Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Posted from the Nation

No More Stolen Elections!

posted by John Nichols on 10/08/2008 @ 6:14pm

The 2000 presidential election was an in-broad-daylight assault on both the concept of democracy and its practice in the United States. Democrat Al Gore received 543,895 more votes nationwide than Republican George Bush. Unfortunately, because American presidential elections are not decided by the voters but by an antiquated and anti-democratic Electoral College, that didn't mean much. Nor did it mean much that a clear plurality of voters in the contested state of Florida went to the polls with the intention of giving that state's electoral votes to Gore, and with those electoral votes the presidency.

Al Gore Photos

The documented chicanery of the president's brother, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and his campaign co-chair, former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, in combination with the machinations of a Bush-Cheney political machine headed by political czar Karl Rove, created the opening for a U.S. Supreme Court intervention that prevented an honest count of the ballots and installed Bush in the White House.

NAACP President Kwesi Mfume said bluntly, and correctly, that in 2000 the high court "handed over" the presidency to Bush.

The 2004 presidential election saw a modestly less blatant, yet equally concerning, assault. Pre-election manipulation of the registration and voting processes in the key swing state of Ohio by another Bush campaign co-chair, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, made it possible for the Republican ticket to secure an election night "result" that was of dubious legitimacy, and circumstances taht made the ensuing recount an inconclusive exercise in frustration. Thus, Ohio's electoral votes and the presidency went to Bush.

But Blackwell and his fellow partisans could not hide the reality that, as Lou Harris, the father of modern political polling, explained: "Ohio was as dirty an election as America has ever seen. You look at the turnout and votes in individual precincts, compared to the historic patterns in those counties, and you can tell where the discrepancies are. They stand out like a sore thumb.''

In 2000, the official response to the Florida crisis was as disjointed as it was ineffectual. While Gore aides, Democratic operatives and some union and civil rights leaders pushed back, a lack of urgency, focus and strategy made them no match for Rove and his operatives.

In 2004, it was actually worse. Where Gore and his team had fought, however ineffectively, for an accurate count, Democratic nominee John Kerry conceded and refused to back a recount. It fell to grassroots activists, led by Green Party campaigners and eventually key members of the Congressional Black Caucus, to mount challenges that never attained the media coverage that should have been accorded their struggle.

The bottom line from both 2000 and 2004 is this: Smart, engaged activists from across the country were caught unprepared for monumental struggles over not just clean elections and electoral votes but, in a very real sense, the future of the republic.

Good people tried to intervene. But it was too little, too late. Mistakes made in the hours and days after the presidential elections in each of those two years would haunt the process to its conclusion -- or, to be more precise, to an inconclusive moment when power would be allocated without legitimacy.

Will it be any different this year?

Let's be clear about a couple things:

1. The nation's voting systems are as disjointed and contradictory as ever. No two states are apply the same standards for registering, voting, counting or recounring ballots. Thus, an American's chances of getting his or her vote cast and counted varies from location to location.

2. There is a good deal of evidence from Michigan, Montana, Wisconsin and other battleground (or potentially close) states to suggest that this election will be characterized by confusion, conflict and challenges to the results.

What should smart activists be doing?

Preparing to say, without caution or compromise, that they will not sit idly by and allow another presidential election to be gamed.

That's what the Rev. Jesse Jackson, populist leader Jim Hightower, author Barbara Ehrenreich, singer Holly Near, activist Tom Hayden, Rabbi Michael Lerner and other activists, academics and writers -- including this author -- were thinking when we signed on to the a href="">call to action for the "No More Stolen Elections!" campaign that launches this week.

The campaign asks Americans to take a simple pledge:

"I remember Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004, and I am willing to take action in 2008 if the election is stolen again.

I support efforts to protect the right to vote leading up to and on Election Day, November 4th.

I pledge to join nationwide pro-democracy protests starting on November 5th, either in my community, in key states where fraud occurred, or in Washington, D.C..

I pledge: No More Stolen Elections!"

This is not a Democratic or a Republican pledge. It is not a liberal or a conservative pledge. It is an American pledge, a commitment to defend our democracy -- and our future.

George Bush assumed the presidency in a lawless moment when the structures and traditions of our electoral process were disregarded in favor of an "orderly" transfer of power. Bush took that power and used it, again and again, in a manner that dismissed the rule of law as an inconvenience to be worked around rather than expected.

No matter who our next president may be, he must come to the Oval Office not just with power but with legitimacy.

The "No More Stolen Elections!" campaign is an essential corrective for our troubled electoral processes and for our troubled republic.

To learn more about the campaign, the call to action and the plan to implement it, visit the website and sign on for a democratic election, an honest vote count and a legitimate president.


Posted from

Today's Polls, 10/8

I'm short on time today, so let's keep this on point: John McCain is in deep trouble. In spite of some incremental gains that McCain has made in some of the national tracking polls, the set of state polling that follows is so strong for Obama that he continues to hit record marks in all three of our projection metrics. We are now projecting Obama to win the election 90.5 percent of the time, with an average of 346.8 electoral votes, and a 5.4-point margin in the national popular vote.

There simply isn't any good news in here for John McCain (all right, he's kicking butt in Oklahoma). The only swing state poll that he leads is the SurveyUSA result in North Carolina, but even there, Obama has bounced back from a 20-point deficit in a SuvreyUSA poll taken shortly after the Republican Convention.

Moreover, Obama's position in the electoral vote remains even stronger than his position in the popular vote. We project him to win all of John Kerry's states by at least 6.9 points (New Hampshire remains the weakest link). We also project him to win Iowa by 12.5 points, New Mexico by 7.7, Virginia by 7.3 and Colorado by 6.9. Getting this race back to a tie might not be sufficient for John McCain; he might need to pull ahead by 1 or even 2 points nationally to mitigate Obama's edge in the battleground states.


Written by Edward Kidder

Last night's debate was like watching...

Austin Powers and Dr. Evil...
George Bailey and Mr. Potter...
Fred Astaire and Mr. Rogers.

I kept thinking McCain seemed a character out of The Simpsons...
drawn to be doddering, hesitant and vaguely evil. While Obama wore
the confidence of his innate goodness and suitability everso effortlessly,
McCain is obviously a man less and less comfortable in his own skin-
for whatever reason: guilt, senility, a barren marriage or total self un-awareness.
His chronic use "my friend/s" recalls a shifty salesman from the '50s.
(I ain't buyin', Mister!) Face it, he's cranky, creaky, squeaky but not clean.
And it showed once again in spades last night.
Score one more for the good guy!!

Who's the better candidate? Draw your own conclusion...
but do so with your eyes wide open (and not to racism).


I Voted Today... by
Posted from

Documents Say American Detainee Near Insanity

by: Pamela Hess, The Associated Press

An American detainee was being driven nearly insane by months of punishing isolation and sensory deprivation in a US military brig. (Photo: Brennan Linsley)

A U.S. military officer warned Pentagon officials that an American detainee was being driven nearly insane by months of punishing isolation and sensory deprivation in a U.S. military brig, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

While the treatment of prisoners at detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan and Iraq have long been the subject of human rights complaints and court scrutiny, the documents shed new light on how two American citizens and a legal U.S. resident were treated in military jails inside the United States.

The Bush administration ordered the men to be held in military jails as "enemy combatants" for years of interrogations without criminal charges, which would not have been allowed in civilian jails.

The men were interrogated by the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency, repeatedly denied access to attorneys and mail from home and contact with anyone other than guards and their interrogators. They were deprived of natural light for months and for years were forbidden even minor distractions such as a soccer ball or a dictionary.

"I will continue to do what I can to help this individual maintain his sanity, but in my opinion we're working with borrowed time," an unidentified Navy brig official wrote of prisoner Yaser Esam Hamdi in 2002. "I would like to have some form of an incentive program in place to reward him for his continued good behavior, but more so, to keep him from whacking out on me."

Yale Law School's Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic received the documents through a Freedom of Information Act request filed by two attorneys Jonathan Freiman and Tahlia Townsend, representing another detainee, Jose Padilla. The Lowenstein group and the American Civil Liberties Union said the papers were evidence that the Bush administration violated the 5th Amendment's protections against cruel treatment. The U.S. military was ordered to treat the American prisoners the same way prisoners at Guantanamo were treated, according to the documents.

However, the Guantanamo jail was created by the Bush administration specifically to avoid allowing detainees any constitutional rights. Administration lawyers contended the Constitution did not apply outside the country.

"These documents are the first clear confirmation of what we've suspected all along, that the brig was run as a prison beyond the law. There was an effort to create a Gitmo inside the United States," Jonathan Hafetz of the ACLU's National Security Project in New York said, using the slang word for the U.S. naval facility in Cuba.

The 91 pages of e-mails and documents produced by U.S. Fleet Forces Command, which runs the military brigs in Norfolk, Va., and Charleston, S.C., detail daily decisions made about the treatment of Hamdi and Padilla, then both American citizens, and Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a legal resident. All were designated as by the White House as "illegal enemy combatants."

The paperwork show uniformed officials at the military brigs growing increasingly uncomfortable and then alarmed that they were being directed to handle their prisoners under the rules that governed Guantanamo.

The authors and recipients of the e-mails are censored from the documents. They appear to be going to either military or Pentagon legal counsel and policy offices.

The documents show that some officials at the Charleston brig were deeply skeptical about the mandate that Guantanamo rules should apply in the United States, a decision made by the defense secretary's office, according to the documents.

"You have every right to question the 'lash-up' between GTMO and Charleston - it was the first thing I ask (sic) about a year ago when I checked on board," wrote one official to another in 2006. "In a nutshell, they gave the Charleston detainee mission to (Joint Forces Command) who promptly gave it to (Fleet Forces Command) with a 'lots of luck' and nothing else."

An officer was still raising alarms about Hamdi's mental state after 14 months of jail with no contact with lawyers, his family or even other prisoners.

"I told him the last thing that I wanted to have happen was to send him anywhere from here as a 'basket case,' of use to no one, to include himself," the officer wrote in an e-mail to undisclosed government officials in June 2003. "I fear the rubber band is nearing its breaking point here and not totally confident I can keep his head in the game much longer."

The frustrated officer wrote that he had "to have the ability to exercise some discretion when I believe it best for the health and welfare of those assigned to my facility ... Know ... we are to remain consistent with the procedures that were/are in place at Camp X-Ray" a reference to the Guantanamo jail. He pointed out that imposing those conditions in the brig had a far harsher effect on his prisoners because they had no contact with any other detainees, which was allowed at Guantanamo.

Scores of pages of once-secret legal opinions regarding detainee rights and treatment have been released under the Freedom of Information Act. At least two apparently crucial memos about enemy combatant treatment inside the U.S. have yet to be made public.

Hamdi was captured in Afghanistan in 2001, shipped to Guantanamo and then moved to the U.S. after his citizenship was discovered. He was held and interrogated for three years without charges. The Supreme Court in 2004 rejected the government's attempt to hold him indefinitely without charge. He was released to Saudi Arabia on the condition he give up his U.S. citizenship.

Al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar, was a legal resident studying for a master's degree in Illinois when he was arrested in December 2001 by the FBI as a material witness to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He was charged with credit card fraud in 2002. A month before his trial in 2003, President Bush declared him an enemy combatant and al-Marri was transferred to the consolidated naval brig in Charleston. There he was held in isolation for 16 months, denied shoes and socks for two years, and was not allowed any contact with his family for five years. He remains in the military brig but is appealing his detention to the Supreme Court.

Padilla was arrested in 2002 under suspicion he was collaborating with al-Qaida to build a radioactive or "dirty" bomb. He was held as an enemy combatant for more than three years. He was held totally incommunicado for 21 months. His mother was only allowed to see Padilla after she agreed not to alert the media to the visit, according to the documents.

The government dropped the dirty bomb charges and Padilla's case was moved to civilian court where in 2007 he was convicted of supporting terrorism in Kosovo, Bosnia and Chechnya.

Gay is a choice? Not that again

Palin's view ignores the fact that, as in religion, the attraction is undeniable.
By Nathaniel Frank
October 8, 2008
» Discuss Article
So one of Gov. Sarah Palin's best friends is gay. Her pal "happens to have made a choice that isn't a choice that I have made," Palin told Katie Couric last week. That language resurfaced in the vice presidential debate, when Palin insisted that she was "tolerant" of Americans "choosing relationships that they deem best for themselves."

Calling homosexuality a choice is the time-tested way politicians signal their belief that it is the wrong choice. Which is why Palin's comments prompted predictable anger from gay rights advocates. Typical was a Washington Post opinion piece saying that "no one would choose to be part of a marginalized group whose members have to sue their way to basic rights."

But insisting that homosexuality is wholly involuntary does little to defend gays and lesbians from social disapproval. After all, the subtext of the "choice" debate is that opposing gay rights is only appropriate if gays select their sexuality, since it is unfair to punish someone for something one does not control. Yet this reasoning raises a larger question: Why should equal treatment of gays and lesbians hinge on whether they have chosen or inherited their identities? Whether our DNA or our free will are "at fault" really only matters if being gay is a bad thing.

It is past time to retire the question of whether being gay is a choice -- not because it's been settled but because it never made sense in the first place. Indeed, when it comes to other aspects of our identity and behavior, we generally don't dwell on the question of choice. To ask whether a practicing Catholic or a professional dancer has "chosen" to be a Catholic or a dancer seems bizarre, not because we entirely deny that an element of choice is involved but because we recognize that the lives we lead are the layered products of our experiences and passions, our convictions and longings, our judgments and follies.

What causes people to become vegetarians, athletes, poets, stockbrokers or bank robbers? Most people, if we bother to think about it, probably believe such identities are the result of responses to impulses and convictions that shape people's actions over time. How the impulse or conviction got there, no one is certain, but there's surely an element of chance involved. A person chooses to become a teacher, but the desire to teach and the conviction that says being a teacher is right and good -- these cannot sensibly be reduced to a simple act of human will.

Yet too many Americans continue to view sexual orientation as just that. At the same time, they cast other spheres of identity -- particularly religion -- as matters of unchosen conviction and deep principle. In fact, the parallels between sexual orientation and religious faith may be more marked than their differences. Religious Americans often speak of a surge of emotion from deep within them, of hearing a calling from something outside of themselves and of following the dictates of their conscience. Likewise, gays and lesbians frequently describe same-sex attractions as an undeniable force or a deep-seated feeling that they must respect if they are to be true to themselves.

How one responds to these stirrings may be largely a matter of choice, just as one may choose whether to act on a belief or whether to practice a faith. But American institutions properly protect our right to practice the religion that speaks to our soul. Why not champion a homosexual's right to honor erotic, romantic and emotional callings in the same way, so long as doing so doesn't harm others? The concept of choice should be no more -- and no less -- applied to sexual orientation than to our religious, political or vocational identities.

It is this understanding of choice that embodies the noblest meaning of American freedom. It is a conception of freedom that invites us to choose to do what we think we ought -- to act in accordance with our deepest convictions.

And it's a notion of freedom with a long and celebrated history in American culture. The Pilgrims did not come to America seeking license -- permission to do anything they pleased -- but liberty -- the right to exercise their judgment as they saw fit. The freedom celebrated by Thomas Jefferson was the freedom to practice civic virtue, to behave the way one thought one should, not to live and let live. Ralph Waldo Emerson counseled self-reliance -- not so we could indulge our whims but so we could intuit our true callings and choose to pursue the paths that made us most ourselves.

If Palin's gay friend is like other gays and lesbians, her sexual orientation is neither a choice to be tolerated nor a sentence to be served. It's an expression of her freedom to be herself, a freedom that, as Palin said in the debate, "is always just one generation away from extinction."

After Bailout, AIG Execs Head to California Resort

by: Brian Ross and Tom Shine, ABC News

Shortly after the US government commited $85 billion to bail out AIG, company executives went for a week-long retreat at St. Regis Resort, Monarch Beach, California. (Photo:

Rescued by taxpayers, $440,000 for retreat including "pedicures, manicures."

Less than a week after the federal government committed $85 billion to bail out AIG, executives of the giant AIG insurance company headed for a week-long retreat at a luxury resort and spa, the St. Regis Resort in Monarch Beach, California, Congressional investigators revealed today.

"Rooms at this resort can cost over $1,000 a night," Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) said this morning as his committee continued its investigation of Wall Street and its CEOs.

AIG documents obtained by Waxman's investigators show the company paid more than $440,000 for the retreat, including nearly $200,000 for rooms, $150,000 for meals and $23,000 in spa charges.

"Their getting their pedicures and their manicures and the American people are paying for that," said Cong. Elijah Cummings (D-MD).

"This unbridled greed," said Cong. Mark Souder (R-IN), "it's an insensitivity to how people are spending our dollars."

Appearing before the committee, Martin Sullivan, the AIG CEO until June, said the company was overwhelmed by a "financial global tsunami," and that "no simple or single cause" was to blame.

"I am heartbroken at what has happened," Sullivan said.

Robert Willumstad, the CEO from June to September, 2008, maintained AIG was a victim of a "crisis in confidence" and an "unprecedented global catastrophe." "Through the first week of September we were confident AIG could weather the crisis," Willumstad testified. He said the federal government offered its $85 million bail out on the afternoon it prepared for bankruptcy. Willumstad said the Federal Reserve demanded he resign, and will turn down his AIG retirement package of several million dollars.

But Congressional investigators raised question of "mismanagement" and whether AIG executives sought to "cook the books" and hide negative information from outside auditors.

On Dec. 5, 2007, Waxman said, CEO Sullivan told investors, "We are confident in our marks and the reasonableness of our valuation methods."

Documents obtained by the committee show that one week earlier, auditors Pricewaterhouse Cooper had "raise their concerns with Mr. Sullivan&informing him that PWC believed that AIG could have a material weakness relating to the risk management of these areas."

In March, 2008, the Office of Thrift Supervision wrote AIG, "We are concerned that the corporate oversight of AIG Financial Products&lacks critical elements of independence, transparency, and granularity."

Asked about the letter by the committee, the SEC's former chief accountant, Lynn Turner, said the letter reflects "a serious problem from the top down of management, that can bring an organization down."

Former AIG CEO Sullivan said accounting rules required AIG to mark down the value of its holdings, even though it had no plans to sell them, the "mark to market" provision.

AIG had to sell at "fire sale prices," he told skeptical members of Congress. "Suddenly a company with a trillion dollars in assets" was in trouble, said Sullivan.

Waxman questioned both former CEOs about a former AIG auditor who claimed he had been blocked from reviewing the books of a London-based division that has since been blamed for a large share of the company's downfall.

Former CEO Willumstad, chairman of the AIG board at the time, said "I honestly don't remember" the concerns raised by the former auditor.

"I find that very disturbing," said Congressman Waxman.

Waxman also said there is evidence the two men changed the bonus schedule once the company began to post losses, so that executives under the "Senior Partners Plan" would continue to make multi-million dollar salaries.

"Mr. Sullivan and the other top executives should have had their bonuses slashed due to poor performance," said Waxman.

Sullivan said it was "substantially reduced" by the board in 2007 due to poor performance.

Sullivan was given a $15 million "golden parachute" payment after being replaced as CEO in June.