Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Joe Lieberman Might Cost Democrats the House

The Boston Globe reports:
Sen. Joe Lieberman alienated plenty of Democrats with his independent bid. Just imagine their anger if he costs them control of the House.
The three-term Connecticut senator is aggressively pursuing Republican and independent voters in his race against Democratic nominee Ned Lamont and little-known Republican Alan Schlesinger. That targeted appeal -- and the potential for a strong GOP turnout -- could save three GOP House incumbents struggling to return to Washington.

"There's resentment on a lot of people's parts," said Richard Smith, Democratic town committee chairman in Milford, a New Haven suburb. "There's something about the American character. We love a good fight, but we also love people who play by the rules. C'mon Joe, you're a Democrat or you're not a Democrat. Sometimes, self-interest takes the day."

Reps. Christopher Shays, Nancy Johnson and Rob Simmons -- GOP moderates in a Democratic-leaning state -- have been on everyone's vulnerable list for months. Democrats need to gain 15 seats to win the House, and the three Connecticut districts consistently have been part of the calculation.

Lieberman has the support of 70 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of independents, according to an Oct. 20 Quinnipiac University survey. Republican Alan Schlesinger trailed far behind in single digits in the head-to-head matchup.

Lieberman's coattails could carry the GOP incumbents to re-election and undercut Democratic hopes of majority control of the House.

"It does help me," Shays said in a recent interview. "I know there will be a lot of Republicans who will vote for him, as well as a lot of independents and Democrats. ... Joe is the kind of person who reaches across the political divide, and I am like that as well."

Shays is running neck-and-neck against Democrat Diane Farrell in a district that includes affluent New York City suburbs such as Greenwich and Westport. It's a rematch of a bruising fight that Shays survived by just 4 percentage points two years ago.

"Lieberman has a lot of Republican support and that should help the other races," said Charles Flynn Jr., a Republican and former Norwalk city councilor.

Johnson, 71, is a 12-term incumbent locked in a nasty race against Chris Murphy, a 33-year-old Democratic state senator. One of her TV ads features an actor portraying Murphy being welcomed by drug dealers as he campaigns door-to-door.

In a sprawling working-class district in Eastern Connecticut, Simmons' support of the Iraq war has come under heavy fire from Democratic challenger Joe Courtney. It's the most Democratic, and poorest, of the three in play.

Shays and Lieberman are national figures who often buck their parties on key issues. Such independence plays well in Connecticut, a blue state that President Bush lost by 10 percentage points in 2004.

Bush and the war are unpopular, but the state has a popular GOP governor. Republicans make up about 22 percent of registered voters. There are roughly twice as many independents, the state's largest voting bloc.

"Connecticut voters are very used to splitting their ballots," Quinnipiac University Poll director Doug Schwartz said. "That's what they do. We've had Republican governors and Democratic senators for a long time."

Unaffiliated voters like Jane Love, a consultant from Stamford, tend to ignore party labels.

Love wore a white shirt emblazoned with the words "I'm Sticking With Joe" as well as a Shays sticker at a boisterous weekend rally in downtown Stamford for the GOP congressman that featured Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. She is an independent who registered as a Democrat to vote for Lieberman in the primary before switching back to independent.

"I like their independence," she said of Shays and Lieberman. "They vote their mind. They don't always follow the party."

Because he's running as an independent, Lieberman cannot rely on his party's organization to help him identify voters and get them to the polls, particularly Republicans and independents.

Lieberman is getting assistance from Republican New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's political team, which is helping to build the senator's get-out-the-vote operation. He's also won praise from top Bush officials and campaigned with Republicans like former New York Rep. Jack Kemp.

Schwartz, however, doubts that such efforts will do much to boost the GOP incumbents.

"I just don't think Lieberman helps Republican turnout all that much," Schwartz said. "Voters look at these races separately. I don't see Lieberman firing up the Republican base."

Loath to be seen as a spoiler, Lieberman dismissed the idea that his success could hurt the Democratic effort to retake the House.

"I haven't thought about it," Lieberman said. Contending that most voters tend to cross party lines, he added: "People are going to be smart enough to pick their way."

Sure you haven't, Joe.

Connecticut democrats need to really think long and hard before they consider voting for Lieberman over Lamont. Lieberman has betrayed them in so many ways, and now by running as an Independent after losing the Democratic primary, he stands to do democrats and all Americans across the nation a mortal blow. All in service of his own ego.

Filed under: , , , , , , , , ,

"70% of Iraqi Police Force Has Been Infiltrated by Death Squad Militias."

On the same day that the LAT reports that the military brass is abuzz about setting hard deadlines in Iraq, the Washington Post reports, "Infiltration of Iraqi Police Could Delay Handover of Control for Years, U.S. Trainers Suggest":
The signs of the militias are everywhere at the Sholeh police station.

Posters celebrating Moqtada al-Sadr, head of the Mahdi Army militia, dot the building's walls. The police chief sometimes remarks that Shiite militias should wipe out all Sunnis. Visitors to this violent neighborhood in the Iraqi capital whisper that nearly all the police officers have split loyalties.
And then one rainy night this month, the Sholeh police set up an ambush and killed Army Cpl. Kenny F. Stanton Jr., a 20-year-old budding journalist, his unit said. At the time, Stanton and other members of the unit had been trailing a group of Sholeh police escorting known Mahdi Army members.

"How can we expect ordinary Iraqis to trust the police when we don't even trust them not to kill our own men?" asked Capt. Alexander Shaw, head of the police transition team of the 372nd Military Police Battalion, a Washington-based unit charged with overseeing training of all Iraqi police in western Baghdad. "To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure we're ever going to have police here that are free of the militia influence."

The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., predicted last week that Iraqi security forces would be able to take control of the country in 12 to 18 months. But several days spent with American units training the Iraqi police illustrated why those soldiers on the ground believe it may take decades longer than Casey's assessment.

Seventy percent of the Iraqi police force has been infiltrated by militias, primarily the Mahdi Army, according to Shaw and other military police trainers. Police officers are too terrified to patrol enormous swaths of the capital. And while there are some good cops, many have been assassinated or are considering quitting the force.

"None of the Iraqi police are working to make their country better," said Brig. Gen. Salah al-Ani, chief of police for the western half of Baghdad. "They're working for the militias or to put money in their pocket."

U.S. military reports on the Iraqi police often read like a who's who of the two main militias in Iraq: the Mahdi Army, also known as Jaish al-Mahdi or JAM, and the Badr Organization, also known as the Badr Brigade or Badr Corps.

One document on the Karrada district police chief says: "I strongly believe that he is a member of Badr Corps and tends to turn a blind eye to JAM activity." Another explains that the station commander in the al-Amil neighborhood "is afraid to report suspected militia members in his organization due to fear of reprisals."

American soldiers said that although they gather evidence of police ties to the militias and present it to Iraqi officials, no one has ever been criminally charged or even lost their jobs.

This is sounding suspiciously like the Bush administration m.o., and the failures that led to 9/11. And Bush's refusal to fire Rumsfeld over the colossal failures of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Among the worst of the suspected Mahdi Army members is Lt. Col. Musa Khadim Lazim Asadi, station commander of the Ghazaliyah patrol police. "He has stated to us that he does not believe the Mahdi Militia is a bad organization," a military report said. "He had a picture of Sadr in his vehicle until we said something about it."

"He is a cancer to the station and the people of Ghazaliyah," the report concluded.

On a recent visit to the blue-and-white facility, located in one of the most violent parts of the city, even other police officers in the building complained that Asadi and his subordinates are corrupt and tied to the militias. "They steal vehicles and kill people," said 1st Lt. Sarmad Sabar Dawood, assistant commander for the local police, which is independent of the patrol police. "In fact, we are investigating Colonel Musa and the patrol police for criminal behavior."

But when U.S. military officials visited Asadi on a recent afternoon, he not only denied that his men were involved in the militias or crime but refused to acknowledge that there had been any killings in the area at all. Although scores of tortured bodies are often found in the neighborhood, Asadi said the murders all took place somewhere else.

At his response, 1st Lt. Cadetta Bridges shook her head in disbelief. "This guy is a crook and a liar," said Bridges, 31, of Upper Marlboro. "They're all crooks and liars."

Shaw, 32, of Alexandria, turned the conversation to the confusing division of Iraqi police forces into three autonomous parts: patrol police, regular police who investigate cases, and traffic police. The U.S. military has proposed reorganizing the force so that there is one commander in each neighborhood responsible for all the police. So far, Shaw said, Iraqi officials have not been receptive.

The problems with the tripartite division were evident in Sholeh. Sitting in Asadi's second-floor office, Shaw asked him if he worked with the regular police on the ground floor.

"Of course not," Asadi replied brusquely. "Why do we need to coordinate with them?"

Visibly exasperated, Shaw and Bridges quickly left and headed for a police station in Mansour, a relatively safe neighborhood in central Baghdad, to meet with a police major they described as one of the better cops they'd encountered.

When Shaw asked what the police in Mansour were doing to reduce the violence, the major said: "There is nothing the police can do. The only solution is to create a government that will take away the militias. Then everything will be fine."

The major, who asked to be identified as Abu Ahmed because he feared for his safety if his full name was published, sat in a closet-size room that he hardly ever leaves. Orange-and-brown sheets covered a tiny bed next to his desk.

"I can't go home or I'll be killed," said Abu Ahmed, who sees his children only when police officers can bring them to the station. He sighed as he looked at photographs of two recently assassinated officers. "And it's getting worse. So much worse."

"I think I must quit soon," he said quietly.

Arabi Araf Ali, a police officer in the southern neighborhood of Dora, said police do little more than pick dead bodies up off the street. In the station's parking lot nearby, a colleague washed off a police truck that had just been used to retrieve the corpses of five Shiite men slaughtered that morning. Brain matter littered the ground.

"Some parts of Dora are so dangerous," Ali added, "that we cannot even pick up the bodies there without Americans. We are just too afraid."

The Iraqi police are not the only ones who feel unsafe. The American soldiers and civilians who train the Iraqis are constantly on guard against the possibility that the police might turn against them. Even in the police headquarters for all of western Baghdad, one of the safest police buildings in the capital, the training team will not remove their body armor or helmets. An armed soldier is assigned to protect each trainer.

"I wouldn't let half of them feed my dog," 1st Lt. Floyd D. Estes Jr., a former head of the police transition team, said of the Iraqi police. "I just don't trust them."

Jon Moore, the deputy team chief, said: "We don't know who the hell we're teaching: Are they police or are they militia?"

The trainers agree that Ani, the new police chief for western Baghdad, is an honest cop who is trying to get the police force in order. But Ani acknowledged in a meeting with U.S. officials that he does not plan to root out and fire militia members.

"I don't have that power," he said. "There are people higher than me that control that."

Among Ani's bosses are the police chief for all of Baghdad, who has been linked to the Mahdi Army, and the minister of the interior, who is a member of Sadr's political bloc.

"I think he's trying to do the right thing," said Lt. Col Aaron Dean, the battalion commander, as he walked to his Humvee after the meeting with Ani. "But I know they're all under certain influences. If you take a big stand against the militias, they're going to come after you."

The difficulty of eliminating corruption and militias from the Iraqi police forces can be exasperating for the American soldiers who risk their lives day after day to train them. "We can keep getting in our Humvees every day, but nothing is going to work unless the politicians do their job and move against the militias," Moore said.

Sitting in the battalion's war room with four other members of his team, Moore estimated it would take 30 to 40 years before the Iraqi police could function properly, perhaps longer if the militia infiltration and corruption continue to increase. His colleagues nodded.

"It's very, very slow-moving," Estes said.

"No," said Sgt. 1st Class William T. King Jr., another member of the team. "It's moving in reverse."

The Bush administration couldn't possibly care less about Iraq settling down, but try telling that to the true believers.

Filed under: , , , , , , , , , ,

Growing Numbers of U.S. Military Brass Want to Set Hard Deadline For Withdrawal From Iraq

October 2006 - Fourth Deadliest Month in Iraq for American Troops

If you think that this means the U.S. will ever withdraw completely from Iraq during the Bush administration, or under any Republican administration, and let Iraqis determine their own fate, think again:

Lt. Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, Office of Special Plans, a Pentagon unit created by Donald Rumsfeld and led by Douglas Feith, dealing with intelligence on Iraq.

The Los Angeles Times reports:
Growing numbers of military officers have begun to privately question the conventional wisdom that has guided American strategy in Iraq - that setting a hard deadline for troop reductions would undermine efforts to create a stable country.

The Iraqi government's failure to tackle the problem of sectarian tensions has led these officers to conclude that, unless pushed, Iraqis will not undertake key political and security reforms. Therefore, the advantages of setting a hard deadline, these officials argue, may outweigh the disadvantages.

"The upside is that deadlines could help ensure that the Iraqi leaders recognize the imperative of coming to grips with the tough decisions they've got to make for there to be progress in the political arena," said a senior Army officer who has served in Iraq.

For months, the Bush administration has been prodding the Iraqis politely on key reforms such as sharing oil revenues, cracking down on Shiite militias and changing the constitution. But so far the discussions have yielded little in the way of real action.

Over the past week, administration officials have spoken about possible timetables for progress in Iraq, but softened their suggestions after talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Although top administration officials are still steering clear of discussing the timing of troop withdrawals, prominent Republicans in Congress have begun talking about the need to establish a date that the U.S. will begin to reduce its numbers, regardless of whether the Iraqi government takes steps toward political compromise.

President Bush and other administration opponents of hard deadlines have argued that establishing deadlines for withdrawal hands a road map to insurgents.

Once the U.S. sets a withdrawal date, insurgents know just how long they must hang on before American troops are gone, they have contended.

Opponents of timetables also fear that small draw-downs will unleash a public demand for faster and more dramatic withdrawals, creating even more instability in the country.

Although military leaders remain wary of the consequences of imposing deadlines, increasingly officers say the concept is starting to look more attractive. The shift in opinion is a sign that gridlock in the Iraqi government is seen as a greater threat to Iraq than the insurgency itself.

Kurt M. Campbell, a former Pentagon official and co-author of a book on national security policy, said he has heard more officers begin to call for setting hard deadlines for the Iraqis. One of the reasons is a realization that the indefinite presence of U.S. forces enables the Shiite-dominated government to avoid making compromises with its rivals.

"There is a new belief that the biggest problem that we face is that our forces are the sand in the gears creating problems," he said. "We are making things worse by giving the Iraqis a false sense of security at the governing level."

Some officers who have served in Iraq believe that much of the Iraqi government cannot function effectively enough to take on the insurgency. Finding ways to force the sectarian factions to put aside their differences and focus on improving security and basic services must be the top priority in Iraq, these officers say.

"It's basic counterinsurgency," said a military officer who has served in Baghdad. "You have to have a trusted, capable government."

Some in the military argue that publicizing a timetable for reducing forces is far less damaging to a counterinsurgency campaign than the administration has suggested. Many officers, particularly those who adhere to the military philosophy of former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, a retired Army general who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, believe that deadlines are necessary to avoid getting mired in an endless war.

"The Powell doctrine is all about overwhelming numbers of troops with specific missions, with specified end-states, for specified durations with - go figure - an exit strategy," said the officer. "To not mention this stuff is actually counter to the contemporary military mindset."

Although Democrats such as Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the senior Democrat on the Armed Services committee, have long argued that a concrete deadline is the best way to move development of the Iraqi security force forward, a number of Republicans now also are moving in that direction.

Among them are Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn.; Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee; and Richard L. Armitage, Powell's former top deputy at the State Department.

Without a deadline, al-Maliki will not tackle the difficult problem of bridging Sunni and Shiite political disagreements, said Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Coalition Provisional Authority official.

"Maliki will not hit the benchmarks, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't give them," said Rubin, who does not favor troop withdrawals as a penalty. "Iraqis approach deadlines by doing nothing until two days before, and then locking themselves in smoke-filled rooms and only then do they ... try to hash out a solution."

When they speak about "American interests," they aren't referring to the ordinary American citizen driving up to the pump and filling his gas tank. They don't mean "Americans' interests"; they mean American business interests, Big Business's interests.

It doesn't mean lower prices to Americans, just as drilling off of America's coastlines and in ANWR doesn't mean lower gas prices for Americans at the pump - it means greater profits for the energy corporations (they're being given America's resource, all at the American taxpayers' expense, for the R&D, the drilling, all subsidized by the American taxpayer). For a product that we must develop alternatives for, because it is poisoning our environment and literally killing us and jeopardizing life on the planet. But getting off of oil isn't going to happen until we commit to alternative energies and make oil unprofitable for the Bush and Cheney families of the world.

Do you think many Americans know the real reason we're in Iraq, Afghanistan, and (shortly) Iran? Do your friends and neighbors know?

Filed under: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dead Zones Increasing in Number, Size Throughout World's Oceans, Seas

The AP reports:
Scientists have found 200 dead zones in the world’s oceans—places where pollution threatens fish, other marine life and the people who depend on them.

The United Nations recently released a report that showed a 34 percent jump in the number of such zones from just two years ago.

Pollution-fed algae, which deprive other living marine life of oxygen, are the cause of most of the world’s dead zones, which cover tens of thousands of square miles of waterways. Scientists chiefly blame fertilizer and other farm runoff, sewage and fossil-fuel burning.
Those contain an excess of nutrients, particularly phosphorous and nitrogen, which cause explosive blooms of tiny plants known as phytoplankton. When they die, they sink to the bottom, where they are eaten by bacteria that use up the oxygen in the water.

“The low levels of oxygen in the water make it difficult for fish, oysters and other marine creatures to survive as well as important habitats such as seagrass beds,” U.N. officials said. “These areas are fast becoming major threats to fish stocks and thus to the people who depend upon fisheries for food and livelihoods.”

By 2030, the world’s rivers will pump 14 percent more nitrogen into the seas and oceans than they did in the mid-1990s, according to new U.N. research released at a meeting in Beijing.

Researchers led by Robert Diaz, of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, said they found new dead zones at the Archipelago Sea in Finland; Fosu Lagoon in Ghana; Pearl River estuary and Changjiang River in China; and Mersey River estuary in Britain.

Other new zones found were at the Elefsis Bay and Aegean Sea in Greece; Paracas Bay in Peru; Mondego River in Portugal; Montevideo Bay in Uruguay; and in the western Indian Ocean.

The United Nations marine experts said the number and size of oxygen- deprived zones has grown each decade since the 1970s.

Not all of the dead zones persist year-round; some return seasonally, depending on winds that bring nutrient-rich water to the surface.

“It seems like a big jump in two years,” said Nancy Rabalais, executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, who was not part of the U.N. research. She said an important factor has been the huge increase in pollution from fast-developing countries.

Rabalais, who has studied the Gulf of Mexico’s massive dead zone that is now the size of New Jersey, said marine creatures that swim fast enough can usually escape.

“The things that are left behind are the ones that usually can’t survive,” she said. “When you consider the size of some of these areas, it’s removing what’s considered the essential habitat for fishes and crustaceans.’’

Other U.N. scientific findings released, though, raised hopes for the recovery of damaged coral reefs, which serve as the ocean’s nurseries. It found that reefs bleached in the late 1990s by high surface sea temperatures are affected by how polluted the waters are.

“Coral reefs recovering faster are generally those living in marine protected areas and coastal waters where the levels of pollution, dredging and other kinds of human-induced disturbance are considered low,” the U.N. report said.

Filed under: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Islam as a Feminist Issue

Women wearing niqab.*

'Veils and Vitamins':
In the controversy over Moslem women and the veil, no one is addressing the possible health consequences for women wearing the niqab. Perhaps they missed Grade 11 biology.

In Saudi Arabia and in Afghanistan, women wearing excessive covering suffer from back problems and osteoporosis, a condition characterized by bone loss with resultant weakening of the skeleton and bones that fracture easily.

Human beings have an inherent need for sunlight. Many chemical reactions in the human body are mediated by sunlight. Tryptophan, an amino acid, is light-sensitive and in daylight converts to the "feel-good" chemical serotonin, lack of which can cause depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Ultraviolet light is also necessary for the synthesis of the D vitamins that promote the proper metabolism of calcium and phosphorus, the two major constituents of bone. Lack of vitamin D3 causes the aforementioned osteoporosis.

The eyes, which are exposed by niqab wearers, are the very things that should be shielded from ultraviolet light, which is a factor in the formation of cataracts and in macular degeneration.

So, ladies, wear your niqab if you wish, but protect your health by vitamin D supplements and by consuming foods high in vitamin D (salmon, sardines, herring), vitamin-D fortified milk as well foods high in tryptophan (chicken, turkey, almonds, pumpkin seeds, peanuts) and by wearing sunglasses. Otherwise, down the road, you will be making the manufacturers of walkers and wheelchairs very happy.

The Q'uran doesn't require Muslim women to wear these clothes* [How to Hijab - Your Guide to the Islamic Dress Code.

The Q'uran requires only that men must "respect women." Because Muslim men are like men of any religion, anywhere around the world (resistant to change), if you want them to stop oogling women and acting upon their aggressive impulses, e.g. raping, battering, etc., it's women who have to change and became invisible. "Allah forbid," men should have to exercise restraint.

Filed under: , , , , , , , , ,

Republican Tricks & Treats

From American Chronicle:
"This Halloween, Republicans will continue to try and scare the American people with more of their fear and smear tactics, offering only tricks to hard-working Americans and treats for themselves and their special interest friends," said Democratic National Committee Press Secretary Stacie Paxton. "Democrats offer a new direction for America that includes a real plan for victory in Iraq, economic and tax policies that work for all Americans and the implementation of the 9/11 commission's recommendations."

Bush: All Americans Benefit From The Bush Tax Cuts. "In other words, we just didn't talk about philosophy -- there's too many philosophers in Washington -- we acted. We got the job done. We cut the taxes on everybody who pays income taxes." [President Bush, 10/30/06]


Bush Tax Cuts Treat Wealthiest Americans and Special Interests, While Eighty Percent of Taxpayers Don't Benefit Under Bush Tax Break Plan. On average, if the Bush tax breaks for the wealthy are made permanent, the majority of households "would lose more than they gain from the tax cuts ...That is, once the [tax cuts are paid for], the 2001 and 2003 'tax cuts' are best seen as...net tax increases or benefit reductions for the remaining 80 percent of the population as a group." [CBPP, 6/2/04]


Bush Expects Troops To Get Everything They Need. Scott McClellan, White House Press Secretary: “First of all, let me reiterate, the President is committed to making sure our troops have the best equipment and all the resources they need to do their job. And that's what he expects to happen. If there -- if our troops need additional resources or equipment, then we will work to make sure that they have that equipment and those resources.” [White House Press Briefing, 12/10/04]


Vice President Cheney's Halliburton Treated by Raking in Massive Profits by Overcharging the US Government by Millions for No-Bid Contracts. Vice President Cheney's old company Halliburton, one of a number of companies with close ties to the Republican Party given no-bid contracts by the Bush Administration to deliver services in the reconstruction effort in Iraq, overcharged the U.S. government, bilking millions of taxpayer dollars resulting in massive profits for the company. These no-bid contracts have had no congressional oversight from the Republican-controlled Congress, despite Democratic efforts to do so and prevent war profiteering. [Washington Post, 10/19/06]

Pentagon Study Found That 80 Percent Of Marines Killed By Wounds To Upper Body Could Have Been Saved If They Had the Right Kind of Armor. A Pentagon study has found that as many as 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from wounds to the upper body could have survived if they had had extra body armor. Such armor has been available since 2003, but until recently the Pentagon has largely declined to supply it to troops despite calls from the field for additional protection, according to military officials. [New York Times, 1/7/06]


After Multiple GOP Scandals in Congress, Republicans Say They Will Pass Ethics Reform Legislation. “In mid-January [2006], Hastert proposed broad new restrictions on lobbying, including a ban on privately funded travel for lawmakers and tight limits on meals and other gifts.” [Washington Post, 2/19/06]


Under The Rubberstamp GOP Congress, Special Interests Get Treated To Abandonment Of Ethics Reform. John Boehner became House Republican Leader after Tom DeLay stepped down amid a swirl of ethics problems. In an interview with the Washington Post in February 2006 shortly after taking his new post, Boehner “emphasized that he has no plan to change lobbying rules.” He also said that he would not seek a ban on “provisions in spending bills that fund lawmakers’ pet projects,” also known as earmarks. [Washington Post, 2/4/06]


Then-Governor Bush in 2000 Campaign: "I Know a Lot About Energy"; Pledges to End America's Dependence on Foreign Oil. Bush argued six years ago that, "It's an issue [energy] I know a lot about. I was a small oil person for a while in west Texas. This is an administration that's had no plan. And all of a sudden the results of having no plan have caught up with America... It's time for a new administration to deal with the energy problem." During the 2000 presidential campaign, Bush also criticized the Clinton Administration for allowing U.S. imports on foreign oil to reach 56% of U.S. oil consumption. [Presidential Debate, 10/3/00; House Government Reform Committee, Democratic Staff, 3/16/06]


Under Bush, America's Dependence on Foreign Oil Has Increased, Treating Big Oil Companies, Like ExxonMobil Who Have Announced Billions In Record Profits. Five years after President Bush announced his energy plan, U.S. imports of foreign oil have risen to 65% of U.S. consumption. And recently, ExxonMobil reported the largest quarterly profit ever recorded by a publicly traded U.S. company. Royal Dutch Shell also "beat all forecasts with a 21 percent rise in underlying third-quarter profit." These earnings reports come "as high crude prices this year have fueled record profits in the oil industry" which has triggered "an outcry from consumers who were being asked to pay about $3 a gallon for gasoline in early August." [AP, 10/26/06; Reuters, 10/26/06; House Government Reform Committee, Democratic Staff, 3/16/06]


Bush: All Seniors Helped By Prescription Drugs. "The prescription drug coverage, first of all, helps all seniors pay for prescription drugs, no matter how they've paid before. In other words, everybody should take a look at the prescription drug coverage." [President Bush, 5/9/06]


Prescription Drug Companies Get Treat When Bush White House Decided to Forbid Negotiating Drug Prices. "Families USA, a Washington healthcare advocacy group that has repeatedly sparred with the government on issues related to the new drug benefit, said it found that 49 of 50 common prescription drugs could be obtained at lower prices from the VA department than through the discount card. . It began in 2004 after the federal government passed the Medicare Modernization Act, which contains the permanent drug benefit. The Modernization Act was criticized by some because it prevents the government from negotiating bulk prices with manufacturers. Instead, each individual provider, such as health plans and pharmacy benefits companies, must negotiate separately." [Boston Globe, 10/28/05]


Bush: The Economy Is Great For All Americans. "Well, the facts are in. The truth is the tax cuts have led to a growing economy that's added 6.6 million new jobs since August of 2003. The truth is real wages rose 2.2 percent over the past 12 months, and we have cut the deficit in half three years ahead of schedule." [President Bush, 10/30/06]


Americans With Top Incomes Treated by Bush Economy but Median Household Income Declines By Nearly $1,300 Under Bush; Wage And Salary Increases Don't Cover Inflation. Although median household income increased by $509 last year, median household income has declined by $1,273 under the Bush Administration. And the failure of wage and salary increases to cover inflation has meant a real reduction of median income between 2000 and 2005 of 2.7 percent for households. [U.S. Census Bureau, 8/29/06; Table A-1; Center for American Progress, 8/29/06]

Filed under: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bush's Failed War in Afghanistan: Women Worse Off

Anybody who is still deluding themselves that even Bush's war in Afghanistan has anything to do with liberating oppressed people (it's all about oil), needs to read this.

No 'Real Change' for Afghan Women:
Millions of Afghan women still face discrimination, the report says
An international women's rights group says guarantees given to Afghan women after the fall of the Taleban in 2001 have not translated into real change.

Womankind Worldwide says millions of Afghan women and girls continue to face systematic discrimination and violence in their households and communities.

The report admits that there have been some legal, civil and constitutional gains for Afghan women.

But serious challenges remain and need to be addressed urgently, it states.

These include challenges to women's safety, realisation of civil and political rights and status.


Womankind Worldwide sent a film crew to Afghanistan to investigate the situation of women there.

They found a young Afghan woman crying in hospital who said she wanted to die. She was recovering after setting fire to herself.

Womankind Worldwide says there has been a dramatic rise in cases of self-immolation by Afghan women since 2003.

When I am at home sometimes I feel as though someone is choking me
~Afghan woman

It believes many are the result of forced marriages, thought to account for about 60% to 80% of all Afghan marriages.

57% of girls are married before the legal marriage age of 16.

Domestic violence remains widespread.

At an Afghan women's shelter, a young woman told the film crew that she came to the shelter to forget life's troubles.

"I come here so I can ease the pain a little. When I am at home sometimes I feel as though someone is choking me," she told the film crew.

Womankind Worldwide says the Afghan authorities rarely investigate women's complaints of violent attacks.

Women reporting rape run the risk of being imprisoned for having sexual intercourse outside marriage.

Unfulfilled promises

Although women now hold more than 25% of the seats in the Afghan parliament, female politicians and activists often face intimidation or even violence.

Afghan women need international protection, the report says

"Women who are standing up to defend women's' rights are not being protected," says Brita Fernandes Schmidt of Womankind Worldwide.

"My message, really, to the international community is: you need to address specific security issues for women," she says.

"Women's rights activists are getting killed, women's NGO workers are getting killed, and that is not going to change unless some drastic action is taken," Ms Fernandes continues.

Womankind Worldwide says the international community needs to fulfill promises made after the fall of the Taleban to help protect Afghan women.

"Afghan women need international protection."

It says the international community should give women a greater voice in setting the aid and reconstruction agenda.

Until basic rights are granted to Afghan women in practice as well as on paper, the report says, it could not be said that the status of Afghan women had changed significantly in the past five years.

Liberty still eludes women of Afghanistan.
In a world besieged by violence and bloodshed, the death of a single individual rarely stands out in the news. There are too many names to record, too little psychic energy left to exert on the question of just who is being killed in those faraway lands where the United States says it is determined to impose order on chaos.

Yet Safia Ama Jan was killed late last month -- gunned down by assassins as she left her home for work -- and the world has a duty to take notice.

Ama Jan was a 65-year-old grandmother, and a quiet powerhouse of a woman in Afghanistan's poverty-stricken south. During the Taliban's oppressive rule, she ran an underground school for girls. After the U.S. invasion and the reconstitution of an Afghan government based on democratic principles, Ama Jan became a provincial director for the Ministry of Women's Affairs in Kandahar. That is, apparently, what made her such an inviting target -- despite having covered herself beneath a burqa when she ventured outside her home. The Taliban took credit for the murder.

The fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion to avenge the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and overthrow the Taliban just passed, overshadowed by the latest congressional scandal. The White House staged no celebratory show to declare this mission accomplished. Perhaps that's because it isn't.

The Taliban has re-established itself through much of southern Afghanistan, filling a void that the Afghan government and international observers long complained had been left as the U.S. military and its allies refused to extend their control there. For years, there has been little security outside the capital of Kabul. Regional warlords and militias operate with impunity and the illicit poppy crop for opium grows.

Amid even these grim assessments, few recalled the lavish attention the American government once paid to the dire circumstances of Afghanistan's women. Liberating them from the Taliban's violent yoke, we were told, was an essential part of the American mission. The political theater promoting the idea was rich. Because of the American military successes, First Lady Laura Bush said in a radio address of Nov. 17, 2001, "women are no longer imprisoned in their homes. They can listen to music and teach their daughters without fear of punishment." Soon afterward, the White House showcased women's rights activist Sima Samar, seating her in the House gallery for the President's 2002 State of the Union speech.

That was then. This is now: "The situation of women remains dramatic and severe violence against them all-pervasive," Yakin Erturk, the United Nations special envoy for violence against women, reported in February. "Reports of kidnappings and rape of women by militia and warlords continue to be widespread to the present day, including cases of executions by local councils. Thus, the rule of power rather than the rule of law continues to be the norm in Afghanistan."

Despite the development of what is supposed to be a contemporary justice system, ancient custom -- backed by threats of violence -- determines the course of women's lives. Girls are sold into marriage as young as 6 or 7. Local councils can order that women and girls be ceded by one family to another to settle a dispute. Widows are perceived as the property of their in-laws. Often, they're forced to marry a brother-in-law even if he already has a wife.

Violence inside the home is epidemic, the U.N. report says. It is believed to be at the root of increasing attempts by women and girls to commit suicide by setting themselves on fire. And what of the schools we Americans brag to have reopened? Despite progress since 2002, primary school enrollment is among the lowest in the world, the U.N. says, and only half as many girls as boys are in school.

These were the concerns of Ama Jan, the causes for which she gave her life. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission says the slaying calls into question the credibility of claims by both the Afghan government and the international community that they are protecting women.

No external power, not the United States nor any other, can quickly undo what centuries of oppression and decades of violent conflict have done to Afghanistan's women. Yet this is what we promised, out of good will or the desire for a good public-relations gambit, take your pick. Now that we seem to have walked away from the commitment, our credibility has been buried alongside Ama Jan.

Afghan Women Lack Access to Contraceptives, Still Need Basic Healthcare
Only 10 percent of married Afghan women ages 15 to 49 use a form of contraceptives. Afghanistan has one of the highest maternal and child mortality rates in the world, and experts hope that increased use of family planning techniques will extend women’s life expectancy. In Afghanistan, a woman dies giving birth every 30 minutes, according to the St. Lois Dispatch.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) started a program two years ago that dispenses highly subsidized contraceptives to women in 13 rural Afghan provinces in markets and hundreds of clinics and hospitals. While the USAID program is said to have increased family planning methods, Afghan women still lack access to basic reproductive healthcare. In its study of the Afghanistan’s Herat Province, Physicians for Human Rights found that only 1 percent of women have a trained health care professional present when giving birth, many of whom lack knowledge of how to handle even the most basic of birthing issues. Only 11 percent received prenatal care.

Greater work is needed to increase women’s access to quality reproductive healthcare to lower the rate of maternal mortality. Said Dr. Lynn Amowitz, Senior Medical Researcher at Physicians for Human Rights, "The rate of maternal mortality in a society is a critical indicator of the health and human rights status of women in a community."

Afghan women denied literacy program amid fear of Taliban reprisals.
Bibi Emna is the mother of 15 children, 11 of them daughters.
Now in her early 40s, she has been having babies for most of the last 25 years in this ultra-conservative mud-walled village west of Kandahar.

None of her children are in school, she says. In fact, the village elders recently turned down a chance to have an internationally sponsored literacy program here.

"We are afraid of the Taliban," Emna said, surrounded by women who only take off their full-veil burkas deep within the cloister of earthen homes. Goats wander along the narrow foot paths in this time-forgotten enclave where most residents cannot read or write.

Several mothers and daughters gathered Monday for a rare visit with two female foreigners a short walk from where the provincial head of Afghanistan's Ministry for Women's Affairs was gunned down exactly five weeks ago.

Safia Ama Jan was killed Sept. 25 outside the front gate of her home in the community of 350 families on the western edge of Kandahar city.

Two gunmen on a motorbike opened fire on Ama Jan, a renowned critic of the Taliban. She was headed to work early that morning. Her murder was apparent retribution for her efforts to help educate women, officials said at the time, and it remains unsolved.

Ama Jan was a vocal promoter of women's rights in this former Taliban stronghold where insurgents have killed or threatened dozens of local people in recent months.
Canadian military and development officials stress that about six million Afghan children, roughly one-third of them girls, have returned to school since the Taliban were chased from power in 2001.

But the Islamic militia is re-energized and eager to preserve the most traditional parts of the country. It's all part of the daunting maze of power and politics that can stymie or delay even the best intentioned development efforts here.

Emna says she would like her children to go to school. Still, life today is better than under the Taliban five years ago because she can at least earn some money sewing, she said. Her village got funding through a Canadian supported program for 25 sewing machines, some material, patterns and training.

The women can now make enough cash selling clothes, some of them intricately detailed, to help feed their families.

"We are poor people," says Emna, her hands red with the henna dye Afghan women use to accentuate their hair, hands and feet, especially for special celebrations such as weddings.

"We buy sugar and flour."

At another sewing circle in the heart of Kandahar City, this one also sponsored by the World Bank-administered program, 20 women in head scarves vigorously debate whether to have their photo taken with faces covered. The consensus? It would not be a good idea.

There is still intense social pressure on women here to be modest, private.

Outside movement is less restricted than under the Taliban but still, "women are afraid," says Aziza, a United Nations monitoring and evaluation assistant.
"We work inside the house. We don't go outside."

She is asked why so many women are still wearing burkas five years after the Taliban were conquered.

There are many foreigners in Kandahar now, she says, and suicide bombings are a constant threat. Fear is a fact of life here, and it's important to keep a low profile. Many women rarely venture beyond their front door, she says.

"We feel free when we are hiding."

Filed under: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, October 30, 2006

What is Bush's Plan to Win in Iraq?

Bush accuses Democrats of lacking plan for Iraq. Reuters reports:
Weakened by the unpopular Iraq war, President George W. Bush accused Democrats of lacking a plan to win it on Monday as he opened a weeklong drive to try to keep Republicans in control of the U.S. Congress.

"The Democratic goal is to get out of Iraq. The Republican goal is to win in Iraq," Bush told a rousing rally in a gymnasium at Georgia Southern University.

I have to rely on journalists in the White House press corps to ask the questions for me, since I have no access to Bush. Bush takes pride in being "a plain-spoken" man; surely he would appreciate a direct and simple question like, "How do you intend to win in Iraq?"
With polls showing voters far more inclined to vote for Democrats this year, Bush argued it was the right decision to oust Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq despite the bloody insurgency that sprang up after the U.S. invasion.

Accused by Democrats of refusing to budge from a stay-the-course policy, Bush insisted his commanders have the flexibility needed to adjust to the enemy's tactics and that the only way not to succeed is "to leave before the job is done."

If Bush's commanders have "the flexibility," why aren't they using it?

Filed under: , , , , , , , , , , ,

The U.S. Military Under Rumsfeld Can't Account for Hundreds of Thousands of Weapons Intended for Iraqi Security

Worst. Secretary of Defense. Ever.

The NYT reports:
The American military has not properly tracked hundreds of thousands of weapons intended for Iraqi security forces and has failed to provide spare parts, maintenance personnel or even repair manuals for most of the weapons given to the Iraqis, a federal report released Sunday has concluded.
The report was undertaken at the request of Senator John W. Warner, the Virginia Republican who is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and who recently expressed an assessment far darker than the Bush administration’s on the situation in Iraq.

Mr. Warner sent his request in May to a federal oversight agency, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.

The fact that Warner is just now getting this report after requesting it six months ago is another scandal.
He also asked the inspector general to examine whether Iraqi security forces were developing a logistics operation capable of sustaining the hundreds of thousands of troops and police officers the American military says it has trained.

The answers came Sunday from the inspector general’s office, which found major discrepancies in American military records on where thousands of 9-millimeter pistols and hundreds of assault rifles and other weapons have ended up. The American military did not even take the elementary step of recording the serial numbers of nearly half a million weapons provided to Iraqis, the inspector general found, making it impossible to track or identify any that might be in the wrong hands.

Exactly where untracked weapons could end up — and whether some have been used against American soldiers — were not examined in the report, although black-market arms dealers thrive on the streets of Baghdad, and official Iraq Army and police uniforms can easily be purchased as well, presumably because government shipments are intercepted or otherwise corrupted.

This video obtained by CNN which shows Iraqi insurgent snipers shooting U.S. soldiers - Were they using our weapons?
In a written response to the inspector general’s findings, the American military largely conceded the shortcomings. The military said it would assist the Iraqis in determining the spare parts and maintenance requirements for the weapons. The military also said it has now instituted a “process to accurately issue weapons by quantity and serial number listing.”

Because the inspector general is charged only with looking at weaponry financed directly by the American taxpayer, the total of lost weapons could end up being higher. The Government Accountability Office and the Pentagon inspector general are expected to look at weapons financed by all sources, including the Iraqi government.

The inspector general’s office, led by Stuart W. Bowen Jr., also a Republican, responded to Mr. Warner’s query about the Iraqi Army’s logistical capabilities with another report released at the same time, concluding that Iraqi security forces still depended heavily on the Americans for the operations that sustain a modern army: deliveries of fuel and ammunition, troop transport, health care and maintenance.

Mr. Bowen found that the American military was not able to say how many Iraqi logistics personnel it had trained — in this case because, the military told the inspector general, a computer network crash erased records. Those problems have occurred even though the United States has spent $133 million on the weapons program and $666 million on Iraqi logistics capabilities.

The report said that although the United States planned to scale back its support for logistics and maintenance for Iraqi security forces in 2007, it was unclear whether the Iraqi government had any intention of compensating by allocating sufficient money to the Ministries of Interior and Defense.

Mr. Warner confirmed through his spokesman, John Ullyot, that he was reviewing the reports over the weekend in advance of a scheduled meeting with Mr. Bowen on Tuesday.

Mr. Warner “believes it is essential that Congress and the American people continue to be kept informed by the inspector general on the equipping and logistical capabilities of the Iraqi Army and security forces, since these represent an important component of overall readiness,” Mr. Ullyot said.

Mr. Bowen said in an interview that he was particularly concerned about whether the Iraqi government intended to allocate enough money to support the logistics and maintenance needed for the Iraqi security forces to operate effectively.

“There’s a couple of red flags,” Mr. Bowen said. “Most significantly, is the Iraqi Ministry of Interior properly preparing to take over the mission and sustain it?”

“We don’t know because we don’t have adequate visibility into their budgeting,” he said, “and to a lesser extent the same red flag is up for the Department of Defense.”

Another report unrelated to Mr. Warner’s request was also released by the inspector general on Sunday, on the so-called provincial reconstruction teams that the United States is creating for the next phase of rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure.

While some of the teams, intended to be scattered in each of Iraq’s 18 provinces, are functioning, security problems have severely hampered work in others, the report says. As a result, the inspector general recommended, the United States should consider reassigning its personnel in six provinces — including Basra in the south and Anbar in the west — to other places where effective work can be done.

The western province of Anbar is a central focus of the Sunni insurgency, and power struggles between Shiite militias have made Basra increasingly violent. The other four provinces that the inspector general recommends essentially abandoning are also in the Shiite south.

In its assessment of Iraqi weaponry, the inspector general concluded that of the 505,093 weapons that have been given to the Ministries of Interior and Defense over the last several years, serial numbers for only 12,128 were properly recorded. The weapons include rocket-propelled grenade launchers, assault rifles, machine guns, shotguns, semiautomatic pistols and sniper rifles.

Of those weapons, 370,000 were purchased with American taxpayer money under what is called the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund, or I.R.R.F., and therefore fell within the inspector general’s mandate.

Despite the potential risks from losing track of those weapons — involving 19 different contracts and 142 delivery orders — the United States recorded serial numbers for no more than a few thousand, the inspector general said.

There are standard regulations for registering military weaponry in that way, governed by the Department of Defense small-arms serialization program. The inspector general’s report said that when asked why so many weapons went to Iraq with no record of serial numbers, American military officials in Baghdad replied that they did not believe the regulations applied to them.

Still, in their response to the report, military officials said they would keep track of serial numbers for weapons shipped or issued in the future, but in a database outside the small-arms serialization program. They did not present a plan for identifying or monitoring weapons that had already been issued.

The inspector general’s report also found that money for spare parts was allocated for only 5 of the 12 different kinds of weapons sent to Iraq — and when the inspector general contacted units of the Defense and Interior Ministries, none actually knew how or where to requisition spare parts.

There were also significant discrepancies in the numbers of weapons purchased and those in Iraqi warehouses. While 176,866 semiautomatic pistols were purchased with American money, just 163,386 showed up in warehouses — meaning that more than 13,000 were unaccounted for. All 751 of the M1-F assault rifles sent to Iraq were missing, and nearly 100 MP-5 machine guns.

George W. Bush has fired no one for any of the failures of the U.S. government during his six years in office, and it's unlikely that he will fire anyone now. I think that it's fair to conclude that what is, what has resulted from Bush-Cheney policies, is what Bush-Cheney intended . . . . especially since they have not altered or changed tactics. This is then what George W. Bush's and Dick Cheney's internal experiences of the world creates.

With these men unchecked by Congress, how much longer before cities throughout America look like this?

Filed under: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Daniel Ellsberg: "We're in a dark time . . . . "

Daniel Ellsberg talks about the end of habeas corpus, a Republican-controlled Congress that has abdicated its Constitutional responsibility to provide oversight, and an unrestrained President who is practicing sadistic authoritarianism.
In this short excerpt from a speech given by Ellsberg, he reminds us of what we've known since before the last national election in 2004: The Bush administration has been engaged in the torture of detainees (Abu Ghraib), illegally, and now the Bush administration has the legal cover of Congress to continue to torture.

We, the people, can't be bothered to protest the actions of what is being done by our government in our names.

Filed under: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, October 28, 2006

What You Need to Know This Halloween-Election Season . . . .

. . . . Vote as if your life depended on it.

Bev Harris at Black Box Voting informs us that

Mail-in ballots are counted by voting machines. In some locations, they are actually entered into touch-screens! In most locations, they are counted by optical scan machines, and some of these (Diebold) have crucial checks and balances disabled.

This article exposes several problems with mail-in voting, and tells you what you can do to protect your mail-in vote.

Let's start with this: Absentee ballots may require MORE POSTAGE than you think.

In an election last year in King County Washington, voters were surprised to learn that they needed to affix two stamps, not one, to their absentee ballot envelope. This year Black Box Voting has seen anecdotal evidence that ballots in Florida and California require two stamps, not one, and this is not always clear to the voter.

What's the remedy? Unless this is incredibly, indelibly, as clearly marked as it can possibly be, demand that your jurisdiction pick up the cost for any ballots mailed in with insufficient postage. They did this in Washington State and they can do this in your jurisdiction. And, check the postage required for your own mail-in ballot. If it requires two stamps and is not clearly marked, please propagate the information to at least five communications outlets: Local media, election reform groups, political parties, candidates, blogs, e-mail lists.

The best solution is probably to start insisting that your local jurisdiction go to Business Reply Mail for mail-in ballots. This would cost the county money for postage, but provides a very good tracking and a built-in accounting system that would solve other problems as well.

Next problem: Very serious incidents can occur with incorrect ballot inserts.

In a California location where two different ballots are supposed to be inserted in each envelope mailed to the voters, some voters got only one, others got two of the same thing, and still others report ballots with some of the candidate names incorrect or left off. Why is this so serious?

It's a very sticky problem because the remedy is so difficult. Correctly implemented mail-in ballot systems protect the privacy of your vote, by using a privacy envelope inside the return envelope. While the return envelope has information so they can authenticate your right to vote, the interior envelope containing the ballots is then separated away from the authentication envelope as soon as your right to vote is verified.

Herein lies the problem when wrong ballot inserts are sent out: You can't check to see if people got the correct insert without violating their privacy, and you can't remedy the problem if you check after the vote is rendered anonymous.

What to do about it: In any location where incorrect ballot insertion is discovered, citizens and candidates should to document the numbers on the problem by observing the absentee counting process and also insisting that every one of the incorrect inserts be documented. (And this won't even be possible when ballots for the wrong precinct are inserted). Depending on the nature of the findings, this problem could justify re-running an election.

Next problem: Was your signature accepted?

When voting by mail, the signature on your voter registration card is compared with the signature on your mail-in envelope. This is often done with software like VoteRemote, which pulls the signature from your voter registration up on a computer screen and pulls the signature on your mail-in envelope onto the same screen, showing them side by side.

The jurisdiction has the option of having human eyes compare the signature or having the software do the comparison. If the software compares, it can be set strategically to various tolerances of acceptance. Whether humans or machines compare the signature, how do you know whether YOUR signature was accepted?

This is a question we haven't gotten satisfactory answers to. We've been told that every rejected signature goes through a panel before ultimately deciding whether it will count or not, and one jurisdiction (Whatcom County Washington) told me they notify the voter if the signature isn't accepted, but I don't believe most jurisdictions ever tell the voter if the signature was rejected.

I think of my mother, who loves to vote absentee. She signed her voter registration card many years ago. Is it possible that every one of her votes in recent years has been discarded? If so, how will she know?

What to do about it: You should contact your local jurisdiction and ask this question. E-mail the answer to Black Box Voting, and tell us what county or township you are in.

By the way, there is an interesting notation in some of the literature for VoteRemote signature comparison software, and there is also an interesting question arising in state database procedures. VoteRemote advertises that it can write data INTO the voter registration database, but doesn't specify what data is being written in. One notation I have seen indicates that a signature can be "updated" in the voter registration database with software for electronic signature checking, and/or software for electronic pollbooks.

Because the software is secret, written by private companies, we don't know the answer to this. If your signature can be "updated" or overwritten by software, that is a security problem. There should never be an instance of "updating" your signature without your express permission.

Next problem: Did your mail-in ballot arrive at the elections division?

Some jurisdictions allow voters to confirm whether or not their ballot arrived (but this doesn't confirm whether their signature was accepted). In other jurisdictions, there is no easy way to find out whether the ballot you mailed in ever got to the elections division.

In Broward County, Florida, an extraordinary citizen named Ellen Brodsky spent months trying to track down over 50,000 missing mail-in ballots. In King County, Washington, bags of ballots were once found years after they were supposed to be delivered. Also in King County, incoming ballots were being taken from the U.S. Post Office to a private company called PSI Group, without an accounting of how many arrived at the Post Office, how many arrived at PSI Group, vs. how many arrived at the Los Angeles County Elections division.

What to do: Call your local jurisdiction to find out the procedures for you to verify that your ballot was received. If your county cannot provide you with this information, contact Black Box Voting and also take action to change this policy (but that won't help you in the Nov. 2006 election).

Next problem: Chain of custody of the mail-in ballots

Election officials have told us that this is one of their primary concerns. For example, after the ballots are separated from the envelopes that identify the voter, can new ballots be added or substituted? And what about the storage of absentee ballots as they are coming in, before they are counted? And transportation: In King County, Washington, as many as 60,000 ballots per day are received -- perhaps even more. Who's driving the truck, and what is protecting these ballots enroute?

What to do: This is where extraordinary acts of citizenship are in order. We often find that what election officials TELL us is happening to protect the ballots is not the whole truth -- and sometimes it's not the truth at all. One valuable contribution you can make to election integrity in your jurisdiction is to organize a small posse to try and actually observe each step in the chain of custody. Here is a Citizens Tool Kit module with ideas for you:

Report back on any problems you identify in the "Reports from the Front Lines" section of these forums, and/or propagate the information to at least five communications targets: A blog, a listserve, the media, some candidates, your local election reform group, a national elections watchdog group, and one of the incident reporting telephone lines.

Next problem: Ballot printer accountability

It used to be that all ballots were serial numbered. There was a careful accounting of how many ballots were printed, in serial-numbered order, and what happened to each ballot. The serial number could, of course, be used to tie a voter to a ballot, so it was affixed to the ballot with a perforation. The serial number was accounted for, then removed and saved in a separate secure ballot box. Not so any more!

Records obtained by Black Box Voting indicate that the Diebold ballot printing company located in Everett, Washington was budgeting to overprint by as many as 25 percent of what they delivered to the county. Employees of the ballot printing company asked US -- what happens to these extra ballots that are being printed up?

Well that's a good question. While counties and townships are expected to account for their ballots (though the accounting may or may not match -- that's another issue!) -- the ballot printer is usually under no obligation to account for what they do with extra ballots.

Having extra ballots floating around anywhere significantly jeopardizes the security of the election. It allows for back-room deals with insiders to replace ballots if a recount occurs, to make sure they "match" the results that were given out.

What to do: Insist on a return to serial-numbered ballot printing with accurate, careful accounting by all parties.

Next problem: Voting machine issues

Absentee ballots are usually run through an optical scan voting machine. These machines have, in the past, produced tapes that give the results. These voting machine results tapes can then be compared with the central tabulator.

Diebold, at least, has disabled this results tape in its absentee counting machines, so that the ONLY results are the data held in the GEMS central tabulator machine -- a system so hackable that we once taught a chimpanzee to alter its audit log; this is the system I taught presidential candidate Howard Dean to manipulate.

The absentee votes are at particular risk in the GEMS central tabulator, for the following reason: Many absentee votes are counted after Election Day. By this time, you know exactly how many votes are needed to win. The simplest way to manipulate the tabulator to tweak absentee votes for a particular candidate is this:

- Each candidate is assigned a number in the GEMS system

- By flipping the number, you effectively flip the vote.

- You can flip votes back and forth as often as needed simply by reversing the candidate numbers in the GEMS database.

Yes, that requires inside access. But we should NOT be required to "trust" our government. Instead, we need to trust but verify, and the only way we can begin to verify the absentee central tabulator is to get the actual computer data files for each time the results were run.

What to do: Request the GEMS computer files for each time a report was run. You can find out when reports were run by getting the reports themselves, and also by looking at the GEMS audit log -- that that can be easily edited. The computer file should be saved as a backup file each time a report is run. You should get a copy of each of these iterations of the backup files. It's circumstantial evidence, it's tamperable, but it's probably the best you're going to get.

And then, isn't it time to vote Diebold off the island?

Next problem: Recounts

Mail-in votes are often counted in non-homogenous batches, and when candidates seek a recount, they are quoted exceedingly large sums because, they are told, it is impossible or very costly to sort out the ballots to obtain just their district.

What to do about it:

- One solution is to insist that the local elections division purchase an off-the-shelf scanner, scan all the ballots, and post the pdf or tiff files online so that citizens can look at all the ballots themselves. Or, allow citizens to get copies of all these ballot scans on CD or DVD.

This is an imperfect solution but would allow citizens to develop ballot-sorting programs themselves to sort those images so candidates could look at their own ballot evidence without forking out half a million dollars.

Recommendations for mail-in voting:

1. If you have any kind of a paper trail available in your location, vote at the polling place.

2. If you're going to do mail-in voting, treat democracy as a contact sport. Get in there and watch what's going on. Don't take anyone's word for what they say they are doing -- watch it yourself. Don't cede the right to oversee over to an assigned monitor or political party observer -- insist on the right to oversee it yourself, as a citizen, as the owner of your government.

VOTE: If you are disenchanted with the current election system, go on the offense, don't retreat -- and that means, VOTE!

Put your vote into the record and then hunt down evidence that ALL votes were received and counted accurately.

Filed under: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, October 27, 2006

You've Heard of 'Insect Politics' . . . .

. . . . Welcome to 'Bird Politics'.

[Warning: This is that pelican video.]

A pelican in a London city park chases down a pidgeon and swallows it whole, on a lawn amidst prominently displayed signs that read, "Please don't feed the pelicans."

Only for those with a taste for the macabre:

Who knew that pelicans ate other birds? What's next, the Queen's corgis?

Filed under: , , , , , , , , , ,

What Democrats in Congress Have Had to Put Up With

Rolling Stone's contributing editor Matt Taibbi appeared on Democracy Now! to talk about "How Our National Legislature Has Become a 'Stable of Thieves and Perverts'."

With just over a week left to Election Day, the mainstream media is focusing on key contests and issues that are shaping this year's mid-term elections. Control of the House and Senate is up for grabs in what many describe as the most pivotal battle for Congress in over a decade. Whatever the outcome, the 110th United States Congress will open session on January 3rd, 2007. While the country's attention remains focused on the upcoming elections, few are considering the current state of the legislative branch. How did the 109th Congress perform?:
AMY GOODMAN: Whatever the outcome, the 110th U.S. Congress will open session on January 3, 2007. While the country's attention remains focused on the upcoming elections, few are considering the current state of the legislative branch. How did the 109th Congress perform? Well, the cover story of this week's Rolling Stone magazine takes on that issue. The article is called "The Worst Congress Ever: How Our National Legislature Has Become a Stable of Thieves and Perverts -- In Five Easy Steps.” It's written by Matt Taibbi, a contributing editor for the magazine. He joins us now in studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Matt.

MATT TAIBBI: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Why worst?

MATT TAIBBI: Well, there's so many reasons why this is the worst. The easiest ones to talk about statistically, it’s just the mere laziness factor. You've heard of the famous Do-Nothing Congress from 1948. This congress smashed the record that was set by that congress for fewest days ever worked by a congress. That congress worked a total of 249 days, between the House and the Senate. This congress worked 218 days total, so they beat that record by a month. And even those 218 days were made up of a lot of fragmentary days. So the House, for instance, had nine days that were less than eleven minutes long, and the Senate had three days less than one minute. So, this is easily the laziest congress of all time, if nothing else.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But when they are in session, they've done quite a bit to change the way the Congress operates, right? I mean, what about the rules changes that you talk about in your article?

MATT TAIBBI: Well, there's been a lot of changes just in the way that bills get heard and bills get talked about. One of the things that this congress has done is drastically reduce the number of what's called “open rules,” and open rules are bills that make it to the House floor in a form that allows congressmen to debate them and offer amendments to them. There was a time back in the late ’70s when about 75% of the bills that made it to the floor were open rules. Now, it should be said that that number continued to decline while the Democrats still controlled Congress. By the time the Democrats ceded control in ’94, that number was about 30%. This year, there were no open rules, except for appropriations bills, which are always open. So, we've basically seen the last of those kinds of openly debated bills in Congress.

AMY GOODMAN: ”Rule by cabal,” what do you mean?

MATT TAIBBI: Well, the Republicans have basically figured out a way to totally exclude the minority from the process. You know, obviously if you have the majority in Congress, you're going to have most of the influence anyway. But traditionally, in Congress, there's been a power-sharing agreement. Bills were usually made up in session between the minority and the majority, and the two parties always worked together to make up major legislation. That’s done now in Congress; that doesn't happen anymore.

A great example is that conference committees, where when you have the conference that hammers out the differences between the Senate and the House versions of bills, traditionally both parties work in that conference committee to create the final version of the bill. Well, this congress has sort of pioneered a new method of handling the conferences. What they'll do is they'll have -- by law, they have to have one conference that includes Democrats. They'll have a five-minute meeting, where the Democrats are there. They'll take a picture, and then they’ll kick the Democrats out, and they’ll hold the real meeting later, and they won't tell the Democrats where it is. And you get this situation that results -- it's really like, you know, an elementary school thing, where they won't tell the Democrats where it is, so the Democratic minority member will have to go around Congress literally searching for the conference, knocking on doors, saying, “Are you inside?”

AMY GOODMAN: Give us an example.

MATT TAIBBI: There was a famous example, where the Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Bill Thomas, the congressman from California, he didn't tell the ranking minority member, who was Charlie Rangel here from New York, he didn't tell him where the conference was, and Rangel went around the Congress looking for this conference, knocking on doors, and he finally finds it. He knocks on the door, and the Republicans hid behind the door, pretending that they weren't inside, literally, like little kids. They hid in there. You know, one congressional aide said it was like the old SNL skit, “Land Shark,” where Charlie Rangel was the land shark, the Republicans wouldn't open the door.

They finally opened it, and Thomas says to Rangel, he says, “Sorry, this is only for the coalition of the willing,” and he basically kicked Rangel out of the room -- actually, I’m sorry, they packed up their stuff, and they left, and they held the conference someplace else. And this kind of stuff happens at every level, at every stage of the congressional process now. So, everywhere where you used to have meetings between the two parties, where they would work things out, the Republicans just disallow participation by the Democrats.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In your article, you paint a portrait of many of these congressional staffers that are just sort of lost, now the Democratic staffers with nothing to do, and they haven't seen the sun in seven years, you say, some of them. What's the impact on the Democrats of this kind of a total, not just embarrassment, but --

MATT TAIBBI: Humiliation?

JUAN GONZALEZ: -- humiliation? Yes.

MATT TAIBBI: Yeah, it's completely changed the way that Congress does business, and this is something that's difficult to quantify. But again, Congress used to be a collegial place. It used to be a place where Democrats and Republicans, they may be different ideologically, but they used to hang out together on the weekends. They used to play golf, you know, together on the weekends, and that was where a lot of things got worked out socially, was outside of Congress. They would have lunch together, and they would socialize together with their wives. That doesn't happen anymore. And there's a complete antipathy now between the parties to a degree that the new generation, even of Democrats, doesn't even understand the theory of communicating with the Republicans about things.

Rangel, this congressman from New York, tells a great story about how -- I guess it was last year -- he went up to talk to Clay Shaw, who is a Republican from Florida, and he had heard that Shaw was sick, and he wanted to go and pay his respects to him, and he goes and says hello to Shaw on the other end of the floor, and when Rangel gets back, one of the young Democrats leans over to him, and he goes, “What the hell was that about?” You know? In other words, the young Democrats don't even understand why you would talk to a Republican, even socially. And this is -- so you have the new generation of congressmen that doesn't even know how to work together.

AMY GOODMAN: Matt Taibbi, what happened when the Democrats wanted to have a hearing on the PATRIOT Act?

MATT TAIBBI: Well, again, this is another way that they exclude Democrats from the process. You know, typically congressmen are allowed to hold hearings. Even the minority members of a committee are allowed to hold hearings whenever you want to. But the Republican chairmen have decided to make it as difficult as possible for Democrats to do this. So, in this instance, the Democrats wanted to hold a meeting on the PATRIOT Act in the Judiciary Committee, so they asked James Sensenbrenner, who is the chairman -- he's this famously dictatorial congressman from Wisconsin -- and he said, “Yeah, sometime in the future,” but he didn’t tell them when.

Then, one Thursday night, late on Thursday night, he says, “Okay, you're on for tomorrow morning at 9:00.” So the Democrats have to scramble all their witnesses, get everything prepared overnight, but they do. They get everything done, and by 9:00 the next morning, they're ready to hold their hearing. Well, they start having their hearing, and Sensenbrenner decides that he's bored and he wants to leave, and he tries to gavel the hearing to a close before everyone's done. The Democrats said, “No, we're not finished.” So Sensenbrenner, that wasn't good enough for him, so he literally got up, walked across the room, shut the lights off, shut the microphones off, and closed the door behind him, leaving the Democrats with all their witnesses, which included people from groups like Amnesty International and other groups, just sitting there in the dark. You know, again, this is stuff that you would expect in an elementary school, you know, not in the Congress. I used to live in Russia. Even the Duma wasn't this bad, you know?

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the impact of this, first of all, in terms of how much of the American people know about these operations and how they've been going now for the past few years, and the impact on the legislation that comes out?

MATT TAIBBI: Well, I think the American people just don't have any idea of what congressional procedure is like. If they knew the way that laws were made -- or not made, in most cases -- I think, you know, you might have people storming the Bastille, you know. What's happened in Congress now is that the process is completely corrupted. In other words, almost everything is a backroom deal now. There are no open debates, no open hearings. Anything you see on C-SPAN is all for show, because the important decisions are all made in backrooms, in committee. And what happens in these committee hearings behind the scenes is that, you know, the public sees one bill, but then the night before the bill goes to be voted on, the Republicans who actually make the decisions gather together, and they take a bill that's about this thick, and they make it about this thick. And what they do is --

AMY GOODMAN: Much thicker, for the radio listeners.

MATT TAIBBI: Much thicker. Right, yeah. And what they're doing is they’re shoving earmarks in there. And what earmarks are, for people who don't know, are little tiny provisions in a bill that are usually favors of some kind, projects, you know, highway bills, new public works projects, and it's basically a gift to the congressman's district. And we've seen an explosion of these earmarks over the years.

Take the energy bill. In the Clinton years, the last energy bill had 6,000 earmarks in it. In the Bush years, it had 15,000. So, you know, these are things that are never voted on in committee, that you never see debated, and it's all done behind the scenes. It's not democracy anymore. It’s -- you know, it's basically like an authoritarian system.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned laziness before. What about laziness in the appropriations bills? How does that work?

MATT TAIBBI: Well, this congress has failed to pass -- there are eleven appropriations bills every year. This congress has failed to pass more than three on time in any year since Bush has been elected, which doesn't sound like that big a deal, because when you don't pass your appropriations bill, you just pass a continuing resolution and everything gets funded anyway.

There are two problems with that. When you don't pass appropriations bills on time, what ends up happening is that they end up dumping everything from all the remaining unpassed appropriations bills into one giant omnibus bill that gets passed usually in the last two days of the congressional year. So you have these congressmen who haven't passed the appropriations bills, they show up. They’re two days away from their Christmas vacation, and then they get literally an 8,000-page bill, lands on their desk, you know, on their last working day of the year, and nobody knows what's in these bills -- nobody, not even, in most cases, the people who wrote them don't even know.

And you find the most -- so the staffers have to go through these bills and race through them to make sure there isn't some egregious violation in there. One staffer told me a story of an amazing thing that he discovered in an omnibus bill just before it was about to be passed. It was a provision that would have allowed the Appropriations Committee to look at the private information of any taxpayer in this country, the private tax return information, which is supposed to be only for the eyes of the IRS, but they were going to put a provision in that made it possible for just the members of the Appropriations Committee to see that information. And, you know, it was just something that was buried in this giant bill. And this is the kind of stuff that happens when you don't pass things on time.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in terms of the prospects now, if there is a change in this congress, do you expect that some of the processes that have now taken hold will continue, even if there's a Democratic majority?

MATT TAIBBI: Well, there's a real fear in Congress that a lot of these new processes are not going to change if the Democrats take control of the Congress, and the Democrats themselves are worried about that, because they don't know. You know, things have changed since 1994, when the Democrats last controlled the Congress. There's so much more money involved in the process now. There are so many more campaign contributors, and they figured out so many new ways to get to the congressmen, you know, like with these golf junkets that you hear about with Jack Abramoff and that kind of thing, lobbyists writing legislation for the congressmen.

You know, all of this stuff has come as a result of an explosion of money that's come into the Congress in the last decade or so, and the Democrats, frankly, are worried, because they don't know how their own members are going to react to it, so this is going to be something that's going to be interesting to watch, when the Democrats, if they do take control. Also, it's not known whether they're going to want to exact revenge on the Republicans and exclude them to the degree that the Republicans excluded them in the last six years or so.

AMY GOODMAN: What about Congress being a check and balance on the executive branch, on the President, how it has changed?

MATT TAIBBI: Yeah, not anymore. This is probably the most disgusting thing about this congress, if you can imagine that there's a most disgusting thing. But the congress in the Clinton years, which is mostly the same Republican congress, they issued over a thousand subpoenas to the Clinton administration during Clinton's time in office. Since Bush has come into office, they haven't issued a single subpoena to the Bush White House. They have issued a few to the Bush administration, but not to the White House.

And this is a time period where we've seen some extraordinary things happen that should have been investigated, you know, from the misuse of intelligence to get us into Iraq, to failure to act appropriately before 9/11, to Katrina, to all these things, to the Valerie Plame incident. These are all things that would have been investigated in the past, and they're not being investigated now.

And what you have as a result of that is a body that's bureaucratically castrated. They just no longer have any will or any ability to stand up to the executive branch for any reason. And this is a dangerous situation for this country. You know, the Congress exists to act as a check on the power of the executive branch, and they're not doing it anymore.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see, in this next two years, that changing? I mean, if the Democrats were to take over, would you see this spate of investigations and money poured into it?

MATT TAIBBI: I think you probably will. I think the Democrats, if they get control of the -- especially if they get control of both houses, I think you're going to see a lot of investigation into some of the activities of the Bush White House. But, unfortunately, that's not the best test of how the Congress is going to operate. I think if it was a Democratic president and the Democrats were in control, we need to see that they would investigate their own.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what about all these corruption scandals that have erupted in the last couple of years? What's been the impact of that on business as usual there?

MATT TAIBBI: Well, again, that's a terrible thing. And, you know, there have only been a few indictments, you know, related to the Jack Abramoff incident, but we know that at least twelve congressmen, Republican congressmen, did favors for Jack Abramoff, wrote letters for him or got things introduced into the congressional record, and that's probably just the tip of the iceberg. I mean, the amount of money that goes into congressional fundraising -- I think there was $13 million donated to congressional campaigns last year, and that includes both parties.

When you consider that -- there was an incident, for instance, when a company called Weststar wanted to get a provision put into the energy bill, and internal company documents were released, emails saying that they had been told by Republican leaders that they needed to donate $58,000 to the Congress to get this provision passed. When you consider that $58,000 is the cost for a single favor, and the energy bill -- over $115 million from energy companies were donated to Republican politicians that year -- that tells you that a lot of favors are being bought in this congress.

And so, it's known in Congress that if you want to get something into a bill, you just have to pay for it. And, you know, congressmen openly talk about this, and it's a total corruption of the system. And I think it's something that even the congressmen are very depressed about, that they know that as soon as they get elected, they have to start raising money again, and that's what they have to think about all the time. And I think a lot of the congressmen would like to have publicly financed campaigns or some way of avoiding having to make these decisions.

AMY GOODMAN: Matt Taibbi, you covered the Howard Dean campaign, you covered the John Kerry campaign. What do you expect in these midterm elections?

MATT TAIBBI: Well, I expect that the Democrats are going to make significant gains. I just got back from Ohio, where I covered the Jean Schmidt-Victoria Wulsin campaign, and she is running in a district where the Republicans have held control for all but ten years of the century, and it's been traditionally a safe district, but it's up for grabs now. And I think actually Wulsin is going to win, the Democrat, which tells me that if the Republicans are losing traditionally safe districts, that there's going to be significant defections this time around. But most people expect that these are going to be temporary defections, that it's just anger at the incumbency, and that two years from now we're probably going to see a return to a Republican majority, but I think the Democrats are going to win at least the House this time around.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And why would there be that sense that this would be only a temporary swing?

MATT TAIBBI: Because I think people are angry at this particular batch of Republicans who are in the Congress right now, but I don't see a significant shift in attitudes, you know, against conservative politics in these places. I think they're just angry at this particular group of people. And I also think that there's a lot of people who feel that this particular group of Republicans has betrayed traditional conservative values. And I think what you're going to see in the next two years is a new spate of Republicans who are back to sort of traditional fiscal conservatism and away from the hot-button social issues that got a lot of these guys elected.

AMY GOODMAN: Matt Taibbi, I want to thank you very much for being with us. The piece that he wrote in the latest issue of Rolling Stone is called "The Worst Congress Ever." Thanks.

MATT TAIBBI: Thank you very much.

Filed under: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,