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Time for change

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Journal Archives

On the So-Called Voter “Enthusiasm Gap”

For as long as I can remember, every election season there is talk of the so-called “enthusiasm gap”, which always favors Republicans. The concept (I would call it more of a theory) arises largely from the fact that polls of registered voters prior to elections overestimate the extent to which voters are likely to vote Democratic and underestimate the extent to which they are likely to vote Republican. Presumably this is due to a relative lack of enthusiasm on the part of Democratic voters – so the theory goes.

As a result of this evidence of polling inaccuracy, the concept of “likely voters” vs. all registered voters was developed. The polling of only “likely voters” (as measured by various voter information collected during the polling process) is supposed to be a better predictor of election results – and indeed it has been shown to correlate better with official election results than polling of all registered voters (in fact, correlation with election results is how the statistical modeling used to determine who is a “likely” voter was developed).

There are many different ways in which voter “enthusiasm gap” is purportedly demonstrated. One is simply to ask voters how enthusiastic they are about voting. Another is to compare pre-election polls with exit polls. If one political party shows a smaller percentage of voters showing up for an election as measured in exit polls, compared to what pre-election polls predicted, that is taken as evidence of a voter “enthusiasm gap” for that Party. The characteristics of voters who were exit-polled are analyzed in connection with voters who were pre-election polled, to determine what characteristics predict “likely voters”. Another method is to compare the pre-election polls to the official vote count. As with the comparison with exit polls, if a political Party fares worse in official vote count compared to what pre-election polls of all registered voters predicted, that is taken as evidence of an enthusiasm gap – presumably meaning that relatively many voters from that political Party did not show up to vote.

Nate Silver notes in a recent column of his that in each of the six U.S. Presidential elections since 1988, “likely voters” voted more heavily Republican than all registered voters. The difference was 0.7% in 1988, 1.1% in 1992, 2.5% in 1996, 1.6% in 2000, 1.2% in 2004, and 2.1% in 2008. Also of note is the fact that in 5 of 6 of those elections the “likely voter” polls ended up being closer to the official results than the total registered voter polls.

In another column about the “enthusiasm gap”, Silver points out that what the “enthusiasm gap” really measures is voter “turnout”. I put turnout in quotes for the same reason that I put “enthusiasm gap” in quotes. Official voter “turnout” really is not quite a measure of turnout – that is, who showed up to vote. Voter “turnout” is defined as the percent of registered voters who actually register an official vote. But the fact of the matter is that every Election Day in the United States hundreds of thousands or millions of voters who show up to vote do not actually register a vote.


THE MANY REASONS FOR LOW VOTER “TOURNOUT” HAVING NOTHING TO DO WITH LACK OF ENTHUSIASM

It is very instructive to consider the many reasons why so many registered voters either don’t show up at the polls or do show up at the polls to vote but don’t register an official vote – because the answer to why this happens illustrates numerous problems with our election system. All of these barriers to voting work against the Democratic Party:


Old broken down voting machines

The problem with old voting machines failing to register a vote was perhaps most notoriously illustrated by the Presidential election in Florida in 2000. The initial vote count on Election Day in Florida gave George W. Bush a 1,784 vote lead over Al Gore. That immediately precipitated a machine recount, which reduced Bush’s lead to 327. Why? It was mostly because hanging pieces of cardboard remaining on the punch cards at the spot where the voter intended to vote had blocked the voting machine from registering a vote for President. When the ballots were run through the machine a second time, many of those hanging pieces of cardboard became dislodged and thereby allowed the vote to be registered. This process favored Al Gore because the old faulty voting machines tended to be concentrated in low income precincts which contained high concentrations of Democratic voters. Later, visual examination of every paper ballot in the state by staff of the Miami Herald several months following the election demonstrated thousands of additional undervotes – that is, ballots that the voting machine failed to recognize as a vote – that provided evidence of voter attempt to vote for a Presidential candidate (for example, tears or indentations in the cardboard). The counting of these ballots as votes would have given Al Gore an additional 1,314 net votes, which would have been enough to win Florida and the Presidential election. But for various reasons, including the stopping of the vote count by the U.S. Supreme Court, most of those votes were never officially counted, and Bush therefore “won” the election.

A large research study on this issue examined almost 2 million unrecorded votes for President in the 2000 Presidential election. Although the national rate of unrecorded votes was 1.8%, the rate was almost twice that, 3.4%, in counties with median annual incomes of less than $25,000. As with our educational system, our roads, and so many other things, less money is typically allocated to poor and minority areas for the purpose of voting than to affluent white areas. This means that poor and minority voters typically vote with older machines, which are more likely to malfunction, especially with regard to their ability to punch clean holes in the designated place on ballots.


Insufficient allocation of voting machines

The 2004 Presidential election in Ohio, whose electoral votes were awarded to George W. Bush, is full of examples of how voters go to the polls to vote and yet fail to register a vote for President.

Franklin County, Ohio, had disproportionate numbers of poor and minority voters. Largely because of insufficient numbers of voting machines allocated to many precincts in Franklin County, 74% of voters waited to vote for more than twenty minutes, and sometimes much longer than that. Furthermore, 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 John Kerry than those that voted for George Bush. In fact, it appears that there were about 30 Kerry precincts where there was less than one machine per 440 registered voters, while there were no Bush precincts in that category. That same study showed that “voter turnout” (those who actually voted) was substantially less in Franklin County precincts that were allocated fewer machines per voter. This was caused by the fact that long voter waiting times resulted in many voters having to leave the polls before voting, because of work or family responsibilities.

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. Because Franklin County voted mostly for Kerry, and because the Kerry precincts were affected disproportionately, she estimated that this problem cost the Kerry/Edwards ticket approximately 7,000 net votes.

Furthermore, as Bob Fitrakis revealed, all this happened while 68 voting machines were available in Franklin County but held back. The pattern of voting machine allocation appeared to be quite suspicious:

An analysis of the Franklin County Board of Elections’ allocation of machines reveals a consistent pattern of providing fewer machines to the Democratic city of Columbus… despite increased voter registration in the city. The result was an obvious disparity in machine allocations compared to the primarily Republican white affluent suburbs…There’s a direct correlation between affluence and votes for Bush and below medium income areas and votes for Kerry. In Franklin County, Ohio’s formula served to disenfranchise disproportionately poor, minority and Democratic voters….


Purging of voter registration rolls

In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, in 2004, documentation by The New York Times and by the Greater Cleveland Voter Registration Coalition indicated large increases in voter registration, which were not reflected in the official voter rolls maintained by Ohio’s Secretary of State. The New York Times figures suggested a discrepancy of more than 110 thousand voters, suggesting massive voter purging. Confirmation of the probable reasons for the 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.

The likelihood of massive voter purging in Ohio in 2004 was further confirmed by research by Mark Crispin Miller in “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, Ohio. 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, these voters were described as ardent Democrats, as long time voters in the area, AND most of them were not voting. 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.


Disappearing votes

One of the reasons for great Democratic optimism in Ohio on Election Day 2004 was many anecdotal reports of large voter turnout (manifested by very long voting lines) in heavily Democratic Cleveland. To verify those anecdotal reports, I looked at data from the national Electronic Incident Reporting System (EIRS), which received tens of thousands of Election Day reports of voting complaints. This database contained 1,509 complaint reports involving long voting lines. Of these, more than a third, 548, came from Ohio. Of those, more than a quarter – 150 cases – came from Cuyahoga County, and of those Cuyahoga County reports that mentioned the name of the city, 46 of 75 reports were from Cleveland. Therefore, Cleveland accounted for about 6% of complaint reports of long voting lines in the whole United States, whereas they accounted for only a little more than a tenth of a percent of votes in the 2004 election.

Yet despite the very long voting lines reported all over Cleveland, official voter turnout was not recorded as high. In fact, it was quite low compared to elsewhere in Ohio. According to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections website, the voter turnout in Cleveland was only 53.14%, compared to 73.41% elsewhere in Cuyahoga County, and about 70% in the rest of Ohio. This finding had been earlier reported by Richard Hayes Phillips, a statistical expert in identifying statistical anomalies, whose findings have been widely publicized.

Unlike the case of Franklin County, in Cleveland there was no evidence of insufficient voting machine allocation being responsible for the long voting lines. Every indication pointed to very high voter turnout in Cleveland. Thus it appeared that whereas official voter turnout in Cleveland was very low, actual voter turnout was very high.

No other explanation comes to mind to explain this very strange anomaly other than the possibility that tens of thousands of Cleveland voters who voted did not have their votes registered in the final count.


Work interfering with the ability to vote

The working poor, composed disproportionately of minorities, are much more likely to utilize early voting dates, when available, than more affluent voters. The reason for this is easy to understand: Voting often is an economic hardship for working people, especially those who need more than one job to keep economically afloat, since it is often difficult for them to get the necessary time off of work. Consequently, in the absence of opportunities for early voting, the working poor are more likely to be unable to vote than more affluent voters, due to work or family obligations. This has nothing to do with lack of enthusiasm for voting. It is simply a result of the fact that some people have rigid schedules that they must keep in order to maintain access to the necessities of life.

This year the elimination of early voting, targeted to Democratic areas, has been particularly troublesome in Ohio, which required a court ruling to somewhat restore early voting rights.


Voter ID requirements

The first state voter ID laws were passed in 2003. As of September, 2011, 30 U.S. states required either photo ID or some other form of ID in order to vote. The problem with restrictive voting laws is that they tend to disenfranchise voters, especially the poor and minorities (which is precisely the point of many of their architects and supporters). Many poor people do not have access to photo IDs. They may not drive a car, and they may have no other reason to have a photo ID.

The state of Pennsylvania passed an especially egregious voter ID law in 2012. According the Pennsylvania Transportation Department, 9.2 percent of registered voters in Pennsylvania lack the required ID to vote in 2012. Unless this law is successfully challenged (it is currently being taken to court), these voters will be turned away from the polls when they attempt to vote on Election Day 2012. A large preponderance of these voters tend to vote Democratic.


Challenging voters at the polls

Current state laws in 39 states allow private citizens to challenge voters at the polls. Brentin Mock explains that:

Of the thirty-nine states that allow random people to challenge voters inside polling places, only fifteen of them require the challengers to prove that the person they’re challenging isn’t an eligible voter. Which means that in twenty-four states people can wage all kinds of frivolous accusations – that a person is an “illegal alien,” or that they are using a dead person’s identity to vote – to burden if not intimidate voters. In these states, the poll challenger statutes can be abused and used for racial profiling, when not sending a chill effect to others who might be vulnerable for no other reason than having a Latino surname.

There are a number of right wing groups in this country that are organizing efforts to use these voter challenge laws to suppress voting activity. Mock describes one of them called “Code Red USA”, which

rallies Tea Partiers from around the country to join a “conservative army” that will infiltrate battleground states in November for voter registration and “election integrity” efforts. Code Red says it has “partnered with True The Vote to maintain election integrity by training volunteers to be poll watchers and combat voter fraud.” Get ready to tumble.


THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SO-CALLED ENTHUSIASM GAP

Thus it is that there are numerous factors that have nothing to do with voter enthusiasm that pose a barrier to voting. All of these factors pose stiffer barriers to Democratic than Republican voters. Some of them prevent voters from coming to the polls; some prevent voters from voting once they arrive at the polls; some prevent a voter’s vote from being counted in the official vote count; and others cause a combination of these things.

Depending upon how a particular pollster measures voter “enthusiasm”, any of these factors has the capability of depressing “enthusiasm” by virtue of the fact that they all depress voter “turnout” as officially measured. When combined together, as they always are, the depression in voter “turnout” can be quite substantial, especially when right wing organizations organize campaigns with that goal in mind.

To the extent that these factors depress voter turnout, attributing it all to a lack of enthusiasm can be very misleading. Worse, it can and probably does have anti-democratic consequences. By attributing low “turnout” of Democratic voters to lack of enthusiasm, the blame is put on the voters rather than the systematic flaws in our election process. Even most Democratic voters believe that the traditionally low “turnout” of Democratic voters is due to lack of enthusiasm. I have never seen a study that attempted to account for systematic barriers to voting in the evaluation of the lack of voter enthusiasm on turnout. If such a study was ever done, I suspect that the enthusiasm of Democratic voters would compare quite favorably with that of Republican voters. But by attributing it all lack of voter enthusiasm the focus is removed from the systematic problems that are in dire need of reform.
Posted by Time for change | Wed Sep 19, 2012, 08:41 PM (4 replies)

Confessions of a Former Republican

I found reading "Confessions of a Former Republican", by Jeremiah Goulka, to be a heart-warming experience because I love to see examples of people who have the courage and honesty to re-think their most adamant beliefs. Reading this brought tears to my eyes. Goulka worked as an official in the Bush II administration. He begins his article by explaining where he came from:

This is the story of how… I discovered that what I believed to be the full spectrum of reality was just a small slice of it and how that discovery knocked down my Republican worldview… Like so many Republicans, I had assumed that society’s “losers” had somehow earned their desserts. As I came to recognize that poverty is not chosen or deserved, and that our use of force is far less precise than I had believed, I realized with a shock that I had effectively viewed whole swaths of the country and the world as second-class people. No longer oblivious, I couldn’t remain in today’s Republican Party… The more I learned about reality, the more I started to care about people as people, and my values shifted.

We believed in competition and the free market, in bootstraps and personal responsibility, in equality of opportunity, not outcomes… We were tough on crime, tough on national enemies… I intended to run for office on just such a platform someday… I did my best to tune out liberal views…

As I was reading Goulka’s confession I thought it would be worthwhile to consider what he had to say in the light of my own values and those of other liberals (The DU mission statement includes the sentence “We are always looking for friendly, liberal people who appreciate good discussions and who understand the importance of electing more Democrats to office”). I found something on that issue that I wrote and posted on DU almost two years ago:


Moral values that almost all liberals can agree on

The right to an opportunity for a decent life (or economic justice)
We believe that everyone should have an opportunity to obtain the necessities of life. And when they don’t, for example when so few jobs are available that millions of Americans descend into poverty, homelessness, and hunger, then it should be the responsibility of our government to step in and vigorously attempt to rectify the situation. We also believe that our government has an important role in protecting the civil rights of minorities and our most vulnerable citizens against discrimination.

Holding corporations responsible for their actions
In our country today, corporations and those who control them receive numerous privileges from our government that aren’t afforded to ordinary citizens. The result today has been a multitude of corporate actions that increase their wealth at great cost to the rest of us, ballooning wealth inequality, and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Corporations have these advantages over the rest of us because their enormous wealth enables them to buy… I mean influence our elected representatives. We would like to see these outrages addressed in an equitable manner.

Military intervention
Recognizing the enormous human and financial costs of war, and believing as we do that our country has frequently been driven into war and other military adventures mainly on behalf of corporate power seeking ever more profits, we would very much like to see our nation adopt a much more skeptical attitude towards war. We believe that a military budget approximately the size of the military budget of all the other nations on earth combined is a great waste of resources, and we would like to see our money put to better use.

Rights of accused persons
We believe that a person should not be held or punished for a crime without being charged, should have the right to be informed of the nature of the charges against him and to face and answer one’s accusers, should have the right to a fair trial by a jury, and should not have to endure “cruel and unusual” punishment – as granted by Amendments V, VI, VII, and VIII to our Constitution.

Election integrity
We believe that all American citizens should have the right to vote, that it should be illegal to attempt to obstruct that right – as so often happens to our poor and minority fellow citizens – and that our votes should be counted in a transparent and verifiable manner, rather than on unverifiable electronic machines.

Our First Amendment's protection of freedom of speech and of the press
We believe that the First Amendment to our Constitution is absolutely necessary for the functioning of democracy. If people cannot criticize their government, and if a country lacks a free and independent press there can be no democracy. We believe that no corporation or other institution has the moral right to monopolize the right of speech by amassing control of communications media, including television, radio, the print media, or the Internet.


Goulka’s description of how his eyes opened to the moral failures of the Republican Party

I was happy to see that Goulka addressed in some detail three of the six issues I noted above. I don’t know his positions on the other three, but I believe that he has rethought them as well. Here are excerpts from his confession on how he changed his mind on some issues that greatly affect the well-being of our country and its people:

On the right of the opportunity for a decent life – and economic justice

The Bush administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina made a deep impact on Goulka:

Then came Hurricane Katrina. In New Orleans, I learned that it wasn’t just the Bush administration that was flawed but my worldview itself… The Bush administration’s callous non-response to the storm broke my heart… Soon, I was involved with a task force trying to rebuild the city’s criminal justice system… I was appalled… to find overt racism and the obvious use of racist code words by officials in the Deep South…

Discovery of an unlevel economic playing field:

Then something tiny happened that pried open my eyes to the less obvious forms of racism and the hurdles the poor face when they try to climb the economic ladder... My tour guide mentioned that parents were required to participate in… a field trip to a sit-down restaurant… It turned out that none of the families had ever been to a sit-down restaurant before. The teachers had to instruct parents and students alike how to order off a menu, how to calculate the tip. I was stunned… Who knew? … From then on, I started to notice a lot more reality. One of my roommates wasn’t surprised. He worked at a local bank branch that required two forms of ID to open an account. Lots of people came in who had only one or none at all. I was flooded with questions: There are adults who have no ID? And no bank accounts? Who are these people? How do they vote? How do they live? Is there an entire off-the-grid alternate universe out there?

On the illegitimate use of American military power

I joined a social science research institute. There I was slowly disabused of layer after layer of myth and received wisdom, and it hurt. Perhaps nothing hurt more than to see just how far my patriotic, Republican conception of U.S. martial power – what it’s for, how it’s used -- diverged from the reality of our wars. Lots of Republicans grow up hawks. I certainly did… My sense of what it meant to be an American was linked to my belief that… the American military had been dedicated to birthing freedom and democracy in the world, while dispensing a tough and precise global justice… Whatever those misinformed peaceniks said – we made the world a better place.

But then I went to a war zone. I was deployed to Baghdad as part of a team of RAND Corporation researchers… I was only in Iraq for three and a half weeks, and never close to actual combat; and yet the experience gave me many of the symptoms of PTSD… That made me wonder how the Iraqis took it. From overhead I saw that the once teeming city of Baghdad was now a desert of desolate neighborhoods and empty shopping streets, bomb craters in the middle of soccer fields and in the roofs of schools. Millions displaced. Our nation-building efforts reeked of organizational incompetence… Precious few contracts went to Iraqis… This incompetence had profound human costs. Of the 26,000 people we were detaining in Iraq, as many as two-thirds were innocent… So much for surgical precision and winning hearts and minds. I had grown up believing that we were more careful in our use of force, that we only punished those who deserved punishment. But in just a few weeks in Iraq, it became apparent that what we were doing to the Iraqis, as well as to our own people, was inexcusable.

On the abrogation of the rights of accused persons
Goulka first noticed our country’s lack of concern with the rights of accused persons in connection with his military duties, dealing with indefinitely detained persons:

My office was tasked with opposing petitions for habeas corpus brought by Guantánamo detainees who claimed that they were being held indefinitely without charge. The government’s position struck me as an abdication of a core Republican value: protecting the “procedural” rights found in the Bill of Rights… It seemed to me that waiving {habeas corpus} here reduced us to the terrorists’ level. Besides, since acts of terrorism were crimes, why not prosecute them? I refused to work on those cases. With the Abu Ghraib pictures, my disappointment turned to rage. The America I believed in didn’t torture people…

Not too long after that he noticed the racist component of our justice system:

I noticed that the criminal justice system treats minorities differently in subtle as well as not-so-subtle ways, and that many of the people who were getting swept up by the system came from this underclass that I knew so little about. Lingering for months in lock-up for misdemeanors, getting pressed against the hood and frisked during routine traffic stops, being pulled over in white neighborhoods for “driving while black”: These are things that never happen to people in my world. Not having experienced it, I had always assumed that government force was only used against guilty people.


On his failure to notice what was “hiding in plain site”

I dove into the research literature to try to figure out what was going on. It turned out that everything I was “discovering” had been hiding in plain sight… institutional racism, disparate impact and disparate treatment, structural poverty… and on and on… I wondered why I had never heard of any of these concepts. Was it to protect our Republican version of “individual responsibility”? That notion is fundamental to the liberal Republican worldview. “Bootstrapping” and “equality of opportunity, not outcomes” make perfect sense if you assume, as I did, that people who hadn’t risen into my world simply hadn’t worked hard enough, or wanted it badly enough, or had simply failed… The enormity of the advantages I had always enjoyed started to truly sink in… Up until then, I hadn’t really seen most Americans as living, breathing, thinking, feeling, hoping, loving, dreaming, hurting people. My values shifted – from an individualistic celebration of success (that involved dividing the world into the morally deserving and the undeserving) to an interest in people as people…


On the psychology of being a Republican

It’s important to consider the mind-set that is associated with the beliefs of today’s Republican Party, not only because we need to communicate with them, but because all of us to one degree or another have faults in our thinking processes that should cause us to reflect on and improve upon them: This is what Goulka had to say on the subject:

Today, I wonder if Mitt Romney drones on about not apologizing for America because he, like the former version of me, simply isn’t aware of the U.S. ever doing anything that might demand an apology. Then again, no one wants to feel like a bad person, and there's no need to apologize if you are oblivious to the harms done in your name – calling the occasional ones you notice collateral damage…

My old Republican worldview was flawed because it was based upon a small and particularly rosy sliver of reality. To preserve that worldview, I had to believe that people had morally earned their "just" desserts, and I had to ignore those whining liberals who tried to point out that the world didn’t actually work that way. I think this shows why Republicans put so much effort into “creating our own reality,” into fostering distrust of liberals, experts, scientists, and academics… It explains why study after study shows that avid consumers of Republican-oriented media are more poorly informed than people who use other news sources or don’t bother to follow the news at all. Waking up to a fuller spectrum of reality has proved long and painful. I had to question all my assumptions, unlearn so much of what I had learned… I came to understand why we Republicans thought people on the Left always seemed to be screeching angrily (because we refused to open our eyes to the damage we caused or blamed the victims) and why they never seemed to have any solutions to offer… I was so mis-educated when so much reality is out there in plain sight…


My own confession

Four years or so ago I probably would have been content to end this post with Goulka’s confession. But – largely because of the expanding influence of money in politics, both parties have been drifting rightward for many years now, with a sudden acceleration of the rightward drift as a consequence of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Furthermore, my own political education has caused me to rethink many aspects of my former comparatively ideal view of the Democratic Party. For example, President Clinton, whom I never found much fault with during his presidency, did much damage to our country through the adoption of some Republican ideas, including his deregulation of the financial industry and the telecommunications industry. President Obama too has adopted some Republican ideas that I very much disagree with. The differences between the Democratic and Republican Parties are not simply a matter of good vs. evil. Though the Republican Party is much worse, much fault can also be found with today’s Democratic Party. Therefore, it is not enough just to support the Democratic Party against the Republican Party. Katrina vanden Heuvel said it about as well as it can be said in "A Politics for the 99 Percent":

Committing to electoral politics need not mean – cannot mean – simply folding into an existing campaign and trumpeting a politician’s exaggerated promises. Progressives should see elections as an opportunity to identify champions, drive issues into the debate and hold politicians in both parties accountable. This requires building an infrastructure independent of the Democratic Party, and a movement willing to challenge compromised incumbents… Even without primary challenges, movements can raise the public’s awareness of progressive issues and force politicians to adopt positions they might otherwise avoid… Progressives should use the election to hone our narrative on how we got into this mess and how we can get out of it…

Progressives must therefore be willing to expose the corruption and compromises of both (emphasis mine) parties. This requires not only detailing the threat posed by the right but honesty about the limits of the current choice… Sustained efforts to mobilize and drive issues into the debate, while using nonviolence and direct action to defend people in peril, are vital. At the same time, progressives can champion candidates who will fight to transform the Democratic Party into an instrument of the 99 percent… It will require new ideas, new ways of organizing, new strategies… Now we must reach out, teach, engage and mobilize millions of Americans. We must provide them with a sense of hope, a story of possibility, and enlist them to create change. It won’t be easy. But it never is.

Posted by Time for change | Sun Sep 16, 2012, 06:45 PM (6 replies)

Occupy Wall Street and the Personal Debt Crisis

Many have wondered what happened to the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement in the United States, since its arrival on the national scene in 2011. To some it seems to have disappeared. But it’s much more complicated than that, as discussed in a series of articles in the September 24 issue of The Nation.

Though nobody fully understands what happened to the movement, it seems to have morphed into something somewhat different rather than disappeared. A wide variety of repressive measures, local and otherwise, made the movement very difficult to sustain in its then current form. So, many of its most prominent players have gradually changed their tactics and strategies. In some sense it could be said that the movement, of necessity, has gone underground.

Many have said that the greatest legacy of OWS has been the infusion into national consciousness of the fact that many of the wealthiest among us have been carrying on an undeclared class war against the rest of us. The American oligarchy doesn’t want anyone to talk about this because the greater our awareness of this class war the greater the likelihood that we will do something about it. If we do talk about it they accuse us of class war.

Highly related to this class war is the massive amount of debt that has plagued the American people in recent years. Accordingly, the scattered remnants of the OWS movement have to a large extent begun emphasizing this problem as the underlying and uniting purpose of the movement.


State repression of the Occupy Wall Street movement

Several measures have been used by the state to suppress the OWS movement. It is instructive to consider them. Nathan Schneider discusses this in "Occupy, after Occupy" – One year after Occupy Wall Street shook the world, what lies ahead for the movement?

The most obvious tactic has been violent police repression, such as that which was used to evict the movement from Zuccotti Park in New York in November 2012. Since then, police have been extraordinarily vigilant in striving to prevent resurrection of the movement in New York:

Whenever Occupiers have gathered in public spaces in New York, police have seemed especially willing to use force to ensure that no new occupation can establish itself. “Across the United States, abusive and unlawful protest regulation and policing practices have been and continue to be alarmingly evident,” concluded a report produced by the Protest and Assembly Rights Project…

Less well known is the infiltration of the movement, for the purpose of imprisoning the movement’s most important actors over the long-term:

The wave of evictions that ended most of the country’s 24/7 occupations in late fall was only the beginning of the crackdown. Meetings and actions over the winter seemed especially rife with infiltrators, and such suspicions were confirmed in May, when undercover officers lured activists in Cleveland and Chicago into terrorism charges that could put them in prison for decades….

Terrorism! Wow! The ace up the sleeve of all police states to gain and maintain their power.

Propaganda to publicly discredit the movement is another major tactic. The New York Police Department publicly claimed to have found DNA evidence, later discredited, that OWS was linked to an 8-year old unsolved murder. The propaganda has even entered the public culture with a Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises. In that movie a major participant in the OWS movement:

takes all of Gotham City hostage, resulting in an anarchic spree as the city is handed over to “the people.” A climactic sequence, partly filmed on Wall Street while OWS was still in Zuccotti Park a few blocks away, depicts a battle for the Financial District in which a column of gallant police officers – backed by the crime-fighting vigilante Batman charges against a vicious mob of 99 percenters armed with AK–47s to save the day.


OWS as indoctrination and training for future actions

Schneider notes that, even if the occupation strategy of the OWS movement is not resurrected, it still will have served important purposes behind increasing public awareness of the problems that the American oligarchy poses to us:

The movement’s real accomplishment has been even more significant than just “changing the conversation.” Because news reporters don’t make a habit of paying attention to grassroots activists the way they follow presidential exercise habits or wobbly stock tickers, they’re not attuned to the sea change brought about by Occupy. But people organizing for economic justice – especially young people – now know one another. They’ve practiced direct democracy in general assemblies and risked their bodies in direct action. They’re talking with each other over networks that they created themselves, as well as traveling together and building their capacity for future action.

Thousands have occupied public spaces and been arrested for their convictions who might otherwise have thought the police were there to protect them. Young people who were once merely interested in social change are now committed to it.


The importance of debt as a unifying principle

Perhaps the most significant change in the movement is the emphasis on debt as a motivating and unifying factor. It is intimately connected with the undeclared class war against the 99 percenters, and it is something that affects almost all of us, even those who are well off enough to avoid personal debt. Astra Taylor explains the importance of debt to the movement in "Occupy 2.0: Strike Debt".

Occupy organizers have been searching for a next step: a way to marshal the political energy that still exists without starting from scratch or denying all that their movement has achieved. This process has recently given rise to an initiative called Strike Debt.

Debt is the tie that binds the 99 percent… from the underwater and foreclosed upon homeowners who were first pummeled by the economic crisis, to the millions of debt-strapped students who are in default or on the brink, to all those driven into bankruptcy by medical bills, to workers everywhere who have been forced to compensate for more than thirty years of stagnating wages with credit card debt, to the firefighters and teachers who have had to accept pay cuts because their cities are broke, to the citizens of countries where schools and hospitals are being closed to pay back foreign bondholders. Given the way debt operates at the municipal and national levels, the issue affects us all – even those who are fortunate enough to be debt-free, as well as those so poor they don’t have access to credit. Debt is one of the ways we all feel Wall Street’s influence most intimately, whether it’s because of a ballooning mortgage payment or a subway fare hike or a shuttered clinic.

Young people are supposedly investing in their future when they go into debt to get an education, but once they sign on the dotted line, the banks have enormous power over their lives…Debt has become the means of subjecting everyone – from sovereign nations to homeowners and victims of payday loan sharks – to a mixture of ersatz morality and threats…

Individuals are kept in line through the prospect of foreclosure, higher interest rates and damaged credit scores, while entire populations from countries teetering toward collapse have been punished with cuts to wages and social welfare programs…

And much of the debt business is a big scam. Recent evidence, for example has shown that the process is “riddled with fraud on a scale akin to the foreclosure scandal, including the robo-signing of documents”. I suspected as much when I noted my own son paying monthly unexplained charges on his credit card debt that almost equaled his huge monthly payments.

Yet instead of our government helping us with this monumental problem, it has used it as an excuse to cut much needed social problems. Taylor explains:

As individuals, many of us are in debt because we have to borrow to secure basic social goods – education, healthcare, housing and retirement – that should be publicly provided. Meanwhile, around the world, debt is used to justify cutting these very services, even as the game is further rigged so that the 1 percent continues to profit, raking in money from tax cuts, privatization schemes and interest on municipal and treasury bonds…

And now the loan sharks have enlisted the help of the state to make it even worse:

Creditors have found ways to gouge those who are struggling by adding fees, increasing interest rates, and even – depending on the type of debt – garnishing wages, tax refunds and Social Security payments…

The banks and big corporations have been bailed out with a sum that will approach a mind-boggling $16 trillion in the end; regular people and their communities have been left holding the bag and will be paying for a long time to come…

$16 trillion dollars! For those of you not accustomed to thinking in terms of such large numbers, let me put it in personal terms. That averages out to about $50 thousand dollars for every man, woman and child in the United States – which is going from us to them.

Taylor finishes her article with a recommendation:

The first thing Occupy Wall Street and Strike Debt must do, then, is transform our understanding of the morality of debt. Is it moral for the 1 percent to extract money from the 99 percent for things like college and cancer treatments? Why should the 99 percent honor their debts when the 1 percent have walked away from theirs without remorse? Framed this way, Strike Debt is not advocating debt “forgiveness” – which implies a benevolent creditor taking pity on a blameworthy debtor – but rather the abolition of the current profit-centered debt system…


Debt and the cancer of American capitalism

Noting that the OWS movement has revived the idea of social class as a political issue in our country, David Graeber, a veteran of the OWS movement explains that what made this possible is the changing nature of American capitalism as it came to use debt as a means of controlling our lives. Graeber explains, in "Can Debt Spark a Revolution?":

It’s now clear that the 1 percent are the creditors: those who are able to turn their wealth into political influence and their political influence back into wealth again. The overriding imperative of government policy is to do whatever it takes, using all available tools – fiscal, monetary, political, even military – to keep stock prices from falling. The most powerful empire on earth seems to exist first and foremost to guarantee the stream of wealth flowing into the hands of that tiny proportion of its population who hold financial assets. This allows an ever-increasing amount of wealth to flow back into the system of legalized bribery that American politics has effectively become. …

What made this possible is a change in the fundamental nature of American capitalism. Instead of accumulating wealth by actually producing things, Wall Street has figured out how to accumulate wealth for themselves through the manipulation of money, speculation, trickery, and outright fraud – all with the help of the state. Of course, they try hard to prevent us from understanding this:

The financial industry actively discourages us from scrutinizing the actual social relations on which its wealth is based. What happens on Wall Street is supposed to be too complicated and advanced for regular people to comprehend.

But OWH shined a light on the process:

The rise of OWS allowed us to start seeing the system for what it is: an enormous engine of debt extraction. Debt is how the rich extract wealth from the rest of us, at home and abroad. Internally, it has become a matter of manipulating the country’s legal structure to ensure that more and more people fall deeper and deeper into debt. As I write, roughly three out of four Americans are in some form of debt, and a whopping one in seven is being pursued by debt collectors.

There’s no way to know just what percentage of the average household’s income is now directly expropriated by the financial services industry in the form of interest payments,
fees and penalties. What statistical information is available suggests it is somewhere between 15 and 20 percent… “Financialization,” then, is not just the manipulation of money. Ultimately, it’s the ability to manipulate state power to extract a portion of other people’s incomes. Wall Street and Washington, in other words, have become one. Financialization, securitization and militarization are all different aspects of the same process….


Solution

Graeber explains that the solution lies in bringing an understanding of the illegitimacy of the process to enough Americans that they will no longer stand for it:

The first step is to state the problem clearly: our current economic arrangements can barely even be called “capitalism,” unless it’s some form of Mafia capitalism based on loan-sharking, extortion and fixed casino games.

The second is to hammer home just how much the system’s illegitimacy undermines the moral force that debt still holds over so many Americans, thus fostering a gradual withdrawal of consent from the system. Increasing numbers of us are already doing this by refusing to pay our debts, whether out of necessity or by choice….

Posted by Time for change | Fri Sep 14, 2012, 09:34 PM (58 replies)

Outspending the Truth – The GOP Plan for Election 2012

Many have marveled at the amazing extent to which Republican politicians and office holders lie. They’ve been doing it for years, but now the lies are so blatant, and their frequency and magnitude so great, that it boggles the imagination.

But actually, there is a readily explainable reason for it – or rather two related reasons. One is that the Republican Party is now the Party of psychopaths. They have little or no conscience and little or no empathy for other people.

But that doesn’t explain the more recent astounding increase in their lies. That explanation lies in the U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United decision of 2010. Even before that decision, the extent to which money influenced U.S. elections was highly toxic to our democracy. But Citizens United opened the floodgates.

Now the extent to which money influences our elections is so great that psychopathic politicians with access to lots of money are able to lie at will, in the knowledge that their money will likely cancel out their lies in the minds of many American voters. The basic principle is simple: If a lie is repeated often enough, loud enough, and with enough fake earnestness, many people will come to see the lie as indisputable truth.

The strategy is three-fold. 1) Suck up to the American oligarchy; 2) screw almost everyone else, and; 3) lie about it. Sucking up to the American oligarchy is what causes the money to come pouring in. Screwing everyone else is a necessary part of the game plan because that’s what the American oligarchy demands – for it enables them to become even wealthier and more powerful. And of course lying about it is necessary because most people resent getting screwed for the purpose of enriching the wealthy.


A few words about the American oligarchy

Some may feel uncomfortable about my use of the term “American oligarchy”, perhaps because it implies a conspiracy. Well yes, it is a conspiracy, in that these people don’t act alone. They coordinate their messages because when they all say the same thing it becomes even more believable. Oligarchy has been defined as "a form of government that effectively rests with a small segment of society". Another way of saying the same thing is that it is government by the rich and for the rich. With those definitions in mind, it should be easy to see why governments tend to turn into oligarchies when money has excessive influence in the political process. The rich use their money to influence public officials to use policies and enact legislation that enriches themselves at the expense of everyone else. They thus become richer and better able to repeat the process, which thereby becomes a vicious cycle.

That is what happens when a society allows money too much influence in the political process. That is what Citizens United did to our society. In 2010, 1 percent of the wealthiest 1 percent accounted for 25 percent of all campaign-related donations ($774 million) and 80% of all donations to the two major parties. Stephen Colbert noted that half of the money raised by Super PACs in 2011 came from just twenty-two people.


Money equated with speech

The 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decision Buckley v. Valeo was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it recognized that there should be a limit to the First Amendment protection of campaign contributions. Specifically, it said that if excessive campaign contributions could be seen to have corrupting influences on the behavior of our government, Congress should be allowed to put a limit on campaign contributions for that reason.

On the other hand the Buckley decision essentially said that money can be equated with speech, by saying that our First Amendment protects the right of candidates for public office and independent parties to spend money on political campaigns in the form of “speech”. That decision has been explained as follows:

The Court concurred in part with the appellants' claim, finding that the restrictions on political contributions and expenditures "necessarily reduced the quantity of expression by restricting the number of issues discussed, the depth of the exploration, and the size of the audience reached. This is because virtually every means of communicating ideas in today's mass society requires the expenditure of money." (My note: Yes, and who has the money to do that?) The Court then determined that such restrictions on political speech could only be justified by an overriding governmental interest.

A 2006 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Randall v. Sorrell, went well beyond Buckley v. Valeo by striking down a portion of a 2006 Vermont law that limited campaign contributions, thus making even clearer the equating of money and speech. Citizens United then removed most of the remaining limits on the use of money to influence our political process.

The equating of money with speech is an outrageous perversion of our First Amendment. Campaign contributions do not express opinions. Jeff Milchen explains the meaning and consequences of this type of perversion:

The justices told legislators and reform advocates, who possess first-hand experience of political corruption, that their concerns are merely theoretical…. The Court effectively prohibits states from leveling the political playing field between the wealthy citizens and everyone else…

The court clearly is interpreting the Constitution in a way that prevents representative democracy… With its ruling in Randall, the court is supporting the segregation of Americans into two distinct classes, just as it did when it twice supported blatantly discriminatory poll taxes that disenfranchised black citizens (and some poor whites) for nearly a century after the 15th Amendment officially enabled them to vote in 1870.

Today, one political class is the overwhelming majority – we express our preferences with our votes or volunteer efforts. The other class consists of those wielding real power – the ability to finance the bulk of candidates' campaigns and effectively "set the menu" of candidates from which the rest of us may choose.


The state of our corporate owned media

The removal of the remaining barriers to political campaign donations and spending is greatly compounded by the corporate consolidation of ownership of our communications media. What has historically been thought of as public airways is now monopolized to a large extent by a very small number of wealthy corporations controlled by wealthy and conservative individuals. This allows the transmission of daily propaganda to the American people, disguised as “news”. The corporations that control our communications media decide what is presented as news and how it is presented.

One of the best recent examples of the “mainstream” media’s contempt for the truth is illustrated by a commentary by the Washington Post fact checker, Glenn Kessler, on Paul Ryan’s speech at the Republican Convention. Rather than even mention any of Ryan's many lies, Kessler dismissed them in his inappropriately named September 1 “Fact Checker” column.

First, he titled his article "The truth? C'mon, this is a political convention". Then he expounded upon the unimportance of checking the facts of a speaker at a political convention by saying of political conventions in general:

The whole point is for the party to put its best foot forward to the American people. By its very nature, that means downplaying unpleasant facts, highlighting the positive and knocking down the opposing team.

Then Kessler said, “Ryan was so quickly labeled a fibber by the Obama campaign that one suspects it was a deliberate effort to tear down his reputation as a policy expert…” Did Kessler consider the possibility that part of the rationale for labeling Ryan a fibber was that he fibbed? No, he didn’t. Did he discuss any of Ryan’s lies? No. He just criticized the Obama campaign for calling Ryan a fibber. So much for "fact checking".

Eric Alterman comments on Kessler's job of fact checking:

The Washington Post’s “fact-checker” is charged with ensuring the integrity of the system he judges but has chosen to enable its corruption instead… Today he’s… an unwitting weapon in the Republicans’ war on knowledge and, sadly, a symbol of the mainstream media’s failure to keep American politics remotely honest.


Outspending the truth

A recent editorial in The Nation summarizes the problem very well. After expounding on the astounding frequency and magnitude of Republican lies, they note the problem it poses for Democrats:

This poses a real challenge for the Democrats, who can’t get bogged down in the minutiae of every Republican lie – there are just too many of them.

They note the ultimate Republican lie, which of course is designed to please their campaign contributors and screw everyone else:

The central lie of the Republican campaign is the claim that the wealthiest country in the world is so broke it cannot fund school lunch programs or Pell Grants, but not so broke that it would ask billionaires to pay taxes or put the Pentagon on a diet.

Near the end of the editorial they note the bottom line – why the Republican Party is able to tell so many lies:

The reason Republicans think they can get away with lying is that they’re sure they’ll have enough money – and enough Super PAC support – to outspend the truth.


Lying about “welfare reform”

One of the most illuminating examples of the GOP plan to outspend the truth is their lies about welfare “reform”. The word “reform”, especially when applied to welfare, is a GOP euphemism for heartless cruelty. Their most cherished idea for welfare “reform” is to abolish welfare.

One of their most blatant lies about President Obama is that he abolished the work requirement for former President Clinton’s “Welfare Reform” act, otherwise known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Actually, abolishing at least part of the work requirement is warranted in a society that cares about its fellow citizens. There are hundreds of thousands or millions of single parents today who can’t find work or for whom work imposes serious barriers to caring for their children – thus driving more and more families (including the children) into poverty.

Why would the GOP think that TANF shouldn’t be made a little more generous than it is? Betsy Reed points out that due to a combination of our current recession and the insufficiency of TANF as a welfare measure, the U.S. poverty rate has risen to a 50-year high, with one in five children now living in poverty, while welfare continues to reach fewer and fewer of them. Apparently Republicans think that that is something to be proud of. Why else would they criticize a president for trying to amend such a situation?

Reed describes President Obama’s efforts to do something about this situation: What Obama did do is include in his 2009 stimulus package a provision for helping people on welfare get jobs – which is the purported purpose of welfare reform. This provision, referred to as the “TANF Emergency Contingency Fund”, placed 260 thousand parents and youth in paid jobs. It stimulated local economies and helped many thousands of people in dire need while providing them skills with which to improve future work prospects. Thirty states made use of it. Obama deserves praise for that, not condemnation, and not lies about what he did.

But Republicans called the program a “boondoggle” and said it was designed to promote “welfare dependence”, and the Republican controlled Congress eliminated it in September 2010, thereby depriving 100 thousand families of their means of livelihood.


Conclusion – the perversion of our First Amendment that paves the way for oligarchy

The free speech clause of our First Amendment was never meant to be merely a meaningless abstract concept. Rather, it was meant for a specific purpose – which is best ascertained by reviewing and assessing the deliberations and statements of the Founding Fathers who wrote it.

Thomas Jefferson was the primary author of our First Amendment. He elaborated on the rationale for freedom of speech in his Second Inaugural Address, in which he said:

Freedom of discussion, unaided by power, is...sufficient for the propagation and protection of truth.

Jefferson also said with respect to freedom of speech and freedom of the press:

Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all avenues to truth. The most effective hitherto found is freedom of the press.

Thus it is that the primary purpose of the free speech and press clauses of our First Amendment is the discovery of truth. Our Founders believed that by prohibiting the government censoring of speech, Americans would thereby have the opportunity to be exposed to such a variety of opinions and ideas that they would have the opportunity to divine truth. Thus freedom of speech and press are necessary to produce an informed citizenry. And only an informed citizenry can maintain a representative government and a free society.

The equating of money with speech, thus giving money the same sacred First Amendment protections as speech, accomplishes exactly the opposite. When unlimited amounts of money are allowed into our political process, the wealthiest of Americans gain control of our political process. It does not contribute to a free exchange of ideas. Instead it allows the propaganda of the rich free reign. They and the politicians they control with their money pervert our First Amendment and our political process by outspending the truth. You can equate money with speech if you want, but be aware that its primary consequence is the creation and entrenchment of oligarchy.
Posted by Time for change | Wed Sep 12, 2012, 09:00 PM (9 replies)

What Happened on Election Night, November 2-3, 2004?

It was well known in the days prior to the 2004 Presidential election that a Bush victory was highly unlikely without Bush carrying both Ohio and Florida. As Election Day unfolded, spirits in the Kerry camp were running high, as it became evident that Ohio’s 20 electoral votes would determine the victor, and there was widespread belief that Kerry was on track to win Ohio.

Much anecdotal evidence suggests that the Kerry/Edwards ticket was on track to win Ohio, when rather suddenly its fortunes went south. Kerry had a very comfortable lead in the Ohio exit poll. Even CNN’s right wing hack, Robert Novak, seemed to acknowledge on live TV that things looked very bad for Bush. Reports of exceptionally high turnout in highly Democratic Cleveland provided much cause for optimism. A Kerry campaign worker later told me that he and his fellow campaign workers went to bed Election Night certain that Kerry had won. Yet by noon the next day John Kerry conceded the election, which he officially lost by about 119 thousand votes.

There is a great deal of evidence of foul play in the 2004 election in Ohio. In addition to exit polls showing a 4.2% Kerry win, there was: massive purging of voter rolls targeted at Democratic voters; absurdly low official voter turnout in Cleveland, despite the widespread long voting lines that suggested otherwise; insufficient allocation of voting machines in Democratic areas, especially in Franklin County; numerous reports of touch screen voting machines in Mahoning County switching votes from Kerry to Bush right before the voters’ eyes; widespread evidence of voter intimidation and dirty tricks, as detailed in John Conyers’ excellent report, Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio; the finding in Clermont County of oval stickers covering the Kerry/Edwards place on the ballot so that votes for Kerry couldn’t be read by the optical scan machine; the fake terrorist threat in Warren County that provided the excuse for county election officials to count their votes in secret, and; the corrupted Ohio recount, which removed the last chance to ascertain evidence of election fraud.

But why did Kerry’s chances of winning the 2004 Presidential election appear to disappear so suddenly, late on Election Night? Some of the above incidents could have provided at least a partial explanation for that. But perhaps the best explanation was provided by Stephen Spoonamore, a Republican and a computer expert who provided an affidavit on the subject shortly before the 2008 Presidential election. But before addressing Spoonamore’s affidavit we need to consider the man who probably knew a lot more than Spoonamore about what happened on Election Night 2008, though he died prior to his scheduled testimony on the subject.


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. At the time of the 2004 national election he was president of GovTech solutions, which was hired by Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell to set up an election website for the Ohio presidential 2004 elections. This clearly presented a conflict of interests, in the same way that Secretary Blackwell’s dual role as Ohio Secretary of State (in charge of Ohio elections) and campaign chairman for the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio created a serious conflict of interests.

Given the exit poll discrepancy in the Ohio 2004 presidential election of 6.7%, the numerous irregularities surrounding that election, and the fact that the awarding of Ohio to Bush was responsible for his reelection, numerous lawsuits were brought in Ohio to challenge the election results. Given Connell’s close connections with Karl Rove and the Bush campaign, in combination with his official duties with respect to the presidential election in Ohio, he was sought to provide testimony in connection with a case that alleged tampering with the 2004 election. It was alleged in the case that Connell participated in vote tampering. 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. But that motion was denied.


The Testimony of Stephen Spoonamore

On September 17, 2008, Stephen Spoonamore provided an affidavit in connection with ongoing investigations into election fraud involving the 2004 Presidential election. The first parts of his affidavit related to his qualifications for the opinions he provided, and included the following:

Because of my interest in data security and in democracy, I have followed with interest the security issues involved with electronic voting in United States. My understanding of the vulnerabilities of American elections to fraudulent manipulation is based upon conversations with professionals in election administration working within state governmental structures as well as information technology specialists working in private industry on a contract basis for state governments.

He then went on to describe the vote counting system in play on Election Day 2004 in Ohio:

The vote tabulation and reporting system, as modified at the direction of [Ohio Secretary of State] Blackwell, allowed the introduction of a single computer in the middle of the pathway. This computer located at a company principally managing IT Systems for GOP campaign and political operations (Computer C) received all information from each county computer (Computer A) BEFORE it was sent onward to Computer B. This centralized collection of all incoming statewide tabulations would make it extremely easy for a single operator, or a preprogrammed single "force balancing computer" to change the results in any way desired by the team controlling Computer C. In this case GOP partisan operatives…

Lastly he described his view of the how Michael Connell fit into the picture:

Mr. Connell and I share a mutual interest in democracy building… Mike and I briefly discussed voting security…. He further made a statement that he is afraid that some of the more ruthless partisans of the GOP may have exploited systems he in part worked on for [election theft]... Knowing his team and their skills I find it unlikely they would be the vote thieves directly. I believe however he knows who is doing that work, and has likely turned a blind eye to this activity. Mr. Connell is a devout Catholic. He has admitted to me that in his zeal to 'save the unborn' he may have helped others who have compromised elections. He was clearly uncomfortable when I asked directly about Ohio 2004.

An article posted in Velvet Revolutions relates what happened next. Later on the same day that Spoonamore provided his affidavit:

Ohio attorney Cliff Arnebeck asked the federal court in Columbus to allow him to place Bush IT guru Michael Connell under oath to ask him about his 20 year work for the Bush family, including his work for Jeb Bush in Florida 2000 and for Ken Blackwell in Ohio 2004. “The public has a need and right to know, before the next presidential election, that the top Republican IT expert shares a concern about the vulnerability of electronic voting systems to fraudulent manipulation, and that this is not just “conspiracy theory,” Arnebeck wrote.

On September 22, Connell was subpoenaed to testify about the matters that Spoonamore raised. Connell did everything he could to avoid testifying. Spoonamore provided another affidavit on October 26, going into more detail than his September 17 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 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 described here. The removal of those hard drives constituted destruction of evidence of the true vote count, thus making it impossible to conduct an accurate recount.

Note that by this time Spoonamore seems to have lost confidence in the innocence of Michael Connell that he exhibited in his September 17 affidavit. This is suggested by Spoonamore’s comment on Connell’s continued efforts to avoid providing relevant information, with the excuse that he was trying to protect trade secrets. Spoonamore said that that excuse was absurd, and he went into much detail to explain why it was absurd.

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”. Velvet Revolution noted:

Of course, these are the two companies identified by Spoonamore as rigging the election, Triad by pulling hard drives prior to the recount and SmartTech by running the election results through its GOP servers in Chattanooga before they got to the Ohio election computers.


The Death of Michael Connell

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, in an event reminiscent of the death of Raymond Lemme, who had apparently collected incriminating evidence bearing on the same subject that was at the core of the Connell subpoena, Connell never did get to testify. On December 19, he died in a plane crash, presumably caused by his plane running out of gas.


Unsolved mysteries

I don’t know what ever became of Spoonamore’s testimony. Perhaps any chance the American people had to get to the bottom of this matter was buried along with Michael Conner. In a just world, Spoonamore’s allegations would have been thoroughly investigated in an attempt to find out what really happened. So would the great amount of other evidence of election fraud in Ohio and elsewhere on Election Day 2004.

It is also difficult for me to understand how Spoonamore obtained the information he discussed in his affidavit. Being an expert on the subject was not enough. Clearly he seemed to have inside information. How did he obtain that information? It seems that he obtained much of it from Connor himself – but why did Connor trust him with that information?

In any case, if nothing else we should take very seriously Stephen Spoonamore's central message: Electronic voting machines are a national security threat. They have no legitimate place whatsoever in a democracy.
Posted by Time for change | Mon Sep 10, 2012, 10:01 PM (86 replies)

Democracy Undone: Unequal Representation, the Threat to our Election System, and…

“Democracy Undone: Unequal Representation, the Threat to our Election System, and the Demise of American Democracy”, by Dale Tavris (me) is a short history of the brutal beating our democratic process has taken in the 21st century, with special focus on the theft of two out of three past elections and the expanding influence of the American corporatocracy and their money in determining the outcome of elections in our country. The book will be published by Bitingduck Press, in all e-book formats, soon: http://www.bitingduckpress.com/democracy_undone

Could what happened in 2000 and 2004 happen again in 2012? The short answer is obviously YES. A longer and more interesting answer to that question appears in an article by Ari Berman that I just read today, titled " Voter Suppression: The Confederacy Rises Again". Though the article concentrates on voter suppression in the South, the tactics described are not be any means confined to the South. They are also very much alive in other states, such as Ohio and Pennsylvania.


The return of the Old Confederacy

Berman begins by noting two very important and interesting demographic trends in the Southern U.S. First is the rise of minorities: Minorities are increasing in numbers much faster than the white population. While 72% of baby-boomers (age 55-64) are white, only 51% of kids 15 and under are white (the remainder is 22% Hispanic, 21% African-American, and 6% other – mostly Asian and Native American). Second is the major Party split in minority composition: While the Republican Party is 88% white, the Democratic Party is only 50% white (the remainder is 36% African American, 9% Hispanic, and 5% other).

Berman notes that these demographic facts represent a ticking time bomb for the Republican Party in the South. How do they respond to this problem? Berman explains:

Yet instead of courting the growing minority vote, Republicans across the South are actively limiting political representation for minority voters and making it harder for them to vote. Eight of eleven states in the former Confederacy have passed restrictive voting laws since the 2010 election, as part of a broader war on voting undertaken by the GOP. Some of these changes have been mitigated by recent federal and state court rulings against the GOP, yet it’s still breathtaking to consider the different ways Republicans have sought to suppress the minority vote in the region.

The methods of voter suppression being attempted for the 2012 and future elections are very similar to the methods used to put George W. Bush in office in 2000 and keep him there until January 2009. These include:

Strict voter ID laws
Laws mandating government-issued IDs as a requirement for voting are reminiscent of the Southern poll tax, which was made unconstitutional by our 24th Amendment to our Constitution in 1964. The poll tax was instituted in Southern states for the purpose of disenfranchising black people. It also tended to disenfranchise poor white people as well, because poor people generally have less access to these IDs (for example, poor people are less likely to drive and therefore own a driver’s license). A 2005 study showed that 11% of American citizens of voting age don’t own government-issued IDs. Furthermore, these laws are discriminatory, as 25% of African-Americans don’t own these IDs.

Restricting voter registration drives
Knowing that twice as many Hispanic and African American voters are likely to register to vote as a result of voter registration drives, states have been legislating barriers to these drives. This is certainly not the first time. Art Levine described during the Bush presidency how Republicans counteracted the efforts of voter registration organizations, through intimidation of the organizations that undertake them:

Republican operatives, election officials, and the GOP-controlled Justice Department have limited voting access and gone after voter-registration groups such as ACORN (The Association for Community Organizations for Reform Now)… Attacking ACORN has been a central element of a systematic GOP disenfranchisement agenda to undermine Democratic prospects before each Election Day…

The GOP in Missouri also turned to prosecutions and lawsuits, most either overblown or groundless…. All these campaigns have created a kind of GOP vote-suppression playbook that aims to limit voting rights in the states and attack registration groups such as ACORN. In most states where ACORN wages ballot-initiative and voter-registration campaigns, Republican lawyers, officials, and some prosecutors routinely file dubious lawsuits and complaints… The lawsuits seldom if ever succeed, but the bad press they engender creates a climate to pass restrictive voting laws…

The (Florida) legislature passed one of the most restrictive voting-registration laws in the country. The new law fined every registration worker $5,000 for any lost application, potentially wiping out the entire budget of the state League of Women Voters if just 14 forms were lost and forcing the group to stop registering voters for the first time in over 70 years.

Disenfranchising felons even after serving their times
Laws disenfranchising felons from voting are one of Florida’s favorite ways for ensuring Republican victories at the polls. Often or usually, the “felonies” these people committed were non-violent, victimless crimes, such as possession of small amounts of marijuana. In 2000 this particular tactic cost Al Gore more votes than any other single factor, thus paving the way for the George W. Bush Presidency. Worse yet, many thousands of the disenfranchised Florida voters in 2000 were never felons at all, but merely close computer matches of felons. And Florida Governor Jeb Bush knew that would happen before his administration’s voter purge went into action.

Eliminating early voting
The working poor, composed disproportionately of minorities, are much more likely to utilize early voting dates, when available, than more affluent voters. The reason for this is easy to understand: Voting often is an economic hardship for working people, especially those who need more than one job to keep economically afloat, since it is often difficult for them to get the necessary time off of work. This year the elimination of early voting, targeted to Democratic areas, has been particularly troublesome in Ohio, which required a court ruling to somewhat restore early voting rights.

Redistricting
Berman explains how Southern states have used redistricting to increase their numbers of legislative seats:

Republicans all across the South used their control of state legislatures following 2010 to pass redistricting maps that will lead to a re-segregation of Southern politics, placing as many Democratic lawmakers into as few “majority minority” districts as possible as a way to maximize the number of Republican seats.

Arbitrary voter purging
Lastly, and most ominously (but not covered in Berman’s article), evidence from 2004 shows that Republican operatives sometimes don’t require any excuse at all to purge voters from the voter rolls. There is much evidence that illegal voter purging provided the Bush/Cheney ticket with hundreds of thousands of net votes in Ohio in 2004, which enabled Bush to win Ohio and therefore retain his Presidency.


A few words about “Democracy Undone”

I begin Chapter 1 with a statement of the basic problem of our failing democracy:

When elections of our public officials are for sale to the highest bidder… when our public officials are so addicted to the “campaign contributions” of their wealthiest constituents that they develop a symbiotic relationship with them… when our communications media are owned and controlled by an oligarchy of wealthy elites… when our citizenry lack the ability to differentiate propaganda from reality… when we allow machines provided by private corporations to count our votes using secret electronic software… then we should expect that the consequences will not be pretty or comfortable for the vast majority of our citizens.

The most fundamental consequence is that we habitually fail to elect officials who actually represent us:

Wouldn’t you think that a nation governed by democratic principles should be able to elect a national legislature that receives the approval of at least half of its population? Well, not in the United States. When a so-called “democracy” repeatedly fails to elect high government officials whose job performance receives the approval of half the population that voted those officials into office, the citizens of that “democracy” ought to seriously consider the reasons for that failure.

Here is a graph of Congressional job approval in the United States since 1974.


Note that currently Congressional job approval is bouncing right along the 20% line.

Consequences then flow from the fact that we habitually elect people who do not represent us. These include: severe, record-breaking income inequality; rampant militarism; the highest imprisonment rate of any country in the world; the systematic flouting of international law, and; failure to take measures to control the climate change that is destroying our planet’s ability to support human life as we know it.

The following chapters include:

Chapter 2: How the 2000 Presidential election was stolen
Chapter 3: Was the 2004 election stolen too?
Chapter 4: Can you trust the corporations that make the computers that count your votes?
Chapter 5: Fixing elections by making 2 + 2 = 3
Chapter 6: Illegal purging of legitimate voters
Chapter 7: More dirty tricks – Voter suppression and intimidation
Chapter 8: The “Voter Fraud” myth and the barrage of new restrictive voting laws
Chapter 9: Shocking testimony on vote switching in the 2004 Presidential election
Chapter 10: Legalized bribery of government officials
Chapter 11: Corporate control of communications Media
Chapter 12: Some actions we can take

I end the book with a warning about being too complacent about our failing democracy, with a quote from Milton Mayer, who studied the thinking of ordinary lower level Nazis during Hitler’s rise to power. Mayer explained in his book, “They Thought They Were Free – The Germans 1933-45”, the gradual process by which Germans gave up their freedom to Hitler:

What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.

This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter…

You can see how easy it was, then, not to think about fundamental things. One had no time…

You speak privately to your colleagues… but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things’ or ‘You’re an alarmist.’ … And you can’t prove it…

In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next… You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago.


I’ll provide some more detailed description of the book content in a later post, prior to the publication of the book.
Posted by Time for change | Sat Sep 8, 2012, 11:22 AM (3 replies)

On the Political Context of the Charges against Julian Assange

An article in The Nation by Joann Wypijewski, titled "Justice Foreclosed", explains better than anything I’ve read why Julian Assange shouldn’t give himself up to let “justice” work its course. From the second paragraph of Justice Foreclosed:

He is the wanted man. Wanted for the purpose of conducting criminal proceedings, ostensibly on sexual misconduct allegations in Sweden, but maybe not; maybe on charges of espionage or conspiracy in the United States instead; maybe to face indefinite detention, maybe torture or life in prison. It’s so hard to know… But one thing is not mysterious: the law is {not} capable of delivering justice in his case today…

The political context
After noting (accurately in my opinion) that the law is no more likely to deliver justice to Assange in his rape case than it was to a black man charged with raping a white woman in the Jim Crow South, Wypijewski continues:

With Assange, the political context is the totalizing immorality of the national security state on a global scale. The sex-crime allegations against Assange emerged in Sweden on August 20, 2010, approximately four and a half months after WikiLeaks blazed into the public sphere by releasing a classified video that showed a US Apache helicopter crew slaughtering more than a dozen civilians, including two journalists, in a Baghdad suburb.

By that August, Pfc. Bradley Manning, the reputed source of the video and about 750,000 other leaked government documents, was being held without charge in solitary confinement at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, subjected to what his attorney, David Coombs, describes in harrowing detail in a recent motion as “unlawful pretrial punishment.” In plain terms, Manning was tortured. He faces court-martial for aiding the enemy and has been denounced as a traitor by members of Congress. For disseminating classified materials that exposed war crimes, Assange has been called a terrorist. A coloring book for children, The True Faces of Evil—Terror… includes his face on a sheet of detachable trading cards, along with Timothy McVeigh, Jared Lee Loughner, Ted Kaczynski… A commentator on Fox News urged President Obama to order his assassination. Vice President Joe Biden called him a “high-tech terrorist” and suggested that the Justice Department might be angling for a prosecution.

Julian Assange a terrorist? If he’s a terrorist, then I guess I am too, because if I had access to the material he had, and if I had the courage to release it, I would do so in a heartbeat. If Assange is a terrorist, then I guess that so are all journalists who release information on war crimes committed by the state.

On the murkiness of the rape charges
Like just about everyone else, I don’t know what the truth is surrounding the rape charges against Assange. What I do know is that the circumstances of those charges seem very suspicious. Wypijewski describes some of those circumstances:

Only rarely has anyone – notably Naomi Wolf and the team from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Four Corners program – begun with the intrinsic political challenge posed by WikiLeaks and proceeded from there to scrutinize the Swedish prosecutorial machinery. That machinery is tricky. Police were so quick to initiate the arrest process that one of the women who came to them – to see if Assange could be forced to take an STD test after she’d had unprotected sex with him – became distraught and refused to give further testimony. The Swedish prosecutor’s office issued an arrest warrant for rape and molestation on one day and withdrew it the next, saying there was no reason to suspect rape, and that the other claim wasn’t serious enough for a warrant. About a week later, the Swedish director of prosecution reopened the investigation…

On the presumption of innocence
Wypijewski notes that a big reason why some liberals are not supporting Assange in his refusal to face charges is that they involve rape. And in those cases, it is the presumption of guilt that works against their supporting him. I see it slightly differently. If the presumption of guilt is the reason why a “liberal” does not support him, then that person is not really a liberal – at least not in the way s/he looks at this case. There are few things that are more fundamental to liberalism than the presumption of innocence in criminal cases. Wypijewski explains:

If it were anything but sex, we would insist on the presumption of innocence. We have instead gotten comfortable with presuming guilt and trusting in the dignified processes of law to guarantee fairness.

On what Assange faces if he gives himself up
Lastly is the issue of what Assange is likely to face if he gives himself up:

About the state, though, there must be no illusions. A nation that goes to war on fraud, that insists “We don’t torture” when evidence to the contrary abounds, that kidnaps foreign nationals and puts them on planes to be delivered to dungeons, that spies on its people, asserts its right to lock them up indefinitely and lets documented CIA torturers off the hook of accountability because they were only following orders: that nation will plot, and it will double-cross, and it will kill. Sweden participated in the US program of extraordinary rendition. The United Kingdom has threatened to storm Ecuador’s embassy. The United States now says it does not recognize the historic right of persons to seek diplomatic asylum. Assange’s lawyers have said that he will go to Sweden if he gets an absolutely firm guarantee from the Obama administration that it will not arrest him. Such a guarantee is impossible in an empire of lies.


For those of you who criticize Assange or call him a coward because of his refusal to give himself up to “justice”, I ask you to consider: Would you give yourself up if you faced a likelihood of indefinite detention without trial and torture?
Posted by Time for change | Mon Sep 3, 2012, 07:04 PM (80 replies)
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