Archive for the ‘Political’ Category

What happens to the Republican Party after the election?

November 2, 2008

What happens to the Republican Party after the election?

A vital opposition party being essential in a two-party system, the fate of the Republican Party will deserve almost as much attention as the activities of the newly dominant Democratic Party.

  1. Collapse of the Republican Party
  2. Defectors from the Party
  3. Door #1:  Purge the Party’s membership, keeping only the faithful
  4. Door #2:  reflection and rebuilding
  5. A historical note on the two Party system

1.  Collapse of the Republican Party

After a quarter-century in power, to varying degrees, the Republican Party not only faces defeat but disintegration, political and intellectual.  The Administrations of the two Bushes have ripped the Party from its modern foundation forged by Barry Goldwater and William Buckley in the 1960’s.  A massive tax increase and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 under Bush Sr., the latter of the largest expansions of Federal power for decades — until Bush Jr.  Bush Jr’s contempt for civil liberties (other than gun control), massive spending and deficits (a Republican tradition since Reagan), massive expansion of government power, pro-open borders, and enthusiasm for foreign wars. 

McCain’s erratic political history — spun as being a “maverick” — gave few signs of change to this mess, other than his steadfast enthusiasm for foreign wars.

As a result the party has almost no doctrinal coherence — what does it stand for?  The only strong, consistent policy is opposition to abortion — a long-term aspect of its platform that has over decades has had little impact on public policy.  Probably because of the strong public consensus for a position between the extreme views held by the two major parties.

Politically the party has alienated many of its core constituencies.  McCain’s long-held contempt for the “religious right”.  Bush Jr’s and McCain’s strong support for open borders –opposing one of the most strongly held beliefs of the party core.  Most of all, Bush Jr’s disastrous management of the domestic economy and our foreign wars.

 

Note:  before commenting that we have won in Iraq, please explain what we have “won” — in terms of American national objectives.

2.  Defectors from the Party

A tangible indication of the Party’s internal weakness is the defection of so many conservatives from McCain-Palin ticket.  This has few parallels in American history.  Here is a partial list of well-known conseratives or Republicans (distinct but overlapping categories) who have expressed serious concerns about Gov Palin’s fitness as a potential President — some to the point of outright support for Obama.

  1. Christopher Buckley (source)
  2. David Frum and Kathleen Parkerat National Review Online.
  3. Peggy Noonan (President Reagan’s speechwriter) at the Wall Street Journal.
  4. Colin Powell.
  5. Kenneth Adelman, long-time diplomat under several Republican administrations (source; bio).
  6. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and former Securities and Exchange Commissioner William Donaldson (source).
  7. Douglas Kmiec, diplomat, long-time conservative (source; bio).
  8. Lawrence Eagleburger, Sec of State under Bush Sr. and whose endorsement is often cited by McCain, speaking on NPR (AP story, recording) (bio).  Later, his walkback (quote here; video here).
  9. Ken Duberstein, President Reagan’s Chief of Staff, on CNN (bio).

How will the Republican Party’s core react?

3.  Door #1:  Purge the Party’s membership, keeping only the faithful

Door #1 is to purge all but the faithful remnant.  Key Republicans are already digging holes for the stakes and gathering firewood.  Two examples follow.

Sarah Palin’s Future“, Fred Barnes (Executive Editor), Weekly Standard, 27 October 2008 — “Alaska’s most valuable resource.”  Excerpt:

Palin, by the way, is unsure about her ultimate role in national politics even if McCain wins, but it’s bound to be more complicated if he loses.

“I don’t know what kind of role the Republican party would want me to play,” she told me. “In the past, I have not been one to be considered for anything by the hierarchy of the party. Certainly not in my state. In some sense, I ran against my party.”

Palin remains skeptical of Republicans. “I would love to promote the party ideals if we’re going to live out the ideals and maybe allow other American voters to understand what the principles of the party are,” she says. “We’ve got to be assured we have enough people in the party who will live out those ideals and it’s not just rhetoric. Otherwise, I’d be wasting my time. There are a lot of things I would and should be doing.”

Rush Limbaugh spoke more explicitly during his 24 October show: ”Good Riddance, GOP Moderates.”  Excerpt:

This is Sarah Palin to Fred Barnes; and that, ladies and gentlemen, is why the rebuilding of the conservative movement — even if there is no direct leader in charge of making it happen, it will happen by default because it’s going to have to. Even if McCain wins, Colin Powell going to come running back? Is Bill Weld going to come running back? Hell, yes, they will! Hell, yes, they’ll come running back. They’ll do everything they can to stay in the circle of power. Of course they’ll come running back. All these people are out for self-interest. That’s what Sarah Palin is saying. She’s not in it for self-interest. The party had better be what the party is or I don’t have any future in it.

We’re going to rebuild it even if McCain wins. We’re going to have to. These people, these moderates who wanted the big tent, they have taken the party exactly where they said they wanted it to be — and when it got there, these little cowards jumped the ship! I have lost all respect for these people.

And, folks, when I said at the beginning of this that I wanted to turn around and pat myself on the back, it’s because I (and so many like me) knew this exact thing was going to happen and tried to warn people about it during the primaries and so forth. I am not happy it’s happened except for one reason. We flushed ‘em out. We found out they’re not really Republicans and they’re by no means conservatives, and now they’re gone. Now the trick is to keep ‘em out.

What might be the results of this course:

(1)  Becoming irrelevant extremists, like the Green and Socialist parties, as both membership and (equally or more important) funding dwindle. Few Americans, and even fewer in our ruling elites, have much interest in losers.  No matter how pure their ideology.

(2)  The center of gravity to America’s political ideological spectrum shifts left.  In most of America the primaries become the key contests in local, State, and national elections, are they are in so many areas today (due to both local political dominance plus gerrymandering).

4.  Door #2:  reflection and rebuilding

The second option would be far more difficult.  What did the Party do wrong?  How should its platform change to better express its beliefs for the 21st century?  How can it offer something to America that is more than a weak echo of the Democratic Party’s solutions, but not policies attractive only to a small extreme? 

5.  A historical note on the two Party system

For most of American history the two Party’s were divided by cross-cutting fractures, as a result of the Civil War making the South solidly Democratic terrain.  Many of the most conservative factions were in the Democratic Party.

After Johnson’s “New Society” much of the South changed affiliation, but this gave a racist tinge to the Republicans.  This weakened or even polluted the foundation laid by Goldwater and Buckley.

Now Obama gives new life to the Democratic Party, but also an opportunity for a fresh start to the Republican Party.  America needs a strong second party to provide not just alternative policies, but an alternative view of what America should be.  Are the Republicans up to this challenge?

Afterword

If you are new to this site, please glance at the archives below.  You may find answers to your questions in these.

Please share your comments by posting below.  Please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp relevance to this topic:

Some solutions, ways to reform America:

  1. Diagnosing the Eagle, Chapter III – reclaiming the Constitution, 3 January 2008
  2. Obama might be the shaman that America needs, 17 July 2008
  3. Obama describes the first step to America’s renewal, 8 August 2008
  4. Let’s look at America in the mirror, the first step to reform, 14 August 2008  
  5. Fixing America: elections, revolt, or passivity?, 16 August 2008
  6. Fixing American: taking responsibility is the first step, 17 August 2008
  7. Fixing America: solutions — elections, revolt, passivity, 18 August 2008
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US oil firms seek drilling access, but exports soar

July 15, 2008

ANALYSIS-US oil firms seek drilling access, but exports soar
07.03.08, 2:40 PM ET

United States – By Tom DoggettWASHINGTON3 (Reuters) – While the U.S. oil industry want access to more federal lands to help reduce reliance on foreign suppliers, American-based companies are shipping record amounts of gasoline and diesel fuel to other countries.

A record 1.6 million barrels a day in U.S. refined petroleum products were exported during the first four months of this year, up 33 percent from 1.2 million barrels a day over the same period in 2007. Shipments this February topped 1.8 million barrels a day for the first time during any month, according to final numbers from the Energy Department.

The surge in exports appears to contradict the pleas from the U.S. oil industry and the Bush administration for Congress to open more offshore waters and Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

“We can help alleviate shortages by drilling for oil and gas in our own country,” President Bush told reporters this week. “We have got the opportunity to find more crude oil here at home.”

“As a nation, we can have more control over our energy destiny by supplying more of the oil and natural gas we’ll be consuming from resources here at home,” Red Cavaney, president of the American Petroleum (otcbb: AMPE.OB news people ) Institute, said in a letter last week to U.S. lawmakers.

But environmentalists and other opponents to expanding drilling areas could seize on the record exports to argue Congress should not open more acres if U.S. refineries are churning crude oil into petroleum products that are sent out of the American market.

“It doesn’t look good to say: ‘We need more oil.’ But then export the refined products that you’re getting. It doesn’t seem to be consistent,” said Jim Presswood, energy lobbyist for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

But many energy experts say oil and petroleum products are traded globally, and it may make economic sense to export gasoline refined along the U.S. Gulf Coast to Latin America and import European-refined gasoline to U.S. East Coast markets.

“The fact is that the (United States) participates in global markets for both crude and refined products, and there are any number of variables that impact supply and prices in those markets,” said Bill Holbrook, spokesman for the National Petrochemicals and Refiners Association.

The 1.6 million barrels a day in record petroleum exports represented 9 percent of total U.S. refining capacity of 17.6 million barrels a day.

However, with refiners operating at 85 percent of capacity during the January-April period, the shipments represented a much a larger share of total U.S. oil products produced.

The exports were also equal to half the 3.2 million barrels of gasoline, diesel fuel and other petroleum products the United States imported each day over the 4-month period.

The biggest share of U.S. oil products exported went to Mexico, Canada, Chile, Singapore and Brazil.

U.S. consumers are paying record prices for gasoline and diesel fuel, which the Bush administration blames in part on tight supplies.

While the administration argues that more supplies would help to bring down prices, U.S exports of diesel fuel in April averaged 387,000 barrels per day, up almost seven-fold from 59,000 barrels a day in the same month a year earlier.

U.S. gasoline shipments in April averaged 202,000 barrels a day, the most for the month since 1945, when America was sending fuel overseas to ease supply shortages in other countries during World War II. Gasoline exports in April 2007 were almost half at 116,000 barrels per day.

Residual fuel exports in April were 377,000 barrels per day, the fourth highest level for any month, and up 10 percent from 344,000 barrels per day a year earlier.

John Felmy, the chief economist at the American Petroleum Institute, said a portion of the oil products exported, especially diesel, was fuel that did not meet U.S. clean air requirements and therefore could not be sold in America. “You may have some that you’re not able to use,” he said.

Also, while U.S. gasoline demand is down due to high prices and a weak American economy, there is “strong economic growth outside the United States” where fuel is often subsidized and demand is high, said John Cook, director of EIA’s Petroleum Division.

However, both the EIA and API admitted they did not know why daily U.S. gasoline exports to Canada skyrocketed to 41,000 barrels in January-April this year from 9,000 barrels in 2007.

The EIA said more U.S. diesel is going to Latin American to fuel power plants because of a shortage of natural gas in the region, and China has switched to diesel from coal to run some of its generating facilities in order to reduce smog ahead of the summer Olympics next month in Beijing. (Editing by Christian Wiessner)

Copyright 2008 Reuters, Click for Restriction

Initiative would allow pot sales at liquor stores

July 9, 2008

By KATU Staff

SALEM, Ore. – Relax it and tax it.

That’s the motto behind a new cannabis initiative that would allow Oregon’s state-controlled liquor stores to legally sell marijuana to adults.

Initiative backers said their plan would send 90 percent of the proceeds from the state’s sale of marijuana to Oregon’s General Fund, which could lower Oregonians’ state tax burden.

Smaller percentages would go to funding drug abuse education and treatment programs.

The initiative would also legalize the growing of hemp, a non-drug variant of cannabis that can be used to make industrial-strength fibers and bio-fuels.

Supporters claim that allowing cannabis cultivation and sales through state liquor stores would add $300 million in combined tax revenues and savings to Oregon’s budget.

Paul Stanford of the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act said the measure would also put a dent in illegal dealing of the weed.

“We want to take marijuana out of the hands of children and substance abusers, who control the market today, and put it in the hands of the state’s liquor control commission and the age limit of 21 will be strictly enforced,” Stanford said at a press briefing.

Supporters have two years to collect nearly 83,000 signatures to get the measure on the November ballot in 2010.

Questions for Republicans, Democrats, and Others

June 11, 2008

By David Swanson

http://www.afterdowningstreet.org/node/33999

A question for Republicans: Do you want to hand a President Barack Obama the right and power to spy on any American citizens he chooses, including his political opponents, without any court-ordered warrant, in blatant violation of the law and the Fourth Amendment?

A question for Democrats: Do you want to hand a President John McCain, who has already openly said he will use it, the right and power to spy on any American citizens he chooses, including his political opponents, without any court-ordered warrant, in blatant violation of the law and the Fourth Amendment?

A question for everyone: Do you want to give any president, and the presidents after him, this power and all the other powers that have been seized by President George W. Bush? Do you want to have to bet your safety, security, prosperity, and liberty on the chance that each successive president will turn out to be the sort of person able to exercise remarkable resistance to abusing available powers, even though the American colonists fought a revolution so that you wouldn’t have to?

Exactly what illegal power to spy has Bush seized for himself and all future presidents? The ones laid out in the 24th article of impeachment introduced by Congressman Dennis Kucinich on Monday night:

Article XXIV

SPYING ON AMERICAN CITIZENS, WITHOUT A COURT-ORDERED WARRANT, IN VIOLATION OF THE LAW AND THE FOURTH AMENDMENT

In his conduct while President of the United States, George W. Bush, in violation of his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty under Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution “to take care that the laws be faithfully executed”, has both personally and acting through his agents and subordinates, knowingly violated the fourth Amendment to the Constitution and the Foreign Intelligence Service Act of 1978 (FISA) by authorizing warrantless electronic surveillance of American citizens to wit:

(1) The President was aware of the FISA Law requiring a court order for any wiretap as evidenced by the following:

(A)”Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires — a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so.” White House Press conference on April 20, 2004 [White House Transcript]

(B) “Law enforcement officers need a federal judge’s permission to wiretap a foreign terrorist’s phone, or to track his calls, or to search his property. Officers must meet strict standards to use any of the tools we’re talking about.” President Bush’s speech in Baltimore Maryland on July 20th 2005 [White House Transcript]

(2) The President repeatedly ordered the NSA to place wiretaps on American citizens without requesting a warrant from FISA as evidenced by the following:

(A) “Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.” New York Times article by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau on December 12, 2005. [NYTimes]

(B) The President admits to authorizing the program by stating “I have reauthorized this program more than 30 times since the September the 11th attacks, and I intend to do so for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from al Qaeda and related groups. The NSA’s activities under this authorization are thoroughly reviewed by the Justice Department and NSA’s top legal officials, including NSA’s general counsel and inspector general. Leaders in Congress have been briefed more than a dozen times on this authorization and the activities conducted under it.” Radio Address from the White House on December 17, 2005 [White House Transcript]

(C) In a December 19th 2005 press conference the President publicly admitted to using a combination of surveillance techniques including some with permission from the FISA courts and some without permission from FISA.

Reporter: It was, why did you skip the basic safeguards of asking courts for permission for the intercepts?

THE PRESIDENT: … We use FISA still — you’re referring to the FISA court in your question — of course, we use FISAs. But FISA is for long-term monitoring. What is needed in order to protect the American people is the ability to move quickly to detect. Now, having suggested this idea, I then, obviously, went to the question, is it legal to do so? I am — I swore to uphold the laws. Do I have the legal authority to do this? And the answer is, absolutely. As I mentioned in my remarks, the legal authority is derived from the Constitution, as well as the authorization of force by the United States Congress.” [White House Transcript]

(D) Mike McConnel, the Director of National Intelligence, in a letter to to Senator Arlen Specter, acknowledged that Bush’s Executive Order in 2001 authorized a series of secret surveillance activities and included undisclosed activities beyond the warrantless surveillance of e-mails and phone calls that Bush confirmed in December 2005. “NSA Spying Part of Broader Effort” by Dan Eggen, Washington Post, 8/1/07

(3) The President ordered the surveillance to be conducted in a way that would spy upon private communications between American citizens located within the United States borders as evidenced by the following:

(A) Mark Klein, a retired AT&T communications technician, submitted an affidavit in support of the Electronic Fronteir Foundation’s FF’s lawsuit against AT&T. He testified that in 2003 he connected a “splitter” that sent a copy of Internet traffic and phone calls to a secure room that was operated by the NSA in the San Francisco office of AT&T. He heard from a co-worker that similar rooms were being constructed in other cities, including Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego. From “Whistle-Blower Outs NSA Spy Room”, Wired News, 4/7/06 [Wired] [EFF Case]

(4) The President asserted an inherent authority to conduct electronic surveillance based on the Constitution and the “Authorization to use Military Force in Iraq” (AUMF) that was not legally valid as evidenced by the following:

(A) In a December 19th, 2005 Press Briefing General Alberto Gonzales admitted that the surveillance authorized by the President was not only done without FISA warrants, but that the nature of the surveillance was so far removed from what FISA can approve that FISA could not even be amended to allow it. Gonzales stated “We have had discussions with Congress in the past — certain members of Congress — as to whether or not FISA could be amended to allow us to adequately deal with this kind of threat, and we were advised that that would be difficult, if not impossible.”.

(B) The fourth amendment to the United States Constitution states “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

(C) “The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 unambiguously limits warrantless domestic electronic surveillance, even in a congressionally declared war, to the first 15 days of that war; criminalizes any such electronic surveillance not authorized by statute; and expressly establishes FISA and two chapters of the federal criminal code, governing wiretaps for intelligence purposes and for criminal investigation, respectively, as the “exclusive means by which electronic surveillance . . . and the interception of domestic wire, oral, and electronic communications may be conducted.” 50 U.S.C. §§ 1811, 1809, 18 U.S.C. § 2511(2)(f).” Letter from Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Tribe to John Conyers on 1/6/06

(D) In a December 19th, 2005 Press Briefing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales stated “Our position is, is that the authorization to use force, which was passed by the Congress in the days following September 11th, constitutes that other authorization, that other statute by Congress, to engage in this kind of signals intelligence.”

(E) The “Authorization to use Military Force in Iraq” does not give any explicit authorization related to electronic surveillance. [HJRes114]

(F) “From the foregoing analysis, it appears unlikely that a court would hold that Congress has expressly or impliedly authorized the NSA electronic surveillance operations here under discussion, and it would likewise appear that, to the extent that those surveillances fall within the definition of “electronic surveillance” within the meaning of FISA or any activity regulated under Title III, Congress intended to cover the entire field with these statutes.” From the “Presidential Authority to Conduct Warrantless Electronic Surveillance to Gather Foreign Intelligence Information” by the Congressional Research Service on January 5, 2006.

(G) “The inescapable conclusion is that the AUMF did not implicitly authorize what the FISA expressly prohibited. It follows that the presidential program of surveillance at issue here is a violation of the separation of powers — as grave an abuse of executive authority as I can recall ever having studied.” Letter from Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Tribe to John Conyers on 1/6/06

(H) On August 17, 2006 Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of the United States District Court in Detroit, in ACLU v. NSA, ruled that the “NSA program to wiretap the international communications of some Americans without a court warrant violated the Constitution. … Judge Taylor ruled that the program violated both the Fourth Amendment and a 1978 law that requires warrants from a secret court for intelligence wiretaps involving people in the United States. She rejected the administration’s repeated assertions that a 2001 Congressional authorization and the president’s constitutional authority allowed the program.” From a New York Times article “Judge Finds Wiretap Actions Violate the Law” 8/18/06 and the Memorandum Opinion

(I) In July 2007, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case, ruling the plaintiffs had no standing to sue because, given the secretive nature of the surveillance, they could not state with certainty that they have been wiretapped by the NSA. This ruling did not address the legality of the surveillance so Judge Taylor’s decision is the only ruling on that issue. [ACLU Legal Documents]

In all of these actions and decisions, President George W. Bush has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President, and subversive of constitutional government, to the prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States. Wherefore, President George W. Bush, by such conduct, is guilty of an impeachable offense warranting removal from office.

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Are you a republican or a democrat

June 4, 2008

Tile :Violent Femmes – I’m Nothing
This is lyrics from http://www.lyrics007.com
I-M-N-O-T-H-I-N
I-M-N-O-T-H-I-N
I’m nothing’
I’m nothin’
Are you a republican or a democrat
A liberal fascist full of crap
I’m nothin’
I’m nothin’
Somebody somewhere might be something
But everybody everywhere
Knows that I’m nothin
Politics and dirty tricks
I got no time for stones and sticks
Politics and dirty tricks
I got no time I’m chasing chicks
I’m nothin’
I’m nothin’
Somebody somewhere might be something
But everybody everywhere
Knows that I’m nothing
I’m nothing but I’m not proud
‘Cause being nothing it’s not allowed
Are you a gay or are you straight
Do you believe in love
Or do you believe in hate
I’m nothin’
I’m nothin’
Somebody somewhere said he was something
But to everybody everywhere
I’m saying I’m nothing
I’m nothing. I’m like a cloud
I’m free to be alone in a crowd
What’s your reality. It’s not real to me
What’s your anomaly. It is my destiny
I-M-N-O-T-H-I-N
I-M-N-O-T-H-I-N
I’m nothin’
Nothin’
Nothin’
I’m nothing now and I’ll be nothing when
This nothing world has it’s nothing end

McCain Defends ‘Enron Loophole’ keepen us safe from gays and terrorist.

May 30, 2008

By Jason Leopold

Sen. John McCain says he opposes the $307 billion farm bill because it would dole out wasteful subsidies, but his chief economic adviser Phil Gramm also wants to stop its proposed regulation of energy futures trading, a market that was famously abused when Enron Corp. manipulated California’s electricity prices in 2001.

Clearing the way for that California price gouging, Gramm, as a powerful Texas senator in 2000, slipped an Enron-backed provision into the Commodities Futures Modernization Act that exempted from regulation energy trading on electronic platforms.

Then, over the next year, Enron – with Gramm’s wife Wendy serving on its board of directors – worked to create false electricity shortages in California, bilking consumers out of an estimated $40 billion.

Gramm left the Senate in 2002 but now has emerged as what Fortune magazine calls “McCain’s econ brain,” not only filling the Arizona senator’s acknowledged void on economic expertise (“I don’t know as much about the economy as I should”) but recognized as one of McCain’s closest friends in politics. The two men talk daily.

A McCain aide told me that the Arizona senator opposes the farm bill because it “rewards lobbyists” by granting rich farmers lucrative subsidies, although he would support “a reasonable level of assistance and risk management to farmers when they need America’s help.”

But the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee also opposes the farm bill because Gramm advised McCain that he should resist its regulatory language on the energy futures market.

Democrats have dubbed that gap in energy futures regulation the “Enron loophole,” but it played a part, too, in the more recent attempt by the Amaranth Advisers hedge fund to corner the national gas market by shifting trades to the unregulated “dark markets” of the Intercontinental Exchange.

The “Enron loophole” also has become part of the debate over the soaring price of oil. Last week, a study sponsored by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, concluded that speculative futures markets were partly to blame for the surge in oil prices that have pushed gas at the pump toward $4 a gallon.

At a May 15 news conference, Levin said the skyrocketing price of oil is “not the result of supply and demand. Speculators have taken over most of the futures market.”

However, the 673-page farm bill, containing the regulatory provisions on electronic energy trading, still faces obstacles amid overall concerns about the bill’s largesse to farmers at a time of rising food prices.

President George W. Bush has vowed to veto the bill, although it cleared the House and Senate by margins wide enough for an override, assuming Republicans don’t rally behind Bush and McCain, their current and future standard bearers.

Gramm and Enron

The battle over the “Enron loophole” also could draw attention to McCain’s dependence on Gramm as his chief economic adviser and Gramm’s key role in passing legislation that let Enron trade commodities on electronic platforms without federal oversight.

In 2000, with the Republicans in charge of Congress and Gramm chairing the Senate Banking Committee, the exemption on electronic trading was approved without a Senate hearing.

Internal Enron documents, which were released in 2002, revealed that the Houston-based company helped write the legislation, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in December 2000.

Freed from regulatory interference, Enron then used manipulative trading practices to game the California electricity market and drive up electricity prices across the state.

While California consumers were getting fleeced, the new Bush administration shielded Enron from early accusations of market manipulation. President Bush personally joined the fight against imposing caps on the soaring price of electricity, buying additional time for Enron although the company’s house of cards collapsed anyway in fall 2001. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush’s Enron Lies.”]

In 2006, the “Enron loophole” allowed Amaranth Advisers hedge fund to shift its trades from the regulated New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) to the unregulated Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) in Atlanta.

That let Amaranth corner the natural gas market, betting that futures prices would rise. The hedge fund lost about $6 billion and imploded as natural gas prices fell to a two-year low in September 2006.

Last July, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission charged that Amaranth manipulated prices paid in the physical natural gas markets. FERC has proposed $291 million in penalties and the forfeiture of “unjust profits.”

“Unregulated markets are known as ‘dark markets’ because there is very little oversight of the trades,” said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Michigan, chairman of the subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, during a hearing on energy speculation last December.

By trading on the “dark” ICE market, traders can avoid the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s rules which are in place to prevent price distortions or supply squeezes.

Stupak said trading volumes on ICE “have skyrocketed in the past three years and are now as large or even larger in some months, than the volumes traded on the regulated futures market.”

The lack of oversight “makes it difficult for regulators to detect excessively large positions which could lead to price manipulation,” Stupak said.

Advising McCain

Gramm, who is now a vice chairman of financial services company UBS, began advising McCain in 2005 when the Arizona senator indicated he planned to run for President.

Since then, McCain has adopted much of Gramm’s anti-tax, anti-regulatory agenda. Most strikingly, McCain shifted to support Bush’s tax cuts, which McCain had voted against in 2001 and 2003. He now vows that, if elected President, he would make them permanent.

Yet Gramm’s influence over McCain’s economic agenda – and the checkered political-business history of Gramm and his wife Wendy – have largely escaped media scrutiny.

Gramm received more than $34,000 in campaign contributions from Enron and served as one of the company’s key legislative allies in Washington, including his help in 2000 removing federal oversight from energy trades on electronic platforms.

At the height of the Enron scandal in January 2002, Gramm’s press secretary Larry Neal told The New York Times that Gramm did not “recall a conversation” he apparently had with Enron’s chairman Ken Lay in 2000 to discuss that Enron legislative priority.

An internal Enron e-mail dated Aug. 10, 2000, under the subject “CFTC Reauthorization” – sent by Enron’s top lobbyist Richard Shapiro to Steve Kean, Enron’s executive vice president – said the company needed to get Lay on the phone with Gramm so the bill could be passed.

“The bill is not moving quickly in the Senate due to Senator Phil Gramm’s desire to see significant changes made to the legislation (not directly related to our energy language),” Shapiro said.

“Last week at the [2000] Republican Convention, I asked the Senator about the bill and he said they were working on it, but much needs to be changed for his support. More telling perhaps, were Wendy Gramm’s comments that she would rather the current bill die if a better bill can be passed next year.

“What this means is that we must, at the least, remove Senator Gramm’s opposition to the bill to move the process and more importantly seek to gain his support of the legislation.”

Shapiro added: “However, with less than 20 or so legislative days left, we need Senator Gramm to engage.

“A call from Ken Lay in the next two weeks to Senator Gramm could be an impetus for Gramm to move his staff to resolve the differences. Gramm needs to fully understand how helpful the bill is to Enron.

“Let me know your thoughts on this approach. I am prepared to assist in coordinating the call and drafting the talking points for a Ken Lay/Sen. Gramm call.”

Several other internal Enron e-mails briefed company staffers on the status of Gramm’s position and Enron’s lobbying of the senator. Gramm finally removed a “hold” on the bill in December 2000, reintroduced the bill under a different number, and forced a vote on it without floor debate.

It was then attached to an appropriations bill that was signed by President Clinton on Dec. 21, 2000.

California Crisis

Less than a month later, California began to experience rolling blackouts due to artificial electricity shortages which, according to documents later released by federal energy regulators, were the result of manipulative trading practices employed by Enron.

The California crisis centered on Enron’s energy trades through a new platform called EnronOnline, which had been freed from regulatory oversight by the legislation pushed by Gramm.

In April 2002, Gramm blocked an amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, that would have closed the loophole that Gramm had helped open.

Gramm’s wife, Wendy, also had played a role in the anti-regulatory policies that contributed to the Enron scandal.

On Jan. 14, 1993, in the final days of the first Bush administration, Wendy Gramm – as chairwoman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission – pushed through a key regulatory exemption removing energy derivatives contracts and interest-rate swaps from federal oversight.

That was a major financial boon to Enron, where Wendy Gramm landed five weeks later as a member of the board of directors. She also became a member of the audit committee that signed off on another one of Enron’s fraudulent schemes, partnerships that hid the company’s growing debt.

Even after Enron had collapsed in fall 2001, Sen. Gramm continued to resist congressional efforts at tightening up the rules.

In 2002, despite the accounting scandals at Enron, WorldCom and other major companies, Sen. Gramm objected to the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate reform bill designed to hold executives accountable for inaccuracies in financial reports.

Now, the Gramm family’s anti-regulatory agenda is returning via McCain’s presidential campaign.

As Fortune’s editor-at-large Shawn Tully wrote, “economic conservatives should take heart. McCain’s chief economic adviser – and perhaps his closest political friend – is the ultimate pure play in free market faith, former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm. … Most of [McCain’s] current positions are vintage Gramm indeed.” [Fortune, Feb. 19. 2008]

The first test of McCain’s commitment to Gramm’s anti-regulatory purity may come in the looming battle over the “Enron loophole” that the farm bill seeks to close.

Jason Leopold has launched a new Web site, The Public Record, at http://www.pubrecord.org

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Will the GOP election theft machine do it again in 2008?

October 21, 2007

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by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman

With record low approval ratings for the Bush/Cheney regime and the albatross of an unpopular war hanging from the GOP’s neck, do you think that a Democratic presidential candidate will win the White House, get us out of Iraq, and end our long national nightmare?

Think again – the mighty election theft machine Karl Rove used to steal the US presidency in 2000 and 2004 may be under attack, but it is still in place for the upcoming 2008 election.

With his usual devious mastery, Rove has seized upon the national outrage sparked by his electoral larceny and used it as smokescreen while he makes the American electoral system even MORE unfair, and even EASIER to rig. Thus the administration has fired federal attorneys when they would not participate in a nationwide campaign to deny minorities and the poor their access to the polls. It has spent millions of taxpayer dollars to install electronic voting machines that can be “flipped” with a few keystrokes. And under the guise of “reforming” our busted electoral system, it is setting us up for another presidential theft in 2008.

Thus it should come as no surprise that our exclusive investigations into the firings of eight federal prosecutors who refused to execute Rove’s plans for massive disenfranchisement of Democratic voters reveal a pattern of illegalities and fraud aimed at reducing the number of minority, poor and young voters at the core of Democratic support. In the wake of major news breaks, two felony convictions have come from the rigging of the illegal Ohio 2004 vote count and recount that gave George W. Bush a second illegitimate term. Stunning new admissions from county election boards that illegally destroyed voter records will almost certainly lead to new convictions. And the multi-million-dollar electronic voting machine scam that made possible the biggest electoral frauds in US history is under massive new attack, with key states moving to scrap the machines altogether in a desperate attempt to restore American democracy – but with the job far from done.

Rove, Ney and the undead

Indeed, the Rovian theft engine is far from dead. The media groundwork has already been laid out for the Republicans to claim that hordes of illegal aliens have registered to vote. The Bush administration has been caught ordering public agencies – possibly in violation of the law – to cease registering voters. In an April, 2006 speech to the Republican National Lawyers Association, Rove openly alluded to the strategy of demanding photo ID and purging voter roles of poor, minority voters just as had been done in 2000 and 2004. And, as always with Bush/Rove, there is much more beneath the surface.

All that has happened to challenge the GOP death grip on the American vote count has been reported in the pages of Hustler and on the internet at freepress.org, bradblog and elsewhere, and is being seized upon by a national grassroots movement determined to restore American democracy next year.

Nowhere has that movement been more in evidence than with the high profile firestorm surrounding Bush administration Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ firing of eight federal prosecutors without legitimate cause.

Evidence continues to surface from throughout the United States about this blatant Bush abuse of executive power. But we have traced the roots of the firings to an obscure Congressional hearing held at the statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, on March 21, 2005, and to a shadowy GOP operative named Mark F. “Thor” Hearne.

The hearing was conducted by none other than former US Rep. Bob Ney (R-18th OH). The once-powerful Ohio Congressman (who is now behind bars) was the godfather of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), the national boondoggle that mandated electronic voting machines for the American electoral process.

That the machines would cost taxpayers billions was a big plus for Ney. They would come from Diebold and other companies that poured money into Republican coffers. Thanks largely to the manipulations of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, these e-voting machine companies would help guarantee the GOP’s ability to steal elections.

Ney’s hearing featured a marquee appearance by J. Kenneth Blackwell, the Secretary of State responsible for delivering Ohio’s decisive 2004 electoral votes to Bush. Blackwell was a key operative for the Bush election campaign in Florida in 2000 and co-chaired the Bush-Cheney 2004 re-election campaign in Ohio.

“Haul butt!”

Congressional protocol required that Ney allow Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Cleveland) to question Blackwell. Soon Blackwell and Jones were yelling at each other in a legendary exchange that ended with Jones telling Blackwell to “haul butt” out of the chamber.

Not quite so high profile was the ensuing testimony by Hearne, who identified himself as the head of the American Center for Voting Rights. Hearne is a long-time GOP dirty trickster, with a Rovian rap sheet dating to the 1970s. He did not explain that the ACVR had a post box in a Dallas mall, but no office, few staff, a board stacked with GOP operatives, no grassroots mailing list or much else to confirm the functioning of a real organization. Nor did Ney clarify that Hearne had served as election counsel to the Bush-Cheney campaign, and had founded ACVR the previous month, at the urging of Karl Rove.

While the press corps rushed to report the Jones-Blackwell dust-up, Hearne laid out for Ney and the few of us left listening the essential template for the new GOP strategy for disenfranchising millions of suspected Democrats from voting in future elections. In classic Rovian terms, Hearne bemoaned a litany of “voter fraud” abuses allegedly committed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Association for Communities Organizing for Reform Now (ACORN) and other multi-racial coalitions working to register millions of new voters across the United States.

Among other things, Hearne told Ney the voter registration campaigns were using “crack cocaine” as an “incentive” for registering new voters. Adding the AFL-CIO and ACT-Ohio to his list of evil-doers, Hearne warned that millions of “fraudulent” ballots would be cast in future elections unless something was done to curb the ability of ordinary citizens to vote without extensive identification papers.

Hearne’s testimony drew little press. But it has led directly to the national Bush/Rove push for new laws requiring voters to show picture IDs at the polls and other methods of mass disenfranchisement – and the firing of eight US prosecutors who apparently refused to go along.

The cover-up

References to Hearne’s ACVR have now mysteriously disappeared from the internet. But the McClatchy Newspapers have reported that Hearne’s ACVR and the Republican Lawyers Association have actively campaigned – with a war chest of at least $1.5 million – in at least nine battleground states. They stump for voter ID laws and rigid registration restrictions and other tactics aimed at radically reducing the ability of Democrat-leaning organizations to register new voters.

The ACVR agenda embraces the Administration’s illegal demand that public agencies stop registering new, mostly poor voters. And the pressure to rid our democracy of such voters has carried over to the offices of the nation’s federal prosecutors, even in the face of widespread investigations showing the numbers of people illegally trying to register and vote have been miniscule.

Emblematic of the firings is the case of David Iglesias of New Mexico. Iglesias has testified to Congress that Albuquerque lawyer Patrick Rogers pressured him to prosecute alleged vote fraud perpetrators. When he resisted, Iglesias was fired by Gonzales.

Rogers is listed as “secretary” of Thor Hearne’s American Center for Voting Rights, as well as a former general counsel to the New Mexico Republican Party.

Meanwhile, the Bush Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has reversed its mandate by fighting to narrow rather than broaden the voting rights of minorities, and to prosecute voter registration operations without just cause. An ACVR director, Cameron Quinn, is now the Division’s voting counsel.

A key target has been Project Vote, which registered 1.5 million voters in 2004 and 2006. Five days before the 2006 election, Bush’s interim US attorney in Kansas City issued indictments against four ACORN workers under contract with Project Vote. Prosecutions that close to election day have traditionally been discouraged by the Justice Department. Acorn officials had notified the federal officials when they noticed the doctored forms. But ACVR’s “job was to confuse the public about voter fraud and offer bogus solutions to the problem,” said Michael Slater, the deputy director of Project Vote, They used “deception and faulty research” to help Rove’s GOP.

The common denominator in the firings of the federal attorneys has been an unwillingness to pursue prosecutions on the basis of such research. Iglesias, for example, told Newsweek magazine he “had been repeatedly pushed by New Mexico GOP officials to prosecute workers for ACORN” who were registering voters.

Media missed it again

The media has missed what DID happen when the attorneys complied with the Bush/Rove game plan. Just four days prior to the 2004 vote, Assistant Attorney-General Alex Acosta, the civil rights chief of the Bush Justice Department asked a federal judge in Ohio to sign off on policies that would disenfranchise thousands of black voters. The move almost certainly had a significant impact on Bush’s subsequent victory in the Electoral College. Joseph Rich, a former chief of the Justice Department’s Voting Rights Section, has called the Ohio scheme “vote caging,” which is illegal.

The case arose when Republicans allegedly sent “caging” letters to thousands of registered voters in inner city districts. The letters had “do not forward” stamped on them, with a return receipt requested. When some 23,000 came back as undeliverable, GOP operatives demanded the right to get the names removed from voter rolls. Acosta argued in his letter that restricting such challenges would “undermine” the electoral process.

But an exclusive investigation by freepress.org found that at least 25% of the people being removed from the voter rolls were in fact still living at their registered address. Greg Palast has reported that the GOP deliberately targeted black soldiers still fighting in Iraq.

Acosta says his letter endorsed the GOP challenges as “permissible” as long as they were not racially motivated, and that anyone whose eligibility was challenged could still get a provisional ballot.

But due to the actions of former Ohio Secretary of State Blackwell, more than 16,000 provisional ballots from the 2004 election remain uncounted. Independent observers have testified that thousands more may have been discarded right at the polling stations. (Bush’s official margin of victory in Ohio was less than 119,000 votes.)

Robert Kengle, who served under Acosta at the Justice Department’s Voting Rights Section, says Acosta’s unsolicited letter to the courts was “cheerleading” for the GOP. “It was doubly outrageous,” he said, “because the allegation in the litigation was that these were overwhelmingly African-American voters that were on the challenge list,” precisely those whose right to vote the Justice Department was charged to protect.

Acosta was not among the attorneys fired by Bush. In fact, he is now the federal attorney in Miami.

Eyewitness testimony from throughout the state confirms that scores of GOP activists did challenge voters in numerous inner city polling stations. Many carried Blackberries and used sophisticated lists that may have included those illegally garnered caging rosters. The challenges did lead to numerous voters being turned away, and increased the long delays suffered by inner city voters throughout the state.

Surveys show it took blacks nearly an hour to vote on average in Ohio in 2004, while whites voted in less than fifteen minutes. In the inner city of Columbus, black voters waited between three and seven hours to vote, while in the nearby suburb of Bexley it took just five minutes. The delays in Columbus alone may have cost Kerry up to 60,000 votes.

Similar challenges were also endorsed by White House operative Tim Griffin, who has been widely accused of trying to cage mostly black voters in Florida. Rich says the scheme became public before the election, and the GOP apparently dropped the idea.

But as he was firing the federal attorneys who refused to cage, Bush appointed Griffin to be US attorney for Arkansas. Griffin has since resigned the post under fire. But along with Ohio, the administration used similar tactics in the key swing states of Florida and Pennsylvania, as well as in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Texas and Washington. Bush’s Justice Department also supported former California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson’s rejection of 20,000 voter registration forms, a move later reversed in court. And it has helped push photo ID requirements – again rejected in court – devised by Georgia to restrict black and poor voter access.

A 35-year veteran of the Justice Department’s Voting Right Sections, Rich told the McClatchey papers that he quit over political appointees who “skewed aspects of law enforcement in ways that clearly were intended to influence the outcome of the elections.” Thus Thor Hearne’s original blueprint for disenfranchising minorities and the poor is now established administration policy, supported by Bush’s Justice Department, and backed by his firing of federal attorneys – illegal or otherwise – who refuse to go along. Whether the Democrats in Congress do anything about it, and whether the GOP successfully uses these tactics again in 2008, remain to be seen.

New cyber-thuggery

Alongside the Bush/Rove commitment to mass disenfranchisement, the key to the outcome of the 2008 election may be the rise and incomplete fall of electronic voting machines.

Unmonitorable DRE (Direct Record Electronic) voting machines have been center stage at every Bush-era stolen election. In Florida 2000, some 16,000 votes that “disappeared” from Al Gore’s tallies in Volusia County helped turn the tide for Bush at a key election night moment, even though they were later reinstated. In 2002, fraudulent electronic vote counts in Georgia almost certainly deprived Vietnam war hero Max Cleland of his US Senate seat in a race which all credible polls showed him winning by a substantial margin.

The spread of DREs is at the core of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) pushed through by then-Congressman (now jailbird) Bob Ney. High-powered studies from the likes of the Government Accountability Office, the Brennan Center on Voting Rights, the Carter-Baker Commission on Voting Rights, Princeton University and US Representative John Conyers all conclude that DRE’s can be easily manipulated, with entire elections illicitly shifted by a few keystrokes.

The GOPs HAVA means to put the nation on DREs as thoroughly as possible by 2008. But a public rebellion has slowed that plan. In Ohio, grassroots campaigners stopped Blackwell from giving Diebold an unbid $100 million contract to put virtually the entire state on DREs. Elsewhere, state and local election boards rebelled against the high cost of maintaining the machines, which often must be kept air conditioned around the clock, resulting in huge electric bills. Programming and other costs make administering elections on DREs far more expensive than doing it on paper ballots. The DREs have become infamous because of widespread testimony in Ohio that 2004 voters were pushing John Kerry’s name, only to see George Bush’s name light up, or to have their Kerry vote simply disappear moments later.

In response to nationwide opposition, US Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) proposed federal legislation that would have forced all electronic voting machines to be fitted with devices that would produce a paper trail. An accredited scientist, Holt also wanted to force manufacturers to make public the software that ran their machines.

Holt’s proposed House Bill 811 divided the election protection movement, much of which saw it as an endorsement of DREs. And as the bill progressed, the GOP gutted it, killing the software transparency requirements and settling for unworkable paper trail provisions.

The governors of Florida and Maryland have already moved to ban DREs in 2008, and to use paper ballots instead. Grassroots confrontations over how to cast and count votes will rage right up to election day.

The need for electronic safeguards has been confirmed to the hilt by an astonishing flood of revelations from Ohio. To report Ohio’s 2004 election-night vote count, Blackwell contracted with the same GOP computer programmer who created the Bush-Cheney web site in 2000. Those GOP-programmed results were then run through servers housed in the basement of a bank in Chattanooga, Tennessee which also housed the servers for the Republican National Committee (through which Karl Rove ran his off-the-record e-mails, now being sought by Congress).

Supervised by Blackwell, those results showed a substantial victory for John Kerry until about 12:20 at night, when reporting inexplicably stopped. When it resumed about 90 minutes later, Ohio’s margin – and the presidency – suddenly switched to Bush.

After the election, a citizen-based federal lawsuit (in which we are attorney and plaintiff) was filed, aimed at preserving all of Ohio’s 2004 election materials for further investigation. Those materials were protected by federal law until September 2, 2006, when Blackwell intended to destroy them. But a week prior, we won a federal court decision barring the counties from destroying any of these materials. Ohio’s new Secretary of State (SOS), Jennifer Brunner, then ordered the boards of election to deliver this evidence to her.

But in July 2007, 56 of Ohio’s 88 county BOEs admitted to illegally destroying all or some of their records. John M. Williams, Director of Elections in Hamilton County (Cincinnati) told Brunner he was “…unable to transfer the unvoted precinct ballots and soiled ballots” essential to an accurate audit because they “…were inadvertently shredded between January 19th and 26th of ’06 in an effort to make room for the new Hart voting system.”

In Clermont County, a key Republican stronghold permeated with election irregularities, Director Mike Keeley told Brunner that “in interviewing the staff, no one could remember the disposition of said ballots,” meaning the actual number of votes cast remains a mystery. In neighboring Butler County, Director Betty L. McGary informed the SOS on May 9, 2007 that they had lost the “ballot pages” thus making it impossible to confirm how votes were counted.

Delaware County, where the last 359 votes cast in one precinct were all counted for Bush, informed Brunner that they had 29 boxes of ballots, but then delivered only 26. The Delaware BOE initially reported 1872 provisional ballots, but the official number is now 1462, feeding suspicions the boxes were stuffed.

Two election officials in Cleveland have thus far been convicted of felonies stemming from rigged recount procedures after 2004. Now a solid majority of Ohio’s election boards face potential federal criminal action. They have made a reliable reconstruction of the true 2004 outcome virtually impossible.

Brunner has pledged to preside over a fair election in Ohio 2008. Like Debra Bowen, California’s new Secretary of State, Brunner is running extensive tests on the state’s electronic voting machines. Most or all of California and Ohio’s DREs could be gone by 2008, possibly to be replaced by paper ballots counted by electronic scanners.

But even those are not immune to fraud. In 2004, Diebold technicians provided inner city precincts with malfunctioning opti-scan machines. Throughout the state, more than 90,000 ballots were never counted because of voting machine malfunctions. At a mostly Democratic precinct in Toledo, poll workers handed out pencils whose marks could not be read by the electronic counters, thus voiding the votes cast there.

Overall, our nation’s history has been filled with stolen elections. Most have been robbed with paper ballots and stuffed ballot boxes. But under Bush/Rove, electronics are at center stage.

High tech Tammany

Bush/Rove stole the 2000 and 2004 elections by intimidation, vote caging, rigged machines, rigged recounts, and much more. Bush’s firing of the eight federal attorneys only underscores the fraud perpetrated by those who weren’t fired.

Whether Congress gets to the bottom of those firings remains to be seen. But there is little doubt the Democrats were able to retake the House and Senate in 2006 only because of the increased vigilance of a national grassroots voter protection movement.

Though Democrats carried Ohio in the off-year elections of 2006, our research indicates that the GOP still stole as much as 12% of the vote, and is still intent on disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of minority, poor and young voters. In a single election in Franklin County in 2006, a magistrate found that more than 83% of all the precincts were miscounted on the DRE machines.

And though DRE machines are under intense attack, their presence in 2008 will still be substantial, and will still subject the election to GOP theft.

The lessons of 2000 and 2004 are in the terror imposed on the registration process and the error perpetrated in the vote count. Only by saying “never again” can Americans hope to see a return to actual democracy.

Conservitives, are they Evil, satanic nazis or just greedy?

October 10, 2007

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By PAUL KRUGMAN

There have been a number of articles recently that portray President Bush as someone who strayed from the path of true conservatism. Republicans, these articles say, need to return to their roots.

Well, I don’t know what true conservatism is, but while doing research for my forthcoming book I spent a lot of time studying the history of the American political movement that calls itself conservatism — and Mr. Bush hasn’t strayed from the path at all. On the contrary, he’s the very model of a modern movement conservative.

For example, people claim to be shocked that Mr. Bush cut taxes while waging an expensive war. But Ronald Reagan also cut taxes while embarking on a huge military buildup.

People claim to be shocked by Mr. Bush’s general fiscal irresponsibility. But conservative intellectuals, by their own account, abandoned fiscal responsibility 30 years ago. Here’s how Irving Kristol, then the editor of The Public Interest, explained his embrace of supply-side economics in the 1970s: He had a “rather cavalier attitude toward the budget deficit and other monetary or fiscal problems” because “the task, as I saw it, was to create a new majority, which evidently would mean a conservative majority, which came to mean, in turn, a Republican majority — so political effectiveness was the priority, not the accounting deficiencies of government.”

People claim to be shocked by the way the Bush administration outsourced key government functions to private contractors yet refused to exert effective oversight over these contractors, a process exemplified by the failed reconstruction of Iraq and the Blackwater affair.

But back in 1993, Jonathan Cohn, writing in The American Prospect, explained that “under Reagan and Bush, the ranks of public officials necessary to supervise contractors have been so thinned that the putative gains of contracting out have evaporated. Agencies have been left with the worst of both worlds — demoralized and disorganized public officials and unaccountable private contractors.”

People claim to be shocked by the Bush administration’s general incompetence. But disinterest in good government has long been a principle of modern conservatism. In “The Conscience of a Conservative,” published in 1960, Barry Goldwater wrote that “I have little interest in streamlining government or making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size.”

People claim to be shocked that the Bush Justice Department, making a mockery of the Constitution, issued a secret opinion authorizing torture despite instructions by Congress and the courts that the practice should stop. But remember Iran-Contra? The Reagan administration secretly sold weapons to Iran, violating a legal embargo, and used the proceeds to support the Nicaraguan contras, defying an explicit Congressional ban on such support.

Oh, and if you think Iran-Contra was a rogue operation, rather than something done with the full knowledge and approval of people at the top — who were then protected by a careful cover-up, including convenient presidential pardons — I’ve got a letter from Niger you might want to buy.

People claim to be shocked at the Bush administration’s efforts to disenfranchise minority groups, under the pretense of combating voting fraud. But Reagan opposed the Voting Rights Act, and as late as 1980 he described it as “humiliating to the South.”

People claim to be shocked at the Bush administration’s attempts — which, for a time, were all too successful — to intimidate the press. But this administration’s media tactics, and to a large extent the people implementing those tactics, come straight out of the Nixon administration. Dick Cheney wanted to search Seymour Hersh’s apartment, not last week, but in 1975. Roger Ailes, the president of Fox News, was Nixon’s media adviser.

People claim to be shocked at the Bush administration’s attempts to equate dissent with treason. But Goldwater — who, like Reagan, has been reinvented as an icon of conservative purity but was a much less attractive figure in real life — staunchly supported Joseph McCarthy, and was one of only 22 senators who voted against a motion censuring the demagogue.

Above all, people claim to be shocked by the Bush administration’s authoritarianism, its disdain for the rule of law. But a full half-century has passed since The National Review proclaimed that “the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail,” and dismissed as irrelevant objections that might be raised after “consulting a catalogue of the rights of American citizens, born Equal” — presumably a reference to the document known as the Constitution of the United States.

Now, as they survey the wreckage of their cause, conservatives may ask themselves: “Well, how did we get here?” They may tell themselves: “This is not my beautiful Right.” They may ask themselves: “My God, what have we done?”

But their movement is the same as it ever was. And Mr. Bush is movement conservatism’s true, loyal heir.

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Ask Not For Whom The Wall Is Built

August 5, 2007

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Ask Not For Whom the Wall is Built

(It’s Built For You)

by Zbignew Zingh copyleft 2006

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne, Meditation XVII (1624)

The president has signed the law to wall off Mexico from the United States. This sends the same friendly message to Mexico as if you were to string up concertina wire, surveillance cameras and an electric fence between your house and your neighbor’s. It is George Bush’s “thank you” message to Mexico’s pro-American outgoing president, Vicente Fox, who staked his domestic political prestige on his “friendship” with GW to avert the construction of The Wall. We could have warned you, Mr. Fox – George has no “friends” except those he can use, and a soon-to-be former President of Mexico is not worth the effort.The border project, which could eventually cost up to $9 billion, is a boondoggle for military contractors, like Boeing. The “high technology” physical and electronic barrier will initially stretch for 700 miles and, if fully implemented, would eventually girdle the entire southern border of the United States. It is America’s version of East Germany’s Berlin Wall, the Great Wall of China and Israel’s Wall of Palestinian Partition.

Although some of the more curmudgeonly xenophobes that inhabit the 50 States will cheer The Wall’s construction, Wall Street itself is aghast at what the Administration has done. Agribusiness, the construction industry, assembly line manufacturers and service industries all depend on illegal immigrant labor, both to supply cheap and exploitable labor and to depress the salaries of domestic wage earners… that is, to depress the wages of many of the same curmudgeonly xenophobes who are doing the cheering. What Wall Street wanted was not a “wall” to suppress illegal immigration, but a euphemistically termed “guest worker” program that would allow businesses to legally exploit a second class labor pool (that would also keep down domestic wages) … and then throw the migrant “guest workers” out of the country when they were injured or used up.

This is an “improved” feudalism with a globalized, capitalist twist: the slave wage concept is the same, but the serfs are “commodities” who do not live permanently on the land.

Other than the obvious economic, racial, ethnic and religious factors that drive the anti-immigration hysteria, The Wall is also intended to be a barrier to the anticipated mass movements that will ensue from the population displacement caused by global climate change. The dessication of the middle and equatorial latitudes of the Western Hemisphere (as well as disrupted growing seasons in Europe, Africa, Australia and Asia) will result in massive upheavals in global demographics and cause a hungry, desperate migration toward wherever there is water and moderate weather.

For those who live north of the Mex-American Wall, something else should be troubling us beyond the simple meanness of the endeavor to lock everyone else out. For whom else will The Wall be built? Indeed, it might keep out poor people of color trying to get into the United States to eke out a living. But walls work two ways, and whatever serves to keep “outsiders” outside also serves to keep those on the other side “inside”. It begs the unsettling question that some think about only subconsciously: where would you go if you felt threatened by your own government and how would you get there?

Those who consider this a paranoid conjecture should recall that between 1932 and 1939 in Weimar Germany, there was only a narrow window for those marked for rounding-up to flee the country, even if only with the clothes on their backs. Many were those who thought that their own country, Germany, among the most “civilized” in history, could not do to them what it eventually did, and they died for their short-sightedness.

Millions around the globe have experienced first hand what it is like to live someplace that you cannot leave. But many Americans are spoiled. Unless you were a Native American forced onto reservations at the point of a bayonet, or African-American living under slavery or Jim Crow “laws”, or an immigrant from China or the Philippines during the days of the “Wild West”, or Japanese and living in the Western States during the Second World War, or a refugee from U.S. sponsored civil war in Central America, or an immigrant from somewhere in the Middle East, you have not yet had to think about Concentration Camps and Totalitarian Governments and being rounded up for detention of indefinite duration.

In 1935, Sinclair Lewis published the novel It Can’t Happen Here. It is a chronicle of life in the United States should the unthinkable happen and totalitarian, theocratic government rule our lives. Why can’t it happen here even though it has happened elsewhere? And if it did, what would you do? You could “internally” immigrate, until your heterodoxy were discovered; and then, where would you go, and how would you get there?

For whom did the U.S. build the prison camp at Guantanamo? Although it is a concentration camp for the unlawfully detained, it is also a psychological tool: its existence reminds non-Americans anywhere that Uncle Sam has the power to kidnap them, fly them around the world, torture them and forget about them, should they get “out of line.”

But Guantanamo was built for someone else, too. It was built for you and me.

Not that Americans would be literally incarcerated in Guantanamo – that is not necessary because, under the new laws enacted with bipartisan support of Republican and Democratic “lawmakers”, American citizens may no longer have recourse to the protection of Habeas Corpus once determined to be ‘an enemy of the people’. What is to prevent you from being flown to any number of “black sites” for interrogation or simple “disappearance”? Who would know? Who would or could do anything about it? Guantanamo is more than a prison camp. It is a 21st Century American state of mind, a none-too-subtle message to the American people that its own government is ruthless enough to take extreme measures like torture and indefinite imprisonment without charge.

Guantanamo is not a “secret” Hell Hole; rather, it was intended to be a very public and notorious one. You and I are supposed to know about it and how brazenly our own government flaunts Constitutional Rights, Civil Rights and international codes of conduct.

Guantanamo is this administration’s message to America’s citizens to keep their mouths shut, to keep their heads down, to keep rowing the galley. Guantanamo is the psychological and political message to America like the message Crassus sent to the Roman Empire in 71 BC when he crucified 6,000 of Sparticus’s rebellious slaves and very publicly hung their bodies along the Appian Way for all to take warning.

What is the America that its feudal caste wants to create?

Despite the emphasis on “values” and the rhetoric of faith and religion, they would groom America as a competitive, pitiless, pragmatic, domineering, imperial nation of conquistadors… consistent with the dark side of American history since the days of Columbus.

Many on the far right of the political spectrum, the anti-democratic caste of Elite Gentlemen, believe that Americans have become “soft”, too soft to retain global dominance. They do not care that an American peace activist like Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer while protecting the home and hearth of the downtrodden; they do not care that an American journalist and activist Brad Will was gunned down in Oaxaca, Mexico by police and government agents. The Elite Gentlemen of America’s ruling caste have no need of “good” people nor of heroes nor heroines nor of those who advocate goodwill and justice to all humankind. They simply need better soldiers. They need stronger, more productive, leaner, meaner, harder-pulling rowers in the galleys. Just like you beat a dog to make it mean, they intend to beat the American people – psychologically, economically, sociologically, politically, legally – to make them as mean, and as loyal to their owners, as mean dogs are.

If crime is up, it is good. If road rage is increasing, it it good. If the social fabric is fraying, it is good. If the people are scared about the future, if they are hungry, ignorant, losing their retirement benefits, losing their health care, feeling suspicious about their neighbors and their friends, it is good. It is the boot camp treatment, the regimentation and militarization of the nation. It is the intentional toughening of society. If Americans learn to Hate, to Scapegoat, to act out of Faith rather than Reason, to trust and heed only The Official Word, to cultivate Fear and Rage and then direct it On Command, this is good.

We are becoming walled in as people, as knowledge and information are walled out. We are in a prison of the mind if not a real prison.

Ask not for whom The Wall is built, America. It’s built for you.

Nick Coleman: Public anger will follow our sorrow

August 3, 2007

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Last update: August 02, 2007 – 9:58 PM

The cloud of dust above the Mississippi that rose after the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed Wednesday evening has dissipated. But there are other dark clouds still hanging over Minneapolis and Minnesota.

The fear of falling is a primal one, along with the fear of being trapped or of drowning.

Minneapolis suffered a perfect storm of nightmares Wednesday evening, as anyone who couldn’t sleep last night can tell you. Including the parents who clench their jaws and tighten their hands on the wheel every time they drive a carload of strapped-in kids across a steep chasm or a rushing river. Don’t panic, you tell yourself. The people in charge of this know what they are doing. They make sure that the bridges stay standing. And if there were a problem, they would tell us. Wouldn’t they?

What if they didn’t?

The death bridge was “structurally deficient,” we now learn, and had a rating of just 50 percent, the threshold for replacement. But no one appears to have erred on the side of public safety. The errors were all the other way.

Would you drive your kids or let your spouse drive over a bridge that had a sign saying, “CAUTION: Fifty-Percent Bridge Ahead”?

No, you wouldn’t. But there wasn’t any warning on the Half Chance Bridge. There was nothing that told you that you might be sitting in your over-heated car, bumper to bumper, on a hot summer day, thinking of dinner with your wife or of going to see the Twins game or taking your kids for a walk to Dairy Queen later when, in a rumble and a roar, the world you knew would pancake into the river.

There isn’t any bigger metaphor for a society in trouble than a bridge falling, its concrete lanes pointing brokenly at the sky, its crumpled cars pointing down at the deep waters where people disappeared.

Only this isn’t a metaphor.

The focus at the moment is on the lives lost and injured and the heroic efforts of rescuers and first-responders – good Samaritans and uniformed public servants. Minnesotans can be proud of themselves, and of their emergency workers who answered the call. But when you have a tragedy on this scale, it isn’t just concrete and steel that has failed us.

So far, we are told that it wasn’t terrorists or tornados that brought the bridge down. But those assurances are not reassuring.

They are troubling.

If it wasn’t an act of God or the hand of hate, and it proves not to be just a lousy accident – a girder mistakenly cut, a train that hit a support – then we are left to conclude that it was worse than any of those things, because it was more mundane and more insidious: This death and destruction was the result of incompetence or indifference.

In a word, it was avoidable.

That means it should never have happened. And that means that public anger will follow our sorrow as sure as night descended on the missing.

For half a dozen years, the motto of state government and particularly that of Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been No New Taxes. It’s been popular with a lot of voters and it has mostly prevailed. So much so that Pawlenty vetoed a 5-cent gas tax increase – the first in 20 years – last spring and millions were lost that might have gone to road repair. And yes, it would have fallen even if the gas tax had gone through, because we are years behind a dangerous curve when it comes to the replacement of infrastructure that everyone but wingnuts in coonskin caps agree is one of the basic duties of government.

I’m not just pointing fingers at Pawlenty. The outrage here is not partisan. It is general.

Both political parties have tried to govern on the cheap, and both have dithered and dallied and spent public wealth on stadiums while scrimping on the basics.

How ironic is it that tonight’s scheduled groundbreaking for a new Twins ballpark has been postponed? Even the stadium barkers realize it is in poor taste to celebrate the spending of half a billion on ballparks when your bridges are falling down. Perhaps this is a sign of shame. If so, it is welcome. Shame is overdue.

At the federal level, the parsimony is worse, and so is the negligence. A trillion spent in Iraq, while schools crumble, there aren’t enough cops on the street and bridges decay while our leaders cross their fingers and ignore the rising chances of disaster.

And now, one has fallen, to our great sorrow, and people died losing a gamble they didn’t even know they had taken. They believed someone was guarding the bridge.

We need a new slogan and we needed it yesterday:

“No More Collapses.”