Nel's New Day

November 7, 2015

Will Computer Hackers Determine Elections?

“Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me.” It’s an old saying that might be true in Ohio during the most recent election. A proposed constitutional amendment to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana miserably failed with a tally of almost two-to-one. I assumed that many of the no votes came from people who disagreed with the part of the amendment that would give sales control to just t, essentially a monopoly. According to Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman, the vote may have a much darker reason. Their article, published in the Columbus Free Press, claims that “televised screen shots taken Tuesday night of live election returns in Ohio provided by the Secretary of State’s office showed hundreds of thousands of votes flipping from the “yes” to “no” column of Issue 3, the ballot measure to legalize marijuana.”

Secretary of State Jon Husted, the man who provided the election returns, was “vehemently opposed” to the measure, Issue 3, and “threatened its proponents with legal action.” Live television showed the flips of hundreds of thousands of votes going from yes to no in just minutes. The shot on the right was taken just 11 minutes after the one on the right although the number of reporting precincts increased by only 6 percent. The first screenshot, with 39 percent of precincs reporting, showed the measure ahead by 65 to 35 percent.

television shot 1

television shot 2

 

Ohio has a history of voting problems.

 

Over a decade ago, James Q. Jacobs published a lengthy article about the “voter irregularities and anomalies” that may have caused John Kerry to lose Ohio—and the presidency of the United States. He claims that an analysis of Cuyahoga County votes shows that Kerry votes were changed to George W. Bush votes. In a study of 166,953 votes, one of every 34 Ohio voters, the Kerry-Bush margin shifted six percent through punch card cross-voting. Jacobs said, “Seven-eighths of voters in heavily-Democratic Cuyahoga County, more than one of every eight Ohio Kerry voters, could have cross-voted at an adjacent precinct using the wrong ballot order.” By Ohio statutory requirement, candidate names rotate to the top of the ballot list an equal number of times. If ballots cast for one precinct are counted with a different precinct’s ballot order, the votes can be reversed or assigned to a third-party candidates, a situation that had an unusually high incidence in several Cuyahoga County precincts.

An investigation by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded that “some of [the] concerns about electronic voting machines have been realized and have caused problems with recent elections, resulting in the loss and miscount of votes.”

The CEO of one of the most crucial suppliers of electronic voting machines, Warren O’Dell of Diebold, pledged before the 2004 campaign to deliver Ohio and thus the presidency to George W. Bush. In 2004, Bush’s margin of victory was only 118,775 out of 5.6 million votes, 800,000 of them cast on electronic voting machines.

Other GAO conclusions:

Some electronic voting machines “did not encrypt cast ballots or system audit logs, and it was possible to alter both without being detected,” meaning than an entire vote count can be slipped.

“It was possible to alter the files that define how a ballot looks and works so that the votes for one candidate could be recorded for a different candidate.”

“Vendors installed uncertified versions of voting system software at the local level,” leaving the opportunity to use altered memory cards.

The GAO also confirms that access to the voting network was easily compromised because not all digital recording electronic voting systems (DREs) had supervisory functions password-protected. Access to one machine provided access to the whole network allowing a small group of people to change large numbers of votes.

Access to the voting network was also compromised by repeated use of the same user IDs combined with easily guessed passwords.

The locks protecting access to the system were easily picked and keys were simple to copy, meaning, again, getting into the system was an easy matter.

One DRE model was shown to have been networked in such a rudimentary fashion that a power failure on one machine would cause the entire network to fail.

A voting machine in Mahoning County recorded a negative 25 million votes for Kerry. Election officials in that county also agreed that voters reporting at least 18 machines visibly transferred votes for Kerry to Bush. Franklin County voters experienced the same problem, and dozens of voters swore that their vote for Kerry disappeared without a paper trail. Kerry’s margins were very low in both counties compared to exit polls. In Gahanna Ward 1B, recording 638 people voting, Bush had almost 4,000 extra votes. On 1:43 am after Election Day, Miami County reported an additional 19,000 votes after the central tabulator had reported 100 percent of the vote; 13,000 of the votes were for Bush. Shelby and  other counties admitted that they discarded key records and equipment before any recount could take place.

In 2007, Lawrence County officials reported votes going to the wrong candidates. At the end of an election that year, a tally printed and posted on the door of the county precinct got numbers one way, but a tabulation machine at the county’s headquarters flipped the numbers, exchanging the number of votes for two candidates. E-voting machines were made by Election Systems & Software. Lawrence County Election Director Catherine Overbeck didn’t say how they determined which tabulations were correct.

Furious with President Obama’s 2008 win, Karl Rove promised to deliver Ohio for Mitt Romney in 2012. Fox network called the Ohio vote for President Obama soon after 11:00 pm, but Rove told them to wait. He claimed a shift to the right immediately after 11:00 am as it had in 2004. That’s when the GOP secretary of state, Ken Blackwell, called SMARTech to fix the computers that had just gone down, and they rerouted he vote through its company in Chattanooga. Kerry’s lead reversed by over 6 percent. SMARTech’s top client was the Bush-Cheney campaign, and the company worked for Jeb Bush and the Republican National Committee. Journalist Craig Unger gives the details in his book, Boss Rove.

In 2012, Rove predicted the same reversal from the same counties that had flipped right in 2004. It never happened, and Karl Rove’s jaw dropped. I watched him as the votes kept on coming for President Obama in Ohio. Here is his meltdown.

A few weeks before Election Day, Anonymous, a hacktivist group, issued a video statement warning Rove that he was being watched. Two days after Election Day, Anonymous released a press statement claiming that it prevented Rove’s attempt to steal the 2012 election for Romney.

 “We began following the digital traffic of one Karl Rove…After a rather short time, we identified the digital structure of Karl’s operation and even that of his ORCA. This was an easy task in that barn doors were left open and the wind swept us inside.”

“ORCA” was a Romney’s high-tech get-out-the-vote system to keep tabs on potential voters and to target who hadn’t voted yet on Election Day. Anonymous claimed that ORCA’s purpose was to rig the vote and that the group blocked Rove’s access to “digital tunnels” for vote changing.

Election Day is one year from tomorrow. The United States is the only major democracy that allows private partisan corporations to secretly count and tabulate the votes with proprietary non-transparent software. As of now computers are no better than they were when Ohio gave George W. Bush the presidency in 2004, and Karl Rove was positive that the state would put Mitt Romney into the presidency in 2012. Matt Bevin won governor in Kentucky by a tidy margin despite polls indicating either a Democratic win or a very tight margin. How many elections in the United States have been decided by those in power who are willing to electronically steal elections for their own benefit? We won’t know because the government refuses to provide the same security that computers in banks and large corporations require. Will computer hackers decide the presidency of the United States in 2016?

September 26, 2014

Voter Suppression, Solutions

A new form of voter suppression has appeared in North Carolina where Americans for Prosperity, partially funded by the Koch brothers, sent incorrect voter registration information to voters in the state and one cat. Hundreds of recipients have called the State Board of Elections about the form that they received with the wrong information:

  • At the top, the form states voter registrations are due 30 days before an election to the State Board of Elections’ office. Below, in smaller type, it states the deadline is 25 days before the election. The information must be sent to the county elections board, not the state board.
  • The first page also states people should return the registration to the N.C. Secretary of State’s office, though the envelope is addressed to the State Board of Elections.
  • It states the Secretary of State’s office has an elections division and can answer questions about registration. The North Carolina Secretary of State does not handle elections. The phone number for the Secretary of State’s office is actually for the State Board of Elections.
  • The form states that after voters mail in their information, they will be notified of their precinct by their local county clerk. Notification comes from the county board of elections or the elections director, not the county clerk.
  • The registration form also includes the wrong ZIP code for the State Board of Elections. The ZIP code associated with the board’s post office box is 27611, and the board’s office ZIP code is 27603.

A form sent to Alison Beal of Wake Forest was addressed to her brother-in-law who lives in Caldwell. Neither one belongs to Americans for Prosperity.

Adam C. Nicholson, a spokesman for Americans for Prosperity, refused to say how many people were sent the forms, how the group obtained the voter lists, or how the mistakes occurred. Another spokesman, Levi Russell, said that people need to look at the forms in context with an otherwise “highly successful” voter registration drive. North Carolina is the same state where Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R) was forced to change his television commercials because it gave misleading information about a new identification requirement that doesn’t go into effect until 2016.

Conservative lawmakers claimed that their new voting laws, the most restrictive and suppressive in the nation, would reduce fraud. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on a lawsuit yesterday. Thomas Farr, one of the lawyers representing the state, justified the repressive laws because nothing “horrible” happened in the May primary. said the provisions didn’t hinder minority voting in the May primary, saying nothing “horrible” had happened. Another argument against allowing people to vote is that it would be a burden for the state because it had already mailed a 30-page pamphlet to households and would have to “re-educate” voters and “let them know the new rules with the election underway.”

Judge Henry Floyd asked, “Does an administrative burden trump a constitutional right?” Judge James Wynn also questioned the seriousness of long lines at polling places, people going to wrong precincts, and the need to count same-day voter registrations by hand if they reinstated the former procedures. “How come the state of North Carolina doesn’t want people to vote?” Wynn asked.

Last Monday, a U.S. District Court heard closing arguments in the case that challenges voter suppression of 600,000 people in Texas because of the narrow number of photo IDs that can be used to vote. There is no indication of when the court will issue its ruling.

Ohio has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to delay a federal judge’s order that expands the state’s early voting schedule this fall. Without help from SCOTUS, people can start casting early ballots next week.

One solution for voting problems is to modernize registration at the state level. Voters are told they aren’t registered in the right place, that their address hasn’t been updated, and that their name is misspelled. Some of them have been wrongly removed from the rolls.

A uniform early voting period would remove states’ abilities to restrict the time to vote and reduce long voting lines. Another way to reduce waiting time at the polls is to establish standards for voting machines per capita. During the last election, some states saw almost no waiting time in predominantly white precincts and many hours in precincts with mostly black voters.

The federal government could also research problems with computers for voting and perhaps the owners. For example, Karl Rove had a deep involvement with the voting computers used in Ohio in the 2004 presidential election, which coincidentally had abnormalities bringing the state in for George W. Bush. In 2012, Rove guaranteed that Ohio would go for Mitt Romney, resulting in rumors that hackers changed the rigged computer software that would have provided this. Certainly, Rove’s face on Election Night showed his disbelief that Ohio went for President Obama in 2012.

The Election Assistance Commission needs to be strengthened. Without commissioners or a permanent executive director, the EAC had long been dysfunctional. Currently all four commissioner positions are vacant.

To give voters greater freedom for voting personal choice, employers need to be stopped from controlling political activity outside the job. Only four states--California, Colorado, New York and North Dakota–protect workers from being fired for legal activity outside of work. Federal law makes it illegal to “intimidate, threaten or coerce” anyone against voting as they wish, but the connection between possible coercion or intimidation and “worker education” is rather fuzzy in the eyes of the law. The federal government has mostly chosen to let states, including the ones that promote voter suppression, to decide questions of employee free speech. About half of people in the United States live in states that do not provide any worker protection for political speech or from pressure, such as threat of job loss, to vote in a specific way.

In New Mexico, a signed letter saying that a person was fired because of carrying an Obama tote bag is no protection without litigation. The Supreme Court has strongly expanded “employer free speech,” giving them the rights to pay millions and millions of dollars to elect a specific candidate. Employees need the same right.

In their goal of suppressing the votes for the poor, the elderly, and minorities, Republicans will undoubtedly oppose any such moves, but these are ways to move the country toward the concept of one person, one vote.

Update in Georgia: After Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp refused to process 51,000 voter registrations from the New Georgia Project, black lawmakers in the state are demanding answers about the status of these registrations. NGP has reportedly submitted about 85,000 applications to county election officials in the state. Kemp staffers said they would “move expeditiously” to process the registrations before the October 6 deadline. That’s ten days. The office, however, was unable to provide adequate details about how the process would be carried out, according to state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler. Kemp claimed that they had found several dozen suspicious applications after they sent letters to 159 counties in a concern for fraud.

The excuse for refusing to let people register or vote is always a concern that changing the rules so close to the election would cause voter confusion. This is the excuse from Alexander Peters, North Carolina’s senior deputy attorney general, who noted in arguments before the 4th Circuit Court yesterday that absentee ballots were mailed Sept. 5. Thanks to television ads from conservatives, voters in at least that state are already confused. So are voters in Wisconsin just increased voter suppression, thanks to a GOP three-judge panel.

North Carolina resident Rosanell Eaton, 93, remembers her registering to vote in 1939 when she turned 18. Three white officials told her that she had to recite the preamble to the U.S. Constitution before she could vote. She did it perfectly. Seventy-five years later, she and many others are once again facing obstacles to voting because of white conservatives. As Wynn asked, “How come the state of North Carolina doesn’t want people to vote?” That’s a question that could be asked in the majority of states in the United States of America.

February 8, 2013

GOP Factions Fight

Since the last election, GOP leadership has believed that its radical (some people say crazy) candidates caused them to lose the presidency and the Senate. While the GOP thinks they won the House—despite having fewer votes—their loonier candidates in the last two elections kept them from taking over the Senate. One idea from part of the GOP leadership is to move ever so slightly back toward the center. (It’s a very long trip!)

Fox News may have started this journey by firing first Sarah Palin and then Dick Morris. They kept Karl Rove, despite his inability to bring Ohio to Mitt Romney (possibly through some computer manipulation). Rove has a plan. After losing his donors about $100 million through failed candidates paid by super PAC American Crossroads, Rove created the Conservative Victory Project. The goal is to find electable  “conservatives” instead of candidates like Christine O’Donnell (“I am not a witch”) and Todd Akin (“legitimate rape”).

Clearly, the Tea Partiers and other far-far-right conservatives are, to put it mildly, distressed. One of Rove’s people, Jonathan Collegio, referred to far-far-right activist L. Brent Bozell as a “hater,” and Bozell’s colleagues demanded that Collegio be fired. The letter of protest described Bozell, nephew of former Sen. James Buckley and deceased National Review founder William F. Buckley, “a beloved and critically important player in American history.” No apology would be “acceptable,” according to signatories Mark Levin, Richard Viguerie, Phyllis Schlafly, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, Rick Scarborough, Frank Gaffney, and Ginni Thomas (yes, Clarence Thomas’ wife).

The letter described the far-far-right position: “You obviously mean to have a war with conservatives and the Tea Party. Let it start here.”

David Bossie, president of the conservative group Citizens United, declared “The Civil War has begun.” FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe added, “This is a little bit like gang warfare right now.” He called Rove’s move “Orwellian” and said, “The Empire is striking back.” He continued,

“All events point to a fundamental clash between the old guard Republican establishment dictating outdated ideas from the top-down, versus a tech-savvy younger generation of activists driving their agenda from the bottom-up. These blatant acts of hostility are typical behavior of an entrenched political establishment, circling the wagons around incumbents, regardless of job performance in office.”

Both the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund accused Rove of trying to muzzle the GOP base. Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund, named it the “Conservative Defeat Project” and said that it “has chosen to declare war on the party’s most loyal supporters.”

Former Rep. Joe (“deadbeat dad”) Walsh (R-IL), who lost to Iraqi veteran Tammy Duckworth, has announced his own anti-Rove super PAC. “If Rove wants a fight for the soul of the Republican Party, bring it on,” Walsh said.

“I dare say any candidate who gets this group’s support should be targeted for destruction by the conservative movement,” wrote Erick Erickson on RedState.com.

Amy Kremer, head of the Tea Party Express, warned, “If the establishment’s large donors want to see a complete electoral catastrophe, then all they need to do is push Tea Party conservatives into supporting alternative third candidates.”

Judson Phillips, head of Tea Party Nation, wrote,

“If Karl Rove wants to throw out bad candidates, I have four words for him. John McCain and Mitt Romney. If you are a wealthy Republican donor and are thinking about giving money to Karl Rove or one of his groups, let me suggest you give your money to Bernie Madoff instead. You will get a better return on your money from Madoff or any other ponzy [sic] schemer than you will from Karl Rove.”

Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller said, “They are welcome to support the likes of Arlen Specter, Charlie Crist and David Dewhurst. We will continue to proudly support the likes of Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz.” (Sen. Toomey from Pennsylvania was part of the filibuster to stop the Veterans Jobs bill to find work for those coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan.)

The Tea Party faced serious losses last year. In Wisconsin, Club for Growth, Tea Party Express, and the Senate Conservatives Fund all backed former Rep. Mark Neumann while FreedomWorks backed businessman Eric Hovde. Former Gov. Tommy Thompson won the primary and then lost to Democrat Tammy Baldwin in November.

In Missouri Rep. Todd Akin won a multi-way Senate primary because Tea Party Express and Sarah Palin supported state treasurer Sarah Steelman and the establishment-oriented U.S. Chamber of Commerce backed St. Louis businessman John Brunner. Akin, as almost everyone knows, went down in flames after his “legitimate rape” statement.

In Indiana, FreedomWorks and Club for Growth beat out incumbent Dick Lugar with Richard Mourdock, the tea partier who lost after saying pregnancies resulting from rape were intended by God.

Rove has his work cut out for him. In Georgia, Rep. Paul Broun is running for the Senate office to be vacated by Saxby Chambliss in 2014. A doctor and member of the science committee, Broun declaimed, “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell.” He called President Obama a “Marxist” and said the president “upholds the Soviet constitution.”

Rachel Maddow reported:

“Broun, an apparent Birther, believes cap-and-trade would kill people; the Affordable Care Act will dictate what kind of car Americans can drive; the health care reform effort reminds him of “Northern Aggression”; and that he considers President Obama to be a Hitler-like figure intent on establishing a Gestapo-like security force to impose a Marxist dictatorship on Americans. In 2010, Broun argued that the Centers for Disease Control might ‘give all the power to the federal government to force you’ to eat healthier foods, which would include the CDC ‘calling you to make sure you eat fruits and vegetables, every day. This is socialism of the highest order!’”

Mike Berlon, Georgia Democratic Party chairman, said in an e-mail. “If there is a living God, we’ll be facing [Broun] as the Republican nominee in November of 2014.”

With Tom Harkin leaving the Senate in 2014, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) has decided to run for the job, bringing his own personal baggage. He supported Akin, saying that he had never heard of any female becoming pregnant because of statutory or forcible rape. A supporter of legalized dog fighting, King compared immigrants to dogs when he said that immigration law should let only the “best” immigrants into the United States in the same way that dog-buyers select the “pick of the litter.” King said,

“You want a good bird dog? You want one that’s going to be aggressive? Pick the one that’s the friskiest, the one that’s engaged the most, and not the one that’s over there sleeping in the corner. If you want a pet to sleep on the couch, get the one that’s sleeping in the corner.”

King justified his statements by saying that he meant the statement as a compliment.

“This American vigor that we have that comes from legal immigrants who came to this country with a dream–we get the cream of the crop of every donor civilization on the planet–and people that can take a compliment and turn it into an insult are not going to be constructive working across the aisle. But that’s what that was, was a compliment. And everyone who was there that heard that knows that.”

King is also a longtime advocate for legalizing cockfighting and other forms of animal torture. Most recently, he fought legislation that would make it illegal to bring a child to an animal fight. He has also set aside his love for states’ rights in order to forbid localities from enacting anti-animal torture standards.

In addition,  King has stated that both the Affordable Care Act and federal regulation of the insurance industry are unconstitutional, and he thinks states can ban contraception.

As he did with American Crossroads, Rove has promised anonymity for the wealthy donors. Last time he was protecting them from the left; this time donors may be more afraid of the right. Rove has his work cut out for him.

October 23, 2012

Voter Fraud Comes from Those Who Control Elections

The debates are over, and the countdown to Election Day 2012 is the focus.

Never before has a presidential candidate owned voting machines in the United States. This year, the voting machine provider Hart Intercivic counting the votes in crucial swing counties of Ohio, Colorado, and elsewhere throughout the country has extensive corporate ties to the Mitt Romney. Ohio is well aware of the problems after a state-commissioned study in Ohio labeled labeled its voting system a “failure” when it comes to protecting the integrity of election.

This is not new news. Reports of Hart Intercivic’s ties to Romney first surfaced almost a month ago when a blog post by Gerry Bello and Bob Fitrakis in The Free Press, an Ohio website reported that a key investor in Hart was HIG Capital, seven of whose directors were former employees of Bain & Co. HIG Capital announced its investment in Hart on July 6, 2011, just one month after Romney formally announced the launch of his presidential campaign.

Four of the HIG directors are Romney bundlers along with former Bain and H.I.G. manager Brian Shortsleeve. According to the Center for Responsive politics, HIG Capital contributed $338,000 to the Romney campaign this year. The Nation also reported that HIG Capital is tied to the Romney family via Solamere, a private equity firm that has invested in HIG and is run by Tagg Romney, the candidate’s son.

Suspicion of computer fraud in Ohio goes back to 2004. Although Democrat John Kerry had a 4.2 percent lead in the exit polls in Ohio, which would have given him the presidency, George W. Bush won the state by more than two points and, as a result, kept the White House.

Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State, Ken Blackwell, had contracted with SmarTech, a Tennessee-based tech firm indirectly tied to Karl Rove, to serve as the “failover” site for 2004 election results in Ohio. At approximately 11:14 p.m. on Election Night, SmarTech became part of the process, at the same time that the Ohio returns were characterized by anomalies involving the tabulation of punch cards, electronic voting machines of various types, spectacularly high turnouts in pro-Bush precincts, and turnouts in pro-Kerry precincts that were astoundingly low. Virtually all the irregularities favored Bush, and the vast majority of them remain unexplained.

A 2007 study, commissioned by Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to evaluate Hart and other voting systems in the 2004 elections in Ohio concluded that the Hart system performed “poorly” because unauthorized individuals could gain access to memory cards and “easily tamper” with core voting data and that Hart scored a “zero” on the twelve-step baseline comparison because it “failed to meet any of the twelve basic best practices” necessary to have a secure system.

In addition, the report asserted that the Hart system “lacks the technical protections necessary to guarantee a trustworthy election under operational conditions.” The concluding words show what will happen two weeks from today: “The vulnerabilities and features of the system work in concert to provide ‘numerous opportunities to manipulate election outcomes or cast doubt on legitimate election activities….virtually every ballot, vote, election result, and audit log is ‘forgeable or otherwise manipulatable by an attacker with even brief access to the voting systems.’”

The system has not been upgraded since that time.

Not satisfied with all the obstructions that Ohio has put in the way of voters with limited time for voting, the Republican-controlled Ottawa County sent an elections mailer to 2,300 voters in the northern Ohio county telling them that they are to vote on November 8 and giving them the wrong place for voting. [Please remember that Election Day is November 6!]

Another false mailing came out in Pennsylvania. PECO, the Philadelphia power company, sent a newsletter to 840,000 customers in its October billing with an announcement that voters must have a valid photo ID, something that the court overturned for the upcoming election. The company said that their website will have an update announcement and information will be corrected in the next mailing which goes out in four days. But the situation has been muddied with the court ruling that people can be asked if they have photo ID for the election. The logic is missing: people don’t have to have photo IDs, but they can be asked if they have them, an act that can be intimidating .

Who are some of the other people who may not be able to vote? One group of victims are transpeople whose faces may not match the gender on their identification. Many of these people are in transition with no official state recognition of their gender. More than 25,000 transgender people may lose their right to vote because of revised photo ID laws.

“New voter ID laws have created costly barriers to voting for many trans people. And much worse, the debate about voter ID laws have made even the idea of voting harder so many of us may feel discouraged from even trying to vote on election day,” said Executive Director Mara Keisling of the National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling.

Native Americans will be disproportionately disenfranchised by the new voter ID laws. The National Congress of American Indians has released a report Monday that highlights the problems. Two of the states, Alaska and Florida, do not accept tribal ID cards for identification at the polls. Gun permits yes, government-issued tribal cards no.

Another serious issue for Native Americans is the requirement that voters provide home addresses. Some tribal communities have not street addresses. And as always “barriers of cost, logistics and distance to obtaining required IDs” can be a serious problems.

Six “states of concern” for Native voter access are Alaska, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. New ID laws also could disproportionately affect Native voters in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Washington. NCAI President Jefferson Keel said there are races that could hinge on the Native vote. Several of the affected states with a large Native American population are considered swing states in the decision of the next president.

Wait until you hear the screaming from the far right about the need for photo ID because 899 ballots have been cast by 112-year-old voters in North Carolina. But it’s not fraud at all; it’s a system that the Board of Elections uses. Until the 1980s, people in North Carolina didn’t have to give birthdates, just their ages. Because there was no birthdate, the Board of Elections used a default of Jan. 1, 1900, for the birthday.

Once again, there’s no need for voter photo IDs. There is a need, however, to have accurate voting records so that each person’s vote counts instead of being manipulated by the company that owns the computers.

September 9, 2012

The War on Women Continues

What do the Republicans think of women? Here are some fine examples of how little some men treasure the “fairer sex.”

Republican candidate Tom Smith of Pennsylvania, running for the House this fall, told an interviewer that having an unmarried pregnant daughter is the equivalent of having a daughter raped. Paul Ryan, running for the second highest office in the country said that rape and incest are just another “method of contraception.” This is after he refuted Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-MO) explanation of “legitimate rape.”

After Caroline Kennedy spoke at the DNC convention about the new restrictions on women’s rights, Fox’s Bill O’Reilly criticized her speech and said: “I don’t see any women’s rights under assault at all. I don’t see it.” Karl Rove, his guest, claimed, “No one is seriously talking about ending abortion.” Obviously Rove had not read the 2012 GOP platform passed a week earlier.

One GOP goal, stated in their platform and by both Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney, is defunding Planned Parenthood. Shelby County (TN) did just that: in November 2011, officials took away the $397,000 in state funding for health screenings, STD tests, and birth control and gave it to Christ Community Health Services (CCHS), a religious organization that refuses to provide abortions or refer women to other organization providing them. CCHS does not offer emergency contraception, sometimes called the day-after pill, despite no proof that these cause abortions. They are supposedly trying to create more “crisis pregnancy clinics” that offer “counselors who can discuss adoption and other life-affirming options” with women. Obviously, there is not information about abortion at these clinics.

During the year between July 2011 and June 2012, CCHS failed to use over $500,000 of the $1.3 million grant it received. In early 2012, the health services averaged 51 Title X visits per month, compared with Planned Parenthood’s 841 visits in August 2011 before they lost the funding. Yvonne Madlock, director of the county health department, justified the drop by how busy CCHS was in its transitioning. At the same time, women’s services dropped 93 percent because the county failed to fund Planned Parenthood.

Trying to keep women pregnant is the goal of Quiverfull, a Christian organization that pushes the idea that women’s purpose on Earth is to conceive and bear sons; i.e., “arrows” for God’s army. Stars of TLC’s 19 and Counting, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, are models for this group. Citing several Biblical passages, Mary Price, leader of the organization, explains in her book The Way Home: Beyond Feminism and Back to Reality  that sex for women is unnatural and causes men “to abandon the natural sexual use of the women and turn to homosexuality.”

When single-mother Vyckie Garrison gave up the Quiverfull movement after seven children, she started a blog to explain the problems with what she calls a cult. It goes much farther than just the abuse of women who are encouraged to lose their health in bearing children and provides documentation for the Quivers’ belief that the primary goal of a parent is to subdue the will of their children.

Women’s buy-in to the anti-women movement in the country can be truly horrifying. Fox News co-host Andrea Tantaros said that “no woman should aspire to be” the women’s rights activist and former Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke, who conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh called a slut because she had advocated that birth control be covered by health insurance plans. Tantaros continued, “She claims to be this smart, successful woman and she can’t afford $9 birth control?” When guest co-host Juan Williams defended Fluke because she was a student, Tantaros replied. “She’s a lazy student. She won’t get a job and pay for her own bills.” Fluke was actually testifying on behalf of a lesbian friend who couldn’t afford the oral contraception she needed to prevent ovarian cysts from forming when her university refused to pay for the medication on religious grounds.

Another example comes from Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch (R-WI) who was initially horrified at Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-MO) classification of rape as “abhorrent, insulting” and “disgusting.” She went so far as to say, “Rape is a rape. I don’t know how you can categorize it, and it’s disgusting that Todd Akin would have tried to categorize it.” That was before the interviewer told her that her own state’s GOP representative, Paul Ryan, had co-sponsored a bill with Akin to categorize some rapes as “forcible.”  She made a 180-degree turn: “Well, I think there is a way to have a more forcible rape, the same way there are different types of assault.”

Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC) showed her disdain for raped and battered women when she called them “distractions” that represent only a “small portion” of South Carolina’s population. When vetoing critical funding for programs working to prevent domestic abuse and rape, she said, “It is only a small portion of South Carolina’s chronically ill or abused. Overall, these special add-on lines distract from the agency’s broader mission of protecting South Carolina’s public health.”

Another dishonest reaction came from the discussion of the GOP platform language that denies all abortions to all women even in the cases of rape, incest, and the women’s health. Several high-ranking Republicans have denied that the platform states this. Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA) called the prevention of abortion a “detail” to be left up to states and Congress. On ABC’s This Week, he said, “The party didn’t make any judgment on that. It’s a general proposition to say we support human life.”

The GOP platform actually endorses a Human Life Amendment “to make clear that the 14th Amendment’s protections apply to all unborn children.” That means all abortions would be unconstitutional. When McDonnell appeared on the program, Romney stated that there would be exceptions for rape, incest, and the woman’s life. The next week he dropped rape and incest, and now he supports a ban on all abortions.

The icing on the cake comes from Jacqueline Hatch, an Arizona judge appointed by Republican governor Jan Brewer, when she sentenced a police officer who molested a woman in Flagstaff. Robb Gary Evans drove drunk to a bar, showed his badge to avoid paying a cover charge, and then ran his hand up a woman’s skirt over her genitals. Fired from the police force after an internal investigation, Evans was also convicted by a jury of sexual abuse, a felony with a maximum sentence of 30 months in prison. The trial judge gave him probation and 100 hours of community service. Evans is not required to register as a sex offender.

Hatch said she didn’t blame the victim but she did say that bad things can happen in bars. “If you wouldn’t have been there that night, none of this would have happened to you,” Hatch said. “I hope you look at what you’ve been through and try to take something positive out of it. You learned a lesson about friendship and you learned a lesson about vulnerability.” Hatch said that her mother used to say, “When you blame others, you give up your power to change.”

Hatch was not the only person who criticized the victim, a Flagstaff professional. Members of the community accused her of ruining the defendant’s life. “These people put their lives on the line every day,” Evan’s former partner said to the judge. “I hope you’ll be lenient on him. To me, this is one way we can give a little back to those in law enforcement who give so much to us everyday.”

“I don’t necessarily agree with the way this case got to be here,” former Flagstaff Police Lt. Randy Weems told the judge.

“When women got the right to vote is when it all went downhill,” Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show in July. “Because that’s when votes started being cast with emotion and maternal instincts that government ought to reflect.”

Republicans are now trying to dodge the growing opposition to the GOP’s control of people through banning marriage equality and women’s reproductive rights while creating a greater schism between the wealthy and the rest of the nation’s citizens. Denigrating concerns in this area through such sneering terms as “distraction” and “emotional issues,” they have generated a war against not only half the people in this country but also the poor and the minorities. The angrier the conservatives become, the more they will fail.

August 31, 2012

GOP Convention 2012 – Day Three, Mind-boggling

Day Three of the GOP Convention 2012 was intended to be warm and fuzzy, to show how likable Mitt Romney really is. That’s why the organizers brought in the people from his Mormon church, the Staples founder Thomas Sternberg, etc. The message was to trust Romney in his attempt to return to the country of a century ago in a speech that tried to highlight optimistic nostalgia even if no one really knows what he plans to do.

Owned by Bain Capital, Staples is supposed to show Romney’s business acumen. Although it’s difficult to know how little Staples employees actually make, Glassdoor.com, a website based on worker feedback, shows that the vast majority of these employees make $8-$9 an hour. The website calls Staples “one of the largest employers of workers earning under $10 per hour in the country.” Their CEO got $8.9 million last year, probably before bonuses. Domino’s Pizza, another Bain company, also pays under $10 an hour. Some of the thousands of Domino’s drivers who make deliveries in their own cars have sued the company because its reimbursement system for mileage violates wage and hour laws.

Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner explained that Romney’s “focus was never on strengthening companies or creating jobs, it was about getting a high return on his investment, no matter the cost to workers, companies or communities.” I agree with Kanner when he said that “these are the values he promises to bring as President by giving more budget-busting tax cuts to the wealthy on the middle class’ dime and letting Wall Street write its own rules–the same scheme that benefited a few, but devastated the middle class and crashed our economy.”

In his speech, Jeb Bush told President Obama to stop blaming his wonderful brother while blaming President Obama. He was the only Bush at the convention because looking at George W. Bush would remind people that tax cuts for the rich don’t create jobs.

Unfortunately for the Republicans, the day was overwhelmed by a strange performance by 82-year-old Clint Eastwood who carried on a sometimes rambling conversation with a chair that he pretended was occupied by President Obama and insinuated that the president was swearing back at him. Even Romney’s aides looked visibly upset and tried to blame anyone else for his presence and performance.

The next editions of dictionaries may contain the term “Eastwooding,” meaning “taking out frustration on inanimate objects.” One Republican pundit reported that no one would remember the speech for long. I think that he’s wrong. Photos of empty chairs are all over the Internet from people claiming to have had conversations with the Invisible President, and the president’s twitter account posted his photo with the tag line “This seat’s taken.”

 

 

 

 

Even odder about Eastwood’s speech is that it led into the introduction of Romney by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). Scheduled to speak for about three minutes, Eastwood kept the stage for almost 15 minutes, throwing off the convention schedule. Romney has been called a stickler against tardiness.  Michael Moore summarized it best: “Clint Eastwood was able to drive home to tens of millions of viewers the central message of this year’s Republican National Convention: We Are Delusional and Detached from Reality. Vote for Us!”

Back to being serious, Rubio said that both Romney and Obama are both good people but that people should vote for Romney because he is a good person. There was a lot of that during the convention: with no specifics about Romney’s policies, people gave Romney’s “good person” description the primary reason for supporting him.

When Rubio finished, Romney tried to look presidential as he sauntered through the crowd toward the stage in the style of State of the Union speeches. When he talked about his love for his parents, he again moved into the position of privileged wealth through his story about how his father gave his mother a rose every day of their 64 years of married life. Trying to woo the women, he said that he had women in his Massachusetts administration and that women worked for him at Bain. He’s right there; 8 percent of the managing directors and executives are women.

Then he moved into the “fact-challenged” part of the speech.

Romney said that the president plans to raise taxes on small businesses: in fact, President Obama lowered taxes on small businesses 18 times.

Romney talked about the president’s assault on coal and oil; in fact, President Obama increased jobs in the coal industry, and oil production and drilling has increased during his presidency.

Romney repeated the lie about President Obama cutting Medicare.

Romney said that the president has weakened security and eliminated jobs through his cuts to the military; in fact, Romney’s own party caused these cuts when they finally made a budget deal to raise the debt ceiling to stop defaulting on the national debt after holding the country hostage.

Romney said that gas prices had doubled under this president: in fact, gas prices four years ago were $3.67, very close to the current price of $3.75.

Romney said, “[Obama] abandoned our friends in Poland by walking away from our missile defense commitments, but is eager to give Russia’s President Putin the flexibility he desires, after the election.” In fact, the moment to which Romney referred was between the president and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev. The missile shield has never worked despite trillions of dollars wasted in its development since President Truman’s administration. Romney was pushing to defend ourselves from our ally, Russia, instead of from China and North Korea. This was a speech that might have worked during the Cold War, but we are decades past that.

The Washington Post did a bit of fact checking on Romney’s few specific goals:

Romney said he has a plan to create 12 million new jobs: only two presidents, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, created more than 12 million jobs. And they both raised taxes. Romney’s pledge would be an average of 250,000 jobs a month; recently, the economy, as slow as it currently is because of Republican obstructionism, has averaged 150,000 jobs a month. If no budget deal is reached, the CBO figures that 9.6 million jobs would be created in the same period of time, and Moody’s Analytics predicted 12 million jobs created by 2016, no matter who gets elected president.

Romney said that the current economy has failed to find jobs for half the students who graduated from college; the 53.6 percent of college students that he cites also included the “underemployed” who actually have jobs.

Romney said he wouldn’t raise taxes on the middle class; in fact, the Ryan budget plan, which Romney has supported, will raise taxes on the middle class while decreasing taxes for the wealthy.

Romney’s biggest lie came at the end of the speech when he described his idea of his ideal America: “That united America will care for the poor and the sick, will honor and respect the elderly, and will give a helping hand to those in need.” There was no applause for this statement. Romney’s plans do not benefit anyone except the wealthy.

Despite a lengthy speech, Romney said “Americans” so many times that he omitted several subjects: financial reforms, climate change, immigration, Romneycare, Afghanistan or Syria, Social Security, and veterans. His purpose was to persuade voters not in his base who believe in reforming the country’s financial problems, trying to stop climate change, helping immigrants, getting health care, supporting the elderly, etc. These are not safe subjects for anyone except the far-right conservatives.

Even Republicans weren’t excited about the speech. Steve Schmidt, campaign adviser for John McCain’s 2008 run for president, said that it was the best speech that Romney has ever given but it wasn’t the best speech of the convention. Will Wilkinson (The Economist) said, “I don’t think he has it in him to do much better.” At The Washington Post, Johnathan Bernstein reported, “A generic speech and a generic convention for a generic Republican candidate.”

Asides: At a fundraiser on the morning of Day three, Karl Rove said, “If [Todd Akin is] found mysteriously murdered, don’t look for my whereabouts!” (Rove’s apology to Akin included the statement that he would never have made that comment if he had known there was a reporter in the room.)

Romney thinks that the United States is actually a company. In a speech on the morning of Day Three he said, “Paul Ryan and I understand how the economy works, we understand how Washington works, we will reach across the aisle and find good people who like us, want to make sure this company deals with its challenges. We’ll get America on track again. As Annie-Rose Strasser wrote, “The goal of a company is to make money, whereas the goal of a government is to provide services that are not achievable in the private sector. Romney’s belief that the government is similar to a company explains his dedication to cutting programs that he perceives are “inefficient” because they cost money, even if they effectively help American citizens.”

Most jarring, however is this headline from politico.com: David Koch breaks from GOP on gay marriage, taxes, defense cuts. He said, “I believe in gay marriage.” Koch said he thinks the U.S. military should withdraw from the Middle East and the government should consider defense spending cuts, as well as possible tax increases to get its fiscal house in order.

December 7, 2011

Corporations, Wealthy Work to Increase Political Control

Fortunately, I don’t live in Iowa—or New Hampshire—or any other state that will have primaries or caucuses early in 2012. Those are the states where people have to watch television advertising for and against Republican presidential candidates nonstop unless they have a way to block these ads or just don’t watch TV.

At least TV stations are making big bucks because corporations and super PACS are permitted unlimited spending in federal campaigns, thanks to George W. Bush’s Supreme Court. The activist approach of conservative Roberts court was made obvious in its ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which overturned key provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, rules that kept corporations–and their lobbyists and front groups (as well as labor unions)–from spending unlimited amounts of cash on campaign advertising within 60 days of a general election or 30 days before a primary for federal office.

Former Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, explained the results of the ruling: “We’re now in a situation where a lobbyist can walk into my office…and say, ‘I’ve got five million dollars to spend, and I can spend it for you or against you. Which do you prefer?’” To give all this money to the conservatives, who will probably spend 90 percent of this advertising money and swing the elections toward the far right, the court used the concept of “corporate personhood.”

Grayson said, “One-hundred years of settled law meant that corporations cannot buy elections inAmerica, and they [Supreme Court] not only allowed corporations to buy those elections, but they made it a constitutional right.” Although the plaintiffs said nothing about the First Amendment, the court decided to use this as the basis for their decision. Justice John Paul Stevens noted that the conservative majority had “changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.”

Corporate personhood’s origin in English law was based on the approach that companies have to be considered “persons” in order to sue them. An inanimate object can’t be sued.

The nineteenth-century robber barons managed to get a few corrupt jurists to codify the idea that corporations enjoy the same constitutional rights as living, breathing people in the 1886 decision Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. The railroad used the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to avoid paying taxes because states had different tax rates.

The courts bought the argument, but historian Thom Hartmann found no mention about “corporate personhood” in the original verdict. This declaration comes from the headnote to the case—a commentary written by the clerk, which is not legally binding—in which the Court’s clerk wrote: “The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Over 100 years of Supreme Court decisions have been based on an incorrect headnote written by J.C. Bancroft David, a corrupt official, who had previously served as the president of a railroad, working “in collusion with another corrupt Supreme Court Justice, Stephen Field.” The railroad companies, according to Hartmann, had promised Field that they’d sponsor his run for the White House if he assisted them in their effort to gain constitutional rights.

Even after the ruling, Hartmann noted, the idea of corporate personhood remained relatively obscure until corporate lawyers dusted off the doctrine during the Reagan era and used it to help reshape the U.S. political economy. Nike, Sinclair Broadcasting, Dow Chemical, J.C. Penney, tobacco and asbestos companies—all these corporations used the amendment written to free the slaves for their own benefit to avoid surprise inspections, keep secret dangers of their products, and continue practice illegal discrimination. All these companies succeeded except for Nike.

Legal reporter Dahlia Lithwick condemned the court’s “systematic dismantling of existing legal protections for women, workers, the environment, minorities and the disenfranchised.” Those who care about spiraling inequality, she wrote on the Slate, “need look no further than last term at the high court to see what happens when—just for instance—one’s right to sue AT&T, one’s ability to being a class action against Wal-Mart, and one’s ability to hold an investment management fund responsible for its lies, are all eroded by a sweep of the court’s pen.”

Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Michael Bennet (D-CO), among others, are fighting back against this corrupt vision of corporate control by introducing and supporting a constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling. Udall’s proposal would authorize Congress to regulate the raising and spending of money for federal political campaigns, including independent expenditures, and allow states to regulate such spending at their level. It would also provide for implementation and enforcement of the amendment through legislation. Over 750,000 people have signed petitions to void the Supreme Court ruling.

Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) also provided the following: “The SCOTUS made a mistake in the Citizens United ruling by equating money with political speech. We must redress this error before special interest money comes to dominate political campaigns and determine the outcome of American elections.

“On June 24, 2010, I joined with my colleagues in the House to pass HR 5175, the DISCLOSE Act, which aims to curb the ill effects of Citizens United in the near-term. Had the DISCLOSE Act passed in the Senate  it would have required corporations, unions, and other interests to adhere to campaign finance disclosure and expenditure requirements similar to those already in place for candidates standing for election to Congress. Although this bill would not have prevented an influx of money in federal elections, it would have made the sources of such money transparent to the public and prevented foreign intervention.

“In the 112th Congress, I have reintroduced a proposed amendment to the Constitution of theUnited States, H.J. Res 72, to address the long-term and fundamental problems presented by the Citizens United ruling. My proposed amendment would add a new and unfortunately necessary clause to the Constitution affirming that money can be a corrupting influence in a democracy and therefore excessive use of money to buy elections can be restricted under the Constitution of our great country.

“Money does not equal speech. I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to ensure free and fair elections in Oregon and throughout the United States of America.”

At least one judge is determined to go farther than the Supreme Court in allowing corporations carte blanche. Although the Supreme Court ruling allowed unlimited independent expenditures in political campaigns from corporations and other organizations, it did not overturn the ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates campaigns. Judge James Cacheris of Virginia ruled that “Citizens United requires that corporations and individuals be afforded equal rights to political speech, unqualified.” The Department of Justice is appealing Cacheris’ ruling to the 4th Circuit Court.

Worse yet, Karl Rove has asked the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) if he can run coordinated political advertisements, featuring candidates the PAC is supporting. He justifies his request in this way: “While these advertisements would be fully coordinated with incumbent Members of Congress facing re-election in 2012, they would presumably not qualify as ‘coordinated communications.’”

After debating the question of whether super PAC ads featuring a member of Congress would violate the coordinate ban, which blocks certain interactions between independent groups and candidate committees, the FEC deadlocked at a 3-3 vote. The PAC’s lawyer, Thomas Josefiak, said, “Certainly they’re coordinated, but we’re using that in the lay sense. The question is, is it coordinated from a regulatory perspective?”

The topic was a source of discussion–and hilarity–on Stephen Colbert’s comedy show, The Colbert Report. Typical of Colbert’s tongue-in-cheek approach, he provides a solution to Rove’s request: “To avoid the appearance of collusion, the F.E.C. could rule that candidates can appear in Super PAC ads only against their will,” he wrote. “They’d have to be kidnapped, blindfolded, and thrown in a van before being forced to read a statement supporting their goals and then returned to their fundraisers in time for dessert.”

Commissioner Ellen Weintraub thanked Colbert for “shining a light on this little corner of government” as she brought up the hundreds of comments the commission had received on Rove’s request from viewers of his show.

The thin line between comedy skits and supposedly serious political discussions has dissolved.

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