While outdated punch-card ballots got most of the attention during California's recall election Oct. 7, computer scientists called for more scrutiny of electronic voting machines that could let hackers manipulate vote tallies. Touch-screen machines, which counted 10% of the vote in California, don't produce paper printouts, without which a legitimate recount is impossible, said David Dill, a computer science professor at Stanford University.
Ohio-based Diebold Election Systems, the industry leader with 50,000 touch-screen machines serviced nationwide, insists that concerns are overblown and that no glitches have been found to result in miscounts or fraud so far, but a July report by Johns Hopkins and Rice universities found that a hacker could break into Diebold's system and vote multiple times. Researchers found it was possible to insert "back doors" into software code that would allow hackers -- or insiders -- to change future voters' choices and determine election outcomes.
Diebold's CEO has written to fellow Republicans that he was committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to George W. Bush next year. In September the company forced a critic of paperless voting to shut down two web sites that pointed to memos detailing election security problems. Diebold demanded that Bev Harris's blackboxvoting.org and her publisher's blackboxvoting.com be shut down, citing objections to a link to an unrelated page with the memos, which Diebold claimed violated copyright laws. The internet service provider took down the entire .org website, with some 300 pages, for 48 hours before the files were released to be moved to a new server. At presstime www.talion.com/blackboxvoting.org.htm was still online.
Harris has released her book, Black Box Voting, at the publisher's www.blackboxvoting.com, which was operating at presstime, with a "mirror" in PDF format at Scoop's "A Very American Coup Page" in New Zealand at (www.scoop.co.nz/mason/features/?s=usacoup). Diebold's actions, Harris told Salon.com, make the voting machine company "the poster child for why [the election process] has to be auditable" with a paper trail.
A Cal Tech-MIT study of the 2000 election, which analyzed "residual votes" -- "uncounted, unmarked and spoiled ballots" found that for the presidential race, 2.5% of all votes cast on punch-card machines were residual votes compared with 2.3% for touch-screen machines. But in gubernatorial and senatorial races, punch-card machines had a 4.7% error rate, while touch-screen machines had an alarming 5.9% error. The least problems were recorded with optical scan and paper ballots. The 95-page report is available at web.mit.edu/voting/.
Voting rights activists demand that electronic voting machines include printers that produce paper receipts so voters can confirm that paper results match their touch-screen choices. The receipts would go into a lock-box for use in recounts. Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., has introduced HR 2239 to require a paper trail for all electronic votes and random audits using the paper ballots.
ALL THE PRESIDENT'S JOBS. The Oct. 3 employment report finally showed some job growth, as 57,000 jobs were added in September, the first positive month since January. Populist economist Max Sawicky noted at maxspeak.org/gm that 57,000 new jobs is not enough to reduce the unemployment rate, since the labor force grows faster than this rate of change implies. "Still, up is better than down. Does it mean the tax cuts are working, or that they could work? No and no. The tax cuts have already failed, the Congress has failed, and the president has failed. All we're doing now is plumbing the depths."
He added, "We are now looking at four million jobs lost since the start of the recession. Job losses mean individual bankruptcy, mortgage foreclosure, eviction, repossession, loss of health insurance, homelessness, hunger, and other bad stuff. The president and other tax cut supporters promised huge job gains as a result of their policies. Instead we are seeing huge shortfalls, relative to their promises." See www.jobwatch.org and www.epinet.org.
The Economic Policy Institute, Sawicky's day job, notes that a 29,000 decline in manufacturing jobs was offset by hires in services. The manufacturing loss was the smallest since July of last year. This year, factory jobs are down by 464,000 compared to 510,000 over the same period last year. Even the 66,000-service-job line merits an asterix, because half of these jobs came from hires in temporary help -- the fifth month of consecutive gains in temp work, suggesting that businesses continue to test the waters without committing to permanent hires. Another important signal regarding the impact of policy on job growth is the decline of 44,000 in education employment at the local level. This is the largest one-month loss since July 1982, suggesting state fiscal difficulties are leading to significant education cuts.
"Maybe you have a job and feel unscathed by the lousy labor market," Sawicky continued. "If only. The latest numbers also show zero increase in real wages. With unemployment still over 6%, there is scant pressure on employers to grow wages. The secret of working class bliss is tight labor markets -- unemployment within sight of 4%. I see no interest on the part of politicians -- Democrats and Republicans nearly alike -- to return to this level, which was achieved in the latter half of the '90s."
Meanwhile, jobs abound in India's booming high-tech industry. As US and European companies slash their payrolls and shift work overseas, Reuters reported, India's software sector added 130,000 jobs -- nearly 25% -- in March. Indian software workers with two years experience are paid about $545 a month, roughly one-sixth of what their US counterparts earn.
HASTA LA VISTA $9 BILLION. Arnold Schwarzenegger's groping of women was the big story in the closing days of the California recall campaign, but investigative journalist Greg Palast was more concerned about the movie star's meeting with Enron chairman Ken Lay and convicted stock swindler Mike Milken on May 17, 2001. Palast suggested that Schwarzenegger was part of a plan by Gray Davis and Cruz Bustamante to recover $9 billion ripped off by Enron and others in California's 2000-2001 energy crisis. The meeting of Schwarzeneggr and other California heavy hitters in the swank Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills was first reported this past August. Schwarzenegger has said he does not remember such a meeting. Palast wrote that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, headed by friends of Ken Lay, has proposed to settle for 2 cents on the dollar the $9 billion the Texas power suppliers fraudulently overcharged California ratepayers. Davis would not accept the settlement and Bustamante filed a lawsuit under the state's "Unfair Business Practices Act" to force the power companies to reimburse ratepayers. Palast suggests that Gov. Arnold could bless the FERC settlement and undercut Bustamante's lawsuit. On the Friday before the election, a woman confronted Schwarzenegger at a staged event in Bakersfield. Referring to Palast's disclosure, she shouted, "He's in bed with Kenny Lay, you idiots! It's your money!" There was dead silence for a beat, then came the voice through the loudspeakers, "I suhtunly wasn't in bet wit YOU!" See Palast's website at www.gregpalast.com and the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, Los Angeles, which discovered the memos, at www.ConsumerWatchdog.org.
ENERGY BILL CREEPS ON. The Bush-Cheney energy plan began in secrecy two years ago, and now Republicans are again behind closed doors hoping to finalize the massive bill that would increase drilling in coastal areas and public lands, repeal important electricity consumer protections, increase taxpayer subsidies for coal and nuclear power and shield oil and chemical companies for liability for groundwater contamination. Even Democratic members of the conference committee are excluded from the negotiations. "These proposals are dirty, dangerous and don't deliver for consumers," said USPIRG Legislative Director Anna Aurilio. "These bills allow the oil, coal and nuclear industries to dig deep into our pockets, while giving them a growing pile of "get-out-of-jail-free" cards. For more information see www.newenergyfuture.com.
MEDIA REFORMERS FEISTY. National media watchdog groups, flush from their success in stalling new rules to enable consolidation of media ownership, are trying to block some TV and radio stations across the country fromm renewing their broadcast licenses, the Raleigh, N.C., News & Observer reported Oct. 4. Federal Communications Commissioner Michael Copps, one of two Democrats on the five-member commission, plans a series of hearings around the country to give citizens a forum to express their opinions. Essential Information, a public interest group founded by Ralph Nader, recently filed a challenge to license renewals for 63 stations in D.C., Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland. The challenge accuses the chain of running deceptive promotions and airing obscene and indecent material. The FCC reviews a station's performance, including whether it is serving the public interest, when licenses come up for renewal. But over the past two decades the agency's oversight has relaxed, and renewals are mostly rubber-stamped. They're known in the industry as "postcard renewals," but Essential Information wants to change that. (See www.essential.org.)
GREENS: 'CORPORATIONS DON'T DESERVE INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS.' Green Party leaders sharply criticized the legal principle on which US District Judge Edward W. Nottingham struck down the Federal Trade Commission's "do not call" registry for telemarketers.
"Corporations are not human beings and they do not deserve the protection of the Bill of Rights," said David Cobb, general counsel of the Green Party of the US. "The ruling overturning the 'do not call' list is based on the illegitimate doctrine that corporations have First Amendment rights. This doctrine is as offensive to democracy as 'Separate but Equal' and the Green Party categorically rejects it. Only citizens can claim political rights, and corporations are not citizens."
The US Supreme Court first extended First Amendment protection to commercial speech in Bigelow v. Virginia (1975) and Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, Inc. (1975). Corporations were given many of the same rights and protections as humans in several landmark decisions, including Davison v. New Orleans (1878), Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886), and Lochner v. New York (1905). Greens say that these decisions bestowed enormous power on corporations, which have few of the liabilities and limitations of citizens.
"We're very pleased that President Bush and Congress have taken the side of the FTC and ordinary citizens in the fight against telemarketers' intrusions," said Greg Gerritt, secretary of the Green Party of the US. "But we need to address the deeper constitutional crisis. A corporation isn't a person, it's a social construct. Corporations must be made subordinate to the rights and interests of 'We the People.'" See gpus.org, ReclaimDemocracy.org or the Program on Corporations, Law, and Democracy (www.poclad.org).
FOX VIEWERS MOST MISINFORMED. Viewers of Fox News are the most misinformed, a national survey reported Oct. 2. The PIPA/Knowledge Networks poll of 3,334 adults found that 67% of Fox viewers incorrectly thought the US had clear evidence that Saddam was working with al Qaeda, compared with 56% of those who relied on CBS, 49% for NBC, 48% for CNN, 45% for ABC, 40% for readers of newspapers and magazines and 16% for PBS/NPR patrons. Fox viewers also led in misconceptions about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, as 33% believed, wrongly, that the US had found WMDs in Iraq, followed by 23% for CBS, 20% for NBC and CNN, 19% for ABC, 17% for PBS/NPR and 11% for print readers.
PRIVATE SCHOOL CO. GETS PUBLIC BAILOUT. The fund that provides for pensions of Florida public school teachers is investing $174 million in the controversial for-profit school management company Edison Schools Inc. Through one of its money managers, Liberty Partners, the pension fund has agreed to buy out the Edison shareholders, taking the New York company private, the St. Petersburg Times reported Sept. 25. In effect, the fund that provides for the retirement pensions of Florida teachers and other public employees will own a company that has played a leading role in privatizing school management. Josh Marshall of talkingpointsmemo.com commented, "So, you start a company to privatize education and take on the teachers unions. Your company fails miserably both in terms of the market and academic success. Then after you've hollowed the company out to cover your other bad debts friendly pols come along to bail you out with a couple hundred million from the teachers' (and other public employees') pension fund. I love symmetry."
DEMS REBOUND IN LOUISIANA. Republican Bobby Jindal finished first with 33% of the vote in Louisiana's unique all-party primary for governor Oct. 4 that drew 17 candidates to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Mike Foster. Democrat Kathleen Blanco, the current lieutenant governor, made the mid-November runoff with 18% as four Dems split 57% of the vote. Democrat Mitch Landrieu, brother of Sen. Mary, was elected lieutenant governor with 52% in a four-way race and Democrat Charles Foti was elected attorney general with 54% in a two-way race against Republican Suzanne Terrell, who lost to Mary Landrieu in last year's Senate runoff.
JOBLESS HEALTH CARE PROPOSAL. The number of Americans without health insurance grew by 2.6 million in 2002, to 43.6 million, or about 15.2% of the population, the Census Bureau reported. In 2001, 14.6% lacked health coverage. Republicans have resisted most efforts to provide more funding to public programs like the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and Medicaid, and states facing budget shortfalls are more likely to be cutting back than adding people to their insurance rolls, Reuters noted Oct. 1. Sen. James Talent, R-Mo., would create "Association Health Plans," (AHPs) which would let small businesses band together to offer coverage without having to meet state benefit mandates or insurance regulations. But both consumer and insurance groups oppose AHP legislation, saying consumer protection laws should not be waived. A potential bipartisan agreement may emerge from the Senate Finance Committee, where Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and ranking member Max Baucus, D-Mont., are working on a bill that would expand a tax credit passed by Congress a year ago to help workers who lose their insurance -- and their jobs -- when their employers move business to other countries. It reportedly would include subsidies to help those who lose their jobs continue their health insurance under a 1996 law that allows individuals to buy coverage from their former employers. Nathan Newman at nathannewman.org noted that expanding the credit to bring in eligible unemployment compensation recipients would cost $31.6 billion over 10 years, according to Joint Tax Committee estimates cited by Grassley and Baucus. The senators estimate that the bill would facilitate the purchase of health coverage by 1.4 million people per month in 2004 and 1.2 million per month in 2005 and beyond.
BUSH LIKES REGS -- FOR UNIONS. Three years of corporate scandals and corruption by business leaders have not brought onerous new reporting requirements to corporate officials, Nathan Newman observed at nathannew-man.org. But the Bush administration just issued new regulations to enforce onerous new disclosure rules on unions. Among other things, any transactions more than $10,000 has to be reported to the government. Essentially every car bought and for what purpose has to be reported. Every employee hired -- reported. Further, unions must breakdown the time of each employee and estimate how much time they spend on different categories of work, whether collective bargaining, lobbying, etc. "So unions end up with almost no real info about the workings of their corporate opponents -- other than the large raw financial numbers disclosed to the SEC -- while corporations will get to monitor union spending practically down to the paperclip. And with the goal of costing unions so much money in paperwork, auditing, and legal expenses defending the audits so as to prevent them having funds left over to organize," Newman commented. "This quiet, seeming bureaucratic regulation is one of the most massive assaults by government on unions in decades. The Bushies intend to let corporations continue to rip off the government with hidden tax shelters, hidden union busting costs, and a range of other hidden assaults on the public and unions, even as they crush workers organizations under bureaucratic destruction." (See www.aflcio.org.)
UNIONS SEEK TO 'REVOLUTIONIZE' AFL-CIO. Seeking to reverse the declining fortunes of American unions, the presidents of five unions have initiated a plan for sweeping changes in the labor movement. This initiative, dubbed the New Unity Partnership (NUP), focuses on organizing strategies and centralizing the governing bodies inside the federation, Labor Notes reported. Last year SEIU Director of Building Services Stephen Lerner drafted a document titled "Three Steps to Reorganizing and Rebuilding the Labor Movement." Lerner argued that declining union density is the key problem facing the US labor movement today. He proposed that organized labor "consolidate into large sectoral/industry unions that have the resources and focus to unite millions of workers." The NUP appears to have such a reorganization in mind. the Sept. 15 Business Week describes the NUP as a "mini labor federation," designed by and composed of the Service Employees Union (President Andy Stern), the Hotel and Restaurant Employees (John Wilhelm), UNITE (Bruce Raynor), the Laborers Union (Terence O'Sullivan), and the Carpenters Union (Doug McCarron). Four of these unions are in the AFL-CIO. The fifth, the Carpenters, left the federation in 2001 due to allegations of building trades raiding and other jurisdictional issues. The NUP presidents have shown a willingness to work with antiunion politicians. Last summer, Stern, O'Sullivan, and Wilhelm urged fellow union officials to "follow their example by giving $1,000 or more to the re-election campaign of [House Speaker] Dennis Hastert." Stern, Wilhelm, McCarron, and O'Sullivan all bought tables at a recent Republican Congressional Campaign Committee dinner, according to The American Prospect's Harold Meyerson. Now, the NUP wants to meet with Karl Rove -- George W. Bush's key strategist. At the same time, Stern told Business Week that defeating Bush in the 2004 elections is the AFL-CIO's "main role right now, and it should be." (See www.labornotes.org for more information and the full Lerner document.)
MOBILIZATION AGAINST 'FREE TRADE'. The Citizens Trade Campaign is proceeding with plans for a Mobilization against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) with marches, rallies,teach-ins and a People's Gala during the FTAA Ministerial in Miami November 17-22. For background on the events as well as the FTAA and how it would impact your life and the world you live in, see www.citizenstrade.org/ftaa.php or call the Citizens Trade Campaign at 202-778-3311.
WHITE HOUSE WANTS IRAQ 'DO OVER.' Apparently the White House is abandoning the spin that everything was going great in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now it is adopting the GOP strategy of "do over." The administration has ordered an overhaul of efforts to quell violence in both countries, the New York Times reported Oct. 6. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will run the new "Iraq Stabilization Group" to assert more White House control over efforts to fight terrorism and rebuild the two countries, in what was seen as a power struggle between Rice and Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld. "This is as close as anyone will come to acknowledging that it's not working," an "administration official" was quoted in the Times. Paul Bremer III, the US strongman in Iraq, will still report to Rumsfeld but one of Bremer's key deputies will report directly to Rice.
IRAQIS QUESTION US BOONDOGGLES. The Iraqi Governing Council in September questioned why the American occupation authority was spending $20 million to buy new revolvers and Kalashnikov rifles for the Iraqi police when US troops were confiscating tens of thousands of weapons every month from Saddam Hussein's abandoned arsenals. On Oct. 1 the Iraqi council challenged a US decision to spend $1.2 billion to train 35,000 Iraqi police officers in Jordan when such training could be done in Iraq for a fraction of the cost. Germany and France have offered to provide such training free. Congress is also seeking to examine how the American occupation authority and the military are spending billions of dollars, as Iraqi officials and businessmen charge that millions of dollars in contracts are being awarded without competitive bidding, some of them to former cronies of Mr. Hussein's government. "There is no transparency," the New York Times quoted Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the Governing Council, "and something has to be done about it."
HARKIN IRATE ON IRAQ. During a conference call with Iowa reporters, US Sen. Tom Harkin said it's a"slap in the face" that US administrators have placed a top tax rate of 15% on taxpayers in Iraq. "Well, over here we've got a top rate of 35%," Harkin said. "We're going to take taxpayers' dollars here and send them over there to reconstruct Iraq." Iraq needs to repay its foreign debt, and more than half is owed to two countries, Harkin said -- Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. "So let's get this straight -- we're going to tax our people at a higher rate than what they can tax businesses and other things in Iraq," he said. "Then when they start pumping their oil and making money from oil, they can take that money and give it to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. What a sweetheart deal that is." Harkin notes that he and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., would like to see reconstruction funding for Iraq securitized by future Iraqi oil revenues. He added, "The longer this dead fish hangs out there, the more it's going to smell, and I will make sure the American people smell it."