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John Nichols | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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An Election Reform Movement

David Cobb, the Green Party presidential candidate who has devoted the past two months to the arduous task of pressing for a full review of the mess that Ohio officials made of the election in that state, called on Friday afternoon to proclaim a sort of victory. "I think we've finally got a movement going for election reform in this country," Cobb said.

To an extent, he's right.

At the grassroots level, there appears to be growing support for a count-every-vote, eliminate-every-opportunity-for-fraud standard that would radically alter the way in which the United States runs elections.

And, to some small extent, this enthusiasm for election reform has been communicated to those members of Congress who are still interested in what their constituents say -- as was evidenced by Thursday's decision on the part of U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, to support the objection by members of the House to the certification of Ohio's electoral votes. The objection, and the Congressional debates that followed, were decried by the usual suspects -- White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who has the distinction of having never told the truth in his official capacity, dismissed evidence of disenfranchisement of minority voters as "conspiracy theories" -- but they also drew enough thoughtful coverage and editorial comment from mainstream media to suggest that the fight was worth it.

A lot more Americans know about our flawed voting systems now. And a few more Democrats in Congress seem to have gotten the point that it is not appropriate to casually certify the results of an election that has been tainted by evidence of disenfranchisement, voter suppression and official misdeeds.

While critics tried to remake the Congressional challenge as an attempt to reverse the result of the 2004 election in Ohio, and by extension nationally, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, explained that, "This objection does not have at its root the hope or even the hint of overturning or challenging the victory of the president." The point, said Tubbs Jones, was to expose the fundamental flaws in the current system and to highlight the need for reform.

It was, added Boxer, a matter of "electoral justice."

Unfortunately, that point was lost on every Republican member of the House and Senate and on the vast majority of Democrats. When all was said and done, only one member of the Senate (Boxer) took a stand for electoral justice by refusing to back certification of the Ohio results. There was more support in the House, from 31 members: Florida's Corrine Brown and Alcee Hastings, Indiana's Julia Carson, Missouri's William Clay Jr., South Carolina's James Clyburn, Michigan's John Conyers and Carolyn Kilpatrick, Illinois' Danny Davis, Lane Evans, Jesse Jackson Jr. and Jan Schakowsky, California's Sam Farr, Bob Filner, Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, Diane Watson and Lynn Woolsey, Arizona's Raul Grijalva, New York's Maurice Hinchey and Major Owens, Texas's Sheila Jackson-Lee and Eddie Bernice Johnson, Ohio's Stephanie Tubbs Jones and Dennis Kucinich, Georgia's John Lewis and Cynthia McKinney, Massachusetts' Ed Markey and John Olver, New Jersey's Frank Pallone and Donald Payne, and Mississippi's Bennie Thompson.

That most Congressional Democrats failed to act is not merely a matter of a failure of courage. Primarily, it is a matter of lack of responsibility.

Boxer and the 31 House members who objected were not being courageous. They were simply performing their duties in the manner that was intended. The founders of this country gave the legislative branch the responsibility of certifying election results because they understood the need for oversight of elections -- especially for a position as powerful as the presidency. And they trusted that Congressional representatives, who were more directly accountable to the citizenry, would assure that partisan pressures did not trump democracy.

Last Thursday, however, democracy got trumped. The vast majority of the members of the House and Senate chose not to live up to the responsibility rested upon them by the founders.

Congressional Democrats who failed to support the objection to the Ohio count -- as well as those moderate Republicans who would like to think of themselves as anything more than rubber stamps for a president who has never displayed respect for the Constitution -- need to ask themselves some questions: What is it about the phrase "electoral justice" that don't they understand? Is there any level of minority disenfranchisement that they would take seriously? Do they really believe that conservative Republicans in Congress would go along with certification of election results from a state where there was significant evidence of disenfranchisement of a Republican leaning group, such as evangelical Christians?

They know the answers to those questions. And, if they are honest with themselves, those thinking members of Congress who failed to object to the certification of the Ohio results know that they let the American people down.

So the people will have to respond. I hope David Cobb, who has worked so hard on these issues, is right. I hope we are seeing the birth of a multi-partisan movement for election reform that will establish a universal set of standards for registering voters, casting ballots and counting ballots, and a deep commitment to assure that the system works for all Americans. Because, as Thursday's failure of responsibility by most members of Congress illustrated, we are still far short of electoral justice.

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John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, has just been released by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, "This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president." Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, "The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton's no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting)."

Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and by clicking here.

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Keep Objecting

The decision of US Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, to sign on to the objection raised Thursday by US Rep. John Conyers Jr. and other House Democrats to the counting of Ohio's electoral votes from the 2004 presidential election sent a powerful signal that at least some -- though certainly not most -- Washington Democrats are listening to the grassroots of the party.

The challenge to the Ohio count, while it was based on legitimate concerns about voter disenfranchisement before, during and after the November 2 election, never had a chance to block the ultimate assignment of that state's electoral votes to President Bush. After a short debate, Republican majorities in the House and Senate were always expected to dismiss any objections and assure that President Bush would have a second term. And they moved quickly on Thursday to do precisely that--with the support of most Democrats. The vote in the House was 267 to 31 to reject the challenge; in the Senate only Boxer voted in favor, with 74 other Senators voting against.

But the lodging of a formal objection, and the debates in the House and Senate that followed it, focused attention on the mess that Ohio officials made of the presidential election in that state -- and on the lingering questions about the extent to which the problems were intentionally created in order to make it harder for supporters of Democrat John Kerry, particularly those in predominantly minority, urban and low-income precincts, to cast their ballots on November 2.

It also gave activist Democrats and their allies on the left a measure of the extent to which the party that relies so heavily on the votes of African Americans and Latinos will take seriously questions about minority-voter disenfranchisement, flawed voting systems and the partisan mess that local and state election officials frequently make of vote counting and recounting in states across this country.

After two months of work by Greens, Libertarians and groups such as Progressive Democrats of America--which highlighted flaws in the practices and procedures of Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell--there was little question that a legitimate case had been made for challenging Ohio's electoral votes during what is usually a perfunctory post-election review by Congress. US Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, did precisely that with his remarkably detailed and well-reasoned report, "Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio."

That report, which was circulated to members of Congress on Wednesday in anticipation of Thursday's formal review of the Electoral College results, bluntly stated that, "We have found numerous, serious irregularities in the Ohio presidential election, which resulted in a significant disenfranchisement of voters. Cumulatively, these irregularities, which affected hundreds of thousands of votes and voters in Ohio, raise grave doubts regarding whether it can be said that Ohio electors selected on December 13, 2004, were chosen in a manner that conforms to Ohio law, let alone federal requirements and constitutional standards."

Conyers and a number of House Democrats were convinced by the evidence of irregularities and disenfranchisement that a formal objection needed to be lodged on Thursday when a joint session of Congress met to review the results. But that objection could only go forward with the signature of at least one senator. As late as Wednesday night, there were serious doubts about whether a senator would sign on -- and real fears of a repeat of the scene, portrayed in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9-11, when members of the Congressional Black Caucus were ruled out of order when they tried to object in 2001 to the certification of electoral votes from the disputed state of Florida.

"A lot of people were asking whether the Democrats in the Senate would ever stand up and be counted in a fight that is really about minority voter disenfranchisement," said Steve Cobble, a veteran aide to the Rev. Jesse Jackson who attended hearings in Ohio, where evidence regarding long lines at polling places in minority neighborhoods, inadequate equipment and some instances of intimidation were gathered.

Jackson put that question to senators directly, when he personally lobbied them early in the week, and Michael Moore declared in an open letter to senators that progressives would be watching for them to show more backbone in 2005 than they did in 2001. Most -- including Kerry -- refused .

But Boxer came through, arguing that she was objecting "to cast the light of truth on a flawed system which must be fixed now."

Ultimately, however, it was Conyers's letters to senators, and the report, that did the convincing -- along with thousands of grassroots activists across the country who took the news that the senior Democrat would object to the certification of the Ohio results as a call to action to pressure senators such as Boxer and U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin.

So there has been progress from 2001 to 2005. But, at this point, it is only symbolic progress--and it is certainly not enough. The real work begins now. The brief debate over certification of the Ohio results cannot be the end of the process. Democrats and, yes, responsible Republicans need to continue to feel the heat if election reform is to be a reality. After the Florida debacle of 2000, a lot of grassroots Democrats said "never again." That sentiment changed the dynamic when Congress was called upon this year to certify electoral votes from a state where serious questions about voter disenfranchisement had yet to be resolved.

Now, the "never again" sentiment needs to be carried forward in a proactive manner that forces not just a debate but action on the fundamental reforms that are needed to repair the erratic, unequal and easily abused voting systems of what is supposed to be the greatest democracy.

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John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, has just been released by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, "This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president." Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, "The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton's no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting)."

Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and by clicking here.

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The State of US Elections

American elections never play out perfectly. But the dramatic imperfections in the 2004 presidential election in Ohio, as detailed in a new report (see below) circulated by Representative John Conyers Jr., D-Michigan, deserve a more serious response than they received from the majority of Congressional Democrats. When Ohioans began to raise concerns about troublesome irregularities in the approach of Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell -- a Bush campaign apparatchik -- to conducting the November 2 election and counting the votes in the contest that ultimately decided the race between Bush and Democrat John Kerry, they initially got more encouragement from Greens and Libertarians than from national Democrats. But Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, took the complaints seriously enough to go to Ohio. There, he and minority staffers for the Judiciary Committee conducted hearings and investigations that cut through the hyperbole and got down to two basic conclusions: first, voting and vote counting procedures in Ohio were so flawed that they created circumstances where citizens were disenfranchised and, second, that legitimate questions about the problems with the Ohio election had not been resolved at the point when the state's electoral votes were cast for Bush. Accordingly, Conyers has announced that he will object to the certification of the results from Ohio when Congress is scheduled to review and approve Electoral College votes this afternoon.

Conyers has found a handful of allies among House Democrats in recent days, mostly members of the Congressional Black Caucus. But as today approached, he had received little encouragement from Democrats in the Senate. (The staff of California Senator Barbara Boxer says she is "considering" going along with Conyers, and Wisconsin's Russ Feingold is reportedly doing the same. But neither had signed on as of this morning.) Barring a last-minute show of solidarity by Boxer, Feingold or another senator, the failure of Senate Democrats to side with Conyers appeared likely to block his formal objection, as federal rules require that a challenge to the counting of electoral votes from a particular state must be backed by at least one member of both the House and the Senate. Conyers, who has served four decades in Congress and been a central player in every major voting rights debate since the 1960s, wrote last week to all 100 senators asking that they sign on to his objection. Yet, even when he distributed materials itemizing and analyzing what he described as "the many irregularities we have come across as part of our hearings and investigation into the Ohio presidential election," he received no response from most. It was an eerie echo of what happened in 2001 when members of the Congressional Black Caucus tried to object to the certification of electoral votes from Florida only to be ruled out of order because no senator had backed their complaint. The scene of African-American members being gaveled into silence was one of the most powerful and poignant moments in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9-11, and it was impossible to imagine that it would ever be repeated. Yet, as the moment of truth approached this year, Conyers, the senior African-American in Congress, was forced to plead for an opportunity "to debate and highlight the problems in Ohio which disenfranchised innumerable voters."

It is important to note the language Conyers has used. He was not calling for overturning the election of President Bush. Rather, he was suggesting that, based on the evidence of voter disenfranchisement, flawed or corrupted voting machinery, and inappropriate procedures for counting and recounting votes in Ohio, it was inappropriate for Congress simply to rubber stamp the decisions of Secretary of State Blackwell and other officials in Ohio to award the state's electoral votes to Bush. Ultimately, that objection has little chance to get beyond the debating stage, as both the Senate and the House would have to agree to the objection in order to block the counting of Ohio's electoral votes -- and that is not going to happen in either of those Republican-controlled chambers. But Conyers is right to argue that a formal objection needs to be made, and that objection should be broadly supported by Democrats -- and, frankly, honest Republicans -- in both the House and the Senate. That it has not received that broad support is a sad statement about the seriousness with which most Democrats take their party's pledge to "count all the votes this time" -- and about the prospects for reform of erratic, unequal and unreliable voting systems that, as Conyers and his aides have ably illustrated, are prone to abuses that undermine democracy.

THE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY ON THE CONYERS REPORT--PRESERVING DEMOCRACY-- WHAT WENT WRONG IN OHIO--FOLLOWS:

We have found numerous, serious election irregularities in the Ohio presidential election, which resulted in a significant disenfranchisement of voters. Cumulatively, these irregularities, which affected hundreds of thousand of votes and voters in Ohio, raise grave doubts regarding whether it can be said the Ohio electors selected on December 13, 2004, were chosen in a manner that conforms to Ohio law, let alone federal requirements and constitutional standards.

This report, therefore, makes three recommendations: (1) consistent with the requirements of the United States Constitution concerning the counting of electoral votes by Congress and Federal law implementing these requirements, there are ample grounds for challenging the electors from the State of Ohio; (2) Congress should engage in further hearings into the widespread irregularities reported in Ohio; we believe the problems are serious enough to warrant the appointment of a joint select Committee of the House and Senate to investigate and report back to the Members; and (3) Congress needs to enact election reform to restore our people's trust in our democracy. These changes should include putting in place more specific federal protections for federal elections, particularly in the areas of audit capability for electronic voting machines and casting and counting of provisional ballots, as well as other needed changes to federal and state election laws.

With regards to our factual finding, in brief, we find that there were massive and unprecedented voter irregularities and anomalies in Ohio. In many cases these irregularities were caused by intentional misconduct and illegal behavior, much of it involving Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, the co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio.

First, in the run up to election day, the following actions by Mr. Blackwell, the Republican Party and election officials disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Ohio citizens, predominantly minority and Democratic voters:

The misallocation of voting machines led to unprecedented long lines that disenfranchised scores, if not hundreds of thousands, of predominantly minority and Democratic voters. This was illustrated by the fact that the Washington Post reported that in Franklin County, "27 of the 30 wards with the most machines per registered voter showed majorities for Bush. At the other end of the spectrum, six of the seven wards with the fewest machines delivered large margins for Kerry." (See Powell and Slevin, supra). Among other things, the conscious failure to provide sufficient voting machinery violates the Ohio Revised Code which requires the Boards of Elections to "provide adequate facilities at each polling place for conducting the election."Mr. Blackwell's decision to restrict provisional ballots resulted in the disenfranchisement of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of voters, again predominantly minority and Democratic voters. Mr. Blackwell's decision departed from past Ohio law on provisional ballots, and there is no evidence that a broader construction would have led to any significant disruption at the polling places, and did not do so in other states.Mr. Blackwell's widely reviled decision to reject voter registration applications based on paper weight may have resulted in thousands of new voters not being registered in time for the 2004 election.The Ohio Republican Party's decision to engage in preelection "caging" tactics, selectively targeting 35,000 predominantly minority voters for intimidation had a negative impact on voter turnout. The Third Circuit found these activities to be illegal and in direct violation of consent decrees barring the Republican Party from targeting minority voters for poll challenges.The Ohio Republican Party's decision to utilize thousands of partisan challengers concentrated in minority and Democratic areas likely disenfranchised tens of thousands of legal voters, who were not only intimidated, but became discouraged by the long lines. Shockingly, these disruptions were publicly predicted and acknowledged by Republican officials: Mark Weaver, a lawyer for the Ohio Republican Party, admitted the challenges "can't help but create chaos, longer lines and frustration."Mr. Blackwell's decision to prevent voters who requested absentee ballots but did not receive them on a timely basis from being able to receive provisional ballots likely disenfranchised thousands, if not tens of thousands, of voters, particularly seniors. A federal court found Mr. Blackwell's order to be illegal and in violation of HAVA.

Second, on election day, there were numerous unexplained anomalies and irregularities involving hundreds of thousands of votes that have yet to be accounted for:

There were widespread instances of intimidation and misinformation in violation of the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, Equal Protection, Due Process and the Ohio Right to Vote. Mr. Blackwell's apparent failure to institute a single investigation into these many serious allegations represents a violation of his statutory duty under Ohio law to investigate election irregularities.We learned of improper purging and other registration errors by election officials that likely disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters statewide. The Greater Cleveland Voter Registration Coalition projects that in Cuyahoga County alone over 10,000 Ohio citizens lost their right to vote as a result of official registration errors.There were 93,000 spoiled ballots where no vote was cast for president, the vast majority of which have yet to be inspected. The problem was particularly acute in two precincts in Montgomery County which had an undervote rate of over 25 percent each - accounting for nearly 6,000 voters who stood in line to vote, but purportedly declined to vote for president.There were numerous, significant unexplained irregularities in other counties throughout the state: (i) in Mahoning county at least 25 electronic machines transferred an unknown number of Kerry votes to the Bush column; (ii) Warren County locked out public observers from vote counting citing an FBI warning about a potential terrorist threat, yet the FBI states that it issued no such warning; (iii) the voting records of Perry county show significantly more votes than voters in some precincts, significantly less ballots than voters in other precincts, and voters casting more than one ballot; (iv) in Butler county a down ballot and underfunded Democratic State Supreme Court candidate implausibly received more votes than the best funded Democratic Presidential candidate in history; (v) in Cuyahoga county, poll worker error may have led to little known third party candidates receiving twenty times more votes than such candidates had ever received in otherwise reliably Democratic leaning areas; (vi) in Miami county, voter turnout was an improbable and highly suspect 98.55 percent, and after 100 percent of the precincts were reported, an additional 19,000 extra votes were recorded for President Bush.

Third, in the post-election period we learned of numerous irregularities in tallying provisional ballots and conducting and completing the recount that disenfanchised thousands of voters and call the entire recount procedure into question (as of this date the recount is still not complete):

Mr. Blackwell's failure to articulate clear and consistent standards for the counting of provisional ballots resulted in the loss of thousands of predominantly minority votes. In Cuyahoga County alone, the lack of guidance and the ultimate narrow and arbitrary review standards significantly contributed to the fact that 8,099 out of 24,472 provisional ballots were ruled invalid, the highest proportion in the state.Mr. Blackwell's failure to issue specific standards for the recount contributed to a lack of uniformity in violation of both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clauses. We found innumerable irregularities in the recount in violation of Ohio law, including (i) counties which did not randomly select the precinct samples; (ii) counties which did not conduct a full hand court after the 3% hand and machine counts did not match; (iii) counties which allowed for irregular marking of ballots and failed to secure and store ballots and machinery; and (iv) counties which prevented witnesses for candidates from observing the various aspects of the recount.The voting computer company Triad has essentially admitted that it engaged in a course of behavior during the recount in numerous counties to provide "cheat sheets" to those counting the ballots. The cheat sheets informed election officials how many votes they should find for each candidate, and how many over and under votes they should calculate to match the machine count. In that way, they could avoid doing a full county-wide hand recount mandated by state law.

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John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, has just been released by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, "This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president." Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, "The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton's no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting)."

Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and by clicking here.

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Shirley Chisholm's Legacy

Thirty-three years ago this month, a member of the U.S. House from Brooklyn challenged her party and her country to think more boldly than it ever had before about what the occupant of the White House should look like.

Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm, who four years earlier had become the first African-American woman to win election to Congress, declared that, "I stand before you today as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States. I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women's movement of this country, although I am equally proud of that. I am not the candidate of any political bosses or special interests. I am the candidate of the people."

Chisholm, who died January 1 at age 80, ran as the "Unbought and Unbossed" candidate for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination. She campaigned in key primary states as a militant foe of the war in Vietnam and a champion of the economic and social justice movements that had organized so effectively during the 1960s. And she did not mince words. A co-convener of the founding conference of the National Women's Political Caucus, she once announced, "Women in this country must become revolutionaries. We must refuse to accept the old, the traditional roles and stereotypes."

That kind of talk, along with her refusal to reject the endorsement of the Black Panthers, scared the party establishment -- including most prominent liberals -- and Chisholm's run was dismissed from the start as a vanity campaign that would do nothing more than siphon votes off from better-known anti-war candidates such a South Dakota Senator George McGovern and New York City Mayor John Lindsay. They were not ready for a candidate who promised to "reshape our society," and they accorded her few opportunities to prove herself in a campaign where all of the other contenders were white men. "There is little place in the political scheme of things for an independent, creative personality, for a fighter," Chisholm observed. "Anyone who takes that role must pay a price."

Chisholm had to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission in order to participate in a televised debate featuring McGovern and former Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Through it all, she maintained the dignity that characterized a political career that began in the clubhouse politics of Brooklyn, saw her elected twice to the New York state Assembly and seven times to the U.S. House, and was capped by President Clinton's nomination of Chisholm to serve as U.S. ambassador to Jamaica -- an honor she was ultimately forced to refuse because of ill health.

One of the most remarkable moments of the 1972 campaign came after Alabama Governor George Wallace, a foe of civil rights who also sought the party's presidential nomination that year, was shot. Wallace was shocked when Chisholm arrived in his hospital room to express her sympathy and concern. "He said, 'What are your people going to say?' I said, 'I know what they are going to say. But I wouldn't want what happened to you to happen to anyone.' He cried and cried," Chisholm recalled.

The congresswoman's compassion -- and her commitment -- struck a chord with voters. While she won no primaries, Chisholm outlasted better-known and better-financed contenders such as Maine Senator Ed Muskie and Washington Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson. At that year's Democratic National Convention in Miami, she received 151 delegate votes and a measure of the respect that she was often denied on the campaign trail.

Chisholm, who would go to serve another decade in the House, never expected to win the presidency in 1972. But she did expect that her candidacy would inspire others. "I ran for the Presidency, despite hopeless odds, to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo," Chisholm wrote in her 1973 book The Good Fight. "The next time a woman runs, or a black, or a Jew or anyone from a group that the country is ‘not ready' to elect to its highest office, I believe that he or she will be taken seriously from the start… I ran because somebody had to do it first. In this country, everybody is supposed to be able to run for President, but that has never really been true."

Chisholm was indeed an inspiration. At least one young "Chisholm for President" campaigner now serves in Congress: California Representative Barbara Lee, the only member of the House to oppose President Bush's demand for a blank check to mount military responses to the September 11, 2001, attacks. U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, spoke for many African-American women in Congress when she said, "If there were no Shirley Chisholm there would be no Stephanie Tubbs Jones." And the Rev. Jesse Jackson, whose 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns picked up where Chisholm left off, hailed the woman who served as an advisor to both those candidacies. "She set the pace and pattern for other public officials," Jackson said of Chisholm. "She refused to accept the ordinary."

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John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, has just been released by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, "This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president." Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, "The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton's no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting)."

Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and by clicking here.

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Bush Fails a Global Test

George Bush ended 2004 on a sour note.

But at least he maintained his record as the most disingenuous president since Richard Nixon.

When other world leaders rushed to respond to the crisis caused by last Sunday's tsunamis in southern Asia, George Bush decamped to his ranch in Texas for another vacation. For three days after the disaster, the only formal response from the White House was issued by a deputy press secretary. Finally, after a United Nations official made comments that seemed to highlight the disengaged nature of the official U.S. reaction to one of the worst catastrophes in human history, the president appeared at a hastily-scheduled press conference to grumble about how critics of his embarrassing performance were "misguided and ill-informed."

Bush bragged about the U.S. commitment of $35 million to help respond to a tragedy that has cost more than 100,000 lives and displaced millions of people in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Somalia and other countries.

What the president did not say is that this initial commitment was less than the planned expenditure for his Jan. 20 inauguration: $40 million.

It was, as well, less than the initial commitment by smaller and less wealthy nations such as Spain, which moved immediately to guarantee a $68 million line of credit for relief and rebuilding efforts.

The president's missteps were noted by the rest of the world, and by diplomatic observers at home. Leslie Gelb, the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, said Bush had missed an opportunity to display humanitarian, moral and diplomatic leadership in the world. Reflecting on the administration's response, Derek Mitchell, an expert on Asian affairs at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, "I think politically they've done poorly."

An embarrased Bush administration scrambled to up the ante with a new commitment of $350 million, and the president dispatched Secretary of State Colin Powell and First Brother Jeb Bush to Asia. President Bush even ordered that flags be lowed in recognition of the tragedy.

But none of the face-saving measures erased the initial impression that this president is anything but a compassionate conservative.

At a time when the U.S. image abroad has been battered by the president's unilateral decision to order the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the Bush administration should have been sensitive to the need to respond quickly and effectively to a disaster of this magnitude. But that did not happen. Bush failed to engage at the critical point and then peddled the lie that the U.S. is in the forefront of providing humanitarian aid.

Thirty other developed nations commit greater proportions of their gross domestic products to humanitarian projects than does the U.S. In fact, the entire U.S. commitment for humanitarian aid in 2004 -- $2.4 billion -- was about the same amount as the U.S. spends every ten days to maintain the occupation of Iraq.The contrast between the Bush administration's spare-no-expense approach to Iraq and its initial penny-pinching response to the crisis in southern Asia was devastating for America's image abroad. And, even as Bush tried to make amends, his administration's priorities remained out of whack -- the $350 million commitment that the administration now offers in response to the earthquake and tsunami damage equals less than two days of Iraq spending.

But it is not too late to respond in a more appropriate manner.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, a longtime advocate for a more responsible U.S. policy regarding humanitarian aid, has suggested that the U.S. should rescind a portion of the reconstruction aid that has been budgeted for use in Iraq. Of an estimated $18.4 billion allocated for that purpose through December, only about $2 billion has been spent.

Leahy has already attracted some interest in his proposal from Congressional Republicans. Hopefully, this will influence the administration to dramatically increase its commitment to emergency relief and redevelopment aid.

What is the appropriate commitment? Over the critical period of the next several months, the U.S. should provide at least as much money to rebuild southern Asia as it does to maintain the occupation of Iraq – a figure Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld last year put at roughly $3.9 billion a month but that is, in reality, much higher. Committing as much to aiding southern Asia as is now being spent to occupy Iraq would signal that the U.S. wants to rejoin the world community.

Committing dramatically less – as appears to be the president's intent -- will confirm the impression that the U.S. is more interested in spending money on a military misadventure than on a necessary reconstruction.

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John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, has just been released by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, "This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president." Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, "The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton's no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting)."

Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and by clicking here.

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Rule One: Count Every Vote

Politics is a game played by rules. And the most important rule regarding close elections is that you don't win by being conciliatory during the recount process. Indeed, the only way a candidate who trails on election night ends up taking the oath of office is by refusing to concede and then confidently demanding that every vote be counted -- even when the opposition, the media and the courts turn against you.

That is a rule that Al Gore failed to follow to its logical conclusion in 2000, and that John Kerry did not even attempt to apply this year. Both men were so determined to maintain their long-term political viability that they refused to fight like hell to assure that the votes of their supporters were counted. That refusal let their backers down. It also guaranteed that, despite convincing evidence that the Democrat won in 2000, and serious questions about the voting and recount processes in the critical state of Ohio in 2004, George W. Bush would waltz into the White House.

Maybe someday, if the Democrats really want to win the presidency, they will nominate someone like Christine Gregoire. Gregoire is the Washington state attorney general who this year was nominated by Democrats to run for governor of that state. She is hardly a perfect politician -- like too many Democrats, she is more of a manager than a visionary; and she is as ideologically drab as Gore or Kerry.

But Gregoire had one thing going for her, and that was her determination to win.

When the initial count showed her trailing Republican Dino Rossi by more than 200 votes, she refused to accept the result. Certain that there were Democratic votes that had yet to be tallied, she demanded a recount. The second review showed her trailing Rossi by 42 votes and -- as in the 2000 fight over recounting presidential ballots in Florida -- the Republicans accused Gregoire of traumatizing the state by continuing to demand that every vote be counted. "It's time to move forward," chirped Rossi, who ridiculed Democratic demands for a fuller, sounder recount. Rossi claimed that Gregoire wanted to count and recount the ballots until she was declared the winner.

In a sense, Rossi was right.

Gregoire did want to keep counting until she won. But, of course, that is the point of the recount process: If you think that the votes are there to assure your victory, you keep demanding that they be counted and tabulated. This is the fundamental rule that neither Gore nor Kerry ever quite got.

As Christmas approached, the pressure on Gregoire to back off was intense. But the Democratic gubernatorial candidate and her supporters continued to press for a full review of the ballots -- paying more than $700,000 for another count and going to court to defend the principle that every voted counts and every vote must be counted.

Two days before Christmas, with a go-ahead from the state Supreme Court, Gregoire got a full count. That reversed previous results and gave her a 130-vote lead over Rossi.

The fight may not be over yet. Rossi is crying foul. But the likelihood is that, in Washington state, the Democrat, not the Republican, will be taking the oath of office in January. There are two reasons why this is the case. First, Christine Gregoire got more votes. Second, she demanded that they be counted.

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John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, has just been released by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, "This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president." Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, "The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton's no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting)."

Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and by clicking here.

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Newfield's Passionate Journalism

In RFK: A Memoir, the finest of the shelf full of books he produced during a career that was as prolific as it was meaningful, Jack Newfield succeeded in explaining the late Robert F. Kennedy better than any of the late New York senator's many biographers. "Part of him was soldier, priest, radical, and football coach. But he was none of these," wrote Newfield, who had chronicled his subject's transition from President John Fitzgerald Kennedy's "first-brother" to presidential candidate in his own right. "He was a politician. His enemies said he was consumed with selfish ambition, a ruthless opportunist exploiting his brother's legend. But he was too passionate and too vulnerable ever to be the cool and confident operator his brother was."

With Newfield's death Monday night at age 66, there will be a search for the words to describe the late journalist. In the end, if that search is successful, it will find its way back to the words that Newfield employed to describe Kennedy.

Newfield, who most of us came to know as the star reporter for New York's Village Voice newspaper from the 1960s to the 1980s, and who most recently was a regular contributor to The Nation, had many passions – from boxing to baseball to civil rights and civil liberties. But the thing I loved best about Jack Newfield was that he loved politics. When he described Kennedy as a politician, he was not dismissing the man whose majestic 1968 presidential campaign he chronicled in an up-close-and-personal fashion that put the reporter just a short distance away from the scene where that campaign – and so many of the hopes of Newfield's decade, the 1960s – were dashed. Rather, Newfield was honoring Kennedy, about whom the reporter would say, "Though it's really unknowable, I think that if Bobby had lived to be president we would have ended the Vietnam War much sooner, renewed the war on poverty; we would have had a totally different policy toward blacks than Richard Nixon had."

All of those things mattered to Newfield, whose progressive passions were never obscured by his reporter's pen and notepad. Like all great reporters, he knew that slogans like "fair-and-balanced" were merely camouflage for laziness and the lie of relativism. The point was to get at the truth. And Newfield knew that the most important arena in which to go seeking for truth, in all its ugliness and glory, was the political fray.

Newfield understood that politics ought to be a noble endeavor. Yet, he recognized that it seldom was. He had a facility for spotting both the failings of those who gave politics its bad name -- especially those of the political bosses of Brooklyn and Queens -- and the potential of those who sought to redeem the enterprises of electioneering and governing. And he saw redemption in participatory democracy; among the final articles by this veteran of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s was an optimistic report on the increasingly important role that African-American voters would play in the 2004 election.

One of Newfield's last endeavors was the editing of a pair of books of essays, American Rebels and American Monsters. Newfield was on the side of the rebels. He celebrated them when they were beating the monsters in the 1960s, and when they were frequently beaten by those same monsters in the decades that followed.

Jack Newfield saw a world of heroes and villains, and he recognized that when they battled in the political arena it was the job of the journalist to go beyond merely reporting. He understood that the search for truth led, ultimately, to the point where the journalist had to take a side. He took the side of civil rights marchers, of anti-poverty crusaders, of reformers and radicals who believed that the promise of social and economic equity would be made real if the better angels of the American experiment could only be awoken by an article or a book. And so he wrote, passionately, powerfully and with a faith in the potential of a word well chosen to change the world.

Jack Newfield defined journalism for this reporter, and for thousands of others. His passing robs the craft not just of an able practitioner, but of a man who taught the rest of us that the combination of pen and ink could produce the rarest of all commodities: truth, and sometimes justice.

Feingold for President?

The crowd at the Democratic Party's annual dinner in western Wisconsin's Vernon County was large, loud and longing for a little partisan passion.

Far from feeling beat down by the November presidential election result, the more than 100 rural Democrats who gathered in small city of Viroqua this week were ready to fight against the war in Iraq, against economic policies that favor big business over working people and family farmers and against the warping of the public discourse by a media that is more concerned about Scott Peterson's conviction than the future of Social Security.

Unfortunately, they couldn't find many reflections of their grassroots passion in the current leadership of the Democratic Party. The sense that the time had come for a fresh face was palpable.

When I met with the Vernon County activists – most of whom were Democrats but some of whom were interested Greens and independents – their response to my suggestion that the county needs a real opposition party was immediate and enthusiastic.

These rural Democrats even had a suggestion for the who should lead that opposition. And it wasn't Hillary Clinton or John Edwards. When I was describing what a serious opposition party would stand for at this moment in history--starting with an absolute rejection of the war in Iraq and empire building and going on to a passionate defense of civil liberties and a willingness to stand up to multinational corporations--a bearded fellow in the crowd shouted, "We've got someone who can do it--the only senator who voted against the Patriot Act: Russ Feingold."

The crowd cheered.

And they aren't alone. While it might be predictable that Wisconsin Democrats would be excited by the prospect of their just-reelected senator seeking the presidency, the buzz about a possible Feingold for President campaign in 2008 is growing nationally.

Hotline, the online bible of inside-the-beltway political junkies, just featured a commentary in which the editors suggested that Wisconsin's junior senator – who has been outspoken in his criticism not just of the Patriot Act but of the war in Iraq and the corporate free-trade agenda -- could be a serious contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. Noting that, against serious opposition, Feingold ran more than 140,000 votes ahead of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in Wisconsin, a source told Hotline, "He just accomplished an impressive victory in a heartland swing state in a year that wasn't so kind to (Democrats)." The source went on to suggest that Feingold "will be looked at as a new voice for the party as it moves forward."

Over at www.mydd.com, a popular Democratic website, political writer Chris Bowers observes, "Feingold is in an odd position. Even though he has won three terms in the US Senate, he actually is still known as a "reformer" and an "outsider," due in no small part to the constant repetition of the "McCain-Feingold" legislation in the national media. Because of this reputation, among all Democratic Senators, except perhaps (newly-elected Illinois Sen. Barack) Obama, I think he would be the best bet to capture the non-ideological reformers that I believe are a key to future Democratic success."

The interest in a Feingold candidacy has even sparked the development of a "Russ Feingold for President" Internet forum.

So will Feingold run? The man is not without ambition. He thought about seeking the presidency in 2004, but backed off before the contest really got started.

As the jockeying begins for 2008--and, make no mistake, the jockeying has begun--it is a safe bet that Feingold will again ponder a run. And with the unsolicited support that he's getting from his home state and elsewhere, he might well be inspired this time to do more than just explore a candidacy.

Guarantee the Right to Vote

As US Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, chaired Tuesday's hearing on irregularities in the presidential voting in Ohio on November 2, the Rev. Jesse Jackson warned that the session must be more than merely an opportunity to "vent."

"We cannot vent and then have Congress not act. If these reports are not investigated, we have all wasted our time," the two-time candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination declared. "This cannot simply be an academic venting session. Take this struggle to the streets and legitimize it there, as they did in Selma."

Jackson is right. There is no question that the voting and ballot counting processes in Ohio--and a number of other states--were deeply flawed. Those flaws are well outlined in the letter that Conyers and eleven other Democratic representatives sent earlier this month to Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. (Click here to read the letter and other recent communications from Conyers to state and federal officials regarding the electoral troubles in Ohio.)

The letter, as well as testimony at today's hearing in Washington, makes a convincing case for continuing the examination of the mess that Blackwell, a Bush partisan, and his team made of the voting in Ohio on November 2. Necessarily, that examination must include the full recount requested by Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb and others.

But it is important to recognize that the sort of election problems that were discussed at Tuesday's hearing are not isolated to Ohio--just as the problems that came to light during the Florida recount fight of 2000 were not isolated to the Sunshine State.

The United States lacks a coherent and consistent set of standards for registering to vote, voting, counting ballots or recounting them. Thus, every election cycle brings new instances of disenfranchisement and doubts about the validity of the process.

On the eve of the Conyers hearing, the new group Progressive Democrats of America released a well-reasoned list of electoral reforms which can and should become central to the activism of everyone who is dissatisfied with the process--and the result--of the November 2 election. PDA argues that America needs:

* A Constitutional amendment confirming the right to vote.

* A required paper record for all electronic and electronically tabulated voting systems.

* Same-day registration for all Americans.

* The creation of unified federal standards for national elections.

* Meaningful equal protection of voting rights by such means as equal voting systems, equal numbers of machines, and equal time to vote.

* An end to partisan oversight of the electoral process.

* Extended voting periods to allow all voters a meaningful opportunity to vote.

* Instant Run-off Voting and Proportional Representation.

* Publicly financed elections for federal offices.

That's a long list. And the best place to begin is with the basics: guaranteeing the right to vote.

During the Supreme Court deliberations in 2000 on the Bush v. Gore case that ultimately determined the occupant of the White House, Justice Antonin Scalia went out of his way to establish that the individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for the president of the United States. US Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Illinois, has set out to rectify that glaring omission by proposing an amendment to the Constitution that would cure a lot of what ails our political process.

Here's the text of the amendment

SECTION 1. All citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, shall have the right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides. The right to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States, any State, or any other public or private person or entity, except that the United States or any State may establish regulations narrowly tailored to produce efficient and honest elections.

SECTION 2. Each State shall administer public elections in the State in accordance with election performance standards established by the Congress. The Congress shall reconsider such election performance standards at least once every four years to determine if higher standards should be established to reflect improvements in methods and practices regarding the administration of elections.

SECTION 3. Each State shall provide any eligible voter the opportunity to register and vote on the day of any public election.

SECTION 4. Each State and the District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall establish and abide by rules for appointing its respective number of Electors. Such rules shall provide for the appointment of Electors on the day designated by the Congress for holding an election for President and Vice President and shall ensure that each Elector votes for the candidate for President and Vice President who received a majority of the popular vote in the State or District.

The right-to-vote amendment is not all the reform that is needed. But if the goal of is to prevent future electoral fiascos--like Florida, Ohio or elsewhere--it is a vehicle for getting started. After all, who, aside from Antonin Scalia, would argue against the right to vote.

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.

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