Robert F. Kennedy Jr. opened a can of worms with his article in the 6/15/06 Rolling Stone magazine on Ohio election irregularities in 2004. "Across the country, Republican election officials and party stalwarts employed a wide range of illegal and unethical tactics to fix the election," Kennedy wrote. But Ohio was a special case. The problems started with the Ohio secretary of state's efforts to discourage voter registration, continued with shortages of voting machines in Democratic precincts that led to long lines with waits of seven hours or more in urban areas and concluded with questions about anomalous voting patterns and discrepancies between exit polls and actual vote counts that left nonpartisan experts shaking their heads. Kennedy concluded, "A review of the available data reveals that in Ohio alone, at least 357,000 voters, the overwhelming majority of them Democratic, were prevented from casting ballots or did not have their votes counted in 2004 -- more than enough to shift the results of an election decided by 118,601 votes. ... In what may be the single most astounding fact from the election, one in every four Ohio citizens who registered to vote in 2004 showed up at the polls only to discover that they were not listed on the rolls, thanks to GOP efforts to stem the unprecedented flood of Democrats eager to cast ballots."
Farhad Manjoo in a 6/2 article at Salon.com criticized Kennedy's article as bringing little new to the debate. He refutes claims that Democrats were disproportionately bumped from voter rolls and questions Kennedy's finding that 357,000 voters, mainly Democrats, were prevented from voting. Manjoo, who also investigated the massive voting problems, concluded that the GOP used methods that were probably legal but perhaps unethical to suppress turnout and discourage people from voting.
At least Kennedy got someone at the New York Times to notice what happened in Ohio, as columnist Bob Herbert came to Kennedy's defense (6/12), noting that the Democratic vote had been suppressed in Florida by thuggish practices such as the Jeb Bush administration sending armed state police into the homes of elderly black voters to "investigate" allegations of voter fraud. That left Ohio as the key state up for grabs. Herbert said Kennedy's heavily-footnoted article, which expands on an article "None Dare Call It Stolen" by Mark Crispin Miller in the August 2005 Harper's, which documented ugly, aggressive and frequently unconscionable efforts by GOP stalwarts to disenfranchise Ohio Democrats, especially those in urban and heavily black areas, "leaves no doubt that the democratic process was trampled and left for dead in the Buckeye State. Mr. Kerry almost certainly would have won Ohio if all of his votes had been counted, and if all of the eligible voters who tried to vote for him had been allowed to cast their ballots."
Herbert noted that the "point man for these efforts was the Ohio secretary of state, J. Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican who was both the chief election official in the state and co-chairman of the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio -- just as Katherine Harris was the chief election official and co-chairwoman of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Florida in 2000.
"No one has been able to prove that the election in Ohio was hijacked. But whenever it is closely scrutinized, the range of problems and dirty tricks that come to light is shocking. What's not shocking, of course, is that every glitch and every foul-up in Ohio, every arbitrary new rule and regulation, somehow favored Mr. Bush."
ROVE NOT CLEARED: Former Ambassador Joe Wilson may never get to see Karl Rove "frogmarched out of the White House in handcuffs," but he isn't giving up hope for some kind of "accountability moment." Wilson has talked before about the possibility of filing a civil lawsuit against Rove and others involved in leaking his wife's identity, but he's said he would wait for Patrick Fitzgerald to finish his work first. Now that Fitzgerald appears to be finished, at least with Rove, the attorney for Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame, seems to be hinting that such a suit may be in the works. In a statement published 6/13 by RawStory.com, attorney Christopher Wolf says that the letter Patrick Fitzgerald sent to Robert Luskin apparently means that Rove "will not be called to answer in criminal court for his participation in the wrongful disclosure of Valerie Wilson's classified employment status at the CIA in retaliation against Joe Wilson for questioning the rationale for war in Iraq." However, Wolf says, "that obviously does not end the matter." He says that the day "still may come when Mr. Rove and others are called to account in a court of law for their attacks on the Wilsons."
Does Rove ducking criminal prosecution mean that the Bush administration will now come clean about what the president and the vice president knew about Plame's outing or why Scott McClellan denied so unequivocally that Scooter Libby and Karl Rove were involved in it? Don't count on it; with Libby's case still on track for trial, the "ongoing investigation" excuse probably has some more mileage in it.
And what about Rove's future at the White House? With Ken Mehlman and his ilk doing victory laps, Rove's job seems more secure than ever before -- despite the promise the president once made to fire anyone who was involved in Plame's outing. Rove "doesn't belong in the White House," Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean told NBC. "If the president valued America more than he valued his connection to Karl Rove, Karl Rove would have been fired a long time ago. So I think this is probably good news for the White House, but it's not very good news for America." -- Tim Grieve (Salon.com).
E-COUNT SUBTRACTS VOTE FROM IOWA CANDIDATE: All the scanner ballots in the 6/6 Pottawattamie County (Council Bluffs), Iowa, primary election had to be recounted by hand after discrepancies were discovered in the electronic vote count in a county recorder's race. John Sciortino, who had held the office 23 years, was leading by only two votes, 1,112 to 1,110, over Oscar Duran, a college student, with 37 of 41 precincts tallied on election night, but County Auditor Marilyn Jo Drake suspected that something wasn't right with the new computers purchased under federal mandate to count the ballots, the Council Bluffs Nonpareil reported. In the absentee count, the ES&S machine showed 99 votes for Duran and only 79 votes for John Sciortino. A hand count showed Sciortino had 153 votes and Duran just 25. The hand count the next day showed Sciortino winning 2,061 to 347. Cause of the glitch was unknown. At least Pottawattamie County officials were able to recount the scanner ballots. Many counties use touch-screen machines that leave no paper trail as a backup in case of computer malfunction.
E-VOTE PUTS STATES AT RISK: VerifiedVoting.org released a list of 27 states whose elections are at risk due to security vulnerabilities in Diebold voting systems. The three largest states in the country -&endash; California, Texas, and Florida -&endash; all fall into the at-risk group. The vulnerabilities would allow substitution of false vote totals without any trace or the insertion of malicious software, using the smart card technology and design features integral to the machines. Of the 27 states listed in the report, nine are at high risk, using paperless Diebold TSx and TS machines without any means to recover from exploitation of this vulnerability. Hundreds of counties are at medium risk, having a blended system of Diebold TSx, TS and optical scan systems, with some votes in some jurisdictions capable of being recovered through paper records. Eighteen states are at lower risk, but only if meaningful audits are carried out using manual counts of the paper record to check the machine vote totals. Most states do not have audit requirements at this time. For very close races, votes in just a few jurisdictions can determine statewide results. In such cases having just one unverifiable jurisdiction throws the entire election into doubt.
"These security vulnerabilities are classic examples of why we worry about electronic voting," said Verified Voting founder David L. Dill, a computer science professor at Stanford University. For jurisdictions where there is no voter-verified paper record, Verified Voting urges voters to insist that local officials provide paper ballots as an alternative way to vote at the polling place. Pennsylvania provided an example of the critical importance of providing paper ballots as an alternative in the polling place in May, when hundreds of voting machines failed to start on time or malfunctioned during the day, and thousands of voters used paper ballots successfully. Recent experiences in California and Georgia, where thousands of voters were disenfranchised by machine malfunctions, have shown that no electronic voting jurisdiction can afford to go without paper ballots.
CAL COUNTY RESTRICTS CORPORATIONS: Voters in Humboldt County, Calif., on 6/6 passed a ballot initiatve repealing the legal status of corporations as "persons" and limiting corporate influence on politics. Green and Democratic activists led the effort to pass Measure T, which got 55% support. Former Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb [who wrote about the measure in "A New Populist Uprising," 6/1/06 TPP] told the Eureka Times-Standard (6/7) that the larger goal of Measure T is to build a movement to make illegitimate the notion that a corporation can claim constitutional rights. "We are in the early stages of a peaceful revolution being led at the ballot box by the voters of Humboldt County," Cobb said. However, court challenges are expected as critics warned that the measure will not stand up to statutes and case law establishing "corporate personhood."
SOCIAL SECURITY PRIVATIZERS LURK: A key House Republican wants to run Social Security privatization past the public next year, as House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Jim McCrery, R-La., said Social Security overhaul should be a top priority of Congress next year. "Looking at the lay of the land politically and substantively, it seems to me the more logical order would be Social Security, then tax reform, then healthcare reform," he told reporters after addressing the US Chamber of Commerce, according to Congress Daily (6/6). McCrery said Congress should take up Social Security first because doing nothing would have "tremendous negative fiscal consequences," and it is easier to solve from a policy standpoint than fixing Medicare and Medicaid. "If we can get [Social Security] done, I think that buys us the political capital to move on to the bigger issues of health care," he said.
HOUSE SELLS OUT INTERNET: The US House (6/8) defeated 269-152 an effort to prevent telecoms from discriminating against other Internet service providers, in a victory for phone and cable companies that hope to consolidate control of the Internet. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)'s "net neutrality" amendment, which was defeated, was supported by Democrats (140-58) and opposed by Republicans (211-11). The argument might strike many as arcane, but Consumers Union Senior Policy Analyst Jeannine Kenney said telephone and cable companies seek to undermine decades-long federal practice of prohibiting network owners from discriminating against competitors to shut out competition. Ben Scott of FreePress.net said, "This issue is not about whether or not the government will regulate the Internet. It's about whether consumers or cable and phone companies will decide what services and content are available on the Net." Mark Cooper is director of research at Consumers Federation of America, which "has been battling to keep the phone companies from putting tollbooths on the Internet since the early 1980s, but now every business and every consumer that uses the Internet has a dog in the fight for Internet Freedom." The battle for Net Neutrality -- or Internet freedom -- now moves to the Senate, where there is stronger bipartisan support. Sens. Snowe (R-Maine) and Dorgan (D-N.D.) have introduced the "Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2006," which enjoys strong support of the SaveTheInternet coalition. See www.savetheinternet.com.
CON RECONSIDERS GOP DIRTY TRICKS: In 2002, New Hampshire's US Senate race was too close to call, Steve Benen noted (6/10) at WashingtonMonthly.com so top GOP officials came up with a clever-but-illegal plan: have a telemarketer tie up Democratic and union phone lines in order to interfere with their get-out-the-vote drives. Whether the scheme to criminally interfere with the election process was the deciding factor is unclear, but Republican John Sununu won the race by only 19,000 votes. The scandal, which the Bush White House may or may not have been aware of, sent a few Republican officials to jail, including Allen Raymond, a former RNC official who sat down with the *Boston Globe* for an interview (6/10). Raymond said the scheme reflects a broader culture in the GOP that focuses on dividing voters to win primaries and general elections. Examples range from some recent efforts to use border-security concerns to foster anger toward immigrants to his own role arranging phone calls designed to polarize primary voters over abortion in a 2002 New Jersey Senate race. Raymond said he got caught up in an ultra-aggressive atmosphere in which he initially thought the decision to jam the phones "pushed the envelope" but was legal. He also said he had been reluctant to turn down a prominent official of the RNC, fearing that would cost him future opportunities from an organization that was becoming increasingly ruthless. "Republicans have treated campaigns and politics as a business, and now are treating public policy as a business, looking for the types of returns that you get in business, passing legislation that has huge ramifications for business," he said. "It is very much being monetized, and the federal government is being monetized under Republican majorities." Benen concluded, "This should come as a surprise to, well, no one, but it's always nice to have an experienced Republican insider admit it."
TRUTH AND LIES: Oil company flacks mocked Al Gore's documentary, *An Inconvenient Truth," but Katharine Mieszkowski of Salon.com noted (6/10) that, according to climate scientists, Gore basically got it right. Critics went as far as to compare Gore with Adolph Hitler and Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. But the movie did phenomenally well in its first few weeks of limited release. One of the most widely read critiques of the science in the film has come from longtime climate-change skeptic Robert C. Balling Jr., a professor of climatology at Arizona State University, who has received more than $400,000 from the coal and oil industries, according to the Center for Media and Democracy. Balling charges that the movie is "not the most accurate depiction of the state of global warming science," casting doubts on its claims about melting glaciers and intensifying hurricanes. In reaction to Balling, Eric Steig, an isotope geochemist at the University of Washington, who is one of the co-founders of the Real Climate website (realclimate.org), where working climate scientists provide commentary and context about the news in their now-hot field, commented, "Some people believe the earth is flat, too." Steig posted his own largely favorable review of *An Inconvenient Truth* on the Real Climate site before he left. Judd Legum of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, has rebutted each of Balling's claims at ThinkProgress.org. For instance, some of the most dramatic images in the film show the rapid retreat of glaciers all over the world, including the melting snows of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Balling contends the snowpack retreat on Kilimanjaro is caused by declining atmospheric moisture, which has been going on for more than 100 years, not global warming. Legum counters that scientists have shown that the Kilimanjaro glacier previously survived a 300-year drought and its retreat cannot be fully accounted for by changes in atmospheric moisture, especially the shrinking that has occurred in recent decades. Besides, focusing on that one example overshadows the larger point that glaciers all over the world are disappearing.
ADULTERERS PRESERVE MARRIAGE: Among the Republican senators who voted to support the proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage are divorcés George Allen (Va.), Christopher Bond (Mo.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) and Mitch McConnell (Ky.) who apparently did not see the irony of protecting marriage after they had broken their own vows. Americablog.blogspot.com published comments readers got when they asked their senators if they would support an amendment to outlaw divorce. An aide to Hutchison reportedly said that that even though the Bible might say that a woman who is divorced and then remarries, as Hutchison has, is an adulterer, "no Christian really believes that." (The Catholic Church, among others, disagrees.) An aide to Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) clarified, "The senator is not interested in protecting marriage but in protecting the definition of marriage."
HOUSE SELLS OUT INTERNET: The US House (6/8) defeated 269-152 an effort to prevent telecoms from discriminating against other Internet service providers, in a victory for phone and cable companies that hope to consolidate control of the Internet. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)'s "net neutrality" amendment, which was defeated, was supported by Democrats (140-58) and opposed by Republicans (211-11). The argument might strike many as arcane, but Consumers Union Senior Policy Analyst Jeannine Kenney said telephone and cable companies seek to undermine decades-long federal practice of prohibiting network owners from discriminating against competitors to shut out competition. A grassroots coalition backing network neutrality includes more than 700 groups and 800,000 individuals (see www.savetheinternet.com). Ben Scott of Free Press said, "This issue is not about whether or not the government will regulate the Internet. It's about whether consumers or cable and phone companies will decide what services and content are available on the Net." Mark Cooper is director of research at Consumers Federation of America, which "has been battling to keep the phone companies from putting tollbooths on the Internet since the early 1980s, but now every business and every consumer that uses the Internet has a dog in the fight for Internet Freedom."
Rural residents hope for passage of he Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006, which would allow more cable and broadband Internet access in underserved areas. Larry Mitchell, spokesperson for the Alliance for Rural Television and CEO of the American Corn Growers Association, said rural Americans have been ignored by cable companies, which could have delivered high-speed communications services to the countryside long ago. "We need competitors fighting for our business as much &endash;- and probably more -&endash; than urban America," Mitchell said. "Our 750,000 members are fully behind cable franchise reform because companies competing for customers will see us as an important customer base." Other groups involved in Consumers for Cable Choice (consumers4choice.org) include Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP); League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC); National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC); Alliance for Rural Television, a coalition of 12 agricultural groups (ART); and California Small Business Association (CSBA)
The battle for Net Neutrality -- or Internet freedom -- now moves to the Senate, where there is significantly stronger bipartisan support. Sens. Snowe (R-Maine) and Dorgan (D-N.D.) have introduced the "Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2006," which enjoys the strong support the SaveTheInternet coalition.
GOP HUNTS BIG BIRD AGAIN: House Republicans are once again taking aim at funding for public broadcasting, as a House appropriations subcommittee, on a party-line vote (6/8), approved a $115 mln reduction in the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The 23% budget cut could force elimination of some popular PBS and NPR programs, including, yes, Sesame Street. Ten years ago House Republicans tried to slash funding for PBS, only to retreat after the public rallied behind Big Bird and other Sesame Street characters. The Boston Globe reported (6/8), "Republicans say they remain adamant that public broadcasting cannot receive funding at the expense of healthcare and education programs." Steve Benen noted (6/9) at WashingtonMonthly.com: "That's an interesting spin -- Republicans are prepared to boost spending in healthcare and education? Since when?"
NO STICKLER FOR MINE SAFETY: The former coal industry executive who told the US Senate the nation's mining laws are adequate -- just weeks after a series of disasters killed 15 miners -- faces a critical vote 6/13 in the Senate, as the Bush administration attempts to make him the top coal mine safety cop. While Richard Stickler's nomination to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has been on hold by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) who opposes the nomination, 2006 coal mine deaths have climbed to 33 -- more than in any full year since 2001. Senate Republican leaders need 60 votes to end the hold. The Mine Workers (UMWA), the AFL-CIO and other workplace safety advocates oppose Stickler's nomination.
NEVER MIND REBUILDING NEW ORLEANS: "I don't believe there's any issue that's more important than this one," Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) was quoted by CNN (6/6), on banning gay marriage through a constitutional amendment.
CONS STRIP PERMANENT IRAQ BASE BAN: Congressional Republicans quietly killed a provision in an Iraq war funding bill that would have put the US on record against the permanent basing of US military facilities in that country, Reuters reported 6/9. In the face of widespread opposition in Iraq to continuing occupation by US troops, the Senate had unanimously amended a supplemental spending bll that stated that none of the funds should be used for permanent base construction. In March the House accepted an amendment by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) prohibiting permanent base construction. But ThinkProgress.org reported that conservatives caved to pressure from the Bush administration, which asked for more than $1.1 bln for new military construction in Iraq.
LABOR MARKET STILL SOFT: America's middle class has been waiting five years for stronger employment and wage growth to help them manage rising everyday costs and burgeoning debt levels. Estimates of the employment situation in May, released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on 6/2, do not bode well for those hopes. Job growth totaled 75,000 new jobs in May, the smallest increase since October last year. It's also the third month in a row that employment growth has withered. Retail trade jobs decreased by 27,100, manufacturing employment shrunk by 14,000, and jobs in the information sector, which includes broadcasting and motion pictures, dropped by 13,000 jobs. Construction alone added only 1,000 new jobs in May, and real estate financing added another 900 new jobs. Total construction-related employment grew by 4,700 jobs -- largely due to an increase of 2,900 new jobs in the retail sector dealing with building materials, such as home improvement stores. Clearly, the weakening construction sector is not offset by strong growth elsewhere. Wage growth also slowed in May. Hourly wages grew at an annualized rate of 0.7% in May, the slowest pace since November of last year, and weekly earnings actually declined by an annualized 2.8%, the largest drop in almost two years, since June 2004.
PUBLIC RECORDS INQUIRY LANDS ACTIVISTS IN JAIL: Officials of Alachua County, Fla., have filed felony charges against a Democratic activist running for the state House and another man, alleging that they unlawfully recorded Alachua city employees in city offices, the *Gainesville Sun* reported 6/10. Charlie Grapski, a University of Florida instructor and doctoral student, had been arrested and jailed in May after he was accused of recording Alachua City Manager Clovis Watson Jr. without his knowledge. Grapski was at the Alachua City Hall that day to looking through materials relating to absentee ballots for a city election, which has been challenged in a lawsuit he is participating in. Grapski claims he told Watson he was recording their conversation. Charges also were filed against Michael Canney, a Green Party activist who videotaped a May 10 exchange at City Hall between Grapski and a deputy city clerk. "I find it highly disturbing that the Alachua Sheriff's Office, the State Attorney's Office and city officials of Alachua are going out of their way to harass two private citizens who are attempting to investigate allegations of a fraudulent election," Grapski said after learning about the pending sworn complaints. For information see www.freealachua.org.
BEST HEADLINE: "NSA Wiretap Reveals Subject May Be Paying Too Much For Long Distance," (from the satirical newspaper, The Onion.