Communications, which provided web site services for the Bush-Cheney 2004 presidential campaign, the Republican National Committee, and many other Republican candidates.

Given the exit poll discrepancies, the numerous other “irregularities” in the Ohio 2004 presidential election, Connell’s close connections with Karl Rove and the Bush campaign, and his official computer duties with respect to the presidential election in Ohio, he was sought to provide testimony in connection with a lawsuit that alleged tampering with the 2004 election. On September 22, 2008, Connell was subpoenaed to testify in the case. Connell initially sought to avoid testifying, and even put forth a motion to quash his subpoena.

The testimony of Stephen Spoonamore
About a month later, October 26, Stephen Spoonamore, a computer expert and close associate of Michael Connor, provided an affidavit on how he saw the 2004 Presidential election being stolen:

During the evening and early morning on the 2004 General Election in Ohio, on my own computer I was watching the results of incoming counties and precincts. I believed there was a more than likely chance County Tabulators had been programmed to manipulate votes…. As early results showed Kerry ahead, I noticed a trend in a very few counties (I believe I noted 8 counties on election night) that at about 11 p.m. suddenly began reporting radically different ratios of Kerry to Bush votes. All in favor of Mr. Bush. This sudden rate of change… resembled a fraud technique called an Intelligent Man In the Middle, or KingPin Attack. This type of attack requires a computer to be inserted into the communications flow of an IT system…

Other experts found additional data indicating Bush's increase in votes from these counties, and Kerry's decrease in votes… When information about the SmartTech IT routing switch became public, and recalling that staff of Triad were reported to have removed hard drives from County Tabulators in advance of the recount, I again stated that we now have confirmation of a KingPin, or Intelligent Man in the Middle position had been created… The SmartTech system was set up precisely as a KingPin computer used in criminal acts against banking or credit card processes and had the needed level of access to both county tabulators and Secretary of States computers to allow whoever was running SmartTech's computers to decide the output of the county tabulators under it's
control…The SmartTech computer would as the results of the evening proceeded be able to know how many votes Bush needed to steal from Kerry, and flip enough votes on the desired county tabulators to reverse the outcome of the election…

The only way this could have been detected on election night would be complete monitoring… or by conducting a forensic analysis of the complete county tabulator computer, especially the hard drives of these computers. These hard drives were apparently removed by Triad employees before the Green Party Recount, in what appears to be a concerted effort to destroy evidence…

A couple words of explanation are in order at this point: The SmartTech system that Spoonamore referred to was operated by Michael Connell; the references to the hard drives removed by Triad employees before the recount relate back to the corrupted Ohio recount, which I will describe shortly. The removal of those hard drives constituted destruction of evidence of the true vote count, thus making it impossible to conduct an accurate recount.

The death of Michael Connell
On October 28, attorneys filed a motion to compel testimony of Connell regarding his knowledge of the workings of the GOP computer systems. On October 31 a federal judge ordered Connell to submit to a deposition on possible election manipulation. Connell gave the deposition on November 4, providing as little information as possible, but eventually he was forced to admit that “he brought Triad and SmartTech into the Ohio election game”.

When it became apparent that Connell would testify in the case, according to news reporter Blake Renault, Connell was warned not to fly his plane:

Connell...was apparently told by a close friend not to fly his plane because his plane might be sabotaged… And twice in the last two months Connell, who is an experienced pilot, cancelled two flights because of suspicious problems with his plane.

Cliff Arnebeck, the Ohio lawyer who brought the suit and subpoenaed Connell, warned the U.S. Justice Department that Connell’s life might be in danger, and requested witness protection. Arnebeck wrote:

I have informed court chambers and am in the process of informing the Ohio Attorney General's and US Attorney's offices in Columbus for the purpose, among other things, of seeking protection for Mr. Connell and his family from this reported attempt to intimidate a witness…

Unfortunately, Connell never did get to testify. On December 19, he died in a plane crash, presumably caused by his plane running out of gas.

Purging of legitimate Ohio voters

A great deal of evidence prior to the election indicated that massive voter registration drives by Democratic organizations paid of handsomely with large increases in registered voters in Ohio. An article in The New York Times by Kate Zernike and Ford Fessendon, titled " As Deadline Hits, Roles of Voters Show Big Surge", showed massive voter registration gains in Democratic areas of Ohio, far greater than in Republican areas, identifying 230,000 new voters registered in heavily Democratic Cuyahoga County in 2004. Norman Robbins, leader of the Greater Cleveland Voter Registration Coalition, identified 160,894 new voter registrations received by the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections in 2004, compared to 31,903 new voter registrations in 2000. These figures were both far higher than the mere 119,000 thousand increase in registered voters between March and November of 2004 indicated by the official figures posted by the Ohio Secretary of State – suggesting that tens of thousands of Ohio voters were purged in Cuyahoga County.

Confirmation of the probable reasons for these discrepancies came from research by Victoria Lovegren, who posted a report at Ohio Vigilance which indicated the purging, apparently illegal, of 165,224 voters from Cuyahoga County alone, for no other rationale than that they hadn't voted recently. Dr. Lovegren also noted hundreds of long-time voters missing from the voter roles and numerous other issues of great concern, including tricks aimed specifically at disenfranchising Democrats.

Additional confirmation of the purging process comes from Mark Crispin Miller’s book, “Fooled Again – How the Right Stole the 2004 Election and Why they’ll Steal the Next One Too (Unless we Stop them)”. In that book, Miller recounts his conversations with Denise Shull, a poll checker in Summit County. During the course of her work on Election Day, Shull noted that approximately 10% to 20% of registered Democratic voters on her list were not on the official list of registered voters. Furthermore – and this is very important – these voters were described as ardent Democrats, as long time voters in the area, AND most of them were not allowed to vote. A possible reason for their not voting is suggested by an encounter that Shull had with one of these voters as the voter (or more precisely, non-voter) was leaving the polls. This voter was simply told that she couldn’t vote and was given a phone number to call. And even more disturbing, Shull noted three of her fellow Democratic volunteers who described to her very much the same phenomenon occurring at the polling places where they worked that day.

What Shull describes not only provides confirmation that legally registered voters were purged from the voter rolls prior to the 2004 election, but indicates that most of these voters ended up not voting.

Targeting of Democratic voters in Cleveland could have been done relatively easily, since Cleveland is heavily Democratic (voted 83% for Kerry, 16% for Bush in 2004), and many precincts in Cleveland voted more than 90% for Kerry. In order to target Democratic voters in Cleveland, one would merely have had to pick out those precincts with a history of voting 90% or more for Gore in the last election.

But what about Summit County, the county where Denise Shull and other Democratic volunteers described on-the-ground evidence of voter registration purging, and where only 57% of voters voted for Kerry. Voter purging in Summit County would have been much less efficient than voter purging in Cuyahoga County, because any voter purging that occurred there would have included a large proportion of Republicans as well as Democrats. Unless ….

Miller’s book also describes a break-in at Democratic Party headquarters in Akron (143), Summit County, in the summer of 2004. The only things stolen were two computers with Democratic campaign-related information on them. A similar break-in occurred three months later in Lucas County, and was described by the Toledo Blade. This could easily explain Richard Hayes Phillips’ finding of especially low official voter turnout in the most heavily Democratic areas of Lucas County.

Other dirty tricks

Abundant evidence of dirty tricks is noted in Rep. Conyers’ report: Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio – Status Report of the House Judiciary Committee Democratic Staff. Other evidence was provided from numerous public hearings.

The types of voter suppression that were documented in Conyers’ report included: failing to provide provisional ballots to tens or hundreds of thousands of eligible voters according to law; targeting minority voters for thousands of legal challenges, demanding that voters provide ID at the polls (contrary to Ohio law), thereby causing many voters to leave without voting; going door-to-door prior to the election, telling voters that they were not registered to vote; failing to provide absentee ballots upon request, and then refusing to let those voters vote on Election Day; and myriad dirty tricks involving misinformation on such essential topics as where or when voters were supposed to vote. There was even an organized effort to call Democratic voters to tell them that they would go to jail if they showed up at the polls to vote.

In Franklin County, Ohio, which has disproportionate numbers of poor and minority voters, 74% of voters waited to vote for more than twenty minutes. The problem was far worse in Kerry voting precincts that in Bush voting precincts. A study that looked at voting machine allocation per voter by precinct partisanship showed that machine allocation was far less adequate in precincts that voted for Kerry. An extensive statistical analysis of the situation by Elizabeth Liddle found that approximately 18,500 voters were disenfranchised in Franklin County because of overcrowding and consequent long waits at the polls. Furthermore, as Bob Fitrakis revealed, all this happened while 68 voting machines were available in Franklin County but held back by county election officials.

A corrupted Ohio recount

A valid recount of the Ohio vote would have identified many (but not all) of the problems discussed above. If county central tabulator computers had indeed manipulated the vote count, as discussed above, a recount would have revealed the discrepancies.

Money was raised for such a recount. The law required that 3% of randomly selected precincts from each county be selected for an initial recount, and then if the recounted vote totals from those randomly selected precincts did not match the initial count of the respective precincts, the whole county would be recounted by hand.

Yet from start to finish, every effort was made to prevent full county recounts, as described in a review by Georgia10, so that when it all ended, only one county in the whole state had been recounted. In order to accomplish this, numerous violations of Ohio law were perpetrated, including: At least 17 counties where the recount was chosen by Ohio election officials rather than randomly; at least 6 counties where tampering with the tabulating machines by voting machine company technicians was confirmed, including a case in Hocking County where the technician actually gave the election officials a "cheat sheet" with instructions on how to make the counts match (The whistle blower of this felony, Sherole Eaton, was subsequently fired from her job), and; at least 6 counties for which, even when it turned out that the vote totals from the preliminary recount didn’t match the official count, election officials still refused to do the required full recount.

And to top it all off, when workers attempted to examine records during the recount in order to identify discrepancies, Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell issued a surprise order stating that the public voting records were now private rather than public, and disallowed access to them – contrary to Ohio law. Then, when Congressman John Conyers’ U.S. House Judiciary Democratic Staff attempted to question Blackwell about this and numerous other violations of Ohio law, Blackwell repeatedly refused to answer any questions of the Committee.

In Cuyahoga County, three elections workers faced criminal charges for their failure to follow Ohio election law, and at least two of them were convicted. As reported by The Free Press:

Three criminal prosecutions in Ohio's biggest county have opened with strong indications that the cover-up of the theft of the 2004 presidential election is starting to unravel… According to the AP, County Prosecutor Kevin Baxter opened the Cuyahoga trial by charging that "the evidence will show that this recount was rigged…”

Similar allegations have been made in other counties. Indeed, such illegal non-random recounting procedures appear to have been common throughout the state, carried out by board of election employees with the tacit consent of Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell. Blackwell was officially charged with administering the election that gave Bush a second term while simultaneously serving as the Ohio co-chair of his Bush's re-election campaign.

Additional evidence of a corrupted recount comes from the observations of an election observer representing the Green Party of Ohio at the recount, who noted:

Anomalies were found. Almost all of the witnesses that I spoke with felt that the ballots were not in random order, that they had been previously sorted. There would be long runs of votes for only one candidate and then long runs for another, which seemed statistically improbable to most. From what they were able to get through, witnesses found that signature counts were very much different from the official recorded number of ballots.


Time is running short, and most of what needs to be done to prevent a recurrence of what happened in 2004 should have already been done. I’m very glad to see that most of the Republican efforts to suppress voter turnout through such things as draconian Photo ID laws have been successfully challenged in courts and ruled illegal. That includes the foiled efforts of Republican controlled Ohio to limit early voting hours for Democrats while expanding them for Republicans.

Electronic direct recording voting machines produce results that cannot be verified in any way unless they are accompanied by a voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT). Otherwise the results produced by those machines cannot even be recounted because they don’t produce anything to recount. Unfortunately, 25% of U.S. voters who vote this Election Day will vote on those electronic machines without a VVPAT. Another 13% will vote on electronic voting machines with a VVPAT. That is what most of the counties in Ohio will use in 2012. But even with the VVPAT there are many problems. There are many different VVPAT systems, and it is difficult to know whether the paper trail will accurately reflect the voter intent. Some electronic voting machines with VVPAT systems do not actually give the voter a chance to correct paper trails that may be inaccurate. And even when the voter does have a chance to correct it, some voters have been shown to cast their vote without making the necessary effort to verify that the paper ballot accurately reflects who they voted for.

Statistical analyses can be performed following the election, in order to identify highly unusual patterns. For example, if we again see large discrepancies between the exit polls and the official vote count, analyses could be performed to see if a disproportionate amount of the discrepancy occurred in counties using electronic direct recording voting machines. If so, that would be highly suggestive of electronic vote switching. If the election was not conceded by then, and if a paper trail is available, a hand recount should be demanded, and it should be vigorously monitored for accuracy. If a paper trail is not available, maybe our courts would allow state examination of the machines in an effort to look for fraud. This was widely requested and denied in 2004. Would the result be different if the “losing” candidate hadn’t yet conceded the election? Time will tell. Why we tolerate such machines in a democracy is beyond my comprehension.

If county central tabulators are used to commit fraud in counties that use voting machines that produce paper trails, then the existence of the paper evidence could potentially be used to overturn the election – if the “losing” candidate hasn’t conceded (Theoretically it could be overturned even if the candidate has conceded, but as we saw in 2004, once a candidate concedes, public attention is withdrawn from the issue, and it seems that no amount of evidence is capable of overturning the election). If a paper trail exists then the vote can be recounted by hand, and/or evidence of vote counts from individual precincts can be used to show discrepancies between actual results and those spit out by the central tabulators. That would require an intensive effort on the part of the “losing” candidate – more intensive even than that seen in Florida in 2000 – to ensure that every effort is made to reconcile the vote counts.

If we again see evidence of massive voter purging that appears to be illegal, we’re in for a big fight if we don’t want to concede the election, but I think it would be a fight worth fighting.

We do have a precedent. The Presidential election of 1876 was rightly thought to involve severe suppression of the Black vote in three Southern states (Louisiana, Florida, and South Carolina). Based on the official vote counts in those states, the Democratic candidate, Samuel Tilden, was initially awarded their electoral votes. A bitter fight ensued, which some thought might lead to another Civil War. The stalemate lasted nearly a hundred days, as the matter was deferred to a commission to make the final decision. The initial results were finally overturned on the last day of January, 1877, with the electoral votes of the disputed states given to the Republican candidate (the Republican Party in those days actually was the Party of Lincoln, the anti-racist Party), Rutheford B. Hayes. It was actually more complicated than that, with much politics and deal making, but my point is that if fraud is involved it doesn’t have to be accepted without a vigorous fight.

At this point I think the bottom line is this: Be very suspicious, investigate early, and don’t concede if there is evidence of fraud until it’s been thoroughly investigated.
Posted by Time for change | Tue Oct 30, 2012, 11:50 PM (33 replies)

How our “Mainstream” Media Is Tilting the Election towards Romney

It is highly unfortunate that today most of our communications media are owned and controlled by very wealthy people who have far more interest in maintaining the status quo than in informing the American people on the important issues of our time.

That is not the way that democracy is supposed to work. Though national news in our country has always been slanted in favor of the privileged over the vulnerable, it has nevertheless long been rightly recognized in our country that the use of the public airways is a privilege rather than a right. That is why, as early as 1927 our government began requiring licenses for use of the public airways, in the Radio Act of 1927, which was expanded in the Communications Act of 1934. Since then, the underlying standard for radio and television licensing has been the "public interest, convenience and necessity clause", which is explained here by Sharon Zechowski:

The obligation to serve the public interest is integral to the "trusteeship" model of broadcasting – the philosophical foundation upon which broadcasters are expected to operate. The trusteeship paradigm is used to justify government regulation of broadcasting. It maintains that the electromagnetic spectrum is a limited resource belonging to the public, and only those most capable of serving the public interest are entrusted with a broadcast license…

But with the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, we began to see a rapid decline in the quality of the news we receive. By relaxing rules that prohibited monopoly control of telecommunications, that Act led to the concentration of the national news media of the United States largely into the hands of a very few wealthy corporations, to an extent never before seen in our country. This, more than any other event, has allowed the content of the news received by American citizens to be determined by a small number of very wealthy and powerful interests. Hence the pervasive blackout of meaningful news.

The implications for national politics have been quite unfortunate, as Democrats feel the need to move further and further to the right, lest they risk being ignored, mocked, or attacked by our corporate news media.

This situation is intolerable. A free and independent press, which provides unbiased accurate information to the people, is crucial to a healthy functioning democracy. When most of the press is under the control of corporate interests, which strive to tilt elections in their favor, democracy becomes nothing but a fig leaf. The result is not only a playing field tilted heavily towards the conservative (Republican) Party, but also that the more progressive (Democratic) Party is intimidated into moving to the right. The American people suffer for that because the corporate interests are served at the expense of the vast majority of people.

Campaign Trivia and Post-Truth Politics

A recent article by Eric Alterman, titled “Media at Work – Campaign Trivia and Post-Truth Politics” (See page 11), provides great explanations and examples as to how slanted media coverage of the current Presidential campaign is threatening the future of our country. It is doing this in two ways: 1) It provides cover for the myriad lies and distortions of Mitt Romney and other Republicans, thus giving them a much better chance to win elections than they (or the American people) deserve; and 2) it drives our national dialogue on all issues way to the right, while ignoring issues of central importance to the American people. I think it is useful to illustrate these points with some excerpts from Alterman’s most recent article on the subject:

On the abject failure of our corporate owned “mainstream media” to provide meaningful substance to their campaign coverage:

It’s been all but substanceless – when it hasn’t been deliberately deceptive. For despite the participation of tens of thousands of journalists spending tens of millions of dollars… devoted to covering the campaign, the system ultimately fails to justify itself in its most essential purpose: to ensure accountability for citizens and their leaders and to offer the kind of information necessary to help voters make an educated choice for the future of their country. The problems are myriad… First is the role that the relentless focus on campaign trivia plays in the coverage…

On the failure to address the far right wing radicalization of the Republican Party:

The second, and related, dynamic involves the inability of mainstream reporters to admit to, and account for, the radicalization of the Republican Party – whether it involves the candidates’ commitment to extremist ideology, or their refusal to allow observable reality to compete with their economic theories, their scientific ignorance, or their loyalty to billionaire funders like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson. So intense is journalists’ belief that they must find a way to blame “both sides” for whatever one candidate happens to say or do – whether it’s telling an outright lie, making a 180-degree change in position, or refusing to accept a simple economic or scientific fact – that the Republicans have largely been given a pass for the consequences of their Tea Party takeover…

This tendency not only creates a false “center” between the two parties – one in which ideologically driven, reality-denying… together with outright, deliberate lies, are treated as perfectly legitimate positions from which members of the punditocracy feel compelled
to demand “bipartisan” compromise from Obama and the Democrats. It also pretends that the ultimate contest will be fought out between two relatively moderate individuals, one
who governs from center-left and one who can be expected to do so from center-right, as if President Romney will somehow not be answerable to the radicalized party he represents.

On widespread abuse of the truth and failure to make the slightest effort to get to the truth:

During this campaign season, “news” outlets such as Fox, the Wall Street Journal editorial page… and other sources of conservative misinformation and propaganda ramped up their efforts to abuse the truth in support of their political and economic interests – in Fox News’s case, by booking guests who regularly lie about the president, and by hiring Republican operatives and fundraisers like Karl Rove and Dick Morris as “analysts” without disclosing their true professional identities…

On Meet the Press, NBC’s David Gregory failed, during pretty much his entire interview, to pin the candidate down on a single issue of substance, instead peppering him with questions like: “As a candidate now, when was the last time you really got to spend some – some quality time with somebody who is out of work….?

On the free pass given to Romney’s many lies and distortions:

Indeed, it was just this kind of superficial focus on the horse race/personality-driven aspect of Romney’s candidacy, together with a willingness to ignore almost every other relevant factor, that created the opening for Romney to pivot from liberal Republican to far-right Tea Party wannabe and (finally) at least part of the way back again during his first debate with Obama, without any sense of accountability for anything he has said or done previously…

At no point did the moderator challenge Romney on any of the specifics in his answers, regardless of whether they proved consistent with the public record of Romney’s career, the plans put forth by his campaign or the famous economic plan of his vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, or reality as generally understood outside the confines
of Republican ideology…

When asking Ryan about Romney’s criticism of alleged “apologies” for US foreign policy, Raddatz allowed him to insist “that we should not be apologizing for standing up for our values,” without bothering to ask when, in fact, anyone in the Obama
Administration – much less the president himself – had ever done so.

On the acquiescing to Republican talking points, no matter how foundationless, in particular regarding the Vice Presidential debate:

Raddatz didn’t try to correct any of the fantastical statements Ryan made to support his and Romney’s economic assumptions. But she did adopt a rightwing Republican talking point (and a demonstrably false one, at that) when, in raising the issue of entitlements, she asserted that “both Medicare and Social Security are going broke.”

On the failure to introduce issues of grave importance to the American people at the debates:

How can it be that neither moderator thought it worthwhile to ask about housing in the midst of a horrific foreclosure crisis? And what, for goodness’ sake, about the future of the American judiciary, especially when… as many as four new justices may be appointed by the next president…

Or what about climate change? Virtually the only time this issue has inspired any debate was when pundits argued over the effectiveness of Romney’s foolish and nonsensical convention speech quip: “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.” As Climate Progress blogger Joe Romm observed… “It would be great if a member of the media actually asked even one question on what most of us think is the story of the century, which is that we are in the process of ruining this livable climate of ours. And we can
still solve the problem if we act now. But, obviously, if no one talks about it, it’s very hard to solve the problem.”

Try to find any decent discussion of the federal government’s role in reducing poverty during the next four years. And this at a moment when fully 16.4 percent of American
families are experiencing “low food security,” according to the Agriculture Department, and 46 million are officially poor.

On Republican hysteria over the slightest attempt to introduce truth into the debates:

The most controversial moment of the evening came when moderator Candy Crowley corrected Romney on a matter of undeniable fact: that Barack Obama had used the term “act of terror” in his Rose Garden address on the day following the assault on the American consulate in Benghazi. Conservatives squealed like a pen full of stuck pigs over this allegedly unfair intervention. Daily Caller editor Tucker Carlson compared Crowley, somehow, to Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth, adding that what she had done was “fundamentally dishonest” and “exactly what moderators are not supposed to do.” On Fox Business News, contributor Doug Schoen, allegedly an “influential Democratic campaign consultant,” called it “the single most outrageous thing I’ve seen in thirty-odd years of watching presidential debates.” … Hysteria aside, the whiners had a point. Given all the shameful reporting in the 2012 election, the last thing any Republican thought Romney would have to worry about was being faced with the truth when making one of his countless false and fantastical statements during a presidential debate….

And most important of all, on the potential effect on the election of not holding Republicans accountable for their lies and distortions:

A vigorous, serious and unstinting focus on Romney and the Republicans’ plans for the country, coupled with sharp and sustained analysis of the disjunction between their actual views and the ones they profess for the purpose of winning elections, would demonstrate that they are well outside the consensus of American voters. Yet because the mainstream media cannot be depended on to provide even the rudiments of an accurate portrayal of the two parties’ positions on the major questions facing the nation, the United States now stands on the brink of four years of catastrophic misrule.

Posted by Time for change | Sun Oct 28, 2012, 07:07 PM (17 replies)
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