Category Archives: Voting

Dump the Dems 4: What Would It Take to Rescue the Democratic Party?

Alright, we’ve laid the groundwork, examined the dilemma, and heard the two main sides of the argument. The time has come to ask practical questions about what can, if anything, be done.

$$$

Whichever side of this debate they come down on, I think everyone agrees that the core of the problem is $$$.

The stranglehold maintained by the relative minority of Democrats in the Democratic Leadership Council and the Blue Dog Alliance is made possible primarily by the overwhelming superiority of the GOP $$$campaign donor$$$ advantage over the past 25 years. The GOP, which represents and is employed by Corporate America, has enjoyed a 3 or 4-1 advantage in fund-raising for national and state-wide campaigns. A LOT of that money has gone into Rovian attack ads against Democratic candidates, as well as into outright efforts to sabotage likely Democratic voters and to steal close elections. For example, the paid Republican mob in Florida that intimidated Dade County election officials into cutting short their vote count were bought and brought there with RNC funds donated by corporations.

The DLC/BD Alliance has successfully made the argument to recalcitrant Dems that if they don’t want to go back to losing election after election, they have to be able to compete with the GOP monetarily. To do that, they have to present an agenda that is not unfriendly to potential corporate donors, and to do that, they have to dump their traditional concerns over labor rights, environmental issues, worker safety, and a host of other issues that had alienated corporate donors in the past.

The result of the Clinton success in the 90’s was to cement the power of the DLC/BDA in the party, pushing it further and further to the right until we now have a party that is, a majority of the time, philosophiocally indistinguishable from the GOP. It pushes the same agenda, it just doesn’t go as far as the Pubs are willing to go. The GOP is willing to dive off the cliff blindfolded; the Dems are only willing to push to the edge of the cliff, hoping it won’t collapse beneath them but otherwise doing nothing to move away from it or shore it up.

To rescue the Donkey party, therefore, first requires an all-out assault on the corporate-owned campaign financing system. In order for the Dems to return to who they used to be, there has to be a level campaign playing field, and as long as the rich own the Pubs, there won’t be…unless…we can manage to force public financing of campaigns on an unwilling and reluctant pair of political parties.

The most intensive of these efforts so far came in the 90’s with McCain-Feingold, but through compromise, tricks, and lengthy negotiation, the legislation was riddled with so many loopholes, exceptions, ifs, ands, and buts that by the time the vote came it was all but worthless. In the ensuing years, both parties, especially the GOP, simply ignored it or used one of its multiple loopholes to get around it.

If the Dems are ever to be Dems again, public financing of campaigns must become a reality and a strict limit placed on the raising of outside money by either party. I’m not going to go into the manifest benefits of forcing the parties to work with equal amounts of money, they’ve been repeated often enough that most of us know them by rote. Nor am I going to play devil’s advocate and repeat the myriad problems with enforcing such a law should we ever get one passed. Those are also too well known to need repetition.

What I am suggesting is that if we can’t pass and enforce a tough campaign finance reform law, there is ZERO chance that either party will EVER be anything other than a corporate subsidiary. With corporate $$$ dominating the campaigns and therefore the candidates and their campaign agendas, both will have to bow to corporate demands. To claim anything else is either hopelessly naive, naively impractical, or the result of blind denial of modern political reality.

The DLC/BD Alliance

When our liberal/progressive movement has succeeded in breaking the hold of corporate money on the election system, we’ll still be faced with breaking the hold of the DLC/BDA on the party. They aren’t going to go quietly. They have determined the course of the party for almost 2 decades from positions of power. They’re not going to let loose of that kind of power just because we don’t need them any more.

It will be necessary for us to work against the worst offenders – the Clintons, Rahm Emanuel, Harry Reid, Silvestre Reyes, Jay Rockefeller, et al – possibly to the extent of supporting Republican challengers if Democratic challengers lose in the primaries. We MUST be prepared to take it that far and they must KNOW we will take it that far. Otherwise the DLC/BDA will simply undercut the efforts by insisting, as they have in the past and are doing right this minute, that we can be taken for granted because, you know, we have nowhere else to go.

This is a powerful argument. It tells lazy, cowardly politicians (and most who aren’t one are the other; many are both at once) that they don’t actually have to change anything they’re doing because there’s no real threat to their incumbency; that we are so anti-GOP that we won’t vote for a Pub against a Dem no matter how often that Dem votes with Pubs. Joe Lieberman is the Poster-Boy for that snake oil even as we speak. As long as that is what the Dems believe, it is the corporationsn they rush to placate, not us.

Unity

In order for any of this to happen, we will first have to forge a coherent strategy and an alliance of our own wherein liberal and progressive activists agree to put aside their differences and – most importantly – agree to concentrate, for the good of the country, on recognizing and supporting priorities that may result in the sidelining of their pet projects.

The Democrats simply will not respond to a demand for change from the left unless a formidable organization is behind it, ready to work against and vote against any Democrat who doesn’t support the Main Principles of the New Movement.

(Next: “What are the main principles?”)

Told Yah So – Evidence That the ’04 Election Was Stolen

In Rolling Stone, Robert Kennedy Jr wrote in June of ’06 that his study of the ’04 election had convinced him “that the president’s party mounted a massive, coordinated campaign to subvert the will of the people”.

Across the country, Republican election officials and party stalwarts employed a wide range of illegal and unethical tactics to fix the election. A review of the available data reveals that in Ohio alone, at least 357,000 voters, the overwhelming majority of them Democratic, were prevented from casting ballots or did not have their votes counted in 2004(12) — more than enough to shift the results of an election decided by 118,601 votes.(13) (See Ohio’s Missing Votes) In what may be the single most astounding fact from the election, one in every four Ohio citizens who registered to vote in 2004 showed up at the polls only to discover that they were not listed on the rolls, thanks to GOP efforts to stem the unprecedented flood of Democrats eager to cast ballots.(14) And that doesn’t even take into account the troubling evidence of outright fraud, which indicates that upwards of 80,000 votes for Kerry were counted instead for Bush. That alone is a swing of more than 160,000 votes — enough to have put John Kerry in the White House.(15)

(emphasis added; numbers are citations attached to the original article)

The article produced something of a firestorm, with the Bush Admin hunkering down in fervent denial and the mainstream conservative press largely ignoring the survey that provided the evidence.

In this week’s RS (not online yet), Kennedy reports that Ohio’s new Sec of State, Jennifer Brunner, ordered an audit of the state’s e-voting machines by two independent teams of specialists. The results were even worse than she expected.

[The] teams…found that the terminals are so insecure they simply cannot be trusted. “There is the ability,” concludes Brunner, “to mount a wholesale attack on our voting system.”

Researchers were able to alter election results using only a magnet and a personal digital assistant. Forty percent of touchscreen machines manufactured by Diebold – now known as Premier –  flipped votes [overwhelmingly from Democrat to Republican as shown by the ’06 survey-MA], and one of the company’s machines erased votes without warning once its memory card was full. Even more alarming, electronic ballot counters could be rigged by poll workers to disregard votes without anyone knowing. “If that were done for just a few minutes every hour, you will have a vote total that doesn’t look too far off,” Brunner says. “Unless you did a hand count of every ballot, you’d never know it.”

(emphasis added)

All of which would pretty much explain the massive discrepancies Kennedy uncovered in ’06.

Nearly half of the 6 million American voters living abroad(3) never received their ballots — or received them too late to vote(4) — after the Pentagon unaccountably shut down a state-of-the-art Web site used to file overseas registrations.(5) A consulting firm called Sproul & Associates, which was hired by the Republican National Committee to register voters in six battleground states,(6) was discovered shredding Democratic registrations.(7) In New Mexico, which was decided by 5,988 votes,(8) malfunctioning machines mysteriously failed to properly register a presidential vote on more than 20,000 ballots.(9) Nationwide, according to the federal commission charged with implementing election reforms, as many as 1 million ballots were spoiled by faulty voting equipment — roughly one for every 100 cast.(10)

The reports were especially disturbing in Ohio, the critical battleground state that clinched Bush’s victory in the electoral college. Officials there purged tens of thousands of eligible voters from the rolls, neglected to process registration cards generated by Democratic voter drives, shortchanged Democratic precincts when they allocated voting machines and illegally derailed a recount that could have given Kerry the presidency. A precinct in an evangelical church in Miami County recorded an impossibly high turnout of ninety-eight percent, while a polling place in inner-city Cleveland recorded an equally impossible turnout of only seven percent. In Warren County, GOP election officials even invented a nonexistent terrorist threat to bar the media from monitoring the official vote count.(11)

Put what the audit discovered could be done with the machines together with what GOP operatives were actually caught doing – shredding Dem registrations, purging Dem voters, obstructing the vote in Dem districts, and the like – and a clear picture emerges of a stolen election, and stolen on a nationwide scale. Every battleground state seems to have had its Republican ops ready and willing to “play hardball” by breaking election laws wholesale on behalf of George W Bush and his Cult. With a GOP hack like Ken Blackwell Sec of State in Ohio in ’04, there seems to have been no check whatever on Republican dirty tricks.

For those who may say, “This is ancient history. The election is over. Why dig it all up now?” I say, “Neither party can be trusted and all those machines are still out there. If one side can rig an election, so can the other side. If one side goes unaccountable and unpunished, they will both be emboldened to do it again. Our democracy is on the ropes as it is. Do you want to kill it for good?”

Diebold changing its name is like a tiger pretending to be a zebra by adding a pair of pointy ears – a superficial disguise that will only fool the dumbest antelopes in the herd. If we are going to use evoting machines, we MUST have machines that leave a paper trail so ballots can be hand-counted if necessary (as bad as these machines are even when they aren’t being hacked, verified hand counts probably ought to be a regular part of the process).

Until and unless we do, our elections are not safe or reliable in the hands of either party.

If a Republican Wins, Head for Tierra del Fuego

I didn’t watch the GOP debate last night because there’s no point to it. They’ve established a pattern and it’s always the same: 2 or 3 of them get into a vicious fight over who’s most like a dictator, who’d violate the Constitution the most often, who’d break more laws, who’d give the oligarchs the most tax breaks, who’d torture more innocent people, who’d invade the most Muslim countries, and/or who’d make sure a maximum number of the poor would starve, freeze to death, and end up homeless, roaming the streets.

And just to be sure we’re clear, those aren’t attacks against their opponents. They’re boasting.

 

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So What Do WE Do About It? (Updated)

In a comment to the last post, Laura asks that and it’s a fair question.

What do you think WE can do? I realize optimism isn’t your strong suit, but since you write, I’ll assume you hope. Any strategies you might recommend…?

Of course. I’ve been sort of making tactical suggestions all along, piecemeal as it were, but maybe it’s time to put it all together and fill in the gaps.

First, I need to stress that there’s nothing magical about what needs to be done. It’s all obvious, fundamental shit, and it’s called “being a citizen”. Second, “hope” has nothing to do with it. I’m an analyst, basically. That’s how I think. As a reasonably capable analyst, I can assure you these tactics/strategies will almost certainly work – barring a military response that turns the US from a virtual dictatorship into an overt dictatorship, which is unfortunately possible but fortunately unlikely for a variety of reasons.

“Hope” has to do with a single question: Will enough people get off their asses to make a difference? My cynicism tells me they won’t, but I hope they will. eRobin, an activist and expert optimist thinks different.

The thing that gets me about us is that we as a nation do respond when challenged by our leaders. FDR did it. Kennedy did it. Even History’s Greatest Monster, Carter, did it and we set peak oil back a decade.

***

With the right leader, (our greatest sin is that we are dependent upon being led) we would rise to the challenge of universal single payer health care, global warming and the need to remake our economy and go green instead of turning into a nation of service workers.

Well, we don’t have real political leaders any more. We have, in both parties, corporate employees who are beholden to the corporatocracy that buys them with campaign money because of the way we insist on funding elections with private bucks, so the leaders are going to have to come from the bottom. From us. As I’ve said time and again lately, we’re going to have to do it ourselves. We’re on our own.

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Stealing ’08: Why Tim Griffin’s Appointment Was So Important

I have been hinting (here and here) that the Gonzo tumult is a distraction from the main event: Karl Rove’s use of the Justice Dept to provide cover for his planned theft of the 2008 election. While the Congress – and the country – wastes its time and energy trying to get Gonzo Al to resign (we know Bush won’t fire him under any circumstances), Rove’s USA replacements are gearing up for an election full of dirty tricks and illegal rights-embezzling.

Why, for example, was it so damned important to get a legal non-entity like Tim Griffin into a USA spot in a potential swing state that Harriet Miers was willing to pressure top Rove political aide Sara Taylor (who resigned today, perhaps feeling the investigators breathing down her neck and seeing the writing on the wall) to lean on Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling to fire Bud Cummins so Timmy could have his job?

Let’s see, shall we?

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Greg Palast: “The 2008 Election Has Already Been Stolen”

What a difference an “R” makes.

In talking to people around me and reading blog comments, I’ve realized that there’s a significant misunderstanding about our voting problems and it all revolves around a single letter: R.

People seem to think that the phrases “vote fraud” and “voter fraud” mean the same thing. They don’t. We need to clear that up before we can move on to the main business here – that the firing of the USA’s is about stealing the 2008 election.

Voter fraud: fraud perpetrated by voters. IOW, somebody pretending to be somebody s/he’s not or pretending to be eligible when s/he’s not. You know, like in Chicago in the old days when the Mayor’s Machine turned out hundreds of people who used phony documents to vote numerous times in the same election.

But that was in the pre-electronic days (almost the pre-electric days) when such things were not just possible but easy. Voter fraud hasn’t been a problem since the 50’s, pretty much, and recent investigations of suspected voter fraud turned up NOTHING. No evidence of a widespread movement. No evidence of a tiny organized cadre. No evidence. Period. As Royal Masset, the former political director of the Republican Party of Texas, put it in the Houston Chronicle, among Republicans it is an “article of religious faith that voter fraud is causing us to lose elections.” Not fact. Not proof. Certainly not on the basis of evidence. Faith.

Voter fraud simply doesn’t exist except in the paranoid ravings of rabid Republican extremists – you know, the people who run the GOP these days: Karl Rove, Grover Norquist, Karl Rove, James Dobson, Karl Rove, the Texas Republican party, and everybody who reports to Karl Rove – which is, as we’ve been learning lately, pretty much everybody in the Bush govt.

Vote fraud (no “r”): fraud perpetrated on the voting process. IOW, an attempt – usually by a political party and its operatives – to subvert an election in order to obtain a victory they would otherwise not enjoy. IOOW, to steal it.

Unlike voter fraud, vote fraud is very, very real. The evidence isn’t just available, it’s overwhelming.

Which brings us to Greg Palast.

In an interview with the online zine BUZZFLASH’s Mark Karlin, Palast – who broke the story of the wholesale suppression of minority voting rights in Florida in 2000 – was asked if the 2008 election was going to be stolen and replied, “It already has been.”

The prosecutor firings were 100% about influencing elections — not about loyalty to Bush, which is what The New York Times wrote. The administration team couldn’t tolerate appointees who wouldn’t go along with crime. In the book I present the evidence that Karl Rove directed a guy named Tim Griffin to target suppressing the votes of African American students, homeless men, and soldiers. Nice guy. They actually challenged the votes and successfully removed tens of thousands of legal voters from the voter rolls, same as they did in 2000. But instead of calling them felons, they said that they had suspect addresses.

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EVoting Experts on Radio

eRobin of Fact-esque sent this announcement to me via email. I’ve written a good deal about the problems with electronic voting, and this is a chance for you to hear about them on you iPod or by internet radio. I urge you to listen, especially if you’re not up-to-date on what’s been happening lately.

 

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How the Republicans Stole the 2004 Election in Ohio

Fact-esque‘s eRobin has called eVoting “the story of the century so far”, and she’s probably right. Greg Palast, an American investigative journalist who works for the British newspaper, The Observer because US papers aren’t much interested in investigating anything any more, more-or-less single-handedly proved that the 2000 election was stolen from Gore and handed to Bush by Jeb and Katherine Harris.

A lot of us suspected that the 2004 election was stolen as well, this time in Ohio by Ken Blackwell, Ohio’s Sec of State and a GOP operative. Turns out we may have been right: the Akron Beacon Journal is reporting that Cuyahoga County prosecutors are charging that three county election workers “conspired to avoid a more thorough recount of ballots in the 2004 presidential election”. (Link via The Raw Story)

Baxter said testimony will show that the three workers secretly chose sample precincts for the December 2004 recount that did not have questionable results to ensure the tally from the sample matched a previous vote count. Sample precincts [are supposed] to be selected randomly before witnesses.

When the results matched, the workers were allowed to recount the rest of the county’s ballots by machine, avoiding a full hand recount that would have been more lengthy and expensive, he said.

“This was a very hush operation,” Baxter said.

Of course it was. Continue reading

2008?


Maryland Gov Steals Election Process

In a brazen bid to take control of Maryland’s election process–a move that has sinister overtones to say the least–Publican Gov Bob Erlich wants Maryland’s feisty, independent Elections Administrator fired and replaced by an appointee of his own. The grounds for her dismissal? She’s ‘crabby’ to him.

ACCORDING TO state law, Maryland State Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone can be removed from her job only for “incompetence, misconduct or other good cause.” The law, passed in 1998, is intended to insulate the administrator, and the management of elections, from the bump and grind of partisan politics. But now Ms. Lamone, who has managed elections in the state since 1997, is the target of what by all appearances is a putsch by the Republican-led State Board of Elections. Board members are appointed by the governor, and Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. wants Ms. Lamone out.

Despite taking the nearly Kafkaesque step of having Ms. Lamone investigated by a veteran agent of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which usually confines itself to probing abuses by prison employees, the elections board hasn’t found much to accuse her of. There are no criminal allegations; her main sin, it seems, is that she has been crabby at times in her relations with the board. On one occasion, according to the board’s complaint, Ms. Lamone was guilty of a scheduling conflict, choosing to testify before Congress rather than appear before the board. Compounding the damage, she testily informed the board that she “alone” will determine how to do her job. On another occasion, it took her six weeks to promulgate written guidelines for local election officials on how to deal with voters who refused to use the state’s electronic voting machines. Most damning, apparently, was that Ms. Lamone complained to a job applicant that the governor was “out to get” her. So she’s crabby, and she tells the truth.

It seems pretty obvious that’s what’s behind this nonsense is yet another attempt to put the election into partisan hands in an effort to ensure a Bush win by hook or by crook, like the bogus redistricting in Colorado and Texas and the (maybe) aborted voter disenfranchisement in Florida and other states. The Pubs are lining up their ducks, using any means necessary to get the power to make the election go their way.

The signs are mounting that the Cult of Personality is working its magic, justifying any action that sanctifies Our Leader’s continued imperium, seeing as how he’s The Only Man in the Whole World Who Can Save Us. It’s looks like this election will be stolen in pieces by a combination of local actions rather than, like last time, a single illegal election that is then confirmed by the SCOTUS.

Is it time yet to call in the UN election monitors?

Deliberate, Built-In Electronic Vote-Tampering

Oh yeah. What you suspected is true, and Bev Harris at Black Box Voting has just proved it.

Issue: Manipulation technique found in the Diebold central tabulator — 1,000 of these systems are in place, and they count up to two million votes at a time.

By entering a 2-digit code in a hidden location, a second set of votes is created. This set of votes can be changed, so that it no longer matches the correct votes. The voting system will then read the totals from the bogus vote set. It takes only seconds to change the votes, and to date not a single location in the U.S. has implemented security measures to fully mitigate the risks.

This program is not “stupidity” or sloppiness. It was designed and tested over a series of a dozen version adjustments. (emphasis added)

So a deliberate hole was created to allow vote fraud by simply entering a single, 2-digit code. Blip blip–2 keystrokes and you control an election. What possible legitimate use could this have? And bear in mind–the Diebold machines have NO paper trail–no way to check the electronic data against hard ballots. And who would have this code? Do I have to spell it out?

(Via charles dodgson at Through the Looking Glass)

Touch-Screen Problems in Florida

Jeb is still insisting ‘there’s no problem’ with the voting machines in Florida, but a report by the Florida Division of Elections says otherwise.

The Florida Division of Elections’ report found that the rate of so-called undervotes, or blank or incomplete ballots, in the 2002 gubernatorial election was nearly three times higher in counties using touch-screen machines as in those with optical scan systems.In the election, which incumbent Republican Gov. Jeb Bush won by a wide majority, more than 44,000 votes were ruled invalid because of undervotes, overvotes (when a voter chooses more than one candidate) or flawed absentee ballots, the report said.

The document, the basis for an article in Thursday’s editions of the Miami Herald, was seized upon by critics of the screens, which Florida’s most populous counties have purchased to prevent a repeat of the election debacle of 2000. The report attracted little notice when it was issued last year.

Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way Foundation, a voters’ rights group, wrote Bush to suggest that residents of the 15 counties with the touch screens, which are akin to bank ATM terminals, be given the option of casting paper ballots in the upcoming presidential election.

“This would send a signal that election officials are willing to go the extra mile to let voters use technology they trust, even if it’s just a pencil and a piece of paper,” Neas said from Washington. Neas’ group has joined with the American Civil Liberties Union in suing Florida to force the state to install backup systems on the touch-screen terminals so a paper trail would be generated for use in any recount.

The Division of Elections and Bush’s office did not return calls for comment Thursday. But the agency, in a statement issued July 27, maintained that because of new hardware and voter education, Florida’s undervote rate was at its lowest level ever. An undervote is not a lost vote or error, it said, but occurs when citizens exercise their right to withhold their vote.

However, the day before the article on the report was published, Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, a Democrat, asked the county manager whether their jurisdiction should shift from touch-screen machines to paper ballots and optical scanners for the Nov. 2 election.

Last week, election workers in Miami said computer crashes had led to the loss of 2002 election data for the county, yet more proof of the touch-screen system’s unreliability, according to its critics. The computerized records were later found. (emphasis added)

Jeb has stubbornly refused to provide a paper-trail for Florida voters, claiming at various times that all the problems with touch screens have been fixed (they haven’t), that adding printers to them is too expensive (it isn’t), or that there just isn’t time before the election (there’s more than enough). As each of these excuses has been shot down, Jeb has become more rather than less adamant on the subject, insisting again and again that nothing needs to be done, yet–

Bush’s own party, in a flier sent to voters in July, has expressed wariness about the touch screens, advising Republicans in South Florida: “Make sure your vote counts. Order your absentee ballot today.”

We trust the Florida Democrats are doing likewise?

Please Don’t Vote

I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: one of the neatest features about the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is its willingness to give ordinary citizens space on its Op-Ed page. This generosity has led to some surprising, informative, and entertaining pieces. This one, by Neal Starkman, is amusing while making some very good points that bear thinking about.

I would like to urge some of you not to vote. You know who you are: You really don’t know much about the politicians or the issues but feel an obligation to choose one or the other. Or you’ve decided how you’re going to vote, but you’ve used rather — how shall I put this? — unsophisticated rationales for your decisions. “He stands for strength.” “She has a really nice smile.” “I haven’t heard anything about that initiative, so it must not be any good.” “God guided me.”No, voting isn’t for everyone, and I really think it’s better if some of you sit this one out. Be proud of your spectator status. Don’t be misled by otherwise well-meaning people who give voice to the following platitudes:

It’s your patriotic duty to vote. No, actually it isn’t. It may be your patriotic duty to be an informed voter, but that’s different from merely voting. Are you going to tell me that the world was a better place because in 1933 Germans exercised their patriotic duty to vote for Adolf Hitler? It’s not voting that makes the world safer; it’s whom and what we vote for.

It’s what democracy is all about. Democracy isn’t about voting; it’s about having the right to vote. Big difference. I would never say that you, you, or you shouldn’t have the right to vote. You have every right; you should just recognize when to exercise that right and when not to.

You know, come to think of it, there are a few people I’d like to urge not to vote, too….

Where Greed Leads: Lodi’s Rip-Off

Lodi, California had a water pollution problem so severe that ‘the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control had listed the heart of Lodi as a hazardous waste site’. The perps were known–‘ Two drycleaners, a manufacturer and the city’s own aging, leaky sewer lines’–and a deal had been struck to apportion responsibility: if the firms would pay to clean up the land, the city would pay to clean up the water. So far so good.

Actually, so far not good. The real problem wasn’t the pollution, it was in the word ‘pay’. Lodi is a conservative, Republican, anti-govt, anti-tax town proud of its ‘frugality’. It didn’t want to pay. The City Council knew that if it raised its tax rate to pay for the clean-up, it would be thrown out of office in the next election and be replaced by even harder-line tax-cutting radcons. Lodi was so cheap, it preferred poisoning itself slowly to paying a few extra $$ a year on their water bill–which had been a mere $10/month for years.

So when a high-priced corporate attorney suggested a legal scam to get outside insurers to pay for the clean-up instead, the Council jumped on his plan with both feet. Except for Susan Hitchcock, ‘who was derided by colleagues and threatened with censure when she was the only city official to oppose the plan.’

‘The plan’ was a complicated swindle that involved blackmailing the city’s insurance carriers with endless lawsuits and legal delays, tying them up in court for years until they agreed to settle even though the city had never bought insurance from them that covered this situation (it would have been ‘too expensive’). But the plan needed financing to cover legal costs until such time as the insurance companies paid up. Since going to the taxpayers was off the table, the lawyer who suggested the swindle, Michael C Donovan, went to Wall Street and brought in Lehman Bros.

The plan went like this: The city would borrow $16 million from Lehman at 25% interest to finance a barrage of lawsuits. Donovan and his firm would pursue the suits, billing at rates of up to $425 an hour. Courts would shift all the costs to insurance companies. In the end, Lodi would clean up the problem without having to pay for it.

Get out your calculator and figure 25% on $$16MIL$$–Lehman Bros had poached the Lodi City Council like they were eggs. Susan Hitchcock:

“Boy, were we duped. The more I learn, the more I realize it was about greed. There is no free lunch, and everyone knows that.”

Everyone but the rest of the Council, it seems. The result of their paticipation in this scheme was predictable.

Today, the strategy is a shambles, picked apart by state and federal courts and condemned by a federal judge as “environmental litigation for profit.”Donovan has been fired, along with the Lodi city attorney who pushed the plan. Lodi has sued Lehman, alleging the deal was illegal. Lehman has countersued to collect its debt — roughly $25 million to date, city officials say — pitting some of the country’s biggest law firms against a city that once made national news for banning silly string from its downtown parade.

Lodi’s financial future is in question. Interest is accumulating at $325,000 a month. The pollution has spread. And criminal investigations are underway.

This is a cautionary tale. The anti-tax brigade is willing to poison you tomorrow to keep a few bucks in their pockets today. They’re willing to sign onto complicated fraud schemes, engage in legal blackmail, and mortgage the city–your city–to big corporate bankers rather than spend a dime of their own to clean up a mess they helped make. They acknowledge no–NO–responsibility to the society which nurtured them, and no call that society might have on their purses, however legitimate. They would rather watch you die–that’s a price they’re willing to pay.

But you go ahead and vote for them again. Vote for the fantasy, vote for their charm and ‘optimism’. Vote for how good they look on tv and how easy they make everything sound. After all, life is just a reality tv show, and if yours gets cancelled, why, there’ll be another along in a minute to take its place.

Voting in Florida–Here We Go Again

Brother Jeb’s promises to clean up the Florida election process–which lacked all credibility to begin with–have proven to be (TA-DA!) a sham.

MIAMI, July 14 – Three years after Gov. Jeb Bush announced a new voting system that he called “a model for the rest of the nation,” Florida is grappling with some of the same problems that threw the 2000 presidential election into chaos, as well as new ones that critics say could cause even more confusion this November.The touch-screen voting machines intended to cure many of the ills of 2000 have raised a host of other concerns here just four months before the election. A new state rule excludes the machines from manual recounts, and the integrity of the machines was questioned after a problem was discovered in the audit process of some of them. Voting rights groups filed a lawsuit last week challenging the recount ban, and a Democratic congressman has also sued to request a printed record of every touch-screen vote.

The controversy over the new equipment is just one of Florida’s challenges, which also include confirming which voters are ineligible, training poll workers on new policies and processing a flood of new registrations.

This is called ‘baffling them with bullshit’. Touch-screen systems have been notorious for their unreliability for at least four years, so Jeb buys…wait for it…touch-screen computers! Of course. After the controversy surrounding Florida’s illegal manipulation of the ineligible voter lists (yes, folks, what they did with them in 2000 is against the law), they ‘reformed’ the system this year…by hiring the same people and ordering them to do the same thing except this time they were to leave Hispanics off the list altogether. See, the ineligibility list is disproportionately loaded down with the names of innocent black folks, who vote Democratic, while Hispanics–who vote Republican, at least in Florida–were missing completely, innocent or not.

That list, thanks to those pesky watchdog groups, has been junked by the state after a judge ordered them to release it and the clumsy manipulation of it was plain for everybody to see. But you may rest assured that Jeb isn’t going to let that stop him from ensuring his brothers win in Florida by hook or–preferably–by crook. He has a lot of tricks up his sleeve yet, and time is running out. Unfortunately for poor Jebby, though, people are watching this time. The US Civil Rights Commission is holding hearings on the list they tried to slip through, and voting rights groups are centering in on every move he makes.

But I have a question: Who’s watching Ohio, the home state of Diebold and its loyal GOP chairman? You know, the one who said he would do everything he could (and he owns the machines that do the counting) to get Bush elected? Anybody tracking him?