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The Nation

E-Insecurity

In 2006, 80 percent of voters will cast their ballots on electronic voting machines. As recent elections and tests show, these machines are still far from secure.

"All three of the most commonly purchased electronic systems have significant security and reliability vulnerabilities," says a report by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU.

As Katrina notes today, e-voting machines are not the only obstacle facing voters on election day. But they remain a major one.

That's why Senators Barbara Boxer, Chris Dodd and Russ Feingold introduced the "Confidence in Voting Act" to ensure that paper ballots are available at every polling place.

Governor Robert Ehrlich of Maryland, a Republican, last week endorsed the paper ballot alternative, concluding after the primaries that his state's new $106 million electronic system wasn't up to the test.

There are only two days left before Congress adjourns and members spend the rest of their time campaigning for re-election.

You can click here to urge Congress to take up the emergency legislation before it's too late.

Suppressing the Vote

With Election Day around the corner, and concerns about another voting debacle of Florida 2000-proportions running high (especially given problems at primaries this year in Maryland, Ohio, Illinois and several other states) – Republicans in Congress are on the job and doing everything they can to further disenfranchise voters.

Rather than taking the necessary steps to strengthen, expand and improve the democratic process, the GOP has launched a new effort to create modern-day Jim Crow exclusionary practices through new voter ID requirements.

The House recently passed a bill along party lines requiring voters to present a photo ID beginning in 2008. Starting in 2010, voters would need to pay for a government-issued proof of citizenship – a virtual poll tax. This shameful legislation was passed just months after the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act when President Bush declared "the right of ordinary men and women to determine their own political future."

"If the [House] Bill passed the Senate and became law, the electorate would likely become more middle-aged, whiter and richer – and, its sponsors are anticipating, more Republican," the New York Times wrote in a recent editorial.

Demos, a national public policy organization, reports that the legislation would disproportionately impact people of color, individuals with disabilities, rural voters, people living on reservations, the homeless, and low-income people – all of whom studies show are less likely to carry a photo ID and more often have to change photo ID information.

Senate Democrats have asked that Majority Leader Bill Frist not bring the bill to the floor. In a letter to Frist, Senators Reid, Kennedy, Dodd and Obama wrote: "The burdensome and costly requirements of obtaining [citizenship] documents not only could prevent many eligible voters from participating, but… Worst of all, this bill recalls a dark era in our nation when individuals were required to pay a poll tax to cast their ballot and has been termed a 21st century poll tax." Frist's next move remains to be seen.

States, too, are getting into the voter suppression act. Georgia, Missouri and Indiana have passed similar ID requirements. The laws were overturned by the courts in Georgia and Missouri while in Indiana, the law was upheld by district court and is now under appeal. The right- wing pins hopes on appealing all the way to the Supreme Court where decisions by Scalia and the Supremes seem to fall in their "1 Man, 1 Vote – sort of" favor.

"This is the most sinister scheme I've ever seen," said former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes, "and it's going on nationwide." "Voter suppression doesn't happen with intimidation on election day," said Michael Waldman, executive director of The Brennan Center for Justice, "but rather through silent and sometimes secret government actions in the weeks leading up to an election."

If the Republicans are truly concerned about "the integrity of our voting process," as Rep. John Boehner claims, they should take a look at flawed voting machines that, according to the Washington Post, "scientists have shown they could manipulate… to report a vote total that differed from the actual total cast by voters." Or they could address the fact that the Diebold machines tested in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, rendered a paper trail "nearly 10 percent of [which was] destroyed, blank, illegible, or otherwise compromised." Or they could explain why a Princeton professor was able to hack into a voting machine as an experiment. Or they could reform the administering of elections, so that partisan secretaries of state with lofty political ambitions such as Katherine Harris and Ken Blackwell are no longer running the show. Or they could try to stop the purges of valid voters from the voter rolls…

The blueprint for what to do is out there. Robert Pastor, director of a commission on electoral reform organized by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker, told the Washington Post, "The Carter-Baker commission identified 87 steps that need to be undertaken. Regrettably, almost none of them are being done right now. I would start by establishing statewide, nonpartisan election administration."

And Americans can start by voting Democrat this November, and then pressing a new Congress to give us common sense reforms that create a truly democratic, transparent and legitimate electoral system.

Just hope your vote is counted – correctly.

A Sovereign Iraq?

In Wednesday's Washington Post, reporter Amit Paley reveals what the Iraqi people want from their sovereign state: "A strong majority of Iraqis want U.S.-led military forces to immediately withdraw from the country, saying their swift departure would make Iraq more secure and decrease sectarian violence, according to new polls by the State Department and independent researchers."

The State Department poll shows that 65 percent of Baghdad residents favor an immediate pullout. And polling by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland indicates that 71 percent of Iraqis want U.S. led forces out within a year. Even 57 percent of Sunni Muslims – who might fear reprisals from a Shiite majority – favor a U.S. withdrawal within 6 months.

According to the State Department report titled Iraq Civil War Fears Remain High in Sunni and Mixed Areas: "Majorities in all regions except Kurdish areas state that the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) should withdraw immediately, adding that the MNF-I's departure would make them feel safer and decrease violence."

If we truly believe in democracy in Iraq and it is now clear that the Iraqi people want us to leave, why not allow the country's citizens to vote on the issue? Perhaps a simple ballot proposition: "Should U.S. troops remain in Iraq or leave within a year?" – with a stay or leave option.

The new polling refutes the notion dominating today's Washington Post op-ed page – and its editorials every week--that we have the right to stay in Iraq as an occupying force.

Bin Laden 'Not Our Priority'

Pop Quiz!

Who said this?

"I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority."

Or this?

"I don't know where he is. I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him."

Or this?

"Deep in my heart I know the man's on the run, if he's alive at all...I just don't spend much time on it, really, to be honest with you."

And who disbanded the CIA unit dedicated to finding bin Laden?

Hint: It wasn't Bill Clinton.

Foot-Long Hot Dog in Mouth Disease

Even by dysfunctional family reunion standards, last week's UN Summit was a blowout. There were the Presidents of Iran and the United States avoiding each other like estranged cousins, the President of Venezuela calling Bush the devil, and the Prime Minister of Thailand discovering he had been deposed back home.

The only reunion that could rival this for pyrotechnics was the one between Senator Allen and his mother, Etty Lumbroso, when she told him she was, in fact, Jewish. After the revelation, she cried, "Now you don't love me anymore"--and swore him to silence.

What could have been a powerful opportunity for Allen to bury the Macaca-inspired questions about his sensitivity was instead blown by his handling of the revelation. Specifically: his insistence that, quote, "I was raised as a Christian and my mother was raised as a Christian," even after he knew this wasn't the case; his (faux) outraged "making aspersions" response when asked by a TV reporter at a debate about his heritage, as if the reporter was Torquemada; and his awkward stereotypical quips: "I still had a ham sandwich for lunch. And my mother made great pork chops."

Now Allen faces accusations from three college football teammates that he was a racist, who was overly fond of the "N" word and placed a severed deer head in an African-American family's mailbox, supposedly inspired by the famous horse-head scene in the then just-released first Godfather movie.

The senator, who a few months ago was a shoo-in for reelection and a front runner for the Republican presidential nomination, is discovering with each misstep that the public just doesn't love him anymore. Maybe he should stick to silence.

Bow to the King

Just as Senators McCain/Graham/Warner largely capitulated to Bush on torture, another group of dissident GOP Senators are bowing to the Administration on another critical national security issue: warrantless wiretapping.

Senators Larry Craig, John Sununu and Lisa Murkowski, who helped delay the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, yesterday struck a deal with the Administration. The agreement would alter Bush's powers ever so slightly, while allowing him to continue bypassing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts and conducting "massive warrantless surveillance of Americans," says Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies.

While the Senators dealt Bush another victory and the constitution another blow, a group of thirteen former high ranking national security officials, including past directors of the FBI and CIA, came out against the legislation.

"This legislation would return a complex subject to the murky waters from which FISA emerged," the letter states. "It leaves it to the President to decide when he has the authority to conduct warrantless surveillance of Americans or foreigners. Whether he has made the right determination will not be known unless and until it is challenged in court.

As individuals with extensive experience in national security and intelligence, we strongly urge that the requirements of FISA remain just that--requirements, not options."

They Just Don't Get It

Republicans have sunk to a new low in their campaign to retain control of the House and Senate in 2006. They've apparently decided to claim the image and stature of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as exclusively their own.

King biographer Taylor Branch and those who were close to the civil rights leader have long insisted that King was nonpartisan. But the Washington-based National Black Republican Association has begun airing a deeply offensive and historically inaccurate radio ad in Maryland that not only alleges that Democrats started the Klu Klux Klan and want to keep African Americans "poor while only voting Democrat," but also states unequivocally that Dr. King "was a Republican".

To his credit, Maryland Republican senatorial candidate Michael Steele, who happens to be African-American, has denounced the ad. But the fact that it was ever run in first place highlights a consistent problem the GOP seems to have with racial sensitivity. In Montana, embattled Republican Senator Conrad Burns has implied taxicab drivers are would be terrorists. When asked by an elderly rancher, "Conrad, how can you live back there [in Washington] with all those niggers?" Burns famously replied that it was "a hell of a challenge."

Virginia Senator George Allen's prejudices are becoming progressively more troubling. Beyond the infamous "Macaca" incident, there are now new allegations that Allen used racial epithets during the his youth to describe African Americans and once even conspired to put the severed head of a deer in the mailbox of a local black family. Allen, raised in Southern California, also appears to have romanticized some of the worst aspects of Southern history by fighting in favor of the Confederate flag and against establishing a Martin Luther King holiday.

Which brings us back to Dr. King. He would never have approved of using race to divide people. Anyone who's heard his speeches or read his works should know his life's work was to unite people of all races. It's both tragic and sad that partisan organizations like the National Black Republican Association would misrepresent him in the hopes of bolstering a candidate who's trailing in the polls.

Corn Versus Hitchens: On Niger, Plame and WMDs

A version of this was first posted at my blog at www.davidcorn.com....

I told readers of my regular blog that I would eventually get to Christopher Hitchens and his claims that Iraq had indeed sought uranium in Niger and that the Plame leak was not connected to a White House vendetta against Joe Wilson (and that I had promoted this "delusion.") Today's Slate contains a lengthy response from me that contends that Hitchens' Niger theorizing is contradicted by various facts he conveniently ignores. (These facts are covered at great length in the new book I wrote with Michael Isikoff, Hubris: the Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.) The piece also reminds (or, attempts to remind) Hitchens of other facts he never references when he writes about the Plame case: namely, that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby were out to undermine Wilson and in doing so leaked classified information about his wife's CIA employment. If you're interested in the details, you can go to the piece. Here's the finale:

For more than two decades, I have seen Hitchens weave facts and assertions into stylistically brilliant copy as he attempts to intuit great truths. But when he comes to believe that he can outthink the facts, he ends up enwrapped in creative conspiratorial fantasies. This past February, I participated in a radio debate with him on whether the Bush administration had misguided the nation into war. Hitchens largely avoided the question at hand and instead argued the necessity of the invasion. When he did address the issue of the absent WMDs in Iraq, he took a strange turn. "Doesn't anything ever strike you as odd," he said, "about the figure of zero for [WMD] deposits found in Iraq?...Isn't it odd that none after all this? None? Doesn't that suggest a crime scene that has been pretty well dusted in advance, the fingerprints wiped? Well, it does to me." Read that quote carefully. It is revealing. Hitchens was saying that the fact that no weapons had been uncovered in Iraq (after nearly three years of searching) was evidence that there had been weapons. How can one argue with a person of such intellectual prowess that he can turn absence into presence by mere deduction?

On the Niger and Plame matters, his accounts rely on the same conceit: that his deductions, as Byzantine as they might be, trump the known facts. In this manner, Hitchens has become a full-fledged ally of the reality-defying advocates of the Iraq invasion. I sadly count that as another casualty of the war.

Hitchens, of course, replied--mainly be repeating his previous assertions, without addressing the inconvenient facts I presented. As might be expected, he offers a caricature of my original argument, claiming that I adhere to a "simple-minded presumption of Iraqi innocence" on the matter of its alleged pursuit of uranium in Niger. He did not read my response carefully enough. I did not state that Iraq was innocent because it claimed to be. I pointed out that the facts--those developed primarily by Charles Duelfer and his Iraq Survey Group (and recently endorsed by the Republican-controlled Senate intelligence committee)--contradict Hitchens' charges. He wisely avoids that reality and instead swings his scythe at a straw man of his own construction.

Hitchens also belittles the work of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. But here he again ducks a significant slice of reality, such as Libby's alleged lying to the FBI and the grand jury. Does Hitchens, a crusader for the (that is, his) truth, believe that government officials who lie to federal prosecutors deserve a pass?

As for the missing WMDs, Hitchens writes,

Corn seems to believe that the dictator who not only acquired and concealed them, but who actually used them, must be granted the benefit of the doubt.

Why does such a brilliant man have such a difficult time with a simple concept? I do not grant Saddam any benefit. Nor did Duelfer or David Kay, his predecessor as ISG chief. I merely cite the conclusions of their investigations. If these two men--who both supported the war and believed there were WMDs in Iraq--determined there were no unconventional weapons (or WMD programs) in Iraq after 1991, then Hitchens must bring more to the table than his presumptions. Accepting the findings of Duelfer and Kay (as even George W. Bush reluctantly did; though I'm not sure about Dick Cheney) is not a sign of softness on Saddam. By conflating the two, Hitchens is resorting to disingenuous wordplay. It is a rhetorical tactic he should not have to resort to--unless he is on the ropes.

All in all, Hitchens' reply was in keeping with the columns that prompted my article. He still believes his deduction and analysis can trump the facts. That places him in fine company, for it was just that sort of thinking that landed the United States in the mess in Iraq.

******

For information on Hubris: the Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, click here.

'You Did Your Nice Little Conservative Hit Job On Me'

Regular readers of this column will know that it maintains no great affection for former President Bill Clinton. A Democratic Leadership Council stalwart, Clinton got elected president by promising health care and education for all and then proceeded to give the country fiscal conservatism and a corporate-sponsored free trade agenda. His missteps handed control of Congress to Newt Gingrich and the radical right, rendering the Democratic party largely dysfunctional at the legislative level to this day.

But there has never been any doubt that Clinton was more serious about combating terrorism than his successor, George W. Bush. Clinton actually worried about threats to the United States, while Bush dismissed warnings at precisely the moment when the threats were most serious. And, as the intelligence community now confirms, Bush's failure of focus and practice have made the Americans more vulnerable.

The fact that Bush's supremely political presidency treats "homeland security" as a slogan rather than a necessity is the fundamental flaw in the current commander-in-chief's deeply flawed tenure. And his handlers are well aware of the problem. That's why they have worked so hard, along with their amen corner in the media, to create the false impression that Clinton and the Democrats were somehow more responsible for the 9-11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon than Bush and the gang that couldn't shoot straight.

Unfortunately, the so-called "leaders" of the opposition party have done a lousy job of challenging the spin job... until now.

Clinton used an appearance with "Fox News Sunday's" Chris Wallace to challenge the lies of the Bush administration and its media acolytes.The interview, which was broadcast over the weekend, got to the heart of what's wrong not with the Bush presidency but with a media that covers that presidency from the on-bended-knee position.

Clinton recognized that Wallace, one of the more competent members of the Fox team, was under pressure to mouth the Republican talking points that the network uses as its reference points. And the former president pounced on that vulnerability.

When Wallace started in on the "Why didn't you do more to put Bin Laden and al Qaeda out of business when you were President?" line of questioning, Clinton leapt.

"Okay, let's talk about it," the former president began. "I will answer all of those things on the merits, but I want to talk about the context (in) which this (discussion) arises. I'm being asked this on the FOX network… ABC just had a right-wing conservative (program) on "The Path to 9/11" falsely claim that it was… based on the 911 Commission Report with three things asserted against me that are directly contradicted by the 9/11 Commission Report. I think it's very interesting that all the conservative Republicans who now say that I didn't do enough claimed (in the 1990s) that I was obsessed with Bin Laden. All of President Bush's neocons claimed that I was too obsessed with finding Bin Laden when they didn't have a single meeting about Bin Laden for the nine months after I left office. All the right-wingers who now say that I didn't do enough said (then) that I did too much. Same people."

By now, Wallace was sputtering: "I understand...," "with respect, if I may, instead of...," "But Mr. President..."

But Clinton was on a roll.

Despite Wallace's stumbling attempts to interrupt him, Clinton went year-by-year, incident-by-incident, initiative-by-initiative through his anti-terror efforts.

"I authorized the CIA to get groups together to try to kill (bin Laden)," the former president explained. "The CIA was run by George Tenet, who President Bush gave the Medal of Freedom to and said he did a good job. The country never had a comprehensive anti-terror operation until I came to office. If you can criticize me for one thing, you can criticize me for this: after the Cole, I had battle plans drawn to go into Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban, and launch a full scale attack/search for Bin Laden. But we needed basing rights in Uzbekistan, which we got (only) after 9/11. The CIA and the FBI refused to certify that Bin Laden was responsible while I was there. They refused to certify. So that meant I would have had to send a few hundred Special Forces in helicopters and refuel at night. Even the 9/11 Commission didn't (think we should have done) that. Now the 9/11 Commission was a political document, too? All I'm asking is if anybody wants to say I didn't do enough, you read (former National Security Advisor) Richard Clarke's book."

Wallace finally asked: "Do you think you did enough, sir?"

Clinton replied: "No, because I didn't get him."

Wallace chirped, "Right."

Clinton countered, "But at least I tried. That's the difference in me and some, including all the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try and they didn't. I tried. So I tried and failed. When I failed, I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country: Dick Clarke. So you did FOX's bidding on this show. You did your nice little conservative hit job on me. But what I want to know…

Stung, Wallace was again interrupting. But Clinton held firm. "I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you've asked this question of. I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked ‘Why didn't you do anything about the Cole?' I want to know how many you asked ‘Why did you fire Dick Clarke?' I want to know…"

"We ask plenty of questions of…" sputtered Wallace.

"Tell the truth…" Clinton shot back, before revealing that he had Wallace's number.

"You set this meeting up because you were going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers because (Fox owner) Rupert Murdoch is going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers for supporting my work on Climate Change. And you came here under false pretenses and said that you'd spend half the time talking about (climate change.) You said you'd spend half the time talking about what we did out there to raise $7 billion plus over three days from 215 different commitments. And you don't care."

Truer words have rarely been spoken on a nationally-televised "news" program.

When a beaten Wallace tried to cover for himself – "… all I can say is, I'm asking you in good faith because it's on people's minds, sir. And I wasn't…" – Clinton nailed him: "There's a reason it's on people's minds. That's the point I'm trying to make. There's a reason it's on people's minds because they've done a serious disinformation campaign to create that impression."

Love Bill Clinton or hate him, but understand that his appearance on Fox New Sunday was one of those rare moments in recent American history when a target of our drive-by media shot back.