February 24, 2006

Extreme Makeover, Government Edition; Part II - Election Reform

I was recently invited to speak at a local college on the subject of the 2000 and 2004 elections… particularly how they were stolen. I wouldn’t call myself an expert on election rigging, but I am a flaming liberal, and I suppose that makes me an expert in most things anti-Bush.

I’ve been reading about the election anomalies and irregularities all along, and I had no doubt that the Busheviks stole both elections, but I hadn’t taken the time to meticulously compile all of the evidence and findings for a speech. So, for the past few weeks I’ve been researching. Rep. John Conyers’ document “Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio” is one of the definitive reports on the subject. This amazing piece of literature speaks to the corruption of the 2004 election, particularly in Ohio - the operative state that swung the presidency to Bush. Another critical reading is “Fooled Again” by Mark Crispin Miller, which goes deep into the 2004 election fraud and corruption, before during, and after November 2nd, on many aspects, not just Ohio. Then of course, there are a myriad of articles on the subject, too numerous to mention.

The election anomalies & irregularities in November of 2004 were abundant and just about every one of them favored Bush and the Republicans. The statistical evidence is overwhelming, not just because the ‘actual’ voting results differed so much from BOTH the exit polls AND the pre-election telephone polls, but because the discrepancies were only flagrant in the states and counties where the paperless, audit-less voting machines were deployed. Even if you ignore statistics, probability, and likelihood, simple common sense would conclude that election anomalies, if pure & innocent, would occur in BOTH directions. But nooooooooo… literally tens of thousands of election irregularities and they all benefited W. It simply isn’t possible. Make no mistake – this election was stolen!

My message in this article however, is not to document and prove that the elections were stolen. So many people have already done that, and I urge you to do your own research just as I have done. My message today is that the current electoral environment and processes in the United States are inherently flawed and need to be changed – radically changed. So here are a few ideas for radical change in our electoral process…

Conflicts of Interest

This goes back to Part 1 of my “Extreme Makeover” series, which was all about corruption. Essentially, no election official should ever have an affiliation with a candidacy. It’s nothing short of unconscionable that both Katherine Harris and Kenneth Blackwell were the top election officials in their respective states, while at the same time chairing the Bush campaign in the 2000 & 2004 elections in their respective states. That conflict-of-interest is just as blatant as the Vice President of the United States receiving compensation from a company that the government hands out no-bid, billion-dollar contracts to. Were they just coincidences that in both elections the tiebreaker came down to those states?

Clearly, in Ohio in the 2004 election, Kenneth Blackwell as Ohio’s Secretary of State (responsible for the election) AND chairperson of the Bush campaign, did everything in his power to swing Ohio over to Bush. Well before Election Day he was thwarting registrations and provisional & absentee ballots. On Election Day he allocated voting machines to the benefit of the more affluent Republican precincts while the lesser affluent Democratic precincts were shorted causing impossible waiting lines. After Election Day he did all he could do to obstruct the recount processes. This man’s actions are nothing short of treasonous as he intentionally impeded the United States democracy.

Verifiable Machines

Talk about infuriating… after the 2000 election debacle, our wonderful Republican-controlled congress passed an election reform law (the Help America Vote Act – HAVA) that actually made the election process worse. HAVA essentially corrupted the electoral process even more then it already was by paving the way for paperless, audit-less electronic voting machines, manufactured AND operated by blatantly partisan companies (Diebold, ES&S, Triad, etc.).

Every electronic balloting machine MUST have a paper trail to back up its tally, but HAVA does not require it. All machines should also produce a hard-copy receipt for the voter to verify and validate that the machine accurately recorded their vote. The electronic tally and the paper-trail tally must synchronize. Every electronic balloting machine must be open for random inspection, oversight, and verification to ensure the sanctity of the equipment.

Given the statistical discrepancies between the polling and ‘actual’ results, particularly in states & counties deploying these unverifiable machines, I am absolutely certain they were hacked. In the software industry, there are extremely stringent standards for quality assurance and auditing of transactions (i.e. ‘votes’). If you think that those voting machines without paper trails are just fine, just imagine one of those machines as your ATM, and the votes as deposits in your bank account. However, you never get a receipt for your transactions, and never receive monthly statements to reconcile your account. Would you trust your bank account to an electronic machine with no audit trail, no paper trail, no oversight, and manufactured & operated by an organized crime syndicate? (Not that I’m equating the Republicans to organized crime, although I certainly could, the point is that whether you’re a Democrat OR a Republican, you wouldn’t trust your money to organized crime).

Revise the Electoral College

This never made any sense at all to me. If one candidate receives just 1 vote more than the other in a given state, they get ALL of that state’s electoral votes. Why? What sense does that make? I can buy the concept of electoral votes, which are the equivalent of the total number of the members of Congress, but I think that within each state, the electoral votes should be divided according to the votes tallied for that state. The winner-gets-all rule on a state-by-state basis is not fair by any stretch of the imagination.

Media Coverage

Clearly, the media has a magnanimous influence over the public. The media has shaped public opinion in so many ways, and that is why it is so critical for the media to be politically independent. Unfortunately, that is not the case anymore. Media consolidation over the last 5 to 10 years has put the shaping of public opinion into the hands of a handful of people. One could argue that Rupert Murdoch had every bit of influence in selecting George W. Bush for president in 2000 as did the Supreme Court. The conservative bias in the Fox News Channel (FNC) is well documented in the exposé – Outfoxed. (By the way, if you have not had a chance to see this documentary I strongly urge you to rent the DVD. It’s truly astonishing when you hear about some of the stuff that occurred behind the scenes at FNC. Having seen that documentary, I will never watch FNC again, nor will I ever trust any news from FNC.)

I would never advocate for governmental influence over the media. However, in the case of elections, I do believe there are some guidelines that the media should observe in the interest of preserving fairness. First of all, no media outlet should ever be predicting any winners before all of the polls are closed. I know that if I lived out on the west coast and one of the networks called the race before I had a chance to vote, I probably wouldn’t bother voting.

Make Election Day a holiday

It would not cause economic harm to have a special holiday once every couple of years to aid in the election process. Citizens shouldn’t have to fit voting into their work schedule, along with picking up their kids from day care. If you really want to Help America Vote (HAVA), make Election Day a holiday. That will help them get to the polls.

In the end…

Having faith in the electoral process has everything to do with the credibility of the President, his/her ability to govern, the plausibility of his/her agenda, and his/her mandate for change. In every respect I have no faith in this President.

February 17, 2006

The Heat Is On – Scandal Updates

Yes, the heat was turned up one notch this week with so much activity in the scandals surrounding the Bush Administration. If that weren’t enough, Vice President Dick Cheney drops another scandal right in our laps (I loved the image of Jon Stewart looking up and mouthing the words “Thank You”). So, let’s get an update on some of our White House scandals, shall we…

Dick Cheney – A Weapon of Imbecilic Destruction

Much of the focus of this scandal has been around the delay that occurred before the news of this incident reached the public, along with the method – leaked by Katharine Armstrong, the owner of the ranch where this occurred, who is a private citizen. While it’s all well & good to criticize the Vice President for the delay & method, there are so many other facets to this story that bear scrutiny…

Why was Dick Cheney hunting farm-raised quail… from his car? Is there really any sport in that? Why was Cheney hunting without the proper certifications (he was absent of a special stamp to engage in hunting upland game)? Why was the Vice President drinking beer shortly before hunting? Was he intoxicated?

Why was the statement from Katharine Armstrong basically blaming the victim? Is it Harry Whittington’s fault that he looks like a bird?

Why did Dick Cheney, who is known to be in ill health with a bad ticker, gout, and circulatory problems in his legs, make a 180 degree turn and fire his weapon haphazardly? It appears that Cheney broke many of the cardinal rules of hunting. Then again, breaking the rules is par-for-the-course for Dick Cheney who essentially has always played by his own rules.

Why did Cheney originally misrepresent the facts of the incident to the President? First reports to President Bush were that there was a shooting involving the Vice President’s entourage while hunting – they didn’t originally inform the President, Chief of Staff Card, or Press Secretary McClellan that it was the Vice President who did the shooting.

Yes, this scandal is a microcosm of all that is evil in the Cheney Administration – lies, secrecy, spin, rich lobbyists who contributed heavily to Republican coffers, smearing the victim, blaming the liberal media – and that’s just for starters. As tidbits continue to leak out I think there are going to be more twists to this story.

Drove My Chevy To The Levee

The Katrina hurricane tragedy took another twist this week as a report was published announcing that all branches of government were at fault. As Gomer Pyle would say: “Surprise, Surprise!!” …like we didn’t know that before!

The difference now is that evidence shows the Bush Administration and Homeland security were informed of the breach of the levees very shortly after it happened, not a day later as they originally claimed. What does that matter you ask? Well, it unveils for certain that while Bush and Chertoff were attending conferences, birthday parties, and photo-ops, people were dying in the Gulf coast AND THEY KNEW IT! They knew the levees would breach on a hurricane greater than a category 3, they knew the result would be catastrophic, and they went along their business as if there were nothing pressing or urgent to bother with.

Yup, that’s leadership in a crisis... kind of like reading a children’s book for 20 minutes while the country is under attack.

More Abu Ghraib Pictures

I don’t want to beat this dead horse too much, but it’s worth mentioning. Brand new pictures surfaced this week about the abuses from Abu Ghraib, not long after the President and Secretary of State professed that we don’t torture. These same news agencies (Washington Post, etc.) have also said they have even more pictures that are too graphic to release. In addition, the Pentagon has already said that they’re not releasing a number of pictures because they didn’t want to incite more Islamic uprising.

Tell us again Mr. Bush, why is Iraq better off now than when Saddam was oppressing them?

You Don’t Know Jack?

Shortly after Jack Abramoff was indicted for all his wrong-doings, numerous as they may be, the White House started distancing themselves from Jack and his myriad of scandals. President Bush, ever the liar, said in so many words that he doesn’t even know Jack Abramoff.

No sooner did those words leave his lying lips did Jack Abramoff himself profess that he’s met with Bush on a dozen occasions. Pictures of them together have started to emerge, and the White House even said in so many words that they’re refusing to publish additional pictures of them together. I guess those pictures are classified because they’re a matter of national security.

We know that Jack Abramoff was using access to the President as leverage for manipulating Indian leaders. We know that Jack Abramoff was part of Bush’s 2000 transition team. We know that Jack Abramoff has contributed heavily to Bush’s candidacies – enough to be categorized as a ‘Pioneer’. And, we know that Jack Abramoff and Karl Rove’s relationship goes back at least 20 years to their college days.

I’m sorry Mr. Bush, but you DO know Jack!

Scooter Sings

This week saw the start of Scooter Libby testifying to the special prosecutor. This is what we’ve been waiting for. After all the investigations, all the hearings & testimonies, all the blogs, all the pictures, all the emails, all the media focus, and all the hype, the best Patrick Fitzgerald could come up with (thus far) was an indictment on the Vice President’s Chief of Staff for perjury. So far he hasn’t actually nailed anyone for actually outing an undercover CIA agent. He’s only managed to nail Scooter for lying ‘under oath’.

So, now Libby is in the hot seat, literally, and pointing his finger directly at the Vice President. Mr. Libby testified that he was (in so many words) “…ordered by ‘my superiors’ to disclose classified information…”. Although the media has been so wrapped up in CheneyGate, they haven’t latched on to the fact that Dick Cheney (Scooter’s Superior) was the one who ordered the outing of Valerie Plame. This is big. This is really big, because I read this as the Vice President of the United States has committed treason! Perhaps Dick shot his hunting pal just to divert attention away from the real heat. Either way, the heat is on, and it’s only going to get hotter.

February 10, 2006

What The Republicans Learned From Clinton

In the twilight of Bill Clinton’s presidency, as we all know, he spent a lot of time in the hot seat, literally, as he responded to the scandal of his extra-marital affair with Monica Lewinsky. Yes, he cheated on his wife by engaging in oral sex with a young intern. By the very nature and definition of ‘cheating’, he lied about it as well. However, the actual crime he committed, the reason the Republicans impeached him in the House, was because he lied about it ‘under oath’. Yes, Bill Clinton committed perjury… not by cheating on his wife, but by lying about it ‘under oath’. Cheating on his wife, alone, isn’t even a crime. In fact… lying, alone, isn’t a crime. The crime was lying ‘under oath’.

Flash forward a few years…

Consider the following three actual events:

  • When the 9/11 commission was holding hearings, they very much wanted George W. Bush to testify. He, of course, was an integral player in the decisions that were made and the actions that were taken in the months following the most devastating attack on US soil in decades.Bush stonewalled the 9/11 commission for months until finally agreeing to address their questions. However, he refused to testify in front of cameras (he did it privately in the White House), he insisted on having Dick Cheney present during the questioning, AND he refused to testify ‘under oath’.We know that a substantial amount of Bush’s testimony must have been lies because we know that he lied to the American people about the reasons for taking us to war in Iraq.
  • Last November the CEO’s of the 5 major oil companies testified before a congressional committee about the sudden and seemingly unsubstantiated rise in gas prices. Senator Ted Stevens (R, Alaska) presided over the hearing and refused to swear in the oil execs as they commenced the hearing. Even after requesting that they be sworn in by other members of the committee, Senator Stevens refused, even to the point of making a public spectacle of it (Thank You, Jon Stewart).We know that these men lied when they were questioned about speaking with Administration officials about the country’s energy needs and policies. In fact, these very same individuals were part & parcel to the formulation of the Bush Administration’s Energy Policy by meeting with Dick Cheney in that secret Energy Task Force in 2001. However, since they weren’t sworn in, they didn’t lie ‘under oath’.
  • Just this week Alberto Gonzales testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the Bush Administration’s controversial surveillance policy of warrant-less wiretapping. As he danced around most of the (very direct) questions, he lied-through-his-teeth… repeatedly. Citing precedent, Gonzales even testified that President George Washington also conducted electronic surveillance on his enemies (somehow miraculously before electricity had even been invented). However, once again, Chairman Arlen Specter (R, Pennsylvania) refused to have Gonzales sworn in, and therefore be held accountable for making false statements ‘under oath’.
Why is it that some of these Republicans refuse to be sworn in and therefore be on the hook for telling the truth? Perhaps it’s because they’re not telling the truth and they don’t want to be held accountable for lying ‘under oath’. That’s perjury, ya know! We all learned about perjury from Bill Clinton. Perhaps the Republicans (with the exception of Scooter) learned that all too well.

February 03, 2006

Health Care – Privatize or Nationalize?

If you listened closely to the State of the Union speech this week, you might have heard the President talking about “Private Health Care Accounts”. Once again, this is yet another scheme of the Bush Administration to help their rich friends get richer and screw over the middle and poorer classes in this country. Let’s take a look, shall we?

When W came out of his 2005 SOTU address he was revving up his scheme to privatize Social Security. He went on tour trying to sell his ploy, but the people in this country didn’t buy it. Let’s face it – we’ve already been duped so many times by this snake-oil salesman, there’s absolutely no reason to believe the fears he’s trying to scare us with now. Sure, we all felt that Social Security might have some financial turmoil in 50 years, but we also knew it was due to Bush’s over-spending & tax cuts for the wealthy. Why should Social Security take the hit? And even if Social Security was in trouble, privatization was not the answer. In fact, it would’ve made the situation worse… much worse. Let’s face it – the transition costs alone would’ve ballooned the debt upwards of a trillion dollars. It would have put billions into the pockets of Republican Wall Street buddies and put our country deeper into the hole.

Now W is trying to sell another brand of snake oil. He couldn’t privatize Social Security, so now he’s trying to privatize Health Care (if it wasn’t already privatized enough). He hasn’t actually put any real proposals down, so it’s hard to figure what his scheme entails, but he did mention it in the SOTU speech, so we know something’s cookin’. I’m guessing that he wants to attack Medicare & Medicaid - our only government-run health care programs. They’re holdovers (along with Social Security) from the ‘New Deal’ that the Republicans have been trying to gut. So, I’m guessing that Bush is cooking up a scheme to turn Medicare & Medicaid into private health care savings accounts. Let’s look at what that will mean…

Don’t Get Sick!

First off it means that the money you’d be paying into a private savings account would go to cover your health care costs if you become ill. That means if you want to get to that money, you’d better not become ill. That means that people would be much less apt to seek medical attention when they need it because it will eat into their savings. Sure, that’ll keep us healthy!

Someone Gets Rich

Don’t those savings accounts have to be invested somewhere? Of course they do. So, the real benefactors of this plan are the Wall Street honchos who’ll rake in the service fees.

What problem does it solve?

Even if there were some benefits to Bush’s scheme, exactly what problem does this solve? Will this help the 45 million Americans who don’t have health insurance? I don’t see how. Is this going to control the costs of health care? I don’t see how. Is this going to help American companies be more competitive in the global marketplace? I don’t see how.

Nationalization is the answer

The true answer to the American health care problem is Nationalization. This is an idea that is long overdue. But as long as money-grubbing Republicans are in power, it will never happen. God forbid any HMO’s or Pharmaceutical companies have any constraints on their profits.

The United States is the only industrialized country withOUT nationalized health care. Because of this, the cost of health care is a huge burden. Here’s just one simple comparison with our neighbors to the North… According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development, the per capita cost of health care in the US is $4,631 compared to $2,535 per capita cost in Canada. At the same time, the United States ranks 47th on a scale of Life Expectancy at 77.71 years of age, while Canada ranks 12th at 80.1 years of age.

And what of the 45 million without Heath Care coverage?

Every hospital has an obligation to treat any person in dire & immediate need of care, whether they have health coverage or not. If for no other reason other then fear of liability lawsuits, the hospital will provide treatment to a certain extent. However, without health insurance, that level of treatment essentially ends when the need for care is no longer dire & immediate. Therefore, those without health insurance coverage will not receive preventative care, medications, and a whole host of medical services necessary for healthy living. And without preventative care and medications, these people are more likely to need dire & immediate care, the cost of which is eaten by you-know-who… us!

The cost of providing health insurance to employees is a huge burden

Companies of even small sizes are obliged to provide partial health insurance coverage as an employment benefit. This means that any hiring decision has the added consideration of the cost of the ‘headcount’. If an employee or family member requires catastrophic health coverage, the company often incurs those costs as well.

These health care costs are a significant burden on the part of American companies. These costs have an impact on American company’s ability & capacity to produce their products and provide their services, and that burden makes American companies less competitive to their foreign counterparts. So the next time you hear about American companies not playing on a level field, this is one of the most significant reasons.

We pay for it either way

This is the bottom line. Whether or not the United States privatizes or nationalizes health care - we’ll pay for it. Those of us who work have deductions taken right out of our paychecks. What would be the difference if the deduction was a tax, instead? Would the deduction be significantly higher? I doubt it. If it was a requirement just like Social Security taxes, then EVERYONE who receives taxable income, would pay into it. That’s not the case now since health insurance is essentially optional, and since it’s so expensive, so many people can’t afford it. Would the choices of providers be different? Possibly different and possibly better. If we’re all on the same health care system, then the restrictions wouldn’t apply.

National health care makes sense. ‘Private health savings accounts’ is nothing more than an evil profiteering scheme. Don’t buy this snake oil either, America!