The Nation

Holding Torturers Accountable

In a historic effort to hold US officials accountable for acts of torture, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and four Iraqi citizens recently filed a criminal complaint with the German Federal Prosecutor's Office at the Karlsruhe Court in Karlsruhe, Germany against high ranking United States officials over the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere in Iraq. The four Iraqis all allege abuse at the hands of US troops, including severe beatings, sleep and food deprivation, hooding and sexual abuse.

The German Prosecutor is considering the case under the doctrine of universal jurisdiction, which allows suspected war criminals to be prosecuted irrespective of where they are located. "German law in this area is leading the world," Peter Weiss, vice president of the New York-based CCR, a human rights group, said in an interview with the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper. "We file these cases here because there is simply no other place to go," he added. "It is clear that the US government is not willing to open an investigation into these allegations against these officials."

The Prosecutor has wide discretion in deciding how far to go with an investigation. CCR asks supporters of these legal proceedings to let his office know that people around the world support this effort. Click here to add your voice to the international campaign.

CCR receives no government or corporate funding. The organization's ability to employ creative new strategies in the fight to preserve and advance civil and human rights can only continue with the financial support of the progressive community. Click here for info on what sorts of programs contributions help fund and click here to make a donation. You can also join CCR's mailing list to keep up on the progress of the Abu Ghraib complaint and other progressive legal campaigns.

Secretary of Agribusiness

Democrats are talking a lot these days about how to reconnect with rural voters. It's an important conversation, as much about the decline in the party's fortunes can be traced to the fact that people who live on farms and in small towns, who not that many years ago were about evenly divided in their partisan loyalties, provided President Bush and the Republican Party with overwhelming support in 2004.

Unfortunately, most of the talk involves tortured discussions about how to tip-toe around issues such as gay rights and gun control.

Such discussions miss the point of the party's problem in small-town America completely. Gays and guns are only big issues in rural regions because Democrats have done a lousy job of distinguishing themselves on the big-ticket economic issues -- trade policy, protection of family farmers, rural development -- that define whether rural Americans can maintain their livelihoods and lifestyles.

Most national Democrats -- and let's start this list with the name "John Kerry" -- evidence little or no understanding of the fundamental economic concerns facing rural regions. That lack of awareness often leads them to miss opportunities to challenge the wrongheaded agenda of corporate agribusiness and the industry's allies in Washington.

One of the biggest mistakes that Democrats made in the first days of the Bush administration was to support the nomination of Ann Venemen to serve as Secretary of Agriculture. Venemen, with her close ties to agribusiness and the biotech industry, was precisely the wrong choice. An unyielding supporter of free-trade initiatives, and an unquestioning backer of even the most controversial schemes to genetically modify crops, Venemen was a dream-come-true pick for multinational food-processing corporations, chemical companies and big agribusiness interests. But for working farmers and the residents of rural regions and small towns, she was a nightmare selection.

Unfortunately, Senate Democrats quickly got on board to back the Venemen nomination, which sailed through the confirmation process with little challenge.

Now, after a four-year tenure that confirmed all the worst fears of her critics, Venemen is leaving the Department of Agriculture for what will undoubtedly be a very lucrative return to the agribusiness and biotech sinecures she occupied before her sojourn in Washington. And the president has again selected a nominee for Secretary of Agriculture who is unacceptable.

Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns, who the president has named to replace Venemen, has a troubling track record of taking the side of agribusiness over that of working farmers. To wit:

* Johanns has been a wild-eyed advocate for free-trade initiatives, particularly the granting of permanent most-favored nation trading status to China. In less than a decade, as the free-trade agenda has been implemented, America's traditional advantage in agricultural trade has dropped by 61.6 percent. "This is a man-made catastrophe, an economic disaster," Nebraska Farmers Union President John Hansen says of the current free-trade regimen. "Through conscious policy we are outsourcing food production."

* Johanns was an aggressive supporter of the 2002 farm bill, which continued the misguided practice of directing substantial portions of U.S. farm-support spending into the treasuries of the largest agribusiness conglomerates and factory-farm operations. "This farm bill continues to tap taxpayers' hard earned money to keep the farm economy limping along while the giant food processors and exporters reap cheap commodities to expand their control of the world's food supply," says George Naylor, president of the National Family Farm Coalition.

* As governor, Johanns initiated what Nebraska farm advocates saw as an attempt to gut I-300, the state's 23-year-old ban on corporations owning farmland or engaging in agricultural activity in the state. Johanns's push for a review of I-300 drew harsh criticism from family-farm advocates last year. "There seems to be no useful purpose in modifying Initiative 300 unless the purpose is to subject Initiative 300 to legal attack," argued Robert Broom, an attorney who successfully defended I-300 from constitutional challenge in federal trials. Under heavy pressure from rural voters, Nebraska legislators declined to give Johanns the authority to establish a task force that many expected to attack I-300.

Could Democrats block Bush's nomination of Johanns to serve as Secretary of Agriculture? It's not likely in a Senate where Republicans will hold a solid 55-45 majority. But opening a debate over the Johanns nomination would begin to establish that there are differences between the two parties when it comes to protecting the interests of rural America.

Making clear those distinctions will be critical if Democrats want to alter the color scheme on those blue state/red state maps of the United States. Right now, the maps are mostly Republican red. They will only show more Democratic blue if Democrats recognize that one of their most famous partisans, William Jennings Bryan, was right when he urged the party to take up the cause of rural America.

"Ah, my friends," Bryan told the Democratic National Convention of 1896, " we say not one word against those who live upon the Atlantic coast, but the hardy pioneers who have braved all the dangers of the wilderness, who have made the desert to blossom as the rose -- the pioneers away out there [pointing to the West], who rear their children near to Nature's heart, where they can mingle their voices with the voices of the birds -- out there where they have erected schoolhouses for the education of their young, churches where they praise their Creator, and cemeteries where rest the ashes of their dead -- these people, we say, are as deserving of the consideration of our party as any people in this country. It is for these that we speak."

If Democrats want to improve their fortunes in the elections of 2006 and 2008, they should learn to speak once more for the interests of rural Americans. And the best place to start doing so is by challenging the pro-free trade, pro-corporate agribusiness policies of Mike Johanns -- and by speaking, bluntly, about the threat those policies pose to working farmers and rural America.

Help Save Social Security

Social Security is a very popular system. A pillar of the New Deal, it provides tens of millions of workers with a guaranteed retirement income as well as disability and life insurance during their working lives.

Moreover, contrary to conservative rhetoric, the Social Security system is extremely efficient. According to economist Dean Baker, writing recently in TomPaine.Com, the administrative costs of Social Security are just 0.6 cents of every dollar that gets paid out in benefits, a very low figure for a major government agency. Social Security also has a minimal amount of fraud and abuse, Baker adds, as numerous government audits have repeatedly documented.

Despite this track record, privatizing Social Security is one of George Bush's top second-term priorities. In the face of warnings from numerous economists of all political stripes, the financial industry-- which stands to make billions in new business on privatized retirement accounts--and the Bush White House have been on a steady propaganda campaign to convince the public that Social Security is on the edge of bankruptcy and needs a quick fix.

Click here to read Baker's explanation of why Social Security is NOT in crisis and check outEdith Fierst's Christian Science Monitor Op-Ed detailing why privatization would be the wrong remedy even if it were.

Bush's plans on this front are far from a done deal, and a well-organized public campaign is critical to stave off the possibility of some Democrats cutting a deal early--as they did on tax cuts (and as Ted Kennedy did on the Medicare bill).

So click here to join the Campaign for America's Future in pressuring Congress to hold firm on the issue. As CAF says, "We can do to Bush on Social Security what Harry and Louise did to Clinton on health care."

The Kids Are Alright

Music for America (MfA) is Example A of why the future is for the young and MfA-type organizations who are inspired now more than ever to continue to effect positive change. Twenty-one million Americans under the age of 30 cast ballots, 4.6 million of them were new voters. This was the highest youth turnout since the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1972, and it's an important example of what went right in the campaign.

If only 18, 19 and 20 year olds had been permitted to vote in this election, Kerry would have carried Ohio, Florida and Missouri, defeating Bush by more than 200 electoral votes. MfA supplied a lot of the muscle. It recruited almost 20,000 volunteers, allied with more than 200 bands and helped arrange over 2,000 concerts, which, the group's savvy 25-year old executive director Molly Moon says, reached two million people.

The real story behind MfA's success, however, lies beyond a mere recitation of post-election statistics. Culture and politics were fused together in new ways, as MfA worked to speak to communities through the force of music. Its artists tailored their messages to homegrown audiences and inspired their fans through local appeals. Artists included Caustic Resin--"Boise, Idaho favorites," as Alias Records described them; Cold Duck Complex, from Northampton, Mass., playing "music that makes you think"; and Amersterband, "round pegs in square holes" from the Ozarks in Southwest Missouri, according to MfA's website. MfA's 45,000 members connected with peers through blogs, concerts and other peer-to-peer interactions.

MFA's strength comes from its clarity and willingness to avoid the nonpartisan pitches issued by groups like Rock the Vote. MfA reached out to young voters, as Moon put it, by "talking about how unemployment sucks, or how young people don't like bans on gay marriage, or were screwed out of jobs or benefits and social security, and how they're oppressed by drug laws strengthened through this Republican Administration."

MFA sought out mostly local artists with local constituencies who weren't national celebrities and encouraged them to be partisan, but in their own unique ways. The group refused to shove pre-packaged talking points down band members' throats, and urged artists to find their own voice, their own issues, and their own messages--"to speak to their community in their own way," said Moon. As Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla explained to The Nation's Hillary Frey in a recent online interview, "the crowds know what's going on. They've been very receptive and very warm. The whole atmosphere at each of the shows has been a lot homier than I would have expected. Really encouraging and really cool."

MfA's success was built on its vision for a growing, long-term movement. While it had a laser-like focus on the 2004 election, MfA also started a dialogue among young voters (and potential voters) that might have a lasting impact on the political future of this nation.

Just weeks after the election, MfA is moving full speed ahead. It plans to survey its members to see which issues are most important to them. A few have already surfaced--rising tuition costs, student loan cuts, Republican attempts to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage, and support for legislation and ballot initiatives that would legalize same-day-voter-registration to increase the youth turnout. Issues like free speech, media consolidation and the drug war also resonate with MfA's politically savvy community.

"[Consolidation] severely damages the public interest by interfering with our ability to receive unbiased information from news outlets, and destroys the ability of artists to create new work…in favor of a controlled, homogenized culture," wrote Mike Connery, a blogger on MfA's website.

MfA's members chafe at decisions by the Federal Communications Commission to chastise musicians like U2, levy fines against networks (like Infinity) and censor talk radio kingpins (Howard Stern). And MfA has linked to drugpolicy.org (part of an alliance to end the war on drugs), which describes the RAVE Act, which holds nightclub owners accountable when patrons use drugs on their premises, as a heavy-handed attack on youth culture in general.

Finally, the 14-to-18-year-old demographic, which Moon calls "a major political force," will be a focal point of MfA's efforts. (The highest birth year in America since 1962 was 1990, Moon has pointed out.) "What's the best way to communicate with 14-year-olds?" Moon asks. Answering that question will help MfA win the fight for the future. Although she admits her group still has to figure out how to appeal to this demographic, MFA--and other groups--understand that this is a critical group for their future.

MfA's fusion of politics and culture has gone a long way to suggest that the conventional notion that musicians (or cultural figures more generally) are out of touch with America's voters is way overstated. When it comes to MfA, the organization's artists never swept in to localities like carpetbaggers, creating a dreaded (and unintended) backlash against Democrats. Drawing a connection between politics and culture, when done with sensitivity to a local, grassroots base and with sufficient sophistication, resources and organizing, can recruit a younger generation that seeks an authenticity and connection being provided by music, rather than a traditional political media message.

Ultimately, MfA proves the point that culture can bring young people together through the power of music, issues, ideas and partisanship--no small achievement.

Out to Sea on the Nation Cruise

Out to sea? Yes, I am...on the Nation cruise. A week of chewing (over the 2004 election), pulling (hair over the prospects of the next four years) and eating (five or so times a day--ever been on a cruise?). So for this week, check out my recent "Capital Games" columns by clicking here. And don't forget about my blog at www.davidcorn.com. I'll be back soon--tan, not so rested, ready (perhaps), and bloated (definitely).

Republican Dictionary: Part 2

Earlier this month, I wrote about the right's linguistic strategy, which is to use words, which may sound moderate to us but mean something completely different to its base. To counter these semantic tactics, I proposed an idea for how we could debunk and decode the right's veritable Orwellian Code of encrypted language: A Republican Dictionary.

I put together a small list to get the project started and asked readers to send me their own entries. Response has been overwhelming--more than 350 people sent me definitions.

Nation reader Laurence Cumbie even thanked me for "the very first laugh I have had since November 3." The idea, he added, "seems to me to be precisely the type of simplistic but effective antidote we need" to counter the linguistic trickery of the right.

Toward that end, I'm publishing a small sample of the new dictionary entries I've received below. We may even create a small book or extended pamphlet using the most creative examples submitted. Many thanks to those who took the time to write and apologies to those whose ideas we weren't able to include in this post. But watch this space. We're going to continue posting additional entries in the weeks ahead. And please click here to suggest your own contributions.

ACTIVIST JUDGE, n. A judge who attempts to protect the rights of minorities--most especially homosexuals--against the tyranny of the majority. (Amy Mashberg, Austin, Texas)

ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCES, n. New locations to drill for oil and gas. (Peter Scholz, Fort Collins, Colorado)

CIVIL LIBERTIES, n. Unnecessary privileges that you aren't afraid of losing unless you are a God-hating, baby-killing, elitist liberal who loves Saddam Hussein more than your own safety. (Megan Ellis, Bellingham, Washington)

CLIMATE CHANGE, n. Global warming, without that annoying suggestion that something is wrong. (Robert Shanafelt, Statesboro, Georgia)

DEATH TAX, n. A term invented by anti-tax zealots and referring to a tax used to prevent the very wealthy from establishing a dominating aristocracy in this country. (David McNeely, Lutz, Florida)

DEMOCRATIC ALLY, n. Any democracy, monarchy, plutocracy, oligarchy or dictatorship--no matter how ruthless--that verbally supports American diplomatic and economic goals. (L.J. Klass, Concord, New Hampshire)

DEREGULATE, v. To pursue greed and exploitation. (Nathan Taylor, Long Beach, California)

DETAIN, v. Hold in a secret place without recourse to law and treat in any manner one wishes. (Jeannine Bettis, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)

ECONOMIC PROGRESS, n. 1. Recession; 2. Rising unemployment; 3. Minimum-wage freeze. (Terry McGarry, East Rockaway, New York)

FAITH-BASED INITIATIVE, n. Christian Right Payoff. (Michael Gendelman, Fair Haven, New Jersey)

FAMILY VALUES, n. Oppression of women. (Nancy Matsunaga, Brooklyn, New York)

FOX NEWS, n. White House Press Office. (Donnalyn Murphy, San Francisco, California)

HARD WORK, n. What Republicans say when they can't think of anything better. (Brain McDowell), Durham, North Carolina)

INSURGENT, n. Armed or unarmed, violent or non-violent Iraqi on the receiving end of an American rocket blast or bullet spray, regardless of age, gender or political affiliation. (Joey Flores, Marina del Ray, California)

MODERNIZE, v. To do away with, as in modernizing Social Security, labor laws, etc. (Robert Sean Roarty, Atlanta, Georgia)

OBSTRUCTIONIST, n. Any elected representative who dares to question Republican radicals on the issue of the day. (Terry Levine, Toronto, Ontario)

OWNERSHIP SOCIETY, n. A society in which Republican donors own the rest of us. (Adrianne Stevens, Seattle, Washington)

PRIVATIZE, v. To steal the resources of the national community and give them to private business. (Susan Dyer, Ottsville, Pennsylvania)

REFORM, v. To eliminate, as in tort reform (to eliminate all lawsuits against businesses and corporations) or Social Security and Medicare reform (to eliminate these programs altogether). (Darren Staley, Millers Creek, North Carolina)

STRICT CONSTRUCTIONIST, n. A judge with extremely conservative beliefs, who interprets laws in a manner that fits his/rarely-her own belief systems, while maintaining that this was the original intent of the law. (Floyd Doney, Athens, Ohio)

SUPPORT THE MILITARY, v. To praise Bush when he sends our young men and women off to die for no reason and without proper body armor. (Marc Goldberg, Vancouver, Washington)

TAX REFORM, n. The shifting of the tax burden from unearned income to earned income, or rather, from the wealthy elite to the working class. (Eric Evans, Gregory, Michigan)

TORT REFORM, n. Corporate immunity and impunity. (Sue Bazy, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

UNITER, n. A Leader who brings together his followers by fomenting hatred for anyone who disagrees with him. (Larry Allred, Las Cruces, New Mexico)

Cabinet Alert Status: Red

With Tom Ridge following Colin Powell out the White House revolving door, George Bush has finally completed his purge of Vietnam veterans from the Cabinet. Call it the revenge of the Deferment Generation.

In mourning over this latest "spend more time with my family" loss, Americans in airports across the nation removed their jackets, shoes and cowboy belt buckles. Some even consoled each other with quick frisks and pat-downs.

You can tell I find it hard to know whether to laugh, cry, or shout over his departure. Ridge's Homeland Security Department represented the War on Terrorism in its Dadaist mode: a series of pointless provocations involving color codes, duct tape, suspiciously-timed alerts and endless talk about terrorist "chatter."

But while Ridge made us feel less secure at home, Donald Rumsfeld and his fellow Chicken Hawks actually did make us less secure abroad with a "fight them over there" strategy that has worked all too well. Two years, 150,000 soldiers, and tens of thousands of American and Iraqi lives later, and we have yet to secure Baghdad's airport road. Each month the number of casualties rises. November was the worst of the entire war.

What was sold as an easy battle in our latest War On An Abstract Concept has become another dreaded "quagmire"--a black hole for American prestige, treasure and blood. This is tragedy replaying itself as farce. And we have the men who avoided service in Vietnam to thank.

Love One Another? Not on NBC, CBS

The Rev. John Thomas, who serves as general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, is having a hard time figuring out why the same broadcasters that profited so handsomely from airing the vicious and divisive attack advertisements during the recent presidential election are now refusing to air an advertisement from his denomination that celebrates respect for one another and inclusiveness.

"It's ironic that after a political season awash in commercials based on fear and deception by both parties seen on all the major networks , an ad with a message of welcome and inclusion would be deemed too controversial," said Thomas. "What's going on here?"

The ad in question is part of an ambitious new national campaign by the UCC to appeal to Americans who feel alienated from religion and churches, and to equip the denomination's 6,000 congregations across the U.S. to welcome newcomers. In an effort to break through the commercial clutter that clogs the arteries of broadcast and cable television, the UCC ad features an arresting image: a pair of muscle-bound bouncers standing in front of a church and telling some people they can attend while turning others away.

After people of color, a disabled man and a pair of men who might be gay are turned away, the image dissolves to a text statement that: "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we."

Then, as images of diverse couples and families appear on screen, an announcer explains that, "No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here."

It is a graceful commercial, which delivers an important message gently yet effectively -- something that cannot be said of most television advertising these days. But viewers of the CBS and NBC television networks won't see it because, in this age of heightened focus on so-called "moral values," quoting Jesus on the issue of inclusion is deemed to be "too controversial."

What was controversial? Apparently, the networks don't like the ad's implication that the Nazarene's welcome to all people might actually include ALL people.

Noting that the image of one woman putting her arm around another was included in the ad, CBS announced, "Because the commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations, and the fact the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the (CBS and UPN) networks."

NBC was similarly concerned that the spot was "controversial." UCC leaders, pastors and congregation members are upset, and rightly so.

"It' seems incredible to me that CBS admits it is refusing to air the commercial because of something the Executive Branch, the Bush administration, is doing," says Dave Moyer, conference minister for the Wisconsin Conference of the UCC. "Since when is it unacceptable to offer a different perspective?"

Moyer says that people of all religious faiths and all ideological perspectives should be concerned that the major networks -- which dominate so much of the discourse in America -- are seeking to narrow the dialogue.

The Rev. Curt Anderson, the pastor of the First United Church of Christ in Madison, Wisconsin, says that people of good will should also be concerned about the message being sent to gays and lesbians in the aftermath of an election season that saw them targeted by the political right.

"I'm thinking of the LGBT folks in my church who felt so under attack after the election. They are getting hit again," explained the pastor. "This is another way where the culture, the media, makes them invisible. It is incredible that it is controversial for one woman to put her arm around another."

It is also bizarrely hypocritical. After all, the same NBC network that found the UCC ad "too controversial" airs programs such as "Will & Grace" that feature gay and lesbian characters. "We find it disturbing that the networks in question seem to have no problem exploiting gay persons through mindless comedies and titillating dramas, but when it comes to a church's loving welcome to committed gay couples, that's where they draw the line," explained the Rev. Bob Chase, director of the national UCC's communication ministry.

Chase has a point. CBS and NBC, networks that reap enormous profits from the public airwaves, are not serving the public interest. Rather, they are assaulting it by narrowing the dialogue and rejecting a message of inclusion that is sorely needed at this point in the American experiment.

More on the 'Stolen Election'

The emails keep pouring in. Please investigate voter fraud! Here's evidence the Republicans stole the election! We're watching YOU cover the election irregularities! A number of Americans--is the number growing?--believe George W. Bush only won the election because the voting was somehow rigged. And each day they disseminate via email what they consider to be proof--or, at the least, reasons to be suspicious. In pieces for The Nation magazine, I've noted that there is good cause to worry about the integrity of a voting system that is overseen by partisan players and that relies in part upon paperless electronic voting machines that are manufactured by companies that are led by pro-GOP executives and that refuse to reveal the computer codes they use. But I've also cautioned against declaring that the potential for abuse means the system was abused to flip the results. Exit polls that differ from reported vote counts are not necessarily proof of foul play, and statistical analyses that seem to raise questions need thorough vetting before they are waved about as signs of chicanery.

Take one of the early arguments for the "stolen election." Shortly after E Day, a former high school math teacher named Kathy Dopp sent out a chart that showed George W. Bush faring unusually well in Florida counties that used optical scan voting machines. A-ha, some folks exclaimed, this chart demonstrated the vote had been fixed. A team of political scientists led by Walter Mebane, a professor of government at Cornell, then examined the votes in these counties and found they were consistent with a years-long trend of registered Democrats in rural counties voting for Republican presidential candidates. Their findings were disputed by some "stolen election" advocates. But the Caltech/MIT Voter Technology Project released a study that reached the same conclusion as the Mebane paper. And this past Sunday, the Miami Herald published the results of its investigation of this particular voting pattern. The paper noted,

Some wondered whether Florida's tally was corrupt, with one Internet site writing: "George W. Bush's vote tallies, especially in the key state of Florida, are so statistically stunning that they border on the unbelievable."

The Miami Herald last week went to see for itself whether Bush's steamroll through north Florida was legitimate. Picking three counties that fit the conspiracy-theory profile--staunchly Democratic by registration, whoppingly GOP by voting--two reporters counted more than 17,000 ballots over three days. The conclusion: no conspiracy.

The count of optical-scan ballots in Suwannee, Lafayette and Union counties showed Bush whipping John Kerry in a region where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-1.

The Herald found minor differences with official results, most involving ballots that had been discarded as unreadable by optical-scan machines but in which reporters thought the voter's intent was clear.

For instance, in Union County, more than 75 percent of registered voters were listed as Democrat. The official vote count was 3,396 for Bush and 1,251 for Kerry. The Herald found 3,393 votes for Bush and 1,272 for Kerry--practically no difference. The results were the same in the other two counties. This hands-on exercise demonstrated that statistical analyses that rely on predicted outcomes based on voter registration figures can only prove so much. There's no substitute for inspecting actual evidence, such as ballots.

Of course, that's the problem when it comes to votes cast on machines that produce no physical trace of a voter's decision. After the election, three graduate students at University of California at Berkeley ran the vote counts from three heavily Democratic counties in Florida that used touch-screen voting machines--Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade--through a statistical model based on past voting patterns. They found what they call "ghost votes" for Bush--vote tallies that exceeded what could be expected given previous elections in these counties. In Broward County, the grad students maintained, Bush collected 72,000 of these "ghost votes." They pointed to electronic touch-screen voting machines as the cause of this and estimated that the fifteen e-voting counties in Florida mistakenly yielded Bush between 130,733 and 260,000 "ghost votes." This pattern, they said, did not occur in counties that used optical scan voting machines.

According to Florida's official vote count, Bush won by 381,000 votes--more than the total of these "ghost votes." Still, the grad student study has been hailed by election results skeptics as reason to believe skullduggery transpired. Yet other experts in statistics have not been persuaded. Charles Stewart III, a political science professor at MIT and researcher at the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, examined the data used by the Berkeley researchers and found what he calls "an interesting pattern." But, he told me, "it may not have anything to do with voting machines." He explained, "It is a baroque form of regression model they're using. Almost everyone I talk to says it looks like they were fishing for results. I would hope you'd find a lot of skeptics." Stewart pointed to two sets of precincts he examined in Palm Beach County. Both were heavily Democratic, one contained many African-Americans, the other set had but a few. It was the set with few black voters that shifted dramatically toward Bush, according to Stewart. And this movement, he said, may be unrelated to the e-voting machines. These precincts, he speculated, could have had more Jewish voters who shifted toward Bush this election.

Andrew Gelman, a professor of statistics at Columbia University, also examined the Berkeley study and found that the statistical anomalies only were significant in two counties--Broward and Palm Beach--not all of the 15 e-voting counties. On his weblog, he notes that the Berkeley researchers "make some pretty strong causal claims which I would think should be studied further, but with some skepticism." Gelman observes, "Something unusual seems to have happened in Broward and Palm Beach counties in 2004. One possibility, as suggested by [the Berkeley researchers] is cheating." But he is quick to add, "I don't know what was going on in these counties, what else was on the ballot, etc., but an obvious alternative explanation is that, for various reasons, 3% more people in those counties preferred Bush in 2004, compared to 2000...[S]uch a swing would be unusual (at least compared to recent history), but that doesn't mean it couldn't happen!...It would make sense to look further at Broward and Palm Beach counties, where swings happened which look unexpected compared to the other counties and compared to 2000, 1996, and 1992. But lots of unexpected things happen in elections, so we shouldn't jump to the conclusion that e-voting is related to these particular surprises." (Pollster John Zogby says that he does not believe that the "election was stolen," but he concedes it was an odd result: "51 percent of the voters gave Bush a negative approval rating; 51 percent voted for him.")

The Berkeley study is no slam-dunk. And the-election-was-rigged activists are raising other issues regarding the Florida vote count. When Bev Harris, a prominent critic of electronic voting who runs www.blackboxvoting.org, showed up at the elections office of Volusia County--where Kerry won by 3,723 votes--in mid-November seeking poll tapes for the optical scan voting machines used during the election, she found a set of the poll tapes discarded in a garbage bag. Was this part of a cover-up? Elections Supervisor Deanie Lowe told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that these election records were backup copies destined for a shredder. Harris and others fear there is more to the tale. And today Black Box Voting sued Teresa LaPore, the elections supervisor for Palm Beach County, to force her to turn over elections records. (The group is threatening to initiate similar lawsuits against 13 other counties in Florida and up to 80 counties in Ohio.)


When you're done reading this article, visit David Corn's WEBLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent entries on who--or what--should be the new Democratic Party chairman, billboards funded by ClearChannel that declare Bush "Our Leader," and Bush whoppers on Iraq and 9/11.


In Ohio--where Bush's margin of victory was 136,000--much organizing has been conducted by activists who question the final tally. As of yet, there have been no statistical studies of Ohio similar to the Berkeley paper. But emailers have zapped around a chart that supposedly shows 93,000 "extra" votes were cast in various municipalities in Cuyahoga County--that is, these areas listed more votes than registered voters. As I've reported earlier, county elections officials have what sounds like a good explanation for this. They claim their software has an odd glitch that assigns absentee ballots for a group of municipalities to one of the municipalities in the group. Consequently, on the spreadsheet posted by the elections office a particular municipality can end up showing more votes than registered voters. Cuyahoga elections officials--who work in an office run by a Democrat--insist there were no "extra" votes.

A recount is set to occur in Ohio as soon as Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, a conservative republican who cochaired Bush's campaign in the state, certifies the results (which is scheduled to happen this week). The recount was requested by David Cobb and Michael Badnarik, who were the presidential candidates for, respectively, the Green Party and the Libertarian Party. The Kerry campaign has not been involved, but it is watching. [UPDATE: On November 30, the Kerry campaign asked an Ohio judge to let it join a lawsuit against Delaware County, which has been seeking to sit out the statewide recount.] The state Democratic Party, though, is supporting the recount, citing complaints from Ohio voters that they faced long lines at the polls, encountered malfunctioning machines, and never received absentee ballots. "As Senator Kerry stated in his concession speech in Boston," Ohio Democratic Party chairman Dennis White remarked, "we do not necessarily expect the results of the election to change; however, we believe it necessary to make sure everyone's vote is counted fairly and accurately."

And claiming there was "fraud and [vote] stealing" in Ohio--without detailing the charges--Jesse Jackson has asked the state supreme court to consider setting aside the election results there. Jackson has called for a "thorough" investigation of voting irregularities. There does seem to be evidence of voter suppression in Ohio--and that does merit investigation. But it is far from clear that any of the alleged suppression tactics--such as not providing Democratic precincts enough functioning voting machines--cost Kerry over 136,000 votes. Nevertheless, a coalition of public-interest outfits calling itself the Ohio Honest Election Campaign has threatened to file a lawsuit to challenge the election results, asserting that thousands of Ohioans votes were incorrectly counted or not counted. And on November 26, People for the American Way filed a lawsuit to challenge the rejection of 8,000 of 24,472 provisional ballots. RedefeatBush.com plans to bus in protesters for a rally in Columbus, Ohio, on December 4 to support the recount.

A strong case that the election was stolen--either in Ohio or Florida--still has yet to be made. Statistical arguments are not convincing without concrete evidence (or widespread support among statistical experts). When reporters looked at actual ballots in Florida they found the armchair analysts were way off in their assumptions. And a recount requested by Ralph Nader in a limited number of precincts in New Hampshire--after Bush received higher than expected vote tallies in those parts of the Granite State--found little change from the original results. KPFK, the Pacifica radio station in Los Angeles, was a bit ahead of the facts when it issued a statement on November 23 noting it was projecting that Kerry "has won the State of Ohio and thus the Presidency by a minimum electoral college count of 272 to 266."

Yet the voting system is shaky enough to warrant serious concern. The General Accountability Office was right to agree to a request from Representative John Conyers and four other Democratic House members that it investigate election irregularities in the 2004 election. According to these members of Congress, the GAO will examine the security and accuracy of voting technologies, distribution and allocation of voting machines, and the counting of provisional ballots. "All Americans, no matter how they voted, need to have confidence that when they cast their ballot, their voice is heard," the lawmakers said in a statement. Indeed. There are Bush critics who probably never will accept the November 2 results. And the systemic problems that do exist--secretive voting technologies, the opportunity for partisan hacks to engage in voter suppression--will allow these people to hang on to their worst fears and to continue to share look-at-this! emails with fellow believers (or nonbelievers). But the evidence to date is that the election results were not rigged but were produced by a flawed system.


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