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The Nation

Doolittle for Democracy

On Capitol Hill Thursday, about 60 citizens wearing "Got Paper?" t-shirts attended a packed hearing on H.R. 550, a bill introduced by Representative Rush Holt with 218 bipartisan co-sponsors that would require all electronic voting machines to produce a voter-verified paper record. This paper trail would be utilized for mandated manual audits that would increase the reliability of our democratic process.

"The last six years have brought us example after example of the problems caused by unverifiable voting machines," Holt said in a released statement. "There is legitimate cause for the current crisis in voter confidence, yet Congress has done nothing to make election results auditable."

Dr. Edward Felten, Director of the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University, demonstrated the ease by which a Diebold machine could be hacked in order to change the outcome of an election.

But opponents to the bill – such as Republican Representative John "My name says it all" Doolittle – pointed to a recent recount in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, which showed problems with 10 percent of the paper receipts.

Barbara Simmons of the Association for Computing Machinery countered that the Cuyahoga problem occurred because "the voting machine companies came out with… the cheapest way to do it. It's bad technology. We need to hold vendors to high standards."

Holt was dismayed that the bill didn't receive a hearing until the day before Congress was scheduled to adjourn. He called on Speaker Dennis Hastert to bring it to the House floor for an up-or-down vote immediately.

"We still have time to protect the integrity of this year's vote," Holt said. "But only if the House acts before the October recess."

In this Doolittle Congress, don't count on it.

Height of Hypocrisy

Rep. Mark Foley co-chaired the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children.

So it's particularly sickening that Foley suddenly resigned from the House today after details emerged that he'd kept up a highly questionable e-mail correspondence with a 16-year-old male page in his office, who dubbed the exchanges, "sick sick sick sick sick sick."

Talk about the height of hypocrisy.

Here are the emails.

And ABC News just released excerpts of instant messenges exchanged between Foley and another underage male page.

Foley asked the teen, "Do I make you a little horny?" When the kid responded, "a little," Foley wrote, "Cool."

Foley has been a leading proponent of cracking down on pedophiles. He should start with himself.

Rigging the News in Iraq (continued)

You remember the Lincoln Group? The guys the Pentagon paid tens of millions of dollars to pay-off Iraqi media and plant stories favorable to the U.S.?

The same guys The New York Times revealed to have lied about "partnerships with major media and advertising companies, former government officials with extensive Middle East experience, and ex-military officers with background in intelligence and psychological warfare" in order to receive those hefty contracts?

In short, just the kind of guys Bush, Cheney & Co. enjoys working with.

So it's hardly surprising – though completely outrageous – to read Walter Pincus' story in yesterday's Washington Post that the Lincoln Group has been handed a new "two-year, $12.4 million contract to handle strategic communications management…." Lincoln competed against seven other groups and was the lowest bidder "to help military commanders in Baghdad get what they consider the positive side of their operations in the news…."

At least one competitor might challenge the contract decision based on Lincoln's record. But when one considers Halliburton, Kellogg Brown and Root, Blackwater, Custer Battles, Bechtel and others… one can't be too terribly optimistic about the outcome of any appeal.

Pincus also notes that one day after the State Department poll revealed that the Iraqi people want U.S. forces to withdraw immediately and would feel safer if they did, the military now aims "to hire a private firm to conduct polling and focus groups in Iraq ‘to assess the effectiveness of operations as they relate to gaining and maintaining popular support.'"

Once again, the modus operandi of this administration is perfectly clear: if you don't like the news delivered (in this case, by the State Department), contract out to a hired gun (or Rummy). And if you don't like the news reported by Iraqis, hire the Lincoln Group.

And if you don't like the twisted thinking of this sick bunch, vote Democrat in November. It's the only way we will achieve any oversight of this continuing debacle in Iraq.

Tortuous Legislation

Just how bad was the legislation on military detainees, aka the torture bill, that passed the House on Wednesday and the Senate last night?

Read what the Washington Post had to say about it, under the headline "Many Rights in US Legal System Absent in New Bill":

"Included in the bill...are unique rules that bar terrorism suspects from challenging their detention or treatment through traditional habeas corpus petitions. They allow prosecutors, under certain conditions, to use evidence collected through hearsay or coercion to seek criminal convictions.

The bill rejects the right to a speedy trial and limits the traditional right to self-representation by requiring that defendants accept military defense attorneys. Panels of military officers need not reach unanimous agreement to win convictions, except in death penalty cases, and appeals must go through a second military panel before reaching a federal civilian court.

By writing into law for the first time the definition of an 'unlawful enemy combatant,' the bill empowers the executive branch to detain indefinitely anyone it determines to have 'purposefully and materially' supported anti-U.S. hostilities. Only foreign nationals among those detainees can be tried by the military commissions, as they are known, and sentenced to decades in jail or put to death.

At the same time, the bill immunizes U.S. officials from prosecution for cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of detainees who the military and the CIA captured before the end of last year. It gives the president a dominant but not exclusive role in setting the rules for future interrogations of terrorism suspects."

The legislation contains so many possibly unconstitutional provisions that one human rights expert called it "a full-employment act for lawyers."

When They're (Much Older Than) 64

At a gathering I attended in the remote mountains of eastern Washington state this week -- a breathtakingly beautiful region of the country -- people were discussing actions they could take to promote a "Fair Share for Health Care" law. Someone had a wonderful idea: a job fair in the Wal-Mart parking lot, urging Wal-Mart workers to quit and become unionized home health care workers instead. If more unions representing health care workers did this, everyone would benefit. The former Wal-Mart workers would end up with better benefits, the unions would gain more members, and Wal-Mart would finally face a problem that could inspire change: a workforce with better options. When workers have no exit strategy, a company has no reason to improve their conditions; if they start leaving in large numbers for better jobs, that's another story. (Given the nursing shortage, nurses' unions and nursing schools should be doing the same thing.)

The public would win, too, because home health care workers are badly needed. A report released this week by the Caregiving Project for Older Americans warns of a coming "caregiver crisis" ; as baby boomers age, the nation is expected to face a "severe and worsening" shortage of professional caregivers to look after them ( and because of demographics, the pool of family members able to provide care will also shrink). Japan, Austria and Germany have all adapted to their aging populations by adopting universal long-term care systems; the United States, by contrast, has no system in place, no plan to provide care that most families can afford, and not enough workers. Baby boomers should use their numbers and political savvy to advocate for solutions to this problem -- before they get too old and sick for political activism. And the labor movement should take notice of this situation's potential; a worker shortage always provides opportunities for greater justice.

Choice for South Dakota

Over the next week, pro-choice activists across the United States will hold potluck fundraisers to fight South Dakota's draconian abortion bill. The legislation, HB-1215, was signed into law last March by Governor Mike Rounds to the delight of the anti-choice movement, and calls for a near-complete ban on abortions with no exceptions in cases of rape, incest, or for the health of the mother.

The law is not designed to minimize abortions (there are fewer than 1,000 abortions per year in South Dakota). Rather, the real aim is to ignite a nationwide effort to challenge Roe v Wade and advance an ideological agenda that includes limiting access to emergency contraception and abstinence-only sex education in public schools.

Fortunately, this heavy-handed approach has set off a backlash, and on May 30, some 38,416 signatures from South Dakota voters were delivered to the State Legislature asking for a vote on the matter. Now verified, these signatures put the future of the abortion ban up for grabs on November 8 when a statewide referendum ("Referred Law 6") will determine whether the law goes into effect.

A flood of rightwing money is flowing into the state for anti-choice advertising in support of Referred Law 6. That's where the potlucks come in. StandUpSD.com, a nationwide campaign to repeal South Dakota's abortion ban sponsored by Planned Parenthood (which operates the only two clinics in the state performing abortions), is using the dinners to raise counter-funds. There are currently more than 300 potluck events planned in 38 states -- from Belfast, ME, to Davenport, IA, to Arcata, CA. The dinner themes range from turkey fries to luaus to pizza parties, with events being held in churches and synagogues, backyards, parks, homes and sororities.

Click here to see if there's a potluck near you, sign on to StandupSD's petition to Governor Rounds, volunteer to go to South Dakota to work with PP before the election, learn about and support South Dakota's progressive women candidates, and click here to tell everyone you know that you're joining the fight now before anti-choice extremists advance their cause to your state. According to a new Zogby report released on September 28, polls show the referendum in a statistical heat with opponents of the ban leading by a slim margin of 47 to 44 percent. So in this fight every little bit really does help.

Do or Die Time for Angelides

It's do or die time for California Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides -- but he's mostly dying. With just a handful of weeks to go in the re-election race of Governor Schwarzenegger, new polls show Angelides trailing by as much as 17%.

Next week is the only televised debate of the campaign and most observers believe that if Angelides doesn't land some sort of knock-out punch he will be doomed for defeat in November. The new polls show that while Arnold has sewn up Republican support, Angelides is attracting only about 3 out of 5 California Democrats. Independents, meanwhile, are tilting toward the incumbent.

Some California unions, including the prison guards, teachers, and service employees have just rolled out a multi-million TV ad campaign slamming the Governator as too conservative to govern one of the bluest states in the union. And Angelides has come up with a new campaign tack of calling for the withdrawal of California National Guard troops from the conflict in Iraq.

But nothing seems to be slowing Arnold's momentum. He has made recent deals with the Democratic legislature on raising the minimum wage, lowering prescription drug prices and has just signed the most advanced anti-Global Warming legislation in the country.

Angelides' slumping campaign is now beginning to worry other California Democrats. Could his stall-out depress Democratic turn-out and in November and erode the chances of other down-ballot candidates? Worried Democrats want to know.

Compromising on Torture--UPDATED

UPDATE: The Senate passed legislation a few hours ago that endorsed President George W. Bush's plan to prosecute and interrogate terrorism suspects. The 65-34 vote means the bill could reach the president's desk by week's end to be signed into law. The House of Representatives passed almost identical legislation on Wednesday by 253-168 and was expected to endorse the Senate bill on Friday, then ship it to the White House.

The bill--which was opposed by humans rights rights groups and a majority of the legal profession--would create military commissions to prosecute terrorism suspects, would grant the president flexibility to decide what interrogation techniques are permissible and generally, "Give the executive branch a tremendous amount of unfettered power to detain people who otherwise are here in the United States lawfully," according to CBS legal analyst David Cohen. Our only hope now to live in a land where the President can't decide to torture someone is the Supreme Court. But don't hold your breath.


I don't mean to go all torture, all the time, but as the inimitable Molly Ivins wrote today, "With a smug stroke of his pen, President Bush is set to wipe out a safeguard against illegal imprisonment that has endured as a cornerstone of legal justice since the Magna Carta" was codified in 1215.

Yesterday, the House passed GOP compromise detainee legislation which would strip terror detainees of basic legal rights, but there's still time to call the Senate about bill S.3930--IF you act immediately. The deal President Bush struck with Congress is a betrayal of the best of America and would make this country a distinctly less democratic place. No citizen should remain on the sidelines in the days ahead.

As an important Amnesty International alert summarizes, this new legislation, only days away from being passed, would abandon the rule of law and give the President the freedom to interpret the Geneva Conventions any way he sees fit; would provide immunity to those responsible for past human rights abuses, would exempt from prosecution those who authorize treatment traditionally considered torture and would deprive detainees of access to US courts.

It's not too melodramatic to say that the soul of our nation could be in jeopardy. Much of what we're meant to believe in is on the line. And it's not only a question of morality and democracy--there's also self-interest, as many retired military brass have been saying of late. If America renounces the Geneva Conventions like President Bush has proposed, nations all over the world will likely follow. The result: American soldiers will be placed in greater threat of torture when captured, not just by one or two rogue nations, but by numerous countries around the world.

Click here for contact info to implore your Senators to resist S.3930 and oppose this attempted rollback of democracy today. Or call 1-800-AMNESTY and an operator will connect you to the appropriate Congressional office. Let the person on the phone know that you are a constituent, that you think the deal President Bush has struck is a betrayal of the America you believe in, and that you expect your Senator to stand firm in defense of human rights.

If at First You Don't Succeed

Okay, it wasn't on the front page of my hometown paper, but maybe it should have been. How many of you remember the fun folks at the Lincoln Group, an outfit that bills itself as "a strategic communications & pubic relations firm providing insight & influence in challenging & hostile environments." You said it! And the last time around, on a $5 million-plus yearly Pentagon contract to produce a little good news in Iraq, they did a great job of adding to the general hostility of several environments.

Using US military personnel to write "news" stories, they had them translated and (for a price) slipped into the new "free" Iraqi press. It was a fine lesson in the spread of democratic habits, Bush-style. (After all, the same administration was paying columnists at home to slip a little of that good news our way.) The Lincoln Group's modus operandi blew up into a little scandal. The result? According to Rebecca Santana of the Associated Press, based on the Brownie-you're-doing-a-heck-of-a-job school of government -- what US military spokesperson in Iraq, Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, simply terms a "standard contracting process" -- they're back for more. The Group just got a new, two-year, approximately $6.2 million annual Pentagon contract "to monitor a number of English and Arabic media outlets and produce public relations-type products such as talking points or speeches for U.S. forces in Iraq." A Lincoln Group spokesman put it eloquently: They are "proud to be trusted to assist the multinational forces in Iraq with communicating news about their vital work."

Who knows exactly what this means, but it can't be good.

Still, using the same principle on which the Bush administration awarded the new contract -- if at first you don't succeed, try, definitely try again (and spend an absolute boodle on your cronies in the process), let me, for five cents, offer some advice of my own. After all, I've been monitoring the press for a while and military spokespeople as well.

Now, we all know that imagery is important in the process of producing "public relations-type products" that will turn the tide of the media war (especially here at home). So, here are some images and claims that have worked -- for a while, at least -- these last years. They may still be useful for military spokespeople eager to put the best twist on a situation that was, from the beginning, twisting, twisting in the wind:

*Suggest that you want to help the Iraqi child get on that bike of democracy and remove "the training wheels"

*Insist that we are working to "put an Iraqi face on" [choose an Iraqi event]

*[Choose an Iraqi moment or event, but do it quickly before things go sour] and label it a "milestone" or a "landmark"

*Suggest that, thanks to [choose your event], we are finally "turning a corner" (but don't look around that corner, not without body armor anyway)

*Suggest that [choose your enemy method of attack], these are "last ditch efforts" aimed at "bolstering flagging insurgent moral"; speak of whatever disaster has just happened as "predictable" or "an indicator of insurgent desperation"

*Claim that [whatever bad stats may be spiking at the moment] will probably decline in [choose another moment perhaps three to six months away]

*Assert that however bad the news may seem, "we" are "making progress" in certain areas (about which you can remain suitably vague)

But above all, retain anonymity. Insist on being called a "senior military official." You don't want to be held responsible for the ensuing mess.

Now, that'll be $6.2 million dollars, please...